Batting for equal rights

This is my column today.

Adding color, in so many ways, to the May 2010 elections is the participation of Ang Ladlad—the political party of lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people. Ang Ladlad is vying for a seat in Congress through the party-list system. The journey was long and challenging.

We think we are more tolerant and accepting of sexual minorities as supposedly exemplified by the few reported cases of violence directed at lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people. I stress the word “reported” because in reality, there’s a lot of violence directed at members of the community, they have become almost normal and natural. One has to be utterly blind or deaf not to know that most parents, “macho” fathers in particular, or elder male siblings, tend to subject younger members of their families into various forms of physical violence to force them to “straighten up.” There’s also a lot of abuse—ranging from psychological, verbal, and even emotional—that members of the LGBT community have to contend with on a regular basis. We’re not talking yet about the many other ways in which discrimination against sexual minorities is practiced in the workplace!

The truth is that there’s institutionalized discrimination and oppression directed at members of the community. Just look at the struggle Ang Ladlad had to wage just to win accreditation as party-list.

The group finally got into the ballot for the May 2010 elections—number 89 in the list of those accredited by the Commission on Elections —only after the Supreme Court issued a ruling last April 8 in effect rebuking the Comelec for earlier disqualifying Ang Ladlad for supposedly promoting immorality. The Supreme Court chided the bigoted and homophobic Comelec commissioners for targeting “homosexuals themselves as a class, not because of any particular morally reprehensible act.” The Court ruling was explicit about its disapproval of the way the Comelec denied Ang Ladlad’s registration “on purely moral grounds” which, the Court said, was “a statement of dislike and disapproval of homosexuals” rather than for the promotion of “any substantial public interest.”

The decision penned by Associate Justice Mariano del Castillo validated the marginalization of the LGBT community in the country by noting that “through the years, homosexual conduct, and perhaps homosexuals themselves, have borne the brunt of societal disapproval.” The Court ruled that “it is not difficult to imagine the reasons behind this censure—religious beliefs, convictions about the preservation of marriage, family, and procreation, even dislike or distrust of homosexuals themselves and their perceived lifestyle.” The decision notwithstanding, there are more roadblocks along the way.

I was in Mindanao recently and had the opportunity to interview Crisanto Lopera, Ang Ladlad’s third nominee. Lopera represents Mindanao (he is currently based in General Santos City) in the Ang Ladlad organization. Lopera, who was my schoolmate in college, has spent considerable years working for various non-government organizations and is a fierce advocate of health and human rights issues. In fact, what distinguishes the three nominees of Ang Ladlad is their strong background in development work. In contrast to the nominees of certain party-list groups who use the system merely as a backdoor to Congress, Ang Ladlad’s nominees are members of the community they represent. They have spent decades fighting for and advocating the issues of the community.

Lopera does not fit the stereotype of the typical gay man, caricatured as Pacifica Falayfay in Philippine movies. Lopera fits the physical stereotype of a “macho man.” He insists, however, that there is nothing wrong with gay people who express their sexuality and their personal identities through colorful get-ups. “People shouldn’t be judged solely on what they look like or how they express themselves physically, what is important is how they contribute to society,” he says. He noted that most gay people are breadwinners who suffer under extremely intolerable work conditions—most of them don’t have security of tenure, are not even paid minimum wages, and don’t get state benefits. According to Lopera “many operators of beauty parlors or owners of restaurants and stores who employ gay men do not even pay Social Security System premiums for their employees.” In addition, he notes that many lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders are regularly subjected to various from of degradation and humiliation.

Many people raise an eyebrow to Ang Ladlad’s advocacies questioning the wisdom of providing lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders “special rights.” Lopera clarifies that Ang Ladlad is not fighting for special rights. “Gay rights are human rights and what we are fighting for are equal rights —the right to be treated as decent human beings, the right to have equal access to the same opportunities that other citizens are entitled to,” he said. As a form of analogy, he said that they are not asking that red carpets be rolled out for homosexuals when they cross the street—just that they are not subjected to harassment or ridiculed just because of who or what they are, something which is enjoyed by most everyone else.

He further says that Ang Ladlad is not even pushing for gay marriages to be declared legal. This is not among their current priorities. If they win, they would focus their energies and resources into providing basic legal and economic assistance for members of the community through programs that ensure livelihood and economic empowerment.

People cannot seem to agree on what comprises marginalization and even the chairman of the Commission on Elections seems oblivious to the social context around the concept. If we come to think about it, however, it really is not difficult to grasp the concept of marginalization. We’re all familiar with the concept of “being in the margins,” or being at the border or edge of something—whether it pertains to the margins of a document, or the margins of society. And when we really come to think about it—objectively and rationally—lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people are in the margins of society.

The argument that there are many members of the community that are affluent, or have risen to the pinnacle of the political or economic structures of Philippine society does not hold water because the same argument can be applied to any community. Majority of the members of the LGBT community remain marginalized and have no access even to basic protection supposedly guaranteed by law. “The issue is equal rights,” Lopera insists.


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