Lawmakers in the Philippines House of Representatives passed a bill this week outlawing LGBTQ discrimination with a vote of 198-0, a unanimous decision that could have monumental impact if it passes through the Senate.
The Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression Equality bill, also known as SOGIE, is designed to protect the queer and transgender individuals living in the Philippines by ordering establishments to provide gender neutral bathrooms, setting up special protection desks for LGBTQ people in police stations and penalizing discrimination via fines or even jail time.
Representatives, including Geraldine Roman, the first transgender politician to hold elected office in the Philippines, were happy to extoll the bill’s virtues.
“Truly, we have shown that respect, humility, diplomacy, unity and the willingness to listen to one another, with neither judgement nor hubris, can work wonders,” Roman said in a celebratory post on her Facebook page. Another representative, Rav Rocamora, expressed his approval as he was voting with the words, ““I vote yes to gender equality, and I vote yes to love.”
For those initially on the fence about the bill, which passed after a third read-through and bears similarities to another bill from 2001 that passed through the House of Representatives but stalled in the Senate, it appears that leveling the playing field for all citizens of the Philippines was a deciding factor.
According to a statement released by the Gabriela Women’s Party, “the proposed measure is the assertion of the LGBT community not for additional or special rights, but putting forward the recognition of same rights enjoyed by heterosexual individuals as stipulated in the law that are denied by individual and institutional practices.”
The bill still needs to pass through the Senate and then get approval from President Rodrigo Duterte. The latter step may prove more challenging- President Duterte has a poor track record when it comes to human rights, to put it mildly. In March, he also stated that “there is a Civil Code which says that you can only marry a woman for me… for a woman to marry a man,” contradicting earlier statements where he seemed open to the prospect.
But no matter how difficult the path ahead, the unanimous approval of this anti-LGBTQ discrimination bill is a step in the right direction.