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[ANALYSIS] SOGIEnomics: Why fighting for LGBTQ+ rights makes economic sense

JC Punongbayan

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[ANALYSIS] SOGIEnomics: Why fighting for LGBTQ+ rights makes economic sense
Most Philippine companies cannot be said to be LGBTQ+-friendly

It’s not only morally right, it’s also economically sound.

LGBTQ+ rights are in the news now in the wake of the appalling case of bathroom discrimination experienced by Gretchen Diez, a trans woman.

Coincidentally, bills are also being pushed right now in Congress to prevent other myriad cases of discrimination on the basis of people’s SOGIE, or sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. 

Bills pushing for SOGIE equality are not new. The first ever was filed in 2000, yet 19 years on it still hasn’t passed. By comparison, the legislative battle for the similarly contentious Reproductive Health Law lasted only 11 years.

Are things about to change, though?

On the one hand, no less than President Rodrigo Duterte talked to Gretchen Diez in Malacañang on August 20 to talk about LGBTQ+ rights. Duterte was even said to be “very positive” about the proposed SOGIE bills.

On the other hand, if you ask Senate President Vicente Sotto III, he thinks the SOGIE bill has “no chance” at the Senate.

Many policymakers also still don’t get LGBTQ+ and SOGIE at all.

In a recent public hearing, Senator Koko Pimentel kept referring to Gretchen Diez as “he” rather than “she,” and Pimentel said he’s “scientifically correct” in doing so. Duterte himself once implied being gay is a disease.

There are many reasons to pass a law for SOGIE equality, but in this article I want to focus on the economic reasons.

Many economic disadvantages are stacked up against LGBTQ+ from childhood to adulthood, as evidenced by repeated instances of SOGIE discrimination in school, at work, or elsewhere.

School discrimination

Stories of discrimination against LGBTQ+ youth in schools are rife.

It’s bad enough that LGBTQ+ youth are often bullied by their peers, whether physically or verbally. Worse, SOGIE discrimination often comes from teachers and school officials themselves.

Commonly, LGBTQ+ students are reprimanded or humiliated for “wrong” or “improper” ways of dressing or wearing certain hairstyles. More insidiously, many teachers and school officials spread outright lies about LGBTQ+.

A 2017 report by the Human Rights Watch found that “positive information and resources regarding sexual orientation and gender identity are exceedingly rare in secondary schools in the Philippines.”

It’s not uncommon for teachers or school officials to paint same-sex relationships and transgender identities as “immoral” or “unnatural.”

In at least one instance, as related in the Senate hearing presided by Senator Risa Hontiveros on the SOGIE Equality Bill, a teacher threatened to fail an entire class if one transgender student failed to dress “properly.” As a result, that student no longer went to school and eventually failed to graduate from high school.

Cases like these show that SOGIE discrimination can have an indelible impact on one’s education and, eventually, on one’s job prospects and future earnings.

Workplace discrimination

LGBTQ+ are also constantly subjected to discrimination at work.

A lot of horror stories came through in the recent Senate hearing. One of my friends was in fact a resource person there, and he told everyone about the time he was asked by a job interviewer if he was gay, and to rate how gay he was on a scale of 1 to 10.

Meanwhile, trans woman Roi Galfo was shamed publicly 3 years ago for using the women’s toilet in the BPO firm Concentrix where she worked. Ironically, Roi experienced bathroom discrimination in the Senate building moments before she testified in the hearing. For this, Senator Hontiveros apologized.

This is the tip of the iceberg. Sadly, most Philippine companies cannot be said to be LGBTQ+-friendly.

The inaugural Philippine Corporate SOGIE Diversity and Inclusiveness Index, based on a survey conducted in July to September 2018, showed that only 17% of surveyed companies had anti-discrimination policies that explicitly refer to SOGIE equality. All were BPO firms or otherwise had headquarters abroad.

In contrast, 57% of all respondent companies categorically said they had no policies on SOGIE equality, and 14% said all they had were motherhood statements like “we do not tolerate discrimination of any kind” or “we’re an equal opportunity employer.”

Worse, of the 71% companies in total which had very little to no SOGIE policies in place, 59% said they’re not working to create such policies; the rest were unsure.

Clearly, Filipino workplace culture needs to change. Notwithstanding the yawning absence of data, it’s not hard to surmise that thousands of LGBTQ+ members are, on a daily basis, being harassed and ridiculed at work, or otherwise being forced to suppress their gender expression.

Data gaps

We still don’t have a solid empirical grasp on how SOGIE discrimination in the Philippines affects various aspects of LGBTQ+ life, from education, employment, wages, housing, insurance, finance, and poverty.

Heck, there aren’t even proper studies measuring the size of the LGBTQ+ community in the Philippines.

Other countries should inspire us to fill the data gaps.

Economic research on LGBTQ+ is (unsurprisingly) rich in the US. One recent study put the share of the US LGBT population at 4.5%, while one economist estimated that about 5% of American men are gay.

Yet another study found that traditional survey techniques were likely to underestimate people’s SOGIE or anti-LGBTQ+ prejudices, vis-à-vis “veiled” questionnaires that do not explicitly ask respondents to say if they’re heterosexual or not.

Closer to home, the World Bank recently released its pathbreaking study titled “Economic Inclusion of LGBTI Groups in Thailand.” A 2014 study put the economic cost of LGBTQ+ discrimination in India at $32 billion per year.

We need true allies

At any rate, the current lack of data and research in the Philippines should not stop us from promoting SOGIE equality already.

Even if SOGIE discrimination turns out to affect but a small portion of the Philippine population, or that LGBTQ+ contribute relatively little to the macroeconomy, Filipino LGBTQ+ need no less protection from discrimination and exclusion.

In other words, LGBTQ+ rights ought to be respected and protected regardless of opinion polls or the size of the “pink economy.”

Lastly, LGBTQ+ rights are human rights. But we all know by now Duterte is no defender of human rights.

Gretchen may have done Duterte’s signature fist bump beside Duterte himself, but she’s naive and grossly mistaken if she thinks she has found in Duterte a true LGBTQ+ ally. –


The author is a PhD candidate at the UP School of Economics. His views are independent of the views of his affiliations. Follow JC on Twitter (@jcpunongbayan) and Usapang Econ (


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JC Punongbayan

Jan Carlo “JC” Punongbayan, PhD is an assistant professor at the University of the Philippines School of Economics (UPSE). His professional experience includes the Securities and Exchange Commission, the World Bank Office in Manila, the Far Eastern University Public Policy Center, and the National Economic and Development Authority. JC writes a weekly economics column for He is also co-founder of and co-host of Usapang Econ Podcast.