House seeks probe on discrimination vs. trans woman in Cubao mall

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 14) — A group of lawmakers in the House of Representatives has called for an investigation on the alleged discrimination against a transgender woman in a Quezon City mall.

The six-member Makabayan bloc and Bataan 1st District Representative Geraldine Roman on Wednesday filed House Resolution 232, urging the committee on women and gender equality to look into the incident, which they said is a "clear violation" of laws on gender discrimination.

The lawmakers cited Article 2, Section 11 of the 1987 Constitution, Section 3 of the Magna Carta of Women, Safe Spaces Law, and the 2014 ordinance of Quezon City prohibiting all forms of discrimination against members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning (LGBTQ+) community.

Mall security handcuffed Gretchen Diez, 28, and brought to Quezon City Police District Station 7 Tuesday night for an unjust vexation complaint filed against her by the janitress of Farmer’s Plaza, a mall in Cubao. This stemmed from Diez’ video recording of her confrontation with a janitress who barred her from using a female restroom.

The janitress, identified as Chayra Ganal, later apologized to Diez through a written letter at the police station, and said she’s willing to study the rights of the members of the LGBTQ+ sector.

Diez was also released on the same night after the complaint was withdrawn. However, Diez maintained that she will file charges against the mall for violating a Quezon City ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression (SOGIE).

"This incident is a clear manifestation of the current situation of the LGBTQ community in the Philippines. It illustrates the urgency of enforcing policies that would protect LGBTQ rights," the group said.

Mall apologizes

Meanwhile, the management of Farmers Plaza has apologized to Diez and the public, but washed its hands off on how she was treated.

In a statement, the mall's general manager, Morriel Abogado, said they were unaware of the incident when it happened.

Abogado said the handcuffing of Diez "was not the idea of Farmers Plaza management, nor was it done within our premises." The management, she added, was "unaware of the reason or basis why the police thought this was necessary at all."

The unjust vexation complaint was neither filed by the company, as it was a "personal decision" of Ganal, Abogado added.

"None of these actions had been relayed beforehand to the management, nor did we have knowledge of the same as it was happening, for us to do something about the matter," she said.

Abogado apologized to Diez and the public for the incident, which she said was "unacceptable."

"It is an unfortunate incident that Farmers Plaza management would like to assure the public we could never condone," she said, adding that members of the LGBTQ+ community "has always been welcome" at the mall.

Abogado said Farmers Plaza "has continuously been training" its personnel on how to address complaints by customers.

"We hope this isolated incident, clearly a mistake committed by an agency worker not organic to our company, does not define our lasting good relations with all our customers through decades of operations," she added.

Farmers Plaza is owned and operated by Araneta Center, which is known for publicizing LGBTQ+ community-friendly initiatives such as the rainbow-colored pedestrian lanes in its commercial compound in Cubao every June.

Calls for SOGIE bill passage

The incident has raised calls for the passage of the SOGIE Equality Bill, with personalities and rights group denouncing the harassment.

READ: Discrimination vs. trans woman in QC mall raises calls for SOGIE bill passage

Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte lambasted Farmers Plaza's management saying it violated the city's Gender Fair Ordinance, which aims to protect all members of the LGBTQ+ community from discrimination. Belmonte said the mall violated the part of the ordinance where they're supposed to designate an "all-gender toilet."

The mall, however, did not address this in its statement.

Senator Risa Hontiveros, author of the bill in the Senate, urged lawmakers to pass the proposal, saying Diez' case "underscores" the "grave and urgent need" for the measure.

"Panahon na para sabihin na hindi tayo papayag na may LGBTQI na poposasan, sasampalin, aalipustahin dahil sa kanilang kasarian. (It is time that we no longer let anyone from the LGBTQI community to be handcuffed, slapped, and humiliated because of their gender.) It is time that we say we will stand by those who speak their truths," Hontiveros said in her privilege speech.

[Translation: It is time that we no longer let anyone from the LGBTQI community to be handcuffed, slapped, and be humiliated.]