Is the Philippines really gay-friendly?

Buena Bernal

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'The moment that we (LGBTs) step out and demand rights that heterosexuals enjoy, we become a threat because we no longer fit the stereotype'

Last Saturday, June 8, the Inquirer published an article tagging the Philippines as “among [the] most gay-friendly in the world” based on a global survey by the Pew Research Center.

The Philippines has earned its ranking as one of few gay-friendly countries in the world,” the article’s lead read.

The Pew Research Center survey was released on June 4 and showed 73% of the 804 Filipino respondents are of the opinion that “homosexuality should be accepted by society.” 26% felt otherwise, and 1% refused to answer.

I posit that “gay-friendly” in this case, is a misnomer. Even conceding the best-case scenario that our nation is indeed gay-friendly, I would argue that this friendship is superficial.

Not the actual situation

Survey respondents were answering a basic question: “Should society accept homosexuality?”

They were not asked about their subjective assessment of current conditions but rather about their subjective view on what the ideal condition must be. It was a measure of social inclination more than a caricature of the actual situation.

For instance, people who believe that “homosexuality SHOULD BE accepted by society” may not necessarily agree that “homosexuality IS accepted by society.”

The distinction is important. “Should” implies a prescription, while “is” implies a description.

A quick scan of the Pew Research Center’s website shows that the June 4 report is part of an umbrella project called “Global Attitudes Project.”

Unfortunately, certain civil rights currently denied to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) individuals in the country cannot be granted on the basis of “social attitudes” but through legislation.

Social will vs political will

Globally, the survey found out that the centrality of religion in people’s lives is a negative correlate of homosexual acceptance (see graph below). The more important religion is for the country, the less tolerance it exhibited.

Interestingly, the Philippines runs against the global trend. Acting as the strongest outlier in the sampled regions, our country registered an above 50% tolerance rate despite a high level of religiosity.

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Being the world’s statistical anomaly may lead others to think we have “empowered” LGBTs. However, the survey points to an utterly deplorable discrepancy between the will of the people and the policies instituted by government.

There is already social will to accept homosexuality as a valid lifestyle choice. However, there remains a legal vacuum in the protection of LGBTs against hate-motivated violence and discrimination. 

The Anti-Racial, Ethnic and Anti-Religious Discrimination Act has yet to pass. While its passage is long overdue, some legislators want to strike down the provisions in the bill meant for LGBTs.

According to data collated by the Philippine LGBT Hate Crime Watch, there have been around 164 cases of murdered LGBTs in the country from 1996 to June 2012. (READ: LGBTs push for end to hate crimes

Because of the lack of investigative and identification mechanisms by the government, LGBT rights advocates depend solely on independent reports which are but a glimpse of the real situation of gender-related hate crime incidence in the country.

Ron De Vera of the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia (IDAHO) Manila Network previously explained that it is the fear of the unknown and ignorance on the science behind LGBT that leads to prejudice, which breeds hate and violence.

In addition, other countries surveyed in the July 4 report include conservative Islamic states that practice the Shariah law. As we don’t systematically prosecute gays on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, we are definitely high above the tolerance scale compared to these countries. Although there are graver practices elsewhere in the world, not beheading someone is certainly not a display of acceptance.

Acceptable stereotypes

De Vera also said the results of the survey should be taken “with a grain of salt,” adding they represent a certain “brand of deceptive acceptance.” De Vera is the spokesperson of the IDAHO Manila Network.

“Philippines has a peculiar relationship with LGBT people,” he said. “Majority of Philippine society has typified LGBT people as creative, talented, loud entertainers who are expected to stay in their neat little boxes… stereotypes that LGBT people are expected to conform to.”

De Vera said that while the stereotypical “butch lesbian security guards and effeminate male comedians” are accepted, an effeminate gay male wanting to join the nation’s premier basketball association “would be a totally different story.”

“The moment that we step out and demand rights that heterosexuals enjoy, we become a threat because we no longer fit the stereotype,” he added.

MOVEMENT. Pro-LGBT groups protest against the tagging of LGBTs as part of the "culture of death". File photo by Rappler/Buena Bernal

Why pride?

June is the world’s Gay Pride month. CNN Contributor LZ Granderson makes a compelling case on why there isn’t a Straight Pride month.

“Because the streets are not filled with children who have been kicked out of their homes for being straight. Because there seems to be a lack of stories in which someone has been beaten, tied to a fence and left to die or shot in the face at point blank range because they were straight,” he wrote.

In the latter part, Granderson was pertaining to a May incident when a gunman uttered homophobic slurs before firing one fatal shot to the victim’s face.

Granderson acknowledged in his piece how “the celebratory nature of Gay Pride parades” have been “integral” to their “survival.”

CNN Anchor Anderson Cooper also put the issue of pride at the core of the movement when he said “the tide of history only advances when people make themselves fully visible.” (READ: Anderson Cooper: “The fact is I’m gay)

As a public figure, Cooper asserted that remaining silent about his sexual orientation might have unintended outcomes such as creating a false impression that he is “uncomfortable, ashamed or even afraid,” which is “simply not true.” 

“In a perfect world,” he said, “I don’t think it’s anyone’s business, but I do think there’s value in standing up and being counted.”

Small steps

While an anti-discrimination law has yet to pass in Congress, De Vera said there are anti-discrimination ordinances that have been passed in the following Philippine cities since May of last year: Bacolod (April 2012), Cebu (October 2012), Davao (November 2012), and, most recently, Angeles (February 2013). He added that the anti gender-based violence ordinance of Quezon City was extended to LGBT people in October 2012.

There are also existing partnerships between pro-LGBT groups and government agencies: policemen are now undergoing gender sensitivity training, and the Commission on Human Rights has agreed to push for LGBT rights.

“IDAHO Manila has partnered with business establishments to make their business a safe space for LGBTs by continuing their practice of accepting LGBT people,” De Vera said, contrasting it with the “no cross-dressing policy” of a number of bars in Metro Manila that unduly affect transgenders.

Civil society is doing its part. Social attitudes are increasingly tolerant. Our Congress must not turn a blind eye to the abuses and forms of discrimination directed against LGBTs. –


Buena Bernal writes development stories. You can follow her on Twitter: @buenabernal

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