At a recent House hearing, Bataan Rep. Geraldine Roman, a trans woman, refused to take it from an opponent of the SOGIE bill, who suggested that pedophilia and necrophilia qualify as sexual orientation. Congress will never legalize such acts, she said.
Such are the heated debates that have accompanied the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Expression (SOGIE) bill that it has yet to pass after morphing through the legislative mill for 21 years.
Not even Pope Francis' support for same-sex civil unions could temper opposition to the bill. A running joke in the LGBTQIA+ community goes: Filipinos love gay people, except when they ask for equal rights.
But the truth is, even "straight" or heterosexual people who can be victims of discrimination on the basis of their SOGIE will be protected by the bill, said Perci Cendana, president of Babaylanes, Inc., the alumni arm of UP Babaylan.
For instance, a straight man exhibiting feminine qualities can be bullied, persecuted, and deprived of opportunities because of suspicion that he is gay.
"The SOGIE Equality Bill promotes everyone’s well-being and development because we ALL have sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression," he said.
The "more-rights-for-LGBT is less-rights-for-heterosexual-people" argument is therefore untrue, said Vince Liban, convener of Philippine Anti-Discrimination Alliance of Youth Leaders (PANTAY).
"When social justice laws protecting the marginalized—Magna Carta for Women, for PWD, Indigenous Peoples, etc.—were passed, hindi nabawasan ang karapatan ng mga hindi babae, hindi PWD, at hindi IPs," he said
There's a thin line between religious freedom and hate.
Philippine society is heterogeneous with varying levels of acceptance of gender and sexual diversity. Simplistic notions on gender proliferate because of Catholicism: a legacy of three centuries of Spanish rule.
Deputy Speaker Eddie Villanueva, founder of the Jesus Is Lord church, suggested rehabilitation programs for the LGBTQ in the same hearing. Roman countered, saying there's a separation between church and state.
"The separation of church and state is a statement that has been abused. You can never separate God and the state. To be anti-God is a sign of insanity," Villanueva said, setting Twitter ablaze.
Villanueva appeared to be "imposing his religious beliefs on other people," said Leo Battad, an LGBT rights lawyer from the UP College of Law. The SOGIE bill merely aims to prohibit discrimination in the delivery of public services such as health and education, they said.
The community needs "better allies".
A 2019 survey by the Pew Research Center (2019) found that 73% of Filipinos agree that “homosexuality should be accepted by society”. Despite this, activists said popular voices expressing discomfort over a law that protects LGBTQ+ people from discrimination are proof that there's still a long way to go.
"Tolerance is never good because we only tolerate those that we do not like. Tolerance is also dangerous as it borders on hatred. It can easily swing to hatred and aggression," said Cendana. Tolerance is not acceptance, he said.
When U.S. Marine Joseph Scott Spemberton killed transgender woman Jennifer Laude in 2014, his sympathizers said she "deserved" to be killed because she was not fortright about her identity.
Acceptance is recognition that LGBTQIA+ are equals. And a step toward it, advocates believe, is to have "better allies".
"We need allies to speak up and show their support, not only through attending Pride, or waving the rainbow flag, but also proactively campaigning for the passage of pro-human rights laws and calling out injustice when there’s one," said Liban.
During the hearing, he said most lawmakers proudly called themselves "allies" but were on mute while dissenters attacked the bill.
"We need allies to reflect on their privileges and share their platforms and spotlights to the marginalized communities like the LGBTQ+. Allies have the power not necessarily to fight for us, but with us," he said. This extends to allies in families, communities, schools, workplaces, and even media.
"A society that embraces these values is a more humane society and in that kind of society, we all get to achieve our fullest potential," said Cendana.