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Queer and present danger: gay rights in the Philippines.

July 2002. It was a rain-filled, cold Sunday afternoon. Up at an obscure, inconspicuous little bar, a handful of men and women, gathered to celebrate Pride Month. They were young and old, students, workers, farmers, professionals, factory workers. Some were political, apolitical, neutral. Few shared the same views as the others. Each person was different from the next, and yet in a way, they were all the same -- men and women who happened to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgendered -- who have gathered not only to celebrate their sexualities, but also to re member the many men and women who came before them, who paved the way so that they can all freely come together that day to celebrate. They had also gathered to talk about the many ways in which gays and lesbians in the Cordilleras' continue to be discriminated against and how each one can take action against this discrimination.

30 years ago, such gatherings would not have been possible. But the efforts of gays and lesbians to fight for their rights beginning with the Stonewall Riots in New York in 1969, gays, lesbians, bisexual, and transgendered (GLBT) have carved a breathing space.

Gays and lesbians are advised not to be too comfortable in this space however. For even as, they can now celebrate "pride month," they still, face a lot of challenges, problems and issues continue to hamper their self-actualization.

Julie Palaganas of Lesbians for National Democracy (LESBOND) a Baguio-based lesbian and human rights organization points out, GLBT people have always been subjected to discrimination and homophobia (or the irrational fear of homosexuals).

Despite the growth of gay and lesbian activism in the Philippines, lesbians still face a lot of discrimination. These stem from the fact that for lesbians, the discrimination is three-fold: the fact of their being women, their sexual preferences for the same sex and its interconnection to class issues.

Throughout history, women have been subjected to gender subordination and expectations that placed them under male-dominated patriarchal society, limiting their potentials and that of their male counterparts. Gays and lesbians who have chosen to relate with the same sex emotionally, sexually and spiritually and rejecting gender expectations and images (as homemakers, reproducers, etc.) placed them outside the norms of society and labeled them as deviants. Homophobia (or the irrational fear and hatred of homosexuals) was made to flourish and be accepted.

ISSUES

Marginalization

Palaganas says that one of the issues that Filipino lesbians face is economic marginalization. Employers also undervalue lesbians in the workplace. She cites the labor practices at PEZA (Philippine Economic Zone Authority) at Loakan. Lesbian workers there are given male work but EPZA pays them a lower amount that does not correspond to the job.

She points out that lesbians, especially those who come from low-income families, are stuck with low-level, low-skilled, low-paid work and limited opportunities.

And while their heterosexual female counterparts have to contend with sexual harassment in the workplace, lesbians, on the other hand, face discrimination based on their physical appearance.

Political Subordination

Obviously lesbian-friendly Filipino legislation is way behind its Western counterparts (this snot surprising as there are only a handful of woman-friendly legislation -- each one's approval painstaking and long). While same sex couples mother countries enjoy a wide array of benefits, Filipino gays and lesbians have yet to see a bill prohibiting discrimination against homosexuals passed.

Admittedly, International Conventions such as the Vienna Declaration have taken great pains (and measures) to ensure that homophobia and discrimination against gays and lesbians will be eliminated, but countries are not mandated to do so and even if they were, the Philippine legislative and law enforcement experience tells us that such treaties or declarations cannot protect lesbians from homophobia and discrimination. A number of bills have been introduced in the Philippine Congress to protect gays and lesbians but sloppy media reporting and lack of proper information dissemination have killed these bills and any hopes of gay-friendly legislation.

Stereotypes

A lot of myths and conceptions that lesbians face also spring from gender stereotypes -- or the fixed, unquestioned beliefs or images we carry in the back of our minds about men and women passed from one generation to the next.

While their sisters are stereotyped -- as mothers, caregivers, virgins, whores or saints, lesbians are also stereotyped as "women who haven't found the right men", "man-haters", "frustrated heterosexuals" or "women who have had, bad experiences with men."

What is frustrating is that these stereotypes are perpetuated by institutions of mass socialization, such as the church, the school, the media, the workplace -- all of which legitimize homophobia and discrimination against gays and lesbians.

For example, churches since time immemorial, have justified, condoned and even encouraged women's subordination/subjugation, submissiveness and passiveness. The churches' stance on women is reinforced by formal education where teachers condition boys and girls to gender-appropriate behavior (such as "boys don't cry", etc.) and vocations (teaching and nursing for girls and engineering and architecture for boys).

"Students feel boxed-in by these stereotypes. If you go against that, they call you deviant and subject to ridicule from teachers, classmates. You'll even be subjected to some form of disciplinary action," says Palaganas.

In media, the range of gay-friendly advertisements, movies, radio and tv programs, songs, are very limited to say the least. The media continues to hype up stereotyped notions about lesbians.

One need only turn on the television to see an unhealthy dose of stereotypes of gays and lesbians, from Marc Logan's segment in ABS-CBN's TV Patrol, to the "Hello, Billy" PLDT ad, to the "Maalaala Mo Kaya" sobfests where the gays and lesbians are mere caricatures of themselves, not portrayed as strong, intelligent, talented people capable of contributing to society.

They also encourage the proliferation of gay beauty pageants which some may claim is a positive portrayal of gays, but viewed from a different perspective, manifests the continuing commodification and exploitation of gays.

"Such pageants reinforces the low regard for gays. They institutionalize the perception that gays are mere entertainers. Thus, the true value of gays are buried," Palaganas adds.

Government programs have also limited gays and lesbians access to needed services. Health programs, for example, continue to marginalize gays and lesbians.

For example, of the ten elements of the Philippine Reproductive Health Framework, not one caters specifically to gay and lesbian health. Can't Live in the Closet (CLIC) a Manila-based lesbian rights organization, also points out that government health programs mostly prioritize married women of reproductive age or adolescent girls.

Palaganas also adds that health care professionals always assume that all women seeking health care are heterosexual, thus failing to meet the needs of lesbians. Coupled with this is the prevalence of homophobia and inadequate information about lesbians needs, in the medical profession, which makes lesbians avoid seeking medical care, for fear of being ridiculed or harassed.

Such low perceptions of gays and lesbians have also made them as vulnerable as women to violence.

These may range from verbal, psychological, physical, emotional, economic to spiritual abuse. It can take the form of sexual harassment, stalking, physical abuse, rape, etc.

All these reveal the need to step up advocacies for gay and lesbian rights to eliminate discrimination against them. It means a determined effort to gather enough support for the crafting, lobbying, and eventually, the passing of laws and policies and the delivery of welfare programs that are gay-friendly.
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Publication:Igorota
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:Sep 1, 2002
Words:1227
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