When I think about the word safe space, it’s people that come to mind, not places. My safe space is with my friends and I like to think that I can find it with my family, too, soon. I’m lucky it never crossed my mind that coming out to my family would be met with hostility.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case for everyone. Athlete Jason Collins once said, “Openness may not completely disarm prejudice, but it’s a good place to start.” I hope that by trying my best to take part in conversations within and about the LGBTQ+ community, it can encourage others to do so as well. Each year, especially during Pride Month, I try to listen more closely to the folks who still badly need physical and digital safe spaces and whose experiences are very different from mine.
When Bea and Casey started online safe haven Queerspace PH, their initial plan was to “lessen aggressive content to engulf the community with positive and empowering messages that are not overwhelming.” But with the “flaws of a silently destructive system more visible than ever,” the team was reminded that it’s good to show that you’re angry too. I had a chat with Bea and Casey on how safe spaces aren’t silent.
How have you been personally celebrating Pride so far? Any activities our readers might want to try?
So what we’ve been doing to celebrate Pride is just pouring our work into our content. We’ve been attending webinars from small LGBTQ+ organizations and learning more about the community and reflecting what Pride means to us especially now in the midst of the pandemic. We recommend everyone to do the same and attend fun ones too, like vogueing classes from the House of Mizrahi PH and online drag shows!
While doing some research for our Pride stories, we came across a Reddit post where you were gathering stories from the LGBTQ community who didn’t feel safe while quarantining with their families. What is Queerspace and what roles both of you play on its team?
Queerspace is an online safe space for LGBTQ+ Filipinos. We want to provide a place where people can express their identities, engage in conversations and be empowered together.
We’re a team of 2 and we do pretty much everything! Everything you see in Queerspace is curated and created by us!
What’s the story behind why Queerspace PH was formed and how it started?
We wanted to build an online presence for the queer community in the Philippines that is focused on empowering content that will make them feel like they’re valid and not alone. There are also many LGBTQ+ organizations that are focused on lobbying for LGBTQ policies, who are already doing excellent in this sector. Thus, we wanted to focus more on the presence of the LGBTQ+ community online.
Initially, we wanted to do a physical space. We decided to not wait anymore and launch it as a digital space because we think it’s important to have one now during the pandemic. Many queer Filipinos are vulnerable now because some of them are not in places where it is safe to be themselves. At the same time, inequality has been heightened and more evident now, especially in workplaces and medical institutions.
Safe space is a universal and, at the same time, a very personal concept. What does the term mean for you and how does one go about creating one for themself and for others?
We acknowledge that safe spaces can have different meanings for different people. For us, a safe space is where someone can be free to be themselves and belong in a community. Many people have criticisms over the word, like how they think it stifles freedom of speech, shelters people or keeps them in a bubble.
We actually think it’s quite the opposite. We think safe spaces are created because the public excludes us from the conversation. Our version of a safe space is not only talking about happy things, it is where a community empathizes and empowers one another. It is not about limiting speech, but being compassionate and inclusive in conversations.
We think it’s quite similar how people should create safe spaces for themselves and others—it’s always about being compassionate and having a deep understanding of your struggles or other people’s.
On your Instagram page, there was a post about how the word queer is also a verb that means to disrupt something. What does this mean? How is it connected to attaining inner peace?
We actually just learned about this! Queering is a verb used for challenging heteronormativity in places, literature and just about everything. It makes people think outside of gender norms and see that things can be seen differently when you include other identities in the picture. Like for example, growing up, we were taught that there are “boy clothes” and “girl clothes”. To queer this thought is to ask, “what does my sex have to do with the colors pink and blue?” or “why can’t men wear skirts?”
While we’re a safe space and we want to provide a peaceful environment for the community, we just can’t simply put out content for the sake of being positive. Safe spaces are political. There will be no peace if we keep getting excluded outside of our safe space. These conversations are also important to empower and validate identities and let people know nothing’s wrong with them, the world just has a lot of queering to do!
What are some digital and physical queer spaces that you would recommend to members of the LGBTQ+ in the Philippines?
An organization called MapBeks identifies safe physical spaces! You can check out their LGBT Safe Spaces Map. They map out LGBT-friendly businesses such as cafes, bars, support groups, health services, and more. They even show which city or province has an Anti-Discrimination ordinance.
How close or how far are we in making our country a safe space?
The Philippines may be safer than other countries as we do not have laws that prohibit being part of the LGBTQIA+. However, the Philippines still has a long way to go. Everyone in the community will agree. There are members who experience discrimination because of how they present their SOGIE (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression). There are people who believe that we cannot have the same rights as heterosexuals because of heteronormative thinking.
The current pandemic has also exposed the vulnerability of our members. We recently talked to members of the AIDS Society of the Philippines and STRAP who are working together to fundraise for displaced trans women in the country. Our trans sisters lost their livelihood due to the suspension of work and restrictions in social mobility during the quarantine.
As long as these are not addressed and our society is not genderblind, we cannot confidently say that our country is a safe space.
We’d also like to clarify that safe spaces aren’t just for the LGBTQ+ community. Safe spaces are intersectional. Minority groups such as our indigenous people, urban and rural poor, the working class, farmers and fisherfolk, and other underrepresented populations must be included in determining whether our country provides safe spaces for them.
What can we look forward to from Queerspace PH?
We have lots of queer content coming your way! While we are still restricted to go around and meet people, we will continue to be here for our online LGBTQ+ community. We just started last month so we think it’s a great time to explore, collaborate with other organizations, and feature more queer Filipinos digitally. We’re still getting to know our audience and trying to reach more. For now, we’re just doing our best to help the community cope with our current situation and finding different ways to engage with them.