On September 20, 2017, jubilation broke at the session hall of the Philippines’ House of Representatives following the passage on the third and final reading of House Bill No. 4982, otherwise known as the SOGIE Equality Bill. It was a well-earned euphoria.
This bill – at that time the latest iteration of the LGBTQIA anti-discrimination bill (ADB) – was first filed in the 11th Congress by Akbayan Party-List Representative Etta Rosales (that was then the 17th Congress); and almost 20 years have passed since that first bill was passed. Prior to 2017, the ADB only really progressed in the 12th Congress, when it was approved on third and final reading (though it failed to gain traction in the Senate). It was again only in 2006, during the 13th Congress, when the ADB reached second reading.
The SOGIE Equality Bill got the nod of 197 congresspeople, with none opposing it.
But then the landmark bill waited for a counterpart version in the Senate… until its death when a new Congress was elected, with HB 4982 going to waste just like its predecessors.
LIMITATIONS OF LAWS
That having a law in place to protect the human rights of LGBTQIA Filipinos is relevant; but it may be worth highlighting that laws are – by nature – top-to-bottom solutions; meaning, sans acceptance by any community of any law, their implementation will always be jeopardized.
Rep. Geraldine B. Roman of the 1st District of Bataan – following the successful lobbying of the SOGIE Equality Bill – is cognizant of the top-to-bottom approach of laws, i.e. that laws “dictate” what should be done, but implementing the same may not be as easy. All the same, for Roman, the ADB “has been languishing for (a long time, so) it has drummed up so much expectation. I’m very sure that with the passage of this bill, the information will trickle down even in the communities,” Roman said to Outrage Magazine in an earlier interview.
Still – sans legal protection, or perhaps even when an ADB is finally signed into law – grassroots LGBTQIA people may still not be guaranteed to have Pride.
This may be notable in localities with anti-discrimination ordinances, and where LGBTQIA-related discrimination may already be banned yet continues to happen/be reported.
Davao City, for instance, has City Ordinance No. 0417-12, which was enacted on December 12, 2012 to specifically look at discrimination happening in employment, education, delivery of goods and services, and accommodation. Reports reaching Outrage Magazine, however, highlight how many members of the LGBTQIA community in Davao City are not even familiar with this ADO, and discriminatory acts still happen without anybody getting punished for these.
Also in 2012, Cebu City passed the “Cebu City Anti-Discrimination Ordinance” that makes it illegal to “discriminate any person and/or group of persons on the basis of their disability, age, health status, sexual orientation, gender identity, ethnicity and religion.” Nonetheless, reports reaching Outrage Magazine also highlight ant-LGBTQIA activities – e.g. trans women getting barred from accessing establishments.
PARADING FOR ‘PRIDE’
In June 2019, Metro Manila held its annual Pride parade, with the number of participants estimated to have reached 50,000, making it the biggest such gathering for the country. With 15 floats mostly from the private sector that (finally) decided it wanted to buy into the LGBTQIA market, it came as no surprise for Metro Manila’s Pride to be considered as one of Forbes Magazine’s “Top 5 Cities To Celebrate Pride Month In Asia This Year.”
All over the country, similar parades have started to mushroom, at least giving spotlight to the local LGBTQIA communities. Zamboanga City, for instance, held its first Pride parade in October 2017. Iloilo City held its Pride parade also in October 2017 (with a barangay, Sto. Nino, holding its own Pride parade in July 2017). And Southern Tagalog held its Pride parade in November 2017.
But for Disney Aguila, chairperson of TransDeaf Philippines (an organization for Deaf transwomen in the Philippines), “the concept of Pride has been limited to ‘celebrating LGBT diversity every June’,” she said in Filipino Sign Language (FSL).
Aguila recognizes the relevance of “being seen,” she said, “particularly as we look for (mainstream) acceptance.” But for her, “if Pride is only month-long, what happens the rest of the year?”
In the case of the Deaf LGBTQIA community, there were actually Deaf-specific projects that are implemented by Hearing people sans participation of members of the Deaf community. Also, even if the earlier versions of the ADB specifically mentioned “persons with disability” (PWD, including Deaf LGBTQIA people), no version of the bill was ever translated to Filipino Sign Language so the Deaf LGBTQIA community could understand it better.
For Aguila, “non-inclusion does not give us Pride.” And so for her, “it’s important to advocate for respect for all members of the LGBTQIA community,” Aguila said, emphasizing “and I mean ALL.”
But for Ramon C. Busa, current head of the Home for the Golden Gays (HGG), the concept of Pride should “go beyond (narratives) we’re familiar with, including having ADOs or ADB, and even ‘celebrating’ through parades.”
In the case of HGG, in particular, “for the longest time, our issues (have not changed),” Busa said. “The issues affecting us remain the same.”
These issues revolve around “sa pangangailangan naming ng matitirahan (our need to have a place to call home),” he said, believing that “if (or members finally find a place to call home), we’d be able to make a living – perhaps open a karinderya (eatery) or a parlor (salon).”
And so for Busa, “Pride has yet to reach us.”
HGG was established in 1969 by the late Justo Justo as both a retirement house and figurative home for senior LGBT Filipinos. But when he died in 2012, the actual/physical home used by its more than 40 members in Pasay City was taken from them, leaving them to “look after ourselves.”
