LGBT rights in the Philippines

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LGBT rights in the Philippines Philippines
Same-sex sexual activity legal? Legal
Military service Gays and lesbians allowed to serve since 2009
Discrimination protections None at the national level but many anti-discrimination ordinances at the local government units.
Family rights
Recognition of
The Family Code of the Philippines defines marriage as "a special contract of permanent union between a man and a woman". The Constitution of the Philippines does not prohibit same-sex marriage.[1]
Adoption Yes (Step-adoption only)[2]

The Philippines is ranked as one of the most gay-friendly nations in the world, and the most LGBT friendly in Asia.[3] The country ranked as the 10th most gay-friendly in a global survey covering 39 countries, in which only 17 had majorities accepting homosexuality. Titled "The Global Divide on Homosexuality," the survey conducted by the Pew Research Center showed that 73 percent of adult Filipinos agreed with the statement that "homosexuality should be accepted by society," up by nine percentage points from 64 percent in 2002.[3]

In the classical era of the country, prior to Spanish occupation, the people of the states and barangays within the archipelago accepted homosexuality. Homosexuals actually had a role of a babaylan, or a local spiritual leader who was holder of science, arts, and literature. In the absence of the datu of the community, the babaylans, homosexual or not, were also made as leaders of the community. During the Islamic movements in Mindanao which started in Borneo, the homosexual acceptance of the indigenous natives were subjugated by Islamic beliefs. Nevertheless, states and barangays that retained their non-Islamic cultures continued to accept homosexuality. During the Spanish colonization, the Spaniards forcefully instilled Roman Catholicism to the natives which led to the end of acceptance of homosexuality in most of the archipelagic people. This deep Catholic roots nationwide (and some Islamic roots in Mindanao) from the colonial era resulted in much discrimination, oppression, and hate crimes for the LGBT community in the present time.[4][5][6][7]

The LGBT community remains as one of the country's minority sectors today. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people often face disadvantages in getting hired for jobs, acquiring rights for civil marriage, and even in starting up personal businesses. This has led to the rise of the cause for LGBT rights, defined as the right to equality and non-discrimination.[8] As a member of the United Nations, the Philippines is signatory to various international covenants promoting human rights.[9]


Precolonial Period[edit]

The babaylan, also called katalonan, bayoguin, bayok, agi-ngin, asog, bido and binabae depending on the ethnic group of the region,[5] held important positions in the community. They were the spiritual leaders of Filipino communities tasked with responsibilities pertaining to rituals, agriculture, science, medicine, literature, and other forms of knowledge that the community needed.[10] In the absence of a datu, the babaylan could take charge of the whole community.[5]

The role of the babaylan was mostly associated with females, but male babaylans also existed. Early historical accounts record the existence of male babaylans that wore female clothes and took the demeanor of a woman.[11][12] Anatomy was not the only basis for gender. Being male or female was based primarily on occupation, appearance, actions, and sexuality. A male babaylan could partake in romantic and sexual relations with other men without being judged by society.[5]

Precolonial society accepted gender-crossing and transvestism as part of their culture. Rituals and trances performed by the babaylan mirrored the reunification of the opposites, the male and female.They believed that by doing this they would be able to exhibit spiritual potency, which would be used for healing spiritual brokenness. Outside this task, male babaylans sometimes indulged in homosexual relations.[5]

Spanish-Colonial Period[edit]

The Spanish conquistadors introduced a predominantly patriarchal culture to precolonial Philippines. Males were expected to demonstrate masculinity in their society, alluding to the Spanish machismo or a strong sense of being a man.[13][14] Confession manuals made by the Spanish friars during this period suspected that the natives were guilty of sodomy and homosexual acts. During the 17th-18th century, Spanish administrators burned sodomites to enforce the decree made by Pedro Hurtado Desquibel, President of the Audiencia.[5]

Datus were appointed as the district officers of the Spaniards while the babaylans were reduced to relieving the worries of the natives. The removal of the datu system of localized governance affected babaylanship.[5] The babaylans eventually disappeared with the colonization of the Spaniards. Issues about sexual orientation and gender identity were not widely discussed after the Spanish colonization.[15]

