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In defense of transgender rights in the workplace

Statement of solidarity and support from LGBT civil society organizations for Ms. Mara La Torre in her case of discrimination filed with the QC Prosecutor’s Office.

YouTube screengrab of Mara La Torre

In what was hailed as a landmark piece of legislation, QC Ordinance No. SP-1309 S2003 entitled: “Prohibiting All Acts of Discrimination Directed Against Homosexuals in any Office in QC, whether in the Government or in the Private Sector, and Providing Penalties for Violation Thereof”, ushered new beginnings and hope for members of the LGBT community in QC. The passage of the same piece of local legislation introduced a long-overdue protection before the law with respect to discrimination committed against members of the LGBT community in both public and private office establishments. While the ordinance was limited in scope and coverage, it was a breather nonetheless.

The past few days saw the ordinance being invoked in the light of a discrimination case that was filed by a transgender woman who works for a BPO company. On March 27, 2014, things are about to change. Mara La Torre headed to the QC Hall of Justice to formally lodge a complaint of discrimination. The incident came about because she was refused entry to the female washroom and to the female sleeping quarters of the BPO company where she works – facilities that she rightfully asserted matched her gender identity. She then escalated the issue to the Human Resources (HR) in her company which decided to uphold the existing policy of not allowing transgender people to access the bathroom matching their gender. Despite efforts to get the HR to reconsider its decision, it refused to do so. In effect, Mara had to overcome humiliation, stress and emotional anguish overtime. The gravity of the discrimination brought forth untold repercussions to her emotional well-being.

Ms. Mara La Torre could just have opted to remain silent about fighting against discrimination in her company. But she chose not to. It was for her a central part of who she is and her being. For a woman of transgender experience, going to the female washroom was not just a MATTER OF CHOICE; IT WAS A MATTER OF RIGHT. Mara’s case is a very telling example of how deeply lacking some BPO companies is in terms of living up to their values of respect and diversity. Like other transgender women who may have experienced the same, the impact of such denial of rights has become a battle that has not gained considerable traction. We believe that transgender employees must be allowed to use bathrooms that match who they are, and companies must have guidelines that support the rights of transgender people to access bathrooms without harassment or discrimination. Mara’s act is a big step in the right direction, but transgender employees face unique challenges in the workplace that require more. Our government and the business sector need to ensure that transgender people have the same opportunities as all other workers that allow them to thrive. That means treating them as the men and women that they are, including letting them use bathrooms that match their true identities. Anything less stigmatizes them as the only men and women who are forced to use separate facilities. Ensuring that transgender people can take part in their work environments as their authentic selves keeps them safe, builds their confidence, and helps them to succeed at work. In the case of Mara, this has become a wishful thinking than a reality.

WE BELIEVE THAT TRANSGENDER RIGHTS ARE HUMAN RIGHTS. We denounce in the strongest possible terms, the “hostile, intimidating and offensive” treatment that she was given in asserting her right. If this is the manner in which security personnel manage cases such as this one, then it definitely contravened the basic tenets of human rights. We believe that LGBT people especially transgender people, should not be required to use a restroom that conflicts with their gender identity. We call on BPOs to respect and uphold equality and diversity of people. We call on all establishments to take a clear position with respect to allowing transgender individuals to use bathrooms and other sex-segregated facilities that match their gender identity. We demand the formulation of policies that bar discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity especially in the workplace.

We also believe that the case should be treated according to the application of international human rights law and other recognized instruments. Further, we affirm that there was a violation of human rights based on the provisions stipulated under the Yogyakarta Principles specifically highlighting among others “that everyone has the right to productive and decent work, to just and favourable conditions of work, and to protection against unemployment without discrimination to sexual orientation and gender identity.” Moreover, no less than the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) has time and again, raised concerns over cases incidents of discrimination such as Mara’s and the untold repercussions that such incidents could bear on her psychological well-being which may lead to gender dysphoria. We likewise give credence to the message of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay when she unequivocally said: “The principle of universality admits no exceptions. Human rights are truly the birthright of all people.” As outlined in the document of the UNHR Born Free and Equal, “LGBT people must have access to basic services in the context of employment and health.” The recent pronouncements made by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) that indeed there was a manifest and clear violation validated Mara’s claim.

Mara’s case speaks volumes about experiences of discrimination that transgender people have to weather every single day. With her case being filed, we affirm our hope in the Philippine justice system. We hope that this case will be resolved in favor of equality and justice for everyone. We reiterate the powerful words of Martin Luther King when he said: “Injustice committed anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere.” We further believe that the eventual decision on this case will inspire other LGBTs to fight for their rights without fear of retribution. And, more than anything else, this case of discrimination will be a litmus test for the QC ordinance and the protection that it purportedly aims to afford.

Lastly, we laud Mara for her courage to SPEAK UP and SPEAK OUT. Mustering the courage to come out in the open to fight against discrimination is one thing. Starting a principled fight is another thing. We believe that joining this principled fight goes beyond the issue of whether or not gender non-conforming people can use any facility that corresponds to their gender. More importantly, it’s an issue of basic fairness, of respect for human rights, of justice and of equality before the law regardless of one’s sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE).

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Signed by:
ASSOCIATION OF TRANSGENDER PEOPLE IN THE PHILIPPINES (ATP)
TRANSMAN PILIPINAS (TMP)
TRANSPINAYS OF ANTIPOLO ORGANIZATION (TAO)
LGBT PINOY
BETERAS FUTURAS POWERHOUSE OF BEAUTIES
TRANSDEAF PHILIPPINES
Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP)
Pinoy FTM
GANDA Filipinas
NARVACAN GAY SPIRIT
TRANSWOMEN GUILD OF NEGROS
RAINBOW RIGHTS PHILIPPINES
SHINE SOCCKSARGEN Inc.
BLOTIK OF LAKE SEBU
KORONADAL GAY ASSOCIATION
RAINBOW GAY ORG. OF ISUILAN
SINING LAHI OF TACURONG
GAYS AND BOYS CLUB OF GENSAN
MABUHAY PAPER DOLLS
SHINE MSU
GAYS OF GLORY
BULA GAY ASSEMBLY
LADLAD CARAGA
IMGLAD
SANLAHI OF LAGAO
A!Y LGBT COLLECTIVE HATE FREE GENSAN
ASSOCIATION OF TRANSGENDERS IN CDO
NORTHERN MINDANAO ADVOCATES (NORMA)
REDXCARE Philippines
ILOCOS RAINBOW COALITION

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