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Finding love in a conservative religious environment

Alex and Chloe first met in a youth camp of their Christian church in December 2010. Eventually becoming a couple, even having a commitment ceremony, they continue to face challenges. “Ang major challenge sa amin ay ang pagharap mundong ginagalawan namin,” says Alex, who feels that living and working in a conservative religious environment deprive them as a couple to be happy and free to love each other.

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Although Alex and Chloe already has a commitment ceremony, they continue to hide their relationship. feels that living and working in a conservative religious environment has deprived them as a couple to be happy and free to love each other.

Although Alex and Chloe already has a commitment ceremony, they continue to hide their relationship, feeling that living and working in a conservative religious environment has deprived them as a couple to be happy and free to love each other.

Alex and Chloe first met in a youth camp of their Christian church in December 2010. Though not formally introduced, their paths first crossed through their common friend’s invitation to the activity.

Hiding the love2“First impression, masungit! Hindi man lang ako nakuhang ngitian nung mga panahon na yun. Pero nakikitawa naman siya sa mga jokes ko. Nachallenge ako sa kanya, parang gusto ko siyang kilalanin pa (My first impression of her was how grouchy she was! She didn’t even smile at me then. But she laughed at my jokes. I was challenged by her; it was like I wanted to know her more),” recalled Alex.

“Actually aloof ako sa kanya kasi alam ko sa sarili ko na noon pa mang mga high school days ko ay lapitan na ako ng mga ‘tibo’. Ewan ko ba. Nakakatawa kasi ang first impression ko sa kanya ay mahirap i-approach at parang elite ang dating na mahirap i-reach. So ako naman si deadma, nakikita tawa lang sa kwentuhan ng grupo at di ko siya ganung pinapansin. At ang first impression ko din kaya ayaw ko syang i-close ay baka ma-fall siya sa akin at eventually ma-fall din ako sa kanya (I was aloof with here because I know in myself even in high school days lesbians usually approached me. I just don’t know why. It is funny because my first impression on here is that she is difficult to approach and she seemed elite and unapproachable. So I just ignored her and laughed at conversations. I did not want to be close to her as she may fall for me and me for her),” added Chloe.

UNAVAILABLE LOVE

Chloe admitted that at that time they met, they both had girlfriends.

“After ng December meeting ay casual pa rin sa personal pag nakikita. Siguro dahil sa mga pagkakataon na tuwing nakikita kami ay kasama namin ang mga karelasyon namin. Medyo complicated ang status namin na kung idedescribe ko ay parang pinagtagpo kami sa sitwasyon na kung saan hindi na okay ang commitment sa kanya kanya naming mga karelasyon, (After meeting in December, we treated each other casually when we personally met. Maybe because when we met we were with our girlfriends. Our status then was quite complicated and it seemed that we met at a time when our commitments in our respective relationships were not doing okay) which made our journey more complicated and challenging,” said Chloe.

Alex knew that there was something different when she saw her again in an activity when they were invited to sing.

Napaka-civil lang namin, parang di magkakilala, inappear-an ko lang siya nun then wala na. Pero yun na pala yun, na-a-attract na ako sa kanya. May mga times na patago ko siya tinitingnan, kahit nasa malayo ako hinahanap ko siya. Inadd ko pa siya sa FB pagka-uwi ko. But then, pinilit kong burahin lahat ng yun because… parehas kaming may karelasyon that time (We were just very civil, like we really din’t know each other. We just give high-fives to each other and then nothing. But that was already it, I was already attracted to her. There were times I would secretly look at her. Even if I was far, I was looking for her. I added her on Facebook when I got home. But then I tried to erase all that because we were both in relationships),” said Alex.

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Alex admitted that she and her live-in girlfriend were not in good terms since 2010. Chloe also admitted that her relationship at that time was experiencing difficulties because of the lack of time for each other.

Both kept in touch on Facebook until they saw each other again on April 2011 in an activity where both their partners were present. After this they started texting and calling each other everyday.

FALLING IN LOVE

Umaabot ako ng 8:00 PM sa office para lang makausap siya dahil nga nasa bahay na ang karelasyon ko nun (I would stay until 8:00 PM in the office to just talk to her because our girlfriends were at home). We had this sharing din about our crushes, ang code name ko sa crush ko ay ‘one and only you’ tapos yung sa kanya ‘out of reach’. She didn’t know na siya yung ‘one and only you’ ko, pero I have no clue kung sino yung ‘out of reach’ or maybe I just didn’t want to assume,”said Alex with a laugh.

It was on May 11, 2011 at 10:13 pm, on her way out of the office, that Alex finally admitted to she is the “one and only you.”

Sabi ko sa kanya ‘hindi ko na kaya, hirap na hirap na ako. Mahal na kita (I told her I can’t take it anymore. I’m in a very difficult situation. I already love you)!” said Alex

Chloe was was shocked and said Alex is her “out of reach.”

On May 15, 2011, they had their first date.

Nung nakita ko pa lang siya, I already said to myself ‘siya na!’ However, things became more complicated kasi naging ‘bawal na bawal na pag-ibig.’ Sa paningin ng iba bawal dahil same sex, tapos bawal parin dahil both were committed (When I saw her, I already said to myself ‘She is the one!’ However, things became more complicated because it was a forbidden love. In the view of others, it is forbidden because it is of the same sex and also because we were both in committed relationships). But eventually, we made a choice. We chose to be happy. We decided to be with each other as a couple),” said Alex.

