Don't let restroom debate hinder SOGIE Equality Bill passage – LGBTQIA+ group

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 20) — Amid the debate over the use of public restrooms by the LGBTQIA+ community, groups urged lawmakers to look at the bigger picture before they decide against the SOGIE (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression) Equality Bill.

During the first public hearing of the bill at the Senate on Tuesday, neophyte senator and former police chief Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa raised apprehensions on allowing transgender people to use gender-specific restrooms.

He said male perverts may use the anti-discrimination policies to cross-dress and be voyeurs in the women’s restrooms. The lawmaker said he is looking at the sentiments and welfare of the “real women.”

"Ang akin lang, you cannot detach me from my wild imagination being a retired police officer, kapag i-allow natin iyan. In crafting a law, hindi kailangang you just consider one portion of the society. Dapat i-consider mo 'yung lahat ng maapektuhan na grupo, like ‘yung totoong babae,” he said.

[Translation: For me, you cannot detach me from my wild imagination being a retired police officer if we allow that. In crafting a law, you must not only consider one portion of the society. You should consider all groups that will be affected, such as the real women.]

Senator Risa Hontiveros quickly reminded dela Rosa that trans women are real women.

Trans woman and Lagablab Network spokesperson Naomi Fontanos said the hypothetical problem posed by dela Rosa can be addressed through existing laws punishing sexual violence.

“We understand the concern, but there are laws to prosecute acts of sexual violence... We see that there is a disconnect of using that as a straw man argument against the passage of the SOGIE Equality Bill because sexual violence can be addressed by existing laws,” she said.

Fontanos added, “It doesn’t mean that because there is sexual violence, we don’t have to pass the SOGIE Equality Bill to protect the LGBTQIA+ from discrimination and violence.”

Hontiveros said that existing laws do not cover discrimination against the queer community.

The debate was sparked when transgender woman Gretchen Diez was barred from using the women's restroom in a Cubao mall and arrested for videotaping the incident on August 13.

During the hearing, several members of the LGBTQIA+ community shared stories of discrimination that happen not only in public restrooms but also in the workplace.

Resource person Deg Daupan recounted that in one job interview, he was asked whether he was gay, and then to rate how gay he was “on a scale of 1 to 10.” Trans woman Roi Galfo said the discrimination she experienced at work made her think about suicide.

The Labor Department said these cases, including the discrimination in the hiring process, are unlawful acts under the Labor Code.

Dela Rosa ordered the Department of Labor and Employment to look into cases of workplace discrimination.

According to Senator Bong Go, President Rodrigo Duterte said he will push Congress to finally pass the SOGIE bill. The bill was approved by the House of Representatives in the previous Congress but was blocked in the Senate.

Duterte supports the idea of providing third restrooms for members of the queer community, his spokesperson said.