By Manolo Serapio Jr.
Many communities across the Philippines have embraced lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgenders and intersex beyond their gender identity. In these communities, they are leaders, educators, workers, professionals and partners in progress.
These communities are showing the way to nurturing inclusivity and equality regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.
As a nonprofit organization that works with local communities for the improvement of the quality of basic education in the country, Synergeia Foundation strives for every child to be given equal opportunity to become the best of what he, she or they can be.
Synergeia promotes gender equality and inclusivity as it works in partnership with 421 local governments across the country to improve and strengthen education governance.
One of the foundation’s strongest partners is Geefre Alonsabe, the mayor of Alimodian, Iloilo and a proud member of the LGBTI community.
“I am living proof that my sexual preference is not a hindrance to reach my dreams and to serve (my) constituents as their local chief executive,” he says. “We work towards promoting quality and equality in education. Education for all.”
Many of Synergeia’s local government partners from Luzon to Visayas and Mindanao work together with LGBTI groups.
In Vigan, Ilocos Sur there’s Maris-Ti-Ayat (Rainbows of Love) which is in charge of LGBTI activities in the city. In Candon, also in Ilocos Sur, there is LGBT Pride Council; in Alimodian, it is the LGBTI Alimodian Chapter; and in Jolo, Sulu there is Promoting Resilience, Identity, Dedication and Engagement (PRIDE) for LGBTQIA.
There is LGBTI representation in Vigan’s Local School Board and LGBTI activities are part of the budgeting process at the local government in Candon. The local government of Alimodian has hired LGBT employees and has conducted information campaigns to promote gender equality, acceptance, gender sensitivity and LGBT rights.
While some communities are not comfortable discussing gender diversity, local leaders and parents continue to uphold respect for every individual as a unique person.
In Jolo, Sulu LGBTI members participate in many school and community activities. Many of them are professionals working in offices and other institutions. The Jolo-based LGBTI group PRIDE for LGBTQIA says there is a need to organize the different members of the LGBTQIA community because they contribute to governance.
“The LGBTQI community in Jolo is one of the important sectors in the society given that most of the members are professionals in public and private offices, schools and academe and other public spheres,” says Jolo Mayor Kerkhar Tan.
Strides and lapses
In the absence of a national law that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, some communities have enacted their own rules. About 30 local governments have passed anti-discrimination ordinances out of the 1,637 cities and municipalities across the Philippines. Vigan and Candon have similar ordinances in place as well as the province of Iloilo, where Alimodian is located.
Four LGUs have implementing rules and regulations that would allow for the ordinance to be enforced. These are Quezon City, Cebu City, San Julian municipality in Samar province and General Santos City.
The Department of Education enacted a Child Protection Policy in 2012 to address bullying and discrimination in schools, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
The following year, Congress passed the Anti-Bullying Act of 2013 with implementing rules and regulations that enumerate sexual orientation and gender identity as prohibited grounds for bullying and harassment.
Yet a report by Human Rights Watch in 2017 based on interviews and group discussions with students, parents and educators in 10 Philippine cities showed that patterns of bullying and mistreatment of LGBT students persisted.
The closure of all local schools since the pandemic began in March 2020 has helped eliminate incidents of bullying with some teachers also not seeing instances of cyber bullying as students learn remotely.
“It feels like our world has quieted down because we haven’t heard any cases of violence and bullying in our school and we also haven’t seen reports of cyber bullying,” said Grade 7 teacher Brijeth Carolino from Bolinao, Pangasinan.
‘LGBTQI rights are human rights’
There is still a lot of work that needs to be done to remove the hurdles that LGBTI people face and to prevent discrimination and promote equality amidst reports of continued violations of the human rights of members of the LGBTI community.
Many local government partners of Synergeia do not condone any kind of public shaming of women, men and children regardless of gender and socio-economic status.
“All persons are free and equal in dignity and rights. LGBTQI rights are human rights,” Commission on Human Rights spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia said.
“We stress that not even a religious belief can justify a human rights violation. Religious freedom, while it includes the absolute right to believe in a dogma, cannot transgress on the rights of others nor be used to justify harm and violence,” she said.