Naisip ko din na sa mga panahong iyon ay masarap at madaling sabihin na mahal ko siya pero pano siya na may girlfriend noon at paano ako na nagtatago pa sa aking closet. Ginawa namin ang dapat gawin. Dahil di rin naman na nagwowork ang mga relasyon namin sa dati naming mga karelasyon, nagdecide na kami na tapusin( I thought at that time that it would great and easy to say that I love her but I still had a girlfriend and I am still hiding in my closet. We did what we have to do. Since our respective relationships were not working anymore, we decided to end them),” said Chloe.

WORKING INSIDE CHURCH

“Ever since we started, kasama na yun sa relasyon namin dahil parehas kaming workers sa church institution. Though sa akin naman ay walang problema dahil 2007 palang nag-out na ako sa family ko and they accepted it, at maging sa workplace ko din naman ay ine-embrace at minamahal ang mga katulad ko (Ever since we started, it was part of our relationship to be both working for a church institution. Though for me there are no problems since I came out to my family in 2007 and the accepted it. Even at my workplace, I am embraced and loved for who I am),” said Alex

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“Super daming mga away, pagpapaliwanagan, pagpapanggap, panghuhusga ang tinahak namin para unti unti ay mapagtagumpayan ito dahil hindi madali ang lahat lalo na sa akin na “discreet”dahil sa line of work at sa super conservative na environment. Kaya di rin maiiwasan na magkaroon ng conflict dahil kahit pareho kami ng line of work ay magkaibang magkaiba ang mundo naming (There were many fights, explanations, pretensions, and judgments that we struggled through so that we can gradually overcome this. It was not easy especially for me who is discreet and for my line of work and environment which is super conservative. That is why conflicts are inevitable even if we are both working for our church. We both live in different worlds),” said Chloe.

Hiding the love3Alex feels that living and working in a conservative religious environment deprive them as a couple to be happy and free to love each other.

Ang major challenge sa amin ay ang pagharap mundong ginagalawan namin, especially siya na hindi pa nagka-come out dahil siya ay nanggaling sa isang conservative family at nag-wo-work sa isang conservative na institution. Kaya ngayon nabubuhay kami sa mundo na kung saan ay nadedeprive kami bilang magkarelasyon sa mga karapatan namin.. karapatang maging masaya, karapatang maging malaya at karapatang mahalin ang isa’t isa,” said Alex.

Chloe feels that these challenges of their environment has made their love for each other stronger.

Pero sa tuwing nararamdaman ko na napakahirap, dun ko din nararamdaman na mas lalo naming minamahal ang isa’t isa kahit na parang all hope is gone. Me against the world lang ang peg. Marami mang individual flaws pero we treat them as strengths para mabuild up ang isat isa. Sa mga nararanasan namin minsan sumasagi sa aking isip kung bakit hindi ako bumibitaw. Siguro ay mas higit kasi ang pag iisip ko na hindi ko na makita ang sarili ko na kasama pa ang iba (But when I feel that it has become so difficult, I also feel that we have loved each other more even if is like all hope is gone. Even when it feels that is me against the world. There may be many individual flaws but we treat them as strengths to build each other up. With our experiences, I have thought of letting go. But I have always thought more that I could not see myself being with anybody else),” said Chloe.

GETTING MARRIED

Alex and Chloe had a wedding last May 2013, witnessed by their closest friends.

Kaya October of 2012 I answered ‘YES’ to a question na buong akala ko ay kailan man ay hindi niya itatanong sa akin dahil tuwing pinag-uusapan namin ang tungkol sa pagpapakasal ay ending point ng usapan ay ayaw niya. So to top it all, we vowed and sealed this relationship last May 29 2013. Kinikilig pa rin ako tuwing naaalala ko ang special moment na yun (On October 2012, I answered ‘YES’ to a question that I thought that would never be asked to me. Because every time we talked about getting married, it always ended that she didn’t want it. So to top it all, we vowed and sealed this relationship last May 29, 2013. I still feel giddy when I remember this special moment),” said Chloe.

May mga hindi pagkakaintindihan dahil nahihirapan magtago, magpanggap at dumating na rin sa puntong gusto nang sumuko. Ang nagpapatatag lang siguro samin ay yung kahit anong mangyari , our love for each other will always win at di namin bibitiwan yung sinumpaan namin sa isa’t isa dahil nangako kami na haharapin namin ang lahat ng pagsubok ng magkasama (There are misunderstandings because it is difficult to hide and pretend. It also reached a point that I also wanted to give up. What keeps us strong is that whatever happens, our love for each other will always win and we will not let go of our promises to each other to face every hardship together),” said Alex.

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PARTNER, SISTER, BESTFRIEND

Siguro the best thing about this relationship is that I have a partner, a sister, a consultant and a best friend all rolled into one. Meron din akong fashion consultant at make-up artist. We both love music, traveling and trying something new. Madalas magkasundo dahil we share the same interests,” said Alex.

Chloe feels to have found a partner, sister, and bestfriend in Alex.

Marami man struggle at for sure marami pang darating, I can say wala na akong hahanapin pa. We found a partner, a friend, a sister, a companion sa isa’t isa.I mean a loving partner, a best friend, a selfless sister and a loyal companion. I can say through thick and thin ito,” said Chloe.

WISHING FOR A HOME

In their home, Alex and Chloe make sure that they both communicate regularly and share household responsibilities equally.

