The fight for LGBTQIA+ protection in the Philippines



There is a popular belief that the Philippines is not only tolerant but accepting of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual (LGBTQIA+) people. The legal recognition of a person’s humanity and dignity, regardless of their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, as well as the development of their sex characteristics (SOGIESC) is recognized by international human rights laws and conventions to which the Philippines is a signatory of. There is also a reportedly high acceptance of homosexuality among a significant number of Filipinos.

However, the actual experiences of Filipinos shows a far more grim reality. LGBTQIA+ Filipinos continue to be deeply affected by discrimination on various levels of society, from everyday indignities to hate crimes which escalate to violence and murder. Discrimination from within the family and households, to schools and workplaces, as well as public spaces continues to push gender minorities to the fringes of society.

Despite being acutely aware of this, the Philippine national government continues to ignore urgent pleas from the LGBTQIA+ community, human rights organizations, womens groups, and civil society organizations for national legislation to protect all Filipinos from SOGIESC-based discrimination.

Each year, especially during Pride season, we come together to celebrate the LGBTQIA+ community while challenging the Philippine government’s longstanding disregard for the experiences of discrimination and violence that continue to impact marginalized of Filipinos.


The status of LGBTQIA+ Filipinos

Due to a lack of any formal recognition of harms committed against the LGBTQIA+ community, instances of targeted discrimination and violence remain underreported. The cases collected underneath record only a fraction of the experiences of LGBTQIA+ Filipinos.

Severe impacts on mental health

The treatment of gender minorities in the Philippines, most especially the youth, presents an alarming trend of negatively impacted mental health among young LGBTQI+ Filipinos. Discrimination due to sexual orientation has been shown to directly affect suicide risks for gay or bisexual men as well as women attracted to other women. The strict enforcement of gender roles has also been shown to deeply affect the psychological health of Filipinos, resulting in depression, anxiety, social anxiety disorder. Psychological trauma is also especially prevalent among young LGBTQI+ Filipinos subject to practices which aim to forcibly alter their SOGIE, through methods such as religious conversion therapy. Extreme harm inflicted onto LGBTQIA+ youth via conversion therapy has reportedly led to long-term cases of depression, social withdrawal, suicidality, substance abuse, increased self-hatred, hostile family relationships, sexual dysfunction, high-risk sexual behaviors, and plenty of other mental health issues.

Inhumane treatment

LGBTQIA+ Filipinos continue to be threatend by exclusion from medical authorities based on sexual orientation, as well as facing public ridicule. The performance of non-consensual "normalizing" surgeries on intersex infants persists as a global issue, often accompanied by other damaging medical interventions.

Denial of aid and relief

Challenges to accessing aid and relief threaten to increase the vulnerability of those already struggling against inequality. The lack of any formal recognition for gender minorities in the Philippines is a frequent barrier for LGBTQIA+ individuals in dire need of aid, most especially in instances when natural disaster affects the lives and livelihoods of marginalized Filipinos. This has continued during the COVID-19 pandemic, as households with same-gender partners are denied access to aid and relief.

Abuse of power

Under the thumb of the Philippine National Police, LGBT Filipinos have become subject to unlawful profiling and extortion. On January 22, 2020, the Makati City Police Department posted an operation dubbed “Oplan X-men” where they kept 67 individuals in their station overnight and released them at 2:00 AM the next day. According to their post, “Oplan X-men is an intensified operation that aims to rescue ladyboys from exploitation and human trafficking.” On September 24, 2009, local police forcibly entered the Queeriosity Palace in Pasay without a warrant. They rounded up and illegally detained 105 clients, the manager, and the staff. They asked for 300,000 pesos from the establishment and 5,000 from each guest in exchange for their release. Police also stole the mobile phones and other valuables from the detainees.

Harassment in the time of pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has also seen a surge of worsening cases of domestic abuse among vulnerable women, children, and gender minorities. Highly militarized lockdowns also reveal the dangers of granting unrestrained power to law enforcement under the guise of public health, with gender minorities subjected to degrading forms of punishment. State-sanctioned violence targetting human rights advocates has also escalated, with the arrests of LGBTQIA+ activists and the continued silencing of organizations representing gender minorities.

