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“I never asked to be placed on a pedestal.”

So said Hon. Geraldine B. Roman, the representative in the Lower House/House of Representatives of the 1st District of Bataan; though she is more often just summed up as “the first transgender person to win a seat in Congress in the Philippines”.

For Roman, this is important to stress particularly considering the flak she received after she voted to re-impose the death penalty in the Philippines (Roman was one of the 217 lawmakers who voted for the final approval of House Bill 4727); and after her detractors erroneously claimed that she also voted to defund the Commission on Human Rights (she didn’t; Roman was actually not in Congress during the voting).

“(People) have to deal with us politicians on an issue to issue basis,” Roman said. “I tell people that no hero is 100% right, and no villain is 100% wrong.”

Even while running for office, “I never looked at myself as a trans candidate; just an ordinary candidate, the daughter of a former congressman and former congresswoman from my district,” Rep. Geraldine B. Roman said, adding that “that was basically how I looked at my victory.”

SPEAKING FROM THE HEART

Born in 1967, Roman was the second of four children born into a political family, to Herminia Roman and Antonino Roman Jr. Spending her early childhood in Orani, Bataan, she eventually completed her primary and secondary education in Ateneo de Manila University. She attended the University of the Philippines for college; and then – after securing a scholarship – she pursued journalism at the University of the Basque Country in Spain, attaining two master’s degrees.

Though she worked in Spain as a senior editor for the Spanish News Agency, Roman returned to the Philippines in 2012 to take care of her then ailing father.

In 2016, Roman ran for the position of 1st District Representative for Bataan in the House of Representatives under the former ruling party, Liberal Party. She aimed to replace the then congresswoman Herminia Roman, her mother. Roman handily won with more than 62% of votes, thereby becoming the first ever transgender congresswoman in Philippine Congress.

Even while running for office, “I never looked at myself as a trans candidate; just an ordinary candidate, the daughter of a former congressman and former congresswoman from my district,” Roman said, adding that “that was basically how I looked at my victory.”

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But later on, Roman noted that people were focusing on her being trans, and “to see me as the first transgender person to win a seat in Congress.” With people claiming her as “theirs”, it proved to be a challenge.

“That’s why from the very start, even in my first interviews, I always made it a point to stress the fact that I am first and foremost a representative of the first district of Bataan because the people (there) were the ones who placed me where I am (now),” Roman said.

However, “by extension, of course, I can’t deny the fact that I am a member of the LGBT community.” So Roman decided to “take it upon myself to fight for the rights of the LGBT community.”

As soon as she assumed her post, Roman filed her version of the anti-discrimination bill (ADB).

Roman also gave an impassioned speech in Congress, where she stressed that LGBT people are not asking for special rights, but are only asking for equal rights, since, “with inclusiveness and diversity, our nation has so much to gain.” She stressed then that she “can’t turn my back at the group of people who have long suffered discrimination, and have long been denied adequate legal protection. How can I turn a blind eye to the suffering that I myself experienced in my own life?”

“(People) have to deal with us politicians on an issue to issue basis,” Rep. Geraldine B. Roman said. “I tell people that no hero is 100% right, and no villain is 100% wrong.”

PUSHING FOR LGBTQ EQUALITY

The first ADB was filed in the 11th Congress by Akbayan Party-List Representative Etta Rosales (this is now the 17th Congress); and almost 20 years have passed since that first bill was passed. The ADB only gained traction in the 12th Congress, when it was approved on third and final reading (though no version was made in the Senate); and in 2006, during the 13th Congress, when the ADB reached second reading.

In the current Congress, there are actually two “versions” of the ADB – one is a “comprehensive” ADB, which lumps LGBT people with other minority sectors (e.g. persons with disability, seniors, persons living with HIV, indigenous people, et cetera) and the SOGIE-specific ADB, which focuses on penalizing discrimination against people based on their SOGIE. The latter version is the bill that was passed.

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For Roman, there really is “no difference in terms of the essence, the wisdom behind the bill”, even if some tweaking was done – e.g. addition of Q for queer people.

The focus on SOGIE equality was “to send a message to society that it is time to recognize the fact that there are Filipinos who just happen to be members of the LGBT community.”

Roman recalled how – up to the last minute – she had to lobby for support for the bill. For instance, she personally wrote to her peers to tell them that if they can hold her in esteem as their equal, surely they can extend the same courtesy to other LGBT people; and if they could, “would you be a co-author of the bill?”

The SOGIE Equality Bill got the nod of 197 Representatives, with none opposing it.

The Senate version continues to be challenged, so Roman said that “I plan to lobby (for the same) there.”