American Colonial Period[edit]

Four decades of American occupation saw the promulgation and regulation of sexuality through a modernized mass media and a standardized academic learning. Furthered by the growing influence of Western biomedicine, it conceived a specific sexological consciousness in which the "homosexual" was perceived and discriminated as a pathological or sick identity. Filipino homosexuals eventually identified to this oppressive identity and began engaging in projects of inversion, as the disparity of homo and hetero entrenched and became increasingly salient in the people's psychosexual logic.[16][17]

Though American colonialism brought the Western notion of "gay" and all its discontents, it also simultaneously refunctioned to serve liberationist ends. While it stigmatized the local homosexual identity, the same colonialism made available a discussion and thus a discursive position which enabled the homosexualized bakla to speak.[17] It was during the neocolonial period in the 1960s that a conceptual history of Philippine gay culture began to take form, wherein a "‘subcultural lingo’ of urban gay men that uses elements from Tagalog, English, Spanish and Japanese, as well as celebrities’ names and trademark brands" developed, often referred as swardspeak, gayspeak or baklese.[18] Gay literature that were Philippine-centric also began to emerge during this period.[19] Further developments in gay literature and academic learning saw the first demonstrations by LGBT political activists, particularly LGBT-specific pride marches.[20]

Martial Law[edit]

During the implementation of the Martial Law, citizens were silenced by the government through the military. People, including the LGBT community, did not have a voice during this period, and many were harassed and tortured. At the behest of Imelda Marcos, an anti-gay book was published that clarified the agonistic situation of gay culture at the same time that all other progressive movements in the country was being militaristically silenced.[21] There were some homosexuals that were exiled by Marcos in America where they joined movements advocating the rights of the LGBT people.[22] The community responded to this through the use of several mediums, such as the 1980s film, Manila by Night, which introduces an LGBT character in its plotline.[23] When the regime ended, those exiled returned to the Philippines, introducing new ideas of gay and lesbian conceptions.


During the 1970s and 1980s, Filipino concepts of gay were greatly influenced by Western notions. According to Being LGBT in Asia: The Philippines Country Report, LGBT people who are exposed to the Western notion of being "gay" starting to have relationships with other LGBT, instead of with heterosexual-identifying people.[24] Towards the end of the 1980s, an increase in awareness of LGBT Filipinos occurred. In the year 1984, a number of gay plays were produced and staged.[25] The plays that were released during the said time tackled the process of "coming out" by gay people.[25]


Based on the report made by USAID, in partnership with UNDP entitled "Being LGBT in Asia: The Philippines Country Report", the LGBT community during the early 90s, made books that help Filipinos become aware of the prevalence of LGBT communities like Ladlad, an anthology of Philippine gay writing edited by Danton Remoto and J. Neil Garcia and Margarita Go-Singco Holmes’s A Different Love: Being Gay in the Philippines in 1994 and 1993, respectively.[9] This decade also marks the first demonstration of attendance by an organized sector of the country’s LGBT community in the participation of a lesbian group called Lesbian Collective, as they join the International Women’s Day march of 1992.[9] Another demonstration of attendance was made by ProGay Philippines and MCC Philippines, led by Oscar Atadero and Fr Richard Mickley respectively, when they organized the Pride march on 26 June 1994, that marked the first Pride-related parade hosted by a country in Asia and the Pacific.[9] And throughout the decade, various LGBT groups were formed such as Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) in 1991 and University of the Philippines (UP) Babaylan in 1992 and ProGay Philippines in 1993, and according to the report, the 1990s are the "probable maker of the emergence of the LGBT movement in the Philippines".[9] In 1998, the Akbayan Citizens’ Action Party became the first political party to consult the LGBT community and helped in the creation of the first LGBT lobby group, Lesbian and Gay Legislative Advocacy Network, otherwise known as LAGABLAB, in 1999.[9] LAGABLAB was the group who proposed revisions in the Lesbian and Gay Rights of 1999 and the filing of the Anti-Discriminations Bill (ADB) of 2000.[9]

