Thursday, June 24, 2010

Civil Service Commission (CSC) memorandum on LGBT applicants

It is very heartwarming to note that the 110-year old Civil Service Commission (CSC) of the Philippines made history in late May when it became the first government agency to acknowledge Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Filipinos particularly those who apply for the Civil Service Examination and explicitly ban any form of discrimination in the handling, verifying and processing of their applications based on gender identity and sexual orientation. The internal memo circulated through all 15 regional offices of the CSC and cascaded to the more than 1 million employees of the Commission can be viewed here.

Certainly this memo is ground-breaking and deserves all the praise it can get. It is not only a step in the right direction in the government's promotion of gender equality but as well as of human rights. In a nutshell, the memo affirms the Constitutional principle that all people deserve equal protection in law including in the access of public services. LGBT applicants of the Civil Service exam must then be treated, like any other applicants, with utmost respect and dignity.

The common stereotype of government employees is that they are rude and disrespectful, lazy and corruptible and in my many dealings with various government offices, I have met so many government workers who filled this bill perfectly. At the Professional Regulation Commission (PRC), for example, when I was applying for the Licensure Examination for Teachers (LET), I witnessed a PRC employee put a sign saying CLOSED at her glass window from the inside of an air-conditioned office at the middle of the afternoon and made so many poor applicants wait in long, crowded and cramped lines so she could eat her afternoon snack in full view of everyone for the next half hour. Most waiting areas in government offices do not have air conditioning and it was not lost on us that while she ate her snack lazily, she was also wasting paid government time comfortably. She looked like one of those more mature PRC employees and I figured that the only reason why she had the gall to take such liberties was because she was probably protected by tenure.

Many LGBT people I'm sure have their own share of horror stories in dealing with government agencies--from unwanted remarks to humiliating treatment. It is good to know that the CSC, in its pursuit of professionalizing our public personnel, is taking steps to ensure the dignified treatment of LGBT applicants of the Civil Service exam. I hope that the CSC will not only stop at this memo but also take concrete steps in educating its rank and file so they could truly deepen their understanding of LGBT issues.

I take only one issue regarding this memo and that is its reliance on physical appearance as an indicator of sexual orientation and gender identity. This may lead to embarrassing situations where a CSC handler might think that an applicant is LGBT based on stereotyped notions but turn out otherwise. I also do not know how they will keep a running tally of LGBT Civil Service exam applicants unless they will ask people outright about their sexual orientation and gender identity. In that case, that would be violating applicants' right to privacy.

I also do not see any problems about applicants not matching the picture in their application forms. Most government applications require you to submit a recent picture. I think the memo was trying to refer to the mismatch of the applicants' appearance to the indicated sex or name in the application form--a clear reference to transgender people. Because we still have to indicate our legal names and sex in government applications, many transpinoys and transpinays do encounter some unwelcome remarks in cases where they have to present legal documents. In my case, for example, when I pass by Immigration at the airport, I have encountered male customs officials who would say "I thought you were really a girl!" or "You fooled me for a moment!" This has changed through the years thankfully and now I never hear anyone make such comments anymore.

But my point is, transgender Filipinos are still at a disadvantage when it comes to legal documents. Although this CSC memo does not allow us to identify as the gender we present in our application nor use the name we prefer, at least it protects us from potential rude treatment. I am not sure though if the process outlined in the memo makes thing easier or harder for transgender applicants of the Civil Service exam. It is something that we have yet to see.

Still I am glad that efforts like this are being undertaken by government offices, which highlights the need for the TLBG community here to do more in terms of engaging with government agencies because while there are well-meaning, upright civil servants in government who will try to do their best in delivering quality service to the majority of Filipinos who come through their offices, there are also a number of government officials who have relied on conservative and fundamentalist beliefs about gender and sexuality at the expense of the GLBT community. Thus, BTLG activists will be best served if they remain vigilant and really proactively engage more government institutions in the future.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Congenid closes

The second day of the International Congress on Gender Identity and Human Rights or Congenid was even more tumultuous. The dissatisfaction of the international participants came to a head at dinner during the first day and a town hall was called. The biggest complaint that people had was that they felt left out and excluded in the organization and decision-making of and for the Barcelona conference.

The Congenid was organized by Spanish activists who wanted to create a document that could be used as reference by governments in protecting the human rights of their transgender citizens. Prior to Congenid, an International Executive Committee (IEC) was created composed of transactivists from different continents to help identify the people who would be invited to the conference. All the activists were then asked to choose among four work groups that separately would flesh out human rights protections for transpeople in the area of Violence and Criminalization (Group 1), Access to Health (Group 2), Equality and Discrimination (Group 3) and Legal Change of Sex (Group 4). A special group that everyone could be part of was tasked to work on creating a global trans network (Group 5).

