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Lesbian in an Arab world

In the Middle East, homosexuality is a taboo subject, and members of the LGBT community endure hardships on a daily basis. So, why would an American lesbian want to move there, living and working in a Muslim society? That’s exactly what Chivvis Moore did, and after 16 years in the region, she’s sharing her story in her book, “First Tie Your Camel, Then Trust in God”. She now chats and shares snippets from her book with Outrage Magazine.

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“My life felt better balanced than it had before. And yet—I was a lesbian,” writes Chivvis Moore. “I had to decide what to do with that aspect of myself during the year I was in Egypt and later, when I lived in countries even more homophobic than my own.”

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Outrage Magazine: Describe your experience living in an Arab country without understanding a word of the language. How were you able to become a part of the foreign culture and lifestyle?

Chivvis Moore: The morning I stepped off the boat and onto the North African shore, my first impression was of sun so stark that I squinted in the brilliance reflected off buildings of bright white stone. The second impression, just as strong, was of people’s kindness.

On a sun-drenched Alexandria street whirling with glittering vehicles that caught and recast the light as the cars spun by, a white-uniformed policeman waved white-gloved hands in a high-walled booth inside a circle of traffic. Wading toward him through the swath of cars, I took out the miniature phrase book Jean had given me, circled the sentence “Where is the railroad station?” and reached up to hand him the book. He took it in one hand and read, but as he lifted his other arm to gesture, pages fluttered out of the paper binding and scattered down into his little booth. Traffic handled itself as he vanished to pick them up, then pointed me in the right direction.

A few blocks on, a young man guided me to a bus, amid the whirl of honking cars, bright light, the smell of dust and, most remarkable, everywhere more people than I had ever seen together at one time. I was passed, hand to hand, bus to train, all the way from Alexandria to Ramses Station in Cairo.

High on a pedestrian walkway near the train station, I must have looked as lost as I felt, for a man stopped and spoke to me. After politely asking in English if he could help me, and learning where I was from, he asked, “Do you know Ralph Nader?”

“I’ve certainly heard of him,” I said, whereupon he introduced himself as one of Ralph Nader’s Lebanese cousins, then escorted me the short distance to the Everest Hotel, which I had been looking for, and which, it turned out, he owned.

The next morning, stepping out into the busy Cairo street, I could not identify the proper bus to take. Which number should I try to read—the one on the front of the bus? the one on the back? the one on the side of the bus nearest the front, or the one on the side of the bus by the rear door? All the numbers were different and all, naturally, in Arabic. What had I expected? I burst into tears.

Instantly, I found myself surrounded by a little crowd— merely to window-shop in Cairo can result in a pileup of people equal to the size of a respectable demonstration in a medium-size US city—none of whose members spoke English. One woman pointed at her own cheeks and shook her head: I must not cry! From this little crisis I was extracted by the sympathetic Coptic owner of a coffin shop who sat me down among the coffins and gave me soda in a green bottle. Someone else hopped on a bus with me, accompanied me to downtown Cairo, and delivered me safely at the hostel I had marked on my map.

By the end of that first day in Cairo, I was hot, exhausted, and overwhelmed. I had never seen a city so enormous or so packed with people. Cairo’s sounds were deafening to someone who had been living in the suburban United States: hawkers cried their wares, music competed in tone and rhythm as it blasted from various speakers, and cars honked, as if compulsively, with each of the minute shifts in speed and direction drivers made constantly to avoid smashing into other cars. I was hungry and had no idea what I might eat. I settled on a piece of bread and a hard-boiled egg bought from two sellers in the street. I was delighted to have arrived, but where was I? I dropped onto my bunk in the women’s dormitory and did what I usually did when the world was too much: I slept.

The next morning, when I when I set out to take a bus on my own, yet another of Egypt’s seemingly endless supply of helpful young men accompanied me until I found myself aground amid the traffic spinning in an impressive Parisian-type roundabout. There I was offered differing (and sometimes contradictory) sets of directions by numerous people— men, women, and children—to whom I showed the scrap of paper on which Halim had written his family’s address in both English and Arabic. Each person peered at the writing and, either unsure of the address or unable to read, carried the little paper over to someone else to study. Each person who could read the paper and who presumably had some knowledge of the neighborhood would then lead me hither and thither with such goodwill that the experience was a happy one, although I ended up several times on wrong streets, and on the correct street at last, still had difficulty finding Building #2.

From that time on, stepping into any street in Egypt felt like lowering myself into a rushing river. If I allowed myself to float amiably where the stream led, I would be safe, entertained, and supported. At first, I received so much help that I began, ungraciously, to wonder if, when I did know my way around, I would ever have a moment to myself as I walked the streets. But I found, when I learned which bus to take, which road the right one, that all my helpers melted away. It seemed Egyptians were far more sensitive to a stranger’s needs and states of mind than I, certainly, had ever been to those of a stranger in my own country.

With Egyptians who had received formal education, I was able to speak French—in my case, a fortunate memory from high school, for them, a holdover from the days of the brief French occupation of Egypt. A few spoke English. In the carpentry shop, though, and on the street, gesture and a lot of guessing were the principal tools we all relied on to make our meanings known. There was not a day that year in Cairo that I was not warmed and lightened by the expressions in people’s eyes—the middle-aged woman, dressed all in black, who sat on the sidewalk and from whom I bought the English-language newspaper each morning, the tea seller who greeted me with his gentle smile when I passed his shop each day. Countless and precious, such moments kept occurring, day after day.

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That was language. But as for my acceptance into Egyptian culture and daily life, for this, I owe a debt I can never repay – to Halim, the young Egyptian I met in Berkeley, who gave me his family’s address in Cairo, and later walked with me throughout the city, day after day, offering me priceless insight into Egyptian culture and Islam; to Halim’s family, who welcomed me, urging me to “come visit every day”; to Hassan Fathy, who greeted this stranger who walk unannounced into his home one day and made her welcome ever after; and to the master carpenter, M’alim Hassan, who took me into his shop and adopted me as his daughter in the neighborhood of Islamic Cairo and in his home. Without these people, my experience in Egypt that year would have been as outsider, as tourist, and I would be the poorer.

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Outrage Magazine: How were you able to live in a world that largely shunned your sexuality?

Chivvis Moore: From a world of lesbian feminist tradeswomen in the San Francisco Bay Area, I was plunged into a world of men as well as women, during that first year in Egypt. I found much to appreciate and admire. I was surprised to feel this way in the Middle East, where most women have less freedom than women in the West. I was privileged to be treated as that anomaly, an “American woman,” not subject to the rules Egyptian women were, and I was astonished by the ease with which this treatment was given. At work there was none of the condescension, barbed putdowns, or even open hostility I had experienced in the company of many male carpenters in America. No one tried to humiliate me or scare me off the job, the way one carpenter had, by chasing me with a forklift, and another by jumping on the scaffolding that supported us, trying to make me fall, when I worked in the carpenters’ union in Oakland, California. No one asked me why I wasn’t home with my husband and children or claimed that men would fall and injure themselves because of the distraction of my female presence on the job. My life felt better balanced than it had before.

