Rizal Park brimmed with colors on a grey Saturday afternoon. Rainbow flags and colorful banners dancing in a rhythmic sway filled the streets, towering a sea of people marching to upbeat music and deafening chants. To a commuter stuck in traffic, the spectacle was an inconvenience. To a bystander, the procession was a much-needed entertainment.
But to Jang Go, the march was an event he couldn’t miss. The day was the 25th of June 2016, and it was his second time attending the Metro Manila Pride March. While his first (just the year prior) was truly remarkable and life-changing, his attendance to the succeeding parades bears more significance. To him, his participation serves as a testament to a promise he made.
“I’ve been an avid supporter of the LGBT community for so long. As a member of the community, I’m giving myself the responsibility to take part in the events within and the movement of the community itself,” Jang Go explained.
And there he was, singing and dancing and marching with the crowd, joining a procession that gave color and flavor to what could’ve been just another stale weekend in the metro.
“My first Pride March was when I realized how vast and multi-faceted the community actually is. The event was joined by participants from different factions of the society – some were from the church and religious organizations and some from the government and local offices, while others were from private sectors. Majority of those who marched were the youth,” Jang Go recalled, noting how inspiring it was for him to witness such a large, diverse community walking hand-in-hand and with heads held high as they advocate for the LGBT rights. His second Pride March was no different – on that Saturday afternoon, the people were strongly united as they were greatly diverse.
However, it was also the diversity that made Jang Go see what was lacking.
“I attended my second Pride March with some friends, and throughout the event, I kept seeing familiar faces. As we made our way through the crowd, I’d always find myself bumping into a friend or a colleague from PUP. Some random PUPians even approached me as if we’re old friends.’
“You see, UP Babaylan was there. Beehive was there. Many notable student organizations were present at the event. But not once did I see a group carrying PUP’s flag, representing the cheerful local community that we have back at the university. We PUPians joined the parade as individuals and not as members of the PUP LGBT community,” Jang Go explained, exasperated not only with the PUP’s lack of representation and organized participation at such a historic movement, but also with the absence of unity among the members of the local community.
Two weeks after the Pride March, Kasarianlan was born.
“I want to be non-partisan. At Kasarianlan, it won’t be about political ties or beliefs. I want students to come together because of their shared advocacies.”
But starting an organization from scratch isn’t easy; any leader can attest to that. Jang Go willingly admitted that it took some time before Kasarianlan figured out who they really are and what advocacies they’re fighting for.
“To be completely honest, I didn’t think things through when I founded Kasarianlan. We started as a small support group of 7 to 10 students; I remember us seated in a circle in an empty room at school, clueless of what we were doing. We were just talking, asking everyone how they’ve been and taking turns in sharing coming out stories and struggles as members of the LGBT community.” The set-up went on for some days until one member suggested that they’re next session have more depth.
“Someone said that the conversations should revolve around certain topics. And in the following sessions, we discussed important issues LGBT people were facing at the time. As it transpired, all of us had different opinions on pressing matters. And what’s more intriguing was that there were too many misconceptions – about HIV, about SOGIE. But at the end of every meeting, we made sure that we meet halfway. We always made sure that we see eye to eye on things that matter. We made sure that our views were unified.”
This little progress also served as the turning point for Kasarianlan. Seeing that the people within their circle alone had many misconceptions about LGBT-related issues, the group made it their first mission to empower members of the PUP LGBT community with proper knowledge about relevant subjects, primarily HIV and SOGIE. “It’s important to continuously raise awareness, especially with the rise of HIV infection rate in the country. It also helps in breaking the stigma that comes with having HIV… With SOGIE, I think it’s a great gear to have, particularly when you go outside. It provides you with knowledge about your rights as an LGBT person and draws limitations on how to treat or interact with an LGBT individual.”
Just a few months after their foundation, Kasarianlan started conducting university-wide seminars on HIV and SOGIE. While organizing such functions posed no challenge to a group of highly skilled Communication students, gaining traction for their events proved to be tougher than it seemed – most especially to Jang Go.
“At the time, I was working from 8 to 5, then interning from 6 to 2. After work and on my days off, I was at school, helping others spread the word on our seminars. And gurl, getting participants wasn’t easy! Even though the subjects of these seminars were clearly relevant, most LGBT students that we approached were either uninterested or unwilling to participate.”
Despite the lack of enthusiasm from the students, Kasarianlan still pushed through with the seminars. And Jang Go was glad that they did. Many still came and sat down with them to learn, including non-LGBT students and friends. At the end of the day, their first project was successful, and it was this success that motivated them to fully commit the group to the cause of serving the PUP LGBT community’s interests.
Nearly 2 years after their inception, Kasarianlan now serves as the champion of the LGBT rights at PUP. In addition to continuously empowering LGBT students with the proper knowledge and bringing the LGBT rights movement to the university, the organization also actively participates in various discourses concerning the community. From tackling issues of targeted harassment toward LGBT professionals to the passage of the SOGIE Bill and Manila’s first anti-discrimination ordinance, Kasarianlan makes sure to join in the conversations and help advocate for the community’s rights and interests. Jang Go thanks everyone, members and not, for helping Kasarianlan grow and become the force that it is today.
“I also joined other organizations outside the campus, and that’s how I met the LGBT leaders who helped us in our cause. I had the pleasure of meeting Meggan Evangelista, the Vice President of Babaylanes Inc., who introduced me to the leaders of the Rainbow Rights and the Metropolitan Community Church. I also made acquaintance with many other LGBT leaders, supporters, and activists that exposed us to all the important events within the community. They served as my inspirations in leading Kasarianlan. And without the extensive network, I don’t think Kasarianlan would’ve been invited to Senate and Congress hearings.”
But above all, it’s the members of the organization, his friends, whom he wants to express his gratitude to the most for their unwavering dedication whilst balancing their academic and personal responsibilities. Furthermore, it warms his heart to see the students continue the work they’ve started even without him watching.
“It’s been a year since I graduated, and I still check up on them from time to time. When I ask them how they’ve been, they’re telling me all sorts of stories! They seem more knowledgeable than I was at their age. They’re proactively participating in various events in the community. They attend seminars. They get tested regularly. They make the time to do all these things! And they share the knowledge with their fellow students. They still conduct seminars and training. I told myself that these are the signs of progress – that the cause is moving forward. They’re no longer LGBT members. They’ve evolved to become promising LGBT leaders as well, and I couldn’t be any prouder.”
“We are all activists, and we have our own ways of expressing activism. Kasarianlan is my brand of activism. With the organization, I hope to expose and engage the LGBT students of PUP. I don’t want them to simply be LGBT members. Iba kasi yung bading na may alam. Iba yung bading na marunong. Iba yung bading na hindi man nakikibaka, at least, nakiki-isa.”
And while Kasarianlan primarily caters to the members and supporters of the university’s LGBT community, Jang Go also wishes to inspire students of all genders and sexual orientations to move – to step out of their bubbles, explore, and participate in any cause or movement.
“We all want to make a change – to leave a dent on the surface for everyone to see. I understand that people often work on their own to create change, but I think finding a group of people who shares the same vision and passion as yours help make the change you work hard for even more achievable. Because with number comes attention, and attention attracts visibility. By working together, you can create visible change. And only by working together can you see the real power of your hard work. I started Kasarianlan only with the intent of bringing together the PUP LGBT community, but look at what we are today. We are making relevant changes, and we’re just getting started. Imagine the changes you can make when you put yourself out there and join a revolution.”