Why are LGBTQIA+ people in the Philippines still waiting for an anti-discrimination law?

July 6, 2023

     By Duncan Green     

This post first appeared on Oxfam’s Views and Voices site.

Neal Igan Roxas looks back on his childhood, and at the daily challenge for LGBTQIA+ people of “braving spaces” in the face of hostility, to explain why it is so vital the landmark SOGIE equality bill passes into law, after a two-decade battle for anti-discrimination protection.

A same-sex couple at the Metro Manila Pride march in the Philippines (Picture: Watsamon Tri-yasakda/Shutterstock)

I was born a non-masculine queer person.

I would not have described myself this way if not for society labelling certain characteristics of my being as either “masculine” or “feminine”. Of course, I’m only able to describe it this way now that I’ve learned more about the issues of gender, class, and other social structures.

Growing up in a small fishing community in Dingalan, Aurora, one statement defined my adolescence.  I could almost hear their voices as I wrote this, “Magpaka-lalake ka naman.” (“Be man enough.”) No one dared to explain what it meant, but I knew it sounded as if something was wrong with me.

Like many other queer children, I was automatically labeled “less” or “other”. It was like a banner on my back saying, “you may ridicule this person” or “feel free to treat them unfairly”.

When you grow up dragging this banner, along with all the hate and prejudice that come with it, you soon find ways to hide your true identity. I don’t know if people appreciate how difficult and damaging it is for a child to focus all their energy in concealing who they truly are. Just to feel safe, we locked all our creativity, joy, flamboyance and love inside a box. 

‘Braving spaces’ in the face of hostility and prejudice

One thing we now understand is how so many LGBTQIA+ people are “braving spaces” daily: finding the courage to enter potentially hostile contexts, inside and outside.

I previously worked for an organization called Queer Quezon.  At the height of the pandemic, the organization committed to brave indoor spaces with the LGBTQIA+ community in the province of Quezon.  At that time, most of us queer individuals were confined to our homes and so forced to stay with our families.

We asked fellow LGBTQIA+ people, “Where do you feel the safest in your house?” Unsurprisingly but sadly, most of them said that they felt safest in the bathroom. This is where they could be themselves: where no one was allowed to see them.

This feeling has been heightened by an alarming rate of violence. The Fuller Project reported that since 2010, there have been at least 50 transgender or nonbinary individuals murdered across the country, but the actual death toll is likely much higher.

This culture of violence and discrimination against our community has damaged and killed too many people for far too long. It also puts LGBTQIA+ people at risk of poverty when they face discrimination in employment. We cannot let this continue.

In my first Pride Month in 2018, I found queer joy again. I celebrated and revelled in the colours of it. But perhaps I did not focus as much on the underlying issues of our community such as the rampant discrimination and violence that many of us face and the lack of recognition of our rights and freedoms.  I understand this better now.

why are we still waiting?

This pattern of discrimination is enabled and reinforced by a national legal system that is still failing to deliver basic rights and protections for LGBTQIA+ people, such as outlawing discrimination based on sexuality or gender identity. Even at a local level, Human Rights Watch has reported that only 15% of Filipinos live in areas that have ordinances against discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics (SOGIESC).

Yet, despite the fact anti-discrimination laws were first proposed over two decades ago, we are still waiting for the laws that can deliver justice for LGBTQIA+ people in the Philippines. 

So this Pride Month 2023, I want to focus on the urgent need for legal remedies to protect us from violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics (SOGIESC).

It is so important that we finally pass the SOGIESC Equality Bill, to ensure legal protection for everyone in the Phillipines. This crucial price of legislation would protect the LGBTQIA+ community from being discriminated against, harassed, bullied, or subjected to threats or acts of sexual, physical, mental, emotional, or verbal violence.

But the bill is still being delayed, facing numerous hurdles over the past two decades and has yet to be passed into law. While it has recently been approved by the Committee on Women and Gender Equality of the House of Representatives, it has a long way to go.

why I will celebrate my identity – and keep fighting for liberation

I was born a non-masculine queer person.

But more than anything, I want everyone to know that I am a person – this is my banner. From here on, I shall wave this banner in celebration of my identity and my community.  I will wave it as a protest against my oppressors. As with many other queer individuals in our country, we all have the right to live in dignity, free from coercion, violence, and discrimination.

This Pride Month, I celebrate all the brave individuals who continue to live their lives despite the many constraints and prejudice working against us. For those who have fallen in the cruel hands of our society, I will remember and say your names until justice is served.  

Working with Oxfam Pilipinas now, I am committed to working with and informing communities and groups about the struggles and victories of the LGBTQIA+ community.  I continue to brave spaces today knowing that one day, we will all be free.

Because as Marsha P. Johnson said: “No pride for some of us without liberation for all of us.”

Neal Igan Roxas is a queer activist and Gender Justice Communications Officer for Oxfam Pilipinas.

July 6, 2023
Duncan Green


Leave a Reply