Contemporary (2000s-Present)[edit]

The LGBT movement has been very active in the new millennium. In the advent of the 2000s, more LGBT organizations were formed to serve specific needs, including sexual health (particularly HIV), psychosocial support, representation in sports events, religious and spiritual needs, and political representation.[9] For example, the political party Ang Ladlad was founded by Danton Remoto, a renowned LGBT advocate, last 2003.[26] The community has also shown their advocacies through the 21st LGBT Pride March held in Luneta Park last June 27, 2015, with the theme, "Fight For Love: Iba-Iba. Sama-Sama". This movement aims to remind the nation that the fight for LGBT rights is a fight for human rights. Advocates are calling on the Philippines to recognize the voices of people of diverse sexual orientations and gender identities.[27] In present time, there remains no umbrella LGBT organization in the Philippines.[9] Therefore, organizations tend to work independently of each other.[9] Due to these divisions, there remains no prioritization of efforts, with organizations focusing on what they consider as important for them.[9]

In a United Nations Assembly for the establishment of an UN-backed LGBT Watch Personnel, the Philippine permanent delegate to the UN 'abstained' from the voting. Islamic nations and some eastern European nations voted against its establishment. Nevertheless, countries from western Europe and the Americas with the backing of Vietnam, South Korea, and Mongolia, voted in favor for its establishment. The LGBT Watch Personnel was established after the majority of nations in the meeting voted in its favor.

In 2016, Geraldine Roman became the first openly transgender woman elected to Congress in the Philippines. A huge bloc of lawmakers, collectively called the Equality Champs of Congress, are currently pushng for the full passage of the Anti-Discrimination Bill which have been neglected for the 17 years. More than 130 lawmakers back its complete passage and legislation on the first month of its introduction to Congress in 2016 alone.[28]

Laws affecting LGBT community[edit]

Noncommercial, homosexual relations between two adults in private are not a crime, although sexual conduct or affection that occurs in public may be subject to the "grave scandal" prohibition in Article 200 of the Revised Penal Code, which states:

"ARTICLE 200. Grave Scandal. — The penalties of arresto mayor and public censure shall be imposed upon any person who shall offend against decency or good customs by any highly scandalous conduct not expressly falling within any other article of this Code."[29]

While on the Family Code of the Philippines, stated on Article 1, Article 2, and Article 147 respectively:

"Marriage is a special contract of permanent union between a man and a woman entered into in accordance with law for the establishment of conjugal and family life. It is the foundation of the family and an inviolable social institution whose nature, consequences, and incidents are governed by law and not subject to stipulation, except that marriage settlements may fix the property relations during the marriage within the limits provided by this Code."[30]

"No marriage shall be valid, unless these essential requisites are present:

(1) Legal Capacity of contracting parties who must be a male and a female; and

(2) Consent freely given in the presence of the solemnizing officer."[30]

The Magna Carta for Public Social Workers also address the concern regarding the discrimination of public social workers because of their sexual orientation:

"Section 17. Rights of a Public Social Worker. - Public social workers shall have the following rights:

1.) Protection from discrimination by reason of sex, sexual orientation, age, political or religious beliefs, civil status, physical characteristics/disability, or ethnicity;

2.) Protection from any form of interference, intimidation, harassment, or punishment, to include, but not limited to, arbitrary reassignment or termination of service, in the performance of his/her duties and responsibilities";[31]

The Magna Carta for Women also provides an insight regarding the state's duties towards maintaining the rights of women, regardless of their sexual orientations:

"The State affirms women's rights as human rights and shall intensify its efforts to fulfill its duties under international and domestic law to recognize, respect, protect, fulfill, and promote all human rights and fundamental freedoms of women, especially marginalized women, in the economic, social, political, cultural, and other fields without distinction or discrimination on account of class, age, sex, gender, language, ethnicity, religion, ideology, disability, education, and status."[32]

The only bill directly concerning the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community in the Philippines is the Anti-Discrimination Act. This bill seeks that all persons regardless of sex or sexual orientation must be treated the same as everyone else, wherein conditions do not differ in the privileges granted and the liabilities enforced. The bill was introduced by Hon. Kaka J. Bag-ao the District Representative of Dinagat Islands on July 1, 2013 and is yet to be passed.[33]


Several religious beliefs exists within the country, some of them including Roman Catholicism, the Iglesia ni Cristo, and Islam, among many others. These different faiths have their own views and opinions towards the topic of homosexuality.

