House panel votes to protect gender identity under anti-discrimination bill

Members of the House of Representatives' Committee on Human Rights on Tuesday, May 11, voted to retain the prohibition on discrimination on the basis of gender identity in the proposed comprehensive anti-discrimination law.

Manila 6th District representative and House Deputy Speaker Bienvendo 'Benny' Abante (Facebook)

This was after Manila 6th District representative and House Deputy Speaker Bienvenido "Benny" Abante Jr. opposed the inclusion of gender identity in the "protected attributes" of the anti-discrimination measure that they are crafting.

Abante, one of the authors of the bill, said it would be a "redundancy" as gender, sexual orientation, gender expression and sex characteristics have already been included as among those protected under the bill.

"We have already made a lot of compromises, a lot of compromises. We have gender, we have sexual orientation, we have sex characteristics. There is no need for us to put up gender identity," lamented the congressman, who is also a pastor.

"And removing gender identity, with due respect, is not an act of discrimination," he continued, saying his constituents, particularly those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT+) community, "accept" his view about them since he does not discriminate against them.

But Bataan 1st District Representative Geraldine Roman, also a co-author to the bill, said sexual orientation and gender identity were different concepts.

Roman, the first transgender woman elected in Philippine Congress, also noted that that these terms have also been defined in the existing Safe Spaces Act (Republic Act No. 11313) and the Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy Act (RA No. 11166).

Gender identity refers to a person's own "concept of self" whether as a man, woman, or other non-binary identity; while gender expression refers to the way the person communicates their identity, through behavior, manner of clothing, or speech, for instance.

The bill, meanwhile, defines sexual orientation as the emotional or sexual attraction or conduct towards people of the same (homosexual), both (bisexual) or opposite (heterosexual) sex, or the absence of it (asexual).

"If we are to be inclusive and to protect all sectors of society...then we should not eliminate gender identity. This is already a term that is internationally accepted even by the medical and psychological world, and here, in our country, this is a term already defined by our existing laws," Roman said.

Still, Abante insisted the removal of protection for gender identity, saying the country need not follow international conventions and should maintain its "traditional culture and moral values".

"We are still a sovereign nation," he said.

To settle the debate, committee chairman and Quezon City 4th District Rep. Jesus "Bong" Suntay called for a vote on the retention or exclusion of gender identity as a protected attribute in the anti-discrimination bill.

Voting 13-1, the panel decided to keep gender identity in the bill. Only Abante voted for its exclusion.

The unnumbered "Comprehesive Anti-Discrimination Bill", which consolidates 10 anti-discrimination proposals in the lower chamber, proposes to prohibit discrimination "that is directly and indirectly based on the actual or perceived ethnicity, race, color, sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, sex characteristics, language, religious expression or belief, political or other opinion national or social origin, property, birth and other status."

It also protects disabilty, age, nationality, marital and family status, health status, place of residence, economic and social situation, maternity and pregnancy.

Under the bill, discrimination is committed when a person "treats another less favorably" on the basis of the enumerate protected attributes.

It includes the denial of the right to political participation, right to organize, right to employment, and to education and training.

The House human rights panel suspended the hearing to deliberate on the other provisions of the bill in another time.