Vannesa Tanghal, a college student, lives in an apartment in Manila, and some people there watch her every move. There’s the electrician, the house helper, and the other tenants. Her landlady’s driver peers through an opening on her wall and reports what she’s doing to the landlady. Just the other day she woke up early in the morning from a bad dream only to find the driver watching her again.
Vannesa is a lesbian, and her landlady doesn’t approve of gays. Gays have been evicted in the past because, as what the landlady told Vannesa, “nakakahiya—baka isipin ng mga tao na tumatanggap ako ng tenant na bakla.”
Vannesa was treated warmly at first. Her landlady didn’t know her sexual orientation until she brought her girlfriend to her place and her landlady found out. The landlady has asked Vannesa countless times (and in front of her partner), “Alam ba ng magulang mo ’yan?” everytime her girlfriend visited her. And whenever Vannesa would say that yes, her family knows and they’re open about these things, the landlady would exclaim “Wooh. I doubt.” The landlady would also charge Vannesa for bringing in visitors—friends in the LGBT community—even if they don’t stay for the night. But other tenants also have visitors, and when Vannesa asked them if they were charged extra for the visits, she found out they weren’t. “So napaisip ako,” Vannesa says. “Pati pag bisita pala kailangan mga straight din. Na-discriminate ako.”
Hoping to change her landlady’s view on lesbians and to show that her family really was open-minded, Vannesa and her mom had the idea of telling the landlady to watch CNN Philippines’ Real Talk segment on LGBT rights on April 1. Vannesa’s older sister, Hazel de Guzman, is an LGBT advocate, and she was going to be interviewed on air along with 2015 Miss International Queen Trixie Maristela and her boyfriend Art Sta. Ana, the author of He’s Dating the Transgender.
On the show, Hazel stated that the Philippines may be tolerant of the LGBT community, as reported by Huffington Post, “but we are not accepting.” Tolerance for the LGBT implies that LGBT isn’t something good but it’s there so we all just make do with it.
On the other hand, acceptance involves showing sympathy and compassion, that one cares for the basic rights of the LGBT people. Hazel points out that the country doesn’t have an anti-discrimination law to reclaim, protect, and fight for the rights of the LGBT community. (The Anti Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity Discrimination Act, or House Bill 5687, has yet to be passed.) Under this bill, employers are prohibited from demanding for people’s sexual orientation (the sex a person is attracted to) or gender identity (how this person identifies him-/herself—for instance, born male but identifies as female) and using that as a basis of hiring, promotion, or dismissal. It would be illegal for a health institution to refuse providing health services based on a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity (SOGI), or for an academic institution to expel a student or refuse admitting an applicant also based on SOGI, among other discriminative practices.
After watching the segment, the landlady told Vannesa to pack up and leave the apartment by May 8.
This wasn’t the first time Vannesa was told to leave before her contract expired. Last September the landlady wanted to evict Vannesa, and Vannesa had to beg to stay because it was her finals week and it would be difficult to find a place and relocate while studying. Having been made to leave again, Vannesa asked her landlady why.
“Ganito yan, iha. Dahil sa girlfriend mo,” the landlady began. “Pinagsabihan na kita noon, na sayang ka. Maganda ka, edukada at professional. I asked you: Why her? Pero who am I to judge naman, di ba? Hinayaan kita. Kaso hindi ko na ma-tolerate ’yan kasi may mga kasama ka dito na estudyante rin. At pag nakita nila na ganyan ka, iisipin nila na hinahayaan ko lang na magkaroon ako ng tenant na ganun. So sa akin ang balik, iha.”
The landlady also asked Vannesa if she’s had a boyfriend before. “Yes po,” Vannesa replied.
“Ano mas matimbang sa ’yo, babae o lalaki?”
“Ah, so ganun ka na rin talaga. Anyway, hindi ko ’yan mato-tolerate dito sa amin. Concerned lang din ako sa ’yo kasi naniniwala ako mababago pa ’yan kasi bata ka pa. Mabuti pa nga kung gagawin mo [ang pag-imbita ng partner mo sa kwarto] at lalaki ang partner mo.”
