‘Faith is not the enemy of equality:’ Filipino LGBTQ+ reignite call for Sogie bill passage
MANILA, Philippines — The first version of the measure banning discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics (Sogiesc) was filed in Philippine Congress 23 years ago.
Despite the decades-long delay, LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, asexual, and more) community members continue to advocate for the Sogiesc Equality bill.
Several religious groups have been among the main opposers of the bill through the years.
Issues concerning religion were raised in separate hearings of the Senate and the House of Representatives on Wednesday.
A House committee hearing on eight Sogiesc Equality bills was disrupted by Cibac Party Rep. Eduardo “Eddie” Villanueva–founder of Jesus is Lord Church–as he called the discussion illegal and accused it of forum shopping.
Meanwhile, his son–Senate Majority Leader Joel Villanueva–sought to refer the proposed measure to the rules committee, which he chairs, as he cited a pile of letters from religious groups who claimed they were not consulted about the bill.
In light of these, Anna Cubacub, president of the University of the Philippines Babaylan, pointed out that Congress is not the place for debates that “emphasize how religion takes precedence over actual human lives at risk, because the Bible or whatever dogma is not the law of the land.”
“Faith is not the enemy of equality. Hate is. Bakit ba natin pinag-aaway ang pananampalataya at mga karapatang pantao? Hindi ba ang sinasabi lang naman ng religion ay maging mabuting tao para maging deserving sa magandang afterlife or kung ano man concept nila of that? And that entails upholding the human rights of other people,” she told INQUIRER.net.
(Equality and faith are not enemies.Hatred is. Why are faith and human rights at odds? Isn’t religion supposed to teach us that being good will get us into heaven? That includes respecting others’ human rights. )
Cubacub reminded lawmakers that they were elected to represent and improve their constituents’ lives.
“Hindi ito place para magpataasan ng ihi kung sinong mas nakakaalam ng theology or sinong mas credible na theologian (This is not a place for them to compete about who knows more about theology or who’s the more credible theologian). The legislative system must uphold the separation of church and state,” she stressed.
Cubacub quoted Bataan 1st District Rep. Geraldine Roman, one of the House’s main sponsors of the Sogiesc Equality bill, who argued lawmakers cannot define what sin is and what it is not.
Reyna Valmores, chairman of Bahaghari Philippines, agreed with Cubacub, citing LGBTQIA+-friendly churches.
“It is not faith per se that is the hindrance to pro-equality laws. In fact, there are plenty of churches across the country who support equal rights for the LGBTQIA+ community and even embrace and welcome LGBTQIA+ clergy including proud transgender women among their ranks,” she said.
LGBTQIA+ and PH politics
Valmores argued that legislators with different gender equality ideas will always exist.
“But while there is a need to unmask them for their disregard for LGBTQIA+ Filipinos, we must likewise dissect Filipino politics as a whole to see how the Sogiesc Equality bill has been stalled,” she said.
Valmores said the “deeper problem” is that “there is always a supermajority in Congress and Senate beholden to the president.”
The Sogiesc Equality bill’s delay is due to the president not prioritizing LGBTQIA+ rights, she said, and on LGBTQIA+ issues in general, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has remained quiet.
“We, therefore, challenge President Marcos to finally take a stand on LGBTQIA+ issues by certifying the Sogiesc Equality bill as urgent. We take his continued silence to be a complete and utter disregard for the plight of LGBTQIA+ Filipinos across the country,” she pressed.
As for Cubacub, she said the government should “stop being enemies of equality” by upholding the separation of Church and State, and recognizing that the LGBTQIA+ community is merely pushing for a life free of fear, discrimination, abuse and violence.
“We implore our senators and representatives to be champions of equality, justice and human rights,” she said.
Cubacub similarly urged the Marcos administration to fast-track and certify the Sogiesc Equality bill as of “national interest.”
“Tag it as a priority para the bill can likewise be tagged as urgent,” she added.
23 years too long
A long history of discrimination, violence and abuse haunts the LGBTQIA+ community and the threat still looms over their heads, according to Valmores and Cubacub.
“Hindi ito gawa-gawa lang, reality siya (This is not made up, it’s the reality) and so many people are starting to realize that people of diverse Sogiesc, especially the LGBTQIA+ community, are marginalized — except our very own leaders,” Cubacub said.
When the first version of the Sogiesc Equality bill was filed in 2000, she said the hope for their rights to be recognized flickered among LGBTQIA+ persons.
“Twenty-three years later, we still need it as much as we did then. The difference now is that the community, the advocates, organizations and our allies — we are finally stronger dahil marami na ang naglakas ng loob na gawing adbokasiya ang Sogiesc equality (because many people are finding the courage to make Sogie equality their advocacy),” Cubacub noted.
The demand for the proposed measure to be passed has grown, because there are more people backing it, she added.
But Valmores pointed out that during those 23 long years, members of the LGBTQIA+ community “have been losing their jobs, education, opportunity, and lives.”
“The story of such LGBTQIA+ persons as Heart Pontanes, Jessa Remiendo, Jennifer Laude, Ebeng Mayor, and countless others as a result of discrimination are a testament to this. The refusal of the government to prioritize policies against gender-based abuse and discrimination [is] a failure of its mandate to serve vulnerable Filipinos in need,” she lamented.
Discrimination and hate crimes against the LGBTQIA+, according to Valmores, will persist “without legal remedies for victims to seek meaningful justice.”
Fight the fight
Despite the seemingly long journey that lies ahead in the passage of the Sogiesc Equality bill, Cubacub and Valmores called on the LGBTQIA+ community to keep fighting the fight.
“Malayo pa ang laban pero malayo na rin ang nararating natin. Tatagan lang natin at huwag mawawalan ng puso. Patuloy tayong lalaban,” Cubacub said.
(There’s a long battle ahead, but we’ve come a long way. Let’s keep the courage and not lose heart. Our fight continues.)
She also cited the words of Sen. Risa Hontiveros–a staunch supporter of the Sogiesc Equality bill–who had earlier said that “love is the currency of our struggle.”
“Mahalin natin ang isa’t isa at mahalin natin ang sarili (Let’s love each other and love ourselves). Because as long as we love, there will always be fight left in us to continue our struggle for those we love. And that’s what makes love revolutionary — that’s why love always wins.”
Valmores likewise urged the LGBTQIA+ community to take heart and claim their power to share their stories across various spaces.
“Let us reach others, heart-to-heart, and join or form LGBTQIA+ organizations to show the strength of our numbers and the steel of our resolve. A better future is possible. A Philippines where we are truly free to love is possible. We must come together and fight for it,” she said.