At the town hall, people took issue with the four groups. Who decided that these would be the working groups? Who decided who should be leading the working groups? They also questioned the constitution of the IEC. Why were people not consulted on the creation of the IEC some asked. After sharing sentiments, it was decided that the program for the second day should be scrapped. Instead, since the aim of the conference was to create a document outlining trans rights, it was agreed that the second day should be devoted for the work groups to spend the day together polishing their documents. In the afternoon, a plenary would be called where the output of each group would be presented.

The plenary sadly was unable to achieve what it was meant for. More people raised objections to the handling of the conference as a whole. Sex workers from South America expressed their dismay that the Conference did not respect their issue and give it due space in the work groups. In fact, many of them took offense at the term sex work for they said it masked the real dangers that they faced daily. Many of them have experienced violence and persecution because of prostitution. They said, if what they were doing were really work, then how come they were not enjoying the same benefits as someone who worked in an office? They said that sex work was a misleading euphemism that did not do anybody any good and a concept that was being imposed on them. What they did was prostitution and it should be called as such.

Others felt that the Spanish organizers were trying to rush a document that should take more time and more consultation. In the end, the plenary was divided into two: those who wanted to produce a Barcelona declaration (mainly those from Spain and Latin America) and those who wanted to stall a declaration and instead treat the Congenid documents as working papers that could be discussed further in the future (the rest of the international participants from Asia, North America, Eastern Europe and Africa).

I am home now and reflecting on what happened in Spain. In hindsight, a world congress would have been successful if prior regional meetings were held first. For example, the Asia and Pacific activists could have met before Spain and discussed the Asia and Pacific transagenda. The same thing should have happened in South America, North America, Eastern Europe, and Africa with help from the organizers in Spain. That way, a relationship was established with the local organizers in Barcelona. A year-long preparation time should have been devoted to these regional meetings before a world congress was called. As well, the pre-conference that happened in Barcelona should have been spent towards the work of the four work groups instead of devoting those three important days to workshops that sometimes had nothing to do with the topics of the work groups.

In the end, a Barcelona declaration could have still been possible if it was kept local. Opening the idea to international participants was a mistake. But the Barcelona meeting was not completely useless. Giving transactivists from around the world a chance to meet is always fruitful in a way because it opens doors to create connections and friendships. Whenever I am with other transactivists from different countries, I feel extremely humbled and feel less alone in my activism. Their stories inspire me to do so much more back home in the Philippines. I am sure it is the same for them. Meeting your contemporaries is always a refreshing and renewing experience. It is really up to you how you will nurture the linkages made. I do look forward to working with all of these lovely activists from different continents. It is truly my honor to have met all of them.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Conference controversy

First day of the main conference

Today, 4 June 2010, the main conference of the International Congress on Gender Identity and Human Rights officially opened at the Faculty of Law, University of Barcelona. Immediately after the opening plenary, sentiments that have been festering among the international participants started to bubble up to the surface. People lamented the fact that they were working with limited information. The opening plenary coincided with a session that was not announced. Nobody knew where the rooms were for the parallel sessions. I myself was given wrong directions for a workshop I wanted to attend. By the time I found the right room, I was so tired and had gone up and down several flights of stairs.

Many began commenting about the lack of organization and coordination between the local organizers here in Barcelona and the organizers of the pre-conference. As well, the members of the International Executive Committee (IEC) expressly constituted for this historic gathering were feeling powerless over the program that everyone just got on the first day. Most of the sessions turned out to be very Northern Eurocentric in spite of the presence of many participants from Latin America, Asia, North America, Africa, and even Eastern Europe. There was also a seeming tension among the Spanish activists and many of us international participants are getting quite unfairly caught in the middle of their squabble.

No matter, we are here to move our global community of transactivists forward. We did not come here to fight with anyone but instead came here to link forces with our counterparts from other parts of the world. We are here to ensure that transgender human rights are being articulated in our different contexts in a concerted way.

With African participants

I am very to have met so many people here. It humbles me to know of the kind of struggle that other participants have in their home countries. The girls from Africa have told me of their difficulties (see pic above).

With Kenyan girl

The girl from Kenya who is very beautiful wants to be a model but she has found it difficult to look for work in her own country being trans (see pic above).

