Thursday, 2 June 2011

In the Philippines, LGBT march, campaign against hate crimes, killings

Participants of forum against LGBT killings held in April
Source: PE/VS, GMA News + Google translation

His hands and feet bound and his body riddled with stab wounds, Palanca award-winning writer Winton Ynion was found dead in his Quezon City condominium unit two years ago. He was homosexual.

While authorities initially suspected robbery as the motive for the crime, Ynion’s friends believed otherwise.

The writer’s case is only one in the rising number of deaths that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) groups believe have been motivated by gender discrimination.

It was the death of Ynion and of many others that prompted several LGBT rights groups — including Ladlad, ProGay, and Queer Pagan Network — to march to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in Quezon City 16 May to present a list of 56 homosexuals whose deaths remain unsolved.

The march coincided with the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO), which commemorates the day the World Health Organization took homosexuality off the International Classification of Diseases.

Up until 2009, no authoritative list of suspected hate crimes in the country existed although they were happening everywhere. That same year, LGBT group leader Marlon Lacsamana lost two of his gay friends, one of whom was Ynion, to crimes which he believed were triggered by hate.
“[Then we started thinking], ‘ano ba ang dapat naming gawin?’ Hindi naman 'ata tama na namamatay mga kaibigan natin tapos wala tayong ginagawa [heck should we do? 'Not really' die kidding right friends we done we're not doing,]," Lacsamana said.
Lacsamana, who is a librarian by profession, then began combing through the news archives of local papers and slowly, the list grew to what would become the Philippine LGBT Hate Crime Watch.

Some of the cases, Lacsamana explained, are left unresolved because the families themselves requested to stop the investigation once it dabbled on the victim’s homosexuality — maybe because of the stigma attached to the issue, he added.

The lack of legislation on the persecution against hate crimes doesn’t help either, he said. Lacsamana said many of the victims are unidentified as such, trivializing the cases.

He recalled getting in an argument with someone online because the death of one particular gay individual. The commenter insisted that the crime wasn’t motivated by hate but was a robbery gone wrong.
“Oo nga, may robbery nga but ang isang robbery ba kailangan ng 72 stab wounds sa tao? Robbery pa ba matatawag dun? [Certainly, with robbery a robbery that BUT I need Stab wounds 72 people? Will robbery still there?]" he said.
It’s this misunderstanding of hate crimes and homosexuality that the groups want to correct, said Ladlad chairperson Bemz Benedito. “Sana mas pagtuunan ng pansin ang mga cases na ito [Hopefully more focus on the cases it]," she said.

The process for Lacsamana hasn’t been that easy. He acknowledges that the list, which tracks cases from as far back as 1996, is not as comprehensive as he would like it to be. Lacsamana said the list depends on secondary sources of information — crime investigators, media reports and the accounts of witnesses or friends.

The group hopes to eventually find funding to make their research more thorough and for other organizations to give their own list of possible hate crimes. Currently, the group uses the social network Facebook to call attention to their cause.

Hate crimes, Ladlad’s Benedito explained, aren’t limited to those that end in gruesome murders. For Benedito, discrimination against LGBTs is also harrowing, and it happens every day. “It occurs like a natural thing," she added.

Some malls for instance, ban transsexuals from entering the premises because of their “inappropriate" attire. “Hindi nila naiintindihan na mga transsexuals kami, na iyon ang aming gender identity [They do not understand that we are transsexuals, that our gender identity]," she said.

What’s worse, some members are denied employment once they reveal their homosexuality, according to Benedito.

She said it is this “irrational fear and hatred" for their community that strengthens his group’s belief in LGBTs’ need for laws to protect their rights.

Several bills which seek to criminalize discrimination against LGBT have been filed in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. However, none of them have been passed.

In 2008, then Akbayan representative Lisa Hontiveros called for the passage of a house bill that protects homosexuals from discrimination.

Bayan Muna representative Teddy Casiño, meanwhile, authored two bills that cater to the LGTB community — to recognize May 17 as The National Day Against Homophobia And Transphobia and House Bill 4635 or the Anti-Discrimination Act of 2010.

The second bill had since been passed on to the House of Representatives’ Committee on Justice but no further development has been reported.

Despite these advances in legislation, Benedito insisted that LGBTs deserve representation in the legislative branch. Last year, Ladlad made headlines when the Commission on Elections (Comelec) denied them accreditation as a party-list group.

A month before the 2010 National Elections, the Supreme Court (SC) granted the group’s petition to overturn the Comelec resolutions which denied Ladlad of accreditation.

According to the SC’s decision, the group had complied with the legal requirements of party-list accreditation as listed in Republic Act 7941 or the Party-list System Act.

The party-list however, failed to secure seats during last year’s elections, which is why the 2013 elections present a do-or-die scenario. Benedito said that if they fail to win three seats in 2013, the group will lose accreditation as a party-list.

“We don’t want to go through what we went through the last time," she said, referring to Comelec’s decision.

Both Benedito and Lacsamana admit that there is a lot that needs to be done for the LGBT community.

Karen Gomez Dumpit of the CHR’s Government Cooperation Office said that they will look into the cases in the Hate Crime Watch list and that they will coordinate with the LGBT groups on the matter.
“We’re one with them in line with the advocacy that these are human rights they’re asking for. No one has the right to kill anybody because of their gender or sexual orientation," she said.
Lacsamana meanwhile called on the authorities to do their job properly and to take hate crimes “for what they are." He said that in many cases, when the homosexual angle is unearthed, the investigation turns awry. “Ano ba kami, half-human? Hustisya pa rin, eh [What are we, half-human? Justice still, eh,]," he said.
“The bottom line here is misunderstanding — because they don’t know us, they don’t understand us, they don’t want to know us," he said. “We have to do something as a community. We have to fight."
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