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Op-Ed

Our Brave New World (Third of a Five-part Series)

Sass Rogando Sasot feels blessed to “have become part of the birth of the transgender rights movement in the Philippines”, a movement started in the first decade of the 21st century. And since during those ten years, she has witnessed “frightening and endearing events”, she now shares these via Outrage Magazine.

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A Brief History of the Birth of the Transgender Movement in the Philippines

Part 1 – Our Brave New World
Part 2 – Confronting Sexual Violence
Part 3 – Challenging Discrimination in Establishments
Part 4 – Speaking Out Against Discrimination Based on Gender Expression
Part 5 – The Rise of the Power Transpinays

Challenging Discrimination in Establishments: The Ice Vodka Bar Incident and the Renaissance Hotel Incident

The Ice Vodka Bar Incident that took place in May 2008, involving me and other members of the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP). The bar said that we’re not allowed to enter a bar because they said we were “inappropriately dressed” and that foreign men don’t like us there as people like us mislead them into thinking that we were “real women”.

On behalf of STRAP, I wrote an open letter about the incident. The manager of the bar apologized to us, and removed the discriminatory policy . STRAP also filed a complaint to the owner of the mall (AyalaLand) where the bar is located. The management of the Ayala Malls apologized to us in a letter saying “We empathize with you .… We wish to clarify that we do not have any agreement whatsoever with Ice Vodka Bar or other merchants in our mall to prohibit transsexual women from entering Ayala Mall. Rest assured that we have noted your recommendations and will brief our merchants to be more sensitive in attending such matter to prevent the recurrence of the same incident.”

However, two years after, a similar incident happened in the same mall. A security guard of the mall told us that we couldn’t enter the mall as we were not allowed there. We held another dialogue with the management of the mall, reminding them of their promise that a similar incident wouldn’t happen in their mall again. We were informed that the security guard has already been relieved and they promised that it will not happen again.

In July 2009, Rica Paras and Naomi Fontanos experienced a discriminatory incident in a hotel in Makati. Naomi recounted the incident on her blog, “Rica Paras and I wanted to have a fun and relaxing 4th of July weekend and were vacillating between going to the beach and staying in the city. “

When they used the female sauna of the hotel, “the same receptionist came in. She took an empty basin lying around but before she stepped out, Rica asked if we could have two towels. The receptionist nodded her head, came back with the towels but upon her return, looked at us and said “I’m sorry but what are you?” I was starting to get angry and looked at Rica who told her again “We’re women.” The receptionist said “Ah okay” and giggled as she stepped out of the sauna.”

“Rica and I were already upset. Around 10 minutes later, we heard a knock. We said “Yes?” and the lady who knocked opened the door. It was another hotel attendant and she said “Good afternoon SIR! I’m sorry but you have to transfer to the male sauna.” To which I replied, “Do not insult us. Do not call us sir! How dare you barge in here and ask us to transfer to the male sauna. Who do you think you are and who do you think we are?” The attendant said, “I’m sorry but it is policy.” Rica retorted, “It is policy? Show me the policy! Don’t you think people will be scandalized more if they see female bodies in the male sauna? You will have to drag us out of here!” The attendant closed the door and we stayed in the sauna. Another 10 minutes passed and the sauna door opened once more. This time, it was the duty manager with a male guard beside her. The male guard peeped in and then the duty manager in the same hostile tone said “I’m sorry SIR, but it is policy that you have to transfer to the other side.” It was my turn to ask and I said “Policy? What policy? Is it written in black and white? Show me that document first!” The duty manager answered, “Well based on your registration, you checked in under MALE names.” I said, “Those are our legal names and we didn’t have a choice on the matter; but they do not determine our gender!” The duty manager replied “But it is policy that if you are male, then you have to use the male area and if you are female, the female area.” Exasperated, Rica just said “Can you just let us finish please?” The male guard rudely barked “Five minutes!” after which he and the duty manager left.