Workplace discrimination

Many LGBTQIA+ Filipinos continue to be deeply affected by workplace discrimination. A study of 100 Philippine-based companies (which cumulatively employ 267,231 people) by the Philippine Corporate SOGIE Diversity and Inclusiveness (CSDI) Index yielded that zero of surveyed companies implemented SOGIE-based policies that protected employees from discrimination. A study conducted among Filipino LGBT employees also revealed the frequency of targeted workplace discrimination, with many experiencing harassment from their superiors and peers, including being subjected to slurs and being forced to appear more heterosexual in clothing and demeanor.

Discrimination in schools

Barriers to education also affect LGBTQIA+ students, with children especially vulnerable to SOGIE-based bullying and harassment in schools, while the SOGIESC of students, as well as parents or legal guardians continue to be factors in the admission and expulsion of students, in the case of some schools.

Embedding religion into law

While the 1987 Philippine Constitution states that marriage is ‘an inviolable social institution’ and is the ‘foundation of the family’, it does not establish any requirement regarding the sex of the parties to a marriage. The Family Code, however, explicitly provided that marriage can only be contracted “between a man and a woman.” This poses difficulties for same-gender couples who are often denied protections such as benefits under the SSS Act, which can only be enjoyed by dependants defined under heteronormative standards, such as the "legitimate spouse," as well as exclusion from healthcare under the PhilHealth Law, which limits dependents to opposite-sex couples.

Homophobia in the law

Lesbianism and homosexuality are mentioned exactly twice each in the Family Code, both times in the context of a troubled heterosexual marriage. Under the law, one of the grounds for annulment of marriage is that the consent of either party was obtained by fraud.

Exclusion from social protections, housing, and healthcare

A study conducted by GALANG Philippines has stressed the impact of exclusionary laws on the lives of the Filipino urban poor. The Solo Parents’ Welfare Act does not include adoptive parents and defines solo parents as mainly women or single mothers. The conditions under which men are recognised as solo parents are “death of spouse, physical and/or mental incapacity of spouse” which poses limitations for LGBT families. The same study also revealed that lesbian-headed households have been systematically de-prioritised by the Urban Development Housing Act (UDHA) in resettlement of evicted informal settlers in Quezon City, the city with the biggest urban poor population in Metro Manila. In National Housing Authority (NHA) relocation programs, families are prioritised, and same-gender couples are not considered family because they do not have legal papers to support this claim.

Trauma in LGBTQIA+ youth

Filipino LGBTQIA+ children are also at high risk for suffering physical violence, psychological violence and sexual violence. A survey conducted by Metro Manila Pride and Rainbow Rights among Pride March attendees from 2017 to 2019 has identified public and private schools, streets and neighborhoods, homes and the church as spaces where LGBTQIA+ youth most frequently experience harassment.

Violence against women

In a joint submission to the UN Human Rights Council for the 5th Periodic Report of the Philippines on their implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), NGOs report that there is systemic rape of lesbians by men to “correct and to remind lesbians that they are still women”. So-called corrective measures have also been the motive for the violation of queer and lesbian Maguindanaoans who were forcibly shaved by persons acting under ostensibly faith-based motives in June of 2021. These violent attitudes also escalate to murder. The same report to the ICCPR has also revealed that lesbians are murdered by men to “stop lesbians from stealing their women or leading their female relatives to immorality and sinful lives.”

Anti-Trans violence and murder

Discrimination in many cases escalates to violence. At least 50 transgender or gender nonbinary individuals have been reportedly murdered across the archipelago since 2010. (The actual death toll is likely much higher.) These include Jennifer Laude, Jessa Remiendo, and Donna Nierra, Ebeng Mayor, and Junjie Bangkiao who were brutally murdered. To this day, their deaths been given no justice.


