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Equality for all: Senate conducts public hearing on SOGIE Equality Bill

Gretchen Diez, a transgender woman, made headlines last week after she was denied the use of a women’s bathroom in Farmer’s Market, Cubao, by a janitress. After the scuffle, Diez was detained, shamed by the police, and later released after the mall’s management dropped charges of unjust vexation against her.

Last August 20, Diez was one of the individuals present in the hearing led by Senator Risa Hontiveros, Chair of the Committee of Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality, to discuss the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) Equality Bill, a long-proposed legislation that aims to prohibit discrimination against sexual orientation and gender identity.

Senators Aquilino Pimentel II, Ronald dela Rosa, and Imee Marcos were present for the hearing, while Senator Nancy Binay made a brief appearance. Representatives of different government agencies, advocacy groups, and the academe also attended the committee hearing. 


SOGIE 101 

The hearing began with an introductory lecture on Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression, Sex Characteristics (SOGIESC). Resource speakers defined the differrences between sex characteristics, gender identity, gender expression, and sexual orientation. 

Sex characteristics are physical characteristics representative of a person’s biological sex. On the other hand, gender identity is a person’s internal sense of their gender, while gender expression is how a person portrays their gender identity. Lastly, sexual orientation is the attraction to a particular gender or sex. Though each concept makes up one’s sexuality, the speakers clarified that they exist independent of one another. 

Naomi Fontanos, a representative of the LAGABLAB LGBT Network, used her own sexuality to define the terms. “In my case, I identify as a transwoman. My gender identity is female, but I am attracted to males. So currently, I am exclusively heterosexual,” she explained. 

James Montilla Doble, SOGIESC consultant for the University of the Philippines Center of Gender and Women’s Studies, also helped clarify other terms regarding human sexuality, such as the predictiveness of sex assignement at birth in the case of transgender people. 

“When we were assigned male at birth, it was incorrect. The sex assignment is predictive, it is not final,” Fontanos elaborated.


Accounts of prejudice 

The hearing continued with the accounts of discrimination the LGBTQIA+ community has faced, as Dec Daupan and Roi Galfo shared their stories of discrimination in the workplace. Daupan recounted that during a previous job interview, the employer asked discriminatory questions, citing how they required him to rate his “gayness”. 

Meanwhile, Galfo said she was discriminated for using the women’s washroom in her previous company, adding that she was frustrated by the lack of government assistance on her case.

Atty. Jazz Tamayo from Rainbow Rights Philippines brought up an incident in which an elementary school student was forced to wear school curtains by the principal as punishment for violating the uniform policy of the school. According to her, the judge of the case said that the child was too young to venture into a lifestyle of having a gender identity different from the one assigned at birth and that the mother was to blame for the child’s “deviating attitude”.

Highlighting the limitations of the justice system in resolving these cases, Tamayo emphasized the need to pass the SOGIE Equality Bill. “To delay the SOGIE Equality Bill is to say that you are not to be helped or assisted because you deserve to be raped, abused, and ridiculed⁠—because you are not like me and you are not like us,” she argued. 


For further review

Pimentel, however, questioned the need for the bill, noting that there are already existing anti-discrimination laws such as the Safe Spaces Act and Child Protection Policy. He requested that the committee clarify how the bill will differ from current laws against discrimination. “Otherwise, there will be no need for SOGIE Bill ng lalabas, may confusion pa,” Pimentel remarked.

(Otherwise, there will be no need for SOGIE Bill because it will just cause more confusion.)

Pimentel also added that the committee should consider the parent’s way of thinking in discerning gender-related issues within the family. “A parent sees a child [of] minor age deviating from [the parent’s] concept [that] the child’s gender should be equal to the sex at birth. Do you blame the parent for thinking that way? Hindi, kasi iba rin siya sa inyo. Dapat ang panawagan ngayon we should respect yung kakaiba sa [LGBTQIA+] community,” Pimentel said. 

(No, because they are different too. Our appeal now should be to respect our differences with the LGBTQIA+ community.)

In response to Pimentel’s reservation, Hontiveros stressed that the bill aims to be the Magna Carta of the LGBTQIA+ community. On the other hand, Marcos responded that despite the confusion of the gender discrimination issue, it is an important matter to many Filipinos.

Meanwhile, several government agencies such as the Department of Health, Commission on Tuesday Human Rights (CHR), and the Philippine National Police (PNP) also supported the passing of  the bill. Aaron Cayabyab, a representative of the CHR, reported that the commission has always been invited to conduct gender sensitivity lectures to PNP and other government agencies. 

On the issue of health

Dr. Winlove Mojica, Clinical Associate Professor at the Division of Dermatology in Philippine General Hospital and a specialist in sexually transmitted infections and LGBTQIA+ health, connected the act of SOGIE-based discrimination to healthcare. 

Dahil na tagal-tagal na feeling nila walang magmamahal sa kanila, diferent sila, abnormal sila, then they develop maladaptive behaviors,” he stated. These behaviors, such as substance abuse and hypersexuality, are to make up for the constant lack of affection and acceptance, he reasoned.  

(Because they feel unloved, different, or abnormal for a long time, they develop maladaptive behaviors.)

He raised that the bill can deter future debates on gender discrimination by finally defining SOGIE rights for all Flipino citizens. “Magbibigay daan po at macompel [ang] academic institutions, medical institutions, and all government institutions to understand what SOGIE is,” Mojica said.

(It will compel academic institutions, medical institutions, and all government institutions to understand what SOGIE is.)

Hontiveros concluded the hearing by promising to champion the bill until its completion and motioning that the committee formally adopt the proceedings of the 17th Congress on the SOGIE Equality Bill. The bill will move to plenary sessions with the Senate to further debate on the proponents of the bill.

By Anakin Loewes Garcia

By John Robert Lee

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