‘Why not just Homo sapiens?’: Senators confused by LGBTQ+, SOGIE

Rambo Talabong

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‘Why not just Homo sapiens?’: Senators confused by LGBTQ+, SOGIE
'Why not just Homo sapiens? We’re all the same,' remarks Senate President Vicente Sotto III

MANILA, Philippines – As the discussion on SOGIE (sexual orientation and gender identity and expression) and LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer) got reignited after a new case of discrimination caught the nation’s attention, some Senators found themselves lost with questions.

On Wednesday, August 14, Senator Risa Hontiveros delivered a privilege speech renewing her call for Congress to pass the SOGIE equality bill, which provides for the protection of the LGBTQ+ community.

Hontiveros delivered the message just a day after transgender woman Gretchen Custodio Diez was rejected by a janitress from using a mall bathroom in Cubao, Quezon City. When she tried to document the harassment, the janitress had her arrested.

Public outrage eventually pushed the janitress to drop the charges and to apologize for her mistreatment. Diez, meanwhile, vowed to continue to fight for the rights of LGBTQ+ members.

Hontiveros’ speech immediately received express support from Senators Imee Marcos and Bong Go during the session.

Then, the other male senators stepped in.

Basics with Pimentel

Senator Koko Pimentel took his turn at the pedestal and asked: “The good senator used the term trans woman. May we know what exactly that is?”

Pimentel’s question marked the beginning of some 35 minutes of back-and-forth between Hontiveros and male senators who were confounded on the gender and sexuality concepts.

Pimentel followed up: “Is that different from trans gender?”

As Hontiveros explained, transsexuals is a “subset” of transgenders—transgenders are people who do not identify themselves with their assigned gender or sex at birth. Transsexuals are transgenders who have undergone gender reassignment surgery to feel more themselves. (EXPLAINER: What you need to know about SOGIE)

Pimentel then asked whether transgenders would “need to look something or someway” before they are recognized. Hontiveros said they do not.

CRASH COURSE. Senator Risa Hontiveros explains the basics of LGBT and SOGIE to fellow senators. Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

Lacson’s fear

Former police chief and now Senator Panfilo Lacson posed a problem as a follow-up to Pimentel’s inquiry.

“I see a little danger here. What if a straight male person who is simply voyeuristic would enter the ladies room with another intention?” Lacson asked.

Hontiveros replied: “That would be dangerous if that were a common occurrence.”

Hontiveros explained that men with voyeuristic intentions would usually come as themselves and enter women’s bathrooms without the effort of crossdressing to enter. (READ: The many faces of sexual harassment in PH)

“They just enter as themselves, dressing in their everyday garb. They don’t need to pretend,” Hontiveros said.

Lacson then said in jest, “I’m just thinking of Senator Recto,” eliciting some chuckles in the session hall.

Sotto, Gordon confounded
With the discussion heating up, Senate President Vicente Sotto III joined in with his own questions.

“Why that lengthy letters? Why not just Homo sapiens? We’re all the same. Why do we have to segregate the gays from the lesbians from the straight guys?” Sotto asked with eyebrows furrowed.

Hontiveros explained to the Senate President that his proposal could have been sound if societies had not developed with inequality and thus the widespread use of labels to differentiate straight people from the “queers.”

Kaya lang po, hindi ganoon ang nangyayari (But that is not the case we live in),” Hontiveros said.

With the discussion showing confusion among them, Senator Richard Gordon started his turn remarking that “it’s kinda getting difficult to live in the world today because we’re making adjustment.”

Hontiveros replied: “If the good and very kind gentleman from Zambales thinks that it’s getting more and more difficult to live in the world, speaking as a man, you should try living in this world as a woman. You should try living in this world as an LGBT person.”

In between the questions, Senator Pimentel said that it was only a “preview” of their discussions for the SOGIE equality bill. After the proposed legislation languished in the past Congress, Hontiveros refiled the Senate bill for the 18th Congress.

Kasi, malabo pa eh. Hindi pa ganoon kaklaro ang konsepto, ang mga rules (It’s still confusing. The concepts are still not clear, the rules). So may this be a learning experience for all of us,” he said. – Rappler.com

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Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.