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Op-Ed

Inequality before the law: Cissexual people vs Transexual people

Though not considered as criminals, transsexual people are considered as “non-law abiding” because they are not living according to the sex assigned to them at birth. Sass Rogando Sasot explores how this perceived non-law abiding status makes transsexual people vulnerable to discrimination, which inevitably places them in an unequal relationship with others.

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Though not considered as criminals, transsexual people are considered as “non-law abiding” because they are not living according to the sex that was assigned to them at birth. Looking at specific cases of transsexual females in the Philippines, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Vietnam, this article explores how this perceived non-law abiding status, makes transsexual people vulnerable to discrimination, which inevitably places them in an unequal relationship with others.

The legal weight of our sex assignment at birth

The birth certificate is the legal document that establishes our existence. Through it we become legal persons, and this means that we will possess the capacity to have and to maintain certain rights, and to have duties enforceable by law. One of the important aspects of our legal personality is our sex.

Our sex is legally defined at birth. Let me digress for a moment. This article will not make any distinction between gender and sex as I don’t share the view that “sex” is a biological fact while “gender” is socially constructed. Hence, I use sex and gender interchangeably, as well as female with girl/women, and male with boy/men – but this is not to say that gender is a biological fact. Genitalia, body parts, are biological facts but the label we assign to them and the activity of assigning a particular sex/gender to them is not. As what Anne Fausto-Sterling said in Sexing the Body: gender politics and the construction of sexuality, they are social decisions based on normative views about sex/gender. More importantly, the law does not make any distinction between sex and gender. Assigning a baby’s sex is also assigning the baby’s gender. They are not separate and independent legal processes.

Taking our external genitalia as the cue, the doctor (or whoever attended to our birth) proclaims, and hence assigns us, into either the category of “boy or girl.” This proclamation, however, is not a description of what is between our legs but an act of giving us the first aspect of our legal identity: sex. Along with other details such as name, date of birth, name of parents, the sex that was proclaimed by the doctor gets entered into our birth certificate. In turn, the sex on our birth certificates will be the sex that will be reflected on all our legal documents, such as our passports. It will be also be the sex that will be considered in the application of several laws, such as marriage laws and anti-rape law.

Cissexual people find no problem with the sex to which they were assigned during their birth. In Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and Scapegoating of Feminity, Julia Serrano defines cissexual people as those “people who have only ever experienced their subconscious and physical sex being aligned.” Transsexual people don’t have this experience. In this article, transsexual is defined using its fundamental meaning: Transsexual people are those whose personal sex identification is “opposite” to the sex they were assigned to at birth. So, a transsexual female (transsexual girl/woman) is someone who was assigned as male at birth but identifies as female, while transsexual male (transsexual boy/man) is someone who was assigned as female but identifies as male.

Transsexual people, if they have the courage to do so, live in accordance to some, if not all, of the gender norms associated with their personal sex identification. For example, transsexual females dress as women; take on a more feminine-sounding name; prefer to be addressed as “Ms” and with feminine pronouns; and some take hormones and/or undergo surgeries to let their physical bodies match those of female cissexuals (females who were assigned as female at birth and who accepts that sex assignment. Because they were assigned as female at birth, we can safely assume that they were born with genitalia associated with being female).

BUT: Transsexual females’s mere personal sex identification, mere living in accordance to the gender norms of their sex identification, and even undergoing sex reassignment surgery do not have any automatic legally binding effect. It is only the doctor’s proclamation at our birth that has that effect. Even if there are laws that allow one’s legal sex to be changed, one is still legally the sex that is written on her birth certificate until the time the proper legal authority approves her change of sex.

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The self-identification and actions of transsexual females, though not legally binding, may have a social effect. Socially,other people may recognize and therefore treat transsexual females as females, especially if they pass well enough as cissexual females. Nonetheless, in the eyes of the law they are still males and will be legally treated as such. So for them to be considered as law-abiding, they are obliged to legally identify themselves as males, doing otherwise may be considered illegal.

In Malaysia, abiding by the law does not just stop at legally identifying themselves as male, transsexual females must live publicly as one. Under the Shari’ah Law, mak nyahs (the Malaysia term for transsexual female) “can be persecuted for being a man who dresses like a woman (lelaki berlagak seperti perempuan). In almost every state, this offence carries a jail term of six months (or one year in some states) or a RM 1,000 fine (up to a maximum of RM 5,000 in one state).”

As one is obliged to use one’s legal sex on one’s legal documents, failure to do so may cause one to be denied such legal document. Consider the case of Jenny T. Ramsey, a transpinay (Filipino term for transsexual female), who is now living in Germany. When Jenny went to renew her Philippine passport in the Philippine embassy in Berlin, the embassy did not renew her passport. The reason: Jenny’s sex on her German temporary residence permit says female. It was female as Jenny managed to have her sex legally changed by petitioning a German court. However, such change though legal in Germany, is not recognized in the Philippines as there is no law allowing that change. Moreover, having two legal sex identities is also not legal in the Philippines (and perhaps in all countries in the world). Because of the absence of law that allows legal sex change or of a law that allows two legal sex identities in the Philippines, Jenny was not issued a new passport. In order for her to be able to travel, Germany issued her a passport (Jenny is now a German citizen) .

When it comes to marriage, this is also the case. One’s legal sex is the one that matters. In Hong Kong, there is this case of W, a Chinese transsexual female. Despite having her sex changed on her Hong Kong identity card from male to female, W was not allowed to marry her boyfriend because she is still legally male on her birth certificate, and that is the sex that matters when it comes to marriage.

And in rape law, the non-legality of a transsexual female’s personal and social sex identification can also mean that if she were raped she might not be able to bring those who raped her to justice – well, that is, if the rape law of her country only applies to women who are legally female. In Vietnam, judicial authorities in the north-central province of Quang Binh declined to prosecute the three men who gang raped a female transsexual because she is not legally female.

