October 6, 2017 at 9:00 pm EDT | by Helen Parshall
Philippines bill would extend sweeping LGBT protections

LGBT National Day of Outrage, Philippines, gay news, Washington Blade

Philippine LGBT rights advocates on Oct. 25, 2014, took part in an “LGBT National Day of Outrage” protest in Quezon City, Philippines, to highlight their outrage over the murder of Jennifer Laude, a transgender woman. Advocates have celebrated the passage of a bill in the Philippine House of Representatives that would extend sweeping protections to the country’s LGBT community. (Photo courtesy of Dindi Tan)

A landmark non-discrimination bill that passed in the Philippine House of Representatives would ensure extensive protections for LGBT people if approved by the country’s Senate.

House Bill 4982, or the SOGIE Bill as it is called, passed unanimously on Sept. 20. Its protections cover access to public services, employment, health service, education and much more.

The legislation is now before the Philippine Senate for a period of interpretation and amendments before it can be voted on.

“I rise today to register my vote for House Bill 4982,” said Congresswoman Kaka Bag-ao in a speech delivered in Filipino before the House of Representatives. “18 years have passed since the battle for equality began through this proposed piece of legislation.”

Known as #EqualityChamps, Bag-ao and other members of the house have been leaders pushing for the SOGIE Bill through the 17th Congress. In her speech before the vote, Bag-ao thanked Geraldine Roman, who is the first transgender person elected to the Philippine Congress, Toff de Venecia and Tom Villarin, among other members of the House of Representatives, who were key partners in moving the bill forward.

“This proposed piece of legislation is a product of a long history where lawmakers are not the only ones who were involved — citizens also actively participated. It is a product of relentless campaigning,” said Bag-ao.

Jazz Tamayo, president of Rainbow Rights, an LGBT advocacy group, was deeply involved in the work of developing the legislation, helping to provide key insight into its provisions.

“Part of the process of this legislation was to be ‘back staff’ for the Congress,” said Tamayo. “Most of our champions are not members of the LGBT community, and so they’re not always able to answer questions in the same way. Sometimes this involved sitting behind them and sending index cards of how to answer the questions of other senators.”

Rainbow Rights was one of several organizations working to raise awareness in the broader LGBT community and mobilize support for the bill. From gathering and sharing stories of LGBT Filipinos, to trending on Twitter, the #YESToEquality campaign has been vocal in the country.

Tamayo gave the example of a fight familiar to American advocates — the debate over an amendment pertaining to public restrooms.

“Access to both public and private facilities should be open for everybody. It’s non-negotiable,” said Tamayo. “We know for a fact that most of our cases in the Philippines are mostly trans women who cannot access these facilities or are scared of being embarrassed. If you take out the washrooms from this bill, we will remember.”

“This bill would not have happened without Congresswoman Kaka Bag-ao,” added Tamayo. “The way she has negotiated it with us, constantly consulting the community is so important. These provisions of the law are provisions that came from the community.”

Tamayo is hopeful that the Senate will finish its version of the SOGIE Bill this year.

“If the bill passes in the Senate, the next step is a bicameral process,” said Tamayo. “Representatives from the lower and upper house will harmonize the legislation. After that it will be sent to the executive, and President Duterte can either sign it, veto it or allow it to lapse into law.”

If the process drags on too long, Tamayo told the Washington Blade she worries next election cycle will prevent substantive work being done to move Bag-ao’s work through the upper house.

“The fight for equality is the fight of all persons,” said Bag-ao as she prepared to cast her vote, “And in this fight, our currency is the love for our fellow persons and the hope for a society that is more just, more open, and more equal . . . My vote is a sweet yes to love, dignity, and human rights.”

Helen Parshall is an avid writer pursuing a master’s degree in multi-platform journalism at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland. She graduated from St. Mary’s College of Maryland with a B.A. in English and a concentration in Latin American studies in 2014.

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