With Laxmi

A participant from India, Laxmi is a hijra and many of them are the poorest of the poor in Indian society.

With El Salvadorean & Spanish participants

I also took a picture with a girl from El Salvador (in the middle in the pic above) where many transwomen suffer continued violence, marginalization and discrimination.

Afternoon plenary

So it is clear what we all came here to do. We wanted to come up with a document outlining the human rights claims of the global transgender community that will be used to influence equality, diversity and anti-discrimination policy at the international, national and local levels. It is understandable that we may not all agree on how to go about it but I hope we will be able to put our differences aside and work in unison for this very important task. I hope that happens tomorrow.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Pre-conference close

Working with governments

Today was the last day of the pre-conference workshops. In the morning, I attended a workshop on working with governments (see pic above). The discussion was handled by Jack Byrne from New Zealand. We, the attendees, made up a small group of people interested in deepening links with government agencies back at our home countries. One of the larger-than-life participants was Roger (in black with a flower in her hair). Roger or Rog as she is fondly called is a proud fa-fa-fine.

With Jolerina from Namibia

During the morning break, I made sure to take a pic with Jolerina, from Namibia (see pic above). Jolerina was one of the people I went to the book launch with the night before and we just really hit it off well. She told me that Filipino soap operas are very popular in certain parts of Africa and she knew some soap operas that I did not even watch back home. It was pretty surreal and heart-warming at the same time. That Africans can appreciate our TV creations is something to be truly proud of.

With the translators

After lunch, while on my way to the closing plenary room, one of the translators approached me to tell me that she liked my dress. It was a really sweet moment. I asked her if she knew transpeople in Barcelona and she said that it was her first time to meet some and that she was very impressed by all of them. For the workshops, we have 5 rooms. Each room is assigned two translators who take turns in the 2-hour workshop. We do appreciate how patient they were with all of us and how much they helped us each day. I just had to take a picture with them (see above).

With Linda from Colombia

During the break, Liza from Colombia who I have been having mini-conversations with since the pre-conference started and I finally got a chance to have our picture taken together--something that we have always mentioned that we wanted to do but never got around to doing so until today (see picture above).

The closing plenary

In the afternoon we had the closing plenary (see above). People were very optimistic, energetic and livened up. Everyone was happy that the pre-conference went smoothly with no incident. Everyone was helpful, respectful and did their part to follow the house rules and keep the schedule on time.

Dinner pic

At dinner, I had a chance to take a picture with (from L to R) Carla LaGata of TGEU, Lizethe from Spain (who we all call Señora Lizethe), a new girl from Kenya who had just arrived and a sistergirl from Australia who also just came in today. Now that the pre-conference is over, I am actually looking forward to two days of the main conference which will start tomorrow in downtown Barcelona. Stay tuned for that!

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The disordered gender


Today's opening plenary was on funding the trans movement. The morning's panel included representatives from different funding agencies including MamaCash, Global Fund, Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, Open Society Institute and the American Jewish World Service (see pic above). Having potential funding agencies here while the conference is ongoing, for me, is great because it gives activists a chance to touch base with them and explore whether they can work together or not. I had one-to-one meetings with some of the funders who are very excited to hear from STRAP. They told me that STRAP is exactly the organization that they are looking to fund and all we need to do is submit a proposal. I am excited about this prospect especially since some of us in STRAP have been feeling the need to go full-time with our activism.

I attended three workshops today. One of them was on strategic litigation moderated by Tamara Adrian, a lawyer and transactivist from Venezuela. Tamara and I were room mates in Copenhagen during the Outgames there. I found her presentation today very useful. She basically outlined what one would need if one resorted to going to the courts in the absence of law protecting people from discrimination based on gender identity and expression.

The next workshop I attended was in the afternoon on intersex issues. I have always wanted to hear from intersex rights activists and today I got a chance to do just that. I am glad that one of the key movers of this conference is an intersex person who was speaking on the intersex panel as transactivists and their intersex counterparts do not always meet eye-to-eye on certain things. In the Philippines for example, the intersex man who was granted a name and sex change in his birth certificate by our Supreme Court came out to the media saying transwomen, who seek the same judicial relief, are artificially constructed. According to him, it was not surprising for the Supreme Court to side with him as he had a natural, biological condition. This argument makes me very uneasy as some transpeople feel that they themselves have an intersex condition but of a neurological kind. Intersex rights advocates always retort that such is not the case and that transsexualism is NOT an intersex condition.

