A matter of Pride: Gays in their golden years recount the need for SOGIE bill

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Three gay men discuss the need for the SOGIE bill based on their experience as people in their 50s.

Every time he goes out, Alex Conrado shuffles along the streets with bated breath. 

Alex, 57, has learned through decades of experience that being gay meant being wary of each step. It does not help that the LGBTQ+ community is yet to receive legal protection from the government. To this day, he still experiences being taunted in the streets.

Sinisigawan kami ng, ‘Bakla! 50? 150?’ Masakit sa damdamin namin, nakakadegrade ng pagkatao,” he said. 

(They would shout ‘Gay! 50? 150?’ It hurts our feelings, it’s degrading.)

Conrado Berdos, 57, learned to ignore such insults throughout the years. 

What he cannot shut out, however, are reports of violence against LGBTQ+ people.

Super ingat ako sa mga taong nakakahalubilo ko,” he said. “Talagang andun yung fear on my part [dahil] sa mga nababalitaan namin.” 

(I’m very wary of the people that I am with. There is fear on my part because of what we hear on the news.)

This fear is one that Gem Cabreros, 54, knows very well. 

“As a kid growing up in the 70s up to my adolescent years in the 80s, it wasn’t discrimination I experienced but bullying. Homosexuality was not accepted by society back then, it was considered a psychological illness and a sin by the Catholic Church,” he said.

Gem shared that accepting he was gay was a two-decade process. He knew that he “felt different” since he was eight, but had a gender identity crisis due to years of bullying.

Alex shared the same sentiments. 

He once had to transfer to another university due to bullying. His professional skills were underestimated because he was gay. Now, Alex has served the public for 22 years through working at Pasig’s Urban Settlement Office. 

What can help allay the fears and end instances of discrimination shared by many members of the LGBTQ+ community like Alex, Conrado, and Gem? For them, the answer is straightforward: passing the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Expression (SOGIE) bill.

The need for equal rights

Gem has been with his partner for 12 years. He lamented the benefits, privileges, and rights denied to homosexual couples. 

This includes adoption, prenuptial agreements, joint bank accounts, and designating his partner as an insurance beneficiary or party in a will.

“Right now under the law, I can adopt a child [as an individual]. If kami, as a same sex couple, we are not allowed. Which is unfair,” he said.

Meanwhile, Alex’s fight for civil unions started after his partner was rushed to the hospital due to kidney complications three years ago. Despite being together for 28 years, Alex was considered a non-relative and was unable to sign papers for his partner’s ventilator. He had to settle for an ambu bag while waiting for his partner’s sibling.

LOVE HAS NO GENDER. Alex with his late partner Leonard L. Eugenio, Jr. in 2017. While both of their families welcomed their relationship, Alex shares that society has a long way to go in accepting homosexual couples. | Photo by Alex Melendres

When his partner’s body succumbed to death three months later, the pain of his loss was worsened by being unable to claim the body upon release.

Masakit iyon sa parte namin kaya pinaglalaban namin na magkaroon din kami ng karapatan [sa] civil union. Hindi lang naman babae at lalaki ang nagsasama ng maayos, kundi kami ding lalaki sa lalaki o babae sa babae.

(It’s painful on our part so we fight for rights granted through civil unions. It’s not only heterosexual couples who form meaningful relationships but also homosexuals.)

It would, however, take more than passing the SOGIE bill to legalize same-sex civil unions. The Philippine Family Code must also be amended, as it defines marriage as a “union between a man and a woman.”

Still, passing the SOGIE bill serves as the first step down the road to gender equality. 

Alex shared that the church should not stand in the way of equal rights. A devout Catholic, he once entered the monastery to become a religious brother but had to abandon his calling after the prefect asked if he was gay.

“Faith is faith. Hindi naman masamang maglingkod ang isang LGBT. Sa katotohanan maraming naglilingkod na kabaklaan sa simbahan.

(It’s not wrong for an LGBTQ+ individual to serve. There are actually many gay people in the Church.)

Meanwhile, Conrado shared that back in the nineties, he tried applying for work in a major mall. He claimed, however, that despite having better credentials than other applicants, he was denied employment because he was gay. 

A long-standing plea

If the SOGIE bill were already a law back then, Conrado’s experience of being denied employment based on his sexual orientation would have been enough ground for him to file a complaint against the employer.

Under the bill, discrimination, marginalization, and violence against any person based on their SOGIE can be sanctioned by a fine ranging from P500,000 to P1,000,000. The court can also impose community service comprising human rights and SOGIE education to the violators. 

The bill, however,  has been at a standstill for more than two decades. In December 2020, Senator Risa Hontiveros reintroduced the SOGIE bill at the Senate plenary after it languished in the previous period of interpellations. She said her hopes are up that the bill would finally be put to a vote under the 18th Congress.

Ang kailangan namin, magkaroon ng prohibisyon sa diskriminasyon, magkaroon ng ekwalidad, at higit sa lahat ay respeto,” Alex stated. 

(We need prohibitions on discrimination, equality, and most of all, respect.)

Gem said he looks forward to the time wherein the state realizes that love has no gender: “It will help us a lot. It will give us rights, privileges, and also benefits that heterosexual married couples enjoy.”

To a better tomorrow

Being in their golden years did not exempt Alex, Conrado, and Gem from hoping for a brighter future that the SOGIE bill would bring, especially for the younger members of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Conrado said that after the bill is passed, he looks forward to a time wherein the younger generation of gays can freely walk the streets donning short shorts and make up.

DOLLED UP. Conrado joins the Santacruzan as Reyna Emperatriz in 1994. Growing up, he loves doing girly activities despite knowing that he will get scolded by his father. | Photo by Conrado Berdos

“Even at this age [that] I’m in my golden years, and more so for the younger generation, we expect lesser cases of discrimination against LGBTs,” Gem stated.  

“How I wish that back in my younger days, this bill had already been drafted. But it’s never too late to change things in society.”

About the Author

Kristel Ann Ogsimer is a student of Journalism from the University of Santo Tomas.

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