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Is Chiz your Vice President for #Eleksyon2016?

Outrage Magazine’s exclusive interview with Senator Francis “Chiz” Escudero – who is running as Vice President of the Republic of the Philippines in #Eleksyon2016 – who discusses other issues concerning the LGBT community aside from same-sex marriage, including the long-delayed passage of an anti-discrimination law, development of a gender recognition law, worsening HIV situation in the country and how the LGBT community can push for its issues.

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Citing a basic principle in social justice that those who have less in life should have more in law, Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero reiterated his support for the LGBT community, a sector he said that continues to be neglected and is also repeatedly stigmatized.

In an exclusive Outrage Magazine interview, and because the LGBT community is not a one-issue sector, Escudero – who is running for Vice President in the 2016 national elections – discussed other issues concerning the LGBT community aside from same-sex marriage (He is, by the way, for civil partnerships), including the languishing anti-discrimination bill in both Houses of Congress, development of a gender recognition law in the Philippines, worsening HIV situation in the Philippines, inclusion of LGBT people in existing and/or policies being developed, and how the LGBT community can push for its issues.

ANTI-DISCRIMINATION LAW, NOW NA!

In 2014, Escudero co-authored Senate Bill 2358 (Anti-Discrimination Bill, along with Presidentiable Sen. Grace Poe), which eyed to make any form of discrimination a “crime against humanity and human dignity”.

For Escudero, “simpleng batas yun na hindi naman dapat kontrahin ninuman (It’s a simple law that should not be hindered by anyone).”

However, Escudero said, “binibigyan ng kahulugan ng iba (others assume it has a different intention)” even if these assumptions are not stipulated in the proposed bill.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), for instance, has repeatedly expressed its opposition (which turned into partial support) against an anti-discrimination bill as it could open the door for the legalization of same-sex marriages in the Philippines; a position shared by others in Congress (e.g. Sen. Vicente Sotto III).

For Escudero, an anti-discrimination law simply states that “pantay-pantay ang bawat tao anuman ang kanilang sexual orientation, anuman ang kanilang paniniwala (everyone is equal irrespective of sexual orientation, or whatever their beliefs).”

Considering that passing an anti-discrimination law continues to be challenging, Escudero said that it is important to open the minds of the people, “lalo na ng ating mga mambabatas (more particularly our lawmakers),” he said.

Escudero added that often, this becomes an election issue, but afterwards, politicians forget about it. And so “mahalaga at imortante ang pagkakataong ito kung saan pinipili natin ang ating mga mambabatas… na alamin ang bawat isa (kung) ano ba ang kanilang posisyon sa bagay na ito, isusulong ba nila ‘yan o hindi (elections are valuable and important times when we select our lawmakers… to ask each of them what their position is on this matter, and if they will advocate for this or not).”

Escudero even suggested having a covenant that will specify this support; and that the LGBT community can use the same to remind politicians of their promise once they get into power.

May karapatan ang botante na hilingin yun sa mga kumakandidato at tanungin yun sa mga nagnanais manilbihan sa pamahalaan (Voters have the right to ask for this from political candidates, and ask for the same for those who want to serve in the government),” he said.

DEVELOPING A GENDER RECOGNITION LAW

In 2012, Escudero received flak from some in the transgender community in the Philippines.

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With Senate Bill 3113, Escudero sought to amend RA 9048, which authorizes the city or municipal civil registrar or the consul general to correct a clerical or typographical error in an entry and/or change the first name or nickname in the civil register without need of a judicial order.

Senate Bill 3113, however, expressly states that no petition for a change of gender by a person who has undergone sex change or sex transplant will be entertained.

The Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP), then helmed by Naomi Fontanos of GANDA Filipinas, violated the rights of trans Filipinos as human beings.

“But upon close inspection, you will see that RA 9048, the law that they seek to amend, is actually antitransgender in the first place, and… SB 3113 affirm(s) the transphobia inherent in RA 9048,” Fontanos was quoted as saying.

At that time, Escudero said that “there is no such intention (to violate anyone’s right). It simply seeks to facilitate and make easier corrections based on error and easily verifiable without that need to go through a complicated and expensive court process.”

