Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — As the sun went down, a sea of rainbow-colored flags filled up the People Power Monument on Saturday, March 17. A sign sparked to life, spelling out “EQUALITY” but missing the “I.” “Ikaw ‘yung ‘I’ sa ‘equality,’” said the hosts. The gathering, attended by allies and members of the LGBTQ+ community, was a rally for the passing of the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Expression (SOGIE) Equality Bill.
Previously known as the Anti-Discrimination Bill, the SOGIE Equality Bill has finally reached the Senate after nearly 20 years of being put on the backburner. But the bill has met staunch opponents in legislators like Manny Pacquiao, Tito Sotto, and Joel Villanueva, who often cite religious rights as reason for barring it from moving forward.
At the rally, leaders and representatives of various LGBT groups took center stage, often calling out the lawmakers in their speeches. Performers such as drag queens and spoken word artists also got the crowd roaring. The air buzzed with a mix of hope and uncertainty.
CNN Philippines Life talked to various people at the rally and asked them why it was important for them to join, and what the passing of the SOGIE Equality Bill meant to them.
Below are edited excerpts from the interview.
Atty. Claire De Leon, human rights lawyer, Babaylanes, Inc.
“We're just really fighting for equality. What we want is equality — protection of our rights, assurance na we would be able to exercise our rights, our rights na we have because we are human, because we are Filipinos. We just need the protection from the law that we can actually exercise these rights and that we will be protected from discrimination. Ang dami nang kinuha ng discrimination from us na opportunities — our childhood, our dreams, our youth, our time in this advocacy, in this activism.”
“Ang dami nang na-spend na lives, lives ng advocates, lives ng iba't-ibang tao na pinagpasa-pasahan na itong adbokasiya na ‘to dahil hanggang ngayon ang tagal-tagal na [pero] hindi pa rin napapasa. At ang dami nang tinake na lives ng discrimination. Ang dami nang namatay, ang dami nang pinatay because of discrimination and stigma, and I think it's about time that the state, that the laws, actually, categorically protect our rights.”
Pat Bringas, Babaylanes, Inc.
“As a transgender woman, I feel like my support means a lot because a lot of our stories are not heard or not understood very well. I think by just coming here … we get to tell our stories, we get to tell people how we live to better understand what we're going through and how important it is to fight for the bill such as the anti-discrimination bill.”
“A lot of people assume that it's a privilege that we're asking for when it's not. We really do live a not-so-equal life with others. We experience discrimination — that's reality, it's not something we make up and a lot of people think [that] because they do not experience these kinds of injustices or inequality, it doesn't exist. So by just coming here, I am proof that it does exist and it needs to be addressed.”
Brigiding “Gigi” Aricheta, drag performer
“Importante kasi na merong visibility. Especially sa mga drag queens, hindi naman siya laging nakikita sa labas. Usually nakikita mo sila sa gabi lang or sa mga clubs. Hindi alam ng mga tao na merong mga ganitong klase ng tao na ginagawa nila ‘yung craft nila, ‘yung art nila in a performance.”
“And masaya mag-participate kasi napaka-liberating. Parang, I feel so proud na nandito ako, na I can contribute to a performance. I can share my talent. Ano ba naman ‘yung isang number na magpapasaya sa mga tao, ma-u-uplift mo ‘yung spirits nila to fight for their right ... Iba ‘yung nagagawa ng performance na nakakamove ka ng tao.”
“Hindi lang siya spiritually, emotionally, na-uuplift ko sila na hindi tayo kailangan sumuko ... And I think na I represent the voices na ‘yung hindi man kami makipag-act, makipagwelga-welga araw-araw, pero kami ginagamit namin ‘yung art namin, ‘yung talent namin to voice out a message na we're also crying for equality.”
Jamie Montilla Doble, U.P. Babaylan
“Personally, it's important for me to be here because I know that as an out member of the LGBT community, I can give people who aren't out, who don't have the same privileges as I have, a voice. I know that even though we are in 2018 and we are getting there in terms of progress, in terms of acceptance, in terms of visibility, when we look outside our respective bubbles as individuals, there are a lot of people who are still suffering because they are LGBT. They experience discrimination, they experience SOGIE-based violence on an everyday basis and, ‘yun nga, it's not safe for them to be out. It's not safe for them to be LGBT, to express who they are, to tell people who they love, who they desire.”
