It’s been 19 years since the late Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Akbayan Rep. Etta Rosales filed the Anti-Discrimination Bill in Congress. 19 years, and it still hasn’t even passed the upper house. Let that sink in for a bit.
The bill’s title, “An Act Prohibiting Discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity or Expression (SOGIE) and Providing Penalties Therefor”, is pretty self-explanatory. It merely aims to ensure that the rights of the LGBTQ+ are protected in the same way yours and mine are by imposing penalties on anyone who discriminates against them.
Simply put, it places penalties on discriminatory actions so that the LGBTQ+ can enjoy the rights that they should already be enjoying as citizens of the Philippines. It recognizes the “non-discrimination of the LGBTQ++ as both a national and international duty.”
Any act of harassment or coercion directed to the LGBTQ+ is a discriminatory act under the SOGIE. It imposes penalties on anyone who prevents members of the LGBTQ+ community from practicing their rights, such as their right to access public services, right to use establishments and services including housing, and right to apply for a professional license, among others.
It also cracks down on the “differential treatment of an employee or anyone engaged to render services, denial of admission to or expulsion from an educational institution, refusal or revocation of accreditation to any organization due to an individual’s SOGIE.”
Other prohibitions include penalties for the act of forcing any person to undertake any medical or psychological examination to alter his SOGIE, the publication of information intending to “out” a person without his or her consent, public speech meant to vilify LGBTQ+, the harassment and coercion of the latter by anyone, especially those involved in law enforcement, and gender profiling. Penalties range from P100,000 to P500,000 or a prison sentence of one to six years (1 to 6 years), or both.
It’s all common sense, tbh. So why is it taking so long to pass a law that shouldn’t even be necessary if everyone just practiced basic human decency? So far, it’s the longest running bill to stay in a period of interpellation in the Senate.
On paper, the Philippines has ranked high up in terms of LGBTQ+ acceptance. But then you think of how there are instances where LGBTQ+ job applicants are told to change their gender expression to be more suitable for the job. Or how a TV host (who also happens to be the Senate President) told a gay dad to go back in the closet on national television. Or maybe you remember that time a popular gay personality was not allowed entry into a bar due to his sexual orientation. Let’s not forget that time a transgender woman was brutally murdered by a man upon learning that she was a man by birth. The stigma is real, in ways that can be discriminatory and life threatening.
Several local government units (LGUs) already have measures in place, which is great. But with a national law like SOGIE in place, the LGBTQ+ from all over the Philippines will be able to benefit. Companies will also be required to strictly follow policies that ensure the safety of their LGBTQ+ employees.
With the Senate term ending in a few months, there’s a slim chance that the bill will be passed. Senator Risa Hontiveros has mentioned that certain prohibitions, such as the gendered uniform policy in schools and establishment of unisex restrooms, among others, face strong resistance from her colleagues. In the off chance that the bill doesn’t make it, it’ll have to go back to the beginning (just like the divorce bill), which is why your vote in this senatorial election is as important as ever.
Just remember that all the LGBTQ+ want are to live their lives like everyone else, and the SOGIE Bill is a step towards true equality.