And yet—I was a lesbian. I had to decide what to do with that aspect of myself during the year I was in Egypt and later, when I lived in countries even more homophobic than my own.

Among lesbian feminists in the San Francisco Bay Area, it had by then become a matter of both pride and honor to refuse to hide your sexual orientation. Lesbians and gay men were standing up to denigration and abuse. To some of my friends in California, not to do so was not only unhelpful but also cowardly. No doubt some of them would have felt the same way in countries other than their own.

But I did not. My identity as a lesbian is only one part of who I am, and I felt strongly that I was in Egypt to learn, not to try to change another culture. Equally important, though hardly commendable, I was afraid that the Egyptians who cared about me would be appalled and reject me if they knew I was a lesbian. When attractions arose, as they did from time to time in later years in other Arab countries, I let them go. Halim knew; and in later years I told friends in Palestine who had lived for a time in the US and who I guessed would be more accepting. Mostly, though, my silence limited my friendships. It did not feel good not to be completely honest about who I was.

Many years later, in Syria, and then in the West Bank, in Occupied Palestine, I also said nothing about my sexuality. Shortly after I arrived in Damascus, in 1992, I learned that a young man had been made to leave the country because authorities learned he was gay. At that time, I decided that, if challenged, I would not deny that I was a lesbian, and that if I were required to leave that country or any other because I was a lesbian, I would not feel guilty or ashamed. I would not return to the feelings I had felt so many years as a teenager and a young adult, before I was able to embrace my lesbian identity.

Shortly after I arrived in the West Bank and began teaching at Birzeit University, a colleague, one of just a couple of Americans on the staff, told me one day without preface that a foreign teacher had been fired from the university some years earlier for being gay. I took the information as it was intended – as a warning – although the teacher, who later became a friend, said nothing about her thoughts on my being a lesbian.

It was clear, though, that in any Arab country, any relationship I might initiate with an Arab woman would put that woman at risk in her own society. I had no intention of entering in any such relationship. Having had chronic fatigue for years, I found that no hardship; I wouldn’t have had the energy for an intimate relationship even had I been living in the United States. As the years went by, I did tell several women colleagues at the university that I was a lesbian, but I told these women because they had spent time in the United States, and I judged that they would not be horrified at my news. At least I thought it was news; one friend asked me at one point why I thought people did not know I was a lesbian. It had not occurred to me; perhaps it was generally known.

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I do remember at a party early in my time at the university a woman colleague saying that, unlike most Arabs, she didn’t like the music of the famous Egyptian singer Umm Kalthoum.

“I hear she was a lesbian,” another woman commented, whereupon the first speaker said, to my surprise,

“Oh, well then, that makes me like her after all.”

I have always wondered if the comment were directed toward me, to let me know I was welcome, no matter what my sexuality. I may never know. Or I may learn, after this book becomes available in the West Bank, what people really thought of me all along.

So the question ‘How was I able to live in a world that largely shunned my sexuality?” is not one I can really answer. The world did not know of my sexuality, as far as I know. Certainly I was not comfortable knowing that there were lesbians – and gay men – who had to hide their sexuality from their families and from society as a whole. In 2007, I attended the first public conference put on by the Palestinian lesbian organization “Aswat,” meaning “voices,” founded by Rauda Marcos in 2003. Significantly, the conference was held in Haifa, inside Israel, and not in the West Bank or Gaza. Since then, as far as I know, the organization has continued to function openly in Israel, but not in Palestine.

Outrage Magazine: How would you describe the role of women in the Arab and Muslim culture and religion?

Chivvis Moore: We talked, of course, about the role of women. Heba brought up.

On my second day in Cairo in 1978, I met a woman named Nahid. In striking contrast to the Western image of the helpless, unthinking, beaten-down Arab woman, Nahid was a natural homegrown feminist, the first of the many women I met during my years in the Arab world whom I respected and admired for the strength, inner fortitude, and self-esteem that I came to see as characteristic of Arab women.

In Egypt in 1978, as in many Arab countries today, most women had harder lives than women in the USA. They were poorer, had less opportunity for education, and did more physical work, without the aid of washing machines and dryers, gas stoves, and dishwashers. Fewer families have cars than families in the US; shopping is more difficult, traffic and stores more congested, most buildings have no lifts. . . . The Arab women I met in Syria, Egypt and Palestine, in 1978-79 and later, in 1991-2008, confronted the whole array of challenges that all women, except the wealthy, have to face—having to work outside the home and yet do all the work inside the home as well.

“The life of a woman in Egypt is dûr [hard],” Nahid said that first day I met her.

But from Nahid and the other women I met, I got the distinct impression they valued and respected themselves more than I or many women in my own society did. With freedoms more limited than those of women in the USA, Arab women, it seemed to me, nevertheless carried their heads more proudly, seemed surer of themselves, and appeared more comfortable in their own bodies. I wondered if we in the USA had to a greater extent internalized our oppression than women who in fact had far less freedom of choice than we.

What of the separation of the sexes we hear about in the Arab Muslim world? The first day I went home for lunch with M’alim Hassan, the carpenter for whom I was working in 1970s Egypt, he and I were served by a woman who vanished into another part of the house. But I heard voices, and I sensed a lively, self-contained women’s world existing somewhere in another part of the house – a world I was not allowed to see.

On a second visit, I felt as if I had passed a test, even though again we ate alone, because I was introduced to M’alim Hassan’s wife, a lovely, imposing woman. Her gray hair was pinned to the top of her head, and she wore no head covering, since no unrelated male was present. She was tall and carried herself with grace and authority; and from the gentle deference with which her son and husband treated her, I gathered she was both respected and much loved. She spoke little to me on that visit, or any other time I saw her, but her manner was not unfriendly; rather, she seemed self-contained, “intact,” the way M’alim Hassan wanted me to be. The only other woman I saw that day was a young woman I glimpsed in another room, who was taking keen and vocal interest in the Zamalek soccer game showing on TV.

Had I proved myself worthy of being seen by the women of the house? Apparently so, for one afternoon soon afterward, I was invited to leave the dining room at M’alim Hassan’s home, and enter the kitchen at the end of the hall.

There, sure enough, were the women and girls of the house, washing up after our lunch and preparing more food—and they were doing much of it on the floor, on a portion slightly raised from the rest. Food was cooked on a two-burner stove set on a table. Dishes were washed by one woman squatting on the floor of a little shower stall. Another rinsed, rising and bending with each dish, and a third stood outside the shower staff and placed the wet dishes on the rack. A low table was brought out at which Madame and at least four other women ate, sitting on the floor. I learned that the name of the young woman who had let us in the door the first time I came was Tahani. When everyone had finished eating, she washed the floor clean and dried it all, even the water sitting along the low part, near the wall.

