Last January 7 and 8, DLSU Prism launched So G for SOGIE: A Webinar on the Basics of SOGIE, tackling the need to approve the SOGIE Equality Bill in the country. With guest speakers Miss Trans Global 2020 Mela Habijan, University of the Philippines Los Baños Philosophy Professor Krissah Taganas, and Akbayan Partylist first nominee Perci Cendaña, the webinar closed in on a potpourri of topics that highlighted intersectionality, inclusivity, and diversity.
Taganas opened the discussion by engaging with the audience through exercises concerning Filipino gender norms. After reviewing the audiences’ answers, she noticed that their opinion on colors, children’s toys, clothing, and even occupations followed the traditional, binary gender norms. She noted that their answers affirm that the Philippines still heavily embeds patriarchal values. Further, she explained that the Filipino perspective is skewed toward an unjust binary dichotomy, proliferating a tendency to dismiss queer and trans identities, orientations, and expressions.
Drawing inspiration from the Gender Unicorn framework, Taganas laid down basic definitions to aid in having a deeper understanding of sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics (SOGIESC) concepts. Because one has to understand, she reminded, “Everyone has SOGIESC… [it] is a part of who we are,” stating that every person has the capability to explore their SOGIESC.
Additionally, Taganas mentioned that there is a blatant bias toward individuals identifying with a certain SOGIESC, becoming a sort of privilege when intersected with multiple factors such as one’s socioeconomic background and environment. These include cisgendered heterosexuals, queer individuals accepted by peers, or LGBTQ+ people who come from higher classes. She commented, “We must own up to our own biases, think differently, and act differently. We have to explore the parameters of our privilege.”
In terms of the path toward inclusivity, she called for people to work collectively through words and actions, “The important thing is to recognize SOGIESC, of our own and of other people.”
Succeeding Taganas, Habijan began by stressing, “Napakahirap maging trans Pinay. Napakahirap maging LGBTQ+ advocate at activist,” asserting that the problem with prejudicial critics against queer expression and liberation still persists. An example Habijan pointed out was the case of three trans women in Tarlac, one of which was her friend, Ivern. The three were threatened by their school’s administration to deny their graduation rights if they wore dresses at their ceremony.
(It is extremely difficult to be a trans woman in the Philippines and to be an LGBTQ+ advocate and activist as well.)
However, Habijan reminded the audience to still continuously uphold LGBTQ+ advocacies. Using her own experiences, she shared a quote from Edgar “Egay” Calabia Samar which she revealed ignited her passion to fight for LGBTQ+ rights in the country. “Kasinungalingan at pananahimik ang pinakamatinding kasalanang gumigiyas sa lipunan,” she recounted. She furthered this point by recognizing and paying respects to the revolutions initiated by Marsha P. Johnson and other notable queer figures from past generations.
(Lies and silence are huge detriments to society.)
One of the highlights of Habijan’s segment was the urgency to eradicate the division between generations. “We shouldn’t just say ‘Ah, boomer kasi.’ Remember na iba [ang] context nila.” One must educate older generations to become more sensitive to queer expressions and identities. After all, “a culture cannot be changed easily overnight,” she reminded. “We need to create another culture that will tear this existing culture down.”
(We shouldn’t just say, “Oh, it’s because they’re boomers.” We must remember that the context of things when they were growing up is different from ours.)
Habijan also underscored the cruciality of empathy when encountering people with varying SOGIESCs. “When we educate, we need to be caring and understanding, no matter how fiery the circumstances are,” she elaborated. Nevertheless, bearing the brunt of peaceful dialogue should not be the responsibility of one side alone. “If you are privileged, ask yourself, ‘How would you feel if you were in their shoes?’” she advised. “Open your minds and say, ‘I need to understand what they’re going through.’”
The personal is political
Typical in the realm of Congress committees and hearings are endless discussions on the bureaucratic frameworks of bills. Yet, Cendaña—the speaker for the second day—focused their gaze on the human aspects that underpin the bill’s significance.
They implored audiences to name their longings in life and then likened their answers to the bill’s incandescent journey to become law, remarking, “[Policies] should come from things we want and desire.” They emphasized that the bill doesn’t come out of a vacuum. Rather, it is anchored on the deeply personal realities that envelop the community.
Cendaña recounted several instances where the LGBTQ+ community was ridiculed and abused, demanding the urgency of the bill’s passing. “Kalbo”, “Fruit Shake”, and “KJ” told of the forced head shavings of effeminate men and masculine women in Maguindanao; the denial of work to a masculine-presenting lesbian applying to a fruit stand; and the repudiation of a transgender student wearing a gender-consistent uniform, respectively. “Discrimination is real,” Cendaña declared. “This is something that our siblings are experiencing.” These narratives tangibly illustrate why the law is needed, especially that current legislation remains gender-blind to these actualities.
To Cendaña, the SOGIE Bill is not merely a policy against discrimination, but one intimately connected to upholding human well-being. The first step to promoting this—they note—is to lessen stigma against the LGBTQ+ community and increase equality. Noticing the heteronormative ayuda distribution and increased domestic abuse amid the pandemic, Cendaña noted how the bill’s diversity programs and social protections can foster development. “It’s not about changing people’s minds,” they heralded. “It’s about giving us human rights.”
The prolonged road to enact the SOGIE Bill is mired by paperwork of decades past. Yet, real-life experiences demanding its passage remain defied by time. “Put faces to these stories. People don’t understand these situations because they don’t see them,” Habijan proclaimed. Echoing Habijan, Cendaña fittingly noted that these anecdotes are enough to signify that the bill must be fully realized.
Earnest in their vision for a more progressive future, Taganas, Habijan, and Cendaña see promise in the SOGIE Bill. As a glimmer of hope for the Filipino LGBTQ+ community, the bill is many things for many people. Yet in spite of all, one thing is certain–the fight is not yet over.