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Op-Ed

On democracy, citizenship, difference, and the advocacy of connivance

Sass Rogando Sasot responds to Atty. Bruce Rivera’s well-circulated contrarian take on the Valkyrie fracas. In an essay, Sasot presents four interrelated critiques of Rivera’s essay: 1) a critique on democracy, 2) on the question of whether transgender people are enjoying the benefits of full citi-zenship, 3) on Rivera’s rejection of an important aspect of acceptance: respect for difference, and 4) on the “advocacy of connivance that Rivera had fallen into by not challenging the frame in which Valkyrie’s no-crossdressing policy operate: the frame of cisgender norm”.

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In his well-circulated contrarian take on the Valkyrie fracas, Atty. Bruce Rivera rightfully said that cross-dressing and transgender people are entitled to all the rights and obligations granted by law because of their status as citizens. However, the problem lies not on their status as citizens but on “how we define the meaning of discrimination.” Thereafter, Rivera laid down the foundation of the rest of his contrarian view: “Is a democracy allowed to discriminate? The answer is YES. Provided there is a valid classification.“ Then he pointed out that the division of the almost 100 million population of the Republic of the Philippines into two sexes, though “a problem,” is still a “valid classification.” Therefore, the discrimination based on this division is allowed in a democratic society.

“This is the same law,” he said, “that forces a transgender to write M to the question of sex even if the heart wants to write F.” In this statement, he did not only reduce transgender people into transgender women only, he didn’t also point out why this is exactly a problem. Instead of offering this explanation, he just went on to say that Valkyrie pales in comparison to issues that he would have “taken the cudgels for,” namely: “denying a cross-dresser the right to vote; and denying a transgender the right to own property or denied the right to practice a profession.”

Unfortunately, he didn’t even include the cause of fighting for a gender recognition law, which is always implicated in almost every instance of discrimination transgender people face, including the Valkyrie issue, which Rivera reduced to an instance of “a bruised ego.” He concluded his essay by telling us that there is “only one way to be accepted” and that is “when people will see our similarities rather than our differences.”

In this essay, I will offer four interrelated critiques of Rivera’s essay. I’ve been academically trained in political philosophy; thus, I will interrogate his essay using the approach in this discipline. The first critique centers on democracy, the important actor in his statement, which Rivera didn’t define. The second on the question of whether transgender people are enjoying the benefits of full citizenship. The third one challenges Rivera’s rejection of an important aspect of acceptance: respect for difference. And finally, the fourth critique challenges the advocacy of connivance that Rivera had fallen into by not challenging the frame in which Valkyrie’s no-crossdressing policy operate: the frame of cisgender norm.

ON DEMOCRACY

Rivera didn’t give any definition and just assumed that “we all know what it means.” This taken-for-grantedness is unfortunate, specially that the central actor in his essay is a democratic society, who, as Rivera argued, is allowed to discriminate if there is a “valid classification.” So what is democracy? And how is the validity of a classification established in a democracy?

Democracy is not a legal term but a political one. Rivera lacked a political unpacking of the term that is crucial to his argument. Usually, we define democracy as the rule of the people, by the people, of the people. In On the Demos and its Kin: Nationalism, Democracy, and the Boundary Problem, Arash Abizadeh provides a more sophisticated understanding of democracy: democracy “demands that the human object of power, those persons over whom it is exercised, also be the subject of power, those who (in some sense) author its exercise.” In other words, the demos must be the author of the power they have to obey.

Classifying something, specially if it’s the State that is doing it, is an exercise of power. In a democracy, for a “classification system” to be valid, it must be authored by the demos itself. If the classification system is not authored by the demos, then the power this system holds over the demos is an arbitrary exercise of power, i.e. it doesn’t have any democratic legitimacy, thus unacceptable in a democratic society.

Gender is one of those classification systems. Gender has so much power over our lives. It shapes almost every aspect of our lives, and gender norms are enforced by the full might of the State. We are legally obliged by the State to write, recite, and perform the gender and the cultural norms associated with the state-sanctioned gender assignment we were classified into when we were born. If we disobey this gender assignment, we will be punished by the State in both direct and indirect ways.

For example, transgender people are required by the Department of Foreign Affairs to look like their gender assignment at birth in their passport photos. Maria, a Filipina trans woman in California, once shared: “When I was renewing my Philippine passport, I was asked to remove my make up and pull my hair in a pony tail because I am a “male.” This is no different from the experience of the trans woman referred to by the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP) in its statement on the Valkyrie issue. “The Professional Regulation Commission or PRC’s Registry section,” STRAP narrated, “required a transwoman to tie her long hair and look less masculine before being issued a professional license.” Even in the workplace this is the case as what we can learn from the story of Claire, a labor rights leader and transgender woman, and “one of the 96 contractual employees of Tanduay Distillers Inc. in Cabuyao, Laguna who decided to launch a sudden strike after they were told on May 16 to stop reporting to work by May 18.” While working, Claire “was forced to be “mas mukhang lalaki (appear more manly)”, including getting a haircut, as well as wearing more masculine-looking clothes.”

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Following Rivera’s logic, these instances can be allowed in a democracy because they are based on “valid classification.” But the question is: does the gender classification system, as it stands, have democratic legitimacy? Is the demos the author of the power of gender over our lives? If not, then how can it be valid in a democracy and be a legitimate reason for discrimination in a democratic society? And if we live in a democracy, why should Maria and the trans woman in the PRC Case be compelled by the government to obey something that has no democratic legitimacy? Isn’t that tyranny? Can Claire’s expression of her gender identity be protected by the State? Or will the State protect and enforce more the current legal gender system, just as much as it will protect and enforce more the interests of Lucio Tan?