Inequality before the law: cissexuals vs. transsexuals

Transsexual females are socially marginalized and individually discriminated against because they are not living in accordance with the gender norms of their legal sex at birth. Marginalization and discrimination form and inform each other. Patterns of individual experiences of discrimination of transsexual females produce and reproduce the social process of marginalization. In turn, the social process of marginalization of transsexual females produces and reproduces their individual experiences of discrimination.

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In the Philippines, in terms of employment opportunities, transpinays have long been confined to work only among four industries: entertainment, fashion, beauty, and sex. Their marginalization into these professions is brought by the discrimination that transpinays experience in other industries. To see a transpinay working outside these industries is to see the instances of exception rather than the rule. The widespread employment discrimination is one of the issues highlighted by a group of transpinays in the communication they sent in May 2011 to the United Nations under the First Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

In terms of rights, we have seen in the case of W in Hong Kong how her right to marry has not been granted. In the case of the Vietnamese transsexual female, we see how she was denied her right to equal protection of the law.

The discrimination that transpinays experience and failure of W and the Vietnamese transsexual female to access their right can be seen a result of the absence of law. This argument is strong in terms of the case of W and the Vietnamese transsexual female. W’s right to marry could have been granted if there’s a law allowing transsexual females in Hong Kong to marry; while the Vietnamese transsexual female’s right to equal protection of the law could have been respected if the rape law in Vietnam considered the rape of legally male persons as rape. However, this absence of law is not strong in the case of transpinays. An anti-discrimination law would not stop discrimination against them from happening for it only acts as a remedy after they were discriminated. As what Irish Young observed in Justice and the Politics of Difference about the unequal distribution of managerial positions among men and women, the general pattern of discrimination is still “reproduced even in the face of conscious efforts to change it.” Young suggests that understanding why this is so, “entails evaluation of a matrix of rules, attitudes, interactions, and policies as a social process that produces and reproduces that pattern.”

In the case of transpinays, it is not the absence of law per se that produces and reproduces the pattern of discrimination that they experience. What produces these patterns of discrimination is the presence of a law that takes cissexual people’s experience of gender as the norm. This is equally true with the case of W and of the Vietnamese transsexual female, as well as in the case of Jenny who was not issued a Philippine passport because her legal sex under German law is not legal under Philippine law.

What’s the law got to do with it?

So what does the law got to do with producing and reproducing patterns of discrimination? Aren’t we all equal under the law in a democratic state? Let me first answer the latter. Yes we are. But: Cissexual and transsexual people are equal before the law only in the sense that their legal sexes are what are legally binding and not their personal sex identifications. Equality in this sense takes cissexual people’s reality as the legal norm (legal sex = personal sex identification). Because of this legal norm, discrimination against transsexual people can be easily justified because the sex that they personally identified with has no legal weight.

As for the former question, the law produces, reproduces and enforces the prescriptions of gender norms that accompany the proclamation of our sex at birth, specially the gender norm that the sex we should declare ourselves should be in conformity to the sex we were proclaimed at birth. For cissexual people, this prescription is not a problem. For transsexual people, it is; and we have learned how this prescription acts as a constraint to transsexual female’s lives and therefore limit their capability to function as an equal citizen.

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As what Elizabeth Anderson said in What’s the point of equality?, to stand in relations of equality with others means to be not oppressed and dominated. Oppression and domination are not the social conditions of freedom but, as Iris Marion Young said, “the social conditions that define injustice.” Oppression and domination, Young respectively defines as “the institutional constraint on self-development” and “the institutional constraint on self-determination.”
The law as we have seen in the cases of transsexual females can be oppressive for the law reinforces the discrimination against them. And as transsexual females are discriminated, they have limited access to opportunities that can contribute to their self development. The can also be a tool of domination of cissexual people. The law’s institutionalization of cissexual people’s experience of gender provides what Young called as the “structured operation of…domination”; and this structure of domination provide the “background, medium, or purpose” that “produce and reproduce” patterns of discrimination against transsexual females.

Dignity

“The counterpart to an individual’s inalienable right to the social conditions of her freedom,” Anderson said, “is the unconditional obligation of others to respect her dignity….” She based the unconditionality of the obligation to respect someone’s dignity from Kant’s notion of a universal inherent dignity, which is “not conditional upon anyone’s desires or preferences, not even to the individual’s own desires.” By considering dignity unconditional, Anderson justified “lifetime [egalitarian] guarantees without resorting to paternalism.” Dignity secures these lifetime guarantees as it is universal and unconditional; and it helps avoid paternalism, for dignity, as it is universal, places someone in equal footing with others. One then doesn’t claim rights on the basis of her inferiority but on her equality with others. Equality guaranteed by the inherency, universality, and unconditionality of dignity, which is what egalitarian political movements assert: the equal moral worth of person.

The qualities of dignity so mentioned are of course normativ: It is what dignity should or ought to be. Normative concepts become problematic when we consider them substantively: The should and ought do get in conflict with what it is in actuality. Whether it is actually inherent or not is a long philosophical discussion, which this article cannot fully cover. I focus instead on the universality and unconditionality of dignity.

Granting that dignity is a quality we inherently have, it is a quality that is not above the influence of social relations. A social order based on unequal social relations can affect the equality of dignity. In an unequal social relationship, the dignity of those who are in the bottom of the ladder depends upon the recognition and evaluation of those who are occupying the higher rung. This of course is contrary to the unconditionality trait of dignity but not to the universality of dignity because recognizing that someone has dignity does not mean that she has no dignity. I assume, and I might be right to assume, that we are still far from a society without a pecking order. Hence, right now other people’s dignity is still under the mercy of other’s recognition. But the good news is, recognition of someone’s dignity can lead to the dismantling of inegalitarian social relations, and by doing so distribute dignity in the process. However this can’t happen by just being recognized by others, people also has to recognize their dignity. As James Tully said in Struggles over recognition and distribution, “recognizing [oneself] and others will have effects in the distribution or redistribution of the relations of power. Of course, the new rule of mutual recognition will itself constitute a redistribution of ‘recognition capital’ (status, respect, and esteem).”

Transsexual people must embrace without condition that they have dignity. And that will begin the process of dismantling inegalitarian social conditions, which includes the legal system that gives structure to their oppression and reinforces the discrimination they experience.

