The long road to an LGBT anti-discrimination law

Fritzie Rodriguez

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The long road to an LGBT anti-discrimination law
This is a story about the Filipino people's struggle for genuine equality and acceptance, amid a culture of hate and holiness
MANILA, Philippines – “Is that something that is desirable in an environment for a child?”

In 2013, President Benigno Aquino III asked this question, leaving some furrowed brows in the audience. He was not discussing cigarettes, firearms, or poverty.

The topic was same-sex marriage.

“One side of me says human rights are supposed to be universal. On the other hand, if we go into gay marriages, then of course the next step will be adoption and I don’t know if… I still have to look at it from the child’s perspective,” Aquino said, questioning whether having same-sex parents could “induce more confusion” among kids. 

Advocates fired back with testimonies from children raised by same-sex parents. Their childhoods were as normal as any child’s. “So why the discrimination?” these families asked.

There are good parents and there are bad ones, but their sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) are not determinants, advocates argue. The American Psychological Association also stresses that “there is no scientific evidence that parenting effectiveness is related to parental sexual orientation.” 

Sexual orientation: To whom one is attracted to. Some are attracted to the opposite sex, the same sex, both, or neither
Gender identity: How people identify themselves. It may or may not match one’s assigned sex at birth. i.e., A transwoman is someone whose assigned sex at birth is male, but identifies as a woman.

To eliminate misconceptions, the Columbia Law School gathered over 70 studies worldwide exploring the matter, concluding that “children of gay or lesbian parents fare no worse than other children.”

Aquino, however, is not alone in belittling the possibility of LGBTs becoming parents. As of 2013, 65% of Filipinos found homosexuality “morally unacceptable,” the Pew Research Center reported. 

While the Philippines has no laws criminalizing homosexuality, it also does not have laws protecting LGBTs. 

The problem, advocates stress, goes beyond marriage equalityWithout a national law, several LGBT Filipinos continue to live in layers of fear and inequality. Some stop living all together. 

Why this law?

“The anti-discrimination bill is at a standstill,” said Ging Cristobal of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission. “It’s being opposed by legislators who are pressured by the Catholic Church and Catholic denominations.” 

Cristobal explained that most opposition groups think the bill would allow same-sex marriage. Existing versions of the bill, however, do not include such provision.

“In the far future, we’ll also have that [same-sex marriage],” said Cristobal. “But now, the priority is a bill securing education, jobs, and anti-discrimination.”

So what exactly is this bill?

Throughout Aquino’s term during the 15th and 16th Congress, various bills on LGBT discrimination have been filed, but none of them have passed.

The latest version, House Bill 5687, was approved by the committee on women and gender equality in February 2015. It prohibits all forms of SOGI-based discrimination and penalizes violators – with a fine of P100,000 to P500,000 or imprisonment of one to 6 years.

Prohibited discriminatory practices
under the Anti-Discrimination Bill

Employment Requiring disclosure of SOGI or using it as a criteria for worker’s hiring, dismissal, promotion, transfer, assignment, performance review, compensation, or determinant for any career opportunity.
Education Expulsion or refusal of admission based on SOGI. Imposing penalties harsher than usual for students of diverse SOGI. Discrimination against students based on their or their parents’ SOGI.
Organizing Refusal to recognize organizations, political parties, communities, or institutions based on the SOGI of members and target constituencies.
Health Denying access to public and private health services open to the general public on the basis of one’s SOGI.
Forcing someone to undergo procedures to alter their SOGI.
Access Denying access to or the use of establishments, facilities, or services open to the general public (i.e., housing) based on one’s SOGI.
Justice SOGI-based harrassment done by members of law enforcement institutions.

The bill also aims to give law enforcers gender awareness training, which will help them address hate crimes. Since 1996, the Philippines has had 164 documented cases. Several others go unreported.

The latest of such crimes is the murder of Jennifer Laude in October 2014. Until today, justice has yet to be served. Many other Filipinos, mostly nameless and faceless, have suffered the same fate as Laude.