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And what of the issue of veiling, which in recent decades has galvanized many Westerners, including governments and non-Muslim feminist writers, many of whom assume the custom is not only a patriarchal imposition but also indicative of a regrettable lack of self-esteem in women who elect to cover their heads?

In the United States, showing more skin is considered modern, and therefore preferable; many American women wear high-heeled shoes, low cut dresses and short skirts. Long dresses and veils worn by Muslim women are considered traditional, backward, repressive. Why is that?

Certainly, women in some Arab Muslim countries are required to veil, either by their families or by society, and it’s hard to imagine at least some women not finding the all-enveloping outer garment, the burka, cumbersome and unwelcome.

But when I lived in Arab countries, I knew Muslim women who had taken up wearing the veil, although not required to wear it, in order to indicate their difference from western ways. Others said they veiled to shield themselves from unwelcome advances from men on the street. Still others covered themselves because they believed that God required of both men and women a certain modesty in dress, as set forth in the Qur’an.

Most who make judgments about Arab women’s lack of freedom blame it on Islam.

But they don’t know anything about the religion. They have neither studied it nor lived in Muslim countries.

For one thing, the critics are equating Islam with the violent and repressive rhetoric and practices of the Taliban in Afghanistan, or of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. But most Muslims want as little to do with the values of ISIS or the Taliban as you or I. Why is Islam held responsible for the injustices in Muslim societies in ways Christianity is not held responsible for the evils in our own? The Qur’an is open to as many interpretations as the Torah and the Christian Bible.

Second, even when people complain about customs that are common to a number of Arab countries, such as the lesser percentage of women in public positions of responsibility, they do not understand that it is not Islam that decrees and perpetuates such inequality, but the men who have always had the power in those societies to make the laws and to justify them by means of their own interpretation of texts formulated centuries ago. Islam is a peaceful, tolerant religion, and in the time of the Prophet Muhammad, many of its tenets were progressive in their treatment of men and women, of all human beings. But, just as the founders of the US decreed a Black man to be worth less than a white man and ruled women unfit to vote, the men who ruled Arab countries kept rights for themselves. Nor do critics of Muslim societies ever note that the country we destroyed in our two Gulf Wars boasted the most educated and privileged women of any in the Arab world.

Third, as a number of Arab Muslim women scholars have made clear, there are women activists in every Arab country working to change laws so in keeping with alternative interpretations of the ancient texts and working in myriad ways for women’s right to choose the life they want to lead. There is not a country on the planet where women are not themselves working to change the practices that hurt them – early marriage, “honor killings,” clitoridectomy, trafficking of women and children, and conditions that make prostitution the only viable way of providing for themselves and their children. Arab and Muslim women are working to change their societies just as American feminists are working to change ours. 

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Outrage Magazine: Why is it important to learn about other cultures?

Chivvis Moore: The short answer to that question is that the more we learn about cultures other than our own, the kinder we will be.

Most significantly, the more we understand, the less likely we will be to arm and prepare for and conduct war. The less likely to think of war as a business like any other.

What resources we could free! How peaceful the world that would result! We could finally go about being creative in ways that would bring health and happiness to humankind. No more refugees. No longer the Mediterranean a sea of death.

Before and during and since the most intensive US war in Afghanistan, it was repeatedly written in the media that Afghan women are badly treated in Islam. It was said that the US was making war to “save Afghan women.” After we made war on Iraq, and admitted that ours were the only weapons of mass destruction around, we said we were bringing democracy to Iraq.

But how could war make life better – or more equal, or more democratic — for anyone who suffers it? We who have not suffered war in modern times need to learn, not only about other cultures, but also about the effects of war on the human beings whose countries we are today attacking.

Where there is understanding there is compassion, and respect. It seems to me that could make all the difference.

Chivvis Moore is the author of First Tie Your Camel, Then Trust in God. She lived in the Middle East for 17 years, working in Egypt, Syria, and Israel, before teaching at Birzeit University in the West Bank. Before her journey to the Arab World, Moore earned a BA from Harvard University and worked as a journalist with The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky, and the Daily Review in the San Francisco Bay Area.

FEATURES

Dumaguete City passes SOGIE equality ordinance

In a victory for members of the LGBTQIA community in the City of Dumaguete, an ordinance was passed in the City Council to ensure non-discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE).

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For Pride.

In a victory for members of the LGBTQIA community in the City of Dumaguete, an ordinance was passed in the City Council to ensure non-discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE).

Dumaguete is a 3rd class city in the province of Negros Oriental. According to the 2015 census, it has a population of 131,377 people.

It is the capital and most populous city of the province of Negros Oriental, it has a population of 131,377 people, according to the 2015 census.

Authored by Councilor Rosel Margarette Q. Erames with co-authors Councilors Lei Marie Danielle Tolentino, Bernice Ann Elmaco, Edgar Lentorio Jr., Lilani Ramon and Nelson Patrimonio, the anti-discrimination ordinance (ADO) penalizes actual or perceived SOGIE-based discrimination in the workplace, school and other similar acts that undermines and harms the rights of the LGBTQIA people.

City passes own SOGIE protection In a significant victory for members of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and…

Posted by HEADZ UP NegOr on Sunday, October 27, 2019

Under the ordinance among the prohibited acts include:

  • Actual or perceived SOGIE-related discrimination from employment, training, promotion, remuneration;
  • Delaying, refusing or failing to accept a person’s application for admission as a student;
  • Expelling or any penalty on the basis of SOGIE;
  • Harassment and intimidation committed by teachers, administrators and fellow students;
  • Refusing to provide goods or service, or imposing onerous terms and conditions as a prerequisite for such;
  • Denying access to health services and facilities;
  • Refusing or failing to allow LGBTQIA to avail of services or accommodations;
  • Denying application for licenses, clearances, certifications or other documents;
  • Vilifying, mocking, slandering or ridiculing LGBTQIA people through words, action and in writing; and
  • Executing any activity in public which incites hatred towards or serious contempt for or severe ridicule of LGBTQ and other analogous acts.
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The bill didn’t have smooth sailing before it passed. For instance, the Diocesan Commission on the Laity (whose members consist of 42 Parish Pastoral Councils from the different parishes of the Diocese of Dumaguete, covering the provinces of Negros Oriental and Siquijor, with the exception of the municipalities of La Libertad and Vallehermoso, and the cities of Guihulngan and Canlaon), as well as the Diocesan Organization of Renewal Movements & Communities (composed of 14 organizations) expressed their opposition of the ADO.

When the passage of the ADO also made the news, a handful of locals expressed their disapproval, stating – among others – that LGBTQIA people do not face discrimination in Dumaguete (thereby contradicting their own statement), prioritizing other issues of the city, and that protecting the human rights of LGBTQIA people is against the will of God.

But now with the ADO, first time violators will be made to attend a gender sensitivity training. Second time offenders may be jailed for not less than 60 days but not more than one year, or be fined with not less than P2,000 but not more than P 5, 000 (or both at the discretion of the court).