Rep. Geraldine B. Roman said that “first and foremost, my decisions will be conditioned by the fact that I am the representative of the first district of Bataan. And the interest and welfare of my constituents will always be prioritized.”

ELEPHANTS IN THE ROOM

Though she used to be from LP, Roman eventually moved to PDP-Laban, the party of Pres. Rodrigo Roa Duterte. This – on top of her vote on death penalty – ruffled many feathers.

But Roman said that “first and foremost, my decisions will be conditioned by the fact that I am the representative of the first district of Bataan. And the interest and welfare of my constituents will always be prioritized.” Particularly on her decision to vote on the death penalty, “it was based on my belief that as a representative of the first district of Bataan, I have to give them voice in Congress. And 85% of my constituents wanted the death penalty. So much against my personal beliefs, I voted in favor (of it). I view my position as a representative as something that is not about me. It’s about the people I represent.”

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With Roman bashed and called – among others – a “disappointment”, just another “trapo (traditional politician)”, and so on, she said that “it isn’t fair because you can’t just judge a person based on a single issue. All of us, we are multi-issue people. You could not find a perfect person. We have to manage our expectations. We work in an imperfect system, and we have to deal with certain realities. We just try to navigate (our way) in trying to do some good.”

Roman added: “The treatment I got is a form of bullying. But you know what? I’m used to being bullied. And I usually survive. Because I know deep inside, I am not an evil person. I have my limitations, but all in all, I am not an evil person.”

UNIFYING THE LGBT COMMUNITY

In many ways, Roman is new to the LGBT advocacy in the Philippines, perhaps magnified when she was “claimed” as a “representative” of the LGBT community after she won a seat in Congress. But her stint already showed her how divided the LGBT community, which “saddens me.”

Rep. Geraldine B. Roman said that “you can’t just judge a person based on a single issue. All of us, we are multi-issue people. You could not find a perfect person. We have to manage our expectations. We work in an imperfect system, and we have to deal with certain realities. We just try to navigate (our way) in trying to do some good.”

“The LGBT community is just a sector within Philippine society. If you study the Philippine society as a whole, you’d find that we are diverse, we have different opinions, we have different beliefs, we have certain ways of doing things… But if you start thinking of yourself as the exclusive holder of absolute truth, then I think you’re headed in the wrong direction. Because with that kind of pride and hubris, you won’t be able to listen to the opinions of others,” Roman said. “Maybe other people have something to contribute to your own idea. Maybe in the first place you weren’t that correct, that right to begin with. Maybe if you have a little bit of humility, you will understand why people think differently.”

For Roman, it is important for the LGBT community, which calls for the need to respect diversity, to respect differences.

“Aren’t we – as members of the LGBT community – also victims of people who see themselves as holders of the absolute truth? Haven’t we been judged by the same kind of people, and by the same kind of thinking? So I ask: If you have this holier-than-thou attitude, what makes you different from the people who condemn and judge those from the LGBT community?”

And so for Roman, for the LGBT community to survive and even thrive, “we should be humble enough to listen to others and respect diversity of opinion. It doesn’t mean that because a person doesn’t agree with you, he/she is the son/daughter of the devil,” Roman said. “And I say no one – not a political party, not a militant group and not any organization – can claim that it is the sole and exclusive holder of the absolute truth.”

Rep. Geraldine B. Roman: “I ask: If you have this holier-than-thou attitude, what makes you different from the people who condemn and judge those from the LGBT community?”

The founder of Outrage Magazine, Michael David dela Cruz Tan is a graduate of Bachelor of Arts (Communication Studies) of the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia. Though he grew up in Mindanao (particularly Kidapawan and Cotabato City in Maguindanao), even attending Roman Catholic schools there, he "really, really came out in Sydney," he says, so that "I sort of know what it's like to be gay in a developing and a developed world". Mick can: photograph, do artworks with mixed media, write (DUH!), shoot flicks, community organize, facilitate, lecture, research (with pioneering studies under his belt)... this one's a multi-tasker, who is even conversant in Filipino Sign Language (FSL). Among others, Mick received the Catholic Mass Media Awards (CMMA) in 2006 for Best Investigative Journalism. Cross his path is the dare (read: It won't be boring).

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Sexuality continues to change and develop well into adulthood – study

Substantial changes in attractions, partners, and sexual identity are common from late adolescence to the early 20s, and from the early 20s to the late 20s, indicating that sexual orientation development continues long past adolescence into adulthood. The results also show distinct development pathways for men and women, with female sexuality being more fluid over time.

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Traditional labels of ‘gay’, ‘bisexual’ and ‘straight’ do not capture the full range of human sexuality, and whether a person is attracted to the same, or opposite sex can change over time.

