LGBT advocates lead charge for anti-discrimination bill

Mara Cepeda
LGBT advocates lead charge for anti-discrimination bill
Representatives Emmeline Aglipay-Villar, Kaka Bag-ao, and Geraldine Roman sponsor the proposed SOGIE Equality Act for 2nd reading in the House

MANILA, Philippines – The House of Representatives kicked off the debate on the anti-discrimination bill on Tuesday, March 14. 

Women and gender equality committee chairperson Emmeline Aglipay-Villar sponsored House Bill (HB) Number 4982 or the Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity or Expression (SOGIE) Equality Act for 2nd reading before the plenary. 

According to the DIWA representative, there is a “dire need” for a law protecting the rights of and giving equal opportunities to members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. 

“SOGIE rights are human rights, but many of those who spit on those rights question the very humanity of those who possess sexual orientation, gender identity, sex or gender expression that is different from their own,” said Villar. 

“It is unfortunately a common flaw of human nature to debase those who are Other, who are different – but as common as this is in human beings, it is not a flaw that should be found in the State. The State instead must provide the protection necessary to ensure that its people are protected from injustice brought about by these biases, whether carried out individually or institutionally,” she added.

The bill essentially wants equal opportunities for the LGBT community. HB 4982 is not seeking to legalize same-sex marriage. 

According to Villar, HB 4982:

  • Provides concise, inclusive definitions for sexual orientation, gender orientation, gender identity and sex that also cover terms such as intersex and asexuality
  • Provides concise definitions of discrimination, marginalization, hate crimes, and stigma in a manner that allows the same to be actionable within the law enforcement and legal systems
  • Provides an inclusive list of discriminatory practices that cover the most common acts of discrimination based on prejudice against SOGIE
  • Makes explicit that discriminatory practices can be performed through any medium, including telecommunications devices and the internet, which proscribes some of the most common forms of discriminatory practices prevalent in modern times
  • Proscribes parents from inflicting physical or emotional harm on their children because of SOGIE issues
  • Protects the right to privacy of individuals, and in so doing protects both the expression and non-expression of the same
  • Sanctions government officials who do not act in accordance with their duty to investigate, prosecute, or otherwise act on a complaint under this bill
  • Provides penalties for those convicted of discriminatory acts, including a fine of not less than P100,000 but not more than P500,000 or imprisonment of not less than one year but not more than 6 years or both, at the discretion of the court. 
  • Makes explicit that discriminatory acts need not be motivated by bias, prejudice, or hate of SOGIE to be illegal, by making such motivations into special aggravating circumstances rather than elements of the offense
  • Renames the Women and Children’s Desks in all police stations to “Women, Children, and Gender Rights Protection Desks”
  • Mandates the State to pursue initiatives and programs that seek to establish and maintain an environment free of stigma and discrimination
  • Encourages positive and empowering portrayal of LGBT by media
  • Creates a Congressional Oversight Committee to monitor the compliance of public institutions to the provisions of the bill

A total of 144 legislators co-authored the bill, including Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas. (READ: Proponents hope to pass anti-discrimination bill in 17th Congress)

Apart from Villar, two authors of HB 4982 also delivered sponsorship speeches – Dinagat Islands Representative Kaka Bag-ao and Bataan 1st District Representative Geraldine Roman, the first transgender woman to be elected to Congress.

‘The sky will not fall’

According to Roman, existing laws do not fully protect Filipino LGBTs.

“Despite the existence of some laws that supposedly guarantee that all citizens of our country be given equal legal protection and opportunities in life, members of the LGBT community are still suffering from discrimination simply because of their gender orientation and gender identity expression,” said Roman.

She explained that LGBT members continue to be denied the chance to study, find jobs, grow in their careers, avail of basic government services, and gain access to public and commercial establishments because of their gender.

“As a result, they are subjected to humiliation. They are subjected to verbal and physical abuse. They are scorned at and mocked. They are judged, marginalized, and denied the opportunity to develop their full potential to become productive and law-abiding citizens of our country,” said Roman. 

She then urged her colleagues to help pass HB 4982 into law.

“We have this unique chance to uplift our brothers and sisters. What are we waiting for? There is nothing to fear. The sky will not fall and the sunrise will continue when this bill is passed,” said Roman.

‘Hugot’ for HB 4982

Bag-ao, meanwhile, called on her colleagues to dig deep into their hearts for the passage of HB 4982.

“Mr Speaker, mga kasama, hihiram ako ng isang salita mula sa mga millennial – hugot. Lagyan po natin ng hugot mula sa ating mga puso ang pagboto para sa mahalagang panukalang ito,” said Bag-ao.

(Mr Speaker, my dear colleagues, let me borrow a term from the millennials – dig deep. Let’s dig deep into our hearts to vote on this crucial bill.)

She then asked her fellow lawmakers to consider that a good number of congressional staff are members of the LGBT community. 

“Papayag po ba tayo na ang tingin sa pagiging LGBT ay isang sakit o disorder? Sa mga kongresistang naririto ngayon at nakikinig na mayroong staff members na LGBT – marami po sila at araw-araw natin silang kasama – mukha ba silang may sakit?” asked Bag-ao.

(Are we going to allow the view that being LGBT is a sickness or disorder? To the congressmen here who have staff members who are LGBT – there are many of them and we are with them every day – do they look sick?)

According to Bag-ao, the Philippines will need the SOGIE Equality Act as long as there are parents who punish their LGBT children, or transgenders who cannot use public bathrooms. 

“Habang may mga mamamayang takot matanggal sa trabaho kaya pinipili nilang hindi ihayag ang pagkatao nila at kung sino ang minamahal nila, kailangan natin ang SOGIE Equality Act,” she said.

(As long as there are citizens who are afraid to be fired from their jobs, so they just choose to hide their identity and who they love, we need the SOGIE Equality Act.) – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.