LGBT rights are human rights

Fritzie Rodriguez
It's sad to learn that certain people are entitled to less rights than others, just because they are labeled "different"

Women who love women.

Are there things they cannot do?

A lot of things. This, unfortunately, is the Philippine reality.

Recognition and choice

J Cuarez lives with her partner of 8 years. “We’re family,” J said. However, she cannot declare her partner as a beneficiary under her insurance plan.

’Di kami pasok sa requirements ng Social Security System (SSS), ‘di raw kami pamilya.” (We’re not qualified under SSS requirements. We’re told we’re not family.)

SSS recognizes “legitimate spouses” and children as primary beneficiaries – J has neither.

Pera ko ‘yun, choice ko dapat beneficiary.” (It’s my money, I should choose who my beneficiary is.)

Lorna Sansait is single at 41. Her life revolves around her niece and her government job.  

She’s buried in hospital debt. “’Di pwedeng beneficiary pamangkin ko sabi ng PhilHealth.” (PhilHealth said my niece can’t be my beneficiary.)

Adopted children qualify as PhilHealth beneficiaries; however, Lorna hasn’t legally adopted her niece yet.

Andie Ramos is 21 and lives with her partner in an informal settlement. She recalled that when the National Housing Authority (NHA) surveyed her community, her household wasn’t recognized as a “family,” making her chances of getting social housing bleak.

Pero mga kapitbahay namin nakalipat,” she lamented. (But our neighbors were able to move.)

These problems may not seem much, but for many urban poor women across the country, these legal issues carve deep scars.

Dignity

Flawed policies restrict them and their loved ones from accessing certain social protection services; compromising their wellbeing – and overall – their dignity.

GALANG, a non-governmental organization (NGO) promoting gender rights, calls this problem “institutionalized homophobia.”  

Stories like Lorna’s and Andie’s, were part of a short film produced by GALANG and shown at an International Forum on Sexuality, Poverty, and Law, held on May 9.

When the film was shown, the viewing room fell silent. Was it disbelief or discomfort that bothered the audience? Perhaps both.

Disbelief in the absurdity of bureaucracy.

Discomfort in knowing that we all live in the same country – and yet – some have less rights than others.

FAMILY. "Ang ikaklit sa aming hardin" (Sunflower in our garden) is a Filipino children's book about a young girl with two mothers. It also features other "unconventional" families. It won the 2006 Carlos Palanca award for short stories for children. Photo from the book's Facebook page

Family?

A family is composed of man, woman, and child(ren) – we first learn this at home and at school.

As we grow older, we – at least some of us – realize that the Earth isn’t home to just one “type of family.” There are households composed of a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, or a man and a man; some have more than two household heads; some have children, some don’t; some are solo parents.

Not everyone follows the “traditional” formula. But how come not all families are entitled to the same benefits? 

The Philippine Family Code  is lauded for being women and children-friendly, but is it also lesbians, gays, bisexual, transgender (LGBT)-friendly?

The Code defines marriage as the “union between man and woman,” while the 1987 Constitution calls marriage the “foundation of families.”

Are marriage and children prerequisites to having families? Not everyone can or will want to marry, give birth, or adopt. But it doesn’t mean that they are bad people incapable of love.

Out of 196 countries, only 16 have legalized same-sex marriage, 82 have anti-homosexuality laws, and many countries remain indifferent.

This indifference results from a lack of information, as well as compassion. To paraphrase GALANG’s position, same sex marriage is not just about making same sex relationships legal, it’s about promoting the couples’ quality of life.

Respect, above all legal benefits, is what LGBTs are deprived of.

LOVE. This photo taken during the 2012 Philippine Pride March went viral. A pair of lovers stands next to LGBT haters. Photo by Dani Ochoa

Human

We shouldn’t discriminate others based on age, religion, race, ethnicity, class, education, appearance, sex, gender.

It’s so easy to say, but many can’t do it.

Advocates have been making noise for decades, in hopes of educating the public and influencing policymakers about gender rights; however, many remain ignorant. 

Some say that same-sex relationships threaten society. I can think of many other things that are a greater threat to society: hunger, poverty, greed, climate change, pneumonia, Kim Jong Un.

But I don’t understand how a pair of lovers – minding their own business – can cause so much alarm.

Some parents fear their children might ‘become’ gay. Is being gay the new evil? What they may actually fear is how society will treat their gay child. Yes, society might be unkind to your child, so please don’t make your child’s life even harder.

Some generalize homosexuals as promiscuous people. This is like saying all vegetables are disgusting just because you don’t like broccoli.

In the Philippines, it’s so easy for people to hate others in the name of god. Many base their arguments on “religious teachings” – which have been interpreted in various ways over time.

Where does your hate come from? Aren’t we all human, entitled to the same rights, whether we share the same religion or not?  

What is bad about heterosexuality? Nothing. 