ON CITIZENSHIP

Rivera said that transgender people are citizens. But while encouraging us to “let our advocacy have essence,” he failed to ask this substantive and essential question: Is the citizenship of transgender people in equal terms with cisgender people, i.e. those who have gender identity and/or gender expression that matches what is expected of their gender assignment at birth? The answer is No, and this is because citizenship has been based on the reality of cisgender people.

Citizenship is often understood as membership in a political community, which is currently embodied by the State. The State decides the boundaries of citizenship, i.e. who becomes a citizen, the terms of membership – the rights and obligations of being a citizen, and the level of membership – full or subordinate. Social groups that have been previously excluded from enjoying the rights of full citizenship – Greek warriors, peasants, plebeians, medieval artisans, proletariats, blacks, women, immigrants, gays, lesbians, bisexual, and transgender people, living with disability – have fought to make the boundaries of citizenship become more inclusive. However, these struggles are not easily won because as Engin Isin said in his essay City as a Difference: the “dominant groups…have never surrendered…without a struggle.”

In the context of this essay, the dominant group are cisgender people to which Rivera belongs.

Transgender people are seeking to redefine the social world because they cannot fully fulfil the obligations of being a citizen and exercise their rights as equal citizens if in the first place they have a subordinate form of citizenship and, most importantly, when citizenship is based on the reality of cisgender people.

The birth certificate is the legal document that establishes our existence. Through it we become legal persons, and this means that we will possess the capacity to have and to maintain certain rights, and to have duties enforceable by law. One of the important aspects of our legal personality is our sex.

Our sex is legally defined at birth. Let me digress for a moment. This article will not make any distinction between gender and sex as I don’t share the view that “sex” is a biological fact while “gender” is socially constructed. Hence, I use sex and gender interchangeably, as well as female with girl/women, and male with boy/men – but this is not to say that gender is a biological fact. Genitalia, body parts, are biological facts but the label we assign to them and the activity of assigning a particular sex/gender to these body parts are not. As what Anne Fausto-Sterling said in Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality, they are social decisions based on normative views about sex/gender. More importantly, the law does not make any distinction between sex and gender. Assigning a baby’s sex is also assigning the baby’s gender. They are not separate and independent legal processes.

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Taking our external genitalia as the cue, the doctor (or whoever attended to our birth) proclaims, and hence assigns us, into either the category of “boy or girl.” This proclamation, however, is not a description of what is between our legs but an act of giving us the first aspect of our legal identity and therefore of our citizenship: sex. Along with other details such as name, date of birth, name of parents, the sex that was proclaimed by the doctor gets entered into our birth certificate. In turn, the sex on our birth certificates will be the sex that will be reflected on all our legal documents, such as our passports. It will be also be the sex that will be considered in the application of several laws, such as marriage laws.

Most people find no problem with the sex to which they were assigned during their birth. They are cisgender people whose sex assignment at birth matches their lived gender identity and/or their gender expression.

The reality of cisgender people is taken as the norm. And because cisgender people dominate every political community, the discourse of citizenship becomes entangled with the experience of cisgender people. Those who don’t share the way cisgender people experience gender are then treated as second class citizens. Thus, transgender people don’t experience citizenship in the same way as cisgender people. As what River said, transgender people are “forced” to kept on writing their gender assignment at birth despite the fact the gender that they live everyday is not that. Cisgender people, though required to also identify their birth gender, don’t experience this as “force” because the gender that they write is the gender they live everyday.

Cisgender citizens will never experience what Ria Rosales experienced when she saw her job offer evaporate after her employer saw that her documents reflect that she’s Male. Transgender people are socially marginalized and individually discriminated against because they are not living in accordance with the gender norms of their legal sex at birth, which in turn intersects with other system of oppression based on class, age, ability, ethnicity, religion etc.

What produces these patterns of discrimination based on gender identity and expression is the presence of a law that takes cisgender people’s experience of gender as the norm against which the legitimacy of our gendered experienced is judged. Cisgender citizens will never experience doors being shut to them because of their lived gender precisely because they are the ones who were closing these doors. And they don’t fear closing these doors because their exclusionary practices are backed by the full might of the State biased towards the cisgender experience of gender.

ON DIFFERENCE

“The only way to be accepted,” Rivera said, “is when people will see our similarities rather than our differences.” In one aspect I agree with Rivera. After all, the discourse of difference has legitimised the oppression of the other, which can even have a genocidal result. As what Narcisa Paredes-Canilao rhetorically asked in Decolonising the Subjects from the Discourse of Difference, “which one really led to colonialism or the Holocaust or which is a more potent antidote to (wo)man’s inhumanity to (wo)man, difference from or identification with the Other.”

However, it is not the recognition of difference per se that lead us to inflict indignity upon each other, but the way we value difference. If cisgender people, who dominate society, interpret their version of being human as exceptional, God’s chosen way of living, the only legitimate way of experiencing gender, they are not just recognizing difference but putting their difference on a pedestal, in the throne of power that can police others into becoming like them.

