COVER STORY

What does the LGBTQIA+ community need from our legislators?

The Philippines is already ramping up for the 2022 Presidential Elections, and many politicians will court the LGBTQIA+ community vote with promises of change. But how will the LGBTQIA+ vote matter? We ask members of the community about the results and concrete measures they need from politicians this coming 2022 elections.

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Greater institutional protection for the LGBTQIA+ community is a goal that cuts across the vast network of advocates and activists in the Philippines. It is borne out of a collective history of struggle and lived experiences of oppression and discrimination.

In recent years, there is somehow some measure of progress and patches of recognition within the formal confines of institutional politics.

Important pieces of legislation that directly impact the LGBTQIA+ community have emerged out of the halls of Congress in the past decade. Republic Act No. 11313, or the Safe Spaces Act, expands the scope of gender-based sexual harassment. It includes in its definition of gender-based sexual harassment the utterance of “misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic, and sexist slurs.” We also now have Republic Act No. 11166, or the Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy Act that directly addresses practices which “discriminate on the basis of perceived or actual HIV status, sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, age, economic status, disability, and ethnicity.”

Meanwhile, different cities, municipalities, and barangays across the country have enacted local anti-discrimination ordinances as a protective measure for their respective constituencies.

In the field of electoral politics, no less than the Supreme Court ruled that there is nothing — moral or legal — that prohibits the participation of LGBTQIA+ organizations in the party-list system. Strong equality champions have also emerged from the legislative branch to fight for a national anti-discrimination law that could be achieved in our lifetime. There are, however, political forces and actors that have not shied away from placing obstacles for progressive legislative agenda to come out and be discussed in the mainstream.

The pockets of developments we have seen in the past years affirm what we know to be true and what should be the case — that LGBTQIA+ rights are part of inalienable, indivisible, and universal human rights.

To live out the truth and the practical position that LGBTQIA+ rights are indeed human rights also invites us to take stock of the long road ahead. The sheen and gloss of celebrations of our identities ought not to overshadow the fact that everywhere in the Philippines, members of the community continue to face layers of discrimination, threats or overt acts of violence, displacement, unequal or outright denial of aid and opportunities, and systemic injustice from different fronts.

We still have policies that, in one way or another, discriminate on the basis of SOGIE. We still have archaic laws that legitimize oppression. This, despite the language of non-discrimination in the Constitution and in international conventions that are binding on the Philippine State.

The raging COVID-19 pandemic has also amplified the glaring inequalities in Philippine society and the multiple vulnerabilities experienced by members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Young LGBTQIA+ people who have no choice but to stay in closed hostile environments face a great threat to their wellbeing and sense of safety. Households with same-sex partners not accorded State recognition are cut off from accessing potentially life-saving aid. Across the country, there have been reported cases of arrests, detentions, torture, killings, or other forms of abuse suffered by LGBTQIA+ people at the hands of those who wield authority and power. We collectively face these challenges without a national anti-discrimination law or legislation on hate crimes and within an atmosphere of hostility towards human rights in general. There is thus a gaping hole in terms of protective measures and safeguards for the most vulnerable in society.

For most LGBTQIA+ people in the Philippines, everyday reality requires a delicate negotiation in various and overlapping social, political, and economic spaces. As symbolic and actual violence against members of the LGBTQIA+ community persists, our voices need to be counted and heard with utmost urgency.

With the 2022 elections right around the corner, the LGBTQIA+ community will occupy a crucial role in articulating important issues in Philippine society. The consequences of electoral choices will be felt by the community, may it be in the form of systematic policy directions or from the weight of individual positions of those who will occupy positions of power.

The Supreme Court also made it clear that the democratically-elected representatives of the people have the power “to address the suffering of many of those who choose to love distinctively, uniquely, but no less genuinely and passionately.” Though stated within the context of the marriage equality petition, the Court hints at an unavoidable political reality. Our unique position calls us to discern on the alliances we will forge and the coalitions we will build.

Elections are not sacred events that will mark deliverance, as much as politicians are not consecrated agents of change. There is value, however, in taking part in this entrenched exercise of democracy even as a starting point for broader involvement in and engagement with social and political affairs.

Solidarity thrives when we are mindful not only of each other’s immediate needs, but also of what is required in the long run. It flourishes especially when we consider the diversity in our lived experiences as a resource for collective action. Pride, though it comes once a year, is a continuing project to highlight this solidarity.