What is bad about homosexuality? Nothing. The Psychological Association of the Philippines agrees

Yes, there are two biological sexes: female, male. But sex isn’t the same as sexual orientation, some people happen to be attracted to the same or both sexes. Some are born male, but identify as women (gender identity). Some dress certain ways just because they want to (gender expression).  

I worry and fear how some adults tend to – perhaps unknowingly – teach the youth how to hate and discriminate others.

Please know that homophobia hurts people. The pain is real: it’s felt by people of all ages, by families and friends who lost loved ones to suicide and hate crimes, by LGBTs raped, bullied, taunted, fired, or alienated.

A 2014 World Bank study even reported how homophobia hurts a country’s economy.

 Photo from the 2014 World Bank study - The economic cost of homophobia and the exclusion of LGBT people. A case study of India

The Philippines has had 164 cases of hate crimes since 1996. The number, however, may be higher since several incidents go unreported – sometimes because the perpetrators are relatives of the victims.

Has anyone ever been killed for being heterosexual? 

HUMAN RIGHTS. Gender rights is human rights, this is what advocates are fighting for. Photo taken during the 2010 Pride March, GALANG's banner says "poor lesbians have voices." Photo by Fritzie Rodriguez

Indifference is just as bad

The Philippines doesn’t criminalize homosexuality, but it also doesn’t embrace it.

Although the Magna Carta of Women speaks against discrimination, the Philippines doesn’t have specific laws protecting LGBTs.

While the Anti-Discrimination Bill languishes in Congress, marginalized sectors, like the LGBT, remain vulnerable to harassment at home, work, or at school.

LGBT women are discriminated at multiple levels. First, as women living in a patriarchal society; second, as homosexuals living in a heteronormative society; third, as “sinful” beings living in a predominantly Catholic society; and fourth, as poor women living in a highly stratified society.

There are many women who love women – especially among the poor – who struggle with joblessness which then pushes them further into poverty. Some employers reject applicants not for their qualifications, but for their looks.

Atty Germaine Leonin, a planning officer of the Department of Social Welfare and Development and gender-rights advocate, critiqued the country’s flagship alleviation program, the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program (4Ps), for not doing enough to support LGBT families. 

The 4Ps  provides cash grants to poor families on the condition that they send their children to school and that pregnant women undergo regular check-ups.

“This is good, but how does this apply to poor LGBT families, if they’re considered at all?” Leonin asked during the forum.

Media’s role

GALANG studied the country’s media archives from 1988-2012 and found that lesbians were almost invisible. If lesbians are featured in newspapers, they are usually connected to stories involving rape and murder.

As a young journalist and film buff, it is sad to see that women who love women rarely escape Philippine media stereotypes. 

When I was still a student in UP Diliman, I took a class called “LGBT Psychology” – a first of its kind in the Philippines.

I was 18 then, closeted.

I also spent hours in the university library, reading up on the women’s movement, gender, sexuality, and development. I remember how I used to hide books with the word “lesbian” on the cover from friends, family, and even strangers. I was afraid that they’ll see and treat me differently.

The class helped me understand and accept myself and the people around me better. It also enabled me to enlighten others, including my own family, about gender diversity – a previously taboo topic in our home.

I was fortunate to have access to such learning opportunities and supportive people. How I wish that all Filipinos – both young and adult – can have the same.

But not all wishes come true, especially in this country. Which is why there’s a need to pressure schools to teach gender and sexuality education, and the government to create inclusive policies respecting the rights not of some, but of all.

WHAT TO DO. It might take a long time before more inclusive Philippine policies are made. A good first step we can do today is to end the hate. Photo taken during the 2013 UP Pride March. Photo from Buena Bernal/Rappler.com

Today, not tomorrow

In the Philippines, it seems that the “roads ahead” are all long and rough. But we can change that, if we want to.

It will be difficult, yes, just like our previous battles: the Reproductive Health Law, the Magna Carta of Women in 2009, the Anti-Rape Law of 1997, and the Filipino women’s suffrage law of 1937.

It was only in 1973 when homosexuality was removed from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. While the World Health Organization only removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in May 17, 1990, which now marks the “international day against homophobia.”

But it will be worth it.

I wish that the battle against discrimination will be championed not only by the LGBT community, but by everyone who values human rights and diversity.

A good first step is to stop the hate. – Rappler.com

Fritzie Rodriguez is a writer at Rappler. You can read her undergraduate thesis about the representation of women who love women in Philippine media here.

The “International Forum on Sexuality, Poverty, and Law: Policy Audits for Inclusive Development” was organized by GALANG, the Institute of Development Studies, and Mama Cash.

For more information on GALANG, you may visit their website or Facebook, or contact them at galangphilippines@gmail.com, 0927-293-3731.

You can also read the first issue of FEIST, an online magazine for women who love women, here.