With the ADO, SOGIE-related concerns will be incorporated in the functions of existing Barangay Violence Against Women and Children (VAW) Desk, which will document and report cases of discrimination against LGBTQIA persons.

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Ilagan City in province of Isabela enacts SOGIE-specific anti-discrimination ordinance

General Ordinance 198-2019 finds the “need to prohibit… discrimination against people on the basis of actual or perceived SOGIE on the areas of work, accommodation, education, provision of goods, facilities and services, memberships in organizations, and the administration of local laws and programs.”

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The rainbow rises up north.

Ilagan – officially the City of Ilagan – a first class city and capital of the province of Isabela, enacted its own anti-discrimination ordinance based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.

Authored by City Councilor Rolando Tugade, General Ordinance 198-2019 stated that the office of the Sangguniang Panglungsod “finds the need to prohibit, so far as is possible, discrimination against people on the basis of actual or perceived SOGIE on the areas of work, accommodation, education, provision of goods, facilities and services, memberships in organizations, and the administration of local laws and programs.”

According to Yonidick Pascua, president of City of Ilagan Gay Association, who pushed for the passage of the ADO, having the same is important “para mapangalagaan ang bawat LGBTQIA person,” he said. This is also needed, he added, to show respect to the rights and “dignidad ng bawat LGBTQIA person; para sa pagkapantay-pantay (na trato) bilang tao sa lipunan.

Passing the ADO was challenging, said Pascua.

Marami pa rin sa ating mga kababayan ang lubos na hindi naiintindihan kung ano ba talaga ang SOGIE,” he said, adding that this is – nonetheless – exactly why the ADO is needed. Fortunately, for him, City Mayor Josemarie L. Diaz and Vice Mayor Kit Bello backed the ADO.

With the ADO, “inaasahan natin na magiging mas ligtas ang bawat LGBTQIA person (dito sa Ilagan); inaasahan natin na mas lalong magkakaroon ng lakas ng loob at mamuhay ng mas panatag ang bawat LGBTQIA person, at inaasahan natin ang mas masaya at makulay na pamumuhay ng bawat LGBTQIA person dito,” he said.

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Aside from the aforementioned acts prohibited by the ADO, also deemed unlawful is “discrimination through verbal or non-verbal ridicule and vilification,” where it is declared “unlawful for any… person to vilify or ridicule any person on the based of perceived or actual SOGIE which may result in the loss of self-esteem or sense of safety and security, or the infliction of psychological harm through: contemptuous imitating or mockery; and uttering of abusive and slanderous statements.”

Persons who violate the ADO may be jailed for up to 60 days, and/or fined up to P5,000.

With the ADO, the city mandates its barangays to “develop a system to record and document reported cases of discrimination and violence against LGBTQIA persons, and provide assistance to victims.” But the ADO also establishes an LGBTQIA council.

Yakapin po ninyo ang LGBTQIA people, itaguyod ang SOGIE para sa proteksyon ng bawat LGBTQIA person at bigyan sila ng pagkakataon na mamuhay ng mapayapa at ligtas sa pamamagitan ng pagpasa ng ADO,” Pascua said. “Ang mga LGBTQIA people ay kasama sa lipunan kaya nararapat laman na yakapin, tanggapin at bigyan ng respeto.

PHOTO COURTESY OF MS DINDI TAN

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Behind the bars on LGBTQIA life in prison

In the Philippines, it remains hard to monitor wrongful accusations (and eventual wrongful convictions); much more on how badly this affects members of the LGBTQIA community. Outrage Magazine interviews a gay man who experienced this, and what he went through as a minor behind bars.

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Photo by Dmitry Yakovlev from Unsplash.com

It was a tiring day for then-16-year-old Harry (not his real name). He just got home from two consecutive weddings, and so – right after arriving at their house in San Jose City in Nueva Ecija – he asked his mother if he could skip school to just rest.

Harry’s mother indulged him; but she also asked Harry to look after a younger sibling as she had to do some errands. On her way out, Harry saw his mother speak to the nine-year-old son of their neighbor outside their house; he said he was just wandering to catch a dragonfly.

With his mother gone, and before getting some sleep, Harry decided to harvest some mangoes from the tree beside their house. And while atop the tree, he noticed that the nine-year-old boy was no longer in the street. After getting down from the tree, he went inside their house, locked the door, and then slept.

It seemed that only a few minutes passed, but Harry was woken by knocking on their front door. He got up to open the door; it was the nine-year-old boy’s mother, asking about the clothes Harry wore to one of the weddings that day. When Harry moved to go inside the room to get the pants he wore, the nine-year-old boy surfaced from inside the room.

Anong ginagawa mo diyan (What are you doing there)?” the mother asked her son, flabbergasted.

He said “tinitingnan ko lang ‘yung kapatid ni Harry (I was just looking at the younger brother of Harry).”

Harry joined the conversation, saying he didn’t know that the boy was even inside.

The boy’s family went straight to the police station, accusing Harry of child molestation. Harry was eventually taken into custody.

Though he was only 16 then, Harry was detained at the lock-up facility of the Philippine National Police (PNP). This is – by itself – a violation of Republic Act 9344 or the Juvenile Justice Law of 2006, which sets the minimum age of criminal liability at 15 years old. This means that those between 15 to 18 years old (and Harry was 16 when the alleged rape happened) may be detained in youth centers and go through rehabilitation programs, while those under 15 years old are exempted from criminal liability and undergo intervention.

After a month with the PNP, Harry was transferred to the custody of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology (BJMP), an agency of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG), mandated to direct, supervise and control the administration and operation of all jails in the Philippines.

Though he was only 16 then, Harry was detained at the lock-up facility of the Philippine National Police (PNP). This is – by itself – a violation of Republic Act 9344 or the Juvenile Justice Law of 2006, which sets the minimum age of criminal liability at 15 years old.
Photo by Ali Yahya from Unsplash.com

RAINBOW INCARCERATION

Here’s a sobering fact: the incarceration rate of lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people is up to three times than that of the general population. Sexual minorities (or people who self-identify as LGB and people who do not identify as LGB but reported a same-sex sexual experience) comprise: 9.3% of men in prison, 6.2% of men in jail, 42.1% of women in prison, and 35.7% of women in jail.

Note: As is often used, “jails” are facilities that hold inmates awaiting trial or serving short sentences, while “prisons” are facilities for those serving their (often longer) sentences.

Now this is worth stressing: Even if this has already been (partly) studied overseas, this continues to be largely ignored in the Philippine context.

One study – “Incarceration Rates and Traits of Sexual Minorities in the United States: National Inmate Survey, 2011–2012″, co-authored by Ilan H. Meyer, PhD, Andrew R. Flores, PhD, Lara Stemple, JD, Adam P. Romero, JD, Bianca D.M. Wilson, PhD, and Jody L. Herman, PhD and published in the American Journal of Public Health – found that sexual minorities are not only incarcerated at disproportionately high rates, but that once incarcerated, they are more likely to experience mistreatment, harsh punishment and sexual victimization.

