Make Your Voice Count

Allies of the LGBTQ+ movement. Here to support, not here for the spotlight. - Linh Nguyen from Viet Nam

By Tharindi Devasurendra – Thursday, July 1, 2021

Linh Nguyen (also known as Mõc) is a straight, cisgender woman and an LGBTQ+ ally and activist from Viet Nam. Linh is the co-leader of UniGEN, an organisation that brings awareness to LGBTQ+ issues and works to strengthen the representation of gender-diverse communities. Since 2015, UniGEN has regularly organised events and produced media products to showcase the diversity of gender identities and sexual orientation in Ho Chi Minh, Viet Nam.

Linh has been advocating for LGBTQ+ rights and issues for the last six years. In 2015, she participated in a project on empowering LGBTQ+ activists across Viet Nam and found she had a passion for activism.

“My activism started when I became more aware of how the patriarchy affected both women and the LGBTQ+ community, and I began to think about my privilege and my role in society. I came to understand that if I wanted to fight for equality, I needed to better understand the lived realities and experiences of marginalised communities,” explained Linh.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many marginalised and under-represented communities are being left behind. Many LGBTQ+ communities remain hard to reach and often sidelined in COVID-19 relief efforts. Like Linh, youth leaders and activists have been working with UniGEN to support the LGBTIQ+ youth community by establishing two online courses that provide mental health and well-being information. In a recent iSEE survey[1] (August 2020) on the impact of COVID-19 on LGBTQ+ people 73.4% of respondents indicated they needed mental health support, and 59.1% requested specific information on sexual orientation and gender identities.

Moreover, during the pandemic, UniGEN created a virtual learning hub with access to information on sexual orientation, gender identities and expressions (SOGIE) to support  LGBTIQ youth with information around self-stigmatization, violence and discrimination, mental health and well-being. The learning hub gives users access to users seeking knowledge about SOGIE, making users aware of various forms of gender inequality and guiding them to proactively work to address existing inequalities. The learning hub is also a platform that promotes self-love, acceptance with information materials on psychology and social understanding. The platform regularly has open-nights with talks, chats, live streams, and sensitive topics related to prejudice, stigma, discriminatory behaviours, coercion, bullying, violence, and assault.

In late 2020, Linh and the UniGEN team helped organise an exhibition celebrating Vietnamese drag culture, an art form that has existed in Vietnamese history for a long time. The exhibition aimed at bringing focus and awareness to drag culture in Viet Nam, involving an array of interactive activities, such as movie screenings, drag performances and art and pictures displays on drag culture. The exhibition received strong support and appreciation from many young queer communities, mainly since COVID-19 resulted in the closure of many indoor activities.

Likewise, UniGEN organised group art therapy sessions with MAI:tri Viet Nam for its members during the pandemic as a creative way to encourage people to open up about their troubles and feelings through art.

In early 2021, UniGEN held a training session on the history of the LGBTQ+ movement and activism. Nguyen Hai Yen, one of Viet Nam’s well-known LGBTQ+ rights activists, led the training session. Nguyen Hai Yen currently works for ASEAN SOGIE Caucus, a regional organisation for LGBTQ+ rights advocacy in Southeast Asia and is an advisor to many international networks and funds for LGBTQ+ people. The ASEAN SOGIE Caucus also helped UniGEN with emergency funding to implement and run projects during the pandemic.

Since the beginning of COVID-19, many offices and organisations have adapted and moved their work and activities online. Despite the team at UniGEN being accustomed to the online work sphere, many of their projects, programmes and activities needed to be adapted to ‘the new normal. However, moving programmes and activities online have proven challenging at times. For example, in some online training sessions, young people had trouble with internet connectivity and paying for internet data. More noticeably, the engagement in the activity sessions was not as strong as in face-to-face training sessions. Yet, UniGEN is learning to adapt and ultimately make sure that the content, training, and information shared via their platforms are helpful to the LGBTQ+ community.