Roman Catholicism[edit]

The Philippines is a predominantly Catholic country with approximately 82.9 percent of the population claiming to be Roman Catholics.[34] The Roman Catholic Church has been one of the most active religious organizations in the country in opposition to the LGBT community.[35] The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines firmly states that marriage should only exist between a man and a woman.[36] Also, they have called on individuals and politicians to actively oppose same-sex marriage.[37] They said that individuals should refuse to take part in ceremonies celebrating same-sex relationships and politicians should resist legalizing marriages of homosexual couples.[37] They also stated that "A homosexual union is not and can never be a marriage as properly understood and so-called."[38] However, they also said that "being a homosexual is not a sin. It is a state of a person."[39] The Catholic Church welcomes members of the LGBT community, yet, as stated, gay people should be "welcomed with respect and sensitivity."[39]

Iglesia ni Cristo[edit]

The Iglesia ni Cristo adheres to the teachings of the Bible and they denounce those who practice homosexual acts, as they are seen as immoral and wicked.[40] These acts include having sexual affairs and relations with partners of the same sex, cross-dressing, and same-sex marriage.[40] Also, in the Iglesia ni Cristo, men are not allowed to have long hair, for it is seen as a symbol of femininity and should be exclusive to women only.[40]


Muslim communities in the Phillippines face the challenge of confronting diversity.[41] However, for many Muslims, dealing with homosexuality or transgender issues is a matter of sin and heresy, not difference and diversity.[41]


Recognized as an important venue for the promotion of issues related to the LGBT by participants in a national dialogue facilitated by the UNDP, the participants also acknowledged the negative impact of religion with regard to the treatment of such issues, whereat it provides a blanket context that society views homosexuality as negative.[9]

In May 2004, producers of several television programs received a memorandum from the chair of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB), which warned against positive depictions of lesbian relationships; it was stated in the memo that "lesbian and homosexual relationships are an abnormality/aberration on prime-time TV programs gives the impression that the network is encouraging homosexual relationships."[9]

The lack of sexual orientation and gender identity awareness is emphasized in other circumstances; transphobia is ubiquitous with media practitioners who do not address transgender people in accordance with how they self-identify.[9] At the 2013 Cinemalaya indie awards, transgender actress Mimi Juareza won under the Best Actor category, and in reports, she was referred to repeatedly using the male pronoun.[9] In 2014, the death of Jennifer Laude and the investigation into it was highly publicized, with practitioners referring to her as Jeffrey "Jennifer" Laude.[42]

Participants in the UNDP-facilitated national dialogue stated that content emphasized a general lack of understanding for sexual orientation and gender identity, such that LGBT stereotypes dominate; there are many gay men hosting programs at radio stations and television networks, but they are limited to covering entertainment shows.[9] There is an apparent lack of representation for lesbians and transgender people.[9] Given their platform, some media personalities have publicly shared their anti-LGBT sentiments; in 2009 newspaper columnist Ramon Tulfo wrote that LGBT people "should not also go around town proclaiming their preferences as if it was a badge of honor.[9]"

Beyond mainstream media, which already has a niche for the sector, the Internet has provided LGBT people ways to tell their stories outside the realm of film, television, print, and radio.[9] There are blogs kept, opportunities to connect with others, publications with LGBT sections, and a web-based magazine, Outrage, catering to the community.[9]


Ryan Thoreson in his article "Capably Queer: Exploring the Intersections of Queerness and Poverty in the Urban Philippines" did a research on the Queer community in the Philippines and how it copes with living here in the country. He interviewed a total of 80 queer informants in order to gather the data.[43] Based on his survey about employment, and from what he gathered, he claimed that under a half of the respondents were employed and weekly income mean was only 1514.28 PhP per week.[43] The survey also stated that "less than one-third have stable income, and very few enjoyed any kind of benefits"[43] and 75% of its respondents said that they would like to do more wage-earning work.[43]