This is according to a study, published in the Journal of Sex Research, which analyzed surveys from around 12,000 students, and found that substantial changes in attractions, partners, and sexual identity are common from late adolescence to the early 20s, and from the early 20s to the late 20s, indicating that sexual orientation development continues long past adolescence into adulthood. The results also show distinct development pathways for men and women, with female sexuality being more fluid over time.

“Sexual orientation involves many aspects of life, such as who we feel attracted to, who we have sex with, and how we self-identify,” said Christine Kaestle, a professor of developmental health at Virginia Tech. “Until recently, researchers have tended to focus on just one of these aspects, or dimensions, to measure and categorize people. However, that may oversimplify the situation. For example, someone may self-identify as heterosexual while also reporting relationships with same-sex partners.”

In order to take all of the dimensions of sexuality into account over time, Kaestle used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, which tracked American students from the ages of 16-18 into their late twenties and early thirties. At regular points in time, participants were questioned about what gender/s they were attracted to, the gender of their partners, and whether they identified as ‘straight’, ‘gay’ or ‘bisexual’.

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The results showed that some people’s sexual orientation experiences vary over time, and the traditional three categories of ‘straight’, ‘bisexual’ and ‘gay’ are insufficient to describe the diverse patterns of attraction, partners, and identity over time. The results indicated that such developmental patterns are better described in nine categories – differing for both men and women.

For young men these patterns have been categorized as:

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  • ‘straight’ (87%),
  • ‘mostly straight or bi'(3.8%),
  • ’emerging gay’ (2.4%)
  • minimal sexual expression’ (6.5%).

Young women on the other hand were better described by five categories:

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  • ‘straight’ (73.8%),
  • ‘mostly straight discontinuous’ (10.1%),
  • ’emerging bi’ (7.5%),
  • ’emerging lesbian’ (1.5%)
  • ‘minimal sexual expression’ (7%).

Straight people made up the largest group and showed the least change in sexual preferences over time. Interestingly, men were more likely than women to be straight – almost nine out of 10 men, compared to less than three-quarters of women.

Men and women in the middle of the sexuality spectrum, as well as those in the ’emerging’ gay and lesbian groups showed the most changes over time.

For example, 67% of women in the ‘mostly straight discontinuous’ group were attracted to both sexes in their early 20s. However, this number dropped to almost zero by their late 20s, by which time the women reported only being attracted to the opposite sex.

Overall, women showed greater fluidity in sexual preference over time. They were more likely (one in six) to be located in the middle of the sexuality continuum and to be bisexual.

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Fewer than one in 25 men fell in the middle of the spectrum; they were more likely to be at either end of the spectrum, as either ‘straight’ or ’emerging gay’. Relatively few women were classed as ’emerging lesbian’.

“In the emerging groups, those who have sex in their teens mostly start with other-sex partners and many report other-sex attractions during their teens,” Kaestle said of her findings. “Then they gradually develop and progress through adjacent categories on the continuum through the early 20s to ultimately reach the point in the late 20s when almost all Emerging Bi females report both-sex attractions, almost all Emerging Gay males report male-only attractions, and almost all Emerging Lesbian females report female-only attractions.”

Kaestle said that the study demonstrates young adulthood is still a very dynamic time for sexual orientation development.

“The early 20s are a time of increased independence and often include greater access to more liberal environments that can make the exploration, questioning, or acknowledging of same-sex attractions more acceptable and comfortable at that age. At the same time – as more people pair up in longer term committed relationships as young adulthood progresses – this could lead to fewer identities and attractions being expressed that do not match the sex of the long-term partner, leading to a kind of bi-invisibility,” said Kaestle.

For Kaestle, “we will always struggle with imposing categories onto sexual orientation. Because sexual orientation involves a set of various life experiences over time, categories will always feel artificial and static.”

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Importantly, although the study found nine categories of sexual orientation development, limitations in the statistical methods used mean that more categories could exist.

The names of the categories are also in no way meant to replace or contradict any person’s current self-labelled identity. Rather, Kaestle hopes that these findings will help researchers in the future to better understand how a range of sexual orientation experiences and patterns over time can shape sexual minorities’ experience of distinct health disadvantages, and the effects of discrimination.

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Transgender people are not mentally ill, says WHO

The new classification is not expected to affect the healthcare provision to respond to the needs of transgender people, but – all the same – it’s expected to improve social acceptance among transgender people while still making important health resources available.

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The World Health Organization (WHO) has decreed that transgender people are not mentally ill, with the WHO’s legislative body voting to move the term used to describe transgender people – “gender incongruence” – to the panel’s sexual health chapter from its mental disorders chapter.

The new standard of classification appears in the 11th revision of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (ICD-11); but will go into effect on January 1, 2022.

The WHO uses “gender incongruence” to describe people whose gender identity is different from the gender they were assigned at birth.