In Polity and Group Difference: A Critique of the Ideal of Universal Citizenship, Iris Marion Young discussed the failure of universal citizenship in treating each citizens as equals. Instead of delivering its promise of equality to all qua citizens, citizenship “operated in fact as demand for homogeneity.” The terms of similarity, Young argued, is set by the dominant group. Thus, seeing our similarities is not innocent activities but can be a way of imposing the way of living of the dominant group.

We must use both the lens of similarity and difference in order to see another human in her totality. More significantly, we must use both lenses in order to see how the lens of difference can make us see another person as inferior and how the lens of similarity lead us to reject the validity of another person’s version of humanity. The danger of a cisgender person seeing only a transgender person as similar to him/her is the inability to see how the State-sanctioned cisgender norm has rendered transgender people as not only different but inferior, illegitimate, and immoral. And a cisgender person who only sees a transgender person as different would be blind to the common humanity that binds them together.

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ON THE ADVOCACY OF CONNIVANCE

Who has the right to decide our own gender, and therefore the way of expressing? This is at the heart of the Valkyrie issue and all instances of gender identity and expression based discrimination.

This is left unaddressed by Rivera who only assumed the validity of the current gender classification system, which lead him to conclude that discrimination based on it can be allowed. Earlier, I put into question the validity of the current gender classification system in our democracy because, in the first place, this was never democratically legitimated. Further, it’s a gender classification system that rendered the cisgender experience of gender as the only State-sanctioned experience of gender, and therefore the only gendered experience that have full access to the protection of the State. Consequently, transgender people, despite sharing the same formal citizenship as cisgender people, have to fight rather than simply request for this access.

By not challenging the very framework of cisgender norms, Rivera missed the opportunity of making the kind of advocacy he is forwarding fully relevant to the lives of transgender people. His advocacy is an advocacy of connivance. Borrowing the concept of trial of connivance that Jacques Vergés developed, an advocacy of connivance is an advocacy that seeks merely to evaluate the facts in relation to the existing framework. This is what Rivera did when he merely recited the law in relation to the facts of the Valkyrie issue and when he reduced the Valkyrie issue as merely an issue of a “bruised ego.” He accepted the cisgender framework and called it a day.

Rivera cannot see the issue beyond “a bruised ego” because it wasn’t his version of humanity that was put into question. He said that there are a lot of straight people who can’t enter the stores we’ve entered into because they don’t have money, a lot who can’t eat because they were poor. This is a valid point but the issue is not about class but the intersection of class AND gender. Not all impoverished people experience poverty in the same way. A poor cisgender man would have a higher chance of finding a job than a poor transgender woman. Claire’s cisgender co-workers don’t have to experience being forced to be masculine at the workplace in pain of losing their job. And even rich people don’t experience privilege equally. This was aptly demonstrated by the experience of Trixie and Veejay. Rivera can’t see this intersection because he has not problematized the cisgender framework of our everyday lives but simply considered it as “valid classification.”

He said that we must find an issue that can make “the common man… relate and symphatize.” When Laude was murdered, we have witnessed how vicious and transphobic the “common man” was. In order for the common man to relate and symphatize, Laude’s being transgender had to be swallowed by her identity as a Filipino. But when we highlight Laude’s transgender status, the common man, instead of relating and sympathizing, responded with a whole range of cruel, transphobic “blame-the-victim” tactics. Why? It’s because the common man is a cisgender person who has taken-for-granted the privileges he/she have by simply having a gender identity and/or gender expression aligned with his/her gender assignment at birth.

Trans advocates, including those Rivera condescendingly looked down upon, are revolting against the dictatorship of the State-sanctioned cisgender framework. They are engaging in an advocacy of rupture, an advocacy that seeks to challenge the very framework, in this case the cisgender framework, within which facts would be interpreted. Valkyrie didn’t simply make a business decision. Valkyrie is enforcing the State-sanctioned cisgender norm, which has been the source of oppression of a lot of people whose gendered lives don’t fit the cisgender experience of gender. Trans advocates are not just making noises, they are reclaiming the right to define our own gender from the state, the church, the medical profession, and even from private establishments like Valkyrie.

#BeyondValkyrie

Since 2001, as she was about to turn 19, Sass has dedicated herself to the LGBT Rights movement in the Philippines, most specifically to issues of gender identity and freedom of gender expression. James Green, an international transgender rights activist, served as her mentor via email. She started giving discussions on transgender rights and issues in Luneta Park in Manila. In December 2002, she co-founded the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP). In 2003 & 2004, together with Drs Sam Winter and Mark King of the University of Hong Kong, she did the first comprehensive study on transgender women in the Philippines. The study has been published in the International Journal of Transgenderism. In 2009, she was one of the LGBT activists invited to speak in a historic United Nations General Assembly side-event at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. In 2013, she received the ECHO Award, given annually to excellent and promising migrant students in the Netherlands. In 2014, she received the Harry Benjamin Distinguished Education and Advocacy Award from the World Profession Association for Transgender Health. A nomadic spirit, Sass loves to write, walk, read, cycle, and cook. Together with the love of her life, Sass is currently based in The Hague, The Netherlands. She graduated with a Combined major in World Politics & Global Justice, minor in International Development (Magna cum Laude) at Leiden University College, which bestowed her the 2014 Global Citizenship Award. She is a contributing writer on TG issues for the mag, through The Activist. Sass.Rogando.Sasot@outragemag.com

Literary Pieces

Posteng Bato

Elmo Ellezo writes about the apathy of those who have more in life, even if – by choosing to lend a hand – they can help effect changes in other people’s lives.

