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Privilege Speech in commemoration of May 17 International Day Against Homophobia, delivered May 15, 2012

MR SPEAKER, MY DEAR COLLEAGUES.

I rise on a matter of personal and collective privilege to take up the cause of one of our marginalized and discriminated sectors who are not officially represented in this Congress – our gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender persons.

Let me start with a question: is there any congressman in this august chamber who will openly declare that he is gay? Is there a congresswoman in this room who will admit she is lesbian?

I ask these questions today to underscore how difficult it is to deal with the issue of homosexuality in the Philippines.

And to think na sa buong mundo ngayon, pagdating sa kontrobersyal na isyu ng sexual orientation and gender identity, hindi na lang homosexuality o pagiging gay o lesbian ang pinag-uusapan. Meron din pong bisexual at transgender o kung sama-samahin ay tinatawag na LGBT.

Sa katunayan po, ang petsang May 17 ay idineklara na bilang International Day Against Homophobia or IDAHO, dahil ito ang araw na inalis ng World Health Organization and homosexuality sa listahan ng mga mental disorder. This happened on May 17, 1990. Bago ho niyan, baliw ang tingin sa mga bakla.

Ano po ang kinalaman ng International Day Against Homophobia sa tanong kung meron bang bakla o lesbian sa kapulungang ito?

I wish to make clear that exposing a lawmaker’s sexuality is not the point of this privilege speech. Hindi po yan kasama ng mga nais i-expose ng Bayan Muna.

Kaya po ako nagtanong ay para maipadama sa bawat isang nandito ngayon ang karaniwang reaksyon ng isang Pilipino – mambabatas man o karaniwang mamamayan – sa isyu ng sexual orientation and gender identity.

Whether we admit it or not, the LGBT phenomenon has put many a Filipino in a quandary. It has even placed some Filipinos in a state of agitation.

It’s true that many Filipinos do not really want to talk seriously about this issue. Kadalasan, pag tinatanong ko sila kung ano ang tingin nila sa mga bakla o lesbian o transgender, ang madalas na sagot ay ngiti o kaya’y biruan. Sabay mananahimik. Hindi sa sasagot. Meron din naman, sasabihin “ok lang,” pero parang sinabi lang para matapos na ang usapan.

I do not find this surprising. It has been the observation, too, of some sociologists, that Filipinos, by nature, tend to avoid confrontations. “Ayaw makasakit ng damdamin; ayaw ng gulo” is how some of my sociologist friends describe this behavioral tendency.

Sa tingin ko po, ganito rin ang handling natin sa isyu ng LGBT. Lalo na sa hanay ng mga mambabatas. Almost nobody wants to address LGBT concerns. Kaya nga siguro ilang taon nang nakabinbin ang inihain kong anti-discrimination bill at ganun din, walang aksyon sa inihain kong House Bill 4653 – An Act Declaring May 17 of Every Year as the National Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia.

Let me be frank and honest about this. Some of my well-meaning friends have advised me to steer clear of the LGBT issue. Sabi nila, “Kiss of Death” or “Election Suicide” daw yan for anyone aspiring for an elective post at the national level.

Siguro nga, mas madali na lang kung mag-motherhood statement na lang tayo sa issue ng LGBT. Maybe it would make our lives easier as lawmakers, if we don’t tangle with issues with deep religious and moral underpinnings, especially in view of the fact that next year is an election year.

Pero, kailan pa natin pag-uusapan ito ng matino? LGBTs and the LGBT lifestyle is a twenty-first century reality. Anong gagawin natin sa mga problema nila?

An online study on gay killings conducted by the Philippine LGBT Hate Crime Watch showed 97 cases of gays violently killed from 1997 to June 2011, alone. These numbers continue to rise. What do we do about the gruesome, cold-blooded murder of gays?

The Department of Health has sounded the alarm over the sudden rise in number of HIV and AIDS cases in the country. Some 274 new cases were recorded last February and the DOH said this represented a 72 percent rise, compared to the 159 cases reported in February 2011. This DOH announcement, released last March 22, also said that majority of the cases reported sexual contact as the mode of transmission and that males having sex with other males was the predominant type of sexual transmission, corresponding to 87 percent of the reported cases.

How do we deal with the rising number of gays with HIV or AIDS?

And isyu ng LGBT ay isang realidad n gating panahon. Hindi natin ito maiiwasan, gustuhin man natin o hindi.

And to my mind, even the most conservative among us would agree to a discussion on ways to address LGBT concerns, rather than create a great divide where one side is directly opposed to the other.

As lawmakers, it behooves us to be the vanguard of consensus-building among our people. As lawmakers, we should also be peacemakers, the harbingers of unity and understanding, never of discord.

So much has changed in the world we know. In the United States, Pres. Barack Obama has openly supported same sex marriages. Billionaire entrepreneur Donald Trump, owner of the Miss Universe franchise, has officially allowed transgenders to participate in all franchise contests of the Ms. Universe pageant. And this may come as a surprise to many, but really, transgenders have been allowed to compete in the Olympics since 2004.

I do not necessarily agree with Pres. Obama or Mr. Trump. I think the issue of same sex unions is a very complex issue that requires further dialogue and understanding. Yet the sad reality is that here in our country, LGBTs are still being discriminated in our workplaces, schools and communities. Gays are being assaulted and killed for being gay. Persons with HIV, especially gays are being isolated and ostracized. Transgenders are being denied entry in some places because they don’t dress the part.

Dito sa Pilipinas, hindi gay marriage ang pinoproblema n gating mga LGBTs. Ni walang panukalang batas sa Kongreso tungkol ditto. Mas kagyat at simple ang mga problema nila – hindi sila mabigyan ng break sa trabaho. Ayaw silang pag-aralin ng kanilang mga pamilya. Kini-kick out sila sa eskwela. Binubugbog at sinasaktan, kinukutya at tinatakwil sila, tinitignan pa rin bilang mga abnormal.

Pero sinabi nga ng WHO, hindi mental disorder and pagiging bakla. Hindi ito sakit. Hindi ito abnormality. It’s just how the way some people are. Yes they may be different, but that does not make them any less of a person with less rights.

Palagay ko’y panahon na para tanggapin ng lipunan ang kanilang mga karapatan bilang tao. Katulad n’yo, katulad ko. Lahat tayo ipinanganak na hubad.

We need a common ground, a working consensus on LGBT concerns. But this cannot be achieved if one or the other resorts to namecalling or falls back on our traditional biases and fears. Magpakatao tayo. Ito ang mensaheng ipinapaabot ko bilang pagmarka ng International Day Against Homophobia.

Wala tayong mararating kung hindi natin bubuksan an gating mga isip at puso.

It was American civil rights leader and martyr Martin Luther King who said that “a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus but a molder for consensus.”

There has to be a way for opposing sectors in our society to reach a consensus. Lawmakers like us, and the laws we make, could help mold this consensus.

Again, who in this august chamber is a gay or lesbian? To tell you the truth, I don’t care because it doesn’t really matter.

This is the answer that I wish to hear. That it doesn’t matter because straight, gay, lesbian or transgender, we all have the same rights, the same obligations, the same dignity as all human beings.

Good afternoon and thank you very much

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