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Gay, deaf and mute: ‘no less than the trees and the stars they have a right to be here’

Sign language 3

By Patrick King Pascual, VERA Files

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender persons with disabilities (LGBT PWDs) experience double discrimination in their daily life.

Because of the many challenges they face, they have come to be known as the "marginalized within the marginalized" sector of society.

"We are considered abnormal by people...They mock us when we try to communicate," according to a deaf gay participant at the recent "Deaf Talks: A Forum for Deaf LGBT's on Human Rights and HIV."

The forum was organized by Rainbow Rights Philippines, Outrage Magazine and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) for the benefit of Rainbow Deaf Philippines, a Filipino LGBT organization for persons with hearing and speech impairment.

Founder and president of Deaf Rainbow Philippines Bibo Lee Perey shared the experiences and challenges PWDs face everyday in the community, particularly  when they look for work, go malling or simply in search of a partner in life.

"When we look for work, it's our disability they will focus on," he shared. "Or in social networking sites, they would mock us because we have wrong grammar."

sign language 5With the help of a sign language interpreter, members of Rainbow Deaf Philippines communicated their concerns and questions to CHR officials who were part of the forum.

CHR Executive Director Jake Meija assured forum participants that the government is doing everything to help alleviate their sad plight, such as advocating a legislation for LGBT PWDs.

"Give us a recommendation on what laws should be passed that will benefit and improve your situation, what you want to add, and what you want to be amended and we will help you push it," CHR Director for Assistance and Visitorial Office Renante Basas urged the forum delegates.

There are several pending bills in the Senate that focus on the needs of the PWDs, such as the following:

  • SBN 617, entitled "An act providing for a special polling place for the disabled and elderly," introduced by Sen. Jinggoy Ejercito Estrada.

  • SBN 2999, entitled "An act ensuring the accessibility of the electoral processes to persons with disabilities (PWDs) and Senior Citizens with disabilities (SCWDs)," introduced by Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago.

  • SBN 3145, entitled "An act expanding the positions reserved for persons with disability, amending for the purpose Republic Act No. 7277, as amended, otherwise known as the magna carta for persons with disability," introduced by Sen. Antonio Trillanes.
  • SBN 2855, entitled "An act providing additional relief to families with dependents, supporting aging parents and disabled persons," introduced by Senators Trillanes, Ralph Recto, Manny Villar and Manuel "Lito" Lapid.

The CHR is also calling for a convention with LGBT PWDs and other LGBT organizations like Rainbow Rights Philippines and Outrage Magazine to discuss and address the problems they are facing.

Sign language6"The government should give more attention to PWDs,"  Meija added. "You have to keep in mind that you are not a charity case. Filipinos, regardless of their gender and their disabilities, should enjoy and have the same equal rights as everyone else."

He said the government should ensure that  the rights of PWDs are respected and that they are consulted in decision-making processes that concern them.

"Being an LGBT PWD is not a disability," Mejia said. "You need to remember that you have the same rights as everyone else. You need to remember that everyday you need to defend your rights."

Some 30 deaf participants nodded, raised and shook their hands (their sign for clapping), as they read the sign interpretation of what Meija said.

According to a research conducted by the CHR, there are eight million PWDs in the Philippines who suffer from  "relative invisibility" and tended to be viewed as "objects" of protection, treatment and assistance rather than subjects of rights.

Simply put, PWDs in the country experience being denied equal access to basic rights and fundamental freedoms and are being refused participation in the community, based on reports reaching the CHR.

"We should work with them as equal partners in developing society and not treat them as helpless recipients of assistance from others," according to Germaine Trittle Leonin, founding president of Rainbow Rights.

Michael David dela Cruz and John Ryan Mendoza of Outrage Magazine, the only LGBT magazine in the Philippines, gave a lecture on HIV/AIDS.

"Our activities aim to provide some safe space for LGBT disadvantaged sectors," Oscar Atadero, program manager of Rainbow Rights, said. "We partner with different organizations like CHR to address the concerns of neglected LGBT sectors, the marginalized within the marginalized."

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")

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