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Ni Elmo Ellezo

May mga taong umangat lang sa buhay,
parang naging katulad ng bahay na bato ang puso.
Kasing tigas at wala ng pakiramdam sa iba.

Parang bato,
posteng bato na naghihiwalay sa kanilang sa sarili
sa reyalidad ng malawak na mundo.
Bingi sa mga ingay sa labas.
Binulag ng mga bakod at posteng bato,
ayaw tumanaw sa kabilang bahagi ng mundo.

Gwardyado, akala moy kaaway ang mundo,
Ayaw makibahagi oh umambag sa mga walang laman ang kaldero
Ayaw makipagkapwa tao.
Naka-kandado pati ang kanilang mga puso.

Tanging paraan na silay mamulat ay delubyo.
Kapag tinumbahan na ng mga posteng bato.
Kapag binaha na katulad ng mga nakatira sa estero.
Kapag nagutom, namatayan na katulad ng mga ordinaryong tao.

Anong klaseng mundo ang nililikha nitong mga posteng bato.
Mga kaaway ang mahihirap at walang tiwala sa kapwa tao.
Makasariling pag uugali at walang pakialam sa mundo.

Sana maibalik ang aking pagkabata.
Walang mga poste at bakod na naghihiwalay sa sinasabi kong kapwa.
Kung saan ang daigdig ay pinagsasaluhan ng lahat.
May pagkakaugnay ugnay, tiwala at pakikipag kapwa.

Munti kong panalangin ay mawasak ang mga posteng bato.
Mga posteng batong isinasara ng bakal at mga kandado.
Mga posteng batong nagpapamanhid sa kalagayan ng dumadaing na mundo.
Ang posteng batong naglilikha ng taong bato ang puso.

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Op-Ed

Being LGBTQ+ means nothing

Being unaware of and deviant from what that community is intentionally fighting for clearly does not make us a part of it. We have to realize that our identity does not really matter as much as what we actually say, do or stand for.

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon from Unsplash.com

We’ve heard it all before — a woman who still espouses misogyny, Filipinos who can be insulting towards their own skin color, a devout Christian who has little knowledge about the Bible and the history of Christianity, a gay person who is against the rights of other LGBTQ+ folks. These seemingly self-contradictories show that our identity is nothing but superficiality.

Our identity does not hold the substance of what we’re all about.

Having a certain identity does not follow that we know all there is to understand about it.

More importantly, it does not immediately give us the authority or credibility to speak on behalf of a larger group we supposedly belong to. Otherwise, we only cause much harm and misinformation.

What does a community mean? Fumbling through the dictionary, we would find similar definitions that basically sum up as “a group of people sharing a commonality of interests, attitudes, characteristics, values, goals – even history – and living in a particular location or within a greater area”. Applying this to the so-called LGBTQ+ community, since LGBTQ+ persons obviously do not live in the same quarters or have exactly the same lived experiences (hence the need for the acronym with a plus sign), we need to take only the spirit of the word — that is, a community is a social state of more than skin-deep commonality.

People who label themselves as LGBTQ’s do not see the whole picture if they go against equality and the principle that human rights must be bestowed to all regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, nationality, physical appearance and so forth. Such people who proclaim they are “part of the LGBTQ+ community but…” are merely disruptive tumors. They are not part of the community but only a part of the problem, which is compounded by ignorance, indifference, hate and discrimination.

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So before we open our mouths and ascribe to some sort of community or identity, let’s be truly certain first that we know what it’s all about. Being unaware of and deviant from what that community is intentionally fighting for clearly does not make us a part of it. We have to realize that our identity does not really matter as much as what we actually say, do or stand for.

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Literary Pieces

Babae. Lesbiyana.

“Babae po ako. Ngunit babae rin ang gusto ko. Pang-lalake man ang kilos at anyo. Sa babae pa rin naman ako nagbabanyo.”

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Photo by Chris Johnson from Unsplash.com

By Chris Salvatierra

Pilit kong iniisip
Kung inisip ko at pinilit
Kung nagbago ba ang ihip
Ng hangin noong ako’y isang paslit

Ang paghanga sa kapwa babae
Ang kilos, lakad at pananalita
Na animo’y lalake
Na nagsimula noong ako’y bata

Tinanong ako kung ako ba’y humanga
Sa mga guwapo at pogi
At ang sagot ko’y oo nga
Pagtangi ay sa babae lagi

Ni minsa’y hindi kinilig
Kahit na noong panahong
Maliit pa ang mga bisig
Suot ay bestida at hindi lontang maong

Matagal na proseso
Matagal na nilihim
Hindi umasenso
Dahil sa sariling paninimdim

Hanggang ako’y namulat
At seryosong nagkagusto
At sinimulang isulat
Nilahad, ipinusta pati pamato

Wala naman kasing nagturo
Naramdaman na lang
Tapos para akong tuliro
Noong ako’y pitong taong gulang

Kaibigan ko siya
Sa ikalawang baitang
Kapag kasama’y masaya
Kapag naka-akbay ay lutang

Marami nang napusuan
Panahon na ang lumipas
Gusto’y babae pa rin naman
Sa pagkatorpe’y walang kupas

Madalas sakin ay tinatanong
Kahit hanggang opisina
Siguro sila’y hilong talilong
Kung Ma’am o Sir ang itatawag twina

Babae po ako
Ngunit babae rin ang gusto ko
Pang-lalake man ang kilos at anyo
Sa babae pa rin naman ako nagbabanyo