Reflecting on the entire experience and the lessons learned through COVID-19 and their online programmes, intersectionality and inclusion are at the heart of their work. Linh mentioned most of their programs and educational videos from the learning hub include non-binary, agender, asexual, trans and many other queer and diverse folks. They promote and enforce messages of positivity to ensure young people who are questioning and out feel comfortable and included. She emphasised that UniGEN has empowered diverse young queer people by creating safe spaces and providing them with tools to advocate for their rights and community. The platform also helps amplify the voices of young queer people from all diverse backgrounds, walks of life and journeys.

Similarly, in collaboration with the Vietnamese government and the support of the queer community, various organisations in Viet Nam have stepped up to provide emergency seed funding to communities most in need. For example, emergency funds and donated items were distributed amongst the transgender community in Ho Chi Minh and other provinces in the south of the country. Besides, the Girls love Girls network also provided shelter for people made homeless by the pandemic.

There have also been examples of transwomen speaking up and raising awareness on SOGIESC and the mental health of the LGBTQ+ community, such as Mia Nguyen, who spoke to university students and established a donation platform for the trans community.

For more information on donations for the aid of the trans community link here:

Furthermore, MSM groups and organisations also provided HIV prevention services. For example, Lighthouse Social Enterprise, a youth-led LGBTQ+ clinic in Hanoi, has provided HIV services to marginalised and key populations during COVID-19 to ensure continuity in access to services.

COVID-19 has shown us that the most vulnerable and marginalised communities are experiencing the consequences of the pandemic differently. Inequalities have exposed and exacerbated gender-based and domestic violence, access to health and HIV services, including hormone therapy for trans communities, and underscored the fragility in social protection schemes. If this is supposed to be the new normal, let it not be permanent because what this means for the LGBTQ+ community is that more needs to be done to ensure no one is left behind. From small to big issues, we have to support communities left behind, be educated, less ignorant, kinder and more open – to be friends, ally, and show solidarity as we come out of COVID’s grip.

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JAN GABRIEL CASTAÑEDA

Philippines
He/Him
Board Member

Jan is passionate about seeing through the potential contributions of psychological sciences and human rights advocacy in LGBT people’s lives. He is currently Program Associate of ASEAN SOGIE Caucus and is a member of the LGBT Psychology Special Interest Group of the Psychological Association of the Philippines. He has written for various platforms and publications on a diverse range of topics from gender and sexuality to human rights experiences in different contexts. Jan’s desire is to engage in productive and meaningful work that bridges scholarship with practice rooted in people’s real experiences.

PATRICK JUANICO

Philippines
He/Them
Graphic Designer

Currently, Nico is a college student studying in the Philippines and is simultaneously working for Youth Voices Count as one of the graphic designers for the organization. He lists producing the brand logo and look of HRPlus Asia as one of his significant achievements. His interests in literature and creating films have also honed and continued to improve his skills in graphic designing.

JAN ELLA BRILLANTES

Philippines
She/They
Social Media Officer

Jan Ella is currently taking up her undergraduate studies at the University of the Philippines Visayas and has been a consistent academic awardee since 2019. She is involved in various organizations such as the Catalyst UPV as the Volunteer Director in 2021, former Publications Committee Head for UP Lipad and former member of Iloilo Pride Team.

JE-ANN PALMAIRA

Philippines
She/Her
Project Finance Officer

Je-ann is the current Project Finance Officer under the Finance Department. She graduated from the University of San Agustin with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration major
in Marketing Management.

Her involvement in her University’s Little Theater organization led her to find an interest in theater, films and the arts. Aside from theater arts, she also partakes in the company’s production work including stage management and most notably, heading the organization’s marketing team.

MARION REA CAMEROS

Philippines
She/Her
Accounting Associate

Marion graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Accounting Technology which has made her suitable for being the Accounting Associate of Youth Voices Count. She lists watching movies as one of her hobbies that helps her wind down during her leisure time.

