Saturday, 24 April 2021

BIG ISSUES IN PHILIPPINES - Discrimination Against Gay & Bisexual


Schools should be safe places for everyone. 

But in the Philippines Country, students who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) too often find that their schooling experience is marred by bullying, discrimination, lack of access to LGBT-related information, and in some cases, physical or sexual assault. These abuses can cause deep and lasting harm and curtail student's' right to education, protected under Philippine and international law.


In recent years, lawmakers and school administrators in the Philippines have recognized that bullying of LGBT youth is a serious problem, and designed interventions to address it. In 2012, the Department of Education (DepEd), which oversees primary and secondary schools, enacted a Child Protection Policy  designed to address bullying and discrimination in schools, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The following year, Congress passed the Anti-Bullying Law of 2013, with implementing rules and regulations that enumerate sexual orientation and gender identity as prohibited grounds for bullying and harassment. The adoption of these policies sends a strong signal that bullying and discrimination are unacceptable and should not be tolerated in educational institutions.


But these policies, while strong on paper, have not been adequately enforced. In the absence of effective implementation and monitoring, many LGBT youth continue to experience bullying and harassment in school. The adverse treatment they experience from peers and teachers is compounded by discriminatory policies that stigmatize and disadvantage LGBT students and by the lack of information and resources about LGBT issues available in schools.


This report is based on interviews and group discussions conducted in 10 cities on the major Philippine island of Luzon and the Visayas with 76 secondary school students or recent graduates who identified as LGBT or questioning, 22 students or recent graduates who did not identify as LGBT or questioning, and 46 parents, teachers, counselors, administrators, service providers, and experts on education. It examines three broad areas in which LGBT students encounter problems-bullying and harassment, discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, and a lack of information and resources-and recommends steps that lawmakers, DepEd, and school administrators should take to uphold LGBT students' right to a safe and affirming educational environment.


The incidents described in this report illustrate the vital importance of expanding and enforcing protections for LGBT youth in schools. Despite prohibitions on bullying, for example, students across the Philippines described patterns of bullying and mistreatment that went unchecked by school staff. Carlos M., a 19-year-old gay student from Olongapo City, said: "When I was in high school, they'd push me, punch me. When I'd get out of school, they'd follow me [and] push me, call me 'gay', 'faggot,' things like that." While verbal bullying appeared to be the most prevalent problem that LGBT students faced, physical bullying and sexualized harassment were also worryingly common-and while students were most often the culprits, teachers ignored or participated in bullying as well. The effects of this bullying were devastating to the youth who were targeted. Benji A., a 20-year-old gay man in Manila who was bullied throughout his education, said, " I was depressed, I was bullied, I didn't know my sexuality, I felt unloved, and I felt alone all the time. And I had friends, but I still felt so lonely. I was listing ways to die."


The mistreatment that students faced in schools was exacerbated b discriminatory policies and practices that excluded them from fully participating in the school environment. Schools impose rigid gender norms on students in a variety of ways-for example, through gendered uniforms or dress codes, restrictions on hair length, gendered restrooms, classes  and activities that differ for boys and girls, and close scrutiny of same-sex friendships and relationships. For example, Mariosal D., a 21-year-old transgender woman, said:


" When I was in high school, thee was a teacher who always went around and if you had long hair, she would call you up to the front of the class and cut your hair in front of the students. That happened to me many times. It made me feel terrible: I cried because I saw my classmate watching me getting my hair cut. "


These policies are particularly difficult for transgender students, who are typically treated as their sex assigned at birth rather than their gender identity. But they can also be challenging for students who are gender non-conforming, and feel most comfortable expressing themselves or participating in activities that the school considers inappropriate for their sex.


Efforts to address discrimination against LGBT people have met with resistance, including by religious leaders. The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) for example has condemned violence and discrimination against LGBT people, but in practice, the Roman Catholic Church has resisted laws and policies that would protect LGBT rights. The CBCP has sought to weaken anti-discrimination legislation pending before Congress, for example, and has opposed implementation of comprehensive sexuality education in schools. Representatives of the Church warn that recognizing LGBT rights will open the door to same-sex marriage, and oppose legislation that might promote divorce, euthanasia, abortion, total population control, and homosexual marriage, which they group under the acronym "DEATH." In a country that is more than 80% Catholic, opposition from the Church influences how LGBT issues are addressed in families and schools, with many parents and teachers telling students that being LGBT is immoral or wrong.


One way that schools can address bullying and discrimination and ameliorate their effects is by providing educational resources to students, teachers, and staff to familiarize them with LGBT people and issues. Unfortunately, positive information and resources regarding sexual orientation and gender identity are exceedingly rare in secondary schools in the Philippines. When students do learn about LGBT people and issues in schools, the messages are typically negative, rejecting same-sex relationships and transgender identities as immoral or unnatural. Juan N., a22-year-old transgender man who had attended high school in Manila, said, "There would be a lecture where they'd somehow pass by the topic of homosexuality and show you, try to illustrate that in the Bible, in Christian theology, homosexuality is a sin, and if you want to be a good Christian you shouldn't engage in those activities. " Virtually all the students interviewed by Human Rights Watch said the limited sexuality education they received did not include information that was relevant to them as LGBT youth, and few reported having access to supportive guidance counselors or school personnel.

When students face these issues - whether in isolation or together - the school can become a difficult or hostile environment. In addition to physical and psychological injury, students described how bullying, discrimination, and exclusion caused them to lose concentration, skip class, or seek to transfer schools - all impairing their right to education. For the right to education to have meaning for all students -  including LGBT students-teachers, administrators, and lawmakers need to work together with LGBT advocates to ensure that schools become safer and more inclusive places for LGBT children to learn. 



 @ Jackie San



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