“We communicate every day and we make sure na alam namin ang nangyayari sa bawat isa. Minsan may mga ‘surprises’ pa rin kapag special day namin and we see to it na palaging masaya at nakakakakilig parin kapag nagkikita. As to finances, pina-practice namin yung equal sharing tulad ng pag may mga expenses, kailangan hati kami o kaya naman pag wala siya, ako muna mag-shoulder, then sa susunod siya naman (We communicate everyday and we make sure that we know what is happening with each other. Sometimes there are surprises on our special days and we make sure that we are always happy and excited to see each other, With finance, we practice equal sharing like splitting the expenses in half or when she doesn’t have money, I will pay for it and she will pay next time), ” said Alex.

“And as we share this relationship, we also share the same vision na ‘sana bahay na’ which we always say pag nakakaramdam kami ng panghihina. Sana bahay na which pertains to sana makamit na ang tagumpay, na balang araw ay may ginagabayan at tumatawag saming “nanay”, na balang araw wala ng uwian pagkatapos ng day off dahil yun lang ang chance na lumuwas para makasama isa’t isa, at balang araw lumipas ang panahon na gumigising at natututulog na namamasdan ang kumukulubot pero masayang mukha ng katandaan dahil kasama ang isa’t isa (I wish for home, is what we say when we feel weak. I wish for home pertains to that hope that we can be successful. One day we will be guiding someone who would call us mother. One day, there will be no need to go home to each other’s houses after a day off since this is the only chance that we travel and be with each other. One day, time will pass that we will sleep and wake up watching our wrinkled but happy old faces while with each other). To infinity and beyond,” said Chloe.

At isa rin sa mga plano, na tingin ko po ay una sa listahan ng mga plano namin, ay magkaroon na ng ‘courage’ para mag-out sa family ko (And one of the plans, which I think is one of the priority in our list of plans, is that I would finally have the courage to come out to my family),” Chloe ended.

A registered nurse, John Ryan (or call him "Rye") Mendoza hails from Cagayan de Oro City in Mindanao (where, no, it isn't always as "bloody", as the mainstream media claims it to be, he noted). He first moved to Metro Manila in 2010 (supposedly just to finish a health social science degree), but fell in love not necessarily with the (err, smoggy) place, but it's hustle and bustle. He now divides his time in Mindanao (where he still serves under-represented Indigenous Peoples), and elsewhere (Metro Manila included) to help push for equal rights for LGBT Filipinos. And, yes, he parties, too (see, activists need not be boring! - Ed).

FEATURES

March 9 of every year declared as LGBT Day in Municipality of Itogon

An executive order was passed in Itogon, a first class municipality in the province of Benguet in northern Luzon in the Philippines, declaring the ninth of March of every year as LGBT Day.

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Touched by the rainbow.

An executive order was passed in Itogon, a first class municipality in the province of Benguet in northern Luzon in the Philippines, declaring the ninth of March of every year as LGBT Day.

Executive Order No. 03, signed by Atty. Victorio T. Palangdan in April, noted that “section 3 of Republic Act 9710 state that ‘All individuals are equal as human beings by virtue of the inherent dignity of each person. No one should therefore suffer discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, gender, age, language, sexual orientation, race, color, religion, political or other opinion, national or social or geographical origin, disability, birth or other status as established by human rights standards.”

Under the EO, activities are being eyed to be held for the local LGBT community, including – and going beyond the one-day Pride parade – “knowledge sharing or technology transfer on good grooming, personal hygiene, beauty care, interior design, floral arrangements, et cetera, such that the knowledge and skills derived therefrom could be transformed into livelihood or income generating activities by the participants.”

The aforementioned professions/fields are – nonetheless – still stereotypically linked with the LGBTQIA community, at times limiting professional opportunities.

The EO also enjoins barangay officials to actively support the programs and activities of the LGBT community particularly in celebration of the LGBT Day.

The Municipal Social Welfare and Development Office is tasked to monitor and evaluate the success/failure of the EO.

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Founded in 1951, and is the largest municipality in Benguet by land area, Itogon is a mining town with a population of approximately 59,820 people occupying a total land area of 449.73 square kilometers (173.64 square miles).

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What it’s like to be a queer woman in Brunei…

Generally speaking, “living in Brunei as a woman – no matter what background, what orientation – everyone knows that being a woman is hard… and its definitely not any easier being a queer woman.”

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As a queer woman in Brunei, Naz always expressed herself in a stereotypically masculine manner. That is, she has short hair and doesn’t always present herself in what’s deemed “feminine”.

Perhaps because of this “classic assumption that a girl is queer or a tomboy by the shortness of her hair”, Naz was sexually harassed at work. And when she told the story of her harassment to her sister, the latter just (dismissively) told her: “He probably knows you’re gay so its ok for him to touch you.”

This dismissiveness, this disregard is (apparently) but an example of how – in Brunei – women (and particularly queer women) “tolerate sexism and homophobia everyday,” said A.B., who produced and directed “The Visible”, a documentary that looks at how women are treated in Brunei. Included in the interviewees is a queer woman and a transgender woman.

Brunei made the news recently, of course, with the implementation of a dated, and even barbaric law that will see the stoning to death of members of the LGBTQIA community, along with adulterers. The laws, parts/elements of which were first announced in 2013 and adopted in 2014 (and have been rolled out in phases since then), will be fully implemented this month. Ruled for 51 years by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, the Southeast Asian nation plans to implement a severe interpretation of Islamic sharia law. Under the strict laws, adultery, sodomy, robbery, rape and insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad would all be punishable by death. Those who are caught having gay sex or committing adultery would be executed by stoning.

