This year is a good year for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) rights in the United States. The Defense of Marriage Act, which refuses recognition to same-sex marriages, was struck down by the Supreme Court on June 26, 2013, as unconstitutional. After that, several states have allowed same-sex marriages including New Jersey, Hawaii and Illinois, after citizens sue their states for the unconstitutional banning of same-sex unions and/or their leaders support such endeavor. Public figures came out to support gender equality or came out as LGBTQ. Many celebrities such as fine actors Anne Hathaway, George Clooney, Josh Hutcherson, Kate Winslet, Natalie Portman and Brad Pitt as well as high-profile athletes are vocal in their support of LGBTQ. After making numerous progresses in advancing racial equality, gender equality is perhaps the last frontier in the fight for human rights.
In the Philippines, the cause of the LGBTQ rights is an often ignored one, usually dismissed or shoved under the rug, or vehemently opposed, despite the positive result of a survey. In the middle of this year, the Pew Research Center of the United States released a survey of 39 countries on their acceptance of homosexuality. Seventeen showed majorities of acceptance or tolerance of homosexuality, and the Philippines was ranked at number 10. The survey, called “The Global Divide on Homosexuality,” showed that 73 percent of 804 adult Filipinos agreed with the statement that “homosexuality should be accepted by society,” which has increased by nine percentage points from the last survey in 2002.
Large portions of the population still have limited knowledge and awareness of the LGBTQ, and what they know are stereotypes, and as long as the LGBTQs conform to the stereotypes or know “their place,” they are tolerated. Very few prominent people publicly voice their support, if at all. Most public figures who have expressed their opinions on the LGBTQ have negative things to say. Most are silent. LGBTQ expressions are still suppressed or frowned upon. Same-sex marriage is still a taboo topic.
While the Philippines has signed several international agreements that seek to ensure respect for human rights of all persons, it did not sign the United Nations declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity, which condemns violence, harassment, discrimination, exclusion, stigmatization and prejudice based on sexual orientation and gender identity. An anti-discrimination bill still languishes in Congress.
There were flashes of hope in pop culture though. The coming out of international singer Charice Pempengco provided much-needed visibility, and there was a show of support despite the ignorant backlash. This is the most high-profile coming out in local showbiz since Rustom Padilla’s in 2009.
My Husband’s Lover, a sensitive television series about the relationship of a man, his wife and his male lover, became the most watched series recently, bringing to light some issues and perhaps breaking ground in the depiction of LGBTQ lives in a popular medium. “Sirena” by Gloc-9 and Ebe Dancel became a hit and has these lyrics: “‘Di sinusukat ang tapang at ang bigote sa mukha/Dahil kung minsan mas lalaki pa sa lalaki ang bakla,” (Being a man is not measured by bravery and a moustache/ Because sometimes a gay person is more of a man than a man.) Maxie the Musical: Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros, a stage adaptation of an iconic gay movie, is regarded as one of this year’s best theatrical productions.
But the struggle continues. On Dec. 7, Saturday, the country will be holding an LGBTQ pride march from 3 p.m. onwards in Malate, Manila, partly organized by Task Force Pride (TFP) Philippines, a network of LGBTQ groups and individuals, as well as LGBTQ-friendly groups/individuals. The Metro Manila Gay Pride March has been held for 19 years now, making it the oldest in Asia. It is currently annually held in December, while in many countries it is in June, the Pride Month. This is to coincide with related human rights activities such as Human Rights Week, World AIDS Day (December 1), Philippine National Lesbian Day (December 8), and International Human Rights Day (December 10).
“Strength” is this year’s theme, which is said to be drawn from diversity as well as unity. Show your support for human rights and join this colorful march.