The new classification is not expected to affect the healthcare provision to respond to the needs of transgender people, but – all the same – it’s expected to improve social acceptance among transgender people while still making important health resources available, according to the United Nations health agency last year when it announced the intended change.

Dr. Jack Drescher, a member of the ICD-11 working group, wrote: “There is substantial evidence that the stigma associated with the intersection of transgender status and mental disorders contributes to precarious legal status [and] human rights violations”.

It is worth noting that the WHO still classifies intersex traits as “disorders of sex development”.

This is not the first time the ICD changed a classification related to sexuality. In 1990, the WHO declared that “sexual orientation alone is not to be regarded as a disorder.”

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First Pride parade held in Antipolo; eyed to showcase LGBTQIA existence

Antipolo showcased LGBTQIA Pride, with the city’s LGBTQIA community holding its first-ever Pride parade. According to Shane Marie R. Parreno, the parade was also an opportunity “to give members of the (local) LGBTQIA community to come out and take comfort in knowing that they are not alone”.

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All photos courtesy of Shane Marie R. Parreno

Rainbow pride in Antipolo.

Antipolo showcased LGBTQIA Pride, with the city’s LGBTQIA community – supported by ally communities – holding its first-ever Pride parade.

According to Shane Marie R. Parreno, co-founder of Transpinay of Antipolo Organization, which helmed the event, the idea behind the first Pride was “simple” – i.e. “Para mas malinaw na ipaalam sa lahat na we exist (To clearly show to everyone that we exist).”

But beyond this, the parade was also an opportunity “to give members of the (local) LGBTQIA community to come out; and that those who may be afraid because they are part of the LGBTQIA community (can take comfort in knowing that they are not alone; we can face the bullying and discrimination together),” Parreno added.

While eyeing to make the Pride parade a regular/annual event, there are also already plans to continue the dialogues with local politicians to push for an anti-discrimination ordinance.

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March 9 of every year declared as LGBT Day in Municipality of Itogon

An executive order was passed in Itogon, a first class municipality in the province of Benguet in northern Luzon in the Philippines, declaring the ninth of March of every year as LGBT Day.

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Touched by the rainbow.

An executive order was passed in Itogon, a first class municipality in the province of Benguet in northern Luzon in the Philippines, declaring the ninth of March of every year as LGBT Day.

Executive Order No. 03, signed by Atty. Victorio T. Palangdan in April, noted that “section 3 of Republic Act 9710 state that ‘All individuals are equal as human beings by virtue of the inherent dignity of each person. No one should therefore suffer discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, gender, age, language, sexual orientation, race, color, religion, political or other opinion, national or social or geographical origin, disability, birth or other status as established by human rights standards.”

Under the EO, activities are being eyed to be held for the local LGBT community, including – and going beyond the one-day Pride parade – “knowledge sharing or technology transfer on good grooming, personal hygiene, beauty care, interior design, floral arrangements, et cetera, such that the knowledge and skills derived therefrom could be transformed into livelihood or income generating activities by the participants.”

The aforementioned professions/fields are – nonetheless – still stereotypically linked with the LGBTQIA community, at times limiting professional opportunities.

The EO also enjoins barangay officials to actively support the programs and activities of the LGBT community particularly in celebration of the LGBT Day.

The Municipal Social Welfare and Development Office is tasked to monitor and evaluate the success/failure of the EO.

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Founded in 1951, and is the largest municipality in Benguet by land area, Itogon is a mining town with a population of approximately 59,820 people occupying a total land area of 449.73 square kilometers (173.64 square miles).

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What it’s like to be a queer woman in Brunei…

Generally speaking, “living in Brunei as a woman – no matter what background, what orientation – everyone knows that being a woman is hard… and its definitely not any easier being a queer woman.”

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As a queer woman in Brunei, Naz always expressed herself in a stereotypically masculine manner. That is, she has short hair and doesn’t always present herself in what’s deemed “feminine”.

Perhaps because of this “classic assumption that a girl is queer or a tomboy by the shortness of her hair”, Naz was sexually harassed at work. And when she told the story of her harassment to her sister, the latter just (dismissively) told her: “He probably knows you’re gay so its ok for him to touch you.”

This dismissiveness, this disregard is (apparently) but an example of how – in Brunei – women (and particularly queer women) “tolerate sexism and homophobia everyday,” said A.B., who produced and directed “The Visible”, a documentary that looks at how women are treated in Brunei. Included in the interviewees is a queer woman and a transgender woman.