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Upon hearing the implementation of this law, “I was honestly very surprised; at first I thought it was just old news being brought up again for whatever reason,” A.B. said. “But as it turned out, the law was put on hold from 2013 due to international criticism and is just now being implemented.”

For A.B., “it’s messed up because it seemed like no one in Brunei knew.” Her family, for one, “found out through international news. If you look at news articles about Brunei it’s all about the Sharia law; but if you look at news from Bruneian newspapers, there’s nothing about it. I’m living abroad and found out from friends sending me articles, it was only after a few days when there had finally been an official statement from the prime minister’s office.”

Brunei made the news recently, of course, with the implementation of a dated, and even barbaric law that will see the stoning to death of members of the LGBTQIA community, along with adulterers.

A.B. was born in Brunei, but she was raised abroad. And “it was only recently that I got to experience what life was really like for a queer woman like me in Brunei. For years I would view it from a distance, visiting for a few weeks once a year and always thinking ‘I can put up with it, I’ll be back home (in France) in two weeks.’ But moving back changed everything for me.”

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It changed because – in her experience in Brunei – women and queer women of tolerate sexism and homophobia everyday.

Naz’s case, for instance, rattled A.B., who said that “it’s unacceptable how issues like this are still predominant in Asia.”

“It’s a bit hazy with the law when it comes to that,” A.B. said, “because, in fact it is being caught in the act of (gay) sex that is banned, not just being LGBTQIA.”

If being LGBTQIA means living under scrutiny in Brunei, how do LGBTQIA people express themselves (if at all)? “It’s a bit hazy with the law when it comes to that,” A.B. said, “because, in fact it is being caught in the act of (gay) sex that is banned, not just being LGBTQIA. I always found everyone was capable of expressing themselves, to an extent; meaning, private accounts on social media (are available) but not necessarily changing the way you dress or express yourself. It’s more a ‘show don’t tell sort of situation’.”

Generally speaking, though, “living in Brunei as a woman – no matter what background, what orientation – everyone knows that being a woman is hard… and its definitely not any easier being a queer woman.”

Producing the documentary, by itself, was challenging.

“When we were in pre-production, I was unable to attend a meeting due to my family because ‘a woman is not allowed to be picked up by a man in Brunei’. During a production meeting I was stopped halfway by a family member because ‘a woman is not allowed to hang around with just men in Brunei’,” A.B. said. “So everything had to proceed with caution.”

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But even if things are challenging, “we pushed on. I was not going to let the opinions of others stop me from voicing a story that needed to be told. You find loopholes, you get back up again and keep going…”

A.B.: “I always found everyone was capable of expressing themselves, to an extent; meaning, private accounts on social media (are available) but not necessarily changing the way you dress or express yourself. It’s more a ‘show don’t tell sort of situation’.”

A.B. also noted the “bravery” of women in Brunei – in particular, her cast, who “really set an example for the women and the LGBTQIA community in Brunei, (explaining) to me that they never felt a sense of ‘danger’, just a sense of being cautious.”

Naz, for one, said that “despite the law, religion and her sexual orientation, she is still a muslim and won’t be doing anything to break the law.”

A.B. added that “it’s also important to note that no one has been executed in Brunei for anything since 1957.”

All the same, A.B. is pushing for the opening of minds.

“Being LGBTQIA is just who you are, it’s what you feel, it’s what you know, it’s something you should never be ashamed of,” she said. “The only ‘Western imposition’ is the fact that being LGBTQIA is a crime, which was brought by the British when they decided to colonize half of Asia. It’s like how our generation are standing up for gender quality; yes, in Brunei, that’s considered an influence from the West because you’re supposedly ‘going against the tradition’ of being a slaved housewife, when in reality it’s not just women of the West that have been fighting for rights, women all over the world have.”

And in the end, “it’s not really for me to say what’s right and what’s wrong (for Brunei). Brunei really is a lovely and beautiful country, but it also has a way to go… like all of Asia.”

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Haircut battleground

FACT: A number of trans students fail to complete schooling because of strict implementation of uniform policies that affect their gender identity and expression. School officials claim they’re simply implementing (discriminatory) policies; while activists claim human rights violation. And while the discussions happen, the students are caught in the middle, who – in the end – really just want to finish schooling while being true to oneself.

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Photo by Mohamed Nohassi from Unsplash.com

In July 2018, Jenny* (not her real name), a transgender Senior High School (SHS) student from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) was allegedly told to report to the principal’s office for the first time.

Pinatawag ako nung principal, tapos she told me that ano… kapag hindi ako nagpagupit until tomorrow morning, ganon, papalabasin niya ako ng PUP (I was told to report to the principal’s office, and there, she told me to get a haircut the next day, or risk getting asked to leave PUP),” she recalled to Outrage Magazine.

Jenny got a haircut this January. This had to be done as a prerequisite when she applied for graduation. But she said that she was promised that “after that, (I) won’t have to cut my hair again when I process my papers in the future.”

Jenny said that the experience affected her psychologically; because of this, she wasn’t able to go to school for two days. And with the eventual haircut, Jenny’s gender expression was also dictated by another, affecting her sense of self.

