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Reflections of a Filipino LGBT Activist and SOGI Human Rights Defender

Atty. Germaine Trittle P. Leonin “strongly enjoins the Philippine government to finally have a national policy for protecting the rights of Filipino LGBTs and to pass appropriate legislations that will address our unique concerns” in this speech delivered in a gathering organized by ARC International in Geneva, Switzerland.

By Atty. Germaine Trittle P. Leonin

This speech was delivered at a side event/panel – entitled “LGBT Rights: Perspectives on the High Commissioner’s Report” – organized by ARC International to discuss SOGI rights in September 2012 in Geneva, Switzerland.  Atty. Germaine Trittle P. Leonin is the founding president and current policy and advocacy coordinator for Rainbow Rights Project Inc. (R-Rights).  She is also the third Congressional Nominee of Ladlad, the only political party for LGBTs in the Philippines.

Joint statements and resolutions on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (SOGI) have been delivered at the United Nations General Assembly and Human Rights Council since the early 2000s. But it wasn’t until 2010, and under UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, that SOGI and the human rights of sexual minorities were given the due attention they deserve in the UN system.

We remember that at the vote for amending the UN Resolution on Extra-judicial Executions, the resulting 79-70 vote managed to remove a “10-year old provision” stating that no one should be summarily executed or arbitrarily killed because of one’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

UN Sec-Gen thus declared in September 2010 in Geneva, “Laws criminalizing people on grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity violate the principle of non-discrimination. They also fuel violence, help to legitimize homophobia and contribute to a climate of hate…Social attitudes run deep and take time to change. But cultural considerations should not stand in the way of basic human rights.”

Fortunately, in December 2010, the United States proposed an amendment retaining the “sexual orientation” provision and it was adopted by a vote of 93-55, with 27 abstentions.

Once again, Ban Ki Moon declared in New York, “As men and women of conscience, we reject discrimination in general, and in particular discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. When individuals are attacked, abused, or imprisoned because of their sexual orientation, we must speak out.. Where there is tension between cultural attitudes and universal human rights, universal human rights must carry the day..

At the vote of the above-mentioned controversial resolution, my home country was one of those States which unfortunately abstained. But this was expected since the Philippine Government has yet to adopt a clear human rights framework that is inclusive of sexual minorities and explicitly addresses human rights violations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI).

Even with the absence of laws criminalizing homosexuality, Philippine society has adhered to a patriarchal and deeply embedded influence of Catholicism in the social and political sphere. The State has perpetuated gender-defined social norms that promote stereotypes, prejudice and the stigmatization of LGBT persons.

Thus, such representations by the Philippines at the UN have been a big disappointment for the whole Filipino LGBT Community who know all too well the discrimination and violence one can be subjected to, including the risk of being killed in a hate crime. In a report titled “The Status of LGBT Rights in the Philippines, Submission to the Human Rights Council for the Universal Periodic Review 13th Session,” the groups Rainbow Rights Project (R-Rights) and the Philippine LGBT Hate Crime Watch (HCW) submitted a long list of violations of human rights based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

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To date, many of us still do not get equal opportunity in employment and are deprived of the right to earn a decent living. Even with the proper education, training and experience, some LGBTs are not hired, promoted or given the opportunity for professional advancement in the workplace. LGBT youth are also deprived of their right to education when their schools expel them or subject them disciplinary sanctions because of their actual, or perceived, homosexual tendencies. Instead of proper guidance and healthy advise to become stable and productive adults, our young LGBTs are driven to self-hate and destructive behaviour, and worse, even suicide. In the area of public services, LGBTs only ask that they are not denied entry from business establishments and facilities that are open to the general public, that they also have equal access to medical and health services, and that should they not be subjected to harassment, extortion or insensitive treatment from law enforcement personnel.

According to the Philippine LGBT Hate Crime Watch research on violence against the LGBT population in the Philippines, as of the end of 2011, around 164 deaths of LGBTs with varying elements of motives of hate or bias, extrajudicial killing, and/or discrimination-related violence related to sexual orientation and gender identity have been documented in mass media reports and oral testimonies since 1996. As I reported here early in March this year, during the first quarter of 2012 alone, there was more than a dozen gay killings in the Philippines already. Recently, a video of the actual murder of a homosexual doctor recorded on the cellphone by one of the 2 young men he welcomed into his home was released in the media and was used by authorities as evidence in the commission of the crime.

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In December 2011, the first UN report on Discriminatory Laws and Practices and acts of violence against individuals based on their sexual orientation and gender identity was submitted by the High Commissioner on HR, and in March (2012) this year, the first UN panel discussion ending human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity was held.

The High Commissioner Navy Pillay’s report acknowledged that in all regions, people experience violence and discrimination because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In many cases, even the perception of homosexuality or transgender identity puts people at risk. While not addressing all violations perpetrated in relation to sexual orientation or gender identity, the groundbreaking report highlights critical human rights concerns that States have an obligation to address, and highlights emerging responses.

Sexual orientation, like gender and race, relates to the fundamental aspects of human identity. While formally defined as the pattern or direction of sexual and emotional attraction and conduct, sexual orientation relates to the “deepest affairs of the heart, the innermost desires of the mind, and the most intimate expressions of the body”.  In other words, it goes into the very core of what it means to be human.

Consequently, Human Rights are founded on the concept of respect for the inherent dignity and worth of a human being. The right to freely determine one’s sexual orientation and the right to express it without fear are human rights in the fullest sense. As such, lesbian and gay rights and issues belong to the human rights agenda because the nature and scale of the abuses that LGBT people regularly suffer undermines the whole protective framework of human rights by taking away its very foundation – equal rights and dignity of all human beings. Human rights, therefore, include the right to be free from discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity, as well as the right to equality and fair treatment before the law. And to live “in dignity” means being entitled to freedom, security and decent standards of living in a concurrent and indivisible sense.

Therefore, gay and lesbian issues and problems as part of the human rights agenda crosses into both categories of human rights; those that are “liberty-oriented” and those which are “security-oriented”. They seek to ensure the Civil and Political Rights or “liberty rights” such as the right to life, liberty and security, freedom of expression, and freedom of association and assembly. They also ensure Social and Economic Rights or “security rights“ such as the right to work, education, food, shelter, and a decent standard of living.

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The Filipino LGBT Community does not ask for “special” rights; we only ask that the Constitutional provision of equal protection of the laws likewise be applied to us and that our basic human rights are protected. As human rights defenders, we believe that Filipino LGBTs deserve the same opportunities for self-determination and development, and that includes giving our LGBT youth proper access to education, and our qualified and eligible LGBT workforce equal chances of finding employment.

We strongly enjoin the Philippine Government to finally have a national policy for protecting the rights of Filipino LGBTs and to pass appropriate legislations that will address our unique concerns. In fact, with the Philippines’ reputation of abiding by international human rights standards and complying with our obligations under human rights conventions, adopting such a national policy tackling sexual orientation and gender identity would not be contrary to any international human rights principle or our Constitution.

Currently, there are two pending bills in the Lower House and Senate that explicitly mention “sexual orientation” as a criteria for non-discrimination, and some legislators are intent with doing away with it as a basis for an anti-discrimination legislation. With the UN system and other Member States help, it is imperative that this present Philippine Congress finally passes an appropriate Anti-Discrimination law that will promote the welfare of Filipino LGBTs, and ensure the protection of their human rights.

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