A first: Philippines stand against LGBT hate at UN

Too little, too late?

A first: Philippines stand against LGBT hate at UN

When hundreds of students and supporters marched at the University of the Philippines Diliman to call for gender equality, little did they know that their call was being taken up by leaders in another part of the world.

The waves students made in the rainbow flag of UP Babaylan, an organization fighting for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights, seemed to be ripples of a breakthrough on the same front, only on a global stage.

The United Nations that same day approved in Geneva a resolution aimed at upholding the rights of members of the LGBT community while poignantly highlighting how “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights…”

In the document, the UN Human Rights Council expressed “grave concern at acts of violence and discrimination, in all regions of the world, committed against individuals because of their sexual orientation and gender identity.”

It was the first time majority of the UN member states agreed on a resolution affirming human rights in favor of the LGBT community, and only the second time the organization of countries ever issued such a resolution.

The signing of the resolution also marked the first time the Philippine government actively took part in the discussion on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression issues as a member of the UN.

The Philippines kept mum in 2011, when the UN for the first time issued a resolution condemning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and affirming the universality of human rights, a gay rights group reported.

The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission also noted in its May report that the government abstained from discussion and voting on a 2013 UN declaration calling for an end to hate killings in the LGBT community.

This time, the Philippines said “it was bound by its strong commitments to promote and protect all individuals and protect all individuals” and that it “stood against discrimination against specific individuals and sectors,” a UN summary showed.

The resolution was welcomed by leaders of the international community, many of them noting that the human rights violations due to LGBT issues merited global response. The Philippines’ decision to speak out on LBGT issues was also hailed.

“While we would have preferred to see an institutionalized reporting mechanism, the council has still sent a strong message of support to human rights defenders working on these issues,” Human Rights Watch quoted Pinoy gay rights advocate Jonas Bagas as saying.

To me the Philippines’ statement on gender equality was timely, if not too late. Lives have already been lost to violence due to gender disparities. From 1996 to 2012, the Philippine LGBT Hate Crime Watch reported 156 deaths due to hate crimes.

Groups have earlier noted how the administration of President Benigno Aquino III has previously failed to take a definitive stand on the issue of LGBTs. It is ironic, especially for a government that headlines inclusive growth—that no one would be left behind.

Aside from being bullied in schools, denied access to health services, edged out of religious groups, stereotyped by media and marginalized in politics, many members of the LGBT community in the Philippines are also begrudged of decent jobs.

“LGBT individuals face challenges in employment both on an individual level and as members of a community that is subject to discrimination and abuse,” said a report by the U.S. Agency of International Development and the UN Development Program in June.

Quoting the Lesbian Activism Project, the USAID report said “discrimination can occur in the process of hiring, in the assigning of wages, in the granting of benefits and promotions, and the retention of employees.”

The Philippines’ stand is however too little, because as long as no policies are made toward the protection of LGBTs in the country, statements such as those the government made before the UN remain devoid of tangible gains.

Acknowledging the problem is the first step toward solving it, they say. We must now push the government into taking more steps in the right direction. We must make a big deal of gender equality so that gender will someday no longer be a big deal.