LGBT rights and the politics of disgust | Inquirer Opinion

LGBT rights and the politics of disgust

One of the reliable aspects of any debate about the rights of LGBTQIA+ Filipinos is the formulaic familiarity of the opposition. The naysayers deny and dismiss the need for a comprehensive anti-discrimination law because of the presumption that these vulnerable and at-risk groups are equally protected by existing laws. From this egotism flow the other predictable claims—that, for instance, an “extra” legislation would grant special class status, when all LGBTQIA+ Filipinos want are what cisgender straight Filipinos have.

In a September 2019 Senate hearing on the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression (Sogie) Equality bill, the Coalition of Concerned Families of the Philippines (CCFP) said it was “very concerned that under the Sogie bill, facts will be defeated by feelings.” The CCFP then gave the reassurance, in a tone that felt like it was comforting only itself, that its objection should “not be misconstrued as hatred for the LGBT community.”


The church has grounds for concerns. The bill gives the unsettling impression of social change which the church sees as a threat to the considerable latitude it enjoys. Antidiscrimination laws might force them to hire people or provide a service they find objectionable on religious grounds. But their opposition is a cover for something more fundamental: disgust. The no-emotion appeal of the CCFP was odd because the church, in fact, can be very emotional on this issue.

Laws and state policies appeal to our feelings. The “drug war” is a campaign of anger and shame. The poor public transportation in urban areas is the result of the refusal of policymakers and private interests to value anything outside of that which they can control. Health care inequities are the endpoints of smug attachment. And the anemic COVID-19 vaccination rollout reflects the government’s depleted reserves of compassion for the citizenry. How we feel about ourselves and each other registers into our lawmaking.


And disgust is a dependable guide. For many church people, LGBTQIA+ folk embody impurity and contamination that, if allowed to “infect” others, would lead to societal rot and deterioration. Disgust provides a powerful justification for making some policies unacceptable, and it is an influential political strategy.

It also has a long history. In 1895, at the sentencing of Oscar Wilde for “gross indecency,” the judge declared, “People who can do these things must be dead to all sense of shame, and one cannot hope to produce any effect upon them.” At the time of Bowers v. Hardwick, the 1986 US Supreme Court ruling upholding a Georgia sodomy law, 24 US states had similar laws. These had varying iterations of disgust—“unnatural and lascivious,” “detestable and abominable crime against nature,” “unnatural manner,” “lewd.” It should be noted that the Georgia law also applied to heterosexual sodomy. Here in the Philippines, disgust is unmistakably central to obscenity laws, and this is no accident. The root meaning of “obscene” contains the Latin for “filth.”

The narcissism of the church and conservative groups allows them to recast exclusion in terms of personal irresponsibility, rather than as a systemic problem they actively support. If LGBTQIA+ Filipinos wish to be accepted, they must be “clean” and “pure.” Implicit in this is the idea that the church and other naysayers of LGBTQIA+ rights are not legally responsible in their complicity. So long as there is a policy gap, the church et al. can legally and widely discriminate. After all, they must defend themselves against “infection.”

This is consistent with the church narrative of conflating inclusion and victimhood. Instead of seeing itself as a willing, informed, and deliberate architect of an indefensible social norm, the church recasts itself as the victim. This interpretation, which it looks at as noble and legitimate, is bound up with a fundamental doctrine of Christianity: righteousness.

The church has a deep-seated impotence for accepting that other people can, and do, lead moral, ethical, and thriving lives different or separate from religious doctrine. Instead, the church’s “homosexual panic defense” blocks the emotional courage to face the most basic of truths: The church is partly responsible for the unhappiness and pain among LGBTQIA+ people.

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Dr. Ronald del Castillo is a consultant on social and behavior change communication and was professor of psychology, public health, and social policy.

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