Saturday 3 August 2013

On Track to the Outgames - Part 11

With the official opening ceremony of the 3rd World Outgames in Antwerp tonight I continue my series on the Outgames history by looking at the most recent and least known – the 1st Philippine Outgames.

The Philippine Outgames in February and March 2012 were a legacy of the Asia Pacific Outgames held in Wellington, New Zealand, the previous year. The Outgames’ lgbt and human rights conference had dealt with many issues that affected the community around the Pacific rim and east Asia.

There are many variations in the cultures in attitudes and treatment to lgbt issues and rights in the area. One question that was raised at the conference was how to outreach to members of the lgbt community who experience additional problems associated with disability, poverty or access to support. To help address this the Wellington Outgames created a specific fund to offer grants and support to Pacific and Asian countries to help create outreach programmes featuring sport and human rights education.

The Philippine Outgames, titled “Levelling the Playing Field”, was the first event to materialise. It was different in format to the World and Continental Outgames. It was much smaller, of course, but was also spread across several weeks with no continuous sporting activity throughout the period. It was also not centred on one specific host city.

The Philippines isn’t blessed with a wide variety of lgbt groups, but the few that are present in that country gave their support and their time to help organise the Outgames. These organisations were Rainbow Rights Project Inc. (also called R-Rights), ProGay Philippines, Gabriela Women’s Party, and Outrage, the country’s only lgbt magazine. Several other organisations helped to organise specific events, which I’ll mention in due course.

The official launch was held on 11th February 2012 in Caloocan City in north Manila. Rather than a spectacular opening ceremony the launch was a smaller, low-key, yet still joyous, occasion. After the welcoming speeches the first sporting event took place. This was a volleyball tournament held at the launch venue. Even though competitors were small in number compared to other Outgames the competition was still intense and, as well as medals for participants, trophies were awarded.

The next event took place nearly 4 weeks later on 10th March. It was something different. It was called the “Love Dive”, a dive into the sea around the Aujanar Beach and Dive resort. The purpose was to look at the environmental problems associated with the coastal areas of many populous countries. Even though there was no lgbt issues surrounding it, this ecological “Love Dive”, which was open to those who had dived before or not, served as a social and educational experience for members of the lgbt community.

The last main event of these Philippine Outgames was a small conference called “Deaf Talks”. Prompted by issues raised at the Wellington Outgames a year earlier, the needs and concerns of various disability groups within the lgbt community were addressed. A relatively new organisation, Deaf Rainbow Philippines, joined R-Rights and the Commission on Human Rights in hosting the forum.

The problems encountered by lgbt people with disabilities have often been overlooked even within the lgbt community itself. As the president of Deaf Rainbow Philippines pointed out at the forum, deaf people often have difficulty in finding a job and even a partner so feel more isolated and marginalised. The “Deaf Talks” forum provided those in the Philippines with access to support groups and international support through the UN Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Throughout the 1st Philippine Outgames the various lgbt organisations provided advice to groups and individuals and encouraged people to connect with each other and push for political change within the country for better lgbt human rights.

By the end there was a feeling of a successful venture, and even of hope for the future. Perhaps this hope is summed up in the fact that the whole event was promoted as the 1st Philippine Outgames, implying that future ones were possible.

During the current Antwerp World Outgames I’ll collect together some facts and figures for a fitting conclusion to this history of the Outgames, to be produced several days after the closing ceremony. And good luck to all the athletes, in particular the Nottingham Ball Bois, whom I know, in the football/soccer competition.

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