As for its empowerment section, the survey stated that when the respondents were asked to tell their primary contribution to the household, 45% of them named household chores as their primary contribution, 30% stated giving money or paying the bills, 17.5% provided labor and money, and 7.5% said that they were not expected to contribute anything.[43] As for their privacy, 75% of the respondents said that they had enough privacy and personal space.[43]

In terms of safety and security, Thoreson’s journal also provides statistical data in terms of the queer community’s involvement in crimes as victims. According to the survey he made, 55% of his respondents were harassed on the street, 31.2% were robbed, 25% had been physically assaulted, 6.25% had been sexually assaulted, 5% had survived a murder attempt, and 5% had been blackmailed by the police.[43]


The LGBT community, although a minority in the economic sphere, still plays an integral role in the growth and maintenance of the economy. LGBT individuals face challenges in employment both on an individual level and as members of a community that is subject to discrimination and abuse. This can be compounded by the weak social status and position of the individuals involved.[9]

A USAID study conducted in 2014, entitled "The Relationship between LGBT Inclusion and Economic Development: An Analysis of Emerging Economies", has shown that countries which have adopted anti-LGBT economic laws have lower GDPs compared to those who do not discriminate employers/employees based on their sexual orientation.[44] The link between discrimination and the economy is direct, since the discrimination experienced by members of the LGBT community turn them into disadvantaged workers, which can be bad for business. Disadvantaged workers usually practice absenteeism, low productivity, inadequate training and high turnover, which make for higher labor costs and lower profits.[44] According to the USAID study, LGBT people in their sample countries are limited in their freedoms in ways that also create economic harms.[45]

On the other hand, studies have shown that the integration of the LGBT into the economic system yields a higher income for the country. In a recent USAID study, it is said that a wide range of scholarly theories from economics, political science, sociology, psychology, public health, and other social sciences support the idea that full rights and inclusion of LGBT people are associated with higher levels of economic development and well-being for the country.[45] Also, the acceptance of LGBT people within the office environment can lead to higher income for the company since the people do not feel as disadvantaged and as discriminated as before.[45] Another thing is that a better environment for LGBT individuals can be an attractive bargaining chip for countries seeking multinational investments and even tourists, since a conservative climate that keeps LGBT people in the closet and policymakers from recognizing the human rights of LGBT people will hold their economy back from its full potential.[44] Naturally, passing a non-discrimination law will not immediately lead to a sudden boost in the country's economy, although less discrimination should eventually lead to more output.[44]


Sexual orientation or religion does not exempt citizens from Citizen Army Training (CAT), although some reports do suggest that people who are openly gay in this high school curriculum are harassed.[46] On 3 March 2009, the Philippines announced that it was lifting its ban on allowing openly gay and bisexual men and women from enlisting and serving in the Philippine Armed Services.[47]


Marginalized sectors in society recognised in the national electoral law include categories such as elderly, peasants, labour, youth etc. Under the Philippine constitution some 20% of seats in the House of Representatives are reserved. In 1995 and 1997, unsuccessful efforts were made to reform the law so as to include LGBT people. A proponent of this reform was Senate President Pro Tempore Blas Ople who said (in 1997), "In view of the obvious dislike of the ... administration for gay people, it is obvious that the president will not lift a finger to help them gain a sectoral seat."[48]

The Communist Party of the Philippines integrated LGBT rights into its party platform in 1992, becoming the first Philippine political party to do so.[49] The Akbayan Citizens' Action Party was another early party (although a minor one) to advocate for LGBT rights in 1998.

