Art by Christina Cawad
The media circus in the early weeks of August 2019 surrounding the Gretchen Diez bathroom incident raised important questions about the way we see gender, privilege, and political motives. It seems that every part of the story was loaded with something to unpack, from Diez seemingly using the exposure for political leverage, to the thinly veiled transphobia of some of her critics. While we can save any one of these topics for another day, right now, we’re here to talk about one of the most important discussions to arise from the matter: the necessity of the SOGIE Equality Bill a.k.a. the Anti-Discrimination Bill (ADB).
As it usually does with something so wildly controversial as sexuality and gender, discourse around the topic has been muddled with fear-mongering, hostility, and falsehoods. A lot of myths have been created around the ADB, what exactly it permits from a legal standpoint, and its implications in a dominantly Catholic country. A lot of fundamentalist religious groups especially have spread fake news about the spread of Satanism and legalisation of same-sex marriage being provisions of the bill. It’s time to set the facts straight about the SOGIE Equality Bill and break down popular misconceptions that many may claim.
What is the SOGIE Equality Bill?
The Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression Equality Bill (SOGIE Equality Bill) or Anti-Discrimination Bill (ADB) is a proposed act intended to formally recognize and distinguish sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression and prevent acts of discrimination on the basis of such. Under this legislation, members of the LGBTQ+ community (and their cisgender brothers and sisters!) can enjoy protection from the law against refusal of medical services, unfair punishments, nonconsensual outings, harassment, hate speech, and other acts of intolerance that can happen in private and public, especially in the workplace and in school systems. One of the most striking facts about the ADB is that it has been contested for around 19 years since it was initially submitted by the late Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago.
Wait, really? What have we been doing?
That’s right, the SOGIE Equality Bill has been in limbo for around the lifetime of a college sophomore, and it’s about time we set her free before her thesis year. It holds the record for the longest time a senate bill has been under interpellation since it was last read in the Senate on Sept. 20, 2017. In light of the Gretchen Diez incident, a series of hearings held by the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality, headed by Senator Risa Hontiveros, dug deeper into possible improvements for the bill. Recently, Senator Sonny Angara filed a “comprehensive” version, which is still inaccessible to the public as of now but is currently pending on the committee level.
Why do people hate it so much?
Filipino attitudes surrounding the LGBTQ+ community are very complex. This is possibly due to antiquated ideas of “bakla/tomboy” identities where the distinction between sexual orientation and gender identity or expression aren’t distinct (one of the main reasons SOGIE awareness is so important in the first place). While even the most notorious of government officials are beginning to (passively) back the rainbow banner, many influential figures still remain adamantly against its passing, namely Senator Joel Villanueva, Senate President Tito Sotto, and Gen X multi-hyphenate Senator Manny Pacquiao. There is a plethora of arguments against the SOGIE Equality Bill coming from conservative Catholics and members of the political old guard. Here are some of the most common ones:
“Gay people don’t suffer from discrimination, so it isn’t necessary.”
While most people point to the entertainment industry as evidence of LGBTQ+ acceptance in the country, the way that queer and trans people are represented in society are largely incomplete. Gay men are the most visible in Philippine media, and their purposes are seemingly to take the role of the Camp Gay. In other areas of everyday life, however, many LGBTQ+ people aren’t totally guaranteed safety and security. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans students and workers are still subject to discrimination and even at times, brutalization.
[READ: How protected are the rights of the LGBTQ+ community in the workplace?]
Most employers’ SOGIE awareness and anti-discrimination policies in their current state are abysmal, to say at the least. For the most part, we can only rely on local government policies to fill in this gap. If it’s taking 19 years for these conditions to improve, isn’t that saying something? If we’re so tolerant, let’s make it official on paper baybee!
“Okay, but, why should the LGBTQ+ get preferential treatment?”
To directly quote a provision from the 17th Congress’ most recent iteration of the ADB, “The actual sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity of expression of the person subjected to discrimination shall not be relevant for the purpose of determining whether an act of discrimination has been committed.” Straight and cisgender people would actually get protection too under this legislation. However, this bill is most relevant to the LGBT+ sector, who are at higher risk of experiencing marginalization within our society. A society progresses the more it builds itself around inclusion, and yes, it does take a little effort to do this.
“Women’s rights will be threatened by the ADB.”
Senate President Tito Sotto claimed the bill will be unlikely to get a final signing under his watch. As a reaction to the recent hearings on the SOGIE Equality Bill, he denied the validity of trans women’s identities by calling them “gay men who will never be women” because they do not have the womb and ovaries that have long-defined the female experience to a surprising amount of people. However, his sudden interest in women’s rights has overlooked intersectional feminism’s emphasis on including and protecting transgender people. Many feminist organizations in the country (including the Gabriela Women’s Party) participate in Metro Manila Pride. In fact, only a small number of radical feminists would exclude trans women, meaning Tito Sotto is only representing a minority opinion of actual women’s rights activists.
“It impedes on religious freedom!”
At its core, the SOGIE Equality Bill aims to improve the state of human rights in the country. As such, it would be counterproductive not to allow people to exercise religious freedom. Many expressed concern over the provision that criminalises media or text that encourages the “stigma on the basis of SOGIE.” Senator Hontiveros refuted this by stating that the point of the ADB is to end discrimination for all while remaining to respect religion as a fundamental human right. The bill aims to end hate-speech and inciting of violence or sexual assault against people on the basis of SOGIE.
“The SOGIE Equality Bill will permit same-sex marriage”
If you read closely, there is no provision in any version of the SOGIE Equality Bill that would permit same-sex marriage. The Family Code of the Philippines defines the institution of marriage strictly between a man and a woman. The ADB in itself does not aim to amend this. Recently however, a separate petition for same-sex marriage in the country was filed by lawyer Jesus Falcis. It was junked in the Supreme Court on the basis of not following the hierarchy of courts.
The SOGIE Equality Bill may mean a lot of things to people. Some may see it as a threat to family values, others may be apathetic thinking that it doesn’t apply to them. But for a good number of Filipinos, it means feeling safe and secure when walking in public spaces, working a new job, or navigating the academe. The fact of the matter is, it isn’t just about gay rights, nor trans rights, but about human rights as a whole. By addressing the issue of SOGIE Equality, we will be fighting ignorance and putting all Filipinos on equal footing. By making these strides, we’ll be creating the better, more inclusive Philippines that all of us deserve.