Since 2001, as she was about to turn 19, Sass has dedicated herself to the LGBT Rights movement in the Philippines, most specifically to issues of gender identity and freedom of gender expression. James Green, an international transgender rights activist, served as her mentor via email. She started giving discussions on transgender rights and issues in Luneta Park in Manila. In December 2002, she co-founded the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP). In 2003 & 2004, together with Drs Sam Winter and Mark King of the University of Hong Kong, she did the first comprehensive study on transgender women in the Philippines. The study has been published in the International Journal of Transgenderism. In 2009, she was one of the LGBT activists invited to speak in a historic United Nations General Assembly side-event at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. In 2013, she received the ECHO Award, given annually to excellent and promising migrant students in the Netherlands. In 2014, she received the Harry Benjamin Distinguished Education and Advocacy Award from the World Profession Association for Transgender Health. A nomadic spirit, Sass loves to write, walk, read, cycle, and cook. Together with the love of her life, Sass is currently based in The Hague, The Netherlands. She graduated with a Combined major in World Politics & Global Justice, minor in International Development (Magna cum Laude) at Leiden University College, which bestowed her the 2014 Global Citizenship Award. She is a contributing writer on TG issues for the mag, through The Activist. Sass.Rogando.Sasot@outragemag.com

Op-Ed

Being LGBTQ+ means nothing

Being unaware of and deviant from what that community is intentionally fighting for clearly does not make us a part of it. We have to realize that our identity does not really matter as much as what we actually say, do or stand for.

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We’ve heard it all before — a woman who still espouses misogyny, Filipinos who can be insulting towards their own skin color, a devout Christian who has little knowledge about the Bible and the history of Christianity, a gay person who is against the rights of other LGBTQ+ folks. These seemingly self-contradictories show that our identity is nothing but superficiality.

Our identity does not hold the substance of what we’re all about.

Having a certain identity does not follow that we know all there is to understand about it.

More importantly, it does not immediately give us the authority or credibility to speak on behalf of a larger group we supposedly belong to. Otherwise, we only cause much harm and misinformation.

What does a community mean? Fumbling through the dictionary, we would find similar definitions that basically sum up as “a group of people sharing a commonality of interests, attitudes, characteristics, values, goals – even history – and living in a particular location or within a greater area”. Applying this to the so-called LGBTQ+ community, since LGBTQ+ persons obviously do not live in the same quarters or have exactly the same lived experiences (hence the need for the acronym with a plus sign), we need to take only the spirit of the word — that is, a community is a social state of more than skin-deep commonality.

People who label themselves as LGBTQ’s do not see the whole picture if they go against equality and the principle that human rights must be bestowed to all regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, nationality, physical appearance and so forth. Such people who proclaim they are “part of the LGBTQ+ community but…” are merely disruptive tumors. They are not part of the community but only a part of the problem, which is compounded by ignorance, indifference, hate and discrimination.

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So before we open our mouths and ascribe to some sort of community or identity, let’s be truly certain first that we know what it’s all about. Being unaware of and deviant from what that community is intentionally fighting for clearly does not make us a part of it. We have to realize that our identity does not really matter as much as what we actually say, do or stand for.

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Op-Ed

Salvation our God is extending

“With a SOGIE Law enforced, the sensibilities of some (they cannot claim to represent the majority) will be offended as has happened in legislation on women’s rights. But the tradeoff will be LGBTQ+ individuals participating more meaningfully in national development. The Philippines would foster a culture of nonviolence, and I think God would be smiling down on us.”

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By Koko Alviar

The SOGIE Equality Bill is not against religious freedom. If anything, it will help us recapture the diversity of beliefs in our country.

I am Vaughn Alviar, from the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, a liberational Church that has interpreted Scripture in light of facts and God’s commissioning for charity and liberation. The Church coopted me some time in 2015 to help the Supreme Council of Bishops articulate a statement that wanted to affirm LGBTIQ+ individuals, “Our Common Humanity, Our Shared Dignity.” It was approved in February 7, 2017.

Incidentally, I am a homosexual cisgender male son of a heterosexual cisgender male priest. I say these belatedly because they have never negatively affected my craft as a writer and my practice as a good Christian, although I will not deny knowledge of my SOGIE has affected the perception of what I am capable of doing.

I am more than my SOGIE; in fact we in the LGBTQ+ community are all more than our SOGIE. Unfortunately, people have seen the physical manifestations of it and felt they could see right through us, judge and discriminate us. My classmates from Day Care in Sanchez Mira, Cagayan, to university in Baguio City had always criticized my being effeminate and emotional, my not being manly. Despite all these, I had the will power to prove my value in my communities and circles. I can’t say the same for many others, whose chances were impaired by abuses far worse than I’ve experienced and who didn’t belong to families that earned well enough to send them to good schools or who disowned them – sometimes because of the faith they profess.

Being LGBTQ+ is a choice, we are told. But, given all the disadvantages laid out before us (per the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, LGBTQ+ people experience more poverty, hunger, joblessness and depression than our heterosexual, cisgender counterparts), what would we benefit from choosing to be minoritized? Having to prove we are good, capable and beneficial workers, or hiding how we express ourselves to conform with straight environments, these are definitely burdens. Our siblings in the faith have claimed that the law sees us equally, but our lived experiences and jurisprudence claim we are not. Thus, vulnerable sectors need the State to help us claim equity, aid us in reminding everyone that we are human too, and enable us to fight back when our rights are abused.

It has also been claimed that a law protecting LGBTQ+ persons against discrimination would negate Christians’ freedom of religion. It is a preposterous claim that insults the very spirit of “freedom of religion”: that individuals will not be force-fed belief systems; and that we are all free to hold beliefs – or not – and to conduct ourselves accordingly, except when we harm others. If anything, many people, driven by their “Christian” beliefs, harmed LGBTIQ+ individuals without provocation.

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While they lift from the Bible, the holy book cannot be seen as a definitive guide to what must be social convention. It has, in fact, been used to stall important laws to end slavery, and to uphold the rights of persons with disability and women.

