Opening Message of UNDP Country Director Mr. Toshihiro Tanaka

29 Jun 2013

Philippine National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Community Dialogue, Linden Suites, Ortigas Center, Pasig City

Thomas White, Deputy Director, GVP, USAID;
Colleagues from UNDP and USAID;
Members of the LGBT community and civil society;
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

Magandang umaga sa inyong lahat!

I am very pleased to welcome you to the Philippine National Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Community Dialogue. It is very appropriate to hold this event within the LGBT Pride Month. I understand that the month of June was chosen to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village that sparked the modern LGBT liberation movement in the United States and in the whole world. There is a global call for the LGBT community to observe this month by fighting prejudice and discrimination in their own lives and everywhere it exists. This month is meant to recognize the impact gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex people have had on the world.

After more than four decades of struggle, the LGBT community has achieved significant victories.

Recent successes on LGBT rights

Last Wednesday, the US Supreme Court made a historic decision on gay marriage by striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited federal recognition to lawfully married same-sex couples. Now, all marriages legally performed by states will be recognized by the US federal government. The Court also dismissed a case on Proposition 8, California's ban on same-sex marriage, which is likely to pave the way for "The Golden State" to become the 13th state to recognize same-sex unions. These rulings were landmark victories for the gay rights movements. With majority of the population now believing that same-sex marriage should be legal, a number of US states are now moving in that direction.

Sweeping reforms and extraordinary shifts in social attitudes are also felt in other parts of the world. In February this year, New Zealand became the thirteenth country to legalize same-sex marriage, and the first in Asia-Pacific region. Three more countries in the region (i.e., Thailand, Vietnam and Hong Kong) are now taking steps to pass similar legislations.

There is also a growing number of Governments who are working to confront homophobia. In 2011, the Human Rights Council adopted the first United Nations resolution on human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, which expressed “grave concern” at violence and discrimination against LGBT people. The High Commissioner for Human Rights published the first United Nations report dedicated to the concern, which was then debated at the Human Rights Council, marking another United Nations first.

The UNDP Administrator, Helen Clark, in her message on the International Day against Homophobia and Transphobia, highlighted the positive progress in the Philippines with the recent decision of the City Council of Cebu outlawing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, and HIV status. Following Cebu, the city governments of Davao and Naga have also passed their anti-discrimination legislations.

The country has also recently decriminalized vagrancy, a provision in the Revised Penal Code, which have been reportedly applied with prejudice against the LGBT community by law enforcers.

Continuing struggle and challenges of LGBT community

However, despite these victories, so much remains to be done in securing the rights of LGBT people, and ensuring they can live lives free from violence, intimidation, and secrecy. In many parts of Asia, social and legal environments remain far from inclusive for LGBT community. I know this too well since before my appointment in the Philippines, I have worked in a country where gay rights are close to non-existent. This country is just among the 78 countries that still criminalize same-sex sexual activities.

In the Philippines, while same-sex relations are not illegal and social perceptions towards sexual diversity appear tolerant, stigma and discrimination against LGBT people still exist. So much so that the report of LGBT and human rights groups to the United Nations Human Rights Committee (the report some of you here have crafted) noted that “widespread and systematic human rights violations on the basis of sexual orientation (and) gender identity… persist” in the country. 

According to the report, crimes against LGBT people are increasing in the Philippines with the State failing to address the problem. Moreover, State-actor violence against LGBT Filipinos is also pervasive. There are also glaring instances of discrimination, marginalization and exclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity issues from various legislative bills. I won’t go through them in length as I’m sure you’ll be discussing them in more details throughout this dialogue.

Call to action

I am certain that you all agree that there is an urgent need for the Philippine Government, community members, and development partners to act.

This task requires collective action and shared responsibility.

We all share a steadfast commitment to promoting and upholding the rights of every human being regardless of sex, race, religion, social status, sexual orientation and gender identity. The very first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims that “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” This is the principle that the United Nations promotes and upholds. Without exception, human rights apply to every human being, including LGBT people. As UN Secretary General, Ban-ki Moon, rightly pointed out in his landmark speech against homophobia on Human Rights Day, “No one gets to decide who is entitled to human rights and who is not.”

We, therefore, express our solidarity with the LGBT community in claiming their rights and denouncing human rights abuses against them.

I am optimistic that this event will be able to thresh out issues and recommendations to promote LGBT human rights in the Philippines. In the same way, we are hopeful for this dialogue to facilitate forging of consensus among duty bearers and rights holders on how to move forward in terms of strengthening the response to LGBT rights in the country.

As I conclude, I extend my heartfelt appreciation to USAID for the partnership on this important endeavor. I also thank each one of you for participating in this dialogue, and sacrificing your weekend in the process. I hope that our partnership would be translated to meaningful and tangible results --- results that will eliminate all forms of stigma, discrimination and human rights violations against LGBT people; results that will ensure inclusive social and legal environments for the community; and results that will bring together all sectors towards achieving a just, equal and free society for all people.

Mabuhay at maraming salamat!