Lesbiyana kung ako’y tawagin
Tomboy sa kanto namin
Ate sa kapatid ko
Tita sa mga pamangkin ko

Eto ang aking SOGIE
Lesbiyana – Sexual Orientation
Babae – Gender Identity
Butch/masculine – Gender Expression

Hindi napipilit ang puso
Kusang tumitibok sa ritmo
Hindi ito parang damit na nakiki-uso
Hindi sinisino kahit amo

Masarap sanang maging malaya magmahal
Malaya sa mga matang mapanghusga
Malimit pang nasasabihan ng hangal
Madalas pang tumanggap ng pang-aalipusta

Pantay-pantay na karapatan
Dinggin sana ang aming hiling
Hindi espesyal ang aming panawagan
Sugat ng diskriminasyo’y laging nasasaling

Lungkot ay aking ramdam
Kapag hindi niyo maintidihan
Sana hindi niyo maranasan
Ang araw-araw naming pinagdadaanan

Kapag maganda o guwapo sa paningin
Sayang ang palaging sinasabi sa amin
Pero bakit sayang ang sasabihin?
Ano bang nasayang sa amin?

Isa po akong babae
Mahigit apat na pung taong gulang na
Mukha lang pong lalake
Isa pong lesbiyana

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Op-Ed

Salvation our God is extending

“With a SOGIE Law enforced, the sensibilities of some (they cannot claim to represent the majority) will be offended as has happened in legislation on women’s rights. But the tradeoff will be LGBTQ+ individuals participating more meaningfully in national development. The Philippines would foster a culture of nonviolence, and I think God would be smiling down on us.”

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By Koko Alviar

The SOGIE Equality Bill is not against religious freedom. If anything, it will help us recapture the diversity of beliefs in our country.

I am Vaughn Alviar, from the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, a liberational Church that has interpreted Scripture in light of facts and God’s commissioning for charity and liberation. The Church coopted me some time in 2015 to help the Supreme Council of Bishops articulate a statement that wanted to affirm LGBTIQ+ individuals, “Our Common Humanity, Our Shared Dignity.” It was approved in February 7, 2017.

Incidentally, I am a homosexual cisgender male son of a heterosexual cisgender male priest. I say these belatedly because they have never negatively affected my craft as a writer and my practice as a good Christian, although I will not deny knowledge of my SOGIE has affected the perception of what I am capable of doing.

I am more than my SOGIE; in fact we in the LGBTQ+ community are all more than our SOGIE. Unfortunately, people have seen the physical manifestations of it and felt they could see right through us, judge and discriminate us. My classmates from Day Care in Sanchez Mira, Cagayan, to university in Baguio City had always criticized my being effeminate and emotional, my not being manly. Despite all these, I had the will power to prove my value in my communities and circles. I can’t say the same for many others, whose chances were impaired by abuses far worse than I’ve experienced and who didn’t belong to families that earned well enough to send them to good schools or who disowned them – sometimes because of the faith they profess.

Being LGBTQ+ is a choice, we are told. But, given all the disadvantages laid out before us (per the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, LGBTQ+ people experience more poverty, hunger, joblessness and depression than our heterosexual, cisgender counterparts), what would we benefit from choosing to be minoritized? Having to prove we are good, capable and beneficial workers, or hiding how we express ourselves to conform with straight environments, these are definitely burdens. Our siblings in the faith have claimed that the law sees us equally, but our lived experiences and jurisprudence claim we are not. Thus, vulnerable sectors need the State to help us claim equity, aid us in reminding everyone that we are human too, and enable us to fight back when our rights are abused.

It has also been claimed that a law protecting LGBTQ+ persons against discrimination would negate Christians’ freedom of religion. It is a preposterous claim that insults the very spirit of “freedom of religion”: that individuals will not be force-fed belief systems; and that we are all free to hold beliefs – or not – and to conduct ourselves accordingly, except when we harm others. If anything, many people, driven by their “Christian” beliefs, harmed LGBTIQ+ individuals without provocation.

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While they lift from the Bible, the holy book cannot be seen as a definitive guide to what must be social convention. It has, in fact, been used to stall important laws to end slavery, and to uphold the rights of persons with disability and women.

For example:

I permit no woman to teach or have authority over men; she is to keep silent.” (Timothy 2:11)

Whosoever … hath any blemish, let him not approach to offer the bread of his God. For whatsoever man he be that hath a blemish, he shall not approach: a blind man, or a lame, or he that hath a flat nose, or anything superfluous, Or a man that is brokenfooted, or brokenhanded, Or crookback, or a dwarf, or that hath a blemish in his eye, or be scurvy, or scabbed, or hath his stones broken … He shall not go in unto the vail, nor come nigh unto the altar, because he hath a blemish; that he profane not my sanctuaries.” (Leviticus 21:17-23)

Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ.” (Ephesians 6:5)

With verses inapplicable in our time, how do we know for sure that verses chastising LGBTIQ+ individuals should still apply? In the laws enacted for women, children, senior citizens, persons with disability, among others, the justification was unequal treatment on the ground, in real life, despite the Constitutional guarantee of equality that our other siblings cite. The drawback was sensibilities getting hurt; the reward has been greater empowerment and participation in society for those sectors. We need our guarantee, too.

Another case in point: If two people are equally passionate about Bible-based beliefs, do we have objective criteria to judge which person is more righteous?

