Sexual orientation, gender identity a hot topic on Filipino university campuses

Who is considered a transgender? What's the difference between sex and gender? How about sexual orientation and gender identity?

Most would probably say the differences are negligible, when in fact, they are not.

Colours of the rainbow: The varied notions and perceptions of the youth on concepts like "gay, (bakla)" "lesbian," "sex," and "God" are explored in a recent forum on equality and non-discrimination in the LGBT sector in Davao City.

Students discuss sexual orientation and gender identities in the perspective of human rights in the hope of eventually decreasing incidents of discrimination and violence against the LGBT community. (Photo by Pidot Villocino)

These seemingly innocuous questions were some of the hottest discussion points in a forum that wanted to explore young Filipinos’ notions of these complicated issues.

The forum, entitled "Advancing the Campus Rainbow Agenda," tackled the issues of sexual orientations and gender identities (SOGI) in the context of human rights. The target audience: student leaders of various colleges and universities.

More than 140 members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community in the country have been killed in the past fifteen years making them a sector highly vulnerable to violence. These killings were allegedly motivated by hate and anti-gay sentiment.

"We are targeting the student leaders because they are in a position to facilitate change by echoing insights learned here to their fellow students," said Ramil Andag, an officer of Babaylanes Inc., an organization of alumni and former members of Babaylan, the first gay student organization based in the University of the Philippines in Diliman.

The forum here was straightforward in giving clear suggestions on how to avoid discrimination: Empowerment, meaning individuals should find that they are able to accept themselves and find their voice; organization — showing that grouping together is an assertion of strength; education — increasing public acceptance of LGBTs for the community in general; and mobilization — referring to the need for LGBTs to advocate for their rights and welfare.

"The lack of knowledge (about SOGI issues) among the general public leads to several implications," said Perci Cendana, another member of Babaylanes and the first openly gay chairperson of the UP Diliman Student Council elected in 1997. "Stereotyping, invisibility, marginalization, stigma, and inequality. These ugly implications contribute to the vicious cycle of prejudice and discrimination."

Citing data gathered by the Philippine LGBT Hate Crime Watch, Prof. Eric Julian Manalastas of the University of the Philippines' Department of Psychology, said from 1996 until last year, 144 LGBTs had been killed violently. In 2011 alone, 32 gays and lesbians were violently killed.

"There were 58 deaths from multiple stab wounds, 25 from multiple gunshots, while six died from torture," Manalastas said.

Hate, he said, was a common reason for the high number of gays and lesbians being targeted.

Andag said, "It is hoped that student leaders may eventually advocate for school policies that are for equality and nondiscrimination."

The forum was co-organized by the University of the Philippines, Babaylanes, Ateneo de Davao Legal Public Interest and Legal Advocacy Center, Davao City Integrated Gender and Development Division and the Embassy of Canada in the Philippines.

Canada will not tolerate violence and discrimination, and continues to advocate against homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia in the Philippines. 

Student leaders participate in a workshop assessing that determines whether rights of LGBT members are recognized and respected.