Sexual minorities (or people who self-identify as LGB and people who do not identify as LGB but reported a same-sex sexual experience) comprise: 9.3% of men in prison, 6.2% of men in jail, 42.1% of women in prison, and 35.7% of women in jail.
Photo by Denny Müller from Unsplash.com

A LIFE IN FEAR

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Nung first time kong pumasok sa loob ng selda, binuhusan ako ng isang pulis ng tubig habang natutulog pa ako (The first day I got detained, a police officer splashed water on me while I was sleeping),” Harry recalled. Dazed and confused, and not knowing who the person was (because she was not wearing uniform), “tinanong ko siya kung naka-detain din ba siya; hindi ko alam na pulis siya. Nalaman ko lang nung bigla niyang pinakuha yung batuta niya (I asked if she was also a detainee; I had no idea she was a police officer. The moment she asked for her club/cudgel, everything just came to me).”

There was a time when Harry was almost transferred to Boystown (a facility for offending minors), but his mother pleaded for this not to be done since he would then be too far from home and she would be unable to visit him regularly. And because he did not entirely understand what was being discussed, all Harry said he could do was cry, “too scared of everything.”

Bullying/getting maltreated was a “norm” particularly for those who just enter prison.

In Harry’s case, he was beaten – an act, he was told, was “a way to welcome new inmates.”

Ano yung ginagawa ng mga jail officers? Wala lang din. Wala silang ginagawa kasi minsan parang sila na din yung nagsasabi o nagbibigay ng memo na i-welcome yung mga bagong inmates (The jail officers are not acknowledging this issue. They are not doing anything about it because there are times when they, themselves, are the ones who give orders to welcome new inmates in that way),” Harry said.

Inside the jail, minors are supposed to be separated from the adult inmates. But this policy is also amendable, depending on the whims of the warden. In their case, an inmate who was also a minor tried to escape because he wanted to celebrate his birthday outside the prison, but “after that incident, the (minors were already treated as adult inmates), included with the adult prisoners.”

Men and women have separate sections; but transgender women are mixed with men.

Wala silang sariling lugar doon sa kulungan. Isinasama sila sa mga lalaki kasi para sa mga tao doon, lalaki pa din sila (There’s no designated place for them. The jail officers still see/treat them as men),” Harry said.

Also as big as a risk for new inmates like Harry was getting raped.

Meron talagang rape na nangyayari sa loob. Lalo na sa mga bagong pasok. Yun din minsan ang parang pinaka-welcome ng mga inmates na lalaki sa mga inmates na bakla. Kahit ayaw mo, talagang pipilitin at pipilitin ka (It is undeniable that rape occurs inside the jail. They specially do it to the newcomers. This is how straight inmates would welcome gay people in their cell. Even if you don’t want to, you will be forced)” Harry recalled.

Harry was not exempted from this experience because, “sabihin ko man na ayaw ko, hindi pa din sila pumapayag na huwag kong gawin. Pag sinabi ng isang inmate na gawin namin, wala na lang din akong magawa kundi sumunod na lang (Even though I didn’t want to, I would never have a choice. If a straight inmate asked for it, you just have to obey them),” Harry said. “Na-experience ko yun as a welcome sa akin nung pagpunta ko don (I experienced it as a welcome greeting when I first got there).”

At 16, Harry was raped in jail by a 23-year-old.

Pag na-gustuhan ka nila, may mga grupo don tapos lalapitan ka nila. Papapasukin ka nila sa lugar nila tapos gagalawin ka nila. Mapapasunod ka na lang kesa masaktan ka (If you caught their interest, groups of boys would approach you and ask you to join them in their cell to rape you. You won’t have any other choice because if you refuse, they will hurt you),” he said.

This maltreatment, by the way, is not exclusive to members of the LGBT community in jail/prison, since “there, no matter what your gender is, they will hurt you if they wanted to.”

Though these may – no doubt – be known to those running the country’s jails/prisons, Harry said that they didn’t have access to any contraceptives and/or protection while inside the jail/prison.

Hindi sila nakakapag-provide ng ganun. Kahit minsan nasusubukan namin magkaroon ng sakit, hindi din kami nabibigyan ng kahit anong gamot. Itinatawag lang namin sa mga magulang namin yung mga ganun (They can’t provide things like that. Even at times when we were sick, no medicines were made available to us. We still rely on our relatives outside),” he said, adding: “Saka pa lang nagkakaroon ng aksyon pag parang mamamatay na yung tao (They only really act when someone is already really close to dying.)”

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There was a point in time when Harry said he almost gave up. But he kept telling himself that “hindi yun ang panahon na dapat akong mawalan ng pag-asa dahil naniniwala ako noon na darating at darating yung oras na malalaman talaga kung ano yung totoo (That was not the time for me to just give up. I had faith that the truth will come out),” Harry said.

In Harry’s case, he was beaten – an act, he was told, was “a way to welcome new inmates.”
Photo by Pavlofox from Pixabay.com

FLAWED SYSTEM

Much has already been said about prison management in the Philippines.

To start, and as noted by the Human Rights Watch (HRW), critical and chronic overcrowding has long been a perennial topic when discussing the country’s jail facilities. BJMP runs 415 detention facilities in 17 regions, and on average, its jailhouses report 380% overcapacity. In Metro Manila alone, the BJMP’s total cell area of 22,318 square meters, designed for 4,749 detainees; but it currently holds 21,868 detainees (a congestion rate of 361%).

The surprising – and somewhat senseless – thing worth noting here is that between 85% and 90% of the more than 94,000 inmates in the custody of BJMP are awaiting or undergoing trial.

“This makes the Philippines the Southeast Asian country with the highest number of pretrial and remand detainees and the second highest in all of Asia. Prolonged detention without charge or trial violates international human rights instruments, including Article 9 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the Philippines ratified in 1986. Moreover, it ‘shall not be the general rule that persons awaiting trial shall be detained in custody,’ but rather released with guarantees of appearing for trial,” HRW stated.

HRW also noted that “the injustice of lengthy detention is compounded by the horrific conditions of the jail facilities (with) many detention centers in the Philippines failing to meet the minimum United Nations standards for such facilities, including inadequate amounts of food, poor nutrition, and unsanitary conditions.”

And yes, “torture and other forms of ill-treatment are also common,” HRW similarly noted.

LIFE LESSONS

Inside jail, fighting for oneself was never really an option, Harry said, because the inmates could just – eventually – get back to you for fighting back. Giving in to just go with the flow was the attitude being in jail teaches inmates.

Though one time, Harry said he tried to fight for his basic human right of… simply existing and being treated more humanely.

One time, he recalled, a lady jail officer started pushing his chest with her fist and kept asking him if it hurts. It reached a point where the officer was already pointing a knife at him.

