Pride's international grand marshall a relentless fighter
Published Wednesday, June 15, 2011 5:13PM EDT
Meet Pride 2011 International Grand Marshall Angie Umbac.
She may be one of the few people who can say that their coming out made headlines.
It was 2003 and Umbac, a lawyer already heavily involved in advocacy for legal right for the LGBT communities in the Philippines, was attacking a bill that proposed to limit marriage to between only natural-born men and natural-born women.
Arguing that the law was discriminatory, and that LGBT persons should enjoy the same rights as other Philippine people, Umbac inadvertently outed herself as a lesbian.
The story immediately made headlines, with newspapers running stories featuring Umbac's name and organization.
At the time, many of Umbac's friends and family were unaware that she was gay.
"My family in the province did not know about it," she says of her homosexuality at the time. "I didn't want people coming to them and telling them about it."
Calling home, Umbac was relieved at the response she received from her family.
"My mother said she knows, and that it's alright," she recalls.
It was more than alright. It was a life changing experience.
In 2005, Umbac along with four others founded the Rainbow Rights Project, a volunteer-based non-profit organization that works with a team of gay and lesbian lawyers to provide legal services to the LGBT communities in the Philippines.
The group was founded following a pride march in December 2005, after a group of gay men were detained by police for the purpose of extortion, Umbac says.
Arriving at the jail early the following morning, Umbac was shocked to see the detained seated on the floor, unfed and without washroom facilities.
It was the mindset of those detained, though, that brought the greatest discomfort.
"For many of them, it was normal to be arrested," she says. "It really shocked me that if we did not go there, they probably wouldn't seek out legal help."
"I felt that they did not think that there was anything wrong with what was done to them."
Negotiating with police officials, Umbac and others were eventually able to secure the release of all those detained.
From there on, Umbac and her group then began working to inform members of the Philippine gay community of their legal rights.
Using money from their own pockets, they placed information pamphlets, cards with legal contact information and the names and contact numbers of honest police officers at popular gay hangouts.
"Rainbow right was created to inform people of their rights," she says. "To tell them it's not ok to be arrested just because you are gay."
In addition to co-founding and serving as the president of the Rainbow Rights Project, Umbac also serves as a director for the Human Rights for Libertas, as Philippine-based network of lawyers and legal professional committed to the promotion of human rights and democratic reform.
She is also a resource person for the Convention on the Elimation of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and a trustee of Ladlad's LGBT Party List, which is currently seeking party-list representation in the Philippine Congress – the only group of its kind in the world.
While she now views being named Pride 2011 International Grand Marshall an honour, Umbac admits that her initial nomination was met with a much different response.
"I thought it was a spam mail, asking for money, asking for contact details," says the 39-year-old of the initial email she received form Pride Toronto.
Luckily, her attention was once again brought to the matter while in Kuala Lampur at a women's rights conference.
Someone from her office mentioned that she had received a follow-up email from Pride Toronto. Umbac figured she'd better pay closer attention to what they were asking.
For Umbac, who has never been to Toronto before, let alone participated in the parade, this year's invitation came as both an honour and an opportunity.
"International is such a big word," she says."There's so many countries in the world. It's an honour to be even considered. It's an opportunity for us to bring the spotlight on Asia."
As the Pride 2011 International Grand Marshal, Umbac will lead the Dyke March on Saturday, July 2 at 2 p.m. and the Pride Parade on Sunday, July 3 and 2 p.m.