Angie Umbac, president of the Rainbow Rights Project, and other Philippine LGBT advocates on Tuesday attended Jennifer Laude’s wake in Olongapo, which is adjacent to the Subic Bay Freeport on the country’s main island of Luzon.
The Philippine Senate on Wednesday held a hearing on Laude’s murder.
Activists on Friday plan to stage a number of “National Day of Rage” protests in Quezon City and other Philippine cities. Demonstrations are also scheduled to take place in the Netherlands, Thailand, Malaysia, Hungary and other countries.
“Jennifer has become our martyr, the symbol of our suffering as a community,” Umbac told the Blade.
Naomi Fontanos of Gender and Development Advocates (GANDA) Filipinas, an organization that seeks to reduce poverty among LGBT Philippines, also described Laude as a “martyr.”
“In death, Jennifer has exposed the historical marginalization of transgender people in the Philippines,” Fontanos told the Blade. “She has exposed the inequity that exists in Philippine society that robs people like her of equal life changes.”
Marine Pfc. Joseph Pemberton allegedly killed Laude inside an Olongapo motel after they met at a local nightclub on Oct. 11. The 26-year-old’s naked body was later found in a motel bathroom.
The Associated Press on Wednesday reported U.S. military personnel turned Pemberton over to Philippine troops who brought him to Manila, the country’s capital.
He had been in custody on the USS Peleliu at the Subic Bay Freeport. The AP reported that U.S. Marines and Philippine soldiers will guard Pemberton while he is in Manila.
The news agency earlier this week said the Visiting Forces Agreement between the U.S. and the Philippines allows local authorities to prosecute American service members. The AP reported they must remain in U.S. custody until “completion of all judicial proceedings.”
Those opposed to the U.S. military presence in the Philippines have used Laude’s death to once again draw attention to the issue.
Anne Lim of Galang Philippines, an LGBT advocacy organization based in Quezon City, which is outside Manila, told the Blade that Philippine media have extensively covered Laude’s murder because her accused killer is a U.S. Marine “and not necessarily because” it was a possible anti-trans hate crime.
Lim said it has “suddenly become commonplace” to hear reporters and commentators use “trans woman” and other LGBT-specific terms in the context of coverage of Laude’s death. Lim added “deep-seated homophobia and stigma” against LGBT Philippines has also become “more visible and palpable” in the wake of the trans woman’s murder because of comments that have been left on online stories about the murder.
Umbac told the Blade that some of those who came to Laude’s wake told her family that she was “a slut.”
“Jennifer’s death has gained much media attention because the accused is a U.S. military serviceman and not necessarily because it involved a possible SOGIE (sexual orientation and gender identity and expression)-based hate crime,” Lim told the Blade. “It may very well prove to be a watershed moment for the Philippine LGBT movement as it has contributed to mainstreaming LGBT issues and SOGIE concepts.”
Michael David dela Cruz Tan, editor of Outrage, an LGBT Philippine newspaper, made a similar point.
“Jennifer Laude’s death may have highlighted how fatal the hatred directed towards LGBT people could get,” he told the Blade. “As such, she is now being used as a representation of the difficulties of being LGBT in the Philippines.”
Laude’s murder ‘somehow touched a nerve’
The Philippines decriminalized homosexuality in the 1930s, although it remains illegal in the city of Marawi in the country’s Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Gender non-conforming indigenous spiritual leaders known as babaylan were widely accepted in the Philippine archipelago before Spain colonized the islands in 1521.
LGBT advocacy groups began to emerge in the country in the early 1990s.
Asia’s first Pride march took place in Manila in 1994.
Hart Diño in 2012 became the first openly trans chair of the student council at the University of the Philippines Diliman in Quezon City. Lawmakers in Cebu City the same year approved an anti-discrimination measure that included sexual orientation.
The Quezon City Council last month unanimously passed an anti-LGBT discrimination ordinance.
“We hope to use this piece of local legislation and replicate the same success that we’ve had in [Quezon City] in the other cities in the Philippines,” Dindi Tan, a member of the Association of Transgenders in the Philippines board of directors, told the Blade.
The Philippines is among the countries that supported a resolution against anti-LGBT discrimination and violence the U.N. Human Rights Council adopted.
In spite of these advances, anti-LGBT discrimination and violence remain serious concerns in the predominantly Roman Catholic country.
A report from a now defunct Philippine advocacy group to which the U.S. Agency for International Development and the U.N. Development Program refer in a recent study notes 28 LGBT people were killed in the first six months of 2011.
A national anti-discrimination measure that includes sexual orientation and gender identity and expression has languished in the Philippine Congress for more than a decade. The country’s influential Roman Catholic Church remains opposed to any effort to extend these protections to LGBT Philippines.
Advocates with whom the Blade spoke said they hope Laude’s murder will spur lawmakers to finally approve the nationwide anti-discrimination bill.
Fontanos said Laude’s death carries some parallels to the 1978 murder of gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk.
“Like Harvey Milk, the story of Jennifer Laude story has somehow touched a nerve and resonated not only in the harts of LGBT people but also in the hearts of many ordinary citizens,” Fontanos told the Blade.
Lim referred to the federal hate crimes law named in honor of Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., that President Obama signed in 2009.
“We can only hope that Jennifer Laude’s murder will not be for naught, and will put pressure on Philippine lawmakers to enact laws protecting Filipino LGBTs, including the national anti-discrimination bill,” she said.
Michael David dela Cruz Tan added he feels the measure is only part of the solution to address anti-discrimination in the country.
“Ending discrimination against LGBT people in the Philippines would necessitate not only pushing for a policy to be put in place, but actually changing the culture that allows for discrimination to happen in the first place,” he said.