For example:

I permit no woman to teach or have authority over men; she is to keep silent.” (Timothy 2:11)

Whosoever … hath any blemish, let him not approach to offer the bread of his God. For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose, or anything superfluous, Or a man that is brokenfooted, or brokenhanded, Or crookback, or a dwarf, or that hath a blemish in his eye, or be scurvy, or scabbed, or hath his stones broken … He shall not go in unto the vail, nor come nigh unto the altar, because he hath a blemish; that he profane not my sanctuaries.” (Leviticus 21:17-23)

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ.” (Ephesians 6:5)

With verses inapplicable in our time, how do we know for sure that verses chastising LGBTIQ+ individuals should still apply? In the laws enacted for women, children, senior citizens, persons with disability, among others, the justification was unequal treatment on the ground, in real life, despite the Constitutional guarantee of equality that our other siblings cite. The drawback was sensibilities getting hurt; the reward has been greater empowerment and participation in society for those sectors. We need our guarantee, too.

Another case in point: If two people are equally passionate about Bible-based beliefs, do we have objective criteria to judge which person is more righteous?

Here is an example: A cisgender man has been a top employee for years. He is the breadwinner for his family, encouraged by 1 Timothy 5:8: “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” One day, he comes out as homosexual and discloses he has a boyfriend. The heterosexual cisgender owner, who comes from a conservative background, fires the person, because of Romans 1:26-27: “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.”

“We believe that the best way to fulfill our duty to establish heaven on earth is the full realization of human rights for all – and LGBTQ+ rights are human rights.”

Who’s to say that the business owner holds the right understanding of faith? What if the homosexual man goes to church more often? Doesn’t that make him better? The law must declare that productivity trumps sexual orientation.

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One thing I’ve observed among people of faith who decide not to support the SOGIE Bill is self-righteousness – a confidence that they are to be seen as authoritative, the voice of a majority. In doing so, they downplay other peoples’ faith, among these that which LGBTQ+ individuals have forged from their lived experiences of discrimination and resilience.

While some traditions will scoff at the justness of the ordained going to protests, the Aglipayan faith believes it is a legitimate expression of Christian witness. We believe that the best way to fulfill our duty to establish heaven on earth is the full realization of human rights for all – and LGBTQ+ rights are human rights. Thus, the crusade for equality on the basis of SOGIE falls within our fight for equity, along with our advocacy for peace talks, economic equity, genuine land reform and more.

Another Christian community is the Metropolitan Community Church, which has a presence in the Philippines. It casts more importance on love, genuine relationships and nondiscrimination than on punishment and fear. Many of their members are victims of SOGIE-based discrimination even in their own Christian homes, or are people living with HIV who have the added burden of stigma. One member told me that her family attends a Church that has a ministry helping LGBTQ+ individuals possessed by the devil – she worships with her family in the morning, is occasionally prayed for; she worships at MCC in the afternoon, is welcomed fully as a gender-nonconforming woman. There has to be a policy to guard LGBTQ+ lives against torturous conversion rituals if and when they occur. The SOGIE Bill has that.

The above instances illustrate that a single religion on its own has variations and pluralities. But, if regardless of this, lawmakers side with the more conservative Christian belief that tends to put LGBTQ+ lives in the way of harm and indignity, what compels the State other than to reward the conservatives and, thus, violate the Church-State separation?

As faithful Christians, too, we stand on the passage of the SOGIE Law because we believe God wants us to exist in a community of love, and because it will permeate our lives beyond Church. “We love the sinner not the sin,” some anti-SOGIE Christians say, in an attempt to deem the law irrelevant. If we do love the sinner, however, shouldn’t we recognize the person of that sinner who has the secular, universal right to a job, education and healthcare, among others. None of these are about “the homosexual act.”

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It is a shame that some religious have led crusades based on falsehoods: from alleging we do not need the SOGIE Equality Bill because the law already pronounces equality; to criticizing our advocacy as an issue of restrooms and third spaces only; to misleading people that the SOGIE Equality Bill will allow same-sex marriage; to stretching religious freedom – weaponizing it to homogenize the nation when the measure actually protects diversity.

The “definition of terms” in the proposed bills says that bad behavior – discrimination, stigma, hate crime and marginalization – will warrant punishment. Some religious are worried that LGBTIQ+ individuals will be empowered to file cases of discrimination simply because we “felt discriminated.” But suing should be within our rights as citizens, and with wisdom the courts should be able to decide which ones are nuisance and which ones bear sense.

In IFI, the statement has affirmed and validated the faithfulness of LGBTQ+ members, some of whom serve as ordained ministers. Through it, the faithful have been oriented on SOGIE and SOGIE-based discrimination; began to openly discuss sexuality, mental health and sexual harassment; and revisited the situation of women as part of the greater gender minority in a patriarchal society. We are now more equipped to counsel LGBTQ+ individuals and people living with HIV. The Church became more inclusive.

At the end of “Our Common Humanity, Our Shared Dignity,” the SCB stated a hope that our small act could spark bigger changes leading to greater inclusion for outcasts. The more accepting parents, you will note, express worry for their LGBTQ+ children based not on the worldview of conservative Churches but on the question: “How will you be in this world that is harsh on LGBTQ+ individuals?”

While some LGBTQ+ people are born to parents who are unequipped and would abandon their children, some are born to parents who are ready to understand and nurture them, and would worry that the world at large is not hospitable. Let’s lessen the legitimate fears by enacting a safeguard.

While the SOGIE Bill languishes, men could be raping homosexual and bisexual women to “convert them,” gay guys could be looking for their next boxing match or Miss Gay (for visibility and extra income), brilliant transgender individuals could be flying out to find career advancement elsewhere.

With the SOGIE Law enforced, the sensibilities of some (they cannot claim to represent the majority) will be offended as has happened in legislation on women’s rights, but the tradeoff will be LGBTQ+ individuals participating more meaningfully in national development. With the SOGIE Law, there will be no special LGBT bonuses or leaves, just jobs and schools and communities that value us as humans, and that hone and harness our skills as citizens.

