What happened to Gretchen Custodio Diez, transgender woman who was not allowed to use the female restroom in a mall and later handcuffed, insulted and brought to the police station, has sparked a lot of debate and heated reactions from many personalities, politicians and celebrities.
My reaction? Let’s break it down.
The initial question is, of course, should the members of the LGBTQ community be allowed to use the restrooms designated for the gender they identify with, or should their physical gender determine which ones they can use?
In a perfect world this would not be a problem because there would be “All-Gender” restrooms for everybody. While some institutions, like the Ateneo de Davao University, have already implemented such changes, and while it has apparently already been made a legal requirement in some cities, the fact remains that in most places in our country, this is not yet the case. When you think about it, in some places just a clean restroom with working plumbing is already something to hope for.
More importantly, it is also a reality that the “enlightened” acceptance and treatment of LGBTQ members is still far from being the norm in our society which is precisely why advocates of the SOGIE bill have been bitterly frustrated with the failure of Congress to pass this law. It is sad, but nonetheless true, that many of our people are still hostile, unaccepting or apathetic towards those whose gender-identity is other than their physical gender.
When I wrote an article about this, I commented that the lawmakers who have been quoting religious tomes in rejecting the bill had no right to shove their personal religious beliefs down everyone else’s throats.
However, the other side of the coin also rings true. We, who want LGBTQ rights to be respected and protected, also cannot shove acceptance down other people’s throats. It would be counterproductive because it would only increase the hostility against our cause. What we need is a change in the social norm, a change in the perception of LGBTQ members as aberrant social misfits and, while we have to force the issue with regards the need for legislation to protect their rights, we cannot expect an overnight reversal of social norms.
There will have to be a balancing act between respecting LGBTQ rights and the reality that many people are still uncomfortable with it. In the use of restrooms, for example, as a microcosm of society, many females still find it disconcerting to be using the same restroom as a gay or transgender person and their rights also have to be respected. One cannot earn respect without giving it.
I personally cannot see a clear cut resolution of the specific question except to say that, while gay and transgender persons should be allowed use the female restroom, it should not be forced if the females then using the restroom are uncomfortable with it. Again, it’s a balancing act FOR NOW.
On the matter of how Ms. Gretchen Custodio Diez was treated, however, it was simply appalling! There was simply NO REASON for handcuffing, insulting and dragging her to jail when, as far as what is apparent, she was only asking why she was not allowed to use the female restroom. The hostility and abuse with which she was treated was simply unjustifiable.
In fact, the heavy-handed manner in which she was treated is a stark example of the incidents, many of which are much worse, that amplify the need for legislation recognizing the reality of the discrimination against the members of the LGBTQ community and protecting their rights. The plight of LGBTQ people is not imagined, overblown or otherwise exaggerated. DISCRIMINATION IS REAL!
I certainly hope that things will not need to escalate and that worse incidents of violent homophobia will not be necessary for our legislators to do the right thing and pass the SOGIE bill sooner rather than later.