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#NoDifferent: Because trans rights ARE human rights

In some ways, transgender people in the Philippines may be “relatively better (off) than other transgender people in other countries,” noted Kate Montecarlo Cordova, vice president of the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP).

There are some “developments” worth noting that may be seen to exemplify this. For instance, in the Philippines, transgender people are somehow treated as women by some men when it comes to relationships (though, Cordova admitted, remaining “questionable is the courage of men to come out in the open and declare that their girlfriends are transgender”). Also, gone are the days when transgender people were only pigeonholed as comedians and entertainers, with trans Filipinos somewhat able to express themselves more openly in public (though not all reactions are necessarily always positive, Cordova acknowledged).

But Cordova is first to note that “discrimination is (still) everywhere.”

It is because of these continuing challenges that transgender people face that highlights the observance of the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR).

And as part of YDoR 2012, Bahaghari Center holds the “No different” campaign, part of the earlier “I dare to care about equality” photographic campaign calling for everyone to take a more proactive stance in fighting discrimination done also by Bahaghari Center as part of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO), celebrated every May 17.

As stated by Patrick King Pascual, who – with Deaf transgender rights advocate Disney Aguila – co-coordinates the “No different” campaign: “Fear-mongering against members of our community that highlight our supposed (and ill-conceived) ‘oddities’ is erroneous.”

Founded in 1998 by Gwendolyn Ann Smith, a transgender graphic designer, columnist, and activist, to memorialize the murder of Rita Hester in Allston, Massachusetts, TDoR is held every November 20 so that the world – particularly members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community – can mark, thereby bring attention to the continued violence endured by the transgender community; as well as to memorialize those who have been killed as a result of transphobia, or the hatred or fear of transgender and gender non-conforming people. TDoR has evolved from the Web-based project when it was started, into an international day of action observed in over 185 cities throughout more than 20 countries.

For Naomi Fontanos of Gender and Development Advocates (GANDA) Filipinas, “the advancement of human rights is generally uneven around the world. I don’t think it can be actually said that transgender people overseas are better off compared to those of us in the Philippines. In the US, for example, transAmericans continue to be vulnerable to workplace discrimination. Not all states recognize transfolks in the gender they identify as in their legal documents. The same is true in Canada. Marriage rights are also still being contested for many transpeople around the world. In ‘First World’ countries that have state gender recognition mechanisms, some aspects of the law may still violate transpeople’s rights. In Sweden, for example, transpeople are forced to undergo sterilization. In Japan, they should not have children before transition. In Hong Kong, a transperson has to carry an ID card that explicitly says he or she has Gender Identity Disorder (GID). Otherwise, other laws are used to persecute transgender communities. In Singapore, which is highly economically progressive and where transpeople can change their identity documents, Section 377 of their penal law inherited from British colonial rule, is used to harass transwomen as going against ‘the order of nature’”.

The challenges are compounded in pre-dominantly Muslim countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, where “I believe they have more challenges. In Malaysia, a court has just denied the petition of Malaysian transwomen known as mak nyah to put to judicial review Section 66 of their Syariah Criminal code, used to abuse, harass and violate the rights of tranwomen there. In the ASEAN, foreign ministers do not want to protect Southeast Asians from discrimination and unequal treatment based on their sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) by refusing to include SOGI in the proposed ASEAN Human Rights Decalration. In Hong Kong, a court also denied the petition of a transwomen to marry her long-time boyfriend. In Uganda, a bill that will impose the death penalty on ‘gay’ people can definitely be used against transgender people as well.”

“In all continents of the world, transpeople have their own crosses to bear in terms of state and non-state actors restricting their freedoms and impacting the quality of their lives as human beings and citizens of their countries,” Fontanos said.

And so for Fontanos, the observance of TDoR each year is an important event in the global human rights movement as it brings to the fore the reality of transgender people’s vulnerability to hate violence. “It is important to observe TDOR because ever since it started in 1999, 14 years ago, the number of transpeople who die each year who are remembered during TDoR has steadily increased and not decreased. The prevailing statistics suggest that a transgender person is murdered somewhere in the world every 72 hours. If you look at the number of transpeople killed by hate violence each year, it is very depressing,” she said.

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BAHAGHARI CENTER FOR SOGIE RESEARCH, EDUCATION AND ADVOCACY, INC. (Bahaghari Center) is a voluntary non-stock, non-profit, non-government organization established to support lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, questioning, intersex and ally community in the Philippines.

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