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.

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