Special Report: Philippines National Police Undergo LGBT Sensitivity Workshops: Part 1

Wanted: Room for Respect
By Ging Cristobal

This article originally appeared in The New Civil Rights Movement »

In 2003 the recommendations in the documentation report of the Lesbian Advocates Philippines (LeAP!), Unmasked: Faces of Discrimination Against Lesbian in the Philippines, engagement with key stakeholders, in mainstreaming SOGI issues, was one of the top priorities.

Fast forward to 2013, exactly ten years since that report was published, where I was one of the researcher-writer, and together with Raymond Alikpala we have facilitated five workshops in key cities in Metro Manila and a lecture with the Philippines National Police (PNP) Human Rights Affairs Officers stationed in police precincts all over the Philippines. After the first well received workshop in Caloocan City, General Ernesto Fajura, PNP Human Rights Affairs Office (HRAO) Director was swarmed with requests from other precincts to repeat the workshop for their police officers. With the directive from the Chief of Police, the plan to conduct 6 workshops became sixteen, ensuring that all precincts in all the cities in Metro Manila will have the opportunity to participate in the workshop before we go to the provinces in the Philippines. And as what Angie Umbac, then project manager of LeAP!’s documentation report and present president of Rainbow Rights Project (R-Rights), Philippines, messaged me, “Remember how hard it was to engage with PNP? Finally here it is!”

Ten years was long time coming. Over those years LGBT activists and groups have born witness to growing reports of police harassment and extortion of gay men during gay bar raids, transgender women complaining of police harassment and physical and verbal abuse, and lesbians being arrested and charged with kidnapping even if the supposed kidnapped victim is of legal age. As the list against the police officers grew longer and efforts to address this police discrimination and abuse were few, the animosity towards the police force also grew. No one can blame me if I jumped on the chance to engage with the PNP and have the close encounter I have been waiting for all these years.

For years I have been doing workshops on issues of Sexual Orientation/ Gender Identity (SOGI) and human rights to varied audiences and have witnessed and heard revelations from people after each session: A woman counselor having a hard time maintaining her closeted life, parents struggling to break free from religion-induced hatred towards their gay son, people having a hard time getting used to calling me “ma’am” instead of “sir”, and cold, dagger looks from participants before the workshop were the usual expected reaction. But being in a roomful of police officers was new for me, it was exciting and challenging to make them do and say things they never thought doing nor saying while in uniform with other police officers and even with police officials.

It’s easy for someone to conduct a lecture to provide basic information to learn about SOGI issues and LGBT rights. However, while this provides information about what the LGBT community needs it does not challenge the discriminative and patriarchal attitudes and behaviors people have valued and believed in for most of their lives. Our whole day workshop aims to challenge people to let go of their prejudices and fears and try to provide space in their hearts for respect for people they find different from them.

It takes heart and a gut of steel to endure hurtful revelations, maintain objectivity, and look beyond all these. The 5 workshop modules consist of interactive discussions from morning till early evening. This means a full day filled with patience, maturity and understanding to provide a safe space to teach and at the same time endure hearing people express their prejudices (“homosexual couples cannot form families”), to ask even the most absurd, bigoted and sometimes funny questions (how do you know if you haven’t had sex with the opposite sex?) and express their innermost homophobia and transphobia (I hate people like you!).

The workshop’s highlight is the session in the afternoon where speakers from the LGBT human rights community share stories of their lives with the police officers; letting them take a peek to our common journey of self-discovery, self-denial, self-acceptance, hardships from the pain and abuse, and how we celebrate pride from our small successes as we hold on to our rainbow-colored dreams. You can see how intensely the participants listen and take notes, hear a deep sigh, see heads shaking left to right showing their disapproval how LGBT persons are treated harshly, and uncontrolled comments like:

“I admire your courage to persist.”

“I was angry towards the two of you when I saw you and learned that you were our facilitators. But now I am filled with respect because I understand your issues.”
–Human Rights Desk Officer from Davao City

“I admit I was bias against LGBT persons, when I saw you it’s automatic – I reject you. But now it has changed into acceptance. I am sorry I was that before and from now on I will be fair in doing my job as a police officer.”
–Police officer from Bicol

Nothing can equal the satisfaction I get to feel and hear people realize and see LGBT people beyond sexual orientation and gender identity and just see us as ordinary people with dreams and hardships no different from any human being, and appreciate how we struggle to live ordinary lives amidst the abuses, discrimination and, hatred. We broke the ice with these police officers and there is still so much work that needs to be done but hopefully it will be easier knowing that there are people out there who realized and decided that we deserve that little room for respect.

Read Part 2 of the Series »