Brunei made the news recently, of course, with the implementation of a dated, and even barbaric law that will see the stoning to death of members of the LGBTQIA community, along with adulterers. The laws, parts/elements of which were first announced in 2013 and adopted in 2014 (and have been rolled out in phases since then), will be fully implemented this month. Ruled for 51 years by Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, the Southeast Asian nation plans to implement a severe interpretation of Islamic sharia law. Under the strict laws, adultery, sodomy, robbery, rape and insulting Islam’s Prophet Muhammad would all be punishable by death. Those who are caught having gay sex or committing adultery would be executed by stoning.

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Upon hearing the implementation of this law, “I was honestly very surprised; at first I thought it was just old news being brought up again for whatever reason,” A.B. said. “But as it turned out, the law was put on hold from 2013 due to international criticism and is just now being implemented.”

For A.B., “it’s messed up because it seemed like no one in Brunei knew.” Her family, for one, “found out through international news. If you look at news articles about Brunei it’s all about the Sharia law; but if you look at news from Bruneian newspapers, there’s nothing about it. I’m living abroad and found out from friends sending me articles, it was only after a few days when there had finally been an official statement from the prime minister’s office.”

Brunei made the news recently, of course, with the implementation of a dated, and even barbaric law that will see the stoning to death of members of the LGBTQIA community, along with adulterers.

A.B. was born in Brunei, but she was raised abroad. And “it was only recently that I got to experience what life was really like for a queer woman like me in Brunei. For years I would view it from a distance, visiting for a few weeks once a year and always thinking ‘I can put up with it, I’ll be back home (in France) in two weeks.’ But moving back changed everything for me.”

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It changed because – in her experience in Brunei – women and queer women of tolerate sexism and homophobia everyday.

Naz’s case, for instance, rattled A.B., who said that “it’s unacceptable how issues like this are still predominant in Asia.”

“It’s a bit hazy with the law when it comes to that,” A.B. said, “because, in fact it is being caught in the act of (gay) sex that is banned, not just being LGBTQIA.”

If being LGBTQIA means living under scrutiny in Brunei, how do LGBTQIA people express themselves (if at all)? “It’s a bit hazy with the law when it comes to that,” A.B. said, “because, in fact it is being caught in the act of (gay) sex that is banned, not just being LGBTQIA. I always found everyone was capable of expressing themselves, to an extent; meaning, private accounts on social media (are available) but not necessarily changing the way you dress or express yourself. It’s more a ‘show don’t tell sort of situation’.”

Generally speaking, though, “living in Brunei as a woman – no matter what background, what orientation – everyone knows that being a woman is hard… and its definitely not any easier being a queer woman.”

Producing the documentary, by itself, was challenging.

“When we were in pre-production, I was unable to attend a meeting due to my family because ‘a woman is not allowed to be picked up by a man in Brunei’. During a production meeting I was stopped halfway by a family member because ‘a woman is not allowed to hang around with just men in Brunei’,” A.B. said. “So everything had to proceed with caution.”

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But even if things are challenging, “we pushed on. I was not going to let the opinions of others stop me from voicing a story that needed to be told. You find loopholes, you get back up again and keep going…”

A.B.: “I always found everyone was capable of expressing themselves, to an extent; meaning, private accounts on social media (are available) but not necessarily changing the way you dress or express yourself. It’s more a ‘show don’t tell sort of situation’.”

A.B. also noted the “bravery” of women in Brunei – in particular, her cast, who “really set an example for the women and the LGBTQIA community in Brunei, (explaining) to me that they never felt a sense of ‘danger’, just a sense of being cautious.”

Naz, for one, said that “despite the law, religion and her sexual orientation, she is still a muslim and won’t be doing anything to break the law.”

A.B. added that “it’s also important to note that no one has been executed in Brunei for anything since 1957.”

All the same, A.B. is pushing for the opening of minds.

“Being LGBTQIA is just who you are, it’s what you feel, it’s what you know, it’s something you should never be ashamed of,” she said. “The only ‘Western imposition’ is the fact that being LGBTQIA is a crime, which was brought by the British when they decided to colonize half of Asia. It’s like how our generation are standing up for gender quality; yes, in Brunei, that’s considered an influence from the West because you’re supposedly ‘going against the tradition’ of being a slaved housewife, when in reality it’s not just women of the West that have been fighting for rights, women all over the world have.”

And in the end, “it’s not really for me to say what’s right and what’s wrong (for Brunei). Brunei really is a lovely and beautiful country, but it also has a way to go… like all of Asia.”

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Haircut battleground

FACT: A number of trans students fail to complete schooling because of strict implementation of uniform policies that affect their gender identity and expression. School officials claim they’re simply implementing (discriminatory) policies; while activists claim human rights violation. And while the discussions happen, the students are caught in the middle, who – in the end – really just want to finish schooling while being true to oneself.

