As the country’s premier secular institution of higher learning, UP takes pride in being a haven of liberalism, open-mindedness and independent thinking. But the university is hardly free from the discrimination, ostracism, harassment and violence inflicted upon LGBTQs. Nevertheless, where else but in UP can we begin to create a safe place where LGBTQ rights and identities are not only recognized and tolerated but actively affirmed, included and promoted as well?
Three contexts for LGBTQs
“In the LGBTQ literature, we make a distinction among three kinds of contexts,” says UP Diliman Department of Psychology Prof. Eric Manalastas. “On one hand, we have contexts that are hostile to LGBTQs, such as in places where you have policies against cross-dressing or same-sex relationships, or where there is a certain amount of jeopardy in being ‘outed’ as an LGBTQ in the institution. On the other end of the spectrum, you have the LGBTQ-affirmative context” such as an institution with “an explicit inclusion policy, a policy that says we do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, among others.”
Somewhere between the two extremes is a middle ground marked more by a mild or negligent tolerance of LGBTQs. LGBTQs are not exactly marginalized, but are not fully integrated into the mainstream either. LGBTQ rights and issues are regarded as esoteric, frivolous or even as the latest in-thing, and discussions of these never go beyond the superficial.
Hence, Manalastas regards the issue in terms of bringing the LGBTQs into the center “of creating those spaces that are LGBTQ-specific, and then the spaces that integrate LGBTQs issues into the mainstream”—of transforming the environments for LGBTQs, including UP, from hostile or neutral to affirmative.
One way to do this is by addressing the lack of concrete data, including actual number of cases of sexual harassment and discrimination of LGBTQ students, faculty and staff within the UP campuses. LGBTQ discrimination and harassment can take several forms, from the non-recognition of one’s gender identity to the “classical” forms of stigmatization based on sexual orientation or gender identity, including exclusion from or ostracism by a group or organization, ridiculing and name-calling, bullying, violence and sexual assault. Unfortunately, formal complaints of sexual harassment and discrimination of LGBTQ students, faculty and staff in the UP campuses are rare, and officially resolved cases are even rarer.
Still, many stories are shared by the LGBTQ victims of sexual harassment and discrimination or by friends and witnesses, with the intention to vent, to seek counsel, to protect the victim or to inform. Very few of these stories were shared with the intention of actually filing a case.
One common situation among the UP campuses is that of peer harassment between two LGBTQ students, with one forcing his or her unwanted attentions on another. The stories of LGBTQ discrimination—from ridiculing, stigmatizing and bullying LGBTQs to failing to recognize or respect their gender identities—are also common.
For UPLB Gender Center Director Maria Helen Dayo, the lack of LGBTQ cases filed with the OASH may be due to under-reporting. “Only an insignificant percentage gets reported, if you look at it in terms of the population on campus.”
UPV Gender and Development Program Director Diane Aure concurs: “In some informal interviews, some students think that it might affect their grades if they report an incident where the perpetrator is a faculty member.”
Others in a similar bind simply choose to grin and bear it, perhaps out of a sense of shame and humiliation, or for fear of retaliation or of making the situation worse. Some LGBTQ students who experienced harassment, discrimination, violence, bullying or abuse opted to transfer to another university. “It’s a kind of double-victimization,” says former UP Baguio Kasarian Gender Studies Center convenor Prof. Jennifer Josef. “The students become victims of violence, and because they don’t want to complain and don’t see any support or progress in their case, they just leave UP, so they are deprived of a UP education.”
Coming out of the closet one semester at a time
Despite these, UP remains a sanctuary of openness, acceptance and liberalism for members of the LGBTQ community. This leads to another common story for LGBTQ students in UP: their dual life as openly lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered while in UP, and as “proper” boys and girls who conform to traditional hetero-normative rules when at home with their parents and families, who, more often than not, are unaware of their children’s sexual orientation and gender identity.
As for UP helping its LGBTQ students deal with their families’ lack of acceptance, “definitely we can do something,” says Manalastas. “Our students are part of our community, and I don’t think we can make an artificial divide between the moment they step inside the campus and outside the campus. We should be concerned about our students, that is why we equip them with the tools they can use outside the campus—critical thinking and resourcefulness, for example, and all those analytical tools that we give them.”
At heart, LGBTQ issues in UP are about creating a safe, open space where people of all sexual orientations and genders are shielded against homophobia, transphobia, sexism and sexual harassment, beginning in the classroom. “The challenge is extending this shield outside the four corners of the classroom, to create a safe space for LGBTQs,” Manalastas says.
Condensed from the original article published in the UP Forum March-April 2012 issue
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