Saying that 2014 was an extremely big – not just busy – year for members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in various parts of the Philippines may be an understatement. From the unifying of all the efforts of the key LGBT players because of the death of Jennifer Laude, to the passing of anti-discrimination ordinances, to the open support of LGBT people of mainstream religious denominations, the year marked life-changing developments that LGBT Filipinos can now build on in the continuing struggle for equal rights for all irrespective of their sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.
Outrage Magazine provides a quick run-through of this year’s defining moments for the LGBT community in the Philippines.
THE MARTYRDOM OF JENNIFER LAUDE
The death of transpinay Jennifer Laude may be credited for galvanizing the LGBT community in the Philippines – that is, while various sectors from within the community may have been pushing for various issues (e.g. same sex marriage, anti-discrimination ordinances, et cetera), the community for once united in demanding for equal treatment in law, with Laude’s case exemplifying how fatal the hardships faced by LGBT people can get.
Twenty-six-year-old Laude was found dead – her head slumped in a toilet bowl – at the Celzone Lodge on Magsaysay Drive in Olongapo City in October. The suspect is a US Marine, later named as Joseph Scott Pemberton, part of the annual Philippine Amphibious Landing Exercise.
It is acknowledged that the case made headlines because the accused is an American. All the same, as a move against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (SOGIE), LGBT community groups from all over the Philippines held the National Day of Outrage, a nationwide protest action, on October 24. Protest actions happened simultaneously in various cities all over the Philippines (with participants in other parts of the world), including in Quezon City, Cebu City, General Santos City, and Legaspi City (overseas, gatherings were held in Bangkok, Thailand; and The Netherlands).
In an interview with Washington Blade, Rainbow Rights (R-Rights) Project Inc.’s Angie Umbac said that “(Laude) has become our martyr, the symbol of our suffering as a community.” This was seconded by Naomi Fontanos of Gender and Development Advocates (GANDA) Filipinas, a trans-led organization, who added:“In death, (Laude) has exposed the historical marginalization of transgender people in the Philippines. She has exposed the inequity that exists in Philippine society that robs people like her of equal life changes”.
ANTI-DISCRIMINATION ORDINANCES COMETH
As early as February, select Metro Manila-based LGBT leaders opted to partner with neophyte senator Bam Aquino to pass Senate Bill 2122 (or the Anti-Discrimination Act of 2014), which seeks to ban various forms of discrimination based (mind you) not only on SOGIE, but also on ethnicity, race, religion or belief, civil status, and HIV status and other medical condition, among others. The acts prohibited by the bill included: denial of political civil, and cultural rights; denial of right to education, such as refusal to admit or expulsion; denial of right to work; denial of access to goods and services; denial of right to organize; profiling; abuses by state and non-state actors; and detention and confinement. If the bill passes, persons found guilty of any of the discriminatory practices shall be fined from P100,000 to P500,000 and an imprisonment of up to 12 years.
Not entirely unexpectedly, nothing came of this bill.
As such, no national law still protects the rights of LGBT people in the Philippines, over 10 years after the first such attempt was made.
Interestingly, while the national effort continues to flounder, localized efforts have been succeeding. The year saw the passing of anti-discrimination ordinances (ADOs) in Agusan del Norte, Cavite Province, City of Candon in the Province of Ilocos Sur, and the much-hyped “gift” of Mayor Herbert Bautista to LGBT people in Quezon City. Currently, nine local government units (LGUs) in the Philippines now have ADOs.
PRO-LGBT MAINSTREAM CHURCHES
With a strong PR machinery, Pope Francis continuously made the news throughout the year for his supposed pro-LGBT stance – i.e. in July, he was celebrated for supposedly saying: “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?”.
But many remain critical, since even if Pope Francis’ words seem groundbreaking for being more humane, the doctrines followed by the Roman Catholic Church remain anti-LGBT.
Not as widely celebrated (arguably because they are not as widely propagated), though more groundbreaking than the “developments” in the Roman Catholic Church, are moves of other mainstream churches that finally opened its doors for LGBT people.
In the Philippines, for instance, the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), a mainline Protestant church of around 1.5 million members, unanimously approved “Let Grace Be Total,” a policy statement on LGBT people in its 10th Quadrennial General Assembly and 66th Founding Anniversary. This statement was a product of the studies done by the Faith and Order committee in 2010, affirming that “all of us regardless of any category are under the grace of God. The statement means that LGBTs should not be discriminated but should be unconditionally accepted in the fellowship and membership of the Church. There has been some resistance but they have only been a minority,” said Bishop Reuel Marigza, UCCP General Secretary.