What to know about SOGIESC-based protections

The lack of recognition of the experiences of LGBTQIA+ Filipinos greatly affects any legal case, social, political, or economic representation needed to be able to address the injustices experienced by Filipino gender minorities. Efforts to redress this exclusion are often twisted by groups opposed to LGBTQIA+ rights. Many claim that the protections we call for already exist, and that efforts toward Anti-Discrimination policies intend to assert "special rights" that seek to take away existing privileges enjoyed by the general public, or that LGBTQIA+ rights will "destroy the family" or damage "Filipino culture."

There are plenty of misconceptions regarding the aims of SOGIESC-based protections, and what existing laws are able to do. Below, we clarify some of the conversations surrounding these misconceptions.

The history of the Anti-Discrimination Bill

Lobbying for a SOGIE-specific Anti-Discrimination Bill (ADB) began through a legislative partnership between then-Akbayan representative Etta Rosales, and the Lesbian and Gay Legislative Advocacy Network Philippines or LAGABLAB Pilipinas. The bill was first filed in the 11th Congress on January 2000 and first approved in the lower house in January of 2004. Several versions have since been refiled. It was only in 2016 that the ADB passed at the Senate Committee. It has since been stalled due to pushback from conservative opposition parties.

Protections under the ADB

The ADB seeks to protect Filipinos by prohibiting the following actions:

  1. Media stigma: Encouraging stigmas or inciting violence and sexual abuse on the basis of SOGIESC, especially in the media and educational material.
  2. Work exclusion: Including SOGIESC as a basis for hiring, promotion, determining a person's wages and other benefits, or career opportunities.
  3. Education exclusion: Using the SOGIESC of a student, parent or legal guardian as the basis for admission or expulsion from any educational institution.
  4. Biased penalties: Imposing harsher than usual sanctions or requirements on the basis of one's SOGIESC.
  5. Exclusion from organizing: Denying any group the right to organize due to the SOGIESC of its members or constituencies.
  6. Denial of healthcare: Denying a person access to health services on the basis of the patient's SOGIESC.
  7. Denial of licensure: Denying or revoking any license, clearance, or certification due to a person's SOGIESC.
  8. Denial of access to spaces: Denying a person access public or private establishments or services—including housing—on the basis of their SOGIESC.
  9. Non-consensual medical procedures: Forcibly subjecting any person to medical or psychological examination to determine or their SOGIESC.
  10. Harassment from law enforcement: Targeted harassment, profiling, coercion, or threats committed due to SOGIESC from law enforcement.
  11. Privacy violations: Publishing information intended to "out" a person's SOGIESC without their consent.
  12. Child abuse: Preventing any child from exhibiting or expressing one's SOGIESC, or manifesting rejection in the form of inflicting physical harm or emotional suffering due to the child's SOGIESC.

Inclusive interpretations of the law

The general absence of the LGBTQIA+ community in Philippine law has led to advocates in the legal profession resorting to inclusive interpretations. For example, the Labor Code, which enforces just and authorized causes for dismissal, can be used to protect gender nonconforming laborers who are often the target of unjust dismissal or denial of equal pay or benefits due to an employer's biases. As of 2018, two national laws have been created to categorically provide specific protections for persons subjected to SOGIESC-based discrimination. These laws are the Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy Act and the Safe Spaces Act.

Anti-Discrimination Ordinances on the local level

As of June 2021, Anti-Discrimination ordinances have been enacted in 24 cities, 2 municipalities, 3 barangays and 6 provinces. These ordinances aim to protect around 20 million Filipinos—at least 19% of the country's total population—residing in these areas. However, only a small fraction of local government units have enacted the corresponding implementing rules and regulations to execute these ordinances, making their presence ineffective.

