Typhoon Haiyan was a good thing for gay communities

Many LGBT people in Tacloban, Philippines have achieved new-found acceptance in their communities, including a dramatic rise in the number of people using dating applications such as Grindr and Tinder, in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, according to research co-led by the University of Leicester with researchers at Ateneo de Manila University and the University of the Philippines.

November 8 marks the two year anniversary of the devastating typhoon, one of the strongest tropical cyclones on record - which claimed the lives of thousands of people and affected millions, many of whom are still recovering from its impact.

Few LGBT people felt accepted in cities such as Tacloban in the Philippines prior to the disaster, but according to new research co-led by the University of Leicester’s Dr Jonathan Ong, spending time with foreign aid workers has helped local members of the gay community to become open and expressive in everyday life.

In the immediate aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan many survivors longing for intimacy turned to Grindr, the world's most popular all male location based social network, to arrange discreet meet-ups with aid workers, who themselves sought distraction.

Dr Ong, a lecturer in the Department of Media and Communication at the University of Leicester, said: “LGBT people interviewed for the study did not express a need for specific support after the disaster because of their sexual orientation, but benefited from a new open-mindedness brought on by the aid workers' presence.

"They could finally be themselves in Tacloban as the city shed some of its small-town mentality thanks to the presence of a group of people generally perceived to be more tolerant of sexual minorities.”

The report, entitled ‘Obliged to be Grateful: How local communities experienced humanitarian actors in the Haiyan response’, outlines affected communities’ experiences with agencies’ AAP efforts and interventions at large. The report can be accessed here: http://www.alnap.org/resource/20633

The study draws on three months of fieldwork with affected people in 22 villages in four areas affected by Haiyan.

The team interviewed over 221 respondents representing a cross-section of the population, including those who were excluded from agency interventions, in order to develop an understanding of issues that mattered most to communities at a local level.

The findings of the study suggest that middle-class professionals have benefited the most, while poorer members of the gay community still face adversity.

Ong added: “The benefits appear to have been larger for middle-class professionals than for poor gays struggling to make a living in a region that even before the typhoon was among the poorest in the Philippines. Unlike those who have felt more accepted and liberated after Haiyan, some working-class gays and transgender people have had to make less welcome changes to their lives. We met low-income femme gay men in hairdressing work who switched jobs to more lucrative macho construction work after Haiyan.”

Citation: Ong, J. C., Flores, J. M. and Combinido, P., ‘Obliged to be Grateful: How local communities experienced humanitarian actors in the Haiyan response’, ALNAP http://www.alnap.org/resource/20633