The Philippines would foster a culture of nonviolence, and I think God would be smiling down on us.

On social media, there’s a viral post saying SOGIE means “Satanic Organization of Godless people who are Inspired of Evil”, which is so grammatically wrong. To me, it means “Salvation Our God Is Extending” – and I should enjoy a Constitutional guarantee to claim you can’t tell me I’m wrong. That is freedom of religion for you.

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Op-Ed

‘Members of LGBTQIA community should be afforded the same protection that others enjoy’

An open letter to Bro. Eddie Villanueva, now a politician, who continues to claim he supports equality but is fighting against the protection of LGBTQIA people from discrimination.

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Sir, I am Posit Bo, a proud member of the LGBTQIA+ and PLHIV community in the Philippines. I was once a follower of your faith; I am still a believer of the Almighty God but no longer of your faith.

This letter is made as rebuttal of your privilege speech against the SOGIE Equality Bill. This is not intended to convince you and your group to vote for the proposed law; but rather, a letter that aims to see a future where there can be mutual respect.

You raised two constitutionally supported arguments against the SOGIE Equality Bill, to wit: (a) it imperils academic freedom, and (b) it endangers freedom of speech and religion.

I) ON ACADEMIC FREEDOM

You cited Article XIV, Section 5, par (2), of the 1987 Constitution, which states that: “Academic freedom shall be enjoyed in all institutions of higher learning.” This provision’s meaning can be viewed from two perspectives, namely: (a) Freedom of a Faculty member, and (b) Freedom of an academic institution of higher learning.

Certainly, faculty members have the freedom to discuss subjects with the responsibility not to discuss matters not related to the subject matter and with respect to the opinions of others. In the same manner, the academic institutions per se are given the freedom to decide what is the best manner to attain its aims and objectives.

You seem to fear that religious academic institutions being compelled to accept LGBTQIA+ students or employees, against the institution’s dogma on gender.

Under Section 5(c) of Senate Bill 159, it has two portions, to wit: (a) it declares discriminatory when educational or training institution refuses admission by reason of SOGIE, and (b) the right of educational and training institutions in determining qualifications for admission shall be duly upheld.

It is clear under the second portion of the aforementioned provision that religious institution’s right to determine qualification for admission shall be duly upheld. Compulsion to admit against dogma on gender by religious institutions cannot be feared when in the Bill itself it is protected, not to mention, in our very own Constitution as you cited, Sir.

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The bill cannot obviously be made to circumvent the Constitutional guarantees as it echoes the very essence of this Constitution that is – Equality. Moreover, I would like to believe that in proposing this law, the case of Ateneo de Manila v. Capulong, was taken into consideration, wherein the Court beautifully fleshed out the concept of academic freedom. The Court held that: “Academic institutions are free to determine for itself on academic grounds who may teach, what may be taught, how it shall be taught, and who may be admitted to study.”  The Court further held in Isabelo Jr. v. Perpetual Help College of Rizal that: a school of higher learning has the discretion to admit or not to admit students. The Court further stated that: Admission is not a right but merely a privilege.

No, Sir. Religious academic institutions cannot be compelled to admit LGBTQIA+ students or employees. As these juridical entities are protected under our Constitution based on the very law you cited. But the likes of KJ T. Lorenzana and the students of Bulacan State University are not protected against discrimination based on SOGIE in a secular educational institution; no, they are not protected for this particular kind of discrimination, not even by the Constitution. While sectarian institutions enjoy protection under our Constitution, what about the protection of the LGBTQIA+ students and employees who have been and still are being discriminated in secular educational institutions.

“The SOGIE Equality Bill cannot obviously be made to circumvent the Constitutional guarantees as it echoes the very essence of this Constitution that is – Equality.”

The LGBTQIA+ community, more than the letters, consists of individuals, of humans who should be afforded an equivalent amount of reasonable protection that you enjoy in professing your religious beliefs, protection against any form of discrimination without engendering violation of constitutional guarantees.

II) ON FREEDOM OF RELIGION

There are three principal parts of the Constitutional provision for Religious freedom under Article III, Section 5 of the 1987 Constitution.

First, the NON-ESTABLISHMENT Clause: No law shall be made respecting the establishment, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

The SOGIE Equality Bill does not establish LGBTQIA+ community as a religion, neither does SOGIE Awareness prohibit the free exercise of any religion, including yours. Hence, the proposed law does not violate the non-establishment clause.

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Second, the FREE EXERCISE Clause: The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed.

The SOGIE Equality Bill is in fact adherent to religious sensitivities that despite of it being both a secular and social legislation, the proponents had the basic human decency to hear sectarian opinion on issues of a marginalized community on account of being exposed to daily discrimination of all forms.

There are two aspects of religious freedom, which are as follows: (a) Freedom to believe; and (b) freedom to act on one’s belief. The freedom to believe is absolute but the freedom to act on one’s belief is not absolute. The freedom to act may be regulated if its actualization clashes with accepted norms of social behavior and established order of decency.

Therefore, you can absolutely believe that being an LGBTQIA+ is a sin in view of your religion as a part of your freedom. But to act upon it by spreading or imposing such belief upon nonbelievers or believers of a different sect may be regulated.

Status quo dictates that freedom to exercise can be regulated; unfortunately, even if it could be regulated, Christians have continuously condemned this community. Our community has been continuously ridiculed for no reason, discriminated for being diverse, and hated for merely loving; we, suffer all these, based on your religious beliefs. While we suffer, you continuously enjoy being guarded by your religious freedom.

This is the saddest part of our reality: Family and friends who exercises christian faith act upon their religious belief on gender through: sharing hate messages; treating us indifferently; laughing at our struggles; and being considered as an abomination. While you are guarded by your religious freedom, why does it have to be at our expense? When you speak of equality it must be uttered in fairness to everyone and not at the expense of others.

The SOGIE Equality Bill does not force upon people to become a member of the LGBTQIA+ community neither does it influence people to change dogma on gender; but this merely seeks to spread awareness and understanding of an existing community, which should neither be treated differently but your fair equal.

