In August 2019, the narrative of Gretchen Diez shook Filipino consciousness. The exchange of thoughts and opinions about her case blew out of proportion. While some rallied behind Diez’s plea, others said the issue was too dramatic. Moreover, even some LGBTQ+ members found her appeal to be too much, claiming that Diez was demanding more than the community should.
The conversations escalated even further, creating a faction on the right to privacy in gendered comfort rooms in the Philippines. Different institutions gave mixed positions and dissenting opinions, even reaching a senate inquiry regarding discrimination. The issue paved the way for LGBTQ+ matters to be discussed on a national level. For a country in Asia-Pacific dubbed as most “tolerant” nation on LGBTQ+ rights, though, why was there such intense backlash against Gretchen’s plea?
The Wins of LGBTQ+ Rights in the Philippines
This past decade has seen significant wins for the LGBTQ community across different countries. In June 2011, the United Nations passed a resolution supporting gay rights, an unprecedented move that swayed policies of some counties in the decriminalization of homosexuality, enact comprehensive anti-discrimination laws, among others. Subsequently, the Philippines is a staunch supporter of international acts to integrate gender equality into the principles, goals, and processes of Philippine education. The Philippines is aligned with the international commitments of the government on different global and regional treaties to end gender-based discrimination.
Being LGBTQ+ in the Philippines is not criminalized. A handful of anti-discrimination and laws have passed in some cities and municipalities in recent years, including Quezon City, Cebu, Davao, Mandaluyong, Angeles, Antipolo, Cavite, and Batangas.
In 2009, the Philippines finally ended a ruling that had prevented openly gay and bisexual men and women from serving in the military.
In 2010, the Civil Service Commission’s (CSC) Office Memorandum 29-2010 forbade discrimination against LGBT people applying for civil service examinations. The CSC also has the Revised Policies on Merit Promotion Plan that inhibits discrimination in the selection of employees based on gender.
In a response to the transition to be more gender-inclusive, the Department of Education (DepEd) recently released DepEd Order No. 32, s. 2017 or the Gender-Responsive Basic Education Policy. It outlines guidelines on how DepEd employees encourage and defend the rights of children, regardless of gender orientation, and foster a gender-sensitive learning environment.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Pasay City considered LGBTQ+ parents and their children as a family, another progressive move by our leaders.
The Upsets of LGBTQ+ Rights in the Philippines
Against all odds, LGBTQ+ activists are gaining momentum, and this can no longer be halted. However, conservatives are pushing back, arguing that LGBTQ+ rights have come too far. In countries where being LGBT has been decriminalized, advocacies have geared their attention on demand for same-sex marriage laws, equality in labor laws, legal adoption, parenthood, and even the right to privacy in toilets. The same is seen is here in the Philippines.
The LGBTQ+ movement has directed its energies to legal inclusion and the bestowal of equal rights on stigmatized sex groups. It suggests that the end goal for all LGBTQ+ people remains the pursuit of aspirations sanctioned by a heteronormative society. It implies homonormativity – the norm to feel treated as normal and equal, and to achieve a stable sense of social belonging.
The movement is not yet at its peak, though. In 2014, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) published a monumental report on the status of LGBTQ+ in the Philippines that reveals that LGBT people are subject to discrimination in educational institutions. With academic freedom as a disguise, educational institutions create their policies.
In the health sector, there is a need to address the psychosocial health needs of LGBTQ+ Filipinos, including through supportive service providers. LGBTQ+ individuals also face adversities in employment that are often ignored, attributed to the weak social status and position of the individuals involved. In a 2018 study by the Philippine LGBT Chamber of Commerce, none of the 52 Philippine-based companies surveyed had policies against discrimination based on SOGIE.
As for same-sex marriage, the Supreme Court gave a verdict early this year denying the petition of Jesus Falcis and associates to recognize same-sex unions. Adding to these concerns are the robust discussions on family affairs and religious beliefs that being LGBTQ+ is considered deviant and, worse, a mortal sin.
