Jennifer Laude murder highlights struggle vs sex discrimination
MANILA, Philippines—The murder of a Filipino transgender woman, allegedly by a US Marine, has stoked nationalist outrage in the Philippines but activists say the spotlight should also be shone on “hate crimes” by locals targeting minority groups.
The case of 26-year-old Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude, found dead in a hotel bathroom in the red-light district of Olongapo City in October, risks harming Philippine-US defense relations.
A US serviceman on a port call is the main suspect in a crime that has been used by leftist and nationalist groups to assail the American military’s role in the former US colony.
But while the Laude case made headlines, the murders of four gay people at around the same time, in suspected Filipino-on-Filipino “hate crimes,” garnered far less media attention, according to Clara Padilla, executive director of EnGendeRights.
“It is clear we have a strong prevalence of homophobia and transphobia in the Philippines,” said Padilla, whose organization supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.
Most of the victims were attacked while they were alone and stabbed repeatedly, in one case as many as 33 times, Padilla said, adding that the ferocity suggested they were hate crimes and the victims targeted because of their sexual orientation.
Although the Philippines is considered more tolerant than other developing nations, the LGBT community says it still faces heavy discrimination in the largely conservative Catholic country.
Bills barring discrimination against homosexual and transgender people have stalled for years in Congress and some institutions like schools and workplaces are open in their lack of tolerance, Padilla said.
Threat from home
An online survey of almost 500 LGBT Filipinos taken this year by advocacy group TLF Share found that one in 10 had been attacked or threatened with violence due to their sexuality in the last five years.
Almost 76 percent of those people said the aggressors had been their own parents or siblings.
“My mother attacked me inside our house when (she) found out I had a girlfriend,” one respondent was quoted as saying. “She slapped, punched and even kicked me.”
Bemz Benedito, a transgender woman who manages a prominent charity, said she and many like her face discrimination or harassment when looking for regular jobs.
Many end up in the sex industry as a result.
“Why are they driven to this kind of work? Because they are discriminated against and opportunities are not really open to them in this country,” she said.
“A lot of people have said we are a gay-friendly country but we are actually a ‘gay-amused’ country,” said Eric Manalastas, a psychology professor specializing in LGBT issues at the University of the Philippines.
“When you scratch the surface you see people’s true feelings,” he said, citing the many harsh remarks posted about Laude in social media that blamed her for her own death.
While many have expressed outrage over the killing, Manalastas said this is largely because the suspect is a US serviceman.
“If a fellow Filipino was the prime suspect, I suspect we would not be reading about it or talking about it,” he said.
Street protests over the killing have been dominated by leftist groups who are mainly concerned with cutting defense ties with the United States rather than supporting LGBT issues.
“We feel we don’t have the mike. We don’t have a platform,” said Nicky Castillo, managing director of Rainbow Rights Philippines. AFP
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