And doing this – i.e. looking after its members – is “no easy task,” Busa said, adding that “ni singkong duling (even a cent), we have not received funding assistance from any government agency.”
One member of HGG recalled joining Pride gatherings in the past. It was “a blast,” he smiled, “kasi ang mga tao nagpapa-picture sa amin (people would have their pictures taken with us).” But he is first to acknowledge that “matapos ang parada, nganga (after the parade, nothing ever happens).”
In this way, he said, “ewan kung may (true representation) ang seniors (I’m not sure if seniors are truly represented in Pride).”
Busa said that looking back, he recognizes the “at times tokenistic use of our sector.” When the early versions of the ADB were drafted, for instance, “kahit minsan, di naman kami inimbita (we weren’t invited even once),” he said. And this is “surprising kasi kasama naman kami sa mga daoat na hindi i-discriminate (we are also among those who should not experience discrimination). As LGBTQIA people. And as seniors.”
FINDING A DEFINITION OF ‘PRIDE’
It is, therefore, not surprising that – with the distinct (and varying) concepts of what constitutes as Pride – looking for the same also continues to evolve.
According to Ash Gevera, who helms United Lesbians of Davao (ULD) in Mindanao, “Pride is (very personal). For instance, I never, for a second, doubted myself or my capabilities as an individual and as part of the LGBT community.” And so this is something she – through her lesbian organization that helps organize the Pride parade in Davao City – wants other LGBTQIA people to learn, too.
And thus far, Gevera said, the self-empowerment lessons have taught members well. “Two years ago, we were just some lesbians who wanted to do something good in the community,” she said. The “doing good” was achieved through outreach activities; but beyond this, “I now see more and more of them come out and take pride in who they are.” And for Gevera, this is relevant in truly promoting Pride because – aside from the involvement in helping others – it “teaches the relevance of being good to oneself; owning your personhood.”
This was seconded by Ico Rodulfo Johnson, who helms HIV organization The Red Ribbon Project Inc. (TRR).
“The core of Pride is coming out and living out and proud,” Johnson said, adding that this could prove challenging for people living with HIV (PLHIVs) because of the “layers” of identity they need to contend with – i.e. as a member of the LGBT community, and as a PLHIV. Johnson said that TRR has members “who are combating life-threatening illnesses; this on top of putting up with the stigma and discrimination (they already encounter simply because of their HIV status, aside from their being LGBT).
And so in TRR’s case, “we empower people living with HIV to come out, and live their life without fear of stigma and discrimination,” Johnson said. “The life-or-death struggle (of PLHIVs) adds a layer of urgency to Pride… Not only are our members identifying Pride as ‘living out and proud’, it is also a matter of life or death, and is therefore also a human rights issue.”
In Antipolo – at the outskirts of Metro Manila – Pride has largely focused on the glitzy. The Transpinay of Antipolo Organization (TAO), for instance, hosts the Queen of Antipolo, a beauty pageant for trans women, since 2012.
“It has become a way for us to celebrate (our identity),” said Shane R. Parreno, TAO chairperson.
And while others may just dismiss it as “mere entertainment”, “for us, it’s a valid form of promoting (the local) LGBTQIA community not only for entertainment, but also to showcase (how we can) contribute in our locality.”
Aside from the pageant, TAO – of course – also holds outreach activities that benefit non-LGBT communities.
For ULD’s Gevera, the journey isn’t over yet, as she stressed that “until others – a brother, sister, mother, father, relative or a friend who is also LGBTQIA – can claim the same ‘Pride’, then true Pride isn’t here yet.” There’s also the need to “make Pride inclusive and not limited to the LGBT community.” This means “seeing the intersectionalities of our issues. If others (who are also discriminated against) can’t claim Pride, then (we need to reconsider our notions of Pride).”
WANTED: INCLUSIVE PRIDE
In Pasay City, the HGG member interviewed by Outrage Magazine recalled living on the streets with “nothing but some clothes at payong na regalo lang sa akin (and an umbrella that was just given to me) to protect me when it rains,” he said. It was there where the barangay captain found him and offered him a job as a street sweeper, getting paid P1,000.00 per month. It was the same local official who provided him alternative housing, allowing him to live in an abandoned – and condemned – property in Pasay City.
“Andito pa rin ako (I’m still here),” he said. “Sanay na sa mga pangako ng tulong (Used to broken promises).”
He believes he’s “luckier” than others. A close friend of his, and another HGG member, 85-year-old Rolly, lives in the wet market in a town in Bulacan. “Bulag na siya kaya hinahayaan na lang siya ng mga tao (He is now blind so people just let him be),” he said. “Wala nang pride; nahihiya man wala naman magawa (He doesn’t take pride in what became of him; and while he may be ashamed, there’s nothing can do anymore).”
TransDeaf Philippines’s Aguila is more terse: “Include us not as tokens.”
For TRR’s Johnson, “as with any diverse group of individuals, the LGBT and PLHIV communities are broad, and so it’s important that the leaders realize that not everyone will think the same way they do, or even see the world through the same lens/es,” he said. “Starting with seeing different viewpoints and even soliciting ideas from the community members is a good start to make Pride as inclusive as possible.”