By FORMER SENATOR ATTY. JOEY D. LINA
Seeing the transgender woman in handcuffs after being barred from entering the ladies’ restroom of a Quezon City mall last Tuesday certainly hit a raw nerve.
Members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer (LGBTQ) community were swiftly up in arms. Even the so-called straight among us have become sympathetic to the plight of Gretchen Diez who captured news headlines as the video of her documented maltreatment went viral and was splattered on TV.
The ordeal of the newest poster girl for the struggle to fight discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation or gender identity has shone anew a spotlight on the arduous situation of the LGBTQ rights movement in the Philippines. And the incident has also shown how the supposedly widely held belief that LGBTQ people have gained acceptance or tolerance in Philippine society can be a fallacy.
Many find it ironic that the maltreatment of Diez happened in Quezon City, the first city in the Philippines to pass a local law, called the Quezon City Gender-Fair Ordinance, to protect the rights of the LGBT community.
“It was 2014 when we passed an ordinance that aims to defend the members of the LGBT community from any form of discrimination. It is a clear message to everyone that Quezon City discriminates no one, and the city government assures every citizen that your rights will be protected whatever your sexual orientation is,” QC Mayor Joy Belmonte said last March.
“Our message to the LGBT sector is that you are safe here; we welcome you here; we protect your rights here and you can call Quezon City your home,” Belmonte assured then.
The ordinance prohibits (in Section 4, No. 5, of SP 2357) “verbal, non-verbal ridicule and vilification” of “any person on the basis of actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE) which could result in the loss of self-esteem of the latter.”
But with what happened to Diez, who was seen on the viral video being ridiculed and mocked by the restroom cleaner who barred her entry and accosted her, it is obvious that implementation of the local ordinance leaves much to be desired. Supporters of Diez said that the mall, its security agency, and even the police officers who put her in handcuffs, ought to be made liable for her agonizing ordeal.
Her ordeal has opened up a furious debate over the Sogie Equality Bill pending in Congress. And the issue of whether or not to allow transgender women to use the ladies’ restroom, and whether it’s a matter of discrimination or more of a safety issue for biological women, has continued to rage.
In the latest episode of DZMM’s teleradyo program, Magpayo Nga Kayo (9:30 – 10:30 am, Saturdays), which I co-host with veteran broadcaster May Valle Ceniza, listeners were divided on LGBTQ issues. Many believed biological females were right to be worried for their safety if a transgender were to use the same restroom. Unlike a lesbian who seemed to pose no similar threat to the safety of females, the transgender is viewed differently.
There was even a caller who called attention to the Biblical lesson of Sodom and Gomorrah. The Bible story says that God sent two angels to rescue Lot and his family before the two cities were destroyed. Although homosexuality was common in the two cities, those who warn against the lifestyle of Sodomites share this belief: Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed not because the people there were homosexuals, but “because they engaged in immoral, homosexual acts in total abandon.”
But many can find solace in the words of Pope Francis who, in stressing homosexuals should not be condemned, said in 2013: “If a person is gay and seeks out the Lord and is willing, who am I to judge that person?” Years later, the Pope said that when he blurted his famous words on homosexuality, he was “paraphrasing by heart the Catechism of the Catholic Church where it says that these people should be treated with delicacy and not be marginalized.”
The LGBTQ community can also find solace in the apology issued last June by the American Psychoanalytic Association (APsaA) for previously treating homosexuality as a mental illness. “It is long past time to recognize and apologize for our role in the discrimination and trauma caused by our profession and say, ‘We are sorry,'” said a statement by Dr. Lee Jaffe, APsaA president. Psychiatrists declassified homosexuality as a disorder in 1973 and psychoanalysts did the same around 20 years later.
But LGBTQ people still face challenges pertaining to legal issues on sex change or sex reassignment. The Philippine Supreme Court has made it clear in two decisions that surgical sex change is not legally recognized.
“While petitioner may have succeeded in altering his body and appearance through the intervention of modern surgery, no law authorizes the change of entry as to sex in the civil registry for that reason. Thus, there is no legal basis for his petition for the correction or change of the entries in his birth certificate,” the SC said in a 2007 ruling junking the petition of Rommel Jacinto Silverio to change his name to Mely and his sex from male to female.
In a 2008 ruling, however, the SC allowed the correction of Jennifer Cagandahan’s birth certificate to reflect her gender as male and her name as Jeff because she had a rare condition called Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia or CAH and is known as intersex.
“Ultimately, we are of the view that where the person is biologically or naturally intersex the determining factor in his gender classification would be what the individual, like respondent, having reached the age of majority, with good reason thinks of his/her sex. Respondent here thinks of himself as a male and considering that his body produces high levels of male hormones (androgen) there is preponderant biological support for considering him as being male. Sexual development in cases of intersex persons makes the gender classification at birth inconclusive. It is at maturity that the gender of such persons, like respondent, is fixed,” the SC explained.
“Respondent here has simply let nature take its course and has not taken unnatural steps to arrest or interfere with what he was born with. And accordingly, he has already ordered his life to that of a male. Respondent could have undergone treatment and taken steps, like taking lifelong medication, to force his body into the categorical mold of a female but he did not. He chose not to do so. Nature has instead taken its due course in respondent’s development to reveal more fully his male characteristics,” the SC decision said.
Amid all the challenges LGBTQ people face, the pursuit of equality among all Filipinos regardless of gender orientation is paramount. So is the enactment and strict implementation of laws to protect all citizens from harassment and discrimination.
Tags: Atty. Joey D. Lina