BE PROUD. Members of the San Julian Pride Advocacy Group -- who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender -- take pride in setting up the first rainbow-colored Pride crosswalk along the national road of San Julian, Eastern Samar. The 10-meter crosswalk is a symbol of the group's fight for equality and recognition, their founder said on Tuesday (June 4, 2019). (Photo courtesy of San Julian Pride Advocacy Group)

TACLOBAN CITY — Members of a group of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) in San Julian, Eastern Samar are overwhelmed with the praises and support they have been receiving after painting a 10-meter crosswalk, which symbolizes their fight for equality and recognition.

Although there are those who criticized the San Julian Pride Advocacy Group for what the members did to the crosswalk along the town’s national highway near the town hall, they said the criticisms only strengthened their spirit in advocating equal rights.

Roel Andag, San Julian Pride founder, said on Tuesday having a rainbow-colored crosswalk in their town aims “to show that even in our rural setting characterized by poverty and frequented by natural disasters it is possible to organize; to make our community visible; to make LGBT+ people feel that they are welcome in San Julian; to call for the passage of the long-delayed SOGIE (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression) Equality Bill.”

The SOGIE Equality Bill, also known as the Anti-Discrimination Bill, is a proposed legislation passed by Congress in 2017 but is pending in the Senate.

San Julian, a 5th-class town in Eastern Samar, was the epicenter of the magnitude 6.5 earthquake that shook many parts of Eastern Visayas last April 23.

“This Pride crosswalk signifies our oneness with the rest of the world in celebrating Pride Month, that we are part of a bigger diverse community,” Andag said in a phone interview.

Before the group painted the crosswalk, Andag said they have sought approval of the local government unit and the Department of Public Works and Highways. It took the group three months to plan the project and to process the needed permits.

The group used its own money to finish the two-day painting of the colorful crosswalk last June 1.

“It’s such an honor for us to be the first town in Eastern Visayas to have a Pride Crosswalk that symbolizes our fight for equality and recognition,” Andag said.

Andag added that painting the crosswalk was not that easy because they have to do it at night and the painter they contracted suffered stomach flu, forcing the LGBT group to continue the work.

“The paint wouldn’t set well so we used blow dryers,” Andag said.

Andag added that as one of the most active Pride groups in Eastern Visayas with 159 members, they have been conducting regular HIV-AIDS awareness campaign.

Part of the drive is to give lectures and distribute condoms donated by the Department of Health (DOH), peer education campaign, sports activity and capacity building for members of newly-formed local AIDS Councils.

“San Julian is the first municipality in the Philippines to pass an Anti-Discrimination Ordinance in 2014 and Mayor Dennis Estaron approved the implementing rules and regulations on Dec. 10, 2018, in time for the International Human Rights Day,” Andag said.

As of June 1, 2019, only six of 81 provinces, 19 of 145 cities, two municipalities including San Julian and three villages have their own anti-discrimination ordinances.

“Last week the Sangguniang Bayan of San Julian also passed a municipal ordinance creating Barangay and Municipal AIDS Councils. This ordinance is aligned with Republic Act 11166 also known as the HIV and AIDS Policy Act of 2018 that promotes intensified HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, among others,” he added.

But aside from painting a crosswalk, Andag said their group is active in advocacy programs that educate people on several issues.

This includes the UnivLink — an ongoing project supported by Voice Global piloted in the Eastern Samar State University campuses in Salcedo, Maydolong, and Can-avid.

The project is to organize LGBT+ students into intra- and inter-campus support networks by improving access to social services, health and education, and space for political participation.

The group also has a volleyball team, which is an ongoing project which harnesses the power of sports to organize the LGBT+ people of Eastern Samar and to spread HIV awareness.

The team has been visiting the different towns and one city of Eastern Samar for HIV peer education; establishing local contacts; courtesy calls with the mayors, youth council federation presidents, and municipal health officers.

Last December, the group conducted a gift-giving activity for senior citizens and LGBT+ people of San Julian, free medical check-up, and sharing of stories.

“We get invited to speak in youth gatherings where we discussed SOGIE and HIV, with the purpose of broadening people’s understanding of gender and sexual diversities, and de-stigmatizing HIV,” Andag added.

Andag said the group had talks with the Department of Social Welfare and Development to conduct HIV 101 and SOGIE among conditional cash transfer recipients during family development sessions. (PNA/Roel Amazona)