Anna Mae Yu Lamentillo
June has been designated as Pride Month in many parts of the world, including in the Philippines. It’s a month of celebration for milestones achieved in fighting for LGBTQIA+ visibility and has also been a platform to promote equal justice and equal opportunity for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, asexual — basically everyone regardless of gender and sexual orientation.
Calls for the passage of the proposed law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression or the SOGIE Equality Bill have become louder in the past days not only because of Pride Month but also due the incident of discrimination recently experienced by Sass Sasot, a woman of transgender experience.
Sass was still addressing graduates of a high school in Cavite when the church group that was the owner of the venue turned off the lights and sound system. Apparently, the church group did not want a member of the LGBTQIA+ community speaking on their stage.
Whatever was stipulated in the contract between the church group and the school is a matter between them. But the incident puts the spotlight once again on discrimination based on SOGIE.
The first Anti-Discrimination Bill, which proscribes discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, was filed in Philippine Congress in 2000. More than two decades later, we still haven’t enacted the bill despite it being filed every single Congress thereafter.
With the incoming 19th Congress, it will be re-filed. As in previous years, it will be an arduous journey, but hopefully this time it would lead to the enactment of the proposed law.
The SOGIE Equality Bill does not ask for special treatment for LGBTQIA+ members, but for equal rights and opportunities and for protection against discrimination and violence.
Our Constitution “values the dignity of every person and guarantees full respect for human rights.” It also provides that “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law, nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of the laws.”
It is also stated in Republic Act No. 9710 or the Magna Carta of Women that, “No one should therefore suffer discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, gender, age, language, sexual orientation, race, color, religion, political or other opinion, national, social or geographical origin, disability, property, birth, or other status as established by human rights standards.”
Despite such laws, discrimination, harassment, and violence against persons based on their sexual orientation and gender identity or expression abound.
For instance, in 2014, transwoman Jennifer Laude was killed by U.S. Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton. In 2019, a trans woman was harassed when she tried to enter a women’s restroom in a Quezon City mall despite local government unit having a Gender Fair Ordinance that protects people from harassment and discrimination based on SOGIE.
While there have been local ordinances that promote and protect the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community, the recent incident involving Sass that happened in Cavite, which has a Provincial Ordinance that makes it unlawful to discriminate against any person or group of persons on the basis of SOGIE, shows the need to have a national legislation.
The call to have a SOGIE Equality Law is far from providing special treatment to members of the LGBTQIA+ community. This is about ensuring that society looks beyond gender and sexual orientation; it is about giving assurance that every person can have equal access to opportunities for learning, employment, and development, among others, without being subjected to discrimination, mockery, and harassment based on sex or gender; it is about upholding every person’s basic human rights.