Sabi ko sa kanya, hindi rin ako papayag na gaganunin niya ako. Bilang isang inmate, itrato din naman sana kami na parang tao dahil hindi naman kami iba sa kanila. Kasi sabi ko wala naman kaming ginagawang masama sa kanila. Tapos sabi ko pwede ko silang ireklamo sa ginagawa nilang ‘yun (I told her that I won’t let her do that to me. I may be an inmate, but I am also a person just like her. I told her that I did not do anything wrong to deserve the way she is treating me. I also told her that I could file a complaint on how she is treating me),” he said.

That – fortunately for Harry – silenced and prevented her from doing more harm.

It was while in jail that Harry finished high school under the Alternative Learning System (ALS) program offered there.

ALS is a practical option for learning in the Philippines, offering education to those who could not usually attend and access the formal type of schooling.

It was also while in jail when Harry first found love.

Harry met another minor, and “we became BFs.”

Prisoners who are in relationships and want to have sex may ask for permission from the jail officers who then give them space to do so. “Pwedeng-pwede lalo na pag LGBT ka; pero pag babae at lalaki, medyo mahirap kasi inmate na lalaki at inmate na babae, bawal ‘yun (ipagsama) (The officers are very open to that matter specially if you are a part of the LGBT community. But if the sexual intercourse is going to be between a man and a woman, they don’t allow it).”

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Their relationship lasted for a year and three months.

Inside jail, fighting for oneself was never really an option, Harry said, because the inmates could just – eventually – get back to you for fighting back. Giving in to just go with the flow was the attitude being in jail teaches inmates.
Photo by Ye Jinghan from Unsplash.com

THE WRONGLY ACCUSED

While in jail, Harry was repeatedly told that he would be transferred to “The Mansion” (how inmates called New Bilibid Prison, located in Muntinlupa as the main insular penitentiary designed to house the prison population of the Philippines). He was scared; and he was feeling bad, though not just for himself but also his mother who – even if she just gave birth – continued to regularly visit him.

And then one day, his lawyer – while on a visit – just handed him his already-signed release paper.

Bigla po akong na-congratulate ng attorney ko dahil nai-panalo ko daw yung kaso ko (My lawyer congratulated me because we won the case),” Harry said.

Relieved, he said he just wanted to have a life outside.

It is worth noting that Harry’s case is not exactly rare. And the warning bells have long been ringing.

In 2004, Free Legal Assistance Group (an NGO that provides legal assistance mainly for human rights cases) conducted a survey of death convicts in the Philippines, and it found “significant figures that could indicate a high judicial error rate”. The survey showed that 73.9% of the convicts were arrested without a warrant, 78.3% were not informed of their constitutional rights at the time of arrest, and – get this! – 90% were not assisted by counsel during police investigation and interrogation.

Perhaps it is also worth noting that 52.2% of the convicts belong to the lowest socioeconomic class.

In 2014, Innocence Project (a litigation and public policy organization composed of human rights advocates in Ateneo, UP Law School and De La Salle University College of Law, headed by Jose Manuel “Chel” Diokno) revealed that some 400 prisoners were wrongfully convicted by the court; most are charged with rape.

And in 2017, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported of the Supreme Court’s admission that seven in 10 death penalty convictions in 1993-2004 by the lower courts, submitted for automatic review, were wrongly judged. Also, during trials, 59% of the suspects were represented by lawyers from the Public Attorney’s Office, but 54.1% did not have regular consultations with their trial lawyers, and 10.2% never even had a consultation.

So in 2017, during the 17th Congress, former Sultan Kudarat Rep. Horacio Suansing Jr. and Nueva Ecija Rep. Estrellita Suansing filed House Bill 5582 to create a commission mandated to review all cases in which an innocent person was convicted; identify the causes of wrongful convictions; and identify current laws, rules and procedures implicated in each identified cause of wrongful convictions. This is because, the politicians noted, “at present, there is no government entity in our country charged with conducting the independent expert review of wrongful convictions necessary to identify the primary and potential causes of wrongful convictions.”

The same bill was actually originally filed by the late Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago during the 14th Congress and refiled during the 16th Congress. It failed to pass the 17th Congress.

Suffice it to say, in a country like the Philippines, it remains extremely hard to monitor wrongful accusations (as in the case of Harry) and eventual wrongful convictions; much more on how badly this affects members of the LGBTQIA community.  And then – yes – add to this the extra layer of hardships experienced by members of the LGBTQIA community if/when they are sent to jail/prison, some of them experienced by Harry, solely because of their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

THE WORLD OUTSIDE

Upon his release from jail, Harry’s first stop was his brother’s house, where they accused him of escaping. “They only believed me when I showed them the release paper,” he recalled.

Not surprisingly, the complainants weren’t too happy that Harry was released. And this was even if other stories emerged – e.g. that the family of the complainant just paid the medical exam to release a report that stated that the boy was raped; that when the nine- year-old boy was interviewed, he actually denied that he was raped; and that the complainant demanded P30,000 from his family in exchange for his freedom.

Harry was also told that if he wants to turn the tables on them and file a case against his complainants, it would be a very strong lawsuit.

But not that Harry even cared at that point in time. “Pinabayaan ko na lang. Hindi ko inisip na maghiganti pa sa kanila (I moved on. Revenge is not what I wanted),” Harry said.

Harry’s relationship with his fellow minor inmate also did not prosper.

The BF is also already out of jail, Harry said, and he’s already married (to a woman). “Wala naman akong magawa kundi maging masaya na lang para sa kaniya. Pero magkaibigan kami ngayon (There’s nothing I can do but be happy for him. We’re still friends though),” Harry said.

As a freed man since 2016, Harry eventually found a job working for a local government official.

Sa totoo lang, mahirap talaga ang buhay sa loob ng kulungan kapag kayo ay papasok so kailangan talaga na mag-ingat kayo na wag gumawa ng kasalanan (My advice to the LGBT people is for them to watch their actions because it is very hard to live behind the bars),” Harry said.

And to the incarcerated: “Sana mag-ingat na lang din sila kasi kailangan din nilang maipagtanggol yung sarili nila sa lahat ng maling gawain doon sa loob (To those who are inside, they should take care and learn to fight for themselves from every wrong thing that is happening inside).”

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‘Practice what we believe without inciting hate’

With those opposing the non-discrimination of LGBTQIA people still using the Bible to promote their hatred/bigotry, there are numerous people of faith who say that practicing what we believe is possible without inciting hatred. In the end, the goal is to ensure everyone is treated equally; and for the State to sanction those who violate this concept of equality.

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The SOGIE Equality Bill is needed, said Pastor Carleen Nomorosa, program coordinator at the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), because “kinikilala niya at inaangat niya ang kagalingan at kahusayan at ang maaaring maiambag pa ng LGBTQIA people sa iba’t ibang larangan (it recognizes and elevates how good LGBTQIA people can be, and their contribution to various sectors).”

