You’ve heard it so many times: “The Philippines is one of the most gay-friendly countries in the world.”
According to a 2013 survey titled The Global Divide on Homosexuality by Pew Research Center, our country has a high public acceptance of homosexuals. It cited that 73 percent of adult Filipinos agreed that “homosexuality should be accepted by society.”
In an ideal setting, that would be true. But a lot of people, especially those in the LGBTQ+ community, know that the Philippines is more tolerant than accepting. In fact, our country ranked 95th in the Spartacus Gay Travel Index 2019, which is meant “to inform travelers about the situation of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people in 197 countries and regions.” This also scored each country based on measures like trans gender rights, the existence of anti-gay laws, and same-sex marriage. If you want to see the full report, you can find it here.
In the spirit of Pride Month, it’s only right that we look at the status of LGBTQ+ rights in our country. Are there really laws in place to protect the community from discrimination? Where are we now in terms of giving them equal treatment? Here are the facts:
On a national level, the Anti-Discrimination Bill, aka the SOGIE Equality Bill, has not been passed yet. The bill was first filed in 2000 and 19 years later, it will reportedly start from scratch with the closing of the 17th Congress. Sen. Risa Hontiveros said in a tweet, “We will refile the SOGIE equality bill on the 1ST DAY of the 18th Cong. We will come back stronger, brighter, more ready.”
The Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) describes the bill as a protective measure for “persons with diverse sexual orientation and gender identity” who experience discrimination, abuse, and violence from society. However, there are several people who think this bill is unnecessary and would go as far to say it violates one’s freedom of religion.
Despite that, there have been cities and provinces that have passed anti-gender discrimination ordinances. These include the likes of Angeles City, Quezon City, Antipolo City, Davao City, Cavite, Batangas, and Mandaluyong City.
In the workplace, there still needs to be done regarding anti-discrimination. A Philippine LGBT Chamber of Commerce study found that of the 52 Philippine-based companies they surveyed in 2018, none of them have policies against discrimination based on SOGIE. According to researcher Paulo Edrosolano, these companies don’t prioritize SOGIE-inclusive policies because “they think that the needs of the LGBTQIAP+ employees are not urgent and not prioritized because they comprise only a small fraction of the company’s workforce.”
Same-sex marriage or civil unions
This is a controversial topic in our country right now because of our predominantly Catholic religion. There have been several House Bills filed to amend the Family Code of the Philippines and officially legalize same-sex unions. In 2011, Bohol Rep. Rene Relampagos filed House Bill 4269 which sought to recognize same-sex marriages that have been contracted abroad.
In 2017, former House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez filed HB 6595 which would create civil partnerships and grant same-sex coupls “all benefits and protections as are granted to spouses in a marriage.” These include the ability to jointly adopt, inherit property, obtain tax benefits, and share health and pension benefits.
As of writing, the discussion on same-sex marriage or civil unions is at a standstill. Alvarez’s bill was debated on back in Jan. 2018, but the House has not voted on its passage. Likewise, Congress created a poll on their site to see if Filipinos are for or against same-sex marriage.
But it’s also important to note that 61 percent of Filipinos oppose it. This is also despite claims that the Philippines is a gay-friendly country.
Changing of legal gender
Right now, transgender Filipinos aren’t allowed to change their legal gender on their government documents. In a study conducted by UNDP, it cited that while some jurisdictions allow this for certain IDs, it isn’t allowed or it’s difficult to edit one’s birth certificate.
Meaning it will still be difficult for transgenders to obtain documents because they need “to be in harmony with the contents of a person’s birth certificate.”
It’s also not allowed to change your legal gender even after gender reassignment surgery. This was ruled after the Mely Silverio Ruling in 2007 wherein a transwoman was denied her right to legally change her name and sex on her legal documents. The Supreme Court “argued that allowing her to change her name and gender marker will alter established laws on marriage and family relations.”
Breaking the HIV/AIDS stigma
Last January, the Philippines HIV/AIDS Policy Act of 2018 was signed into law. This “seeks to reform the country’s 20-year-old legal framework on addressing Human Immunodeficiency Virus Infection and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (HIV/AIDS).” Plus, this aims to allocate more funds to HIV prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.
This is an important step for the LGBTQ+ community because, according to UNAIDS, MSMs (men who have sex with men) are 28 times more likely to contract HIV if they engage in unprotected sex. And as of Jan. 2019, there have been a total of 63,278 reported cases of HIV since Jan. 1984. MSMs and sex with males and females make up most of this demographic with 32,199 and 17,965 cases, respectively.
But thanks to advocates like Pia Wurtzbach and organizations like Love Yourself, HIV testing is now more accessible and can be done without any stigma attached to it. This is a positive step in approaching the matter and hopefully stop the rise in number of HIV/AIDS cases.
Although it’s not talked about a lot in the Philippines, gay conversion therapy isn’t banned here. This is the practice of forcibly making someone straight because they perceive homosexuality as something that needs to be cured. This discussion was recently brought up when designer Jian Lasala and Pres. Rodrigo Duterte expressed they were once gay but turned themselves straight for whatever reason.
This is a sign that we need to talk about the legality of gay conversion here, especially with its harmful implications to young LGBTQ+ people.
Art by Tricia Guevara
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