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Rica and I took our time. After getting ourselves decent, we stepped out and proceeded to the reception. There the pool attendant, a lady guard, another male guard and the receptionist were on stand-by. Upon seeing us, the receptionist said “I will need your signature to sign out MA’AM” and handed us the forms that we signed on our way in. I took my form, signed it and when I looked up, the pool boy who was looking by said, “I apologize for the inconvenience MA’AM but it is policy.” I said, “Inconvenience? This is an INSULT! Policy? In my book this is DISCRIMINATION!” After signing out, Rica and I both asked to be escorted to the office of the General Manager (GM). The lady guard perhaps misheard us and said the manager was waiting for us downstairs. So we took the elevator going down and stepped out into the lobby. The lady guard accompanying us directed us to take seats near the front desk and wait for the manager who would see us shortly. Rica and I were surprised when it was the same duty manager who sat down with us. I introduced myself and Rica to her politely and immediately told her that we felt insulted and disrespected with what happened earlier. The duty manager said, “I’m sorry but I did not insult you.” Rica said, “But I felt insulted with what you did!” I asked the duty manager, “Tell me, who was harmed by our use of the female sauna?” She just looked at me. I told her, “No one was harmed right? But by asking us to use the male area, do you know that you are actually harming us psychologically?” Then she said, “I am sorry but it is our policy.” Rica then addressed her, “You keep saying that it is policy. We want to see the policy because I have been using other Marriott hotels before all around the world and I have never been treated like this. Only in my own country have I been insulted and disrespected in a Marriott hotel!”

The duty manager addressing Rica said, “Yes, I checked our records. I know that you are our Silver Member. There is actually no written policy but based on the names that you registered under…” Rica cut her short and said, “I am registered as MISS in the records. You can check it for yourself!” The duty manager said, “But they are MALE names…” I cut her short and said “Again, those are our LEGAL names. They do not determine our gender! Besides, do I look male to you?” to which she said, “Well your looks are deceiving.” I could not take it anymore and said, “Tell me, whose needs needed to be satisfied with your insistence for us to transfer to the male sauna? Who needed to be happy to see us embarrassed and humiliated by being asked to transfer to the male sauna? No one right? Because nobody was complaining! Then it is only you who needed to be happy. It was your personal prejudice and bigotry that needed to be satisfied with your insistence that we use the male sauna. Because people like you will stop at nothing to embarrass and humiliate people like us. Because people like you can only feel good about themselves after putting down people like us. Because as far as you are concerned, people like us do not have the education, the money, and the right to be in a hotel like this. So I hope today, you made yourself very happy. I hope today you are very proud of yourself!”

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“To which the duty manager said, “Yes I am very proud.” I said, “Well then this conversation is finished. We want to see the GM so we can file a formal complaint. We also want to escalate this to the International Customer Service. You are a modern hotel but your attitudes are stuck in the Middle Ages!” Rica and I stood up and went back to the room. That night after dinner, we tried to see the GM but he was already off-duty. Rica and I spoke to the night duty manager Jhun and asked him to make an appointment for us to see the GM at 9 am the next day.”

“On Saturday morning, July 4, 2009, Rica and I got ready to meet with the GM. At a little over 9 am, we went to see him. Rica recounted to the GM what transpired the previous day. The GM was understanding and apologized outright for what happened. He thought that the situation the day before could have been better handled. Rica told him that all we wanted was to relax for the weekend, use the hotel’s amenities and enjoy ourselves; but instead what happened, happened and now we had to use up what little time was left for us to enjoy the hotel by seeing him just to complain. Rica told the GM that she felt it was important for him to know because as someone who has been using the services of Marriott hotels around the world, not once has she encountered any bad experience except at the Renaissance Hotel and in her own country at that. She added that if the Renaissance Hotel could treat people like us that way, then what’s stopping the hotel staff from mistreating others based on skin color, religion, disability and other petty reasons.”

“The GM thanked us for coming to see him and personally informing him of what happened. He said that the Renaissance Hotel always aims to make every customer happy and comfortable and that what happened to us went directly against what the whole hospitality industry stood for. He asked us if we wanted to dialogue with the day duty manager. We agreed. He stepped out to fetch her and sat all of us down together. The duty manager started by telling us that what took place the day prior was also very difficult for her; but for whatever it was worth she wanted to extend her apologies to us. Rica told the duty manager that as a manager herself, she knew that there were ways of treating people without disrespecting them. She added that for the weekend, she just wanted me and her to have a great time but it was ruined by the incident at the sauna which Rica felt the duty manager mishandled.”