ATTY. RONIFELLE L. BARRIOS

Philippines
She/Her
Legal Counsel

She is a graduate of AB Political Science from West Visayas State University (WVSU), in Iloilo City. In her days in college, she was the founding Prime Minister of WVSU Debate Circle, the ROTC Corps Commander and later a Volunteer Instructor in the Air Force Reserve Command. When she ran for the first time in their University Student Council, she was elected number one councilor. Her interest in leadership grew when she joined the 10th National Youth Parliament, organized by the National Youth Commission in 2014, where she later on became the Regional Convener for Western Visayas.

She then pursued her studies to take up law in San Beda University in Mendiola, Manila. As a law student, she was still active in student organizations: She joined moot court competitions, she served as layout artist in 2 of San Beda Law’s Official Publications: The Barrister and San Beda Law Journal. In her last year in law school, she was the President of San Beda Law Human Rights Advocate (HRA), where she was later conferred Leadership Award by the Association of Law Students of the Philippines (ALSP) and her organization, HRA was awarded top advocacy organization.

She passed the 2019 Bar Examinations and became a full-fledged lawyer by 2020.

She worked as Associate of Javier Santiago Torres & Panghulan Law Offices. She now runs her own RLB Law Office as a solo practitioner and serves as Notary Public for and in Quezon City. She serves as legal consultant to MSMEs and Non-profit organizations. At present, she is the Vice President for Communications of the National Society of Parliamentarians, Inc., the Chief Legislative Staff of Councilor Quin Cruz of Pasig City Council and part-time law instructor in Malayan Colleges Laguna – a Mapua School. Interestingly, she is the creator and blogger of The Young Lawyer PH. Recently, she served as Resident Parliamentarian during the Bangsamoro Youth Parliament held last Nov. 7-11, 2022 at Cotabato City.

A lawyer by profession and an artist by heart.

LOUELA MARIE PRADO

Philippines
He/She/They
Admin Officer

An advocate at heart, Louela is a part of several youth-led organizations in the Philippines with various advocacies ranging from climate justice, environmental protection, gender equality, human rights, SRHR, mental health prioritization, youth empowerment and HIV/AIDS awareness. She is currently the Interim Chairperson of Iloilo Pride Team after serving the organization for 4 years as the Admin Officer, Executive Secretary at Proyekto Philippines, Member of Team Dugong Bughaw, and more.

She graduated as Summa Cum Laude at West Visayas State University majoring in English Language Studies and is currently taking up her Masters in English Language Studies at the same institution. During her stay at the university, she served as the Vice Chairperson at the University Student Council and Federated Student Council where she organized programs and initiatives that advocated for student involvement in societal causes and being the voice of the students that lobbies their concerns to the administration.

In July 2022, she was awarded by JCI Regatta as one of the Top Outstanding Students in Iloilo and a Top Circle Awardee which is the most prestigious recognition given by the award-giving body.

RONAN JAMES B. PENUELA, RN

Philippines
He/Him
Project Officer

Ronan passed the Philippines nursing licensure exam in 2022 immediately after graduating his Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from the University of San Agustin. While juggling his academics, he was elected governor of his college’s student council (Nursing Student Council) in 2021 and board member in 2019 where he was awarded the leadership award and Agustino para sa Tao award due to his excellence in service. He is also a certified Safety Officer (SO1) after completing his training.

He is currently a dialysis nurse in training. He handles the Intersex projects of YVC.

ANFERNEE NENOL KAMINAGA

Marshall Islands
He/Him, They/Them
Project Officer for IGNITE! Empowerment Grants Program

Having done some activism for the Marshall Islands both locally and regionally with climate change, youth empowerment, LGBTQI rights, and nuclear injustice, Nenol takes pride in being an advocate for the causes he is passionate in, being a part of Youth Voices Count and taking a step in amplifying young LGBTQI+ voices. This also inspired him to co-found the first Marshallese LGBTQI Youth Support called Brighten the Rainbow. He is featured in “We Have a Dream” which is a collection of stories from young leaders around the world.