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Lastly, Sir, finally now that you are elected, as a member of the House of Representatives of the 18th Congress, I would like to congratulate you. You are indeed an inspiration to the LGBTQIA+ community, just like you did, no matter how long and how many failed attempts there may be, we will never say it’s over ‘til it is done.

In James Imbong etc. v. Hon. Paquito Ochoa, Jr. et al., the court held that: the state cannot meddle in the internal affairs of the church. On the other hand, the church cannot impose its beliefs and convictions on the state and the rest of the citizenry. It cannot demand that the nation follow its beliefs, even if it sincerely believes that they are good for the country.

Sir, there would be no confusion even if you both act for both the state and the church by simply applying the time-honored State policy under Article II Section 6 of the 1987 Constitution, that the separation of church and state shall be inviolable. Inside your church, you are your peoples Pastor. You don’t preach to them matters of legislation; but instead your bible. While in the House of Representatives, you are to act as a legislator not as a Pastor. Sir, in your privilege speech you interjected a biblical passage. I would like to humbly remind you that you now belong in a Secular institution. Inside the very ‘august chamber’ to where you belong, are muslims; agnostic;  and heck may be even atheist congress(wo)man, who are being alienated by your interjection. Sir, you do not merely answer to your representation but to the entire secular electorate.

“Our community has been continuously ridiculed for no reason, discriminated for being diverse, and hated for merely loving; we, suffer all these, based on your religious beliefs. While we suffer, you continuously enjoy being guarded by your religious freedom.”

I could not still imagine a day where we can live harmoniously even in diversity, when there’s no willingness to reach a compromise, taking into consideration: fairness and respect for everyone regardless of gender, age, race, ethnicity, color or religion. Religious freedom is a fundamental right under our constitution, it will forever be guarded and no legislation can circumvent this constitutional guarantee. You have exemplified in your privilege speech, that in the exercise of your religious freedom, there can be three options: (a) purvey discrimination based on scriptures; (b) exhaust available laws without state intervention in protecting a minority and marginalized group; and (c) when there is no law available, blame it on our SOGIE.

It was once said that we cannot normalize the culture of LGBTQIA+ despite its historical precedent being a cultural norm pre-colonial year of the Philippines; therefore, this being the case, incidents of discrimination by reason of SOGIE in the workplace and educational institutions may rise in the absence of any law that prohibits it. This is the very reason why an anti-discrimination policy should be enacted not by reason of entitlement but by reason of being exposed in an everyday struggle to surpass all forms of SOGIE-related discrimination.

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Op-Ed

Tulungan ang bawat isa na magmulat at mas mamulat pa

Pastor Carleen Nomorosa: “Tulungan natin ang bawat isa na magmulat at mas mamulat pa. Huwag tayong mapako sa mga sarili lamang nating pagdurusa, magsama-sama tayo at magtulungan. Huwag din tayong malunod sa mga pribilehiyong tinatamasa dahil marami padin ang hindi ligtas.”

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By Carleen Nomorosa
Program Coordinator, National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP)

Isa sa mahal ko sa buhay, na-rape. Ng paulit-ulit.

Sabi ng isang ahensya ng gobyerno noon sa amin nung nagpapatulong kami: Mabuti nga at nakauwi pa ng buhay ang nanay mo.”

Wala pa akong sampung taong gulang noon, seven years old pa lang ako, panganay. Probinsyana. Walang alam sa siyudad. Litong-lito ako bakit ganoon.

Kaya umuwi na kami, at sinubukang hilumin ang lahat ng pait na pinagdanan, hindi lamang ng aking ina, kundi ng buong pamilya.

Ang lupit ng lipunang ito, sa mga mahihirap at walang kakayanan.

Sana tulungan nyo ang mga katulad namin, para lumaban at makapag patuloy sa paglaban.

Tulungan natin ang mga magulang nila Eileen at Allan, hindi lang para panatilihin ang sentensya ni Antonio Sanchez.

Kundi imulat din ang henerasyong ito sa kalagayan ng bayan. Huwag nating hayaang gawin tayong manhid sa lahat ng pagpatay sa mga dukha at maralita. Huwag nating hayaang magdiwang ang mga panginoong maylupa na nagpapahirap sa magsasaka. Huwag nating hayaan na manatiling kontrakwal ang mga ordinaryong manggagawa. Huwag nating hayaang may inaaping sektor dahil minorya sila. Huwag nating hayaang marami ang nagkakasakit ngunit hindi makapag pa-ospital.

Tulungan natin ang bawat isa na magmulat at mas mamulat pa. Huwag tayong mapako sa mga sarili lamang nating pagdurusa, magsama-sama tayo at magtulungan. Huwag din tayong malunod sa mga pribilehiyong tinatamasa dahil marami padin ang hindi ligtas.

Wala na tayong ibang aatrasan, kundi ang paglaban. Sana bukas wala ng rape. Wala ng papatayin. Wala ng gutom. Magtulungan tayo.

Ang pananampalatayang napapako na lamang sa pag-pikit, pagluhod o pagtaas ng kamay sa pananalangin ay hindi makakabangon sa ikatlong araw. Walang resureksyon and ganitong pananampalataya.

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From the Editor

3 HIV-related questions (plus sub-questions) to ask re the PhilHealth scam

Every PLHIV is allocated P30,000 per year. As of April 2019, 37,091 PLHIVs are on treatment. Multiply that by P30,000 per person (per OHAT Package/coverage), and the amount involved here is P1,112,730,000. Too much money involved for us not to ask how the money is getting spent.

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Here are the facts:

  • As early as last year, two former employees of WellMed Dialysis Center already reported that it has been forging signatures of patients who have long died to file claims from the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) from 2016-2018.
  • Typical in the Philippines (e.g. think of Napoles, PDAF, fertilizer scandal, et cetera), this was soon “forgotten” (or at least not as widely covered anymore particularly by mainstream media, so not gaining traction with the public). That is, until June, when the Philippine Daily Inquirer detailed the scam (again) via an investigative report.
  • Still in June, President Rodrigo Duterte said he would “reorganize” PhilHealth after the agency lost some P154 billion to “ghost” patients and deliveries.
  • WellMed Dialysis Center’s accreditation was (finally) withdrawn in June. But in a privilege speech, Sen. Panfilo Lacson alleged that PhilHealth continued to pay WellMed Dialysis Center even after its accreditation was suspended because of its involvement in a scam.
  • A hearing was started by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee (chaired by Richard Gordon) to look at the allegations of corruption in the Department of Health (DoH), and – yes – PhilHealth.