“I pointedly told the duty manager that when we travel abroad nothing of this sort ever happens to us. Only in our country do we get treated so inhumanly because of people like her. That is why, in spite of the fact that we love our country very much and think it is a very beautiful country indeed, we feel that we must leave it because no matter how hard we work, no matter what good schools we come from, no matter what we personally achieve, people like her will always make us feel bad about ourselves. Rica told the duty manager and the GM that even if we accepted both of their apologies, we still felt that the proper redress to what occurred the day before was for us to document it and lodge a formal complaint within the Marriott system. Rica asked for the GM’s email address and told him that we will send him our letter the soonest time possible with recommendations on how to handle transgender guests and ensure that the Renaissance Makati City Hotel Manila is able to provide the best quality customer service to all its clients regardless of their sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. Rica left the GM her calling card while the GM gave both of us his.”

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“We thanked both the GM and the duty manager for their time and willingness to listen and proceeded to the pool. We only had an hour left at that point to have our morning swim. After enjoying the pool for the last time, Rica and I went back to our room. A few moments later, a fruit basket was delivered to us. It was from the duty manager accompanied by a personal letter of apology from her.”

The Launch of the Transpinay Identity: Transpinay the Other Filipina

In 1987, in their attempt at self-definition, transsexual women in Malaysia coined the term “mak nyah”. Malaysian transgender activist Khartini Slamah explained that they did this “because we…wanted to define ourselves from a vantage point of dignity rather than from the position of derogation in which Malaysian society has located us.”

The Philippines, just like Malaysia, does not have any local term to describe the transsexual experience. Transsexual women are often called “bakla” or “gay” by Filipino society. These terms imply that a Filipina transsexual woman is a man rather than a woman. Because of this, following the footsteps of mak nyahs, STRAP coined the term “transpinay”.

During the 2008 Manila Pride March, STRAP launched the transpinay identity. STRAP members joined the march wearing the terno, a traditional Filipina dress, while they ride the kalesa (horse carriage).

STRAP explains the transpinay identity: “TRANSPINAY means a female human being of Philippine descent who was given a male sex assignment at birth. It is a combination of the words transsexual, someone whose gender identity is directly opposite of his/her sex assignment at birth, and Pinay, the local term for Filipina, a girl/woman from the Philippines.This was proposed during one of our support group meetings and was voted upon by the general membership of STRAP. Other proposed terms were Transbabae and Transfilipina.

As compared to local terms such as bakla and bayot, transpinay doesn’t include homosexual males. Transpinay isn’t about sexual orientation or preference. A transpinay can be sexually/romantically attracted to other females (in that she is a lesbian), to males (in that she is straight), to both males and females (in that she is a bisexual), or to none at all (in that she is asexual).

As compared to the nascent term ladyboy, transpinay doesn’t maliciously or unwittingly call a girl/woman of transsexual experience a “boy/man”. Calling a transpinay a ladyboy is no different from simply calling her a “boy/man”, an offensive act.

A transpinay is not a homosexual/gay man nor a boy/man who is ladylike. A transpinay is not a crossdresser; she is not a boy/man who likes to dress. A transpinay is not a variation of male but a variation of female. A transpinay may be pre-op (have not yet have sex reassignment surgery but desires to have undergo it), post-op (have already had sex reassignment surgery), or non-op (does not desire to have sex reassignment surgery). All the same, no matter what their genital surgery status is, they are all females. A transpinay is not a boy/man wanting to be a “real” girl/woman – she is already one.

We acknowledge that TRANSPINAY, just like any other word, cannot adequately stand-in for what we actually are. Nonetheless, TRANSPINAY symbolizes our right to define our gender identity: A movement to reclaim that right from other cultural forces.”

The transpinay identity is now becoming widely-used. In 2009, GMA 7, one of the Philippines major network, had a documentary with Transpinay as its title. It featured the lives of several transpinays, which include trans beauty pageant legends Kristine Madrigal and Barbie Arcache.

OTHER ARTICLES IN THE SERIES:
Part 1 – Our Brave New World
Part 2 – Confronting Sexual Violence
Part 3 – Challenging Discrimination in Establishments
Part 4 – Speaking Out Against Discrimination Based on Gender Expression
Part 5 – The Rise of the Power Transpinays

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

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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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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From the Editor

3 HIV-related questions (plus sub-questions) to ask re the PhilHealth scam

Every PLHIV is allocated P30,000 per year. As of April 2019, 37,091 PLHIVs are on treatment. Multiply that by P30,000 per person (per OHAT Package/coverage), and the amount involved here is P1,112,730,000. Too much money involved for us not to ask how the money is getting spent.