If the anti-discrimination bill were a law, the landlady would have violated it for denying people housing services based on their SOGI, and she would have to pay a fine of P100,000 to P500,000 or be imprisoned for one to six years. (If, of course, the law is implemented—but that’s a different story.)
Hazel, who is also a lesbian, has the luck of being surrounded with open-minded people. She’s given talks and listened to talks by other gender scholars in the country and abroad about lesbian geography. For six years she taught in the Department of Geography in UP Diliman, and there was no discrimination based on SOGI in the workplace. “I’d like to think I’m surrounded with informed people,” Hazel said.
But Vannesa doesn’t have that same luck. Two years ago some of her peers forced her to be straight so that she could serve God, since they believed her sexuality was a sin. Just last year when she came out to her Church group about her sexuality, they wanted to have a healing prayer for her so that she would be straight.
A churchmate told her to have sex with a guy, thinking that maybe that would make her become straight. Vannesa thought, “Eh ipinagbabawal nga ng Church ang pre-marital sex, tapos sasabihan ako na they need to heal me and that I try doing it with a guy?”
Perhaps surprisingly, Vannesa isn’t angry with her landlady for evicting her. “Masama lang ang loob ko sa pangyayari. Iniintindi ko na lang sila kahit hindi nila kami maintindihan.” For her, it’s not an issue that her landlady doesn’t get the LGBT community. The issue for her is that she’s been discriminated on for months: She pays a higher amount for rent than all the other tenants; she has to pay when she brings in LGBT visitors for their thesis work while all the other straight students with their visiting groupmates don’t pay a single cent; the landlady wants to terminate Vannesa’s lease contract and not return the deposited money because she’s a lesbian. Vannesa makes distinctions here: between what people think of the LGBT and the discriminatory acts committed against them. On a very practical and basic level, her beef is with the latter. Stigma, bias, and lack of information do affect attitude and behavior. Negative thoughts can lead to tolerance of the LGBT (possibly the best scenario in a society that’s quick to judge). But these can also result in the denial of the basic rights of others.
Vannesa strives to keep respecting her landlady, the tenants, and all those other people who spy on her and invade her privacy and refuse to talk to her. But Vannesa’s reaction isn’t entirely bore out of goodwill alone. “Even though I’m a political science student and sa field namin ipinaglalaban talaga ang karapatan at dahilan, at this moment pagod na ako ipaglaban ito.”
Vannesa is familiar with the Anti Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity Discrimination Act. She learned about it when she interned at the Senate last summer, and now, after experiencing gender discrimination to the point of losing a place to stay, she wishes she can help urge law makers to pass the bill. She knows how difficult it is to lose one’s rights.
On April 8 Vannesa hurriedly packed her things with her landlady shouting at her from behind, wanting her to leave then and there instead of the already agreed May 8. Luckily Vannesa found a place to stay on such short notice.
Hazel believes that most forms of discrimination happen because people don’t know much about what it means to be a member of the LGBT community. As an educator, she believes that people should understand sexual orientation and gender identity and expression first, as well as why we need to protect the rights of the LGBT. Only then could we be able to push for the anti-discrimination law. “Start the conversation,” she suggests. “Informed discussion is always a good thing. It doesn’t need to be in a classroom, a conference, or any other traditional learning setting. It could be as simple as bringing the topic of acceptance over lunch or dinner.”
But there will be people who will not change their minds about the LGBT community. Talking to them about LGBT rights can even backfire, like what happened to Vannesa. They’ll make the hard fight and clamor for LGBT rights all the more difficult, it’ll seem like a lost cause. If you are also in that rut now or if you find yourself in that rut in the future, Hazel says: “You are not alone in this. Your experience might be unique, but there are others who are going through this [discrimination]. Building communities and being part of communities, especially now with social media, is already very easy, and it helps.”
Vannesa is right to say “Hindi talaga makatarungan,” pertaining to everything that happened to her in the apartment. For those of us who’d like to think we’re open-minded people, like Vannesa and Hazel, let’s still show respect for those who discriminate—to be the better people—in spite of the anger and frustration we feel about gender discrimination. Let’s inform ourselves about sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, let us talk and listen, let us care about people because it’s the right thing to do.
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