“One of the aims of the SOGIE equality bill is to protect LGBT people from SOGIE-based discrimination and I have to stress that hindi lang naman LGBT people ang may SOGIE — everyone has SOGIE. It's just that LGBT people are the most vulnerable to SOGIE-based discrimination, which is why it's important for this bill to be passed.”
Evan Tan, Philippine LGBT Chamber of Commerce
“I represent the Philippine LGBT Chamber of Commerce, so we are basically pushing for LGBT [protection] in Philippine business. We think that the SOGIE Equality bill is actually a strong act to ensure that LGBT professionals and businesspeople are not discriminated. They're not deprived of economic opportunities. They're not rejected by companies and all those things so we think that it is necessary to also support. I mean who else would go here but us, right?”
“Personally, as a member of the LGBT community, I think this bill is really important for me as well. I think that discrimination actually prevents the LGBT community from contributing a lot to society. A lot of straight people, like the majority, think that this is actually gonna impede on whatever it is that they're experiencing, but it's actually more of creating inclusivity. That's one thing that I want a lot of people to realize. This is not to take away anyone's rights but more of actually uniting with them as well, and helping make a better country for all of us.”
Ian Carandang, ice cream maker
“I represent the Bear community … I've personally encountered a lot of my friends, a lot of associates, a lot of people I know who are closeted. And I came out late. I came out when I was 27, but there's some people, some of my dearest friends that are still not out to their family, to their workmates. And I've been there. I would never force anyone. To come out is one of the most personal decisions one can make for themselves and no one stays in the closet for fun.”
“A lot of people still choose to stay in the closet because of discrimination, because they don't want to deal with it and I think it's just a sad thing. Like, I'm out but I recognize my privilege in the sense that I came from a family that is supportive of me, I have my position where I don't have to worry about my career being at risk. I don't have to worry about being attacked. But I recognize that a lot of people don't have that. And from a personal point of view, I see my friends where you know it's like they don't live fully and I find that so sad.”
“Support for the anti-discrimination bill is a valuable step for that to happen where you know it could help them to come out, and maybe to get them even more to live fully. To live their lives honestly and openly.”
Louise Meets, spoken word performer, Words Anonymous
“On a personal note, I am here because I am an out lesbian and I have been discriminated against all my life by my own family, by my peers in school, in the workplace, in public spaces. And I see the same thing happening to other LGBT members of the community. And some of our brothers and sisters get killed or are harmed physically, emotionally, or mentally because of their SOGIE and I don't think that's right.”
“Understanding that I am a femme-lesbian, I understand that it is easier for me to pass in public spaces than it is for other people. But even [the fact that] I can't hold my girlfriend's hand in public, [or that] when my girlfriend is being a little too touchy or showy in public I have to tell her to back off a little, [or that] I can't hold her hand in an Uber or in a taxi because you never know when your love may turn into a weapon in someone else's hand, [is proof of why we need the bill.]”
“I'm here because I want to be able to hold my girlfriend's hand in public. I want everyone to have that. I want my gay cousin to be able to get work at a fast food chain and not get rejected just because he has long hair.”
Tintin Lontoc, Metro Manila Pride
“[I’m here because] there are only three senate sessions left, so right now talagang it's really crucial to show, not just the senate, [but also] the public, especially ‘yung anti-SOGIE opposition how important it is, how crucial it is.”
“For people who are silent, it's especially important now to really let them know that it's urgent. It's weird kasi dapat urgent na ‘to nung nagka-reports of trans people dying. The fact na merong news of somebody getting bullied in school. And that's what the bill is about. That's what the bill is supposed to protect. ‘Yung misconception, parang most of the conversation has been about ‘yung misconceptions of the bill na it's about [the idea that] may hidden agenda siya, [like] marriage equality, but it's not even about that.”
“Sana tumanda ako in a world na merong SOGIE equality because right now, putting things into law is just the start of shifting worldviews, it's just the start of getting people to have an open perspective. I'm past my formative years so it's more of like a dream for younger people to grow up in a world na may equality. Like the world that I didn't have growing up.”