Then there’s the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), which launched the #PreventionNOTCondemnation campaign in time for the observance of the World AIDS Day 2014 on December 1. In a statement, the NCCP affirmed their unwavering support to people living with HIV and AIDS as well as the key populations vulnerable to HIV – gays, bisexuals, transgender people, young women, people in prison, people who inject drugs and sex workers and called member churches “to reflect on those times others are made to suffer because of their gender identity and sexual orientation and how this negates the realization of life in its fullness.”
NCCP, by the way, is a fellowship of 10 mainline Protestant and non-Roman Catholic denominations, and 10 service-oriented organizations in the Philippines. Representing close to 12 million Protestant adherents, it includes the Apostolic Catholic Church, Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches, Episcopal Church in the Philippines, Iglesia Evangelica Metodista en las Islas Filipinas (or the Evangelical Methodist Church in the Philippine Islands), Iglesia Filipina Independiente (or the Philippine Independent Church), Iglesia Unida Ekyumenikal (or the United Ecumenical Church), Lutheran Church in the Philippines, The Salvation Army, The United Methodist Church of the Philippines, and United Church of Christ in the Philippines.
Outrage Magazine has been writing about the problematic supply of anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) used by people living with HIV (PLHIV) in the Philippines, with anecdotal reports reaching the publication from various parts of the country. But government agencies continued to deny the problem – e.g. according to Dr. Jose Gerard Belimac, head of DOH’s National AIDS/STI Prevention and Control Program, there is no delay in the procurement of ARVs, just as there is no “official pronouncement from the DOH to the treatment hubs to control [the distribution of ARVs] because of a delay in the procurement [of ARVs],” he said in an exclusive interview by Outrage Magazine. Even some known HIV “activists” side with the government on this.
And then in September, the worsening situation got worst when Dr. Rosanna Ditangco, research chief at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine-AIDS Research Group (RITM-ARG, one of the treatment hubs in the country), reported that the distribution of ARVs may be stopped due to processing delays. Specifically, because the ARVs were being held by the Bureau of Customs (BOC) because the Department of Health (DOH) wasn’t paying taxes even if the supplies have been with BOC for months already, “HIV treatment will totally stop all over the country.”
This issue made the rounds online, subsequently picked up by mainstream media, so that – arguably because it was shamed for not doing its job – the DOH rushed paying the taxes owed BOC, allowing for the release of the ARVs.
PHILIPPINES SIGNS UN HRC RESOLUTION
In September, the United Nations’ (UN) top human rights body (i.e. the Human Rights Council/HRC) approved a resolution condemning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). This resolution, tabled by Brazil, Chile, Colombia, and Uruguay in September, followed a resolution in 2011 (Resolution 17/9 of 2011) on the same topic led by South Africa and asks the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) to gather and publish information on how best to overcome discrimination and violence.
The resolution passed by 21 votes in favor, 16 against, and seven abstentions. What is worth mentioning is – for the first time – the Philippines did not fence sit, and (GASP!) actually voted in favor of the resolution.
While the resolution lays down the foundation for a more institutionalized response from the UN HRC on the issue of SOGI-related discrimination and violence, LGBT people – particularly those at the grassroots level – need not pop the Champagnes/open the beer bottles, however.
As stressed by Anna Brown, director for advocacy and strategic litigation of the Human Rights Law Centre, the resolution is a strong message from the international community, but it is “not likely to have any immediate impact on situations on the ground.”
Consider this a “modest but crucially important step towards building an international consensus on the rights of LGBT and intersex people, and ensuring sustained and systematic attention on these issues.”
But then again, even if this may sound like much ado about nothing (particularly for those not even familiar with HRC), the Philippines not fence sitting has to count for something, right?
MANDATORY HIV TESTING PUSHED BY D.O.H.
Former Department of Health (DOH) Sec. Enrique Ona gained infamy when – disregarding human rights – he actually advocated for mandatory HIV testing in the Philippines. In May, DOH Assistant Sec. Eric Tayag said in an interview by ANC that the government agency is working out details for making HIV tests compulsory. As Tayag stated then, “(DOH Sec.) Ona would want to shift from voluntary testing to something that’s compulsory. We’re working out the details, how this is possible, and all. We want health providers to screen adults who may have a risk for HIV, so that they can be properly counseled on what to do next.”