THARINDI DEVASURENDRA

Sri Lanka
They/Them
Project Manager

Tharindi is currently a feminist activist and researcher based in Sri Lanka, and has worked with the Youth Advocacy Network Sri Lanka (YANSL). They are a trainer on advocating for comprehensive sexuality education and providing knowledge on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) where they actively advocate for safe abortion and bodily autonomy for women.

One of Tharindi’s brainchild initiatives is an Instagram page which mainly focuses on the process of reaching out to queer women in Sri Lanka, a platform that helps in providing them visibility and strategy direction on programming through social media and other means.

They have completed their Bachelors (BA Honors) in English and Linguistics at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Sri Lanka.

JOHNMEL ESTIMAR

Philippines
They/Them
Finance Manager

Johnmel M. Estimar is the founder and senior adviser of La Villa Pride, a grassroots-level organization for LGBTQI in Villa, Iloilo. They are also a member of the Iloilo Pride team, a Community Based Screening motivator for HIV and an LGBTQI Rights Activist. Miles, as they like to be called, graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration at John B. Lacson Foundation Maritime University-Molo, Inc. They also hold an Associate Degree in Cruise Ship Management in the same University.

They have ample experience in clerk and accounting work for nine years from their previous employer, they are currently employed with Youth Voices Count as Finance Manager since 2019.

ANTHONY DE VICENTE LOPEZ

Philippines
He/Him, They/Them
Deputy Executive Director

Mx. Toni graduated with a bachelor’s degree of secondary education majoring in English at the Capiz State University back in 2021. Aside from this, they sought out other educational opportunities such as Advocacy and Project Management at the Women Deliver Digital University (2015), International Women’s Health and Human Rights at Stanford University (2014), and Global Health and Humanitarianism at the University of Manchester (2013).

An advocate of many causes, they are members of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, and Y-PEER Pilipinas, founder of the Y-Cap for SRHR, founder of United Colours of CapSU, and Alumnus of Women Deliver Young Leaders Program. Back in 2018, they were awarded as the SDG 5 Youth Champion due to the amiable service they have rendered for gender equality.

JUSTIN FRANCIS BIONAT, MA HRD

Philippines
He/His/Him
Executive Director

A learner for life and a seeker of knowledge, Justin graduated his Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Political Science at West Visayas State University, Philippines and took on a Master’s of Arts in Human Rights and Democratisation (International Program) at the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies at Mahidol University, Thailand under the APMA / European Union Scholarship. At present, Justin is pursuing a Juris Doctor (JD) degree (Law Degree) from the College of Law, University of San Agustin, Philippines.

Justin entered Youth Voices Count, Inc. in 2018 while studying in Thailand. He later took on the role of Executive Director beginning 2019 and successfully set up the legal registration of the organization in the Philippines under the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Since then, he has been leading the organization in various programs and projects centered around LGBTIQ children, adolescents, and youth. Outside Youth Voices Count, Inc., Justin is active in other initiatives in the field of research and law. He was a law student fellow of the Legal Education Advancement Program (LEAP) of the Legal Education Board and the UP Law Center in 2022.

As an aspiring lawyer, he hopes to one day be instrumental in providing legal support for marginalized populations. Justin has also published reports, journal articles, commentaries, and book articles in the fields of law, HIV/AIDS, LGBTIQ, and Human Rights.

In 2018, he was awarded the Young Achiever HERO Award by APCOM Foundation during the HERO Awards reception at the Royal British Embassy in Thailand for his outstanding work on equality and human rights. He is one of the Youth Council members of the Global Fund, an international financing and partnership organization that aims to “attract, leverage and invest additional resources to end the epidemics of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria”, and a Board Member of the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia Committee.