Also, in a letter of clarification coming from Escudero’s office, the proposal from the trans community cannot be accommodated “since doing so would make the bill itself unconstitutional.”

The proposal, instead, was to have a “measure similar to or a magna carta may be drafted given the uniqueness of your position in Philippine society.”

Now aware of the transgender community’s need for a gender recognition law, Escudero said he was actually fascinated the first time he heard of this – “Fascinated in the sense that it’s advanced human rights; it’s advanced in the sense that everything in your license, everything in your birth certificate can now be determined by the person himself. Nothing to be determined by the accident of birth. That is advanced citizenship, and I am all for it,” he said. “Pabor ako at gusto kong makita ang ating bansa na may ganyang uri ng paggalang sa karapatang pantao (I am in favor of this and I want to see our country have this kind of respect to human rights).”

Escudero is, nonetheless, cognizant that this may not yet be timely considering that even the anti-discrimination bill is not progressing. However, for him, “hindi yan rason o dahilan para hindi simulang isulong (that’s not reason for people not to start pushing for this).”

WORSENING HIV SITUATION

In December 2015, the Department of Health’s (DOH) Epidemiology Bureau reported 650 new cases of HIV infections, which was 28% higher compared to the 2014 figure. Ninety-seven percent were male, with the median age of 27, and with more than half belonging to the 25-34 year age group, while 28% were youths belonging to the 15-24 year age group.

This continues the upward trend in HIV infections in the country, already shamed for being one of only a handful of countries where HIV infections continue to increase.

And with 88% of the sexually transmitted cases of HIV infection in the Philippines involving men who have sex with men (MSM, involving gay and bisexual men), HIV continues to be an issue for the LGBT community.

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For Escudero, the government should not pretend that there’s no problem. He believes that DOH and PhilHealth should have active roles here, such as in information dissemination, particularly in preventing HIV infection since “mas mura pa rin kasi yun kesa gamutin natin ang ating kababayang maysakit na. HIV or AIDS or anumang karamdaman, sana preventive ang mas pagtutuunan ng pansin (prevention is still cheaper than treating our fellow Filipinos who already have HIV, AIDS or any other ailment, so preventive efforts should be prioritized).”

But since there are already Filipinos with HIV, and since services continue to be lacking, Escudero is critical with the current responses.

“The services continue to be lacking because, I think, the government is trying to ignore it, the government is trying to look the other way, the government refuses to accept that there is a problem. The first step in resolving any problem is admitting that there is a problem. That the problem is increasing. That the problem is not so small that you can simply sweep it under the rug. It’s something that must be confronted by the government head-on,” he said.

Escudero added that this may also form part of the anti-discrimination efforts of the LGBT community since this affects its members and “pinipili marahil ng gobyerno na huwag masyadong tingnan, huwag masyadong pansinin ito. Pero para sa akin ang sakit ay sakit, ang buhay ay buhay at obligasyon ng pamahalaan na tiyakin at subukan at sikapin na iligtas ang buhay ng bawat mamamayan niya (maybe the government is choosing not to pay attention to this, not to give this as much attention. But for me, an illness is an illness, life is life, and it’s the government’s duty to ensure and try to save the lives of all its people).”

INTERCONNECTION OF LGBT ISSUES WITH PHL ISSUES

Perhaps to be taken as recognition (knowingly or not) of the interconnection of LGBT issues with other mainstream social issues, Escudero – with Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago – called for a review of the country’s Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the US following the killing of 26-year-old transpinay Jennifer Laude in the hands of American serviceman Joseph Scott Pemberton.

Now, with policies still being developed, Escudero said that the ideal is to include minority sectors – e.g. in the case of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, for instance, which affects many LGBT people in Muslim areas.

Escudero said that the government’s panel’s decision to speak only with one group (the Moro Islamic Liberation Front or MILF) is the reason why Senate couldn’t pass it. “Dahil wala silang ibang kinausap, inakala nila na sila na lang ang mga nagmamay-ari ng lahat ng talento, galing, talino at magandang intensyon para sa ARMM (Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) o BBL area (Because they didn’t talk to others, they assumed that they have the exclusive right over all talents, goodness, intelligence and good intentions for ARMM or BBL area),” Escudero said.