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In July 2018, Jenny* (not her real name), a transgender Senior High School (SHS) student from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) was allegedly told to report to the principal’s office for the first time.

Pinatawag ako nung principal, tapos she told me that ano… kapag hindi ako nagpagupit until tomorrow morning, ganon, papalabasin niya ako ng PUP (I was told to report to the principal’s office, and there, she told me to get a haircut the next day, or risk getting asked to leave PUP),” she recalled to Outrage Magazine.

Jenny got a haircut this January. This had to be done as a prerequisite when she applied for graduation. But she said that she was promised that “after that, (I) won’t have to cut my hair again when I process my papers in the future.”

Jenny said that the experience affected her psychologically; because of this, she wasn’t able to go to school for two days. And with the eventual haircut, Jenny’s gender expression was also dictated by another, affecting her sense of self.

But in an interview with Dr. Minna L. Comuyog, PUP-SHS principal, she denied that she threatened any student, and that neither her office nor PUP-SHS’s registrar’s office denied any student of transaction or that their documents will be held if they won’t cut their hair.

Comuyog said that, in fact, PUP-SHS has a “No Discrimination Policy”, which is implemented in the entire PUP system (which includes SHS).

Hindi namin ina-identify ‘yung mga estudyante namin na bading ‘to, tomboy ‘to. Basta when they come here, estudyante namin sila (We don’t separately identify students as ‘He’s gay, she’s a lesbian’. For us, when they come here, they’re all students),” she said.

Comuyog added: “As a teacher, ang aking training ay students sila (They are students). They have their unique personalit(ies) and we adjust our lessons to their needs. So kahit anong mga bata ang dumating sa amin (So no matter what kind of student they are), we accept them for who they are.”

But notwithstanding the “No Discrimination Policy”, Comuyog believes that the haircut policy should be implemented and be observed by all students (in this case, particularly those under her care; i.e. PUP-SHS).

Comuyog claimed that she is unaware of the existence of transgender students in PUP-SHS; thus of transgender students being forced to cut their hair due to the school’s haircut policy. “It’s something na (that is) not known to me,” she said.

But Comuyog added that she looks at the students using the gender binary dictated by the assigned sex at birth – i.e. “I look at them as male, female, ganon ang classification nila (that’s how I classify them).” And so she believes that even if a student is a transgender woman, this student will still be mandated to get a haircut befitting those assigned male at birth (that is, she still won’t be allowed to have long hair, which is deemed socially acceptable only for those assigned female at birth).

On the handling of students who are transgender women (or those assigned male at birth) and with long hair, Comuyog said that she “normally asks” these students “what they needed to change or do.” As part of her training as a teacher, she lets the students think. And in this case, it is the students who often end up saying that it is their hair that they should change.

NON-DISCRIMINATION AS A POLICY

The Department of Education (DepEd) actually has pro-LGBTQIA policies, which – in December 2018 – it reiterated via a statement reminding “all public and private Kindergarten, elementary, and secondary schools of the necessity and importance of adopting and enforcing anti-bullying policies in their respective institutions.”

Various (specific) policies particularly touch on non-discrimination (including of LGBTQIA students).

DepEd Order No. 40, series 2012, or the “DepEd Child Protection Policy,” institutionalized zero tolerance against any form of violence against the child and provided for the establishment of a Child Protection Committee (CPC) in all public and private schools.

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DepEd Order No. 55, series 2013 (DO 55 s. 2013), or the “Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of Republic Act No. 10627 (R.A. 10627) Otherwise Known as the Anti-Bullying Act of 2013,” requires all public and private schools to submit a copy of their child protection or anti-bullying policy to the Division Office.

Meanwhile, Rule IV of DO 55 s. 2013 underscores that “the bullying prevention program in schools shall be comprehensive and multifaceted, and shall involve all education stakeholders and personnel. Schools shall develop intervention strategies like counseling, life skills training, education and other activities that will enhance the psychological, emotional and psychosocial well-being of victims, bullies, and other parties who may be affected by the bullying incident.”

Particularly pertaining the uniform policy (which touches on the haircut policy), DepEd released in 2008 DepEd Order No. 46, s. 2008, guidelines on “proper school attire”. It stated that “while the general policy is that the wearing of a school uniform shall not be required in public schools (as embodied in DepEd Order No. 45 s. 2008), it is necessary to provide guidance on what constitutes proper school attire.”

The following principles are offered as a guide:

  1. A student’s basic right to go to school, study and learn is of paramount importance and should be respected and promoted at all times.
  2. A student’s attire should reflect respect for the school as an institution for learning.
  3. A student’s attire should not become a cause for discrimination particularly for students belonging to a lower socio-economic status.
  4. Promoting physical hygiene and proper school decorum is part of the teaching- learning process in schools, thus a student’s attire and physical appearance should manifest learnings from this process.