But in an interview with Dr. Minna L. Comuyog, PUP-SHS principal, she denied that she threatened any student, and that neither her office nor PUP-SHS’s registrar’s office denied any student of transaction or that their documents will be held if they won’t cut their hair.

Comuyog said that, in fact, PUP-SHS has a “No Discrimination Policy”, which is implemented in the entire PUP system (which includes SHS).

Hindi namin ina-identify ‘yung mga estudyante namin na bading ‘to, tomboy ‘to. Basta when they come here, estudyante namin sila (We don’t separately identify students as ‘He’s gay, she’s a lesbian’. For us, when they come here, they’re all students),” she said.

Comuyog added: “As a teacher, ang aking training ay students sila (They are students). They have their unique personalit(ies) and we adjust our lessons to their needs. So kahit anong mga bata ang dumating sa amin (So no matter what kind of student they are), we accept them for who they are.”

But notwithstanding the “No Discrimination Policy”, Comuyog believes that the haircut policy should be implemented and be observed by all students (in this case, particularly those under her care; i.e. PUP-SHS).

Comuyog claimed that she is unaware of the existence of transgender students in PUP-SHS; thus of transgender students being forced to cut their hair due to the school’s haircut policy. “It’s something na (that is) not known to me,” she said.

But Comuyog added that she looks at the students using the gender binary dictated by the assigned sex at birth – i.e. “I look at them as male, female, ganon ang classification nila (that’s how I classify them).” And so she believes that even if a student is a transgender woman, this student will still be mandated to get a haircut befitting those assigned male at birth (that is, she still won’t be allowed to have long hair, which is deemed socially acceptable only for those assigned female at birth).

On the handling of students who are transgender women (or those assigned male at birth) and with long hair, Comuyog said that she “normally asks” these students “what they needed to change or do.” As part of her training as a teacher, she lets the students think. And in this case, it is the students who often end up saying that it is their hair that they should change.

NON-DISCRIMINATION AS A POLICY

The Department of Education (DepEd) actually has pro-LGBTQIA policies, which – in December 2018 – it reiterated via a statement reminding “all public and private Kindergarten, elementary, and secondary schools of the necessity and importance of adopting and enforcing anti-bullying policies in their respective institutions.”

Various (specific) policies particularly touch on non-discrimination (including of LGBTQIA students).

DepEd Order No. 40, series 2012, or the “DepEd Child Protection Policy,” institutionalized zero tolerance against any form of violence against the child and provided for the establishment of a Child Protection Committee (CPC) in all public and private schools.

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DepEd Order No. 55, series 2013 (DO 55 s. 2013), or the “Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of Republic Act No. 10627 (R.A. 10627) Otherwise Known as the Anti-Bullying Act of 2013,” requires all public and private schools to submit a copy of their child protection or anti-bullying policy to the Division Office.

Meanwhile, Rule IV of DO 55 s. 2013 underscores that “the bullying prevention program in schools shall be comprehensive and multifaceted, and shall involve all education stakeholders and personnel. Schools shall develop intervention strategies like counseling, life skills training, education and other activities that will enhance the psychological, emotional and psychosocial well-being of victims, bullies, and other parties who may be affected by the bullying incident.”

Particularly pertaining the uniform policy (which touches on the haircut policy), DepEd released in 2008 DepEd Order No. 46, s. 2008, guidelines on “proper school attire”. It stated that “while the general policy is that the wearing of a school uniform shall not be required in public schools (as embodied in DepEd Order No. 45 s. 2008), it is necessary to provide guidance on what constitutes proper school attire.”

The following principles are offered as a guide:

  1. A student’s basic right to go to school, study and learn is of paramount importance and should be respected and promoted at all times.
  2. A student’s attire should reflect respect for the school as an institution for learning.
  3. A student’s attire should not become a cause for discrimination particularly for students belonging to a lower socio-economic status.
  4. Promoting physical hygiene and proper school decorum is part of the teaching- learning process in schools, thus a student’s attire and physical appearance should manifest learnings from this process.

Nowhere in the DepEd Order No. 46, s. 2008 was “proper” haircut discussed.

According to PUP Kasarianlan’s Watson Vergara, the haircut policy implemented in schools is a form of oppression. “Not only the right of the student to express oneself was trampled, but the student’s right to education was put on line.”
Photo by Cassidy Kelley from Unsplash.com

Having policies and actually implementing them are – however, and also – two different things.

In 2015, for instance, a United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report observed that only 38% of schools submitted child protection or anti-bullying policies in 2013, and the “low rate of submission has been attributed to a low level of awareness of requirements of the Act and weak monitoring of compliance.”

Releasing a report in 2017, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) also touched on the uniform policies (including forcing particularly transgender women to get haircuts) and stated that “students who are transgender or do not identify as their sex assigned at birth face especially pervasive discrimination as a result of uniform and hair-length policies and other gendered restrictions.” This is made more apparent because “right to free expression of students is violated when schools limit displays of same-sex affection or gender expression solely for LGBTQIA youth” – meaning, the policies are used differently for them to make them tow some lines.

Also, according to Watson Vergara, who heads PUP Kasarianlan, the official student organization for people with diverse SOGIE in PUP, even anti-discriminatory policies (such as DepEd’s) fail to take into consideration the power dynamics within educational institutions.

Vergara said that they know of students who asked for help from PUP Kasarianlan, claiming that they feel threatened that if they won’t cut their hair, then their names will be taken out of the list of graduating students. Non-compliance may also be seen as insubordination, which means that these students won’t be given a good moral certificate (which is needed when enrolling in college/university), or will even be kicked out of PUP.