Reflecting on Pride as a material expression of resistance and protest honors many lives and countless dreams: of those that have lent themselves to the LGBTQIA+ movement, and of those still at stake with the things that we’re fighting for. — Ross Tugade

Survey respondents: Chad Booc, indigenous people advocate and Lumad school teacher; Rey Valmores-Salinas, Bahaghari's national spokesperson; Giney Villar, advocacy director, Democratic Socialist Women of the Philippines (DSWP); Rhadem Musawah, Moro documentary filmmaker and human rights activist, VOTE PILIPINAS Core Member, Philippine Film Ambassador Awardee, and Changemaker Alumni of Thomson Reuters Foundation; Aika Pagusara, youth advocacy manager; Reymark Simbulan, student; Nil Nodalo, founder, TransMan Pilipinas; C Grace Gregorio, associate professor, Institute of Chemistry, College of Science, U.P. Diliman, and Eloisa May Hernandez, professor, Department of Art Studies, College of Arts and Letters, U.P. Diliman. The opinions expressed by the in the answers are solely the respondents’.

What are the issues that you want to see in the platforms of politicians running for office next year?

Chad Booc: I want to see that they prioritize community development in the countryside, especially among the peasant and indigenous communities. I am hoping they implement a genuine agrarian reform so farmers already own the land they till, and stronger laws protecting the indigenous peoples' right to self-determination.

Rey Valmores-Salinas: I want to see aspiring leaders make LGBTQIA+ rights a clear and firm legislative agenda — passage of the SOGIE Equality Bill, marriage equality, progressive education on the LGBTQIA+ in schools, among others. Alongside that, leaders must stand for people's issues that doubly affect the LGBTQIA+ community: addressing COVID-19, ending contractualization, subsidizing genuine universal healthcare including mental health services and all trans-related healthcare, severing the Visiting Forces Agreement and all other unequal agreements with the U.S., and more.

Giney Villar: A consultative relationship with the various sectors of the country, a track record in creating concrete and logical plans of action for achieving short-term and strategic goals, a vision, a strong sense of patrimony, an advocate of social justice and public accountability, and an inspiring and honest leadership should be some of the most important values and qualities from which platforms should be built.

As for issues, I would like those seeking national public positions to prioritize the protection of our national territory, particularly the encroachment of China in our exclusive economic zones; have an understanding and commitment to achieving SDGs [Sustainable Development Goals]; exercise proper utilization of public funds and transparency in accounting, uphold gender equality and justice.

Rhadem Musawah: Discrimination is not only visible towards the LGBTIA+ communities but also to the ethnic and Moro groups. I want to see clear and inclusive plans on how they will address and resolve the issues on unequal opportunities in work, income and social service regardless of gender, faith and ethnolinguistic backgrounds.

Nil Nodalo: To empower the Executive Order No.100 by the president institutionalizing the diversity and inclusion program, creating an inter-agency committee on diversity and inclusion. Also, for the Anti-Discrimination Bill to become a law.

Aika Pagusara: (1) Health — [Address] issues in our health system and the lack of state funding of our public hospitals when it comes to handling public health emergencies. (2) Education and Health — Prioritizing the implementation of the reproductive health law. (3) Health and Political Recognition — Support for the ADB bill and the sense of urgency to address the issue.

Reymark Simbulan: The first and most important issue that I want politicians to have as their platform, and this is a non-negotiable, is their concrete plan to enact a national legislation that will address the discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community. I think I speak for everyone involved in the passage of the ADB that such a bill has been delayed for too long in the Congress. And that our community has reached its saturation point with politicians who continuously voice out their support for this law but then make a 180-degree turn once elected into office. At this point, it should no longer be an issue for aspiring politicians whether or not they should address and enact a law for SOGIE Equality in the Philippines. Although it may be oversimplified, that should be our main demand — they will get no support from the LGBT community if they, in turn, do not support the laws that will grant us our basic human rights.

C Grace Gregorio and Eloisa May Hernandez: My wife and I would like to see genuine desire and uncompromising commitment among politicians to push for the enactment of the anti-discrimination law based on the consolidated SOGIE ordinances of various LGUs. Such law must ensure:

a. the protection of the dignity of LGBTQIA+ people
b. the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of one’s SOGIE
c. the enjoyment of equal rights of LGBTQIA+ people
d. the recognition of de facto relationships among LGBTQIA+ people (ideally, we would like to push for recognition/legalization of union involving LGBTQIA+ people, but should this be untenable, at least de facto relationships be recognized)
e. the provision of mechanisms/support for low-income LGBTQIA+ people that will end their poverty and marginalization
f. the provision of safe spaces free from discrimination and violence for the LGBTQIA+ people; and
g. the access of LGBTQIA+ people to public facilities without fear of discrimination and harassment

Members and allies of the LGBTQ+ community were arrested on June 26, 2020, Friday in Mendiola, Manila after holding a protest rally against the anti-terror bill and other pressing issues. Photo by JL JAVIER/FILE

What are the changes you want to see or issues that they have still yet to tackle?

