There's a passage in Jose Rizal's Noli Me Tangere that describes Crisostomo Ibarra, upon his return to the Philippines from Spain, surveying the city of Manila, which he had left behind years earlier. What he finds is a wonderful and chaotic diversity of life, from freight handlers leading carabao-drawn carts across muddy streets to coaches pulling half-awake city dwellers across a magnificent new bridge spanning the Pasig River. All too soon, however, his memories are cut short by something he describes as "the devilry of comparison" - his mind's eye takes him back to thoughts of Madrid, and instead of looking forward in delight, he is caught in his past.
I took the time to reflect on this passage recently, thinking about the changes that have taken place both here in the Philippines and in the United States in recent years with regard to acceptance of the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. May 17th marks the 11th annual International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia. Each year on this day people around the world come together to recognize the common humanity of our family members, our neighbors, and our compatriots by rejecting homophobia and transphobia. This day marks the anniversary of the delisting of homosexuality as a mental disorder in the World Health Organization's International Classification of Diseases in 1990. While much progress has been made since then, many issues remain for us to tackle. Just last month, the Supreme Court of the United States heard arguments over two cases that will determine the constitutionality of federal and state legislation regarding gay marriage. Here in the Philippines, the election of the 16th Congress has just taken place and passage of an anti-discrimination bill that aims to protect the rights of all Filipinos, including LGBT individuals, remains pending for the new Congress to take up.
Discussions about how to best protect the rights of LGBT individuals are taking place across both of our countries. A few months ago, the U.S. Department of Justice organized a roundtable at the Philippine Supreme Court that brought together judges, government officials, and representatives of the LGBT community to participate in a wide-ranging discussion about how existing laws and treaties protect the rights of all Filipinos - including LGBT individuals. We've also partnered with an NGO called TLF_SHARE to provide training about sexual orientation and gender identity issues to staff at the Philippine Commission on Human Rights. …