PUP Kasarianlan also documented other cases like Jenny’s – e.g. in one case, a student claimed that she was kept in an office, prohibited to go out unless she signs a statement stipulating her to cut her hair.

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Syempre (Of course), the kid, crying, shaking and afraid, signed the paper. Kasi wala siyang (Because she did not have a) choice, she wants to go out,” Vergara said.

Vergara is aware that there are people who may see this as a non-issue – i.e. it’s “just hair.”

But PUP Kasarianlan also received stories of transgender students who refused to have their graduation photos taken, and of one transgender student who “can’t do homework or even eat properly because of this (traumatizing experience).”

For Vergara, this is a form of oppression. “Not only the right of the student to express oneself was trampled, but the student’s right to education was put on line.”

For Kate Montecarlo Cordova, if uniform is really needed, then schools should implement gender neutral school uniforms (e.g. gender neutral or unisex design and cut of school uniforms, and no prescribed length of hair for those assigned male at birth). Or, simply, “let the students wear uniforms based on their sense of being,”
Photo by Chen Feng from Unsplash.com

DETRACTING FROM SENSE OF SELF

According to Kate Montecarlo Cordova, founder of the Association of Transgender People in the Philippines (ATP), “One of the identified positive benefits of school uniform is to promote a “sense of community” (which actually refers to classification or clustering). But this can be detrimental to transgender students if not properly managed/implemented for this can deprive their self-expression, their sense of identity, their authenticity.”

Cordova added that “the imposition of school uniform with strict observance to the heteronormative gender binary can be an utter threat to transgender students while serving a meaningless purpose to learning.”

There are somewhat practical efforts that can be done.

For one, Cordova suggested that if uniform is really needed, then schools should implement gender neutral school uniforms (e.g. gender neutral or unisex design and cut of school uniforms, and no prescribed length of hair for those assigned male at birth). Or, simply, “let the students wear uniforms based on their sense of being,” Cordova said.

Secondly, Cordova said that it is important for any educational institution to “undergo extensive trainings, workshops and lectures not just about gender sensitivity but also, specifically, about transgender issues to understand the complexities of transgender human rights and health needs.”

And thirdly, Cordova suggests for transgender students to “rightfully assert and claim their rights to exist and learn by standing up to what is just and righteous to their authentic self by: 1. Being knowledgeable of their rights, 2. Being vocal about their identity, and 3. Being brave to socially present their sense of self.”

STARTING THE DISCUSSIONS

Back in PUP-SHS, the school principal Comuyog thinks that high school students are “confused” because they can see some transgender college students grow their hair, and they may also want to do the same. While she acknowledges how some of the SHS students want to “emulate” the college students, she also said that this isn’t necessarily possible because of “certain policies”.

Particularly, Comuyog noted PUP-SHS’s Code of Conduct that highlights (in Section 3) that “every student shall dress up according to the conventions of decency and proper grooming… dyan nakapaloob ang haircut for male and hairstyle for female.”

Section 3 of the Code of Conduct specifically states: “Every PUP student shall dress up according to the conventions of decency and proper grooming.

Also, to wit:

3.1 – Every PUP Senior High student is expected to demonstrate personal grooming standards of cleanliness and to wear the prescribed uniform while inside the school premises, during educational exposures or work immersion, and during official off-campus events.

3.2 – Students must observe the following provisions when wearing the prescribed school uniform:

3.2.1 – Uniforms should be kept buttoned and properly worn;
3.2.2 – School ID must be worn at all times within the school premises;
3.2.3 – The hairstyle for female should be simple and well kept, while the acceptable haircut for male must be off the eyebrows and above the collar line (EMPHASIS OURS);
3.2.4 – Moustache and side beards are not allowed;
3.2.5 – Hair color may be allowed provided that it is not vulgar.

The Code of Conduct does not discuss SOGIE (and implications to the uniform policy), but enforce these requirements based on assigned sex at birth.

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Comuyog quipped that it is only now that the said (haircut) policy is becoming an issue. And here, she also holds accountable some educators.

Yun namang teacher nila, napapabayaan sila kaya if there is a person na mas liable, itong mga teacher kasi ina-allow nila. Kasi may teacher din tayong mahaba ang buhok, may teacher tayong nakatali ang buhok. ‘Yun ang nakikita nitong mga bata (There are teachers who just let their students be, so if there’s someone liable, it’s the teacher who allows this. This may also be because some teachers assigned male at birth grow their hair long. And this is what these students see),” Comuyog said.

But – again – since there aren’t any students who talked to her and said that she is a transgender person, Comuyog said that she remains “unaware of this.” And that “just in case that she will be aware” of this, then she will have to consider the individual student’s situation.

For Professor Earl Guzman, SHS and college professor, and an open member of the LGBTQIA community, forcing the students to cut their hair, especially if they identify as gay or transgender, is abuse. “Kasi itong mga taong ‘to, itong mga kabataang ito, yung buhok nila (These kids’ hair) and how they present themselves are part of their gender identity,” he said.

Guzman added that teaching the students how to be gender sensitive yet confining them in the same heteronormative stereotypes, same heteronormative ways of expressing themselves, “kind of defeats its purpose.”

Tayo as PUPians (Products of PUP), we’re so proud of being at the frontier of fighting for sexual equality. Eh eto nga, ginigipit natin ngayon (And now we’re pressuring these students to conform). It all makes us look like hypocrites,” Guzman said.