Now why is this issue important to PLHIVs and those in the HIV advocacy in the Philippines?

Aside from the fact that there may be LGBTQIA Filipinos who may also be needing dialysis, the money that actually pays for the “free” treatment and antiretroviral medicines of Filipinos living with HIV come from PhilHealth.

No, darling, you don’t get “free” meds; a PLHIV is expected to enroll in PhilHealth before he/she can access the treatment. Meaning, YOU are paying for your treatment via your P2,400 (if voluntary) PhilHealth contribution. Anyone who tells you the meds are “free” is hiding the truth from you, or is outright lying to you.

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And so the talk about stealing P154 billion should be an issue to PLHIVs and those serving them; particularly since it is not rare to encounter service providers who say that they can only offer shitty (and often lacking) TCS (treatment, care and support) services because there’s no money available (DUH!).

Every PLHIV is allocated P30,000 per year. As of April 2019, 37,091 PLHIVs are on treatment. Multiply that by P30,000 per person (per OHAT Package/coverage), and the amount involved here is P1,112,730,000.

Now off my head, here are a few questions that should also be asked as we tackle the PhilHealth scam (and questions that particularly touch on HIV in the Philippines).

1. Does PhilHealth monitor the use of the OHAT package, or they solely rely on reports that can – apparently, as the case of WellMed Dialysis Center highlighted – be faked/made up? Can individuals access the individual reports filed for them (on the use of their OHAT package)? If there’s none, why not? If these can be accessed, are there mechanisms to question the same?

These questions have to do with whether a PLHIV actually uses his/her allocation.

The Outpatient HIV/AIDS Treatment (OHAT) Package covers: drugs and medications; laboratory examinations based on the specific treatment guideline including Cluster of Differentiation 4 (CD4) level determination test, viral load (if warranted), and test for monitoring anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs toxicity; and professional fees of providers.

But in 2015, when interviewed by Outrage Magazine, PhilHealth’s Medical Specialist III and Millennium Development Goals Benefit Products Team Head Dr. Mary Antoinette Remonte said that “it has come to our attention that some treatment hubs charge for some laboratory tests, even after the release of the OHAT Package circular.” And so while the circular may specifically mention covered items, the same circular should not be taken too literally.

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For instance, VL is not included in the circular, but if a PLHIV needs “viral load, if it’s really needed, they can still charge it on the OHAT package. Any laboratory tests related to ART treatment, they can use the OHAT Package for it.” For Remonte, “even if viral load testing was not written in the first circular, it was already included in the coverage.”

2. The baseline tests are still not specified in the circular/OHAT Package. This is why many PLHIVs are lost to TCS – i.e. they are told to pay for their own tests (e.g. chest X-ray, CBC) before they can get their hands on the life-saving meds (the ARVs). Why is this idiotically still not included in the OHAT Package, and even knowing that (many) PLHIVs won’t end up consuming the P30,000 allocated them anyway?

3. Do they also withdraw the accreditation of treatment hubs/clinics/satellite clinics that claim the P30,000 even if they did not actually use the entire amount for the use of the PLHIV? Has there ever been a service provider that lost its accreditation because of non-delivery of services?

We have spoken with PLHIVs who were told to get lab tests outside of their treatment hubs (e.g. chest X-ray, VL, CD4 count); they were told to pay for the same. No, they may NOT use their OHAT Package for the same, a handful of them were told. They have to shell out their OWN money.

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The thing is, if these are already supposedly covered by PhilHealth, why the additional expenses? Who then benefits from the OHAT Package? The service providers not offering the services and yet getting the money? Isn’t this theft? And if one thinks so, what are the mechanisms for complaining? Are there any at all?

Let’s be blunt here: If these are not answered, here’s another avenue where profiteering is happening via PhilHealth, and at the expense of PLHIVs.

To end, let me state this to stress this: Every PLHIV is allocated P30,000 per year. As of April 2019, 37,091 PLHIVs are on treatment. Multiply that by P30,000 per person (per OHAT Package/coverage), and the amount involved here is P1,112,730,000.

Too much money involved and yet service providers still often saying “there’s no money” to help PLHIVs…

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Op-Ed

Looking beyond the ‘banyo’

With Gretchen Diez – after only a few days in the limelight – now claiming to be the “face of the LGBT movement”, Posit Bo says her narrative needs to be revisited. Particularly since, while there were procedural lapses, verbal abuse and negligence, he asks: Was there really discrimination if we try to look into the facts?

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Photo by @curology from Unsplash.com

In Toledo v. Hydenu (652 PHIL 70), the court stated that: He who comes into equity must come with a clean hands.

You have heard the word “discrimination” this week more than you may usually have heard it, at least in the previous months; that is, if  you fortunately haven’t experienced being discriminated. But what do  you know about discrimination?

The term is not exclusive to a particular: race, gender, religion, nor age. It is all encompassing. Discrimination does not discriminate. This is the very reason that necessitates the legislation of a more specific Anti-Discrimination Policy. A policy that should look and go beyond how it is being highlighted today, an issue of restroom usage.

When one person is rejected for employment by reason of SOGIE, that is discrimination in the workplace. When one is barred from enjoying a service by reason of SOGIE, that is discrimination in providing goods or rendering services. When one is prohibited from learning in a nonsectarian academic institution, that is discrimination in education. But when one is barred by reason of SOGIE in entering the female restroom, that is a multifaceted discussion.

While, every single public hearings and consultations can be attributed to the banyo incident, the debates have been constrained in the hallowed halls of Farmers Plaza restroom. There are more pressing issues related to SOGIE Equality Bill that is negligently missed amidst this discussion.