For government officials, the pronouncement was not just interesting, but even ill-advised. Making HIV testing compulsory is actually a violation of the existing law concerning HIV and AIDS in the Philippines. Section 3: Declaration of Policies of the Republic Act No. 8504 (or “Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998″) specifically states that “compulsory HIV testing shall be considered unlawful”.
Not surprisingly, this was lambasted by various bodies – e.g. solons criticized it; and the Network to Stop AIDS (NSAP) stated that it “demonstrates that among those involved in addressing the HIV epidemic in the Philippines, the health agency is by far the most backward and the most out-of-tune.”
As stated by Michael David C. Tan, editor of Outrage Magazine, forcing people to get tested will not deal with the spread of HIV, and could – in fact – only worsen the situation. “‘Witch hunt’ easily comes to mind,” he said, “particularly since the idea of having compulsory testing will specifically target populations that are deemed at higher risk for HIV infection. By saying ‘compulsory’, we actually only aim at making specific groups of people get tested; as such, we’re abetting in the unnecessary stigmatization of members of these groups.”
Ona was suspended in November, eventually tendering his resignation in December, so that this tactic was fortunately thrown to the backburner.
YEAR OF PUBLIC ‘COMING OUT’
Just as a lot of LGBT people are coming out in various parts of the globe, Pride started gaining ground in the Philippines, too, with local celebrities opening out about their SOGIE. Foremost may be transman Aiza Seguerra, who continuously made headlines after he proposed to (now wife) Liza Dino; and former Glee star Charice who revealed in an interview with Oprah Winfrey that he’s slowly becoming a man (but he won’t be changing his body).
As Charice said: “I’m not exactly transitioning to a male, but basically my soul is, like, male. But I’m not going to go through that stage where I’m going to change everything – not change my body. (I’ll) cut my hair and wear boy clothes and everything, but that’s all”.
Allies started rising up, too. Defending Seguerra, for one, is local TV host/actor Vic Sotto, who said that he supports Seguerra’s marriage to Dino in the US. Vic, who considers Seguerra as one of his “children” in show business, was quoted as saying: “I support (him) all the way. Ako naman, personally, kung saan masaya ang aking mga kaibigan, ang aking mga anak doon ako.” Sotto added that while not everyone will understand Seguerra and Dino, “siguro, hindi naiintindihan ng ibang tao. Pero opinyon nila ‘yun. I respect their opinion and I expect them to respect my opinion also. Nakikita ko naman sila (Aiza and Liza) e, nung ginagawa namin yung ‘My Little Bossing.’ Nakita ko kung gaano sila nagmamahalan, kung gaano sila kasaya, how they take care of each other”.
Bashers still abound – just read at the comment sections of the publications carrying these stories. So it can be said that no, we’re not there yet. But at least we’re getting there somehow.
‘PRIDE’ ALL AROUND
This year marked the 20th anniversary of Pride in Asia, first held in Metro Manila in 1994. As such, it was a relatively big event that saw – among others – a look-back and of looking forward, with the Pride events held in the last half of 2014, culminating in the Pride March on the first Saturday of December.
But Metro Manila Pride wan’t the only Pride event held in 2014. In August, LGBT student group EU Bahaghari (from Manuel S. Enverga University Foundation in Lucena City), organized the first ever LGBT Pride March in in Quezon Province. Negros also saw its first Pride. University of the Philippines’ Babaylan – in Diliman, Quezon City, and in Los Banos, Laguna – of course continued to hold its Pride celebrations. Ditto Baguio City in June; and Butuan City on December 5. And then of course there’s the extremely well-financed Pride Parade of Quezon City, which had an event on December 13, just as Mayor Herbert Bautista announced his “gift” (an anti-discrimination ordinance for LGBT people in the city).
Community organizers can only dream of having the financial backing of the Quezon City government (which will, from now on, have a Pride parade every first Saturday of December, unconscionably competing with the Metro Manila Pride’s schedule) when it holds Pride-related events. But even without the money (heck, Quezon City even had a VIP section – complete with food catering – behind its gigantic stage!), community organizations are only expected to grow so that, hopefully, more Pride events will be observed in other parts of the Philippines in the coming years.