Nomorosa noted that currently, a handful of LGBTQIA Filipinos are not even allowed to share their potentials because they are hindered by their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE). “And as a Christian, as a pastor, I believe that this (SOGIE) should not hinder LGBTQIA people from… fully participating in society,” she said.

This is why, for Sen. Risa Hontiveros, the sponsor of the SOGIE Equality Bill in the Upper House/Senate, there is a need to “remind ourselves of (what unites us). That we are all against any form of discrimination. That we want what’s best for each other. And that we want to preserve our values, and the Filipino family.” So “let’s treat each other with respect, empathy and openness.”

DEALING WITH LAW’S LIMITATIONS

For his part, Atty. Lyndon Caña of the traditional Coalition of Concerned Families of the Philippines, passing the SOGIE Equality Bill will go against the existing law of the land by – to start – giving credence to gender identity. Caña is particularly cognizant of the Supreme Court (SC) decision on the 2007 case of Rommel Jacinto Silverio/Mely Silverio, where the SC stipulated that a female person is one who produces ova/egg cells; while a male person produces spermatozoa.

As background info, on October 22, 2007, the SC’s First Division junked Silverio’s plea to change birth certificate entries — i.e. name to Mely, and sex to female. This after Silverio already underwent gender affirmation surgery. The court ruled that “the words ‘male’ and ‘female’ in everyday understanding do not include persons who have undergone sex reassignment.”

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A Manila court earlier granted Silverio’s plea, but the Office of the Solicitor General elevated the matter to the Court of Appeals, where Silverio lost. The case was then raised to the SC, where Silverio lost with finality.

“While petitioner may have succeeded in altering his body and appearance through the intervention of modern surgery, no law authorizes the change of entry as to sex in the civil registry for that reason. Thus, there is no legal basis for his petition for the correction or change of the entries in his birth certificate,” the High Court said in the decision written by then Associate Justice Renato Corona.

But even the SC’s simplistic definition of what makes males and females may, however, be questioned.

And this is why, according to Prof. Revelation Velunta of the Union Theological Seminary (UTS), there is a need to: 1. Recognize that existing laws may have loopholes; and 2. Come up with solutions to deal with these loopholes.

In the Philippines, Velunta said, there is the Penal Code; which was revised. And then there was a law made to deal with rape; this was also eventually revised. “We always assume that we have anough laws,” he said. “The question then is: If we have enough laws, why do we revise (existing laws)?”

For Velunta, laws can have loopholes that may not answer the current needs. “And this is the case with the SOGIE Equality Bill,” he said.

“For every (faith-based organization that) argues that (the SOGIE Equality Bill) should not be passed, there are (also) faith communities – Christians, Muslims and others – that say that it should be passed,” Prof. Revelation Velunta said.

CONFRONTING BIBLICAL BASHING

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Velunta also said that the attempt to attack the SOGIE Equality Bill by using Biblical texts is flawed. This is – largely – because of “diversity”. To start, “we always ask: Which Bible (do we use)?”

Velunta said that there are 78 books in the Eastern Orthodox Church Bible; 79 in Ethiopian Orthodox Bible; 73 in the Roman Catholic Church Bible; 66 in the Bible used by Protestant churches; and 24 books in the Hebrew Bible. Right now, too, there are 5,700 Greek manuscripts of the New Testament; no two of them are exactly alike. And, also right now, there are over 2,000 English translations of the Bible, so that “there are more English translations of the Bible than there are English languages.”

Velunta, therefore, said that asking “what version (of the Bible)” is always necessary; or better yet, to focus instead on human sexuality diversity.

“For every (faith-based organization that) argues that (the SOGIE Equality Bill) should not be passed, there are (also) faith communities – Christians, Muslims and others – that say that it should be passed,” Velunta said. “For us, for example, we follow the example of Jesus who always took the side of the marginalized, oppressed and the poor. And in this particular situation, the LGBTQIA community is being marginalized. (They’re not asking for special favors, they) are just asking to be recognized that they are God’s children, they are created in God’s image, and being LGBTQIA is a celebration of God’s diversity, of God’s creation, and God’s love.”

For Sen. Risa Hontiveros, the sponsor of the SOGIE Equality Bill in the Upper House/Senate, there is a need to “remind ourselves of (what unites us). That we are all against any form of discrimination. That we want what’s best for each other.”

DEALING WITH CONFUSIONS

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Confusion continues to exist re the SOGIE Equality Bill, nonetheless.

For Kata Inocencio, who is with the 700 Club Asia, there is fear that their freedom to tackle homosexuality – considered a “disorder” with adultery, among others – in their TV programs will be hindered. With her ilk, Inocencio believes that being gay can be “cured”; and conversion therapy is a regular topic discussed in 700 Club Asia.

The SOGIE Equality Bill, however, does not intend to infringe on Constitutionally mandated/protected rights; and earlier efforts were already made to clarify what the bill intends to do/does not cover.

Still, for her part, Nomorosa of NCCP said that “we can still practice what we believe without inciting hate, discrimination and fear against people who do not fit our notion of ‘normal’.”

Nomorosa urged non-use of the Bible to prevent LGBTQIA people from becoming productive members of society because this very act “shows hate, and not the love of God.”

Sister Mary John Mananzan: “Even if we are really against discrimination of (all people), sometimes you have to focus on groups of people that are actually suffering discrimination and violence.”

WANTED: HELP FROM THE STATE

From Cebu in the Visayas, helming the cirty’s anti-discrimination commission, Ms Magdalena Robinson said that there is a need for a national law to provide LGBTQIA people who experience discrimination a redress mechanism.

Robinson is cognizant that there are people – including members of the LGBTQIA community – who oppose giving protection to a minority sector that experiences discriminatory acts solely because of their SOGIE.

But “with our work in the (grassroots), we have really encountered (LGBTQIA people who experienced discrimination). You may not have experienced it firsthand, maybe you just heard of it, but we can’t dismiss that this is a reality for LGBTQIA people. That their identities, their relationships, their gender expressions… are used against them to attack their dignity and demean their very person. So what we want is for the State to provide (a) mechanism to exhaust legal remedies to deal with these.” – WITH ALBERT TAN MAGALLANES, JR.

EDITOR’S NOTES/ERRATUM (Sept. 11, 2019): In the earlier version of this article, Prof. Revelation Velunta of the Union Theological Seminary (UTS) was erroneously identified as “Prof. Salvation Velunta”. This has since been amended. 

Our apologies for this error.

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SC junks plea for marriage equality; but says Charter doesn’t limit marriage based on sex

The SC stated that the 1987 Constitution, from its “plain text,” “does not define, or restrict, marriage on the basis of sex, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression,” but the petition had to be dismissed based on Atty. Jesis Falcis III’s lack of standing, violation of the principle of hierarchy of courts, and failure to raise an actual, justiciable controversy.

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The Supreme Court (SC) of the Philippines unanimously voted to dismiss on account of a technicality a historic petition to allow same-sex marriage in the country.