Will the Philippines wait for another high-profile murder case before it acts?

Hate crime: Violence motivated by prejudice based on SOGI, race, religion, class or other factors 

HB 5687 consolidates previous bills with similar goals. A committee report was submitted in April, and is up for second reading, according to one of the bill’s principal authors, Dinagat Islands Representative Kaka Bag-ao.

“This is not only a triumph for the LGBT community, but for all Filipinos because the Anti-Discrimination Bill will protect the rights of each and every citizen regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity,” Bag-ao told Rappler.

“It is high time that we create safer and more open spaces for Filipino LGBTs as we bring forth a culture of acceptance in our society. Congress has only one more year to get this done,” she added. The congresswoman is optimistic of the bill’s passage, as long as more Filipinos “will join the clamor.”

Meanwhile, the Comprehensive Anti-Discrimination Act has been pending in the Senate. It prohibits discrimination based on age, race, ethnicity, religion, sex, SOGI, among other factors like HIV status, relationship status, disability, language, phsyical features, health status and medical history.

“Any form of discrimination threatens order and stability in our country,” Senator Sonny Angara, the bill’s principal author, told Rappler. 

“I am hoping that the Senate will start conducting a public hearing on the various anti-discrimination bills to get the ball rolling,” he continued.

Senators Bam Aquino, Grace Poe, Miriam Defensor Santiago, and Ramon Revilla Jr. have also filed similar bills in the past.

Discriminating the anti-discrimination bill
Aquino, however, is not alone in keeping mum on LGBT issues. Past administrations have also ignored the fight for an anti-discrimination law. 

One of the first LGBT-related bills filed was a bill sponsored by Representative Rey Calalay in 1995, proposing to recognize the “third sex” as a sector. Then in 1999, the country’s first LGBT lobby group, Lesbian and Gay Legislative Advocacy Network (LAGABLAB), was formed. The group helped craft the anti-discrimination bill in 2000, as filed by Santiago and Akbayan Representative Eta Rosales. 

Since then, different legislators have followed suit. Two decades later, however, a national law protecting LGBTs remains elusive.

Amid the long struggle is irony: Filipinos discrminating against a bill that hopes to end discrimination.

“We’ve been actively working for the passage of the bill. But the challenge mainly is that myths still exist in the mind of legislators,” said lawyer Marc Titus Cebreros, Commission on Human Rights executive director.

Some of these myths, advocates say, is spread by the likes of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).

“If a guy is born and he is attracted to guy, it’s a mistake,” Fr. Dave Clay, assistant executive secretary of the CBCP’s Commission on Family and Life, told Rappler. “When he is born, he should be attracted to women,” he added.

Despite selling these myths as facts, the CBCP says it supports the anti-discrimination bill, calling it a “gesture of charity.”

LGUs with anti-discrimination ordinances:
  • Quezon City
  • Angeles City
  • Antipolo City
  • Bacolod City
  • Candon City
  • Cebu City
  • Dagupan City
  • Davao City
  • Vigan City
  • San Julian of Eastern Samar
  • Provinces of Agusan del Norte; and
  • Cavite

On the upside, not all Filipinos of faith have taken a negative attitude towards LGBTs. Some have embraced the LGBT community with open arms

In place of a national law, some local governments have also started implementing their own anti-discrimination ordinances.

On social media, however, not all Filipinos are supportive of such initiatives. Some call the proposed anti-discrimination law “special and unneccessary.”

But advocates like Cristobal counter: “LGBT rights are not special rights, just human rights.”

Such rights are sometimes disregarded not only by the LGBT community’s fellow Filipinos but also by their government, their churches, and even their families. 

With only a year left in the current administration, a lot of advocates are losing hope with the anti-discrimination bill. 

The next leader, advocates say, should act on what Philippine leaders have failed to realize in the past 20 years: Discrimination exists everywhere, but some people are more discriminated than others. –

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