Chad Booc: I hope they improve the quality of education especially in the countryside, hire more teachers and give them higher compensation, build more accessible schools and provide more learning resources. From this, our teachers and students will have more time and capability to discuss things and implement activities that matter to the LGBTQIA+ community such as the SOGIE education and sex education.

Rey Valmores-Salinas: Because of COVID-19, about 45% of the Filipino workforce has become jobless, and this has particularly affected LGBTQIA+ workers who face harsh discrimination in hiring and in the workplace as it is. The LGBTQIA+ are also denied the already inadequate and anomalous "ayuda" or economic aid, because queer couples are not recognized by the state. With the health system in shambles, so too are health services for PLHIVs and many other groups.

Meanwhile, hate crimes against the LGBTQIA+ community have only risen, most recently highlighted by the cases of Junjie Bangkiao and Ebeng Mayor. In the same vein, the militaristic pandemic response of the government has led to numerous human rights violations against the LGBTQIA+, which include sexual violence against LGBTQIA+ persons including minors by men in uniform, and crackdowns on queer activists who speak out in defense of people's rights as exemplified by Verdy Pongasi, Jay Apiag, and the brutal arrest of Pride 20. While all this transpires, Duterte yet again extended [the suspension of] his promised termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement; consequently, the Balikatan Exercise, which served as the pretext for U.S. soldier Joseph Scott Pemberton's entry into the Philippines and eventual killing of our transwoman sister Jennifer Laude, has continued. This is the state of the LGBTQIA+ community that any aspiring leader must take a long, hard look at, and seek meaningful and lasting change for.

Giney Villar: All the studies and statistics have been presented in the many years that bills for non-discrimination have been filed. The reason that these bills have not been passed, (or laws have not been properly implemented, as in the case of the RH law), has not been because of its lack of merit, or its unimportance, or its lack of relevance to national development. These bills have not been passed into law because not enough progressive lawmakers have been elected into office. Thus the importance of taking part in the electoral process. Young people, most of all, should remember that if they want change, they should be part of it. If we do not make those decisions, then others will make decisions for us.

Rhadem Musawah: Whenever politicians talk about services, bills and ordinances in relation to health, equal opportunity or SOGIE/ADB, most of them avoid including indigenous folks and Moro community in the narrative. We need genuine inclusivity in national and local programs and we cannot just cherry-pick who gets human rights because if your equality isn’t for everyone then it is not genuine equality and human rights.

Nil Nodalo: To boost the training of Gender and Development or Gender Sensitivity in the classroom, workplaces both private and public, in agencies/companies.

Aika Pagusara: (1) Implementation of comprehensive sexuality education – make CSE a mandatory program to every school, may it be private or public school. The program (law) must mandate private religious schools to include SOGIE or sexuality classes in their school. A school head or superintendent must be held accountable; (2) Progressive policies for transgender youth (in school); and (3) Improvement in health service delivery especially in GIDA (geographically isolated and disadvantaged area), and among LGBTQIA+ especially when it comes to HIV testing and reproductive health services.

Reymark Simbulan: Aside from ADB, I think it’s high time for our country to go past our conservative ideologies and accept the reality that sex and SOGIE education must be taught in schools at the earliest appropriate time. From there on, we can start addressing more pressing issues like, HIV-AIDS education, same-sex marriage, etc.

C Grace Gregorio and Eloisa May Hernandez: We would like the politicians to feel and realize the urgency of legislating the ADB bill as it has an enormous and profound impact on the lives of many people who belong to the LGBTQIA+ community. The more they delay the passing of this bill, the longer the members of the LGBTQIA+ community are denied of many basic human rights, the more vulnerable we become to social injustice and the more alienation our community will suffer from the mainstream society. This also greatly delays the opportunity to educate society about what genuine “humanity” is all about.

Teachers and students from the Ateneo de Davao University, University of Mindanao, and Mindanao State University-Marawi during the Davao Pride March 2018. Photo courtesy of HADJI BALAJADIA/FILE

What do you think about the significance of the LGBTQIA+ vote, not just in determining the country’s fate in the next six years but beyond?

Chad Booc: As a marginalized sector, the LGBTIA+ vote will help ensure that the next leaders wouldn't be as sexist, homophobic and anti-people as our current president. The LGBTIA+ vote can also ensure that our voices will be heard and our rights be protected and advanced.