What is more upsetting for the LGBTQ+ movement is the long sought-after legislation that will ensure the protection of LGTBQ+ Filipinos. The Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) Equality Bill has been in Congress for 17 years now. While there is a growing call for its passage, some legislators are still unsure about some of the provisions in the bill. The bill was refiled at the opening of 18th Congress, but there is no strong support for this yet.
Are LGBTQ+ Rights Creating New Rights?
The desire for assimilation – such as the right to use gendered comfort rooms, get married, and have children – is problematic to some. Some experts raise compelling questions: is it true that these LGBTQ+ rights have produced more freedom for these once marginalized and maligned sexual minorities? Can true freedom and humanity be acquired through the patterns of heterosexuals? Do cisgenders think their lives are worth modeling, given how marriage has become increasingly unappealing and replaced by less formal arrangements?
According to famous feminist researcher Charlotte Bunch, the concept of human rights, like all vibrant visions, is not static or the property of any one group. Instead, its meaning expands as people re-conceive their needs and hopes concerning it. Bunch likened the LGBTQ+ rights movement to the feminist movement. The first approach focuses on political and social rights by having the right to assembly and free speech. The second approach focuses on socio-economic rights, especially in terms of developing the concept of non-discrimination in employment. The third approach focuses on raising and having the right to self-determination in sexual matters. Finally, the LGBTQ+ movement permeated in the UN by having resolutions focused on sexual orientation to expand the interpretation of human rights treaties, thanks to the efforts of certain countries and both LGBTQ+ and mainstream NGOs.
The demands of LGBTQ+ people for their lives to be assimilated in a heteronormative society is just an expansion of the existing human rights of heterosexuals. While there is still an ongoing battle for women’s rights, LGBT rights should not be alienated. The women’s rights and LGBT rights movement actually go hand in hand. One valid proof of this is the term “pinkwashing.” Pinkwashing, as defined by activists, is a practice of a company or a state to present itself as LGBTQ+-friendly or women-friendly, and progressive to hide its malicious and vile practices. Pinkwashing has been tagged onto entities masking their identities in breast cancer awareness and misrepresentation of the pride flag.
Are LGBTQ+ rights just a Western concept?
In March 2017, President Duterte told journalists in an interview that issues around sexuality and gender, particularly same-sex marriage were part of Western thinking, not Filipino culture. Critics of the LGBTQ+ rights movement cites that LGBTQ+ thinking is a Western ideology. UP Professor J. Niel Garcia contradicts this. In his 2004 research, Anitism (indigenous belief systems and religions in the pre-Spanish era) regards homosexual acts as a part of nature and thus acceptable (and to some extent, even sacred). In Filipino history, Filipino men dressing in women’s apparel and acting like women were called, among other things, babaylan, bayoguin, bayok, agi-ngin, asog, bido, and binabae. According to his research, some of these feminized men worked as spiritual leaders or shamans. Others were respected leaders and figures of authority: religious functionaries and shamans. However, due to the spread of Islam and Christianity in the entire country, such indigenous belief systems were subjugated.
Speaking of religion, some experts believe that homophobia and transphobia are more cultural rather than religious. Some religious and text scholars argue that same-sex dynamics of many varieties are an integral part of history and culture. In a recent study, scholars Dirk-Jan Jennsen and Peer Scheepers of Radhound University, Netherlands supported these claims in their studies, concluding that the rejection of homosexuality is partially explained by authoritarianism and traditional gender beliefs.
Although LGBT rights have overcome adversities and have been recognized by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights as a fundamental human right, it is far-fetched to claim that the LGBTQ+ community is reaching too far and encroaching other’s rights. The movement has just started, and more ceilings still need to be shattered. When it comes to human rights, there is no such thing as too much. Fundamentally, the LGBTQ+ community is fighting the very essence of being a human and of having the right to express themselves and their identity.
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