Monday, August 07, 2006

Why Not?

The following is my column today, August 7, 2006, at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today.

LET’S be honest about this. There are very few party-list representatives in the House today who are actually there to achieve the spirit and intent of the law creating party-list representation. What we have in abundance are representatives or lobby groups for certain business or political interests masquerading under various social causes. In fact, I think we can even go as far as to say that it appears that the party-list system is currently being used by certain interest groups as just another back door in getting a share of the influence and power that a seat in Congress provides.

There are party-list representatives for all kinds of communities, sectors and groups that cover a wide spectrum of geographic, political, social, and cultural classifications. So why not a party-list representative for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders? This marginalized community comprises a sizable part of national demographics. If studies are to be believed, possibly 10 percent of the population belong to this community. So why shouldn’t they be allowed to run for Congress as a party-list?

Okay, I know that there are people who, even in this day and age of supposed enlightenment, still refuse to acknowledge the existence of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders in society for reasons I cannot understand, and that’s another column.

But whether the homophobes like it or not, lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders do exist. They are our brothers, sisters, cousins, friends, uncles, aunts, relatives, teachers, engineers, lawyers, etc. They pay taxes. They are citizens of this country. And they are claiming what is rightfully theirs under the Constitution—equal rights, in this case, equal opportunity to seek legitimate representation in Congress.

This is the reason why Ang Ladlad, the party-list, was born. Ang Ladlad is fielding candidates for the 2007 elections. They are counting on the votes of their natural constituents, as well as those of individuals sympathetic to the cause of freedom. One does not have to share the sexual orientation or sexual identification to believe in the wisdom of a diverse society where there is real respect for the uniqueness of each person.

There are those who forward the notion that there is no need for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders to seek representation because there are already more than enough of them in Congress. This is within the realm of the possible, of course, except that no one among our senators or congressmen has come out yet and I doubt if someone ever will in very the near future.

Being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender is to suffer stigmatization. In fact, the fear of stigma is probably the reason why support for the antidiscrimination bill has been very disappointing. The bill has been languishing in the House of Representatives and in the Senate for so long. It is one piece of legislation that this country truly needs to enact into law simply because there is just too much discrimination directed at lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders today.
Many people like to assert that the workplace is now more accepting and tolerant of homosexuality, citing the preponderance of cross-dressing agents in the call center industry.

The call center industry, however, is a very small segment of the business landscape and can hardly be cited as representative of the real state of affairs of this country. The truth is, there is an emerging backlash directed at cross-dressing agents in the call center industry. There are call centers that have started to put in place policies that enforce “dress codes” and “rules of decorum” under the guise of promoting a twisted concept of “professionalism.”

One chief executive I talked to a few months ago cited this long litany of alleged complaints against cross-dressers in his call center company. Allegedly, many women call agents feel uncomfortable sharing lavatories with male cross-dressers. How this alleged problem can be solved by discriminating against cross-dressers and imposing a strict dress code on them is unclear, especially since other more logical solutions are available. I suspect that for many, sheer bigotry and homophobia are driving this creeping intolerance. It certainly is bad business. Cross-dressers, who just happen to be more articulate and more conversant in the English language, compose a sizable percentage of productive call center agents.

If discrimination can exist even in an industry that predominantly capitalizes on language proficiency and analytical thinking, how much more in other industries where physical appearance is given more weight?

But if anyone out there needs proof that discrimination does exist today, even in jobs and in workplaces were cross-dressing and being gay or lesbian is perfectly acceptable, let’s bring in the case of television personality Inday Garutay (real name: Christopher Borja). Inday Garutay is a cross-dressing gay man who has made a name for himself impersonating the late Inday Badiday. He is a popular sing-along host and appears on television quite often. The point is, he is not exactly a nobody in show business. In short, to quote Boy Abunda’s hackneyed attempt at modesty, “may maliit na pangalan [he’s somewhat popular].”

You would think that someone like Inday Garutay would be allowed some slack in a bar where getting drunk is the least of the activities one should be concerned about. But for the Aruba Restaurant at Metrowalk in Pasig City, cross-dressing is more offensive than serving liquor or whatever else kids do in places like these today. So Inday Garutay was unceremoniously kicked out of the place. The restaurant’s dress code specified in a poster outside the establishment that, “Management reserves the right to refuse entry to those who are inappropriately dressed, mentally depraved, and incorrigibly uncool.” No kidding.

And now, he has filed a civil suit against the restaurant asserting that, “while private establishments do have the right to impose a dress code, it may not—in the guise of implementing such a dress code— discriminate against individuals on the basis of his or her personal condition, i.e., sexual orientation.” In addition, a boycott is being initiated by the community against the restaurant. I do not know about you, but I personally refuse to step inside some restaurant that discriminates against patrons.

Add to the list of woes the many instances where you see lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders being wantonly stripped of rights as citizens for alleged molestation, immoral conduct, etc. For a while, raiding third-run seedy moviehouses frequented by gay men was a favorite activity of some television shows that took pride in calling themselves protectors of liberties (yeah right).

There are many reasons why it is time for party-list representation of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders in Congress. But one reason stands out clearly: It is time to take them seriously. Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders have something important to say and contribute to our society.

2 comments:

alden said...

Of course Bong its about time that LGBT community should have a seat in congress. I will definitely support Ang Ladlad in what ever way I can.....

snglguy said...

You can thank the church for those homophobics...