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Dinagat Islands leads in inclusivity and anti-discrimination

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The province of Dinagat Islands is showing the country how to be inclusive in its restrooms and other areas of life. It is now implementing the mandates of its Ordinance BBE2-007, also known as the Dinagat Islands Anti-Discrimination Ordinance.

In the ordinance, “all government and private offices, commercial and industrial establishments, educational and training institutions, sea ports and other public places with toilet rooms and lavatories shall be inclusive of persons regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.”

Existing restrooms originally designated for biological males will be marked with “M+” while existing lavatories originally designated for biological females will be labeled with “F+.” The signs will be accompanied by a statement: “This restroom is trans-inclusive.”

On the other hand, a restroom for both biological males and females will be considered a “all-gender restroom.”

Furthermore, “a condensed version of the anti-discrimination module shall also be placed in the conspicuous place, preferably near the said labels.”

The islands’ Anti-Discrimination Ordinance was approved by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Dinagat Islands​ to promote and protect the rights and dignity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT+) persons and providing for a comprehensive policy against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in the province.

The measure was authored by Board Member Noli Abis​ and co-authored by ex-officio Board Member and Philippine Councilors’ League Dinagat Islands Chapter president Annabel Pinat-Pelismino​ and Board Member Charlemagne Vargas​. The ordinance was inspired by the Anti-Discrimination Bill (now known as the SOGIE Equality Bill), principally authored by Dinagat Islands congresswoman Arlene “Kaka” Bag-ao​ in the House of Representatives, as well as other ordinances approved in several local government units all over the country.

The Anti-Discrimination Ordinance prohibits discrimination in employment, education, delivery of goods and services, public accommodations, and issuance of licenses and other similar documents. It also seeks to prevent discriminatory acts in the form of verbal or non-verbal ridicule, harassment, unjust detention, refusal of service and the promotion of hatred and bigotry against LGBT.

Affirmative acts are also enumerated in the measure. These include the dissemination of the ordinance and anti-discrimination modules to help educate Dinagatnons about equality. The Anti-Discrimination Ordinance also mandates the creation of gender-inclusive lavatories to accommodate all gender identities. Attendance in gender sensitivity training seminars will also be encouraged among workers in the private sector and required among government employees. All educational documents will also be reviewed to prevent sex-role stereotyping and gender discriminatory role modelling.

The ordinance also enables the creation of the Dinagat Islands Anti-Discrimination Council (DIADC) composed of provincial officials and representatives from people’s organizations with advocacies focusing on gender equality and LGBT rights. The DIADC shall primarily be responsible in ensuring the implementation of the ordinance and assisting victims of stigma and discrimination, among other duties and functions. The body will also spearhead activities that promote equality and celebrate diversity in the Dinagat Islands LGBT Equality Day, which is also mandated by the ordinance to be held every first Saturday of December, which will be simultaneous with the Philippine LGBT Pride celebration and close to the dates of the World AIDS Day (1 December) and the Human Rights Day (10 December).

BAG-AO at work with the SOGIE bill.

Human rights lawyer and agrarian reform advocate Bag-ao is presently governor of Dinagat Islands, who is recently in the limelight for defeating the Ecleo political dynasty during the last elections and has been a prime mover for progress and equality. During her term as congresswoman, she was a staunch supporter of the House Bill 4982 or the SOGIE Equality Act.

“Let’s open our hearts and minds. Let’s not say that the LGBT do not need a law that will uphold their rights because there are existing laws that do the same. That is not true,” she said in her sponsorship speech on 14 March 2017. “While there are still children being hurt by their parents — being drenched in boiling water, being drowned in a dum of water to keep them from being gay, being raped by their fathers just to teach a lesson that girls loving another girls is wrong — there is a need for the SOGIE Equality Act.”

“While there are still citizens who fear being thrown out of jobs and thus chose to hide their identities and who they love, there is a need for the SOGIE Equality Act,” she further said. “While there are still transgender persons who cannot use the public restrooms — which is a basic human function that involves health — because they fear being accosted or hurt, there is a need for the SOGIE Equality Act.”

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