Philippine political parties are typically very cautious about supporting gay rights, as most fall along the social conservative political spectrum. A major political opponent of LGBT rights legislation has been Congressman Bienvenido Abante (6th district, Manila) of the ruling conservative Lakas-CMD party.[50]

The administration of former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was recently called "not just gender insensitive, but gender-dead" by Akbayan Party representative Risa Hontiveros. Rep. Hontiveros also said that the absence of any policy protecting the rights of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgender betrays the government’s homophobia: "this homophobic government treats LGBTs as second-class citizens,.[51]"

On June 17, 2011, the Philippines abstained from signing the United Nations declaration on sexual orientation and gender identity, which condemns violence, harassment, discrimination, exclusion, stigmatization, and prejudice based on sexual orientation and gender identity. However, on September 26, 2014, the country gave a landmark yes vote on a follow-up resolution by the UN Human Rights Council to fight violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity(SOGI).[52]

The Ang Ladlad is a new progressive political party, with a primary agenda of combating discrimination and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

On 11 November 2009, the Philippine Commission on Elections (COMELEC) denied the Filipino LGBT political party Ang Ladlad's petition to be allowed to run in the May 2010 elections, on the grounds of "immorality".[53][54] In the 2007 elections, Ang Ladlad was previously disqualified for failing to prove they had nationwide membership.[55]

On 8 April 2010, the Supreme Court of the Philippines reversed the ruling of COMELEC and allowed Ang Ladlad to join the May 2010 elections.[56][57]

Marriage and family[edit]

The Philippines does not offer any legal recognition to same-sex marriage, civil unions or domestic partnership benefits.

Since 2006, three anti-same sex marriage bills have been introduced and are pending before the Senate and Congress. In early 2011, Rep. Rene Relampagos of Bohol filed a bill to amend Article 26 of the Philippine Family Code, to prohibit "forbidden marriages." Specifically, this seeks to bar the Philippine state from recognizing same-sex marriages contracted overseas. The bill is in committee.[58][59][60]

In December 2014 Herminio Coloma Jr, a spokesperson for the Presidential Palace, commented on same-sex marriage, saying; "We must respect the rights of individuals to enter into such partnerships as part of their human rights, but we just need to wait for the proposals in Congress".[61]

Right after Ireland legalized same-sex marriage through a popular vote in May 2015, the Philippines has the possibility to legalize this law by a petition. [62] The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines, however, is opposed to the idea despite stating that it supports 'equality for all'. To the extent of even stating that 'same-sex marriage' and 'falling for the same sex is wrong'. [63]

Marriages by the Communist Party of the Philippines[edit]

The illegal Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) respectively its armed wing New People’s Army (NPA) does perform same-sex marriages among their members since 2005 in territories under their control.[64]


In LGBT community did not begin to organize on behalf of its human rights until the 1990s. Poverty and the political situation in the Philippines, especially the dictatorship, may have made it difficult for the LGBT community to organize. One of the first openly gay people of significance was the filmmaker Lino Brocka.

The first gay lesbian bisexual and transgender pride parade in Asia and also the Philippines was co-led by ProGay Philippines and the Metropolitan Community Church Philippines (MCCPH) on 26 June 1994 at the Quezon Memorial Circle. It was organized just a few years after students organized the UP Babaylan group. The pride event was attended by hundreds, and the march coincided with march against the government's VAT or the value added tax.

Since the 1990s LGBT people have become more organized and visible, both politically and socially. There are large annual LGBT pride festivals, and several LGBT organizations which focus on the concerns of University students, women and transgender people. There is a vibrant gay scene in the Philippines with several bars, clubs and saunas in Manila as well as various gay rights organizations.

Summary table[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity legal Yes
Equal age of consent Yes
Anti-discrimination laws in employment Yes / No (Not nationwide)
Anti-discrimination laws in the provision of goods and services Yes / No (Not nationwide)
Anti-discrimination laws in all other areas (incl. indirect discrimination, hate speech) No
Same-sex marriage(s) No (Pending)
Recognition of same-sex couples No (Pending)
Step adoption by same-sex couples Yes
Joint adoption by same-sex couples No
Gays allowed to serve in the military Yes (Since 2009)
Right to change legal gender Emblem-question.svg[66]
Commercial surrogacy No
Access to IVF for lesbians No
MSM allowed to donate blood Emblem-question.svg
Automatic parenthood for both spouses after birth No


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