For Guzman, the principal should listen to the students as well because what is happening most of the time is that teachers become just enforcers of rules or policies, and teachers owe it to the students to listen to them.

Anong klaseng lesson kasi ‘yung tinuturo natin sa students kapag ganon (What kind of lesson are we teaching the students), when we refuse to hear them out? Are we telling them that we know better than them? May mga pagkakataon na (There are times when) we know better than them pero kasi (but also) we’re not the ones living their lives right now, it’s them,” he said. “Maybe we should take their experiences into account; maybe we should listen to what they have to say. Kasi hindi puwedeng ano (Because the case shouldn’t be)… in our desire to enforce obedience, ang nangyayari ay (what happens is we create) blind obedience.”

For his part, PUP Kasarianlan head Vergara said that this kind of discrimination against members of the LGBTQIA community also happens in other schools – i.e. this goes beyond PUP-SHS.

In “Being LGBT in Asia: The Philippines Country Report” – written by Michael David C. Tan for USAID and UNDP – it was reported that forcing transgender women to get haircuts before allowing them to access education is one of the common anti-LGBTQIA policies still common in the Philippines, along with: the conduct of “masculinity tests” (where effeminate students had to “prove” they were “man enough” to be allowed to enroll, or stay in school) conducted by some schools, and instances when LGBTQIA students were made to sign “contracts” to ensure they did not express their sexual orientation or gender identity while going to school.

But Watson also acknowledges that – sadly – they can only do what little help they can.

In 2017, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that “students who are transgender or do not identify as their sex assigned at birth face experience especially pervasive discrimination as a result of uniform and hair-length policies and other gendered restrictions.”
Photo by Ryan Tauss from Unsplash.com

In the end, Guzman hopes that this will be settled, with all parties involved discussing this. “Let’s be civilized. Let’s add something positive to the discourse. ‘Wag nating gawing (Let’s not turn the issue into an) excuse para siraan ‘yung mga bagay, tao, o policy na hindi naman natin dapat siraan (to destroy people or policies that need not be destroyed). And then, let’s come to an agreement. I think we should all try to understand where everyone is coming from,” Guzman said.

And while the discussions happen, the likes of Jenny are caught in the middle, who – in the end – really just want to finish schooling while being true to oneself.

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UP Mindanao marks rainbow Pride

The University of the Philippines-Mindanao in Davao City held its 2nd Pride march, with UP faculty members and students, as well as ally organizations and individuals joining to “appeal to end gender-based violence and recognize once and for all that LGBTQIA rights are human rights.”

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All photos courtesy of Prof. Jay Jomar Quintos, coordinator of the Office of Gender and Anti-Sexual Harassment (OGASH) of UP-Mindanao

Rainbow pride rises in Davao City.

The University of the Philippines-Mindanao in Davao City held its 2nd Pride march, with UP faculty members and students, as well as ally organizations and individuals joining to “appeal to end gender-based violence and recognize once and for all that LGBTQIA rights are human rights.”

In a statement to Outrage Magazine, Prof. Jay Jomar Quintos, coordinator of the Office of Gender and Anti-Sexual Harassment (OGASH) of UP-Mindanao, said that “at present, there (is) a large number of cases documented that involved violence against the LGBTQIA community.” And so “let us never forget the faces of these victims, like Jennifer Laude who was killed by Joseph Scott Pemberton.”

Quintos also stressed the need to broaden the struggle for social justice, and that “we (should) never forget the different forms and shapes of discrimination against class, gender, race and ethnicity. (So) we must unite and fight for our rights, freedom and equality… especially in these ‘days of disquiet and nights of rage’ when the State has become its own terrorist.”

For his part, Jayvie Cabajes, vice president for Mindanao of KABATAAN Partylist, said that “in this time of continued oppression, violence and discrimination, we must not remain silent but instead, unite and rally in the streets to register our calls to end gender-based violence and to recognize the LGBTQIA rights. After all, Pride is protest. It is a protest where rights are yelled and marched down to show our united stand on issues… We must not cower in fear because our combined strength can overthrow even a dictator, such as what happened in EDSA Revolt. Let us unite and continue the struggle towards a free and equal nation.”

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The first Pride march in UP-Mindanao happened in 2017.

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#KaraniwangLGBT

Lesbian Lumad

What is it like to be a lesbian and also a part of an indigenous group? For Teng Calimpang, the Tagbawa ethnic group of people at the foot of Mt. Apo accepted her, so she hopes other lesbian Lumads live good lives both as LGBTQIA community members and as Lumads.

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This is part of #KaraniwangLGBT, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBT people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”

Dili lisod mag-lesbian ka diri kay tanan diri murag paryente lang nako, mga pinsan lang (It isn’t hard to be a lesbian here because everyone here is just like a relative, just like my cousins),” Teng Calimpang, who is from Meohao at the foot of Mt. Apo, said. “Tanan pud mga tawo nakabalo kung kinsa ko ug unsa ko (People here also know who I am and what I am).”

Teng’s family is from the Tagbawa Manobo ethic group of people. Originally from Bansalan, her mother met her father in Meohao, where they decided to eventually settle. Also because of being based here, Teng is fluent in Bagobo Diangan, spoken by another ethnic group of people particularly at the foot of Mt. Apo.

At least in her experience, being a lesbian is a non-issue for her people (Tagbawa Manobo), as well as for her “adopted” Bagobo Diangan family.

