The Philippines is seen as one of the more tolerant countries in Southeast Asia when it comes to accepting all forms of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Expression – tolerant, yes, but not completely accepting of identities outside the standard binary of male and female. One only has to look at the news from the past few years to see specific acts of violence and discrimination against our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) sisters and brothers.
With that said, the country has made small strides in pushing for more inclusive legislation the past few years, including local ordinances from different cities, provinces, and municipalities that protect the rights of LGBT Filipinos, as well as the bill pushing for Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Expression (SOGIE) Equality finally reaching the Senate in 2018 after almost 20 years since it was first filed in Congress.
However, with the push for equality for rights and opportunities comes vehement opposition from more conservative Filipinos, and the bill is still far from becoming law.
The uphill climb
It should seem counterintuitive this day and age to oppress people on the basis of who they are and who they love, but the fact remains that the country is far from fully accepting all people as equals.
The fight continues for true gender equality, and despite the struggles of the LGBT community in the Philippines, there is a beacon of hope, and it comes from a surprising place: the Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) industry.
A lot Filipinos see the BPO industry as an industry with international opportunities and competitive salaries (despite the somewhat odd hours). But few actually know that it goes beyond providing financial and economic opportunities to Filipinos. It has become a space where all types of Gender Expression and Identities are welcome, and in fact, can thrive.
For a lot of LGBT Filipinos, intolerance and hate from fellow Filipinos seems like an insurmountable obstacle – but in this small cradle of inclusion, there’s hope for a society that actually lets love win.
BPOs leading the way for gender inclusion in the country
While bullying, politicking, and different kinds of conflict are still present in many workplaces, there’s reason to believe that LGBT discrimination in professional environments, at least in BPOs, has decreased.
A survey conducted by the Philippine LGBT Chamber of commerce in 2018 showed that out of the 100 Philippine-based companies (i.e. companies who operate mainly, or are headquartered in the country) that they surveyed, zero had policies that protect their employees from SOGIE-based discrimination.
However, the survey did find that 17% out of all the companies interviewed (which included Foreign-based companies, BPOs, and Government institutions) had some form of SOGIE-inclusive, non-discrimination policy, and all were from the BPO sector.
It would seem that for BPOs, tolerance continues to evolve into acceptance. From accepting their appearance that may sometimes be unconventional, finding ways to curb stigma and make them more comfortable, to actually providing equal opportunities for everyone, no matter their gender identity.
We’ve reached a point wherein we’re hearing less and less stories of LGBT applicants and employees experiencing abuse and discrimination. Years ago, this was a much bigger problem that would usually begin from the application process, where LGBT applicants are immediately discriminated against.
With BPOs leading the way for inclusion, Filipinos are starting to be protected from prejudice and maltreatment regarding their opportunities and wages just because of their gender.
Providing the right environment for inclusive growth
Having a capable handle of the English language may just be one of the good things our colonial past gave us, as it has brought jobs from all over the world. And it just so happens that some of these opportunities are coming from corporations with different values.
So aside from establishing itself as an industry that is the primary source of income for a lot of Filipinos, the BPO industry has also become a cradle of inclusion for the LGBT, nurturing the seed of true and complete acceptance.
Convergys, one of the major BPOs in the Philippines, is the first in the world to be awarded a certification on workplace gender equality, pioneering fairness to female and LGBT employees.
Another notable BPO outfit is that of Thomson Reuters Philippines, which became the first company in Asia to provide the same benefits for same-sex couples that their company already had for other couples.
Many more BPO companies are doing their part in the battle against workplace discrimination, and in their effort, have revealed the vibrance and talent of the LGBT community, specially when taken good care of. Aside from providing equal rights for their LGBT employees, these organizations also take part in Pride Marches, showing full support in waving the rainbow flag and spearheading activities outside the four walls of their offices with pageants such as the BPO Gay Pageant of the Philippines.
It would seem that the Western values of acceptance and inclusivity for all forms of Gender Expression is alive and well in the BPO industry, and might just be the right push that the country needs in fighting for equal rights for LGBT Filipinos.
A source of national pride
A shift in the perspective of fully accepting, not just tolerating, all forms of gender expression is happening, starting with companies like BPOs that have now become a crucial part of the Filipino way of life. The Western value system of inclusivity, tied with our own values of family and sense of community, might just be the tipping point for true equality.
As a country, and as Filipinos, we should be proud of how these BPO companies have been treating our LGBT sisters and brothers. We have this golden opportunity of being trailblazers for workplace diversity in Asia, and it starts with accepting that no matter what your identity is, and who you choose to love, we are all equal and deserve the same opportunities and rights.
At the end of the day, LGBT Filipinos are just Filipinos, and we should take care of our own. So here’s to the BPOs leveling the playing field for a truly equal society, pushing for a future where it’s possible to actually let love win!