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Here are the facts:

  • As early as last year, two former employees of WellMed Dialysis Center already reported that it has been forging signatures of patients who have long died to file claims from the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) from 2016-2018.
  • Typical in the Philippines (e.g. think of Napoles, PDAF, fertilizer scandal, et cetera), this was soon “forgotten” (or at least not as widely covered anymore particularly by mainstream media, so not gaining traction with the public). That is, until June, when the Philippine Daily Inquirer detailed the scam (again) via an investigative report.
  • Still in June, President Rodrigo Duterte said he would “reorganize” PhilHealth after the agency lost some P154 billion to “ghost” patients and deliveries.
  • WellMed Dialysis Center’s accreditation was (finally) withdrawn in June. But in a privilege speech, Sen. Panfilo Lacson alleged that PhilHealth continued to pay WellMed Dialysis Center even after its accreditation was suspended because of its involvement in a scam.
  • A hearing was started by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee (chaired by Richard Gordon) to look at the allegations of corruption in the Department of Health (DoH), and – yes – PhilHealth.

Now why is this issue important to PLHIVs and those in the HIV advocacy in the Philippines?

Aside from the fact that there may be LGBTQIA Filipinos who may also be needing dialysis, the money that actually pays for the “free” treatment and antiretroviral medicines of Filipinos living with HIV come from PhilHealth.

No, darling, you don’t get “free” meds; a PLHIV is expected to enroll in PhilHealth before he/she can access the treatment. Meaning, YOU are paying for your treatment via your P2,400 (if voluntary) PhilHealth contribution. Anyone who tells you the meds are “free” is hiding the truth from you, or is outright lying to you.

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And so the talk about stealing P154 billion should be an issue to PLHIVs and those serving them; particularly since it is not rare to encounter service providers who say that they can only offer shitty (and often lacking) TCS (treatment, care and support) services because there’s no money available (DUH!).

Every PLHIV is allocated P30,000 per year. As of April 2019, 37,091 PLHIVs are on treatment. Multiply that by P30,000 per person (per OHAT Package/coverage), and the amount involved here is P1,112,730,000.

Now off my head, here are a few questions that should also be asked as we tackle the PhilHealth scam (and questions that particularly touch on HIV in the Philippines).

1. Does PhilHealth monitor the use of the OHAT package, or they solely rely on reports that can – apparently, as the case of WellMed Dialysis Center highlighted – be faked/made up? Can individuals access the individual reports filed for them (on the use of their OHAT package)? If there’s none, why not? If these can be accessed, are there mechanisms to question the same?

These questions have to do with whether a PLHIV actually uses his/her allocation.

The Outpatient HIV/AIDS Treatment (OHAT) Package covers: drugs and medications; laboratory examinations based on the specific treatment guideline including Cluster of Differentiation 4 (CD4) level determination test, viral load (if warranted), and test for monitoring anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs toxicity; and professional fees of providers.

But in 2015, when interviewed by Outrage Magazine, PhilHealth’s Medical Specialist III and Millennium Development Goals Benefit Products Team Head Dr. Mary Antoinette Remonte said that “it has come to our attention that some treatment hubs charge for some laboratory tests, even after the release of the OHAT Package circular.” And so while the circular may specifically mention covered items, the same circular should not be taken too literally.

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For instance, VL is not included in the circular, but if a PLHIV needs “viral load, if it’s really needed, they can still charge it on the OHAT package. Any laboratory tests related to ART treatment, they can use the OHAT Package for it.” For Remonte, “even if viral load testing was not written in the first circular, it was already included in the coverage.”

2. The baseline tests are still not specified in the circular/OHAT Package. This is why many PLHIVs are lost to TCS – i.e. they are told to pay for their own tests (e.g. chest X-ray, CBC) before they can get their hands on the life-saving meds (the ARVs). Why is this idiotically still not included in the OHAT Package, and even knowing that (many) PLHIVs won’t end up consuming the P30,000 allocated them anyway?

3. Do they also withdraw the accreditation of treatment hubs/clinics/satellite clinics that claim the P30,000 even if they did not actually use the entire amount for the use of the PLHIV? Has there ever been a service provider that lost its accreditation because of non-delivery of services?

