More pride, less prejudice

/ 05:12 AM June 09, 2019

Pride Month this year opened with the toxic aftertaste of President Duterte’s latest off-color remarks. On May 30, Mr. Duterte told the Filipino community in Tokyo, Japan, that his critic Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV was gay (“bakla”), and that he, too, was once gay but is now cured, thanks to “beautiful women.”

This was not the first time that Mr. Duterte had used the word “bakla” (or sometimes “bayot”) in a pejorative sense, to cast aspersions on his critics and perceived enemies.


As for his “joke” (as Malacañang and administration partisans typically spun the moment) that he managed to “cure” himself of his gayness, the President was obviously unaware of, or couldn’t be bothered with, the fact that it’s already 2019, or 27 years since homosexuality was removed from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) International Classification of Diseases.

Hence, any implication that gayness is an illness is a howlingly backward, not to mention pernicious, view.


Just days before his Tokyo “joke,” in fact, on May 25, the WHO approved new diagnostic guidelines that also officially removed gender nonconformity from mental or behavioral disorders. The WHO said it now has a “better understanding” that gender nonconformity is not a mental health condition, and wanted to reduce the stigma that prevented members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community from getting access to necessary health interventions.

The WHO’s landmark decision, said Graeme Reid, LGBT rights director at Human Rights Watch, should prompt governments to “swiftly reform national medical systems and laws that require this now officially outdated diagnosis.”

Even as neighboring country Taiwan has become the first Asian country to legalize same-sex unions, the arduous, uphill pace of the LGBT civil rights movement in the Philippines can be gleaned from the fate of the Sogie (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression) Equality Bill—a measure that, astoundingly, has been pending for 19 years and over six Congresses now.

The bill, which seeks to protect members of the LGBT community from various forms of sex- and gender-based discrimination, was first filed in 2000 by the late Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago and then Akbayan party list Rep. Etta Rosales.

Under the recently concluded 17th Congress, the bill passed the House of Representatives in September 2017, but once again got deadlocked in prolonged Senate interpellations. Among those who have opposed the measure are conservative Senators Manny Pacquiao and Joel Villanueva, and Senate President Tito Sotto.

But if the national government remains mired in the hidebound, intolerant past, the winds of change are blowing in many other places.

Incoming Manila Mayor Isko Moreno has promised to push for equal treatment of the LGBT community under his term and plans to organize a pride march and festival next year in Manila, which has an active and vibrant LGBT community.


Another local government, Valenzuela, has done Congress better by passing its own Sogie ordinance, and is building gender-fair public and private toilets.

Meanwhile, in San Julian town, Eastern Samar, a pedestrian lane on the national highway has been painted with rainbow colors to signify that it is a safe space for the LGBT community.

These are encouraging developments marking the Pride Month of June, but much clearly remains to be done, not only in the government but also in the private sector, to demolish entrenched prejudice against LGBT Filipino citizens.

Last year, the first Philippine Corporate Sogie Diversity and Inclusiveness Index, a study conducted by the Philippine LGBT Chamber of Commerce and research firm Cogencia, showed that none of the 100 companies surveyed implemented Sogie-based antidiscrimination policies.

The House of Representatives website recently ran an online poll asking Filipinos whether they would vote for the legalization of same-sex marriage. The poll was a red herring, since the results had zero bearing on official policymaking and, more to the point, Congress still can’t even pass the more urgent Sogie Bill.

Correcting imbalances in the law to protect LGBT Filipinos from discrimination, harassment and bullying, and working on the basic legal infrastructure that would ensure equality among all Filipino citizens of whatever gender orientation, are paramount at this point.

For the Philippines to evolve into a more accepting, inclusive place, in keeping with the march of the rest of the enlightened world, it needs to pass, as a necessary step, the Sogie Bill. Because it’s already 2019.

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TAGS: Inquirer editorial, LBGT, Pride Month
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