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LGBTQ activists: We are tolerated but not accepted in the Philippines

MANILA, Philippines – "It's okay that you're a lesbian as long as you're not the partner of my daughter."

"It's okay that you're gay as long as you're not working in my company."

"It's okay that you're a transgender woman but don't use our female toilet."

"It's okay that you're human but don't ask for your rights."

These are the sentiments that members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community often receive, said Ging Cristobal, project coordinator for Asia and the Pacific, Outright Action International.

"We are considered second class or third class citizens," Cristobal said on Tuesday, May 16, at a forum on women empowerment. "We are tolerated, but not accepted. Tolerated is more of, 'We have to endure you... but only up to here.'" 

Cristobal said that in the Philippines, discrimination against the LGBTQ community is widespread – from families to schools, from companies to establishments.

"Even just to party. For a transgender woman to wear female clothing, they're not allowed to enter. For schools, you're not allowed to graduate because you have to wear a dress. I wore a dress with rubber shoes just so I could graduate in high school," she said.

Nicky Castillo of Metro Manila Pride agreed there is a lack of protections in schools and the workplace.

"As LGBTQ women, these problems are compounded because we experience them as LGBTQ people and then as women. So there are other layers or other intersections of oppression that we have to face."

But she also said that the lack of acceptance at home is equally problematic.

"Time and time again, when there is research about violence vs LGBTQ people, the violence starts and is most vibrant at home. We hear this everywhere," she said. 

Perpetuating stereotypes

Rainbow Rights Philippines president Jazz Tamayo, who describes herself as a "lesbian lawyer," said the problem is stereotypes. The perpetuation of stereotypes contributes to the absence of their protection in the law.

"When we are present in the law, it is to prohibit. We're a ground. Homosexuality is a ground for a legal separation," she said.

"What we need are protections. Up to now our Anti-Discrimination Bill is languishing in Congress. Sooner or later it will be 18 years old. It's not being passed yet."

Naomi Fontanos, executive director of Gender and Development Advocates Philippines, said this is especially important because the trans community in the Philippines is consistently the target of violence.

"The violence we experience as transwomen start with people denying who we are. To deny a woman her identity is a form of violence. To say that I am not a woman is a form of violence," she said.

The violence they experience, she added, can be physical, verbal, and psychological. 

"A lot of transwomen, when they experience physical violence, it's always very extreme. And this is actually demonstrated by the murder of Jennifer Laude," she said, referring to a Filipina transwoman murdered by a US Marine in 2014.

"She experienced extreme brutality, and when people found out she was trans, her gender identity was also denied. The tendency was to blame her for what happened to her, for the brutal violence inflicted on her."

Fontanos said these damaging stereotypes exist even within trans communities in the Philippines.

"There's a certain strand of womanhood that one must aspire to if you are trans. That you must have surgery, fair skin, that you must play to the patriarchal ideals of beauty to be an acceptable transwoman," she said.

The panelists, who aimed to shed light on the many facets of womanhood in Philippine society, urged fellow Filipinos to eliminate stereotypes against the LGBTQ community and to help ensure their rights and protections.

Cristobal, who currently lives with a partner who has a daughter from a previous relationship, said her "rainbow family" has no legal protection or rights in the country.

"If my partner passed away, my daughter goes to her family. If she gets sick, I don't have any right to bring her to the hospital or to get permission from the doctor to admit her or get her operated on. And if she dies, her family can tell me to stay away. All our things will be divided in half – half for her family, half for me." – Rappler.com