Inquirer’s article on gays enrolling in the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) shows us that although LGBT activism has gained traction in the fight for equality, there is still a long way to go.
Sexual Orientation is not Gender Expression
It’s a well known fact that the general public (LGBTs included) is still struggling with terms and definitions related to LGBT topics. This is made even more difficult when these concepts (most of which come from the west) have no equivalent in our culture. Sometimes it is because there is no direct translation and sometimes it is because of differences in popular stereotypes. Take for example the following statement from Inquirer’s “PMA now open to gays but don’t show it“:
“From experience, there are (gay PMA graduates). Maybe he was able to graduate because during the training in the Academy there was no opportunity for his (gay) tendencies (to show). When he left the academy that’s when it came out,” – Captain Agnes Flores, PMA spokesperson
Flores was clearly referring to being effeminate (gender expression) when she said “(gay) tendencies” and “it came out” not to being gay (sexual orientation). This is because in Philippine culture, the effeminate gay male (who, at times, is actually a transgender woman) is the more visible stereotype than the masculine gay male. Thus, Filipinos associate being gay (sexual orientation) with being effeminate (gender expression). What Flores fails to understand is being gay has more to do with attraction and not outward expression.
In the Absence of Specifics, Generalize!
I have yet to hear of an institution which is able to or dares to profile its students based on sexual orientation. But if PMA’s claims are accurate, then it may very well be the first.
“In any case, they say, gay cadets eventually leave the PMA anyway before completing the four-year course because they cannot stand the rigors of training.”
“Flores claimed that school officials had observed that gay cadets apparently could not cope with the demands of training.”
It would be interesting to request data that would show what percentage of the PMA dropouts are gay. In simplistic terms, this is asking how many dropouts said “I’m dropping out because this is too much for a gay man to handle.”
Yes, getting these data is moot and academic. But Flores not only has a responsibility to ensure her claims are based on facts, she also has the responsiblity to ensure that her statements do not put a specific sector of society in a bad light. By claiming that gay men are not able to stand the rigors of training, she has effectively made gay men inferior to straight men even without factual basis. This, by the way, is a discriminatory act. And if House Bill 1483 or 515 (both Anti-Discrimination Bills) were already in force, any PMA officer who dismisses a cadet using Flores’ baseless claim would face imprisonment of up to 6 years or pay a fine of 250 to 500 thousand Pesos.
Perpetuating Gender Norms
Discrimination is often justified by invoking social constructs. It may be summarized by the statement “I am not discriminating against gay men and lesbian women, I just expect them to act like straight men and women because that’s what society accepts.” What people do not realize is that gender norms reinforce discrimination because it forces people to meet expectations created by heterosexuals.
“So anyone who displays gay behavior would be reprimanded because that’s not what is expected of them. They enter our institution and they are to follow the rules and regulations of our organization,” she stressed.
This statement needs careful unpacking so I will dissect it one homophobic thought at a time.
“So anyone who displays gay behavior would be reprimanded…” – This is where I would ask Flores to define what is “gay behavior” and what is the corresponding reprimand. Similarly, I would also ask if females are reprimanded for displaying “lesbian behavior.” And finally I would ask for a report on the kinds of “gay behavior” they have actually documented.
“…because that’s not what is expected of them…” – So what is expected of them to display, “straight behavior”? Taking off from the previous paragraph, I would also ask for a definition of “straight behavior.” But semantics aside, the following statement takes the cake as far as discrimination is concerned:
“…they are to follow the rules and regulations of our organization,” – If a group of people is singled out by rules and regulations solely because of this group’s gender expression, then ladies and gentlemen, that is discrimination.
Unintended Discrimination is Still Discrimination
My gut tells me that Flores has no malicious intent. It may be that she is not aware of the slimy worm of discrimination slithering in the core of the pretentious apple of tolerance she is parading about. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, unintended discrimination is still discrimination. And while half-baked tolerance is still the lesser evil than an outright ban, there is still much to be desired as far as the LGBT education of these PMA officers is concerned. We can only wish Flores and the rest of the PMA would one day understand the true meaning of acceptance and equality. Until that day becomes reality, equality among men in uniform will remain a fantasy.
Image Credit: Philippine Information Agency