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Police Must Be Sensitised to Understand the Real Issues Faced by LGBTQ Persons, and Address Violence against LGBTQ Persons

Justice for Sisters strongly criticises the Deputy IGP’s statement on LGBT persons. It is important to understand that gender identity and sexual orientation are innate parts of our identity, and these categories are a spectrum, meaning not made out of only two identities (binary).

Gender identity is a spectrum signifying personal sense of belonging and identification (as a girl/woman, boy/man, both, neither, and other gender identities). Further, and most importantly, gender identity is not determined by genitals. A person whose lived experience match the gender assigned at birth based on genitals is known as a cisgender person. While a person whose lived experience does not match gender assigned at birth is known as transgender, gender queer or fluid and others. The growth in our understanding of the spectrum of gender has moved gender recognition legislations in many countries that now no longer require medical intervention before recognising gender identities.

Sexual orientation on the other hand refers to our romantic and sexual attraction towards others. Sexual orientation is also spectrum, which includes

Heterosexual – person who identifies as a woman who is attracted to people who identify as man, vice versa

Bisexual – person who identifies as a man who is attracted to people who identify as man and woman, vice versa

Gay – person who identifies as man attracted to people who identify as man

Lesbian – person who identifies as woman attracted to people who identify as woman

Asexual – no or limited sexual desires towards others. Romantic attraction may or may not exist

Pansexual – people whose attractions are not based on gender identity or sexual orientation

Queer – people whose attractions are not based on gender identity or sexual orientation

All sexual orientations are normal, fluid, and personal. Our romantic and sexual attraction, a feeling that most people have, cannot be dictated by anyone, including the state and its institutions.

The claim of being LGBT is a western idea or culture is historically, factually and scientifically inconsistent. Overwhelming evidence show that gender diversity had existed throughout the world throughout history, including sida-sida in Malaya; manang balibasir and balian in Borneo; hijra in Indiacalabai, calalai and bissu in Indonesiaasog/bayugin in the Philippinesmukhannathun in Mecca and MedinaFa’afafine in Samoa and New Zealand; Māhū in Hawai’i; two-spirit in North America, and more.

Increase of state sponsored homophobia and transphobia 

We are concerned that the Deputy IGP’s statement will further perpetuate homophobia and transphobia within and among police officers and departments. I am Scared to be a Woman, a report by Human Rights Watch also documented multiple forms of violence experienced by transgender persons by the police. This includes arbitrary arrests based on gender identity; arbitrary urine tests, which makes trans women vulnerable to sexual violence, body shaming and humiliation by police officers, who are typically cisgender men; extortion of money or sexual favours; lack of urgency and bias in investigating police reports lodged by transgender persons; sexual violence, amongst others.[1]

Other anecdotal evidence by trans women further shows similar trend of persecution and abuse by the authorities. Gay men on the other hand are subjected to blackmails, extortions and more. Underlying this impunity by the police are the discriminatory, colonial and archaic laws that criminalize consensual non heteronormative sexual acts (the Penal Code 377), state syariah laws that criminalize transgender persons based on their gender identity and gender expression (male persons posing as a woman), the consistent anti-LGBT rhetoric, including hate speech from the state and its institutions, among others.

Police departments and officers must reflect the diversity of the community that they serve. The reality is LGBTQ people are part of society, and the state has the duty to protect all people, not just some people. Further, it is extremely counterproductive when people fear the police. LGBTQ persons often do not report cases of violence because of the attitude, lack of urgency and bias by the police in investigating police reports lodged by LGBTQ persons. Further, LGBTQ persons are subjected to intrusive and irrelevant questionings about their gender identity (e.g. “Are you a man or woman?” based on IC, misgendering), gender expression (e.g. “Are you a man or woman?” based on appearance), and sexual orientation. As a result, many cases go unreported and uninvestigated. This is also a deprivation of our fundamental right to redress and remedies.

Good practices in South East Asia

Police officers in the Philippines have undergone trainings with LGBTQ groups to further understand the issues faced by LGBTQ persons, and to reduce violence by the police towards LGBTQ persons. In 2013, a national Gender and Sexuality training program to sensitize police officers when engaging with lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.[2]

“The aim of this engagement with the LGBT sector is to sensitize the police force to bring about attitudinal change that greatly affects how the police enforce the rule of law and to make the necessary recommendations to incorporate inclusion of LGBT issues and rights in the formal training program of instructions (POI) in the policies and standard procedures of the police force,” said Police Chief Superintendent Nestor Fajura, Chief of the Philippines National Police Human Rights Affairs Office.[3]

All persons have a right to employment, and discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression remains a problem for LGBTQ persons in seeking employment opportunities. LGBTQ persons are forced to hide their sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression at work, and live double lives, which increases stress and anxiety of being found out. In addition, transgender persons and gender fluid or gender queer or gender non-conforming persons are subjected to multiple forms of discrimination based on gender identity and gender expression during job interviews, which effectively reduces their job prospects.

We call the Deputy IGP to understand the issues faced by LGBTQ persons, review his statements, and engage with LGBTQ groups in a meaningful way to address the issues faced LGBTQ persons in relation to the police.

[1] I am scared to be a woman, Human Rights Watch, page 34-36 https://www.hrw.org/report/2014/09/24/im-scared-be-woman/human-rights-abuses-against-transgender-people-malaysia

[2] Special Report: Philippines National Police Undergo LGBT Sensitivity Workshops: Part 1, https://www.outrightinternational.org/content/special-report-philippines-national-police-undergo-lgbt-sensitivity-workshops-part-1

[3] Philippines: Police Officials On Board with LGBT Sensitization Training, https://www.outrightinternational.org/content/underway-philippines-education-police-officers