I also dropped by the workshop ran by Carla LaGata of TGEU. Carla is the head researcher of a project that STRAP is involved in, the TransRespect vs. TransPhobia Project. Because I had to meet funding agencies in the afternoon also, I was not able to hear much of Carla's presentation. Carla and I are in touch, however, for this project and I do look forward to seeing its completion.

With Ana from Hawaii & Hana from New Zealand

During the break, I had a chance to chat with Ana from Hawaii and Hana from New Zealand (see pic above). They are two very bubbly and energetic women whose charm and energy just draw you in. Ana on the left, blew everyone away when she gave a chant during the first day of introductions. Her chant roused people from their stupor and made everyone break in appreciative applause. Hana and I have spoken about bringing together an Asia and Pacific contingent to the Asia Pacific Outgames in Wellington, New Zealand in 2011.

Downtown Barcelona

Late afternoon, I went downtown with some people from the hotel (see pic above).

The disordered gender

Two days ago, the Spain-based activists announced the launch of a book entitled El Genero Desordenado (The Disorodered Gender). The book is a collection of articles expounding on trans identities and depathologization. It is edited by Miguel Misse and Gerard Coll-Planas, both sociologists from Barcelona (see pic above).

With Bradley Fayki

It was a fun book launch attended by friends, family, allies and supporters. I sat at the front row beside Bradley Fayki from France who is also the director of the documentary Transworld (see pic above).

With Juana from Spain & Bellisa from Peru

I also took pics with the people I went to the launch with. Above I am with Juana from Madrid and Bellisa from Peru.

With Bradley & Monica from Argentina

Me with Bradley and Monica from Argentina.


The book launch panel. The two left-most guys are the editors: Gerard Coll-Planas and Miguel Misse.

At the book launch

It was a great evening and I was happy I dressed up for it (see pic above). I loved every second of it. There was just love outpouring in that room. I hope that they will be able to translate the book into English so it can become accessible to more people. Viva las activistas de España!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Today is day one of the pre-conference. The whole week is divided into two. From 1 June to 3 June, all the international participants of the International Congress on Gender Identity and Human Rights will stay put at our hotel where three days of workshops will happen covering different topics related to activism: organizational growth, socio-economic, cultural and political change, HIV/AIDS, working with governments, working in fundamentalist contexts, networking and alliance building, funding, violence, pathologization and many others.

Introducing myself

The pre-conference is called Trans*Action=Trans*Rights and aims to clarify the issues that that global trans community faces before the main conference on June 4-5 where everyone will be working on a document declaring transgender human rights to the world. Today was quite long. We started at 9 am with a plenary session that opened with a round of introductions. I introduced myself, told the whole session room about STRAP and how I was very proud to be among the future of the global transgender movement (see pic above).

Diverse delegates

There were about a hundred people in the plenary room this morning from almost all the continents. It is truly a very diverse group of people (see above).

With Kelley Winters & Carla Lagata

The day was also a chance to meet old and new friends alike. Today for the first time I met Kelley Winters who has been a passionate advocate for reforming the gender identity disorder (GID) diagnosis by the American Psychiatric Association for transsexual people. Kelley's writings I have only read online. It was truly an honor to have met her finally. This morning I took a picture with her (right) and Carla Lagata (left) of Transgender Europe (TGEU) (see pic above).

With Hua from Thailand

Of course I also saw some transactivists from Asia who I met before. In the picture above, I am with Hua from Thailand who I met in Indonesia in 2008 for the 60th anniversary commemoration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR).

With Miss Major, Jane Thomas & Carla Lagata

I also met for the first time Miss Major from the United States who is also the Executive Director of Transgender, Gender Variant and Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP), an NGO primarily working on trans and intersex rights in the penal and correctional system. In the picture above we are joined by Jane Thomas from Germany (left) and Carla Lagata (right).

With South Asian & Latin American  participants

I took a picture with participants from South Asia and South America (see pic above).

With Skipper & Miguel

Me with Skipper from Botswana and Miguel from Spain.

Documentation workshop

The first workshop I attended was on documenting and reporting human rights violations. It was moderated by Jessica Stern of the International Gay & Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC). I joined this workshop because STRAP is involved in a 3-year project documenting rights abuses against lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LBT) women in 5 Asian countries. After the workshop we took a class picture (see above).

In the afternoon I attended a workshop on internet-based activism. I am currently involved in a project in the Philippines linking information and communications technology (ICTs) with violence against women (VAW) so the workshop was perfect for me. There will be more workshops in the next two days and I will tell you all about them. For now, I do feel that I had a very long day and it's time to turn in. Good night for now and till the next post.