Here is an example: A cisgender man has been a top employee for years. He is the breadwinner for his family, encouraged by 1 Timothy 5:8: “But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” One day, he comes out as homosexual and discloses he has a boyfriend. The heterosexual cisgender owner, who comes from a conservative background, fires the person, because of Romans 1:26-27: “Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.”

“We believe that the best way to fulfill our duty to establish heaven on earth is the full realization of human rights for all – and LGBTQ+ rights are human rights.”

Who’s to say that the business owner holds the right understanding of faith? What if the homosexual man goes to church more often? Doesn’t that make him better? The law must declare that productivity trumps sexual orientation.

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One thing I’ve observed among people of faith who decide not to support the SOGIE Bill is self-righteousness – a confidence that they are to be seen as authoritative, the voice of a majority. In doing so, they downplay other peoples’ faith, among these that which LGBTQ+ individuals have forged from their lived experiences of discrimination and resilience.

While some traditions will scoff at the justness of the ordained going to protests, the Aglipayan faith believes it is a legitimate expression of Christian witness. We believe that the best way to fulfill our duty to establish heaven on earth is the full realization of human rights for all – and LGBTQ+ rights are human rights. Thus, the crusade for equality on the basis of SOGIE falls within our fight for equity, along with our advocacy for peace talks, economic equity, genuine land reform and more.

Another Christian community is the Metropolitan Community Church, which has a presence in the Philippines. It casts more importance on love, genuine relationships and nondiscrimination than on punishment and fear. Many of their members are victims of SOGIE-based discrimination even in their own Christian homes, or are people living with HIV who have the added burden of stigma. One member told me that her family attends a Church that has a ministry helping LGBTQ+ individuals possessed by the devil – she worships with her family in the morning, is occasionally prayed for; she worships at MCC in the afternoon, is welcomed fully as a gender-nonconforming woman. There has to be a policy to guard LGBTQ+ lives against torturous conversion rituals if and when they occur. The SOGIE Bill has that.

The above instances illustrate that a single religion on its own has variations and pluralities. But, if regardless of this, lawmakers side with the more conservative Christian belief that tends to put LGBTQ+ lives in the way of harm and indignity, what compels the State other than to reward the conservatives and, thus, violate the Church-State separation?

As faithful Christians, too, we stand on the passage of the SOGIE Law because we believe God wants us to exist in a community of love, and because it will permeate our lives beyond Church. “We love the sinner not the sin,” some anti-SOGIE Christians say, in an attempt to deem the law irrelevant. If we do love the sinner, however, shouldn’t we recognize the person of that sinner who has the secular, universal right to a job, education and healthcare, among others. None of these are about “the homosexual act.”

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It is a shame that some religious have led crusades based on falsehoods: from alleging we do not need the SOGIE Equality Bill because the law already pronounces equality; to criticizing our advocacy as an issue of restrooms and third spaces only; to misleading people that the SOGIE Equality Bill will allow same-sex marriage; to stretching religious freedom – weaponizing it to homogenize the nation when the measure actually protects diversity.

The “definition of terms” in the proposed bills says that bad behavior – discrimination, stigma, hate crime and marginalization – will warrant punishment. Some religious are worried that LGBTIQ+ individuals will be empowered to file cases of discrimination simply because we “felt discriminated.” But suing should be within our rights as citizens, and with wisdom the courts should be able to decide which ones are nuisance and which ones bear sense.

In IFI, the statement has affirmed and validated the faithfulness of LGBTQ+ members, some of whom serve as ordained ministers. Through it, the faithful have been oriented on SOGIE and SOGIE-based discrimination; began to openly discuss sexuality, mental health and sexual harassment; and revisited the situation of women as part of the greater gender minority in a patriarchal society. We are now more equipped to counsel LGBTQ+ individuals and people living with HIV. The Church became more inclusive.

At the end of “Our Common Humanity, Our Shared Dignity,” the SCB stated a hope that our small act could spark bigger changes leading to greater inclusion for outcasts. The more accepting parents, you will note, express worry for their LGBTQ+ children based not on the worldview of conservative Churches but on the question: “How will you be in this world that is harsh on LGBTQ+ individuals?”

While some LGBTQ+ people are born to parents who are unequipped and would abandon their children, some are born to parents who are ready to understand and nurture them, and would worry that the world at large is not hospitable. Let’s lessen the legitimate fears by enacting a safeguard.

While the SOGIE Bill languishes, men could be raping homosexual and bisexual women to “convert them,” gay guys could be looking for their next boxing match or Miss Gay (for visibility and extra income), brilliant transgender individuals could be flying out to find career advancement elsewhere.

With the SOGIE Law enforced, the sensibilities of some (they cannot claim to represent the majority) will be offended as has happened in legislation on women’s rights, but the tradeoff will be LGBTQ+ individuals participating more meaningfully in national development. With the SOGIE Law, there will be no special LGBT bonuses or leaves, just jobs and schools and communities that value us as humans, and that hone and harness our skills as citizens.

The Philippines would foster a culture of nonviolence, and I think God would be smiling down on us.

On social media, there’s a viral post saying SOGIE means “Satanic Organization of Godless people who are Inspired of Evil”, which is so grammatically wrong. To me, it means “Salvation Our God Is Extending” – and I should enjoy a Constitutional guarantee to claim you can’t tell me I’m wrong. That is freedom of religion for you.