Nowhere in the DepEd Order No. 46, s. 2008 was “proper” haircut discussed.

According to PUP Kasarianlan’s Watson Vergara, the haircut policy implemented in schools is a form of oppression. “Not only the right of the student to express oneself was trampled, but the student’s right to education was put on line.”
Photo by Cassidy Kelley from Unsplash.com

Having policies and actually implementing them are – however, and also – two different things.

In 2015, for instance, a United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report observed that only 38% of schools submitted child protection or anti-bullying policies in 2013, and the “low rate of submission has been attributed to a low level of awareness of requirements of the Act and weak monitoring of compliance.”

Releasing a report in 2017, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) also touched on the uniform policies (including forcing particularly transgender women to get haircuts) and stated that “students who are transgender or do not identify as their sex assigned at birth face especially pervasive discrimination as a result of uniform and hair-length policies and other gendered restrictions.” This is made more apparent because “right to free expression of students is violated when schools limit displays of same-sex affection or gender expression solely for LGBTQIA youth” – meaning, the policies are used differently for them to make them tow some lines.

Also, according to Watson Vergara, who heads PUP Kasarianlan, the official student organization for people with diverse SOGIE in PUP, even anti-discriminatory policies (such as DepEd’s) fail to take into consideration the power dynamics within educational institutions.

Vergara said that they know of students who asked for help from PUP Kasarianlan, claiming that they feel threatened that if they won’t cut their hair, then their names will be taken out of the list of graduating students. Non-compliance may also be seen as insubordination, which means that these students won’t be given a good moral certificate (which is needed when enrolling in college/university), or will even be kicked out of PUP.

PUP Kasarianlan also documented other cases like Jenny’s – e.g. in one case, a student claimed that she was kept in an office, prohibited to go out unless she signs a statement stipulating her to cut her hair.

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Syempre (Of course), the kid, crying, shaking and afraid, signed the paper. Kasi wala siyang (Because she did not have a) choice, she wants to go out,” Vergara said.

Vergara is aware that there are people who may see this as a non-issue – i.e. it’s “just hair.”

But PUP Kasarianlan also received stories of transgender students who refused to have their graduation photos taken, and of one transgender student who “can’t do homework or even eat properly because of this (traumatizing experience).”

For Vergara, this is a form of oppression. “Not only the right of the student to express oneself was trampled, but the student’s right to education was put on line.”

For Kate Montecarlo Cordova, if uniform is really needed, then schools should implement gender neutral school uniforms (e.g. gender neutral or unisex design and cut of school uniforms, and no prescribed length of hair for those assigned male at birth). Or, simply, “let the students wear uniforms based on their sense of being,”
Photo by Chen Feng from Unsplash.com

DETRACTING FROM SENSE OF SELF

According to Kate Montecarlo Cordova, founder of the Association of Transgender People in the Philippines (ATP), “One of the identified positive benefits of school uniform is to promote a “sense of community” (which actually refers to classification or clustering). But this can be detrimental to transgender students if not properly managed/implemented for this can deprive their self-expression, their sense of identity, their authenticity.”

Cordova added that “the imposition of school uniform with strict observance to the heteronormative gender binary can be an utter threat to transgender students while serving a meaningless purpose to learning.”

There are somewhat practical efforts that can be done.

For one, Cordova suggested that if uniform is really needed, then schools should implement gender neutral school uniforms (e.g. gender neutral or unisex design and cut of school uniforms, and no prescribed length of hair for those assigned male at birth). Or, simply, “let the students wear uniforms based on their sense of being,” Cordova said.

Secondly, Cordova said that it is important for any educational institution to “undergo extensive trainings, workshops and lectures not just about gender sensitivity but also, specifically, about transgender issues to understand the complexities of transgender human rights and health needs.”

And thirdly, Cordova suggests for transgender students to “rightfully assert and claim their rights to exist and learn by standing up to what is just and righteous to their authentic self by: 1. Being knowledgeable of their rights, 2. Being vocal about their identity, and 3. Being brave to socially present their sense of self.”

STARTING THE DISCUSSIONS

Back in PUP-SHS, the school principal Comuyog thinks that high school students are “confused” because they can see some transgender college students grow their hair, and they may also want to do the same. While she acknowledges how some of the SHS students want to “emulate” the college students, she also said that this isn’t necessarily possible because of “certain policies”.

Particularly, Comuyog noted PUP-SHS’s Code of Conduct that highlights (in Section 3) that “every student shall dress up according to the conventions of decency and proper grooming… dyan nakapaloob ang haircut for male and hairstyle for female.”