We have spoken with PLHIVs who were told to get lab tests outside of their treatment hubs (e.g. chest X-ray, VL, CD4 count); they were told to pay for the same. No, they may NOT use their OHAT Package for the same, a handful of them were told. They have to shell out their OWN money.

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The thing is, if these are already supposedly covered by PhilHealth, why the additional expenses? Who then benefits from the OHAT Package? The service providers not offering the services and yet getting the money? Isn’t this theft? And if one thinks so, what are the mechanisms for complaining? Are there any at all?

Let’s be blunt here: If these are not answered, here’s another avenue where profiteering is happening via PhilHealth, and at the expense of PLHIVs.

To end, let me state this to stress this: Every PLHIV is allocated P30,000 per year. As of April 2019, 37,091 PLHIVs are on treatment. Multiply that by P30,000 per person (per OHAT Package/coverage), and the amount involved here is P1,112,730,000.

Too much money involved and yet service providers still often saying “there’s no money” to help PLHIVs…

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Op-Ed

Looking beyond the ‘banyo’

With Gretchen Diez – after only a few days in the limelight – now claiming to be the “face of the LGBT movement”, Posit Bo says her narrative needs to be revisited. Particularly since, while there were procedural lapses, verbal abuse and negligence, he asks: Was there really discrimination if we try to look into the facts?

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Photo by @curology from Unsplash.com

In Toledo v. Hydenu (652 PHIL 70), the court stated that: He who comes into equity must come with a clean hands.

You have heard the word “discrimination” this week more than you may usually have heard it, at least in the previous months; that is, if  you fortunately haven’t experienced being discriminated. But what do  you know about discrimination?

The term is not exclusive to a particular: race, gender, religion, nor age. It is all encompassing. Discrimination does not discriminate. This is the very reason that necessitates the legislation of a more specific Anti-Discrimination Policy. A policy that should look and go beyond how it is being highlighted today, an issue of restroom usage.

When one person is rejected for employment by reason of SOGIE, that is discrimination in the workplace. When one is barred from enjoying a service by reason of SOGIE, that is discrimination in providing goods or rendering services. When one is prohibited from learning in a nonsectarian academic institution, that is discrimination in education. But when one is barred by reason of SOGIE in entering the female restroom, that is a multifaceted discussion.

While, every single public hearings and consultations can be attributed to the banyo incident, the debates have been constrained in the hallowed halls of Farmers Plaza restroom. There are more pressing issues related to SOGIE Equality Bill that is negligently missed amidst this discussion.

In using a specific individual as the face of SOGIE Equality Bill, the discussion hasn’t been substantiated by the pivotal provisions of the proposed law. The ‘star’ has been branded as your “Banyo Queen” since day one; but that’s on her, as she herself failed to elevate the discourse by repetitively echoing inequality in bathroom usage.

Be that as it may, let us thoroughly consider the facts of the matter, whether or not the banyo incident can be “the face of the LGBTQIA+ movement”.

You may see that this is a clear case of discrimination based on SOGIE in consideration of the given narrative by the complainant. Yes, there was a violation of the Gender Fair Ordinance of Quezon City as admitted by Farmers Plaza Management. The violation being their failure to provide a gender neutral restroom as required by the City Ordinance.

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But was there a discrimination based on SOGIE by verbal, nonverbal ridicule, and vilification or in rendering services?

First, the janitress is employed by an independent contractor and not by Farmers Plaza. There exist no relationship between the janitress and Farmers Plaza. Thus, the janitress is personally accountable for her actions;

Second, the janitress acted upon an aggression which was made and documented by the complainant herself but later deleted to better fit her narrative of an outright discrimination by the janitress. In the now deleted first Facebook live video, the complainant was nicely asked by the janitress to do two things, namely: (a) to use the male restroom instead of the female restroom acting upon an alleged complaint of female customers of Farmers Plaza, and (2)  to cease from the unauthorized recording of the janitress in doing her job in assisting mall clients on queue towards the restroom;

Third, the Facebook live videos while taken in plain sight of the public, it was still taken inside a privately owned vicinity which could be well regulated by policies of the owner and management e.g. video recording private individuals in the performance of their private employment; and

Fourth; in the deleted first Facebook live, the complainant voluntarily heeded by saying “ahh hmmm okay” in going to the security office with the janitress upon prior warning that she’ll be brought in the office for refusal to cease from the unauthorized documentation.