In using a specific individual as the face of SOGIE Equality Bill, the discussion hasn’t been substantiated by the pivotal provisions of the proposed law. The ‘star’ has been branded as your “Banyo Queen” since day one; but that’s on her, as she herself failed to elevate the discourse by repetitively echoing inequality in bathroom usage.

Be that as it may, let us thoroughly consider the facts of the matter, whether or not the banyo incident can be “the face of the LGBTQIA+ movement”.

You may see that this is a clear case of discrimination based on SOGIE in consideration of the given narrative by the complainant. Yes, there was a violation of the Gender Fair Ordinance of Quezon City as admitted by Farmers Plaza Management. The violation being their failure to provide a gender neutral restroom as required by the City Ordinance.

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But was there a discrimination based on SOGIE by verbal, nonverbal ridicule, and vilification or in rendering services?

First, the janitress is employed by an independent contractor and not by Farmers Plaza. There exist no relationship between the janitress and Farmers Plaza. Thus, the janitress is personally accountable for her actions;

Second, the janitress acted upon an aggression which was made and documented by the complainant herself but later deleted to better fit her narrative of an outright discrimination by the janitress. In the now deleted first Facebook live video, the complainant was nicely asked by the janitress to do two things, namely: (a) to use the male restroom instead of the female restroom acting upon an alleged complaint of female customers of Farmers Plaza, and (2)  to cease from the unauthorized recording of the janitress in doing her job in assisting mall clients on queue towards the restroom;

Third, the Facebook live videos while taken in plain sight of the public, it was still taken inside a privately owned vicinity which could be well regulated by policies of the owner and management e.g. video recording private individuals in the performance of their private employment; and

Fourth; in the deleted first Facebook live, the complainant voluntarily heeded by saying “ahh hmmm okay” in going to the security office with the janitress upon prior warning that she’ll be brought in the office for refusal to cease from the unauthorized documentation.

The complainant was brought into the security office not by reason of her SOGIE. She was escorted to the security office for failure to cease from her unauthorized recording. The verbal abuse as seen on the viral Facebook live was a retaliatory attack by the janitress after the complainant pried into the privacy of the former. Yes, the attack made by the janitress is inexcusable, but this wasn’t said and done on the basis of the complainant’s SOGIE.

If there wasn’t anything to hide, why was there a first Facebook live video deliberately deleted by the complainant? Why did the complainant only retain two videos that would fit her narrative of SOGIE-related discrimination? Why, Miss Complainant?

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The apprehension of the complainant by police officers from QCPD station 7 was an arrest made based on their knowledge of a crime which has been committed by the complainant. The complaint charged and that was latter dropped was unjust vexation against the janitress. Again, the arrest was not by reason of the complainant’s SOGIE but by her actions after she was reprimanded by the janitress outside the CR. This does not, however, excuse the police officers from their failure to take the complainant’s statements immediately after her apprehension.

When the community came to rescue Miss Complainant from being locked behind bars, the charges for unjust vexation against her were dropped by the janitress; because at that time, she had an instantaneous realization that her actions were inexcusable. A settlement was made, that was what they said. But three days later, on the day Miss Complainant filed her case against Farmers Plaza, she mentioned about the possible filing of appropriate charges against the janitress. Apparently, the settlement was onerous for the janitress rather than being reciprocal for both parties. This scenario speak volumes of the status quo of our human rights in the Philippines.

Certainly, there were procedural lapses, verbal abuse, and negligence; but there wasn’t any form of discrimination, only if we try to look into the matter of facts. The complainant, janitress, and QCPD Station 7 are all accountable for their action or inaction. This is a story which must be appreciated fully by examining all the possible sides without favoring one over another because of our personal biases. This must be a learning experience for all the parties that are involved. But must not be used to advance one interest at the expense of another.

Posit Bo: “The LGBTQIA+ community does not need a face that epitomizes lack of knowledge and understanding of the cause. The community does not need to represented by an individual who anchors her cause in magnifying her story alone; because this movement is more than one story, that transcends from one generation to another.”

After the incident, you have seen traditional politicians rallying behind the complainant, as she declares, LGBTQIA+ rights as human rights. The public had to unconsciously endure the pain of seeing supporters of a human rights violator rally behind Miss Complainant. LGBTQIA+ rights and human rights are not mutually exclusive. While supporting LGBTQIA+ rights as human rights, these politicians should know that they must concede in supporting the call against the lowering of criminal liability and the re-imposition of death penalty; because, these two issues are also human rights-related.

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There are other mechanisms that will advance and promote the discussion of SOGIE in the country without the need of being used by different organizations and political parties. This is a nonpolitical issue that needs to be dealt through an appropriate social legislation rather than by politicking. Using the LGBTQIA+ community in politicizing our own cause must, at all cost, end now! This community is more than your number of votes that you use at your convenience. The LGBTQIA+ community should refuse being treated as dispensables, simply because we are not!

The LGBTQIA+ community does not need a face that epitomizes lack of knowledge and understanding of the cause. The community does not need to represented by an individual who anchors her cause in magnifying her story alone; because this movement is more than one story, that transcends from one generation to another.

The true face of the LGBTQIA+ community is more than one individual; because, you are not alone. No, not one individual and organization can take credit of the cause. After-all, this is the LGBTQIA+ COMMUNITY, no one should be left behind neither should anyone be one step ahead of everyone. There may be several groups with different perspective; but bound by a single community sharing a communal interest that is the SOGIE Equality Bill.

People should start learning how to dissociate their self-vested interest from the advocacy. While one voice can be used to uproar the passing of SOGIE Equality Bill, the voice must also be admonished if it doesn’t reflect the majority of the community. The voice must be silenced when it still continues to purvey false advocacy. If this is not done, the noble cause will be tainted. SOGIE Equality Bill must not in anyway be used to place one person on the spotlight for all the wrong reasons; let us not tolerate.

While the discussion has been fueled by the banyo incident, this urgently needs to get out of the banyo before it even stinks and splatters at the expense of the LGBTQIA+ advocacy. It is time that we hear the genuine and unheard stories of SOGIE-based discrimination.

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