(First of a series)
Filipino Pride activists wrapped their social media profiles in rainbow hues when Ireland, via referendum, and the United States, via a Supreme Court decision, carved out same-sex marriage landmarks.
In Asia's most Catholic country, however, the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) Filipinos are endangered by physical acts of bigotry and by a pervasive discrimination that infringes on their basic economic and human rights.
Bias and, sometimes, overt acts of contempt and hatred, could challenge even the strongest relationships, according to Ging Cristobal, Project coordinator for Asia of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) and the Quezon City Pride Council (QCPC).
The results of discrimination also exert tremendous pressures on same-sex couples who face poverty and deprivation of opportunities, according to Murphy Red, chairperson of the activist group Kapederasyon.
Beyond relationships, lives are actually risk.
Former Commission on Human Rights Chair Etta Rosales in 2013 reported 141 cases of abuse against members of the LGBT community.
READ: CHR documents 141 cases of abuse vs LGBTs
The Philippines’ reputation as "gay friendly" has prompted some sectors to dismiss the need for an anti-discrimination law.
Some of the biggest, most influential and richest entertainment stars are openly gay. But scratch at that shiny “gay-friendly” tag and you will dig up tales of woe -- ranging from human resource officers fearing gays’ “disruptive” influence, to daily taunts and jokes, to outright violence.
The most recent sensational case was the killing of transgender Jennifer Laude by US Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton.
Ladlad’s Bemz Bendito bewailed how even initial investigation into Laude’s slay seemed to blame her, implying the transgender had tried to deceive the American soldier. Many social media posts also hewed to the Laude-was-asking-for-it line.
Laude, however, was openly transgender. Subsequent revelations, indicating the consummation of sexual acts, raise the question of whether Pemberton, in a moment of self-revulsion, took it out on the Filipino.
READ: Why murder of Jennifer Laude may be a hate crime
It’s not the first and won’t be the last killing of an LGBT person.
The 2014 Philippines Country Report on “Being LGBT in Asia”, sponsored by the UNDP and USAID notes that 28 persons were killed because their sexual identities in 2011.
The report, culled from a conference among more than 50 LGBT groups, cites several studies showing life can be difficult and cruel for those whose sexual identities range beyond the traditional “man and woman” models.
Lesbians also face serious risks. In a milieu where women victims of abuse still get blamed for their plight, lesbians brave the fascination and hostility of males.
While butches fend off taunts; the femme lesbians – because they do not conform to the traditional stereotype – are targets of harassment, including rape threats.
In 2010, women’s group Isis International said transgender Filipino women are especially vulnerable to employment-based discrimination. Many corporations hinge employment prospects on gays and transgender persons following traditional dress codes.
Education and sports institutions also represent challenges for young Filipino men attracted to the same sex, according to a 2013 Philippine Journal of Psychology study by Eric Julian Manalastas.
Scouring data from the Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality Survey, Manalastas found that young gays, between the ages of 15 and 24, contemplate suicide more than their heterosexual peers, although they may not act on it. He cited as factors experiences of threat and victimization.
READ: Sexual Orientation and Suicide Risk in the Philippines: Evidence from a Nationally Representative Sample of Young Filipino Men
The Psychological Association of the Philippines, in 2011, called for an end to discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.
The statement, which cited global findings that lesbian, gay and bisexual orientations are "normal variants of human sexuality", also confirmed that LGBT Filipinos struggle with stigma, prejudice and discrimination.
Aside from bullying and harassment, the association said LGBT are often pigeonholed into limited roles and occupations. Outside of these assigned roles, they are expected to curb their identities and expressions "as conditions for their social acceptance and enjoyment of rights."
READ: Statement of the Psychological Association of the Philippine son Non-Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression
The Philippine government has made some steps in easing cases of discrimination against LGBT. But the 2013 “Being LGBT” country report said policies are often confusing and contradictory.
Writing for the Philippine Law Journal, Michael Ocampo noted that RA 8551 or the 1998 Philippine National Police Reform and Reorganization Act, for example, calls for a gender sensitivity program aimed at establishing equal opportunities, preventing sexual harassment in the workplace and banning discrimination on the basis of gender and sexual orientation.
But seven years later, in 2005, the National Police Commission released a circular that said police officers could be discharged for sexual perversion, including “latent and overt homosexuality.”
READ: “SEX” in the Workplace: Approaches to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Discrimination in the Workplace Absent an Anti-Discrimination Law.
Main LGBT focus
With serious obstacles to their right to productive lives, LGBT activists say their main target, for now, is passage of an anti-discrimination law that reflects the needs of the sector.
Cristobal said LGBT Filipinos are not seeking special rights, but full respect for the human rights they should enjoy as citizens of the republic.
“I believe that we have to make sure the anti-discrimination law is set in place before we seek other LGBT laws,” said Cristobal.
She pointed out Spain as a country with marriage equality and gender recognition. “But it has no anti-discrimination law and this has been problematic because same sex married couple and transgender people are still being denied work and education because they are being discriminated.”
Cristobal also wants to see a divorce law passed.
Ferdie Mendoza, of the gay activist group Kapederasyon, said the US same-sex marriage victory would be “an empty victory” in the Philippine setting because LGBT-oppressive/exploitative socio-economic and political structures remain in place.
“Just imagine, okay ka na ngang magpakasal, pero humiliated and denied entry ka pa rin sa mga clubs; subjected to discrimination; at biktima ka pa rin ng tumitinding hate crimes. Or walang trabaho, gutom ka pa,” Mendoza noted.
Lesbian activist and chef Giney Villar doesn’t see the Philippines passing the same-sex marriage law in the near future. She noted that Ireland, which is also majority Catholic, had laid down the political structure before the referendum: taking same-sex activity from the list of criminal acts, allowing open LGBTs to serve in the military, passing anti-discrimination laws. The country also allowed civil partnerships before it considered same-sex marriage, she said.
The Philippines, in contrast, still needs to lay the basic foundation of anti-discrimination.
“The foundation must be put in place. That and a continuing education on gender, sexuality and human rights to put this matter in perspective,” said Villar. “Perhaps, our legislators, instead of downplaying the significance of an anti-discrimination law might want to go back to basic principles of human righst--that all rights are interconnected and that every human born is entitled to her/his rights.”
Another LGBT activist, Chris Salvatierra, said there is a refusal to accept the reality of hate crimes against LGBT.
“There is a need for the state to protect the LGBTs, no matter how small or insignificant our numbers may be perceived,” said Salvatierra. “The simple, fundamental fact is, that we have the right to equal protection under the law.”