Editorial: Safe spaces for all genders

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If you are transgender or homosexual, finding a public toilet is a challenge.

Members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) community have the right to access a public toilet that is appropriate to their chosen gender or identity.

In reality, though, LGBTQ+ persons are more likely to be harassed in public toilets where heterosexual users do not welcome their presence or worse, malign their intentions to be at these places.

Gene was retouching her foundation in the men’s toilet when a man who had been using the urinal stood beside her. Gene noticed he was taking a long time washing his hands while staring pointedly at her. The transwoman saw that the man was using his hands to make an obscene gesture. Although he said nothing, his expression angered and upset Gene.

Unable to respond to an insult that was all the more hurting because it was wordless, Gene walked away. She said she could not even cry because she had to work and put on her professional face for customers.

Laws exist to uphold the rights of persons to be protected from sexual discrimination.

Shielding all genders, Republic Act No. 11313 (The Safe Spaces Act or Bawal Bastos Law) prohibits and penalizes violators who perform all forms of gender-based sexual harassment (GBSH) in public spaces, educational or training institutions, workplace, and digital space.

GBSH are defined by RA 11313 as “unwanted and uninvited sexual actions or remarks” that offend the dignity of persons.

The law considers as GBSH the following: “catcalling, wolf-whistling, unwanted invitations, misogynistic, homophobic and sexist slurs, persistent uninvited comments or gestures on a person’s appearance, relentless requests for personal details, statements of sexual comments and suggestions, public masturbation or flashing of private parts or groping, or any advances, whether physical or verbal, that is unwanted and has threatened one’s sense of personal space and physical safety.”

Last June 24, the LGBTQ+ community marked a milestone when the Cebu City Council unanimously passed Ordinance 2660, also known as the Social Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression, and Sex Characteristics (SOGIESC) ordinance.

Awaiting the signing of Mayor Michael Rama, Ordinance 2660 is the result of the lobbying of LGBTQ+ groups in Cebu City, such as the Cebu United Rainbow LGBT Sector (Curls), since 2018 for the Cebu City Government to update the local Anti-Discrimination Ordinance (Ado) of 2012, reported the news website Rappler last June 25.

The Ado of 2012 did not provide for funding for programs benefiting the LGBTQ+ community, as well as did not specify acts of sexual discrimination.

The SOGIESC ordinance defines and prescribes the penalties for the following “acts of discrimination and violence”: “harassment (either physical, verbal, or in writing), vexation, public humiliation, invasion of personal autonomy, disallowing access to government services, economic opportunities, healthcare, and other essential needs.”

What is needed, though, is the implementation of laws by institutions.

How many malls, restaurants, movie houses, hospitals, transport terminals, and other places create restrooms that are “all-gender” or “gender-appropriate”?

Private and public establishments must also train restroom service staff that are aware of and respect the rights and welfare of LGBTQ+ members.

As essential as the legal and institutional frameworks is the culture that recognizes and integrates LGBTQ+ individuals, not stereotyping them as sexually deviant, abnormal Others.

When the SOGIESC ordinance is signed into law, this will be an instrument for creating a council that will set up the SOGIESC Pride Empowerment Council (Spec) and funding empowerment programs.

For Gene and other LGBTQ+ members, the hard but consistent rules remain: know one’s rights, express one’s voice, and fight for one’s space.

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