By INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
MANILA — Homophobia is alive and killing people.
A gay Filipino hairdresser in Seattle, the United States was robbed, beaten into a coma last November 15 as he walked home. The 58-year old Danny Vega died last Sunday, and this has ignited outrage from the Filipino lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) community. He died from injuries sustained after being attacked and robbed by three young men. The men, he described to police as African American, are still at large. Police have made no arrest.
Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casiño released a statement saying that Vega’s killing was a stark reminder that homophobia or discrimination against gays and lesbians was no laughing matter.
Family members believe that he was was targeted because he was openly gay. He was a well-known member in the Filipino community in Seattle and owner of Danny Vega’s Hair Salon.
Casiño, the author of the anti-discrimination bill in Congress, House Bill 1483, condoled with the victim’s family and said it was “ironic” that even as people say gays are now being accepted more in society, they remain the target of hatred and violence. He said the shocking proliferation of violence against the LGBT community is also what prompted him to file House Resolution 1432 which seeks a congressional inquiry on hate crimes against LGBTs.
Based on news reports and independent complaints collated by the Philippine LGBT Hate Crime Watch, there have been 104 cases of LGBT killings in the Philippines since 1996.
“Does one’s sexual orientation still matter nowadays? As long as you live an upright and productive life, why should anyone begrudge you for being gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender? They, along with other minority groups, should enjoy the same rights as everyone else,” Casiño said.
Casiño explained that given the gravity and urgency of the problem of violence and hate crimes directed against members of the LGBT community, the United Nations Human Rights Council recently approved a resolution calling for an end to discrimination and violence against LGBT persons worldwide. It ordered the High Commissioner for Human Rights to collect data on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity by December 2011. It also urged the Council to discuss the research findings in an open debate.
Gabriela Women’s partylist Rep. Luzviminda Ilagan, vice chairwoman of the House Committee on Women and Gender Equality, has also filed resolutions investigating the spate of horrific murders of transgender and lesbian Filipinas.
Gays march vs discrimination, call for more AIDS funds
In a separate but related report, the Progressive Organization of Gays in the Philippines (ProGay) announced that it will join the annual Pride parade in the Malate this December. Progay was the group that launched Asia’s first political street action to celebrate global gay rights 17 years ago.
The march and the post-parade party themed “Pride of the Orient” is being sponsored by the Task Force Pride and different organizations leading the fight for sexual orientation and gender identity rights and working to contain the worsening AIDS epidemic in the community.
ProGay spokesperson Goya Candelario said last year’s parade call for the enactment of the Bayan Muna’s anti-discrimination act remains at the top of their legislative agenda.
The group will again carrying aloft the very large rainbow flag, a portion of the world’s longest gay pride flag donated by US-based LGBT organizations. This same flag has been unfurled for many years in different parades across the Philippines. The eight-color rainbow symbolizes the diversity of sexualities and expressions of LGBTs worldwide.
Aside from legislation, ProGay is also demanding the government to act quickly on the lack of livelihood, education, health care, and other basic services for LGBTs and their families. Candelario, a struggling salon worker from Caloocan City, blamed Aquino for failing to fulfill his campaign promises to provide decent jobs and better incomes for LGBTs.
ProGay also reported that discrimination has worsened the poverty incidence among transgender slum dwellers, forcing the unemployed into low-paid work such as cyber porn performers in the outskirts of the capital.
Oscar Atadero, ProGay’s human rights section officer, said the lack of clear AIDS prevention policies puts trafficked transwomen and prostituted gay men at great risk. He said thousands already infected also face the end of the funding for treatment and drugs from the Global Fund for HIV, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
He also said the growing market for prostituted Filipino transwomen in Southeast Asia is providing a dangerous way out for college graduates who couldn’t find employment despite government claims that medical tourism and business outsourcing are generating local jobs.
Corky Maranan, coordinator of ProGay-Southern Tagalog Network, in the meantime, said LGBT students in the region’s state colleges find it hard to celebrate Pride given the effects of state budget cuts on education and high tuition fees.
“ Cost-cutting tactics of state-run colleges that close down campus sports facilities and teams spell the doom for the remaining refuge of LGBT students,” Maranan said.She went on to say that she, her partner, and other LGBT students are hard pressed to study while juggling odd jobs just to pay exorbitant school fees on time.
“In many provinces of the Philippines, the stereotype of LGBTs as successful business or career people marching in Pride and sipping cocktails is a bitter joke. Our incomes are barely enough to support the health care costs of our aging parents,” Maranan said.
ProGay asserted that the country’s economic stagnation and rising incidence of violence and hate crimes against LGBTs are reasons to reclaim pride marches as protests rather than celebrations of charmed lives.