Special Report: Philippines National Police Undergo LGBT Sensitivity Workshops: Part 2

Conducting LGBT Sensitivity Workshops for the Philippines National Police
By Raymond Alikpala, LADLAD LGBT Party

This article originally appeared in The New Civil Rights Movement »

Read Part 1 of the Series »

We’ve had five “Gender and Sexuality Training” days so far— the first in April in Caloocan, two in Pasay, one in Quezon City and on May 23, one in Makati. In every instance, the training starts off with blue-uniformed police officers sitting ramrod straight, stoically listening to their superior officers opening the session, not quite knowing what to expect. Then Ging Cristobal, from IGLHRC, comes in with her first workshop activity, a lesbian lecturer entering the lions’ den. Within a few minutes, she has the room shouting “Darna!” in cheerful unison, and the ice is broken.

That the PNP Human Rights Affairs Office is providing LGBT sensitivity training to police officers on the district and precinct level is nothing short of historic. While no doubt the police have always been aware of the habits, behavior, and proclivities of LGBT Filipinos, this is the first time that actual LGBT persons are directly addressing police officers, speaking as resource persons explaining themselves and their sector to the predominantly heterosexual police force. A “macho” culture pervades the PNP, like the country in which it operates, and it is very likely that many, of the police officers attending must have suspected that the training would be a waste of their time.

After five trainings, I can definitely say their time has not been wasted. The training introduces the officers to the concept of gender identity, as distinguished from sexual orientation — this is completely new to most of them. They are unfamiliar with the word “transgender.” Ging and I have to say repeatedly “a transgender person is not necessarily bakla” before these new ideas actually sink in. The police are curious about transgender persons. They ask many questions, some bordering on rude and insensitive.

But the sessions are “no holds barred,” and every question is entertained and answered. The police enjoy our candor and honesty, and they reciprocate accordingly. They pepper us with questions. Why are there gay people? Where do they come from? Can bisexuals be truly happy? Is it true lesbians will kill for love? What do transgender women have down there? You get the idea.

Ging and I are unperturbed by the questions. Laughter punctuates the discussions, much of them naughty and mildly offensive. But we do not shush them; we encourage the jokes, because it helps the police remain candid about their views and ideas about LGBT persons. Misconceptions and prejudices rise to the surface, the better to dispel or correct them immediately. The police appreciate our openness, and as a result the exchange of ideas is robust and healthy. They are receptive; they sense that Ging and I are speaking from positions of expertise and experience, while remaining relaxed and non-threatening.

After the LGBT 101 lectures, invited LGBT speakers come and share their personal struggles growing up in the Philippines. For these sessions, we have invited four transgender women, while Ging has spoken as a lesbian, and I as a gay man. The talks have been deeply personal, and tears have intruded now and then. Many LGBT persons have gone through painful experiences growing up, and it is not easy baring one’s soul to the roomful of policemen. But the room remains quiet and attentive and respectful. Perhaps some in the audience are feeling the pain and anguish of being LGBT for the first time.

After the talks, the police officers are given the opportunity to share their reactions. This is my favorite part of the day, because I always end up being surprised by one or two piquant or poignant comments. A female police officer murmured, “I belong to L,” which left us bewildered for a while, until we realized later that she was actually coming out to the group. A father confessed that he now understood his gay son’s anguish and resolved to love him unconditionally. A macho-looking policeman declared that in addition to treating LGBT persons with respect he would like to add that they be treated “with love.” A policewoman’s eyes turned red with repressed tears as she thought of her effeminate teenage son and listened as we told her there was nothing wrong if her son was gay and that her duty as mother was to love her child regardless.

It still stings a bit when I remember Lad lad’s fate in the recent elections. I would have liked to be the voice for LGBT Filipinos in Congress, to fight for them and be their champion. But this was not to be. My consolation is that, through these trainings, I am reaching out, together with my incredible partner-in-crime Ging, to persons who are in power, police officers dealing with LGBT Filipinos on a daily basis, and bringing positive change to the relations between these groups. We have had more than 200 participants so far, and I have been told by friend that he was surprised to meet a police officer in a poor, remote corner of Caloocan recite to him what “LGBT” stood for, saying that he learned that from a recent seminar and displaying sensitivity to my friend’s LGBT companion. It’s working, yes! The trainings are not a waste of time.

The struggle for LGBT equality goes on, as long as we believe in our individual capacity to change the world, one person at a time.