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Op-Ed

‘Members of LGBTQIA community should be afforded the same protection that others enjoy’

An open letter to Bro. Eddie Villanueva, now a politician, who continues to claim he supports equality but is fighting against the protection of LGBTQIA people from discrimination.

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Photo by Harry Quan from Unsplash.com

Sir, I am Posit Bo, a proud member of the LGBTQIA+ and PLHIV community in the Philippines. I was once a follower of your faith; I am still a believer of the Almighty God but no longer of your faith.

This letter is made as rebuttal of your privilege speech against the SOGIE Equality Bill. This is not intended to convince you and your group to vote for the proposed law; but rather, a letter that aims to see a future where there can be mutual respect.

You raised two constitutionally supported arguments against the SOGIE Equality Bill, to wit: (a) it imperils academic freedom, and (b) it endangers freedom of speech and religion.

I) ON ACADEMIC FREEDOM

You cited Article XIV, Section 5, par (2), of the 1987 Constitution, which states that: “Academic freedom shall be enjoyed in all institutions of higher learning.” This provision’s meaning can be viewed from two perspectives, namely: (a) Freedom of a Faculty member, and (b) Freedom of an academic institution of higher learning.

Certainly, faculty members have the freedom to discuss subjects with the responsibility not to discuss matters not related to the subject matter and with respect to the opinions of others. In the same manner, the academic institutions per se are given the freedom to decide what is the best manner to attain its aims and objectives.

You seem to fear that religious academic institutions being compelled to accept LGBTQIA+ students or employees, against the institution’s dogma on gender.

Under Section 5(c) of Senate Bill 159, it has two portions, to wit: (a) it declares discriminatory when educational or training institution refuses admission by reason of SOGIE, and (b) the right of educational and training institutions in determining qualifications for admission shall be duly upheld.

It is clear under the second portion of the aforementioned provision that religious institution’s right to determine qualification for admission shall be duly upheld. Compulsion to admit against dogma on gender by religious institutions cannot be feared when in the Bill itself it is protected, not to mention, in our very own Constitution as you cited, Sir.

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The bill cannot obviously be made to circumvent the Constitutional guarantees as it echoes the very essence of this Constitution that is – Equality. Moreover, I would like to believe that in proposing this law, the case of Ateneo de Manila v. Capulong, was taken into consideration, wherein the Court beautifully fleshed out the concept of academic freedom. The Court held that: “Academic institutions are free to determine for itself on academic grounds who may teach, what may be taught, how it shall be taught, and who may be admitted to study.”  The Court further held in Isabelo Jr. v. Perpetual Help College of Rizal that: a school of higher learning has the discretion to admit or not to admit students. The Court further stated that: Admission is not a right but merely a privilege.

No, Sir. Religious academic institutions cannot be compelled to admit LGBTQIA+ students or employees. As these juridical entities are protected under our Constitution based on the very law you cited. But the likes of KJ T. Lorenzana and the students of Bulacan State University are not protected against discrimination based on SOGIE in a secular educational institution; no, they are not protected for this particular kind of discrimination, not even by the Constitution. While sectarian institutions enjoy protection under our Constitution, what about the protection of the LGBTQIA+ students and employees who have been and still are being discriminated in secular educational institutions.

“The SOGIE Equality Bill cannot obviously be made to circumvent the Constitutional guarantees as it echoes the very essence of this Constitution that is – Equality.”

The LGBTQIA+ community, more than the letters, consists of individuals, of humans who should be afforded an equivalent amount of reasonable protection that you enjoy in professing your religious beliefs, protection against any form of discrimination without engendering violation of constitutional guarantees.

II) ON FREEDOM OF RELIGION

There are three principal parts of the Constitutional provision for Religious freedom under Article III, Section 5 of the 1987 Constitution.

First, the NON-ESTABLISHMENT Clause: No law shall be made respecting the establishment, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.

The SOGIE Equality Bill does not establish LGBTQIA+ community as a religion, neither does SOGIE Awareness prohibit the free exercise of any religion, including yours. Hence, the proposed law does not violate the non-establishment clause.

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Second, the FREE EXERCISE Clause: The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever be allowed.

The SOGIE Equality Bill is in fact adherent to religious sensitivities that despite of it being both a secular and social legislation, the proponents had the basic human decency to hear sectarian opinion on issues of a marginalized community on account of being exposed to daily discrimination of all forms.

There are two aspects of religious freedom, which are as follows: (a) Freedom to believe; and (b) freedom to act on one’s belief. The freedom to believe is absolute but the freedom to act on one’s belief is not absolute. The freedom to act may be regulated if its actualization clashes with accepted norms of social behavior and established order of decency.

Therefore, you can absolutely believe that being an LGBTQIA+ is a sin in view of your religion as a part of your freedom. But to act upon it by spreading or imposing such belief upon nonbelievers or believers of a different sect may be regulated.

Status quo dictates that freedom to exercise can be regulated; unfortunately, even if it could be regulated, Christians have continuously condemned this community. Our community has been continuously ridiculed for no reason, discriminated for being diverse, and hated for merely loving; we, suffer all these, based on your religious beliefs. While we suffer, you continuously enjoy being guarded by your religious freedom.

This is the saddest part of our reality: Family and friends who exercises christian faith act upon their religious belief on gender through: sharing hate messages; treating us indifferently; laughing at our struggles; and being considered as an abomination. While you are guarded by your religious freedom, why does it have to be at our expense? When you speak of equality it must be uttered in fairness to everyone and not at the expense of others.

