Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — When a cleaning crew at the Quezon City mall harassed trans woman Gretchen Custodio Diez as she tried to enter a women’s restroom, they violated the city’s Gender Fair Ordinance, which protects people from harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE). This incident sparked renewed debate about the SOGIE Equality Bill, which aims to provide protection to all Filipinos nationwide.
However, online, offline, and even in the Senate, discussions took place on restroom rights, gender identity, and the need for a national Anti-Discrimination Bill. To help everyone better understand the issue, as well as the call for protection against discrimination, here we debunk five myths and misconceptions about the LGBTQ+ bathroom issue.
Myth: Trans women are still men.
Trans women are women and trans men are men.
Being transgender means that your gender identity doesn’t match your sex. According to the Human Rights Campaign, one’s gender identity is a person’s “innermost concept of self as male, female, a blend of both or neither.” This means that regardless of one’s “biology,” a person’s gender identity solely depends on how they feel inside.
“None of us who are born today are not ‘full women.’ Our sex assigned at birth is merely a prediction,” said trans activist Naomi Fontanos in the press conference for the #WomenForWomen campaign.
Myth: Toilets are “biology-based.”
True, but they don’t have to be.
In a Senate debate following Diez’s harassment, Sen. Tito Sotto — a staunch opponent of the SOGIE Equality Bill — said that toilets are “biology-based,” and cited how lesbian women (perhaps he meant trans men) aren’t capable of using male urinals. Sotto failed to mention or acknowledge that male restrooms also have sit-down toilets.
Insisting on “biology” as a basis for restroom segregation also proves problematic when you factor in gender non-conforming people, as well as intersex individuals or people who are born with sex characteristics typically associated with both males and females.
Myth: Allowing trans women in bathrooms will put women at risk of being harassed by sexual predators.
According to CNN, there are 19 states and over 200 municipalities in the U.S. with anti-discrimination laws that let trans people use restrooms that align with their gender identity. Reaching out to 20 law enforcement agencies in several of these states, CNN found that there were zero reported cases of assault and sexual harassment in public restrooms since the laws were instated.
Instead, there is an alarmingly high rate of harassment experienced by transgender individuals while using public restrooms. Huffington Post reports that in an extensive U.S. study, over 50 percent of 28,000 transgender respondents said they avoided using a public restroom out of fear of encountering an altercation.
In the UP Center for Women’s and Gender Studies’ (UPCWGS) headquarters in Diliman, there is an all-gender bathroom. The UPCWGS has said that there have been no cases of gender-based violence since the restroom was put up.
In the same Huffington Post report, it is stated that in the U.S., there was only ever one reported instance of a transgender person allegedly harassing someone in a changing room. And since 2003, there are only 18 known cases worldwide of cisgender men disguising themselves in order to take advantage of women.
And that’s the thing: The fear is that straight men will use anti-discrimination policies to find a way to harass women. Why then should trans women bear the brunt of a hypothetical problem that is perpetrated by men?
Myth: Providing restrooms for the LGBTQ+ community would be “difficult to do everywhere.”
In the Senate debate, Sen. Sotto also said that it would be difficult to provide gender neutral restrooms everywhere.
Members of the LGBTQ+ community have varying opinions on the solution to the bathroom problem. Many queer people are against the creation of a third bathroom because it encourages segregation. Diez herself has said that doing so will not address the problem of discrimination. And at the end of the day, trans women are women, and therefore deserve to use the restroom that corresponds to their gender identity.
However, because of the still looming atmosphere of hate and discrimination towards the LGBTQ+ community, many non-binary and trans individuals are understandably uncomfortable with using any public restroom.
Regardless, it isn’t very difficult to do both for LGBTQ+ people. Allowing queer people to use the bathroom aligned with their gender identity literally costs nothing — it only requires cisgender and heterosexual people to be non-discriminatory — to be respectful human beings. Meanwhile, the cost of assigning a gender-neutral bathroom shouldn’t be an issue if an establishment has at least one restroom that can be open to all genders. In some cases, PWD restrooms are also open for all genders, such as in the Quezon City Hall, Mandaluyong City Hall, and in several schools like the Ateneo de Manila University and Lyceum of the Philippines University.
Myth: LGBTQ+ people are asking for special treatment.
Currently, with no Anti-Discrimination Bill in place, LGBTQ+ people are susceptible to hate speech and violence in schools, workplaces, and public places. Employers, businesses, and even hospitals can refuse service to LGBTQ+ people, or treat them unfairly based simply on their sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. The call for a SOGIE Equality Bill wasn’t born out of a desire to receive special treatment, but rather to be treated just like everyone else.
“SOGIE Bill does not give special treatment or special rights. What it's trying to do is correct an imbalance [in the law],” said Atty. Jazz Tamayo of Rainbow Rights Philippines.
Though many still believe that the Philippines is one of the most LGBTQ-accepting countries in the world, Gretchen Diez’s case was no anomaly. In 2018, comedian Kaladkaren Davila was stopped from entering a bar in Makati for being trans; in 2017, Bunny Cadag was laid off from an outsourced transcription job at Jollibee Food Corporation because the organization was “not yet ready for LGBT culture”; in 2014, Jennifer Laude was killed by U.S. Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton when he realized that she was trans.
Consider also the countless LGBTQ+ families in the Philippines who aren’t afforded the right to make decisions for their partners in cases of hospitalization, the right to adopt children as co-parents, and the right to be legally recognized as spouses.
There is a common argument that LGBTQ+ people need to compromise and adjust. However, daily life for queer Filipinos is already filled with compromises. When you have no assurance that the law will protect you from violence and discrimination, you live in a constant state of fear.