4 Myths about SOGIE Equality Bill debunked

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) - Beyond Pride Month, it is important to look back at how far the queer minorities have come and to determine what still needs to be done in the fight for equality – a battle, which sadly, has yet to be won in our own country.

But there is still hope. And convincing the Senate to pass the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Expression Equality Bill, more popularly known as SOGIE Equality Bill, is one of the things that can be done.

The SOGIE Equality Bill has been filed several times over two decades, always without success. In fact, it became the longest-running bill under the Senate interpellation period in 2019.

The participants of the virtual discussion, "Beyond Labels: A Mahaba-habang Usapan on the SOGIE Equality Bill and what it truly means to be LGBTQIA+ in the Philippines", exposed the misconceptions surrounding the bill.

Myth #1: The passage of the SOGIE Equality Bill is a stepping stone towards the passage of a same-sex marriage bill.

Wrong. "If you look at the bill, it does not contain any provision on same-sex marriage," said Lawyer Kenjie Aman, co-founder of the Philippine LGBT Bar. "In fact, it just alludes to any form of discrimination that will be committed to anyone, not just the LGBTQIA+ people," he added. Aman shared that even straight people have SOGIE.

To illustrate, UP Babaylan's Punong Babaylan Venus Aves gave an example where a straight man could be unfairly rejected by a company because the hiring officer wrongly perceived the applicant as gay. "The framing is SOGIE discrimination, not anti-LGBT discrimination. While LGBTQIA+ people experience disproportionate discrimination, non-LGBT people can also experience SOGIE discrimination," they added.

Myth #2: The SOGIE Equality Bill is redundant.

Lawmakers opposing the bill mentioned that the Safe Spaces Act, the Sexual Harassment Act of 1995, and the Anti-Bullying Act cover protection of one's SOGIE. "These laws do not sufficiently cover what the SOGIE Equality Bill intends to protect," Aman said.

"For one, the Sexual Harassment Act of 1995 would protect any person who's being asked of sexual favors by their bosses or by persons who have moral ascendency over them. This is eventually expanded by the Safe Spaces Act of 2019, where the coverage of these sexual harassment acts was expanded to those that recur in public spaces, and even to those committed, not necessarily by those who have moral ascendency over them, but also by peers, or even by people who are their subordinates," he explained.

The talk's moderator Naomi Fontanos chimed in. "The SOGIE Equality Bill is not redundant, right? I mean it's really a necessary bill because it doesn't repeat any other law. There's no other law like it," she said. Advocates like Fontanos have been going to Congress for many years now to educate lawmakers about the SOGIE Equality Bill but to no avail.

Myth #3: The SOGIE Equality Bill can be used against people whose religion condemns LGBTQIA+ people.

One of the panelists, content creator Rica Salomon, shared that some people on TikTok have a wrong understanding about the bill. Salomon said advocates of the bill are not stopping people from practicing their religious beliefs.

"What I want people to understand is, if you read the SOGIE Equality Bill, you are free to practice and believe in your religion as long as it is within the space of your church," she said. "But once you step outside, the SOGIE Bill (when passed into law) applies."

Myth #4: The SOGIE Equality Bill allows trans people to change their gender marker.

Gender marker refers to the designation of the registrant's sex on a birth record. Salomon reiterated that this is also a common misconception. "It isn't. What the SOGIE Equality Bill is solely focusing on is ending 'sexual orientation and gender identity expression-based discrimination'," she said.

An ongoing fight

Salomon also shared her unpleasant experience when she was asked to leave a food establishment in Makati City because other customers would be uncomfortable seeing transgenders.

"I think the best way to teach them might not be through words, but through actions. I feel like the (best) way to convince these people is to basically live our lives and show them that we are good people," she said.

Aman thinks the bill won't get passed any time soon, but he is still hopeful in continuing the fight for its passage.

When asked how he would explain SOGIE in simplest terms, he said: "Your existence is never wrong. You are here because you're meant to be here. I think it's a teaching that applies to all religions. You're here because you're supposed to be here."

"So you just live your truth and be unapologetic about it. It may take time. It may take a lot of courage. But just continue being you," he added.

Watch the full virtual discussion below.