Section 3 of the Code of Conduct specifically states: “Every PUP student shall dress up according to the conventions of decency and proper grooming.

Also, to wit:

3.1 – Every PUP Senior High student is expected to demonstrate personal grooming standards of cleanliness and to wear the prescribed uniform while inside the school premises, during educational exposures or work immersion, and during official off-campus events.

3.2 – Students must observe the following provisions when wearing the prescribed school uniform:

3.2.1 – Uniforms should be kept buttoned and properly worn;
3.2.2 – School ID must be worn at all times within the school premises;
3.2.3 – The hairstyle for female should be simple and well kept, while the acceptable haircut for male must be off the eyebrows and above the collar line (EMPHASIS OURS);
3.2.4 – Moustache and side beards are not allowed;
3.2.5 – Hair color may be allowed provided that it is not vulgar.

The Code of Conduct does not discuss SOGIE (and implications to the uniform policy), but enforce these requirements based on assigned sex at birth.

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Comuyog quipped that it is only now that the said (haircut) policy is becoming an issue. And here, she also holds accountable some educators.

Yun namang teacher nila, napapabayaan sila kaya if there is a person na mas liable, itong mga teacher kasi ina-allow nila. Kasi may teacher din tayong mahaba ang buhok, may teacher tayong nakatali ang buhok. ‘Yun ang nakikita nitong mga bata (There are teachers who just let their students be, so if there’s someone liable, it’s the teacher who allows this. This may also be because some teachers assigned male at birth grow their hair long. And this is what these students see),” Comuyog said.

But – again – since there aren’t any students who talked to her and said that she is a transgender person, Comuyog said that she remains “unaware of this.” And that “just in case that she will be aware” of this, then she will have to consider the individual student’s situation.

For Professor Earl Guzman, SHS and college professor, and an open member of the LGBTQIA community, forcing the students to cut their hair, especially if they identify as gay or transgender, is abuse. “Kasi itong mga taong ‘to, itong mga kabataang ito, yung buhok nila (These kids’ hair) and how they present themselves are part of their gender identity,” he said.

Guzman added that teaching the students how to be gender sensitive yet confining them in the same heteronormative stereotypes, same heteronormative ways of expressing themselves, “kind of defeats its purpose.”

Tayo as PUPians (Products of PUP), we’re so proud of being at the frontier of fighting for sexual equality. Eh eto nga, ginigipit natin ngayon (And now we’re pressuring these students to conform). It all makes us look like hypocrites,” Guzman said.

For Guzman, the principal should listen to the students as well because what is happening most of the time is that teachers become just enforcers of rules or policies, and teachers owe it to the students to listen to them.

Anong klaseng lesson kasi ‘yung tinuturo natin sa students kapag ganon (What kind of lesson are we teaching the students), when we refuse to hear them out? Are we telling them that we know better than them? May mga pagkakataon na (There are times when) we know better than them pero kasi (but also) we’re not the ones living their lives right now, it’s them,” he said. “Maybe we should take their experiences into account; maybe we should listen to what they have to say. Kasi hindi puwedeng ano (Because the case shouldn’t be)… in our desire to enforce obedience, ang nangyayari ay (what happens is we create) blind obedience.”

For his part, PUP Kasarianlan head Vergara said that this kind of discrimination against members of the LGBTQIA community also happens in other schools – i.e. this goes beyond PUP-SHS.

In “Being LGBT in Asia: The Philippines Country Report” – written by Michael David C. Tan for USAID and UNDP – it was reported that forcing transgender women to get haircuts before allowing them to access education is one of the common anti-LGBTQIA policies still common in the Philippines, along with: the conduct of “masculinity tests” (where effeminate students had to “prove” they were “man enough” to be allowed to enroll, or stay in school) conducted by some schools, and instances when LGBTQIA students were made to sign “contracts” to ensure they did not express their sexual orientation or gender identity while going to school.

But Watson also acknowledges that – sadly – they can only do what little help they can.

In 2017, the Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that “students who are transgender or do not identify as their sex assigned at birth face experience especially pervasive discrimination as a result of uniform and hair-length policies and other gendered restrictions.”
Photo by Ryan Tauss from Unsplash.com

In the end, Guzman hopes that this will be settled, with all parties involved discussing this. “Let’s be civilized. Let’s add something positive to the discourse. ‘Wag nating gawing (Let’s not turn the issue into an) excuse para siraan ‘yung mga bagay, tao, o policy na hindi naman natin dapat siraan (to destroy people or policies that need not be destroyed). And then, let’s come to an agreement. I think we should all try to understand where everyone is coming from,” Guzman said.

And while the discussions happen, the likes of Jenny are caught in the middle, who – in the end – really just want to finish schooling while being true to oneself.

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