A look at SOGIE anti-discrimination laws around the world

MANILA, Philippines – Discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity continues to happen in many parts of the world, highlighting the need for laws to protect the LGBTQ+ community.

In the Philippines, only 20 local government units have ordinances against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Quezon City has an ordinance against LBGTQ+ discrimination but it was in a mall in that city where trans woman Gretchen Custodio Diez experienced discrimination – an incident that fueled discussions on the SOGIE equality bill.

(EXPLAINER: What you need to know about SOGIE, part 2 )

The SOGIE equality bill, which seeks to protect people against discrimination, was first filed in Congress in 2000 by then-senator Miriam Defensor Santiago and then-Akbayan representative Loretta Rosales. Senator Risa Hontiveros reintroduced the bill in the 18th Congress. (TIMELINE: SOGIE equality in the Philippines)

What are some of the anti-discrimination laws shielding the LGBTQ+ community from harassment and abuse in other parts of the world? 

1. Taiwan

Taiwan is considered the most progressive when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights in Asia. 

In May 2019, the bill recognizing same-sex marriage was passed into law – a first in Asia

In May 2017, Taiwan's Constitutional Court voted to legalize gay marriage. The court ruled that denying marriage rights to same-sex couples is unconstitutional.

2. France

France boasts of a tradition rooted in freedom and privacy that made it easier for the LGBTQ+ community to head towards acceptance. In 1985, a law was enacted to protect the community from discrimination in employment, housing, and other public and private provisions of services and goods. Three decades later, the law was expanded to include gender identity protection. 

In 2004, an anti-discrimination law was amended to include homophobic, sexist, and racist remarks. Penalties may increase if the physical assault or murder is linked to the sexual or gender identity of the victim.

In 2008, the education ministry launched a campaign against LGBTQ+ bullying in school. Education Minister Xavier Darcos also introduced the policy that battles against all forms of discrimination, including homophobia.

In 2013, a law was enacted allowing same-sex marriage and adoption rights for same-sex couples. This made France the 13th country in the world to legalize same-sex marriage. 

3. South Africa

Under apartheid in South Africa, homosexuality was a crime punishable by up to 7 years in prison. 

By 1996, South Africa became the first in the world to give constitutional protection to the LGBTQ+ community by constitutionally prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Section 9 of the South African Constitution states that “(3) The state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy, marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age, disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth." 

The Employment Equity Act was introduced in 1998, which protects workers from labor discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, among other things. 

The Civil Union Act was was enacted in 2006 after the Minister of Home Affairs vs Fourie case declared same-sex marriages legal. However, a clause states that civil servants are permitted to refuse civil unions on the grounds of their religion or belief. When it comes to legalization of same-sex marriage, South Africa lands, which enacted that law in 2006, was first in Africa and 5th in the world.

4. Israel

The Equal Opportunities in Employment Act of 1992 prohibits discrimination in the workplace on account of sexual orientation, with some exemptions for religious organizations.

The Libel and Slander Law of 1997 was revised to include prohibition of uttering and publishing defamation driven by one’s sexual orientation. If a violent crime which is proven to be motivated by sexual identity or expression, the act can qualify as a hate crime.

Discrimination by bouncers at nightclub entrances also prompted the Prohibition of Discrimination in Products, Services and Entry into Places of Entertainment and Public Places Law enacted in 2000, which also protects a person’s sexual orientation. 

5. Iceland

Iceland is regarded as a sanctuary for the LGBTQ+ community. Based on a 2015 poll conducted in 127 countries, gay men are happiest in Iceland.

In 1996, amendments were made to the Icelandic Penal Code to include sexual orientation in the country’s non-discrimination law, which include provisions of goods and services. It was again revised to include gender identity to the list of anti-discrimination grounds in 2014. Discrimination in education has been illegal since 2008.

It was only in 2018 when Iceland enacted a law against employment discrimination called the Law on Equal Treatment in the Workplace. It prohibits workplace discrimination because of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and even sex characteristics.  

