These Maps Show Every LGBTQI+ Safe Space, HIV Facility, and Story in the Philippines
Pride Month may be over, but the fight for LGBTQI+ rights goes on. An organization called MapBeks has made some very useful maps for the community: an LGBT Safe Spaces Map, HIV Facilities and Support Map, and Stories Map.
The current LGBT Safe Spaces Map was created by Thomas Rosen, founder of Queer Map, with MapBeks providing data on safe spaces in the Philippines. It classifies spaces according to those that are made only for queer people, primarily for queer people, and where queer people are welcome. You can filter the places featured according to Tourism, Culture, Eating, Health, Going Out, Fun, Community Centers, or Organizations. While the MapBeks team did create its own map in 2019, by June 2020, it decided to work with Rosen.
Beatrice Tan-Lim, projects lead of MapBeks, explains that mapping safe spaces is important because it gives greater visibility to the LGBTQI+ community. "Gone are the days when we were living in the shadows and eskinitas of Cubao or Malate," she says. "Through the number of organizations and businesses on our map, we are leaving a footprint in society, we are engaging in the art of social interaction."
"I think it is very important that these spaces be on the map because they represent our culture, our identity, the spaces that have molded us," she adds. "There's always power when you are represented on the map and maps will always be political. MapBeks sees that through these maps and through representing the Philippines in the global mapping community, we're asserting that we do exist. And hopefully, the number of LGBT mapper communities in other countries will grow as well."
MapBeks has also created an HIV Support and Facilities Map in collaboration with UP Babaylan to celebrate UP Pride 2020. It got the idea for the map after realizing that even the DOH's list of HIV facilities was incomplete. No one organization had a comprehensive list of testing and treatment centers. The map includes HIV testing and counseling facilities, primary care facilities, treatment hubs, and organizations that offer psychosocial, legal, or housing support.
In June 2020, the team created MapBeks Stories, as well. It allows LGBTQI+ people to share positive stories of love, life, lust, and emancipation and pin them to the places associated with their memories. All you have to do is click the "Magdagdag ng kwento" button, drag the pin to your desired location, and tell your tale.
"There are a lot of LGBT stories that are not actually told and don't enter the mainstream. It's really therapeutic for you to express yourself on an anonymized platform. There's no log-in and you're not required to enter your name," Tan-Lim explains.
MapBeks Stories was created in partnership with Mental Health Awhereness and was inspired by the latter's Hear; Here map. Originally, the organization had a separate map for memories of bullying and discrimination, but it decided to combine it with MapBeks Stories, as well.
A lot of hard work and dedication goes into making each map. It’s clearly a labor of love for the MapBeks volunteers, who hold mapping parties during which they make sure all the information on their maps is accurate.
For the Safe Spaces map, they make sure only establishments that genuinely welcome LGBTQI+ people are included. First, they call for nominations of safe spaces. Then they contact the owners of the nominated businesses to confirm that the information they’ve received is accurate. They also ask the owners to sign a Memorandum of Agreement stating that no form of discrimination is allowed at their business or organization. This is especially important for areas that don’t have anti-discrimination ordinances in place.
The MapBeks team is currently working on making their own LGBT Safe Spaces map again, rather than providing data for QueerMap. This is because they want to highlight towns with anti-discrimination ordinances. They also plan on marking places that have gender neutral toilets. “We’re really advocating for our trans siblings to have access to toilets,” Tan-Lim says. “I’ve heard heartbreaking stories of people who had to keep it in and go home just to go to the bathroom. That shouldn’t be the case.”
MapBeks is also part of Rainbow OSM, a virtual safe space for LGBTQI+ mappers and allies within the global OpenStreetMap (OSM) community. Mappers all over the world contribute to OSM—an open-source world map that anyone can update and from which anyone can use the data for their own maps as long as proper attribution is given. Think of it as Wikipedia for mappers. While anyone can add features to the map, there are strict standards for correctly tagging them.
“For example with [mapping] bathrooms, you need to tag them as ‘amenity=toilets’ and you can add ‘unisex = yes’ to identify that it is gender-neutral—which is really politically incorrect,” she explains. “But for us to be able to push for mapping these restrooms, we have to start somewhere. We want to put it on the map and then if a lot of other mappers see more people using these types of tagging, and a lot of people are pushing to map these bathrooms, then it will become a convention.”
For the HIV map, the team calls the organizations and treatment centers in their database to make sure their contact details are complete and up-to-date. They check whether these centers offer their services for free and if not, they confirm which treatments require a fee.
When it comes to MapBeks stories, the privacy of contributors is very important to Tan-Lim. While the map uses OSM as a base, the data entered by users isn’t stored there. Instead, it goes to Carto, a different geographic information system that is more safe and secure. They also check the stories added to the map—if someone’s name is mentioned in a story, they delete it right away.
MapBeks doesn’t just make maps for the LGBTQI+ community—they’re very active in mapping for disaster preparedness as well. In fact, their organization was formed because of a joint project with Philippine Red Cross to map Isabela before Typhoon Ompong hit the province in 2018. They drew buildings and roads so that the responders could easily identify which roads and residential areas had been affected.
More recently, they spearheaded the mapping of Tarlac with the help of Facebook Community Microgrants and the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap. They held a mapathon in which each building footprint drawn resulted in a direct donation to the IKOT and TOKI jeepney drivers of UP Diliman. They’re also partnering with the community in Zamboanga del Sur to plant a tree for every 150 buildings mapped.
With all of these projects, MapBeks demonstrates that maps are much more than a nifty tool for getting from point A to point B. Maps are indeed political—the features highlighted can reflect the things that are given importance, and it all depends on who’s drawing the map. Maps can promote representation, give visibility to marginalized communities, help people access vital healthcare services, aid in disaster management efforts, and empower LGBTQI+ members to share their stories. And as Mapbeks declares on its homepage, “Not all spaces are mapped by straight lines.”