Faith continues to be used to justify violence

Embedding religious beliefs into Philippine laws and culture adds to the idea that violent sentiments against the LGBTQIA+ community are justifiable. From exclusion to aid, services and protection that are life-saving, especially for economically marginalized Filipinos, to enabling and encouraging harm, discrimination under the guise of exercising "religious freedom" and "corrective measures" continues to negatively impact the lives of many LGBTQIA+ Filipinos on multiple levels. The most committed opposition to Anti-Discrimination policies are largely faith-based groups that frame LGBTQIA+ lives as immoral and punishable.

Local protections have limits

Only a fraction of Filipinos are protected by local Anti-Discrimination Ordinances. As pointed out by Atty. Claire de Leon and Xavier Jabines Bilon: "only two million Filipinos living below the poverty threshold live in areas with anti-discrimination ordinances, with 26 million poor Filipinos left with an additional layer of vulnerability to discrimination in schools and workplaces, among many other spheres."

Anti-discrimination laws do not trample on "religious freedom"

Anti-Discrimination policies do not suppress any faith-based practices. However, religious authority must not be used to justify bigotry and violence toward any individual. The belief that LGBTQIA+ identities are inherently morally wrong is harmful and should have no place in any religious teachings.

Protections for same-gender couples have no power to "destroy the family"

There are no provisions in any of the Anti-Discrimination Bills that seek to take away rights from families. The proposed policies only seek to allow LGBTQIA+ individuals to enjoy services and protections from which they are often excluded due to their SOGIE.

Anti-discrimination laws do not curtail "freedom of expression"

Every person has a right to free speech. However, freedom of expression does not mean freedom from the consequences of harmful rhetoric. Any malicious or hateful language, or fabrications with the intention of harming innocent individuals, should never be protected by the law.


How to work with the LGBTQIA+ community

There are plenty of ways to contribute to the ongoing efforts by several LGBTQIA+ organizations nationwide. Ensuring that LGBTQIA+ individuals can live a dignified life free of discrimination means committing to changes on the political and cultural level.


LAGABLAB has been working with lawmakers to draft an Anti-Discrimination national policy since 1998. To this day, the network continues to work with progressive lawmakers and LGBTQIA+ organizations throughout the Philippines, continuing its campaign to grow public support for SOGIE-specific protections for more than two decades. #SOGIEEqualityNow is LAGABLAB's ongoing campaign for the passage of protections for the LGBTQIA+ community.


The Achib Dis Bill campaign launched by national-democratic LGBT organization Bahaghari is one of several local campaigns aiming to educate the Philippine public and gain support for a national SOGIE-specific Anti-Discrimination Law. See posts on Twitter tagged #AchibDisBill to trace reports and ongoing efforts of local organization's to call on Congress for SOGIESC-based protections.

Join the ongoing actions of LGBTQIA+ organizations

There are various LGBTQIA+ organizations throughout the country currently engaging with their local communities to amplify the crucial and urgent calls to demand justice for the many victims of violence, and to implore the greatest solidarity and action from the Filipino people.

Efforts from various local LGBTQIA+ organizations can also be tracked under the label #PassADBNow.

You may also contact Metro Manila Pride to learn more about how to connect with LGBTQIA+ groups in your locality, or how to collaborate with our organization.

Know where your public officials stand

SOGIESC-based injustices are often sidelined in the crafting of public policies. One way to actively support the LGBTQIA+ community is to learn where lawmakers stand on issues that deeply affect us, as well as their commitment to supporting protections that go beyond optics. Ask public officials about their position on issues such as seeking justice for the violence experienced by LGBTQIA+ persons, especially those in the economic fringes.

Create efforts to enact protections in your community

For schools and workplaces, organizing and engaging your institution's administration can help ensure that LGBTQIA+ persons in your community are protected. Students can work with teachers, while employees in a workplace can organize and negotiate for policies that ensure the safety of LGBTQIA+ co-workers.

Here are a few ways to make institutions more inclusive:

  1. Campaign for your institution to publicly support legislation and policies that protect LGBTQIA+ persons.
  2. Reject collaborations that negatively impact marginalized people (e.g. the poor, indigenous people)—LGBTQIA+ people are part of these groups as well.
  3. Develop internal policies that actively support LGBTQIA+ persons, such as promoting gender sensitive materials for schools, or offering domestic partnership benefits for companies.

