ATM: How does Pj Raval’s film continue your desire to tackle the huge discrimination on the trans community and Filipino women?
Irma Shauf-Bajar is the National Chairperson for the social organization GABRIELA. GABRIELA stands for Gender Assembly Binding Women for Reforms, Integrity, Education, Leadership, and Action. Irma discusses PJ Raval’s film Call Her Ganda and its significance in today’s society.
Irma: PJ’s film is really powerful. It tackles several issues such as violence against Filipino women, trans community, the unequal relationship with the United States and the Philippines. Also, about the militarization through the visiting forces agreement. We have as known we need to build the mass movement. The mass movement continues women, church people, scientist, and all different sectors. PJ’s film tells the story between all these different issues of Jennifer’s life and murder. It brings up different conversations about the Trans community, Filipino movement, and sovereignty. It helps people who might want to join an activism organization like Gabriela. It educates the broader community about these issues. I was in New York with Gabriela New York when Jennifer Laude was murdered.
The trans murders has not gotten enough attention like Jennifer’s Laude’s story. A U.S. soldier was involved. It talked about the power dynamics and the unequal relationships of the Philippines and the U.S. These issues give life and breath to Jennifer, her life, and the movement. It was beautifully done. PJ’s film is a way to get the attention of these issues.
ATM: As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, how does it feel to be a part of a society that marginalizes you based on your desire on who you decide to like?
Irma: This has been half of my life and even as a kid. I have been a struggle even in terms of talking about your sexuality and falling in love with someone of the same sex. I have been raised Catholic all my life since 5. When thinking about the community and chosen family has been a gift in how we create our own survival. The most marginalized in the LGTBQ+ community is the trans community. Gay men have more privilege than gay women. I have seen in the last 10 years of my life that it is changing. There is still homophobia and transphobia. It is the responsibility for us, teachers, parents, and the community to continue to educate our children.
It is different in the U.S than in other parts of the world where people cannot come out. It is hard. This is one of the reasons why I had to leave Hawaii. It was hard coming out in terms of safety. Every day it is a choice to come out with people in this community. People make assumptions like, “Irma has short hair, so she must be gay.” I would pretend to be straight to stay safe. There is still a problem with trans community not getting employed and getting killed. There is a big disparity in the LGTBQ community.
White lesbians who have money have more privilege than the black queer and other folks. The class in our sector is different. In San Francisco there is a lot of white lesbians and gay men that have a lot of money and power. It is different in Oakland. It is different for black bodies and immigrant bodies. The great thing about PJ’s film is that it forces us to talk about these unequal realities of society in different places.
ATM: So, there is a silent social unequal with minorities in this community?
Irma: Trans and nonconforming people experience more violence than cis people. I am a queer woman of color who is cis, but not trans. There are some poor white men and women in this country. We have a class analysis not just on race. When people talk about violence it refers to women and men. We have to talk about the economic violence, the codifications of women’s bodies, different types of labor compared to men. It is not just a black and white issue, it is more about a class issue. A lot of people are blaming Jennifer Laude for not disclosing she was trans. This is not the point. The point is that this U.S soldier who is a white man has privileges because of the visiting forces agreement. It has all power in this relationship. Jennifer Laude is living in the place where the U.S. is unequal with. He also has male privilege and power over her. The case shows the government is siding with the Americans and visiting forces agreement and not the people in the Philippines.