[OPINION] Life without bullies? Why Senate must pass anti-discrimination bill

The only objection my friends have against Senate Bill No.1271, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression or SOGIE is that the term is not understandable. So I will begin with the explanation that the term stands for sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.

I tried to help the proponents by thinking of a more understandable term, but I couldn’t. Only the term, “SOGIE”, adequately describes a range of personal traits and characteristics upon which we cannot, if we are to claim to be a compassionate society, discriminate against. This is why the bill also proposes the short name, “The Anti Discrimination Act”.

I shall cover first the term as to why our gender expression needs to be protected.

As an educator and a trainor of educators, I know that in the Philippines many kids are bullied because of their gender expression. In some studies, it is one of the top, if not the top reason, for bullying.

To those who oppose this bill who still have kids in school (even at the college level), you may wish to reconsider your opposition. It is almost certain that a significant percentage of the children of the oppositors are experiencing discrimination in their schools because of their gender expression.

Psychological scarring

My husband, my sons, my male friends of various ages, will attest that they all witnessed or experienced some form of bullying based on gender expression.

“Bakla” or “tomboy” are still derogatory terms for many. Anyone who, for some reason, no matter how trivial, is seen as not obeying the dress, speech, mannerisms, even the physical characteristics (such as height or body hair) of their assigned gender can be made the object of emotional and physical abuse. Bullying on the basis of some arbitrary characteristic such as the presence of facial hair clearly is a form of discrimination.

As for ignoring bullying, the psychological community is in agreement: bullying is psychological scarring, can lead to consequences that will affect the child into adulthood. Schools must take pro-active measures to stop bullying. This bill is an important measure to help us improve our educational standards.

By the same token, I would argue that those who oppose hazing and the resulting deaths, should also understand that early experiences of aggression, of being the bully and the bullied, are the building blocks of the hazing culture.

Given the standards of masculinity that underpin hazing culture, the link to early bullying on the basis of gender expression is clear.

I start from discrimination on the basis of gender expression because it is obvious that it is linked to a discrimination against sexual orientation.

However, to complete our discussion on gender expression it should be stated that sexual expression has very little to do with sexual orientation. My boys, because I raised them to be polite and gentle, received their share of being taunted as “bakla”, though all of them are now heterosexual men. Some of my lesbian friends are far more into femininity than me.

Sexual orientation

But the linking of gender expression to sexual orientation is necessary in the bill because the discrimination based on expression is derived from a discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Are lesbians, gay or bisexual people discriminated against? Definitely.

The shotgun aggression of bullies in school definitely subjects LGB kids to abuse just as badly, or perhaps worse, than those whose sexual expression is mistaken as indicative of a non-heterosexual orientation.

Even outside the school environment, however, there is proven documentation of discrimination that is based on sexual orientation. To those who want proof,  and for the sake of brevity, I will recall that in 2010 the Supreme Court overturned a Comelec decision disallowing the registration of a political party list Ang Ladlad.

The Comelec justified this refusal of registration because Ang Ladlad did not present a marginalized sector and that it was promoting immorality. The Supreme Court reversed the Comelec decision on both grounds.

In short, Ang Ladlad, was able to show credible evidence to the Supreme Court of the discrimination of LGB sectors in society and that ending the marginalization was in line with the interests of the nation.

The case histories presented at that time have been replicated since. And anyone who sincerely wants to know the truth is free to contact the proponents and advocates of the bill to see the evidence.

Gender identity

The last term is “gender identity.”

Unlike sexual orientation which refers to whom we are attracted, gender identity refers to how we see ourselves as male or female. Many of us (called cisgender) are comfortable with the identity given to us at birth (mostly determined by our physical characteristics).

I, for example, have “female” written in my birth certificate and I am quite happy to a woman. Indeed, despite the fact that I am still fighting that women be treated as equals to men, I don’t want to be a man.

On the other hand, trans people are unhappy with their assigned gender identity at birth.

Let me be clear on this: this is not a mere fancy, an act to call attention, a frivolous claim nor is it a delusion.

It is a deeply felt and involuntary sense that pervades all aspects of the person. Psychological and other health professionals have taken cognizance of this condition and recognize also that this is true of a significant number of human beings. More importantly, an overwhelming majority of health professionals understand that health care that facilitates transition to their preferred gender identity, leads to the healthiest outcomes.

Are transgender children subject to bullying? Yes.

Are they abused and discriminated against in public life? Definitely. In fact, the most violent acts are often committed against transpersons. One need only remember the case of Jennifer Laude to see proof of this.

Question of morality

A final question about this bill is whether it is one that leads to immorality. That question is both a religious, political and scientific one.

On the issue of science, health workers and activists working to stop the spread of HIV, a disease that affects all sexual orientations, are of one voice in advocating an end to discrimination and stigmatization on the basis of SOGIE. The studies on the relationship between non-discrimination and effective methods of control are clear.

The science of moral development, however, is a major field in psychology.

On this question, psychology has two answers. First, non-discrimination on the basis of SOGIE is necessary to healthy psychological outcomes. Healthy in this case means not just the ability to be satisfied and happy with the self, but also the ability to contribute to the well-being of others and the larger society.

Secondly, the ability to accept diversity and difference marks higher stages of moral development and leads to a healthier and happier individual. Such healthy outcomes include a sense of deep spirituality and the ability to use religion as means of compassion rather than dissension. It leads to better social relationships within families and with others.

In the area of the nation’s political life, I quote the Supreme Court decision of 2010:

One unavoidable consequence of everyone having the freedom to choose is that others may make different choices choices we would not make for ourselves, choices we may disapprove of, even choices that may shock or offend or anger us. However, choices are not to be legally prohibited merely because they are different, and the right to disagree and debate about important questions of public policy is a core value protected by our Bill of Rights. Indeed, our democracy is built on genuine recognition of, and respect for, diversity and difference in opinion. Since ancient times, society has grappled with deep disagreements about the definitions and demands of morality.

In many cases, where moral convictions are concerned, harmony among those theoretically opposed is an insurmountable goal. Yet herein lies the paradox philosophical justifications about what is moral are indispensable and yet at the same time powerless to create agreement. This Court recognizes, however, that practical solutions are preferable to ideological stalemates; accommodation is better than intransigence; reason more worthy than rhetoric. This will allow persons of diverse viewpoints to live together, if not harmoniously, then, at least, civilly.”

As the reader may have noticed both politics and science have something to say to someone seeking to understand the bill in terms of religion: that in times of religious and moral differences, compassion and a healthy outcome for the individuals concerned and, therefore society at large, must be a consideration regardless of your personal views.

I would argue further that the argument for compassion and looking how things really affect people, is a major principle of all religious traditions.

For the sake of science, for the sake of morality and for the sake of the nation’s well being, I appeal to our Senate to pass the anti-discrimination bill. – Rappler.com

 

Sylvia Estrada Claudio is a doctor of medicine who also holds a PhD in psychology. She is currently Dean of the College of Social Work and Community Development of the University of the Philippines.