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Small steps to equality

Being LGBT in Asia: The Philippines Country Report – released by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) – highlights the continuing challenges faced by LGBT people in their daily lives. As Michael David C. Tan, who authored the country report, says, “there are success stories that seem to show that LGBT Filipinos are – finally – getting ‘accepted’ by society. (But) we need to realize that we’ve barely scratched the surface. So much still needs to be done.”

At the launch of the "Being LGBT in Asia: The Philippine Country Report", with (from left) Michael David C. Tan, R-Rights's Angie Umbac, and TLF Share Collective's Jonas Bagas. “There are success stories that seem to show that LGBT Filipinos are – finally – getting ‘accepted’ by society. (But) we need to realize that we've barely scratched the surface. So much still needs to be done before we can finally say that LGBT people are treated as equals of non-LGBT people," Tan says. PHOTO COURTESY OF BELLA MARDS CALBAS OF GANDA FILIPINAS

Being LGBT

In 2005, Marlon Lacsamana filed a criminal case before the Quezon City Prosecutor’s Office against Miriam College, which terminated his employment after Lacsamana participated in a “symbolic wedding” with his partner of five years. Lacsamana claimed that he later learned that he was dismissed because of his same-sex marriage, which Miriam College considers as immoral. Lacsamana also filed a complaint before the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) for illegal dismissal.

Lacsamana’s move was, in a way, pioneering, as it attempted to check the merit of Quezon City’s employment-related anti-discrimination ordinance. Specifically, in 2003, City Ordinance SP-1309 was passed in Quezon City to prohibit “all discriminatory acts against homosexuals in the matter of hiring, treatment, promotion or dismissal in any office in Quezon City, whether in the government or private sector.” To punish those who violate the law, sanctions include imprisonment up to six months and/or a fine of P5,000.

Over six months after Lacsamana filed the case, however, the prosecutor’s office dismissed it because the case remains pending before the NLRC.

If at all, Lacsamana’s case highlights how there may have been notable successes for the LGBT community in the Philippines (such as the existing anti-discrimination ordinance), but much remains to be done before LGBT Filipinos can claim that their human rights are upheld.

At the launch of the "Being LGBT in Asia: The Philippine Country Report", with (from left) Michael David C. Tan, R-Rights's Angie Umbac, and TLF Share Collective's Jonas Bagas. “There are success stories that seem to show that LGBT Filipinos are – finally – getting ‘accepted’ by society. (But) we need to realize that we've barely scratched the surface. So much still needs to be done before we can finally say that LGBT people are treated as equals of non-LGBT people," Tan says. PHOTO COURTESY OF BELLA MARDS CALBAY OF GANDA FILIPINAS

At the launch of the “Being LGBT in Asia: The Philippine Country Report”, with (from left) Michael David C. Tan, R-Rights’s Angie Umbac, and TLF Share Collective’s Jonas Bagas.
“There are success stories that seem to show that LGBT Filipinos are – finally – getting ‘accepted’ by society. (But) we need to realize that we’ve barely scratched the surface. So much still needs to be done before we can finally say that LGBT people are treated as equals of non-LGBT people,” Tan says.
PHOTO COURTESY OF BELLA MARDS CALBAY OF GANDA FILIPINAS

This was also the take-home point from Being LGBT in Asia: The Philippines Country Report, which was released by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as part of the “Being LGBT in Asia” initiative (a video taken from the launch is below), which looked at reviewing and analyzing the legal and social environment for LGBT persons and civil society.

TINY MOVEMENTS

Michael David C. Tan, who authored the country report, admitted that “there are success stories that seem to show that LGBT Filipinos are – finally – getting ‘accepted’ by society. At least superficially, when we look at these success stories, we seem to be finally getting somewhere.”

Aside from Quezon City’s employment-related anti-discrimination ordinance, other notable developments that should benefit the LGBT community in the Philippines include the anti-discrimination ordinances (ADOs) on the cities of Cebu, Angeles, Davao and Bacolod.