Teng was 10 when she recognized her “otherness”; she did not like wearing girls’ clothes, and she preferred doing things that boys do. At 15, “diha na nako napansin nga… na-feel na nako nga dili gyud nako ma-love ang boy (I noticed that I was not attracted to members of the opposite sex).” Teng said that “babae ang mugawas sa akoang heart ba (I was attracted also to women).”

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Teng told her family about “ang tinuod (the truth).” And “okay lang sa ilaha. Tanggap gyud ko nila (it’s fine with them. They accepted me as a lesbian).”

Now 48, Teng works for Dole Phils. (Stanfilco Division). After work, she is also a local healer, giving “hilot (traditional massage)” to those who seek her out for the same.

Teng credits her “lolo (grandfather)” for her gift to heal.

She was 15 when she was “taught” how to “help people”; she dreamt her then-deceased grandfather show her how to do so, serving as a passing-of-the-torch to heal others.

Teng said that there are two kinds of people who help – one who expects to be grandly paid for the effort, and one who doesn’t. “Donation, okay lang sa ako-a (I’m okay with just receiving donations),” she said, adding that it already makes her happy that “nakatabang ko sa ilahang kinahanglan sa lawas (at least I’ve helped people with their needs).”

Teng had a heterosexual-identifying GF in the past; but that relationship didn’t last. She noted that there are some women who just want to be financially supported; they leave their partners when they have gotten what they wanted, or if their partner can’t offer them what they really want (i.e. wealth). “Pait kaayo ba (This makes being lesbian hard).”

Now single, Teng has other lesbian friends, and not all of them from Lumad communities. But her friends are now based overseas, where they work. She admitted that it can be lonely at times, but that technology (e.g. social networking sites) help alleviate the loneliness since she can at least chat with them even if they’re apart.

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Teng also has an adopted child, given to her when the child was only a month old. She is now 18.

Lisud gyud (sa sinugdanan) kay syempre ang acting nimo is as a boy, so nalisdan ko pagpa-dako niya (It was hard for me to raise her at first because I am masculine/not stereotypically motherly),” Teng said. “But I gradually learned how to properly raise her.”

To other lesbians who may also belong to Lumad communities, Teng said: “Kung unsa gyud sila sa ilang panginabuhi, ipadayun na nila (Continue living your true selves in living a good life).”

And in the end, “learn from me as I say that you can be good people as lesbians.”

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Trans and Muslim

An interview with a human rights defender from General Santos City, Ali Macalintal, who is also trans and Muslim. As she calls for LGBT acceptance, she believes that the struggle for social justice needs to be holistic and shouldn’t neglect other minorities in society.

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This is part of #KaraniwangLGBT, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBT people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”

Growing up, trans woman Ali Macalintal never wanted to do what boys her age did. “Nasa puso ko na talaga na ako ay isang nagbababae (In my heart, I always identified with being a girl),” she said. And then she started having boy crushes, and it made her further realize that, yes, she is part of the LGBTQIA community.

The big “challenge” for Ali even then was her belonging to the Maguindanao ethnic group of people in southern Philippines, which is part of the wider Moro ethnic group. And being LGBTQIA is – generally speaking – still condemned in Islam (a “great sin”).

The now 32-year-old Ali remembered one time, during Ramadan (a holy month of fasting, introspection and prayer for Muslims), when she was asked by her father what she wanted to be. “I sort of knew what he was asking; but I wasn’t ready to give him an answer,” she recalled.

Knowing she couldn’t lie, she said: “I want to be a lawyer.”

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But her father was adamant, asking her directly if “gusto mo magka-GF o BF (if I wanted to have a girlfriend or a boyfriend)?”

With tears in her eyes, Ali told her father that she wanted to have a BF.

Her father embraced her, to her surprise, and he told her: “Alam mo na kung and ang gusto mo at sino ka. Dahil kung hindi mo matanggap kung sino ka, mahihirapan ka (Now you know who and what you are. Because if you can’t accept yourself, you will have a hard time).”

But not everyone is as lucky as Ali, and she recognizes this.

In fact, she knows the “double discrimination” encountered by Muslims who are also LGBTQIA – i.e. you get discriminated for being a Muslim, and then you get discriminated as LGBTQIA. This does not include (even) further discrimination from within the minority communities one belongs to – e.g. Muslims can discriminate LGBTQIA people; just as LGBTQIA people can also discriminate Muslims.

This recognition of the harshness of life for people like her pushed Ali to become a human rights defender, working for a non-government organization in General Santos City, south of the Philippines.

Ali believes in a holistic approach to the struggle for human rights.

Mahirap sa LGBTQIA community na kumilos na sila lang (It’s hard for the LGBTQIA community to fight on its own),” she said. “Naniniwala aka sa sama-sama nating pagkilos (I believe in unified struggle).”

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This is because, she said, the struggle for social justice of the LGBTQIA community is no different from the struggle of other minority sectors – e.g. Indigenous Peoples, women, youth, persons with disability, seniors, Muslims, et cetera.

“We will succeed only if the effort is multi-sectoral,” she said.

Particularly addressing other transgender Muslims (and Lumads/Indigenous People), Ali said that – to begin – one needs to find oneself and then find pride in that. “Remember that whatever we are, whatever our gender identity may be, we need to be open to accept ourselves,” she said.

With self-acceptance, she said, it is easier to push others to accept “our identity also as children of God, of Allah.”

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