Imagine knowing who you are and hiding it, because showing your true self could lead to family tensions, broken friendships or public ridicule.
Imagine going to school and being bullied not by your classmates but by the school management itself because you refuse to cut your hair short unlike the other boys in class.
Imagine going to work, and finding out that you have been replaced for no reason at all except for the prejudice that one finds when reading between the lines.
The struggle for civil liberties is an uphill one for the LGBT community. LGBT refers to people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender. In the Philippines, there appears to be broad acceptance of gay people but insensitivity abounds, and discrimination is prevalent.
Many of us, including this writer, respect the human rights of people with a sexual orientation and gender identity that are different from our own. However, I believe that a great majority draws the line against same-sex marriages, in conformity with the teachings of the Church and in keeping with our Constitution.
Such complexities hinder us from taking a deeper look at the challenges confronting the LGBT sector in our country. But, they shouldn’t, because public policy has only for its boundaries, the public interest, and governance needs to be inclusive for it to be felt across all sectors.
On Monday, September 19, the first and lone transgender congresswoman, Rep. Geraldine Roman of Bataan, will deliver a speech to advocate passage of a law against all forms of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). Similar bills had been filed prior to this but never made it all the way to the bicameral conference committee level.
The proposed bill distinguishes between sexual orientation and gender identity.
“Gender identity refers to the personal sense of identity as characterized, among others, by manner of clothing, inclinations and behavior in relation to masculine or feminine conventions. A person may have a male or female identity with the physiological characteristics of the opposite sex, in which case this person is considered transgender.”
“Sexual orientation refers to the direction of emotional sexual attraction or conduct. This can be towards people of the same sex (homosexual orientation) or towards people of both sexes (bisexual orientation) or towards people of the opposite sex (heterosexual orientation).”
It tackles discrimination at the workplace making it unlawful for any person, natural or juridical to: “include sexual orientation or gender identity, as well as the disclosure of sexual orientation, in the criteria for hiring, promotion, transfer, designation, work assignment, re-assignment, dismissal of workers, and other human resource movement and action…. Provided that this provision shall apply to employment in both the private sector and public service, including military, police and other services.”
The measure also cites as a discriminatory act the refusal to admit or the expulsion of a person from any educational or training institution on the basis of SOGI, provided that the right of educational and training institutions to determine the academic qualifications of their students or trainees shall be upheld.
When this bill becomes law, no one can deny a person access to establishments, facilities, utilities or services including housing, open to the general public, on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
There are more provisions to be read and understood, and this proposed law certainly deserves public scrutiny.
The challenge lies with the LGBT community to forge a united front in favor of the passage of this bill. Is there a sense of urgency attached to it? Will there be enough leaders within the community who are prepared to elevate the public discourse on this issue within and outside the halls of Congress? And will the rest of us listen?
As I write this, I think about a little boy who feels like a girl, and is confused because the inner her does not match the outward him.
As I write this, there is a parent somewhere who loves his or her gay child, unconditionally, and with no regard for what society dictates, yet is anxious about that child’s future.
As I write this, there are people in government who understand what LGBT means but see no urgency in the community’s inclusion in public services.
We need to talk about gay rights in this country as part of an overdue public policy debate about sexual orientation and gender identity. Let that conversation extend beyond households and into the august halls of Congress. We have much to learn about LGBT rights, regardless of our own sexual orientation and gender.