Toronto
2 min

Filipina dykes come out, tenderly

International meeting called emotional & successful

TO CANADA. Melanya Liwang Aguila says some lesbians couldn't get visas. Credit: Jan Becker

The details of an international meeting of lesbian Filipinas held in downtown Toronto must be kept under wraps, say organizers.



“I can mention that transexual, transgender, immigrant, labour, coming out and homophobia were some of the experiences shared,” says Melanya Liwang Aguila, one the conference coordinators.



But the anonymity of those at The Queer Pinay Meeting must be maintained, says Aguila, as not all participants are out to their families and friends. And for locals, with such a small community, not everyone wanted to broadcast their personal issues.



The Jul 8 meeting was part of a three-day conference held at the 519 Church Street Community Centre and elsewhere in the city.



V Manabat says it generated so much dialogue and intense emotional debate that some participants couldn’t contain themselves while speaking from the heart, through a haze of tears.



About 50 turned out for the meeting, with an estimated 150 attending the opening night dance at Mabuhay, a Bathurst St restaurant. Twenty-two were from out of town – from Chicago, New

York, San Francisco, Vancouver and Washington, DC



For those living overseas, the issues are even tougher. “Not everyone that wanted to come was able to come because they didn’t have visas,” says Aguila.



“Who can afford to take off work? … Many are domestic workers, having to work six days a week,” she adds.



Sometimes, says Aguila, employers refuse to give their employees a

supporting letter to obtain a visa. Aguila says that often, homophobia will play a role in downplaying the importance of a gay conference. This, she says, is only one example of the difference in struggles between Canadian-born Filipinas and those born in the mother country.



The idea for the conference germinated out of a need to carve out a

space for those of Philippine origin to have cultural control over their own representations. Thus, SAWA (Filipino Students, Artists, Workers, Activists) was born.



“Our goal is to connect people of different sexual/gender identities (babae, bisexual, butch, femme, lesbian, magic, mars, pars, silahis, t-bird, tibo, tomboy, transgendered, transexual) in the queer pinay communities,” reads the programme put out by SAWA.



Babae means women; mars and pars are femmes and butches.



“Connections came through meeting new people and staying with them,” says Aguila. “It’s a time of celebration but at the same time it’s intense because you’re around what’s so close to you – who you really are.”



“I was so tired towards the end of the trip,” says New York-based peer educator Irene Villasenor. “I wish the whole thing lasted longer so I could talk more to people.”



Villasenor’s video (commissioned by the Brooklyn Museum Of Art), Hip Hop: Culture Of Influence, was screened.



The first annual conference was held at Finger Lake, Rochester in the summer of 1998. Over 53 queer women participated in the gathering for some camping, some networking and some socializing. Like-minded women converged at Finger Lake from Boston, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington and Toronto.