The complainant was brought into the security office not by reason of her SOGIE. She was escorted to the security office for failure to cease from her unauthorized recording. The verbal abuse as seen on the viral Facebook live was a retaliatory attack by the janitress after the complainant pried into the privacy of the former. Yes, the attack made by the janitress is inexcusable, but this wasn’t said and done on the basis of the complainant’s SOGIE.

If there wasn’t anything to hide, why was there a first Facebook live video deliberately deleted by the complainant? Why did the complainant only retain two videos that would fit her narrative of SOGIE-related discrimination? Why, Miss Complainant?

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The apprehension of the complainant by police officers from QCPD station 7 was an arrest made based on their knowledge of a crime which has been committed by the complainant. The complaint charged and that was latter dropped was unjust vexation against the janitress. Again, the arrest was not by reason of the complainant’s SOGIE but by her actions after she was reprimanded by the janitress outside the CR. This does not, however, excuse the police officers from their failure to take the complainant’s statements immediately after her apprehension.

When the community came to rescue Miss Complainant from being locked behind bars, the charges for unjust vexation against her were dropped by the janitress; because at that time, she had an instantaneous realization that her actions were inexcusable. A settlement was made, that was what they said. But three days later, on the day Miss Complainant filed her case against Farmers Plaza, she mentioned about the possible filing of appropriate charges against the janitress. Apparently, the settlement was onerous for the janitress rather than being reciprocal for both parties. This scenario speak volumes of the status quo of our human rights in the Philippines.

Certainly, there were procedural lapses, verbal abuse, and negligence; but there wasn’t any form of discrimination, only if we try to look into the matter of facts. The complainant, janitress, and QCPD Station 7 are all accountable for their action or inaction. This is a story which must be appreciated fully by examining all the possible sides without favoring one over another because of our personal biases. This must be a learning experience for all the parties that are involved. But must not be used to advance one interest at the expense of another.

Posit Bo: “The LGBTQIA+ community does not need a face that epitomizes lack of knowledge and understanding of the cause. The community does not need to represented by an individual who anchors her cause in magnifying her story alone; because this movement is more than one story, that transcends from one generation to another.”

After the incident, you have seen traditional politicians rallying behind the complainant, as she declares, LGBTQIA+ rights as human rights. The public had to unconsciously endure the pain of seeing supporters of a human rights violator rally behind Miss Complainant. LGBTQIA+ rights and human rights are not mutually exclusive. While supporting LGBTQIA+ rights as human rights, these politicians should know that they must concede in supporting the call against the lowering of criminal liability and the re-imposition of death penalty; because, these two issues are also human rights-related.

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There are other mechanisms that will advance and promote the discussion of SOGIE in the country without the need of being used by different organizations and political parties. This is a nonpolitical issue that needs to be dealt through an appropriate social legislation rather than by politicking. Using the LGBTQIA+ community in politicizing our own cause must, at all cost, end now! This community is more than your number of votes that you use at your convenience. The LGBTQIA+ community should refuse being treated as dispensables, simply because we are not!

The LGBTQIA+ community does not need a face that epitomizes lack of knowledge and understanding of the cause. The community does not need to represented by an individual who anchors her cause in magnifying her story alone; because this movement is more than one story, that transcends from one generation to another.

The true face of the LGBTQIA+ community is more than one individual; because, you are not alone. No, not one individual and organization can take credit of the cause. After-all, this is the LGBTQIA+ COMMUNITY, no one should be left behind neither should anyone be one step ahead of everyone. There may be several groups with different perspective; but bound by a single community sharing a communal interest that is the SOGIE Equality Bill.

People should start learning how to dissociate their self-vested interest from the advocacy. While one voice can be used to uproar the passing of SOGIE Equality Bill, the voice must also be admonished if it doesn’t reflect the majority of the community. The voice must be silenced when it still continues to purvey false advocacy. If this is not done, the noble cause will be tainted. SOGIE Equality Bill must not in anyway be used to place one person on the spotlight for all the wrong reasons; let us not tolerate.

While the discussion has been fueled by the banyo incident, this urgently needs to get out of the banyo before it even stinks and splatters at the expense of the LGBTQIA+ advocacy. It is time that we hear the genuine and unheard stories of SOGIE-based discrimination.

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