Art by Terence Eduarte for The Philippine LGBT Chamber of Commerce
Tell me, how accepting do you think the Philippines is of the LGBTQ+ community? It’s easy to think that we’re a country that is accepting — or tolerant, at least — but not all that we see on TV speaks to what’s real on the streets, in our homes, and in our workplaces. Just because we held the first Pride March in Southeast Asia and have icons like Vice Ganda and Boy Abunda in the public eye, doesn’t mean it’s all rainbows and butterflies. Not to sound like a total Debbie Downer, but when literal lives are at stake, you have to look at things a little more sharply. Where are we in this fight, really?
Recently, the Philippine LGBT Chamber of Commerce, with support from the Kingdom of the Netherlands, conducted a study on the state of LGBTQ+ policies in corporate workplaces. Titled “The Philippine Corporate SOGIE Diversity & Inclusiveness Index 2018,” the study surveyed 100 companies in the country, aiming to establish a quantitative baseline database on where the LGBTQ+ community stands in the workplace.
Not to sound like a total Debbie Downer, but when literal lives are at stake, you have to look at things a little more sharply. Where are we in this fight, really?
Here’s the tea: while the study is not representative (conducting a study with 1,000 respondents is prohibitively expensive), it shows that many companies in the country are not inclusive and do not have policies in place to protect its queer employees. Out of the hundred, only 17 companies have some semblance or mention of policies against discrimination based on an individual’s sexual orientation and gender identity or expression (SOGIE). These 17 companies are from the BPO industry and foreign-headquartered organizations.
What’s more, the companies that did not have LGBTQ+-inclusive policies also did not express interest nor do they have any plans of putting such policies in place within the next five years. How depressing is that? This means that while the Anti-Discrimination Bill (Senate Bill No. 1271) is still pending, the LGBTQ+ community will have no right to fight for benefits, and more importantly, the guarantee of safety within their respective workplaces.
The study asked LGBTQ+ community stakeholders what they thought the problem was, and they said that generally, companies do not feel like LGBTQ+ rights are urgent, because they think that the demographic is too small to be a priority, even if they don’t have an idea of its actual size. Unless there are SOGIE policies enforced by the government, companies aren’t inclined to put inclusive policies in place.
The study asked LGBTQ+ community stakeholders what they thought the problem was, and they said that generally, companies do not feel like LGBTQ+ rights are urgent, because they think that the demographic is too small to be a priority, even if they don’t have an idea of its actual size.
One more thing is cost: it takes time, money and expertise to carry out these policies correctly and inclusively, a sacrifice that most companies are not willing to make. For example, insurance for same-sex couples is more expensive because few insurance companies offer a same-sex policy. What more insurance for trans individuals. In the 100 companies surveyed, only three have guidelines for the transitioning.
To this day, people still experience discrimination and abuse because of their SOGIE. In the study, queer individuals were interviewed about their experiences of discrimination within the workplace. In 2010, Grace (not her real name), a transwoman, was applying for a job when a hiring executive strongly suggested changing her gender expression so she would be a more acceptable candidate for the position. That was eight years ago, but it seems like not much progress has been made to eliminate LGBTQ+ discrimination in the workplace.
With all that said, let’s pause for a bit. Do you still think that the Philippines is accepting of the LGBTQ+ community? If the corporate landscape of the country is already as dismissive to the plight of the queer community, what more the country at large? It’s no longer correct to think that companies — and communities, by extension — even “tolerate” LGBTQ+ people, because LGBTQ+ people don’t even get the same protections as heterosexual people do. When you think about it, a company or individual doesn’t need a law to be inclusive and anti-discriminatory — they just need to do it.