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Calling out hatred…

An open letter to the Philippine Airlines (PAL) on the gender insensitivity of the Philippine carrier’s monthly publication, Mabuhay.

Lynette Lee Corporal, managing editor at Eastgate Publishing Corporation: “We do realize that there are still a lot of misconceptions about the transgender community and innocent lapses may occur from time to time. We are always after clarity and increased awareness of important issues in society and this is one of those times when we are one with you in correcting misconceptions or misimpressions about transgenders.”

Editor in Chief
Mabuhay (Philippine Airlines’ Inflight Travel+Lifestyle Magazine)


This is to bring to your attention a gender-insensitive mistake in the issue for the month of June of Mabuhay, Philippine Airlines’ (PAL) monthly inflight magazine. Dubbed as your Pride Issue, it – rightfully so, if I may say so myself – features people (most of them Filipinos) who supposedly help make the wheels of change turn for the good of the Philippines. You deserve kudos for highlighting the goodness of the Filipino people as we mark this year’s Philippine Independence Day (in June, our “Pride month”).

Celebrating Pride during the month of June is, incidentally, also done by the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in many parts of the world, including many LGBTs in the Philippines. This actually honors the valiant efforts of members of the LGBT community during the Stonewall riots, a series of spontaneous (and, unfortunately, violent) demonstrations against a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village in New York City in the US. There was a time when – prior to the Stonewall riots – LGBTs chose to turn the other cheek, opting to ignore the government-backed system that persecuted them (and other sexual minorities), but that changed that night in June, now celebrated to mark the start of the modern times’ gay rights movement in the US and, yes, around the world.

Fortunately, the LGBT community has made progress (albeit slowly) in promoting equal treatment for all, irrespective of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. We know, however, that much remains to be done, with erroneous beliefs about us still being perpetrated even by those in positions that can influence policies that should support acceptance, not discrimination.

Referring to TG women as “Mister”, as the title does, is erroneous and, yes, insensitive. Doing so in a derisive manner, as the title ends up insinuating, is even more aggravating.

It is with sadness, therefore, that I’d like to point out to you what I found disturbing in Mabuhay’s June issue.

On Page 31, in the section entitled “IN THE NEWS”, a short paragraph deals with the decision of Miss Universe to allow transgenders (TGs) to compete in the annual beauty pageant. To wit:

Though its doors are still closed to mothers and married women, the Miss Universe beauty pageant will now allow transgender women to compete starting 2013, after letting 23-year-old Jenna Talackova compete in the Miss Universe Canada last May 2012.

Referring to TG women as “Mister”, as the title does, is erroneous and, yes, insensitive. Doing so in a derisive manner, as the title ends up insinuating, is even more aggravating.

This does not completely reflect the TG experience, but transgenderism has been somewhat simply defined as the “non-identification with, or non-presentation as, the gender one was assigned at birth”. With this, Ms Talackova may have been born male, but she IS a woman (she started hormone therapy at 14, and she even had sex reassignment when she was 19). Imposing heteronormative concepts on her personal sense of identity is specious.

When the June issue of Mabuhay was first seen by us, I was told that complaining is akin to making a mountain out of an anthill – after all, the entire TG article is but a few lines.

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However, while it may just be a few lines, alas, we cannot, and should not just dismiss it as such.

Even among members of the LGBT community, the TGs are considered to be even more discriminated against. For instance, in a report (Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey) released in February 2011, the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) found that 90% of TG people faced discrimination at work, and were unemployed at double the rate of the general population; over half had been harassed or turned away when attempting to access public services; and 41% of those surveyed reported attempting suicide, over 26 times the rate of 1.6% in the general population.

The problems reflected by these figures are interconnected. As the study also highlighted, “these numbers were greatly related to other factors tested, increasing for people who had lost a job due to discrimination (an especially relevant factor because transgender people faced double the general rate of unemployment, and 90% faced discrimination at work), were harassed at school (which occurred to almost eight out of every 10 people who were transgender or expressed gender non-conformity in grades K-12), had little household income, or were a victim of assault.”

It may sound simplistic, but how we address TGs can start the big changes in the way we treat them. On this, we cannot highlight enough the power of words in aiding LGBTs find general acceptance.

PAL is, of course, in a position to help achieve this. According to the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB), for the months of January to March this year alone, PAL had 1,097,272 international passengers. Even the numbers of your local passengers reportedly grew by 9% for the same quarter (compared to the same period a year ago). The big number of people who see Mabuhay cannot be underestimated – we just hope that the information they get is not, in any way, anti-LGBT.

Prior to the riots in Stonewall Inn, it can be argued that the inaction of the LGBTs to face those who persecuted them made the persecution happen in the first place. We are learning the hard way even now the relevance of being proactive in our push for equal rights for all. So please bear with me as I pinpoint the erroneous addressing of TGs.

We hope that better care is taken in future stories, as we all look forward to that day when LGBTs are finally treated as equals of everyone.

Outrage Magazine

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The founder of Outrage Magazine, Michael David dela Cruz Tan completed BA Communication Studies from University of Newcastle in NSW, Australia; and Master of Development Communication from the University of the Philippines-Open University. Conversant in Filipino Sign Language, Mick can: photograph, do artworks with mixed media, write (DUH!), shoot flicks, community organize, facilitate, lecture, and research (with pioneering studies under his belt). He authored "Being LGBT in Asia: Philippines Country Report", and "Red Lives" that creatively retells stories from the local HIV community. Among others, Mick received the Catholic Mass Media Awards in 2006 for Best Investigative Journalism, and Art that Matters - Literature from Amnesty Int'l Philippines in 2020. Cross his path is the dare (guarantee: It won't be boring).


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