Anti-Discrimination Legislation for LGBT Persons
Although the Philippines is considered one of the more tolerant countries in the Asia-Pacific region with regard to homosexuality, there are still many attitudes and practices that foster discrimination and even violence against LGBT persons. A 2014 UNDP/USAID country report on LGBT rights in the Philippines observes that “cultural and social attitudes towards LGBT people are complex, with signs of acceptance, particularly among the young,” but there are questions “whether that acceptance is based on LGBT Filipinos conforming to stereotypes and occupational niches.”
While the country had elected its first transgendered woman to Congress in 2016, LGBT-related killings are also a reality, with 28 cases reported during the first half of 2011. Human Rights Watch released a report this year on discrimination against LGBT students in secondary schools in the Philippines. Based on interviews and group discussions with LGBT students from 10 cities in the country, the report documented various types of abuses these students experience such as physical bullying, sexual assault and harassment, verbal abuse, and cyberbullying.
Although there are a number of cities and municipalities that have local ordinances against discrimination of LGBT persons, the lack of a national law against discrimination makes it difficult to achieve comprehensive and consistent protection.
Both the Philippine Congress and the Senate have pending bills prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity or expression. The progress of these bills is being carefully monitored not only members of the LGBT community but also by various religious groups. Supporters of these bills see them as necessary legislation that will provide comprehensive legal protection to a vulnerable and marginalized group in society. The bills seek to prohibit any form of sexual or gender-based discrimination on a variety of situations such as health care, military service, employment and education.
Opponents of the bills, especially among conservative religious groups, are concerned that such legislation will pave the way to the legalization of same-sex marriage. Another concern is the absence of any religious exemption in the current version of the bills, which can expose religious institutions to sanctions if they are perceived to be excluding LGBT persons from access to certain services or positions because of religious reasons. For example, Catholic orphanages that do not allow adoptions to same-sex couples may be penalized. Some faith-based institutions that traditionally practice gender segregation in worship, work or school spaces may be sanctioned if they do not allow transgendered persons into certain places or activities that are consistent with their gender identification.
The discussion on the bills in social media has already been marked by offensive and harsh language from some conservative bloggers. It is important for the Philippine Church to be a voice of reason and compassion on this issue. It needs to express its concerns about religious freedom without casting aspersions on those who disagree with it. The Church has lost much credibility and goodwill already in the past when it used strong-arm tactics to unsuccessfully block reproductive health legislation. We hope that the Church has learned its lesson and will take the path of dialogue and compromise when publicly participating in the discussions on legislation to protect LGBT persons from discrimination and violence.