Tan said that these bills “recognize a day-to-day truth for LGBT people – that is, that we are often not treated as equals (by non-LGBT people),” Tan said. “In the absence of a nation-wide law that will ensure that discriminatory acts are not committed against LGBT Filipinos, these ordinances are relevant in ensuring that at least for the LGBT Filipinos in these localities, the same human rights given heterosexual people are also afforded LGBT people.”

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The formation of the LGBT movement in the Philippines is also gaining grounds as more LGBT organizations are getting formed to advocate the various issues affecting members of the community. Documented LGBT organizations now number over 120, with key areas of focus including HIV, human rights, rights of LGBT persons with disability, employment-related issues, and issues of impoverished LGBT people.

Some of these LGBT organizations are also able to form partnerships with various organizations, many of them non-LGBT. The Psychological Association of the Philippines (PAP), for instance, constantly stresses its support of LGBT people, just as it already has LGBT-specific efforts like the release of local LGBT-specific studies. The Philippine Judicial Academy (PhilJA) also conducted a focus group discussion (FGD) to get feedback from the LGBT community to possibly affect judicial decision-making in the future.

However, Tan is first to stress that “we should not be fooled into believing that our lives are, indeed, already getting better.” This is because, for Tan, “even the supposed successes are coupled with even more challenges.”

As an example, Tan cited Cebu City as another LGU with a more encompassing anti-discrimination ordinance, “but many members of the LGBT community in Cebu City continue to report discriminatory acts committed against them, including getting barred from entering private establishments, refusal to be accepted in educational institutions unless LGBT people conform to deny their self-identity, and so on.” This highlights that “even when we have the supposed legal protection, the implementation (of the same) remains wanting. And so LGBT people are not really getting equal treatment.”

HEADING WHERE?

The Being LGBT in Asia: The Philippines Country Report provides recommendations that could serve as guides to help direct the local LGBT community.

On the one hand, there are recommendations that deal with the LGBT community, facilitating strengthening of the LGBT movement. These include: developing a nationwide database that will help inform LGBT Filipinos about where they now stand in the fight for equal rights for all; developing a national political framework; bettering the political education of LGBT Filipinos; and confronting internal discrimination.

“It goes without saying that as a community, for us to be effective, we still have a lot of growing up to do,” Tan said.

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On the other hand, there are recommendations to deal with external factors (that is, from outside the LGBT community) that need to be confronted as they continue to affect the lives of LGBT people. These include: the continuing absence of a nationwide policy that will ensure that the human rights of LGBT people are protected; the need to review/audit existing Philippine laws/policies that inadvertently discriminate against LGBT people (such as the inclusion of homosexuality as a ground for annulling marriages, along with drug addiction and alcohol dependence); and the forming of partnerships with organizations that could help push for the human rights of LGBT people (such as PAP, and PhilJA).

“The more people get involved in the fight for our human rights, the better,” Tan said.

Back in Quezon City, City Ordinance SP-1309 is getting tested again, with a transgender woman named Mara La Torre citing the local law when she filed a complaint for encountering discriminatory acts in her office there.  And so being highlighted is how LGBT people continue not to be afforded their rights.

For Tan, “while we cannot deny that we have done efforts that help make the lives of LGBT people better, we need to realize that we’ve barely scratched the surface. So much still needs to be done before we can finally say that LGBT people are treated as equals of non-LGBT people,” he ended.

Being LGBT in Asia: The Philippine Country Report is available here.

Written By

A registered nurse, John Ryan (or call him "Rye") Mendoza hails from Cagayan de Oro City in Mindanao (where, no, it isn't always as "bloody", as the mainstream media claims it to be, he noted). He first moved to Metro Manila in 2010 (supposedly just to finish a health social science degree), but fell in love not necessarily with the (err, smoggy) place, but it's hustle and bustle. He now divides his time in Mindanao (where he still serves under-represented Indigenous Peoples), and elsewhere (Metro Manila included) to help push for equal rights for LGBT Filipinos. And, yes, he parties, too (see, activists need not be boring! - Ed).

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