The SOGIE Equality Bill does not force upon people to become a member of the LGBTQIA+ community neither does it influence people to change dogma on gender; but this merely seeks to spread awareness and understanding of an existing community, which should neither be treated differently but your fair equal.

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Lastly, Sir, finally now that you are elected, as a member of the House of Representatives of the 18th Congress, I would like to congratulate you. You are indeed an inspiration to the LGBTQIA+ community, just like you did, no matter how long and how many failed attempts there may be, we will never say it’s over ‘til it is done.

In James Imbong etc. v. Hon. Paquito Ochoa, Jr. et al., the court held that: the state cannot meddle in the internal affairs of the church. On the other hand, the church cannot impose its beliefs and convictions on the state and the rest of the citizenry. It cannot demand that the nation follow its beliefs, even if it sincerely believes that they are good for the country.

Sir, there would be no confusion even if you both act for both the state and the church by simply applying the time-honored State policy under Article II Section 6 of the 1987 Constitution, that the separation of church and state shall be inviolable. Inside your church, you are your peoples Pastor. You don’t preach to them matters of legislation; but instead your bible. While in the House of Representatives, you are to act as a legislator not as a Pastor. Sir, in your privilege speech you interjected a biblical passage. I would like to humbly remind you that you now belong in a Secular institution. Inside the very ‘august chamber’ to where you belong, are muslims; agnostic;  and heck may be even atheist congress(wo)man, who are being alienated by your interjection. Sir, you do not merely answer to your representation but to the entire secular electorate.

“Our community has been continuously ridiculed for no reason, discriminated for being diverse, and hated for merely loving; we, suffer all these, based on your religious beliefs. While we suffer, you continuously enjoy being guarded by your religious freedom.”

I could not still imagine a day where we can live harmoniously even in diversity, when there’s no willingness to reach a compromise, taking into consideration: fairness and respect for everyone regardless of gender, age, race, ethnicity, color or religion. Religious freedom is a fundamental right under our constitution, it will forever be guarded and no legislation can circumvent this constitutional guarantee. You have exemplified in your privilege speech, that in the exercise of your religious freedom, there can be three options: (a) purvey discrimination based on scriptures; (b) exhaust available laws without state intervention in protecting a minority and marginalized group; and (c) when there is no law available, blame it on our SOGIE.

It was once said that we cannot normalize the culture of LGBTQIA+ despite its historical precedent being a cultural norm pre-colonial year of the Philippines; therefore, this being the case, incidents of discrimination by reason of SOGIE in the workplace and educational institutions may rise in the absence of any law that prohibits it. This is the very reason why an anti-discrimination policy should be enacted not by reason of entitlement but by reason of being exposed in an everyday struggle to surpass all forms of SOGIE-related discrimination.

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Op-Ed

Tulungan ang bawat isa na magmulat at mas mamulat pa

Pastor Carleen Nomorosa: “Tulungan natin ang bawat isa na magmulat at mas mamulat pa. Huwag tayong mapako sa mga sarili lamang nating pagdurusa, magsama-sama tayo at magtulungan. Huwag din tayong malunod sa mga pribilehiyong tinatamasa dahil marami padin ang hindi ligtas.”

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By Carleen Nomorosa
Program Coordinator, National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP)

Isa sa mahal ko sa buhay, na-rape. Ng paulit-ulit.

Sabi ng isang ahensya ng gobyerno noon sa amin nung nagpapatulong kami: Mabuti nga at nakauwi pa ng buhay ang nanay mo.”

Wala pa akong sampung taong gulang noon, seven years old pa lang ako, panganay. Probinsyana. Walang alam sa siyudad. Litong-lito ako bakit ganoon.

Kaya umuwi na kami, at sinubukang hilumin ang lahat ng pait na pinagdanan, hindi lamang ng aking ina, kundi ng buong pamilya.

Ang lupit ng lipunang ito, sa mga mahihirap at walang kakayanan.

Sana tulungan nyo ang mga katulad namin, para lumaban at makapag patuloy sa paglaban.

Tulungan natin ang mga magulang nila Eileen at Allan, hindi lang para panatilihin ang sentensya ni Antonio Sanchez.

Kundi imulat din ang henerasyong ito sa kalagayan ng bayan. Huwag nating hayaang gawin tayong manhid sa lahat ng pagpatay sa mga dukha at maralita. Huwag nating hayaang magdiwang ang mga panginoong maylupa na nagpapahirap sa magsasaka. Huwag nating hayaan na manatiling kontrakwal ang mga ordinaryong manggagawa. Huwag nating hayaang may inaaping sektor dahil minorya sila. Huwag nating hayaang marami ang nagkakasakit ngunit hindi makapag pa-ospital.

Tulungan natin ang bawat isa na magmulat at mas mamulat pa. Huwag tayong mapako sa mga sarili lamang nating pagdurusa, magsama-sama tayo at magtulungan. Huwag din tayong malunod sa mga pribilehiyong tinatamasa dahil marami padin ang hindi ligtas.

Wala na tayong ibang aatrasan, kundi ang paglaban. Sana bukas wala ng rape. Wala ng papatayin. Wala ng gutom. Magtulungan tayo.

Ang pananampalatayang napapako na lamang sa pag-pikit, pagluhod o pagtaas ng kamay sa pananalangin ay hindi makakabangon sa ikatlong araw. Walang resureksyon and ganitong pananampalataya.

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