SHOULD LAWS BE MADE TO CHANGE CULTURE, OF SHOULD CULTURE BE RECEPTIVE BEFORE LAWS SHOULD BE MADE?

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Considering that a law can only do so much if the culture of intolerance perpetuates, Escudero was asked which should be prioritized: making laws (that may have a hard time getting implemented) or changing hearts and minds before laws are made.

“It’s a ‘chicken and egg’ thing. Minsan nauuna ang kultura at sumusunod ang batas; minsan nauuna ang batas at sumusunod ang kultura (Sometimes cultural change comes first before laws; and sometimes laws are made and cultural change follows),” he said.

Escudero said that for him, there are two principles to note here.

On the one hand, Escudero questions why it is okay to have personal relationships with LGBT people, but “pag usaping pangkalahatan na – komunidad at bansa na ang pinag-uusapan – bakit kailangang mag-iba yun? Kung tanggap at normal at okay sa pang-personal na lebel na relasyon, bakit biglang mag-iiba (when the issue shifts to community or national level, why do relationships with LGBT people change? If relationships with LGBT people are okay at the personal level, why should these change [at any level])?”

On the other hand, “ang batas inimbento, ang gobyerno inimbento para protektahan ang minoriya, para protektahan at pangalagaan ang karapatan nung konti, nung naaapi, nung marahil hindi kasing-kaya ipagtanggol ang kanilang sarili kumpara sa mas nakakaraming sektor o miyembro ng isang lipunan. Kung ganyang pananaw ang ating gagamitin, walang dahilan para hindi ipasa ang gender recognition law o anti-discrimination at iba pang batas na ang layunin ay bigyang pagpapahalaga at proteksyon ang sektor ng LGBT na maliwanag ay nasa minority ng ating lipunan (at) matagal nang hindi pinapansin at niyuyurakan at kailangan na pantayin ng batas (laws are inventions, the government is an invention to protect the minorities, to protect at look after the rights of the few, those who are oppressed, maybe those who cannot defend themselves compared to most in society. If that is the lens that we use, there’s no reason that laws like gender recognition and anti-discrimination or others that will give importance and protect the LGBT sector that is clearly not given attention and whose rights are trampled, and therefore should be made equal by law),” Escudero said.

For Escudero, “those who have less in life should have more in law.”

CALL FOR PARTICIPATION

Escudero says that for the LGBT community to continue pushing its issues, it has to know that “hindi illegal mag-lobby sa Kongreso (it is not illegal to lobby in Congress).”

Escudero said that often, when people speak with politicians, many immediately become suspicious that influence-peddling is happening. But he said that this is just “bahagi yun ng karapatan ninyo bilang mga mamamayan na paalalahanan ang inyong mga kinatawan (it is part of your right as citizens to remind your representatives).”

Escudero advocates having an LGBT representative in Congress; and for LGBT people to “makilahok kayo sa bawat usapin (join all discussions)”, with the latter, he said, gaining ground as more LGBT people come out to help change minds.

The founder of Outrage Magazine, Michael David dela Cruz Tan is a graduate of Bachelor of Arts (Communication Studies) of the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia. Though he grew up in Mindanao (particularly Kidapawan and Cotabato City in Maguindanao), even attending Roman Catholic schools there, he "really, really came out in Sydney," he says, so that "I sort of know what it's like to be gay in a developing and a developed world". Mick can: photograph, do artworks with mixed media, write (DUH!), shoot flicks, community organize, facilitate, lecture, research (with pioneering studies under his belt)... this one's a multi-tasker, who is even conversant in Filipino Sign Language (FSL). Among others, Mick received the Catholic Mass Media Awards (CMMA) in 2006 for Best Investigative Journalism. Cross his path is the dare (read: It won't be boring).

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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.”

READ:  UPLB hosts Southern Tagalog’s 6th Pride March

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.”

READ:  Polytechnic University of the Philippines stresses inclusion in 4th LGBT Pride celebration

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).”

READ:  UP Mindanao marks rainbow Pride

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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