What You Should Know About The SOGIE Equality Bill

First of all, what does 'SOGIE' mean?
PHOTO: istockphoto

The past few months have seen a lot of news about the LGBT community. There was a Pride March in Ateneo De Manila and a rather controversial reaction from a religious group. There was the Metro Manila Pride March, with thousands of people braving the rains to celebrate and protest. And everyone had an opinion about Gretchen Diez, the transgender woman who was treated harshly by a janitress in a Quezon City mall.

Because of all of these, there has been a lot of discussion about solving discrimination against the LGBTQIA, through a SOGIE Bill. ICYDK, there are currently three versions of the SOGIE Bill filed in the Senate, by Sen. Risa Hontiveros, Sen. Imee Marcos, and Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan.

What does SOGIE mean?

This is probably the most important question! SOGIE stands for Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression. But what do those words mean anyway?

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Sexual Orientation is about to whom you have sexual or romantic feelings. You can be heterosexual (attracted to the opposite gender); homosexual (attracted to the same gender); bisexual (attracted to both genders); or pansexual (attracted to all genders).

You can even be asexual or ace (you have romantic feelings towards people but not sexual attraction), or aromantic (you can be sexually attracted to people but you don't have romantic feelings).

Gender Identity is about how you identify yourself, regardless of you sexual orientation. You can be male or female, and if you feel that the gender assigned to you at birth is true to who you are, you are cisgender. Or you can be transgender, meaning you feel that your real identity is different from the one assigned to you at birth (think Caitlyn Jenner, BB Gandanghari, Angelina Mead King).

Gender Expression is how you express or show your gender, by the way you dress, act, move, talk.

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Main points: What is the SOGIE Bill?

The SOGIE Bill is basically an anti-discrimination bill. It recognizes that many people, whether they're LGBTQIA++ or cisgender, experience discrimination based on their SOGIE. The bill seeks to protect all people from this kind of discrimination.

According to Atty. Kristine Mendoza, a lawyer who works at the office of Sen. Hontiveros, "The bill aims to prohibit discrimination on the basis of SOGIE, so even the 'straights' are protected by this bill."

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Who will the SOGIE Bill affect?

Everybody, actually! Every person has SOGIE, so, as Atty. Mendoza says, "the bill applies to all. Even cis heteros have sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. The SOGIE Equality Bill does not provide LGBTIQAs with special rights."

Some people have said that there isn't really a need for a SOGIE Bill, since there are many members of the LGBTQIA community who are accepted and successful in different industries. But according to Atty. Mendoza, "There are also members who live their lives deprived of basic rights, such as the right to work, the right to education, the right to access to health services, facilities, and establishments, and others, simply because of their sexual orientation and gender identity or expression. Discrimination has been a reality in the lives of LGBTIQAs. While some might not have been discriminated against, or might not have felt stigmatized, it does not negate the lived experiences of others who have."

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Basically, just because you haven't experienced it or seen it happening, that doesn't mean it doesn't happen at all! Maybe you should ask the different LGBTQIA people you know if they've ever experienced any discrimination. And don't forget, discrimination has happened—and still happens!—to cisgender women, too.

What is covered by the SOGIE Bill?

With the SOGIE Bill, certain activities can now be declared discriminatory, and you can actually file charges if any person, corporation, or organization commits these acts. These activities include the promotion of stigma (like if you say HIV cases are increasing because of gay men having sex), and denial of access to public service, with special mention of military service.

As per Atty. Mendoza, it will also be a violation if there's "differential treatment of an employee, a job applicant, or any one engaged by virtue of a contract of service" because "companies should hire based on merit and not based on anyone's SOGIE. To deny the right to work based on SOGIE is a clear case of discrimination and is penalized by the bill when it becomes a law."

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What else is a violation? "Denial of admission to, expulsion from, or discipline of a student by an educational institution," meaning "exclusive boys schools should accept trans men and exclusive girls schools should accept trans women."

If the SOGIE Bill were already a law, the case of Gretchen Diez would be a clear violation already, since this a discriminatory act: "Denial of access to establishments, facilities, utilities, or services." This means "trans women should be allowed to use female bathrooms because they are women. The same goes with trans men and male bathrooms."

Other examples of violations include:

  • Refusal or revocation of accreditation, formal recognition, or registration of any organization, political party, or institution
  • Denial of access to medical and health services
  • Denial of application or revocation of professional license
  • Forced medical or psychological examination to determine and/or alter a person’s SOGIE without his or her consent (This bill requires the approval of the appropriate Family Court for minors)
  • Harassment by the police or military
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Any person, corporation, or organization found guilty of these acts can be slapped with a fine! And it's no small amount, as it ranges from P100,000 to P500,000. The court can also sentence the guilty party to imprisonment for a minimum of one (1) year but not more than twelve (12) years, and community service comprising human rights education and exposure to the plight of the victims

The bill also has provisions for administrative sanctions for government officials who refuse to investigate, prosecute, or act on complaints for violations.

The SOGIE Bill also mentions programs to promote non-discrimination and diversity; Social Protection Programs to protect those who are vulnerable to stigma and discrimination on the basis of their SOGIE; and diversity programs and policies. It also mandates all government agencies to develop and implement SOGIE-specific gender sensitivity education and information dissemination.

Reactions to the SOGIE Bill

A lot of people have expressed their support of the SOGIE Bill, from LGBTQIA advocacy groups to educational institutions, from religious organizations and medical professionals.

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Even student leaders from different Catholic organizations have shown their support.

Anne Curtis and Heart Evangelista have been pretty vocal about supporting the bill.

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But there are also many people, even well-known personalities who are openly LGBT, who don’t think the bill is necessary at all.

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Sen. Tito Sotto has been pretty vocal about *not* supporting the bill.

The Philippine National Police doesn’t agree with it, either.

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One of the things some people seem to be worried about is that the SOGIE Bill will allow people to change the sex indicated on your birth certificate. But Atty. Mendoza says this isn't in the bill at all: "Nope, the bill only prohibits discrimination and mandates creation of non-discrimination and diversity programs. It does not yet provide legal recognition of transgender persons in their documents. Hence, in the eyes of the law, a trans woman is still legally a man."

And where does the SOGIE Bill stand on marriage?

Here's the other really hot issue that's connected to the SOGIE Bill: same-sex marriage! But according to Atty. Mendoza, "Nope. Nowhere in the bill is marriage equality mentioned."

But wait, what if you're a trans woman? Can you legally marry a man? That's still a no, because "a trans woman is still legally a man and thus cannot marry another man. Legal recognition should indeed be the next agenda. But, transgender persons, although their gender identities are not yet legally recognized, should not be discriminated and deprived of their rights, according to the SOGIE Equality Bill."

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