An Open Window: Filipino LGBTQ+ on the SOGIE Bill
The Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Expression (SOGIE) Equality Bill can be described this way: a snail. A snail that has to pass potholes filled with murky water, numerous bumps in the road, and jump through hoops lit up with fire to get to its destination. And, like a snail, progress is as slow as it can be.
Filipinos are used to the thought there is only a man and a woman. Nothing more. And ideals ingrained within Filipinos do not take kindly to change. The Philippines is a country centered on family and religion. Its influence deep-seated within every Filipino’s mind, heart, and soul. Ideals and beliefs are passed on from generation to generation — relying heavily on religion, on their faith, as a basis for their beliefs, customs, opinions, and ideals, and as a result, their beliefs and opinions are constant and concrete. The SOGIE Bill counteracts the religious ideals on gender and sexuality, instead proclaiming the freedom of expression and safety for all.
“One of the aims of the SOGIE equality bill is to protect LGBT people from SOGIE-based discrimination and I have to stress that hindi lang naman LGBT people ang may SOGIE (It’s not just the LGBT people that have SOGIE) — everyone has SOGIE,” states a member of the University of the Philippines (UP) Babaylan, Jamie Montilla Doble. It has been a common misconception that the bill only catered to the LGBTQIA+ community and it negates the rights of heterosexuals. But in fact, the bill pushes for the protection and freedom of all sexuality and gender identities, all religions, and all ages, especially the Filipino youth, who is the most vulnerable to influence and discrimination. Although, Doble continues, “It's just that LGBT people are the most vulnerable to SOGIE-based discrimination, which is why it's important for this bill to be passed.”
This message is pushed further with the statement of a fellow in the LGBTQ+ rights program at Human Rights Watch, Ryan Thoreson, “LGBT students in the Philippines are often the targets of ridicule and even violence. And in many instances, teachers and administrators are participating in this mistreatment instead of speaking out against discrimination and creating classrooms where everybody can learn.” Students experience discrimination and harassment not only from their classmates and peers but also from their teachers who are supposed to be their guardians, the authoritarian figure in the classroom. In an in-depth interview on Filipinos by the Human Rights Watch in Manila, they found out that school policies foster discrimination towards LGBT students and fail to give them support.
“I was called out again, by a teacher this time, in class and everyone was so silent, and the teacher said, ‘God only created man and woman, no one in between,’” said a secondary school student named Davie Bonifacio. He then continued saying that he felt ashamed having his classmates stare at him while his teacher belittled him for being who he is. They were taught, in school, that “being gay is worse than being a thief or taking drugs.”
Another secondary school student, Nap Arnaiz, stated that it was very hard to be an LGBTQ+ person in the Philippines, “It’s really disheartening when you can’t find someone to talk about your experiences, and you can’t sympathize with anyone.”
Arnaiz hopes that authority figures in schools, teachers, and councilors, should be more open to discussing these circumstances with their students to support them. “So at the very least, you should make them realize that this is reality. Sex happens. LGBT people exist. There are trans individuals out there. And you should instill in them, at the very least, understanding and respect.”
The LGBTQ+ community has been subject to years and years of harassment and discrimination, with the SOGIE Bill serving as a hope for its conclusion. The bill is 19 years in the making, with numerous revisions and blockades faced along the way. Politicians are loud in their disagreement, with religious factions even louder.
Although, the SOGIE Bill may have caught some traction in the past year. In a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, a center that provides information on social issues, public opinion, and demographic trends, it was discovered that 73% of Filipinos think that homosexuality should be accepted by society. Only 24% percent said that they did not accept homosexuality, and 3% abstaining from answering the survey altogether.
Another proof of its rising support is found in social media, in the posts of notable Filipino celebrities like Pia Wurtzbach and Anne Curtis-Smith.
Pia Wurtzbach posted a graph called Genderbread person and encourages her followers to promote and support the LBTQIA+ community. “No action is too small! Every effort creates ripples of positive change that we need to finally stop stigma and discrimination (both external and within the community itself), hopefully, through this post, I can educate someone and reach those who need to understand the concept of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Sexual Characteristics (Expression).”
Anne Curtis-Smith declares herself as an ally of the community and says that she has been for a long time. “Equality is all they seek for. Equality regardless of what gender they identify as or how they choose to express themselves and equality as human beings and citizens of this country... just like all of US.”
In the end, it is evident in all of us that identity is an integral part of a person’s being, a necessity. Different factors — their name, age, personality, heritage, gender, and a lot more — all mixed up to form a whole, complete being. With the SOGIE Bill in place, all children are able to make their own decisions, to choose their own identities, to be who they want to be; and not just shape themselves in the mold that their parents have fixed for them. They grow, not as a mirror of their parents, but as another person in their own right. They become themselves through the choices they make, in their own terms, free from the shadow of danger, and the eyes of judgment.
If the SOGIE bill is passed, the government chooses to take one step forward, then the rest would follow. A single break in the mundane pattern can rearrange the whole society for, what 73% of Filipinos see, as the better. All Filipinos would be acknowledged and respected, as they always should be, all expressing themselves out loud to the world with no hindrance or fear. All would remember individuality, of everyone being exceptional and unique in their own ways, yet equal in each other’s eyes, as humans, as people.