By Joseph B.A. Marzan
As the country and the world celebrate and amplify the struggles of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ+) community, advocates in the city and province of Iloilo say that the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, as well as institutionalized stigma, remain the biggest roadblocks for better treatment of the community here.
Irish Inoceto of the Iloilo Pride Team told Daily Guardian that the COVID-19 pandemic made it difficult for them to engage in campaigns and provide necessary assistance to members of the community locally.
“For the past 2 years, the challenge has been the pandemic itself. Prior to the initiation of the ‘Rainbow Care Packages’, there was no attention being given to LGBT individuals and families in the giving of aid. Thankfully, the local government also took up that initiative by delivering care packages to the communities,” Inoceto said.
Gabriel Felix Umadhay, Executive Assistant for LGBT Affairs in the Iloilo City Government and a Lead Convenor of the Iloilo LGBTQ+ Network, said that the stigma against the community which has existed prior to the pandemic remained the “top challenge” for them.
Umadhay shared his own experience of difficulties when the Office for LGBT Affairs was being set up under the City Mayor’s Office back in 2019.
“The stereotype of tolerance is still there. There are many challenges, number one gay men being called prime predators of children, another is the so-called ‘unacceptable’ norms of a good Christian, and the inaccessibility of the LGBTQ+ community in proper employment that could’ve helped them gain more value and self-esteem. These issues constrain us to move forward because the stereotype is grave,” Umadhay said.
“It’s difficult to penetrate and introduce new values because there is a prevalent theme on pushing [stereotypes and stigma]. In creating the Office of the LGBT Affairs, there was already a notion of an ‘ulterior motive’ to pass LGBT-exclusive legislation. It was difficult to make people understand that it was not just about putting exclusivity, but it was also putting focus to answer for the problems. The cisgender community thinks that whenever we push for something, there is an ‘exclusivity’ being pushed but we are just here for inclusion and for ourselves to enjoy basic human rights the same as everyone else,” he added.
Inoceto struck the same tone, saying there is still a need to educate the public on the concept of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression, and Sex Characteristics (SOGIESC).
She cited the usual roles being given to gay men in the performing arts, which usually involved facial makeup and fashion design, as well as to lesbians who are prohibited from wearing masculine clothes.
“More of our people need to be educated with SOGIESC. Although Iloilo, compared with other localities, is more tolerant of the LGBT, still it is not equal to acceptance. We are pushing for education on SOGIESC in different communities, and showing them that we are not only for the parlor [nor] the entertainment industry and that we are everywhere. Even if we work in different areas, they have to remember that we [LGBTQ+] should not be boxed by how we have been usually seen,” she said.
Another challenge Inoceto mentioned is the lack of organizing of the LGBTQ+ community aside from the cash assistance already provided to them.
“[Local government units] should help LGBT groups in educating communities and should, by themselves, organize the community. So far, from what we’ve seen, members of the community are just being let be, and they’re being boxed more. There should be more focus on skills honing so that our LGBTQ+ members could be more productive in society,” she added.
She also emphasized that the lack of a national law against discrimination of persons with diverse SOGIESC continued to enable the existing stigma accompanied by acts of discrimination and gender-based violence.
She added that while Republic Act No. 11313 (Safe Spaces Act) provides protections based on SOGIE, it is limited only to acts committed in public places.
“There is still no anti-discrimination law that protects the rights of persons of diverse SOGIESC in the whole country. It also means that we are still subject to a lot of discriminatory practices and gender-based violence. We have had cases of hate crimes in Mindanao, and of transmen and transwomen killings in the country,” she said.
“We have the Safe Spaces Act which include SOGIE in the law itself, protecting us only in public spaces. There is no protection for private spaces including the home and private institution. It’s good, but it still needs more to protect [LGBTQ+ persons] in the whole country,” she added.
Inoceto also cited the 18 anti-discrimination ordinances in the country but the downside to this is the jurisdictional limitations of these municipal laws, as well as the lack of legal action against perpetrators.
She pointed out the lack of an Anti-Discrimination Board particularly in Iloilo City based on Regulation Ordinance No. 2018-090 (Anti-Discrimination Ordinance of Iloilo City), which also delays the proper implementation of the ordinance.
Section VI of the said ordinance mandated the creation of the Board with the Mayor as chairperson, the head of the Sangguniang Panglungsod’s Committee on Women and Family Relations as vice-chairperson.
The heads of the city government’s Task Force on Moral Values and the city police’s Women and Children Protection Desk, as well as representatives from LGBT groups and religious groups make up the rest of the board’s membership.
“They can only protect particular areas of the country, and if it happens in those areas. In Iloilo, we have the provincial and the city anti-discrimination ordinance, but if you look at it, have there been cases filed against discrimination, or against people who have violated these ordinances?” she stated.
Inoceto mentioned that local schools were not safe against stigma, citing several cases of discriminatory acts even during the pandemic.
“There was this school policy by [an Iloilo City catholic school], and another is cases of discrimination in some state universities, where a transwoman was not allowed to go inside the school because she was wearing feminine clothes with long hair and was also discriminated inside the classroom by teachers themselves,” she said.
Ultimately, Inoceto said that their organization’s lack of funding has also resulted in the lack of support being provided to members of the LGBTQ+ community who may need it.
“There are cases which go unreported because there is a lack of education on [Anti-Discrimination Ordinances] and what the rights are of the LGBT community here in the city, but we have been trying to educate people about that, but we are just an NGO that has no funding, so we are at the mercy of being able to go into communities,” she said.
While Pride Month is celebrated around the world and here in the Philippines this June, Iloilo Pride Month is celebrated every October to coincide with the global National Coming Out Day every 11th of that month.
But the Iloilo Pride Team and the Iloilo City Government will each have smaller activities and advocacies in line with the June celebrations which are expected to be respectively announced soon.