Start discussions in your community

It is important to note that subtle biases enable a culture of exclusion and harm that, in many cases, escalates to violence. Expanding opportunities to learn as well as starting conversations in your immediate circles goes a long way. One way to learn more about how to start these conversations is to connect with LGBTQIA+ organizations and join the spaces we create for learning and taking action.

Here are some things to remember when starting these conversations:

  1. It is important to allow communities experiencing discrimination to speak about their experiences in their own words, on their own terms. Persons in solidarity are encouraged to amplify their voices, or help LGBTQIA+ persons feel supported.
  2. When called in or out for a misstep or harm you've done, learn to apologize, listen and be open to being educated. Learn from your mistakes and actively change your behavior moving forward.
  3. Turn your conversations into action. Encourage the people in your communities to actively seek out ways to support the LGBTQIA+ community, either through seeking out groups that can help provide educational activities, or contributing to actions that directly help improve the lives of LGBTQIA+ Filipinos.

Anti-LGBTQIA+ biases affect individuals deeply in ways that affect their ability to uplift their lives and livelihoods. Discrimination pushes many people to poverty, either due to the lasting effects of trauma to escalating forms of social exclusion, to the lack of protections and deliberate barring of services. There are several factors that make it difficult for LGBTQIA+ people to live full and dignified lives. One immediate action groups and individuals can take is to actively support LGBTQIA+ persons by improving the material conditions of their lives.

LGBTQIA+ livelihoods

Support media, performers, artists, and small businesses from the LGBTQIA+ community. Connect with LGBTQIA+ organizations or search online to find out who to support, or encourage the hiring of LGBTQIA+ persons. Always be mindful of businesses that engage in tokenism or actively market rainbow merchandise without supporting LGBTQIA+ causes during Pride season.

Mutual aid activities

The COVID-19 lockdowns have seen the rise of a staggering amount of solidarity-based aid activities, from raising funds to secure the livelihoods of workers displaced by the pandemic to distributing necessities to victims of natural disasters, to community pantries regularly supplying vital sustenance to those left hungry by the lockdowns and government neglect.

How to get started on building a mutual aid activity:

  1. Gather your network and begin establishing how to communicate, and how to work together.
  2. Learn more about the specific community you stand in solidarity with. Identify how many people belong in this community, and what their immediate needs are.
  3. Use multiple channels to share your goals: the community you are working with, their needs, how much resources you need to raise, and how you can collect these resources.
  4. Assign the persons in your network with the task of gathering and organizing supplies, based on how much resources you've collected—either funds or in-kind donations.
  5. Always be transparent. Disclose how much you've received and how much you've distributed to your donors, especially when raising funds from the public.

Remember: mutual aid activities are especially vital in times of great need, but do not need to only be started in those times. There is much criticism of mutual aid as charity—it is important to understand that multiple systemic factors push people to the economic fringes of society, with discrimination being one such reason. These activities help us build relationships with communities in order to understand the circumstances that have led to their realities.

It will take the combined, committed, organized efforts and solidarity of various groups and individuals in order to improve the way society sees and treats LGBTQIA+ people, on both the political and cultural level. Education is one step—the next thing to do is to be involved.

Contact Metro Manila Pride to learn more ways to help the community.


Further reading

Anti-Discrimination Ordinances in the Philippines, a map by Xavier Javines Bilon

Timeline: SOGIE Equality in the Philippines, by Michelle Abad (Rappler)

Trans Murder Monitoring: Absolute Numbers, a systematic collection, monitoring and analysis of reported killings of gender-diverse/trans people worldwide by Transgender Europe and Carsten Balzer

Kwentong Bebot: Lived Experiences of Lesbians, Bisexual and Transgender Women in the Philippines, a study by the Rainbow Rights Project, Philippines

Copyright © 2021 Metro Manila Pride. Page licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 4.0 license. Last updated 23 June 2021.

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