The SC dismissed Atty. Jesus Falcis III’ petition “on account of his lack of standing, violating the principle of hierarchy of courts, and failing to raise an actual, justiciable controversy,” SC’s spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka said in a news conference on Tuesday, September 3.

In 2015, Falcis filed a petition asking the High Court to declare Articles 1 and 2 of the Family Code unconstitutional. The provisions of the 31-year-old law limits marriage between a man and a woman. However, the 1987 Constitution does not categorically state that a marriage must be only between a man and a woman.

But it is worth noting that the SC said the Constitution does not restrict marriage on the basis of sex.

The SC stated that the 1987 Constitution, from its “plain text,” “does not define, or restrict, marriage on the basis of sex, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity or expression,” but the petition had to be dismissed based on Falcis’ lack of standing, violation of the principle of hierarchy of courts, and failure to raise an actual, justiciable controversy.

The SC ruled with a reminder against “premature” petitions, stating that actions done in the name of public interest “should be the result of collective decision coming from well-thought-out strategies of the movement in whose name we bring a case before this Court.”

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Otherwise, the SC added, “premature petitions filed by those who seek to see their names in our jurisprudential records may only do more harm than good.”

For the SC, “good intentions are no substitute for deliberate, conscious and responsible action. Litigation for the public interest for those who have been marginalized and oppressed deserve much more than the way it has been handled in this case.”

The SC also held Falcis and his fellow lawyers, Darwin Angeles, Keisha Trina Guangko, and Christopher Ryan Maranan, liable for indirect contempt, stating that “to forget [the bare rudiments of court procedure and decorum] — or worse, to purport to know them, but really, only to exploit them by way of propaganda — and then, to jump headlong into the taxing endeavor of constitutional litigation is a contemptuous betrayal of the high standards of the legal profession.”

Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, the ponente, said the issue of same-sex partnerships “may, for now, be a matter that should be addressed to Congress.”

Leonen was quoted as saying by the SC’s Public Information Office (PIO) that the SC “recognized the protracted history of discrimination and marginalization faced by the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and other gender and sexual minorities (LGBTQI+) community, along with their still ongoing struggle for equality.”

SC also “acknowledged that same-sex couples may morally claim that they have a right against discrimination for their choice of relationships” and said “official recognition of their partnerships may, for now, be a matter that should be addressed to Congress.”

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The SC ruled that judicial adjudication entails ruling on issues “propelled by actual controversies,” adding that it can fully weigh the consequences of its decisions “only through the existence of actual facts and real adversarial presentations.”

But legislation “ideally allows public democratic liberation on the various ways to assure these fundamental rights,” the SC was quoted by the PIO. “Often public reason needs to be first shaped through the crucible of campaigns and advocacies within our political forums before it is sharpened for judicial fiat.”

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Discrimination of LGBTQIA Filipinos goes beyond CR access, say activists

51% of 400 LGBTQIA community members surveyed claimed that they experienced discrimination in public schools, 31% in the streets, and 28% in private schools. This highlights that LGBTQIA-related discrimination happens in the Philippines go beyond toilet-related access.

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All photos taken during Metro Manila Pride parade in 2019

Gretchen Diez may have self-proclaimed herself to be the “face of the LGBT movement”, but advocates of the SOGIE (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression) Equality Bill noted that LGBTQIA-related discrimination happening in the Philippines go beyond toilet-related access.

Diez recently made the news because of her ordeal while trying to access the female toilet in Farmers Plaza, a mall in Cubao, Quezon City. But Diez, who has been in the limelight following her experience and not because of her involvement in LGBTQIA advocacy, now fashions herself as the sole representative of the local LGBTQIA community/as the community’s “face”.

During a Senate committee hearing on the measure held on August 20, mentioned was a survey conducted by Rainbow Rights Project Inc. (R-Rights) with Metro Manila Pride Inc. from 2017 to 2019, with the results showing that 51% of 400 LGBTQIA community members surveyed claiming that they experienced discrimination in public schools, 31% in the streets, and 28% in private schools.

And so Atty. Jazz Tamayo, executive director of R-Rights, the Constitution’s equal protection clause is not enough to guarantee equality. “We need laws that will specifically compel if it cannot make people understand what equality is. The fight for the SOGIE (Equality) Bill has been too long, all these cases, all these suffering… they simply must stop.”

There are also instances when State bodies end up promoting LGBTQIA discrimination. In Cagayan de Oro City in 2016, for instance, the regional trial court (RTC) sided with a school principal who ordered a Grade 4 student to wear school curtains as punishment for violating the dress code.

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“The child was made to wear school curtains as a punishment for failing to abide by (the) uniform policy. This was done to the child no less than six times by the defendant principal,” Tamayo said. “The judge ruled that the child was too young to venture into a lifestyle of a gender identity that is different from the child’s assigned sex at birth.”

The RTC judge further ruled that the mother of the child was to blame for “not guiding her child better.”

“I can imagine the chilling effect it will have for other parents who would have to file cases like this… (with) the judge just berating them about how they did not discipline their child,” Tamayo added.

For her part, Disney Aguila, president of Pinoy Deaf Rainbow Inc. (PDR), the pioneering organization for Deaf LGBTQIA Filipinos, recalled how she – herself – encountered discrimination because she identifies as a transgender woman.

Speaking to Outrage Magazine, Aguila recalled how – when she applied for a job – the HR (human resource) person of a clothing company based in Pasay City at first “praised her for looking nice”. But the same PR officer – when going through Aguila’s bio-data – saw that her assigned sex at birth was male; and “she frowned.” The HR officer asked Aguila to turn around, and then started pulling her braided hair; she then asked Aguila to have her hair cut.

When Aguila asked why, she was told that it’s because she is a “he”, based on her assigned sex at birth, and that either she presents herself as a man or not be hired. Aguila left that office without a job.

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“The level of discrimination we encounter is doubled not only because we are persons with disability (PWD) but also because of our SOGIESC,” Aguila said.

Meanwhile, Perci Cendaña – former commissioner at the National Youth Commission, and now with Babaylanes Inc. – cited the cases of: 1) a certain Jay, a Grade 12 transgender man from Pampanga, who did not finish his secondary school because when he met with his principal for college requirements, he was berated for not following the school dress code; and 2) transgender senior high school students of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines who – at first – were told that they would not graduate if they won’t follow the school’s prescribed haircut, and though they were later allowed to graduate, they did not receive a certificate of good moral character, which is a requirement for many colleges/universities for incoming students.

“The Philippine youth development plan states that youth development is defined as enabled, involved, patriotic youth realizing their aspirations. Discrimination, stigma… is a deterrent to development,” Cendaña said. “We would like to reiterate that discrimination is an issue not just of human rights but a development issue because it deters our young people from realizing their aspirations.”

“When you give us equal rights, there is no taking from you. There is no lessening of you. No one is any less a man or a woman. The SOGIE Equality Bill means simply that, an acceptance that we are different but equal,” Tamayo of R-Rights ended.

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