Rey Valmores-Salinas: As it stands, there is no solid "LGBTQIA+ vote," in part because that would still require organizing the broadest mass of members of the LGBTQIA+ community who are firm in pursuing a united agenda.

At the same time, I must qualify that when I say "LGBTQIA+ vote," I also mean "working-class LGBTQIA+ vote," "peasant LGBTQIA+ vote," "urban poor LGBTQIA+ vote." We cannot possibly claim to hold the vote of an entire sector if we exclude the poorest and most marginalized among us, who in fact form the majority of our ranks.

In any case, if we are able to harness this in the next elections and beyond, it would be a powerful means for us to assert our legislative demands and challenge macho-feudal leadership — the likes of which we see today under Duterte's administration. It is this same brand of leadership that exacerbates to the greatest extent the culture that takes away our dignity, our opportunities, and our lives. A united front of the LGBTQIA+ will be instrumental in putting an end to this form of leadership.

Giney Villar: While there have been many initiatives and successes won by LGBTQIA+ action, the "community" in my opinion is diverse and continues to evolve. Our political beliefs and loyalties are not bound by a rainbow agenda for now. But such is the case globally, even in countries with more mature or stronger LGBTQIA+ movements. Even if we have common values of justice and equality — the direction, methods and vision of LGBTQIA+ "liberation" will be very different from one another because of our contexts. For some, it may mean just being part of the system. For others, it is deconstructing and revisioning the system.

I think it is critical for LGBTQIA+ groups and individuals to continue to speak out and engage our communities, allies and aspiring leaders to understand what our fight is about and how it relates to their own fight against injustice. Then hopefully, they will begin to understand it and thus the issues become personal — and the activism organic. An organic activism is the fire that we need to sustain us in the long run.

Each LGBTQIA+ vote is significant because it is an act of revolt. It is significant because each vote exerts a force to steer the nation toward a just and humane environment where each person is accorded respect and importance.

Rhadem Musawah: Just like the islands of the Philippines, the LGBTIA+ Community too in the country is diverse and has opposing opinions and politics however we come in unison that we all deserve equal rights and co-exist without prejudice. The LGBT+ vote, if only given chance to flourish as a united front, can really change the fate of the country with a higher chance of positive progression to the lives, not only of the hetero community but also to the lives of every Filipino people especially to the Bangsamoro and to our indigenous brothers and sisters.

Nil Nodalo: Not just being a member of the LGBTQIA+ but just simply being a Filipino citizen, it is my right to vote and choose the right politicians. Us in TransMan Pilipinas, we are looking forward to [the] LGBT Pilipinas Party-list to continue to run in the election.

An estimated 70,000 people attended the 2019 Metro Manila Pride March at the Marikina Sports Center, where the "call to end social injustice and demand equal rights for all was stronger, louder, and all the more empowering." Photo by JL JAVIER/FILE

Aika Pagusara: LGBTQIA+ votes, especially those who belong to the youth sector matter in terms of choosing the leaders who will not just support and lobby the issues of the vulnerable sectors (LGBTQIA+ and youth) but at the same time sustain it and make significant changes in our policies that advance the rights and legal recognition of LGBTQIA+.

Reymark Simbulan: Right now, I think the strength of our community’s numbers has so much more potential than how it is actually being perceived in today’s society. The mere fact that a number of politicians continue to get elected despite their explicit anti-LGBT remarks and their adamant refusal to enact legislations catering to our basic human rights, proves that we have yet to solidify our role in determining the country’s fate. For the next six years and beyond, we as a community must combine our efforts and make our voices heard as a collective. We should be there to make sure that the leaders we elect are a part of our people or are allies who carry our same values. The moment we realize how strong we are as a movement is also when we will finally be able to make the changes that can cater to our needs.

C Grace Gregorio and Eloisa May Hernandez: Members of the LGBTQIA+ community are not merely numbers or statistics that matter in the elections. We can be an implacable force behind a legitimate, just and authentic candidate who will and can carry our community’s cause. We should not neglect the fact that many productive members of this society belong to the LGBTQIA+ community — we pay taxes, we move industries, we educate the youth, we build infrastructure, we take care of the sick, we are essential elements in the food and service industry, we clean the streets, we are your reliable motorcycle-riding couriers, we undertake meaningful and relevant scientific and social research for the country, we create art and technology, we are brilliant members of think-tanks of many social structures, and many more. So, why should the LGBTQIA+ community be not fully recognized as a legitimate part of this society?

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Cover illustration by HEY MADY!
Cover design by THE PUBLIC SCHOOL MANILA