Our country's fight for gender-based equality is a crusade that has extended for decades. Since the conception of the SOGIE Equality Bill, then commonly referred to as the Anti-Discrimination Bill, our struggle for the legal protection of queer rights has persisted through the years amidst countless efforts to block its passage.
Initially filed by the late Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago and former Akbayan party-list Representative Etta Rosales, the bill aims to penalize gender-based discrimination. It seeks to impose legal measures and penalties against discriminatory practices towards any person based on their sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression.
Through the years that it’s been filed and re-filed in Congress, the bill has met numerous oppositions, such as religious groups and conservative legislators. It’s often dismissed as "unimportant" and "unnecessary," leaving the queer community, which is the most vulnerable when it comes to gender-based violence, unprotected.
Records show that queer people still experience loss of work and opportunities, the worst being the loss of lives, simply because of their sexuality. Even though there are several anti-discrimination ordinances in different cities in the country, a national legislation that offers comprehensive protection is still of utmost importance.
Fortunately, the bill has plenty of committed supporters. PhilSTAR Life wishes to recognize the invaluable contributions of these women who have been at the forefront of the struggle for gender-based equality.
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Writer and activist Reyna Valmores is one of the constant voices in our fight for queer rights. As the Chairwoman of Bahaghari Philippines—a national democratic organization composed of members of the LGBTQ+ community—she’s been at the frontline of different progressive advocacies, such as the passage of the SOGIE Equality Bill.
During her manifestation at the Committee Hearing held last November 2020, where she was invited as one of the speakers, she sharply pointed out that “the SOGIE Equality Bill is not a special rights issue. It is a survival issue.” This was powerfully emphasized through a Zoom background highlighting the faces and names of slain trans women and victims of hate crimes: Jennifer Laude, Madonna Nierra, Jessica Remiendo, and Heart Pontanes.
She’s also been consistent in calling out those who have failed to protect the most vulnerable sectors of our society, specifically the queer community.
Gabriela Women’s Party has been one of the strongest allies of the queer community since day one. A sectoral party, Gabriela is dedicated to “promoting the rights and welfare of marginalized and under-represented Filipino women through participation in the country’s electoral system and governing institutions.”
Its representative, Congresswoman Arlene Brosas, has consistently filed and fought for the passage of the SOGIE Equality Bill. In May 2021, she filed House Resolution 1788, stressing the urgency to pass the bill after the brutal murder of transgender individuals Ebeng Mayor and Junjie Biangkao.
Consistent in her message, in her latest sponsorship speech for the bill, she highlighted the importance of passing the long-overdue SOGIE Equality Bill. She clarified that while the protection of the LGBTQ+ community is already included in several international covenants, the brutal cases of hate crimes and abuses against the community are still very evident in Philippine society.
She also rejected claims of opposing groups that the bill will marginalize heterosexual individuals. According to her, “Ang karapatang pantao ay hindi parang buko pie na kapag nagbigay ng hati para sa iba ay mababawasan ang parte mo.”
Congresswoman Geraldine Roman made international headlines back in 2016 when she became the first trans woman to win an election. During that same year, she was named one of the “100 Leading Global Thinkers” by Foreign Policy magazine and one of the “13 Inspiring Women” by Time Magazine.
Throughout her incumbency as Bataan’s first district Representative, she has been steadfast in her advocacy of fighting for queer and women’s rights. As the chairwoman of the House Committee on Women and Gender Equality, one of the bills she’s persistently lobbied for is the SOGIE Equality Bill.
During the Feb. 8 meeting of the bill, which wasn’t short on drama after another attempt to delay its discussion, Congresswoman Geraldine reminded her colleagues that their job in Congress is not to decide what is a sin nor to legislate for the afterlife. “We are here in Congress to protect the welfare of all Filipinos regardless of our personal circumstances,” she emphasized.
In her impassioned speech, she asks: “Until when will we choose to look the other way when there are cases of discrimination occurring every day that go unpunished as if to tell society as a whole that it is okay to deprive a qualified person the chance to earn a living, or to study or to receive services from the government just because he is LGBT?”
She ended her speech by pleading to her colleagues that the time is ripe to pass the bill.
Before the pandemic halted PRIDE Marches, Senator Risa Hontiveros would attend them to give out “mom hugs.” According to her, members of the LGBTQ+ community deserve to feel loved and accepted. She’s been following through with this statement by pushing forward the interests of the queer community in the Senate.
Winning as the lone opposition in last year’s election, one of her priorities is the SOGIE Equality Bill. “Kailangan nating maintindihan at tanggapin na sentro sa usaping ito ay ang isyu ng diskriminasyon. Malalim na nakaugat na diskriminasyon. You and I know that we have to make this stop. We, as a society, have to make it right,” she said as she renewed her call for the passage of the bill.
Unfortunately, but unsurprisingly, the bill is once again in limbo after it was reverted to the committee level to give way for religious groups to join the Senate discussion.
In her manifestation last Feb. 8, she has this to say: “We have been listening to and hearing our religious groups for 23 years among all groups. I am willing to keep on engaging and listening in good faith, and I can engage with those who speak from a place of faith and religion being a woman of faith myself. But I was voted by the Republic to pass secular laws.”
Although the fight has been an uphill battle, Senator Risa promised to continue fighting for and with the queer community. According to her, love is the currency of our battle, and love will always win.