By: Ging Cristobal, IGLHRC Project Coordinator for Asia and Pacific Islands

Having been to many demonstrations, parades and rallies in the Philippines, it seemed to me that the LGBT imMORAL rally held in front of the Commission of Election office in Manila City last Wednesday, November 23, 2009 was somehow different. Despite the usual flamboyance for which LGBT demonstrations are known, most of the LGBT activists present seemed pained, aware that something quite serious and political was happening. The 150+ LGBT people and supporters, assembled in front of Manila Cathedral, one of the oldest churches in the Philippines, chanted “LGBT hindi immoral, ipaglaban ang dangal!” ( LGBT are not immoral, fight for your self-respect/dignity!)

View photos of the event »

Together with LGBT groups and supportive women’s groups, we marched through the streets of Manila to call for the accreditation of Ang LADLAD, an LGBT party seeking to run for a seat in Congress, and to remind the Philippines society that LGBTs will no longer tolerate the bigoted treatment we experience in our communities, workplaces, families, and our country.

This protest was organized to publicly oppose the homophobic and discriminatory decision made last November 11, 2009 by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to ban Ang LADLAD from running in the 2010 national elections. The Comelec vehemently stated that the application of Ang LADLAD “must fail” because the petition is “dismissible on moral grounds” since Ang LADLAD “advocates immorality and homosexuals are a threat to the youth.”

Despite the occasional surface sign of cultural tolerance, discrimination against LGBT people is still an ever-present norm here. This discrimination ranges from individual and subtle to systemic and blatant. Prejudiced and bigoted remarks and treatment are so normalized that LGBT people have learned not to contest them, hoping for some measure of respect.

But: A transgender woman is passed over for a promotion because of her gender identity or can’t find work at all; only one lesbian parent attends her child’s school activity because the parents of the other children are uncomfortable seeing two women together as parents; only one member of a couple of same sex parents can be the legal parent of their adopted child and the other must be considered, “just a friend;” a butch lesbian will have to let go of her partner’s hand once they are noticed for fear of harassment; a man shoots a lesbian in the face because she was dating his daughter; transgender women are sexually harassed while their unrepentant attackers claim they were asking for it; and gay men are arrested for vagrancy and was released after being extorted by the police.

In short, the rights of LGBT people are not consistently respected by society, and the Comelec’s decision to deny accreditation as a political party to Ang LADLAD, a party that seeks to improve the lives of LGBT people in the Philippines, makes institutional discrimination clear. This discrimination and homophobia has been encouraged by the Philippines’ conservative Catholic history and society.

The Comelec decision shows that the government endorses and adopts this discriminatory attitude. It is proof that the state sees LGBT people as second class citizens, a minority group not to be taken seriously, and a group of sinners that need to be saved from their immoral lives. Comelec has spelled out these ideas in their decision.

The LGBT imMORAL protest march shows that LGBT people want change and we want it now. Legal and political reforms are necessary, but in addition, as LGBT people living in the Philippines, we also need to push the envelope to demand respect in all aspects of our lives.

A week after the imMORAL protest march, the Philippines LGBT community held its annual LGBT Pride March on December 5, 2009. Because of the Comelec’s decision, the parade was not only a declaration that yes, we are out and proud, but also a statement that we will continue to claim our rights. As taxpayers, as citizens of the Philippines, we deserve respect and equal treatment as enshrined in the Philippine Constitution and international law.

We will continue to fight for our rights.