SPECIAL REPORT

Questions raised over anti-discrimination bill

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WHILE clarifying that they are against discrimination, pro-life groups are raising questions on the “Anti Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity Discrimination” bill, which could end up penalizing boys’ or girls’ schools, seminaries and faith-based organizations because of their admissions or employment policies.

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House Bill (HB) 267 outlaws “discriminatory practices” such as refusing admission or expelling a person “from any educational or training institution on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Violators face penalties of up to six years in prison and as much as P500,000 in fines.

Supporters of the bill, such as Rep. Arlene Bag-ao of Dinagat Islands and Rep. Teodoro Baguilat of Ifugao, acknowledged that the measure could still be fine-tuned as regards educational institutions, particularly those ran by religious organizations.

The group Filipinos for Life, in a position paper submitted to the House Committee on Women and Gender Equality, said the wording of the bill, particularly Section 4, meant that “Single-sex education (girls/boys schools) will now be forced to accept opposite-sex students who identify as the gender of the school’s population.”

Even school sports teams could be affected if “female-identifying men” seek to compete in female events, the group said.

“Groups and organizations, such as the Freemasons, Boy Scouts are denied the right to decline opposite-sex applicants who identify as the gender of the organization,” it said.

Moreover, Section 4 of HB 267 could allow female-identifying males in female facilities and housing, the group claimed.

The provision states that it would be unlawful to “deny a person access to or the use of establishments, facilities, utilities or services, including housing, open to the general public on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Bag-ao however stressed that the measure was not meant to mandate all-boys schools and seminaries to accept biological females, or all-girls schools to accept biological males.

The proposed penalties against discrimination in schools, she explained, should apply in case a boys’ school discriminates against a boy who happens to be gay, not when a boy seeks admission to a girls’ school.

“If an exclusive boys school discriminates against a boy who happens to be gay, then they will be in violation of this measure and will be liable. But the anti-discrimination bill does not touch on the existence of schools that are exclusive for a certain biological sex,” Bag-ao, a lawyer, said in a statement to The Manila Times.

No money for surgery
At any rate, it is virtually impossible for someone who is born a biological male to afford a sex reassignment surgery to be a woman at any point between his elementary to college days, said Ifugao Representative Baguilat.

“A biological male or a biological female student would not have enough financial capacity to fund his or her sex reassignment surgery while he or she is still in school. Likewise, rich parents would not spend for their children’s sex reassignment surgery while they are still in school,” Baguilat argued.

“In reality, there are already same-sex schools with significant numbers of gays and lesbians. A more open and accepting school policy would lessen bullying, ridicule, perhaps even unacceptable conduct,” he said.

But in the bill, gender identity, on the basis of which Section 4 prohibits discrimination, “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.”

In addition, the bill states: “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).”

Filipinos for Life warned that “various religious institutions and denominations will be indiscriminately targeted,” as the bill “fails to protect the conscience rights of individual Christians, Jews, Muslims and others. Profit-making corporations may not qualify for the exemption. Christian bookstores, religious publishing houses, and radio stations could all be forced to compromise their faith-based principles.”

Various laws
As for workplace discrimination, various laws already prohibit discrimination, said Dr. Ryan Borja Capitulo, an obstetrician and gynecologist who identified himself as a member of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community in a House women and gender equality committee hearing on the bill last October 17.

These include the Labor Code, the Civil Code, the Anti-Graft and Corrupt Practices Act, the Revised Penal Code and the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995.

HB 267 forbids employers from including 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, performance review and in the determination of employee compensation, career development opportunities, training, and other learning and development interventions, incentives, privileges, benefits or allowances, and other terms and conditions of employment.”

“There are victims of discrimination because they are short. But do we need an Anti-Short Stature Discrimination Act? There are victims of discrimination who are obese, but do we need an Anti-Obese Discrimination Act?” Capitulo asked.

Filipinos for Life said the bill would “substitute the judgment of government officials for that of private businesses and organizations regarding what qualities or characteristics are most relevant to a particular job, and regarding how to operate their businesses.”

“It forces juridical persons to violate their freedom to uphold moral and religious convictions,” it added.

Suggestions welcome
Bag-ao said the House committee welcomes any suggestions to enhance the measure, “which is a fulfillment of what are Constitution guarantees for our citizens.”

“We are always open for discussions,” she said.

As for religious schools, they will have to deal with a “radical paradigm shift,” said Baguilat.

“That is why we are appealing to the schools to be more open in discussing this. The intent isn’t to be anti-religion or anti-school but to safeguard rights of individual students,” Baguilat said.

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