Saturday, April 25, 2009

"BB Gandanghari refused entry by Aruba Bar and Restaurant"

This morning when I opened my mail, I saw this message from Sass on the Task Force Pride (TFP) e-group. She now works for BB Gandanghari and apparently they went to an event last night the venue of which, Aruba Bar and Restaurant, refused BB entry invoking its NO CROSSDRESSING policy. This is not the first time this happened. Two years ago, Aruba also refused entry to another high-profile person, the comedian and entertainer, Inday Garutay. In the mad dash to get Inday's message out there, her handlers from the Lesbian and Gay Legislative Advocacy Network (LAGABLAB) immediately branded it a gay issue, called the establishment anti-gay, and in the process invisibilized the reality of transgender oppression.

In justifying their actions, Inday's handlers said Inday herself identified as a gay man so it was not a case of trans discrimination. As I pointed out in an earlier entry, this was a clear reflection of sexual orientation being conflated with gender identity, an unfortunate reality in this country which many lesbian and gay advocates have refused to acknowledge. And now, we have the case of BB being refused entry by the same establishment. That only means nothing has changed. This time though I hope the wrongs of the past can be righted by properly arguing this case along gender identity and expression lines.

I am not saying that gender is solely the concern of trans people. We all have gender and we are all affected by the oppression it brings. In the same way, we all have sexualities for which we are punished as well especially if it is non-heterosexual. But legally speaking there is a need to clarify what a sexual orientation issue is from a gender identity and expression one because it is the only way protections to trans people will be granted. In fact, more often than not, discriminatory acts toward LGBT people happen not because of what they are perceived to do in the privacy of their bedroom but because of how they look and present themselves in public.

Anyway, below is BB's recounting of her experience of discrimination as a woman of transgender experience. Another day, another case of trans oppression.

Time for change

by BB Gandanghari

“Rules,” Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “are not necessarily sacred, principles are.” The incident that happened to me and my friends on the night of April 24 is an example of rules violating the principles which motivate humanity to live in equality, to treat each other with respect, and to uphold each other’s dignity.

I was all set to watch Rannie Raymundo’s show in Metrowalk. Dee and my assistant Sass were with me. I didn’t know where exactly in Metrowalk the show would be. So while I was on my way, I texted Maegan, who would also be watching with us. She told me that it was going to be in Aruba Bar & Restaurant. Upon hearing that it was going to be there, Sass brought up the unfortunate incident Inday Garutay experienced there. I heard it before but I didn’t know that it happened there. Feeling worried, I requested Sass to ask Aruba Bar & Restaurant whether they have any problem with me watching the show.

Sass talked to the bouncer of Aruba Bar & Restaurant but she was then referred to the manager. She asked Sass: “What is she wearing?” Sass told her that I was wearing what every woman wears. The manager then iterated the blatant “No Crossdressing” policy hanging on their door. Sass refused to accept her reasoning. The manager then offered to consult the owner of the bar. The manager returned and gave a compromise: We can stay outside of Aruba Bar & Restaurant. Sass left and narrated what she was told. We left Metrowalk and transferred into a bar that understands that bigotry is not a sound business strategy.

I have felt perhaps the same feeling Rosa Parks felt when she was asked to give up her seat so a white passenger could sit. We, and countless human beings like me, suffered and are continue suffering the same indignity of discrimination: Rosa Park was discriminated because of her skin color; human beings of transgender experience are being discriminated because of their gender identity, the deeply felt internal and individual experience of gender, which of course does not always match the sex assigned by the doctors upon our birth.

I wasn’t demanding any special treatment from them. I was just there looking forward to enjoy the music and performance of Rannie, just like any other human being inside their bar. Certainly, I dressed up as a woman because I am a woman. If I dressed up in a masculine way, that would be the time that I would be crossdressing. But let’s discard all the labels, it’s not the issue. I am a human being just like yourself, just like the owners of Aruba Bar & Restaurant. I’m a human being denied of her right to express her unique existence.

What special right does Aruba Bar & Restaurant have that they can just force human beings to conform their gender expression to the gender expression traditionally associated with their assigned sex at birth? What special right does Aruba Bar & Restaurant have that they can just inflict indignity on their fellow human beings? What special right does Aruba Bar & Restaurant have that they can just enforce such transphobic policies with impunity?

I don’t understand where they are getting these special rights. My Christian upbringing has instilled in me one of the two greatest principles Jesus Christ deemed to be the commandments at which all commandments bow. This principle is also common in all spiritual teachings: “Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself”.

We can also find this same principle in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood (Article 1). And “everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms…, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status (Article 2).” This is also echoed in the Yogyakarta Principles: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Human beings of all sexual orientations and gender identities are entitled to the full enjoyment of all human rights (Article 1).”

Even the Philippine Constitution upholds this: “The State values the dignity of every human person and guarantees full respect for human rights. (Article II, Section 11).” Jesus Christ was all about love, compassion, and inclusion and never about discrimination. The Philippine Constitution and international law are all about upholding the dignity of each human being regardless of who and what they are.

Without a need for complicated mental calisthenics, discriminatory rules, practices, and policies are very incompatible with these principles. And history has shown that rules, practices and policies constantly change so society can fulfill the highest principles of humanity: women getting the vote, end of apartheid, outlawing child abuse, to name a few.

So what special right does Aruba Bar & Restaurant have that they can just enforce rules that violate these principles of humanity? What special right does Aruba Bar & Restaurant have that they can continue doing business like this for years? Since when did a business license become a license to violate human rights? Does my gender identity & expression violate their right to conduct their business in a socially responsible way? Why are we turning a blind eye to this inhumanity?

Enforcing gender conformity is not, and will never be, a corporate social responsibility; ending discrimination is. Philippines, it’s NOW time for change.

Love & Peace,
Ms. BB Gandanghari

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