6. Canada

The larger, more well-known cities of Canada have been reported to be more accepting of the LGBTQ+ community. Based on a Pew Research Center survey in 2013, 80% of its citizens  favor social acceptance of homosexuality.

Canada is one of the most advanced countries when it comes to LGBTQ+ legislation. In 2016, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau proposed to include gender identity or expression to the existing Canadian Human Rights Act which ensures equal opportunity to all individuals regardless of race, status, sex, among others. 

While there are reports that there are areas in Canada where people are not as welcoming or open to members of the LGBTQ+ community, every province has enacted human rights acts that forbid harassment on several grounds, which later became inclusive of the LGBTQ+ by 2017.

The Canadian Criminal Code prohibits hate propaganda directed towards those who are distinguished by sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. 

7. Spain 

Spain legalized same-sex marriage back in 2005, making it the 4th country in the world to do so. 

Laws against employment discimination on the basis of sexual orientation in several communities have been around since 1995, but do not cover gender identity. Ten autonomous communities additionally banned discrimination based on sex characteristics.

Article 4(2) of the Workers’ Statute reads: “In labor relations, workers have the right: ... not to be directly or indirectly discriminated in employment, or, once employed, discriminated by reason of sex, civil status, age within the limits set forth by this Law, racial or ethnic origin, social status, religion or convictions, political ideas, sexual orientation...”

Hate crime and hate speeches on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender identity have been prohibited since 1995. In the same year, the law has prohibited discrimination in housing based on sexual orientation and gender identity. 

Like anti-discrimination laws on employment, laws that concern provision of goods and services on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity depends on the autonomous communities. 

8. Sweden

Sweden is regarded as one of the most progressive countries in Europe when it comes to the acceptance of LGBT. In 1972, it become the first in the world to allow a change of legal gender after undergoing sex reassignment surgery.

In 1987, the provision in the Swedish Penal Code which deals with discrimination was expanded to include discrimination against the LGBT. 

Article 12 of the Constitution of Sweden states: “No act of law or other provision may imply the unfavourable treatment of anyone because they belong to a minority group by reason of ethnic origin, color, or other similar circumstances or on account of their sexual orientation.”

The 2003 Prohibition of Discrimination Act  forbids discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in relation to labor market policies, pursuing a profession, running a business, membership in employee organizations, among others. Two years later, it was expanded to include social services, social insurance system, unemployment insurance, and healthcare. 

Some provisions of the Prohibition of Discrimination Act were amended in 2017 to strengthen battling discrimination in the workplace and educational institutions. They must seek to promote equal rights and opportunities for all, including transgender identity and sexual orientation.

Transgender identity is now protected by the anti-discrimination law in all other areas.

9. Netherlands

A small country with a very diverse population, discrimination is said to be more apparent in the Netherlands than the rest of the countries on this list. While still one of the most globally friendly when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community, support for this movement has subsided over the years. Some members of the community still find it difficult to come out and express themselves.

According to the Central Agency for Statistics in 2013, homosexuals generally felt much more unsafe when compared to hetereosexuals. 

In 2016 alone, there were 1,574 reports of homophobic violence in the Netherlands. Because of this, the Dutch government has been constantly working towards crafting laws and policies that to its people from acts of discrimination and abuse. 

The Equal Treatment Act of 1994 bans discrimination based on sexual orientation in terms of employment, housing, and public and private accommodations. In 2017, a bill was proposed to add sex characteristics, gender identity, and gender expression to the growing list of anti-discrimination provisions. 

Joining this growing list of countries with anti-discrimination laws are Denmark, Finland, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway, Slovenia, and some states in the United States. 

The presence of anti-discrimination laws aids in protecting members of the growing minority as it strives towards achieving equality for all. The Philippines could learn a thing or two. – Rappler.com

Micah Avry Guiao is a Rappler intern from the Ateneo de Manila University.