Philippines anti-discrimination bill good for gays, benefits economy
Jhem, 24, is a pretty transgender who frequently wins drag beauty pageants, a loving child and a doting provider to younger siblings who depend on her for their school expenses and lunches. She graduated with a degree in business management. Her neighbors in Barangay Caybiga, Caloocan City considers her to be better off than many residents who live a hard scrabble life in the village where unemployment runs at around 40%.
However, Jhem laments that she has to be content with working as a hairdresser in the neighborhood, working long hours for less than minimum wage. After graduation, she spent months looking for a job in the corporate world, only to be turned down by erviewers.
“I didn’t want to think that my feminine demeanor is the reason why they won’t hire me,” Jhem sighs. “In college, I was always in denial, refusing to believe my other cross-dressing friends who kept tellim me I will also have to be content working typecast work for queers, like cutting hair.”
Like Jhem, hundreds of thousands of transgender, lesbians and gay men are victims of discrimination in hiring policies, wage levels, benefits and other workplace benefits. The problem is so pervasive that the victims are not even painfully aware that they suffer inequalities in quality of life and legal benefits.
However, a bill filed in the House of Representatives in 2010 aims to correct these inequities and provide hope to some eight million lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Filipinos. House Bill 1483, An Act Defining Discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Orientation and
Gender Identity and Providing Penalties Therefor, was authored by Rep. Teodoro Casino who represents the partylist Bayan Muna, a leftist alliance of marginalized sectors,
Also known as the Anti-Discrimination Bill, the measure promises to provide people like Jehm and society at large the legal definition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, or SOGI for short.
Once discrimination based on SOGI is defined, according to Rep. Casino, then the State can put up mechanisms for citizens to report, file unfair labor cases and access justice for violations of SOGI-related rights. The bill recommends penalties up to 200,000 pesos and prison terms.
During a town hall meeting sponsored by Bayan Muna in the city that explained the features of the bill, Jhem came close to tears after realizing the roots of her lingering unease about her situation.
“I didn’t realize that the bakla (effeminate queers) have human rights, too! All my life, I thought I had to endure the taunts from almost everyone in the street. I was already resigned to my fate as a bakla who just silently accepts whatever crumbs come my way,” Jhem explained.
The bill is supported by several LGBT activist groups such as ProGay Philippines, a national alliance of grassroots LGBT community organizers. According to ProGay spokesperson Goya Candelario, violations of human rights of LGBTs in the Philippines is difficult to document, precisely because a majority of the victims are not even aware what constitutes violations.
Candelario adds that Filipinos are also in denial about the level of discrimination and homophobia, because the suffering is less harsh compared to more conservative Southeast Asian societies. There are no laws punishing sodomy and other same-sex relations, but at the same time, SOGI status is not a protected classification.
“We usually get complaints about gay job applicants who give up on looking for work in prestigious workplaces, but because of a lack of an anti-discrimination law, the complainants do not get anywhere. We report it to the government, and the police simply laugh and send us away. This should end with House Bill 1483.”
Aside from financial losses, ProGay activists assert that discrimination impairs physical and emotional health among victims, making Filipino LGBTs more susceptible to health issues such as malnutrition, personality disorders, sexually transmitted infections, and in the worst cases, traumatic injuries resulting from anti-gay violence.
The proposed law prohibits employers, malls service providers, schools, health care instutition, even public sector institutions such as the police and the military from making policies that bar employment or access according to real or perceived SOGI.
Government agencies who are negligent and that have failed to protect vulnerable groups from violators are also answerable, based on the principle that the State has a responsibility of protecting its citizens. Casino said that the Philippines, as a signatory to global treaties that uphold economic, political, civil and cultural rights, is obligated to chase after the violators and not just claim that the government is not able to implement the law.
However, getting the bill approved is an uphill battle. For now, only a handful of progressive solons are pushing the bill to be calendared for public hearings. ProGay is also doing its part to raise awareness in the public, in a campaign called “One Love, One Call,, Human Rights for All.”. Candelario is one of the grassroots trainors who juggles her time between a busy salon and scheduling training workshops for activists.
Candelario goes around town telling people that the bill not only assures equality for LGBTs, but also helps the country gain economically and financially. She says that equality that is achieved with the Anti-Discrimination Bill will help reduce unemployment in a sector that is known for artistic and intellectual creativity. She is asking support from the heterosexual citizens to write or call their congressmen with the aim of getting the bill tabled the soonest.