Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Political Ambiguity?

I received a good email question from a Filipino-American asking:  "Where do the political parties in the Philippines stand on LGBT rights and marriage?  It's impossible to find anything out from any of them!"

Welcome to the world of Philippine politics, my friend.  I'm left scratching my head as well.

Trying to get solid answers on issues (especially social issues) is extremely difficult because the parties aren't ideologically strong.  Their platforms or agendas tend to be quite vague and general, if they even list a platform at all.  It's quite strange to me actually -- I don't know how the people are able to make clear-cut decisions on whom to vote for if they can never get any clear-cut stands out of the parties.  Perhaps they merely vote based on the popularity and likability of the individual candidates rather than on the issues.

Philippine House of Representatives
Of the seventeen parties currently holding seats in the Philippine House of Representatives, only one, to the best of my knowledge, officially has gay rights as part of its platform:  Akbayan Citizen's Action Party.  They were actually the party that first filed the anti-discrimination bill back in 1999.  Unfortunately they're also one of the smallest parties, having just two representatives (out of 287) in the current House.

Another party, the Liberal Party of the Philippines (LP), has just one mention of fighting discrimination based on (among other things) sexual orientation, tucked within the long "Social program policy" page of its website.  That's all it says though -- no specifics, no details, no list of bills supported, opposed, or proposed which would aid in the fight against said discrimination.  But that's not uncommon in Philippine politics.  You basically have to guess, because you're more likely to be abducted by aliens than to get a definitive answer from them on LGBT issues (...or divorce, or the reproductive health bill, or abortion...)  But hey, at least they actually mentioned the words "sexual orientation."  That's a lot more than other parties do.  It's a nice first step I suppose.

Monday, November 15, 2010

STDs, AIDS, Anal Cancer, and Half-truths

Since I've received several emails regarding all three of the conditions in the title, I thought it might be a good idea to inject some scientific facts into the matter. There is clearly a lot of misinformation floating around out there – most of it perpetuated by anti-gay evangelical groups – and if there's one thing I hate it's misinformation that contradicts science and demeans a group of people; in this case LGBT people.

Misinformation #1:
State-sanctioned gay relationships could have negative health consequences for a nation, because an increase in STDs and HIV/AIDS is seen in countries where same-sex marriages are legal.

Fact-based response:
European statistics indicate no rise or spike in HIV/AIDS transmissions since the legalization of same-sex unions. In Norway, for example, our HIV rate is less than 0.1%. The rate is the same in Iceland, Finland, and Sweden, while Denmark and the Netherlands' rates stand at 0.2%. Other Western European countries have similarly low rates, except for Italy at 0.5%, which, ironically, is one of the only European countries that does not have same-sex unions yet.  Spain also has a rate of 0.5% while Portugal stands at 0.4%, and in those countries the Catholic Church has traditionally been against safe sex education and condom distribution.  Today, however, the two governments have fortunately decided that public health is more important than trying not to upset the bishops.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Three Cheers for Oz and Mexico!

Labor Party and Green Party members of the state parliament of South Australia have announced that they'll be filing a marriage equality bill soon.  The states of Tasmania and Victoria have recently done the same.  At present, the states of Victoria, New South Wales, and Tasmania have same-sex civil unions, and Canberra, ACT, has civil partnerships.

In all states and territories, same-sex couples have de facto couple status with the federal government, the same as heterosexual cohabiting couples.  As such they receive the benefits of:  joint Social Security and Veterans' entitlements, employment entitlements, superannuation, workers' compensation, joint access to the Medicare Safety Net, hospital visitation, immigration rights, inheritance rights, and the ability to file a joint tax return and gain the same tax rebates as married couples.

Additionally, polls found that a full 62% of Australians now support full marriage equality, and more and more MPs in the national parliament are coming out (no pun intended!) in favor of marriage equality.  Green Party MP Adam Bandt recently delivered this heartfelt speech in the House of Representatives.  Good on ya, Oz!

At the same time, Mexico's House of Representatives has voted to extend Social Security benefits to same-sex couples.  The rule change will provide benefits to both private and government employees and their same-sex spouses/partners.  The Mexican Senate must now vote on the bill.

In August Mexico made headlines when its Supreme Court upheld a law granting marriage equality in Mexico City, and also ruled that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to adopt.  Marriages performed in the Mexican capital must also be recognized in all 31 Mexican states, the court ruled, even if the individual states do not perform the marriage ceremonies.

Viva la igualdad!  (Viva equality!)

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Asia Tip-Toes Toward LGBT Rights

The words "Asia" and "LGBT rights" rarely appear in the same sentence.  Asia is a region that's not as rigidly conservative as Africa, but neither is it as open-minded and progressive as the West.  It is seemingly teetering in between; trying to find its footing on the landscape between personal liberties and age-old traditions.

You'd be forgiven for thinking that gay rights are nothing more than a dream in Asia, but over the last couple of years there have been some gradual moves.  They may not be as dramatic and sweeping as in Europe, but it looks as though Asia may finally be slowly tip-toeing closer to rights for its LGBTs.

Nepal is, surprisingly, the brightest star on the Asian map these days.  This beautiful little Himalayan kingdom-turned-republic is in the process of writing a brand new constitution, and in it will be protections for Nepalese LGBTs against discrimination.  What's more, it will also contain the right to same-sex marriage.  When the new constitution is completed and ratified (by April or May of 2011 they say), Nepal will become the very first country in Asia to have marriage equality.  Now that's a milestone and something to be proud of.

Taiwan is well known as one of Asia's most gay-friendly countries, if not the most gay-friendly.  It is also known as Asia's most liberal land.  Taiwan has two national anti-discrimination laws (one protecting against workplace discrimination and one protecting against discrimination in education), and while they are not as stringent as European anti-discrimination laws, they are progressive pieces of legislation nonetheless.  Taiwan was the first country in Asia to enact such nationwide laws.  Furthermore, the Taiwanese Education Ministry has announced that starting in 2011 school textbooks will include topics on LGBT human rights and non-discrimination.

In 2003 the then-ruling Democratic Progressive Party proposed legislation to legalize same-sex marriage in the country, but it has yet to be taken up due to political party wranglings.  It is still stalled and likely will continue to be because the current ruling party, the centre-right KMT, are less likely to bring it up for debate.  The large and active LGBT community in Taiwan continues to lobby for it, however, and polls show that many Taiwanese are favorable toward the idea.  A 2006 poll showed that 75% of Taiwanese feel that same-sex relations are acceptable.  This was, however, a general question regarding "relations," not same-sex marriages specifically.

Japan is an enigma to me.  I've been to Japan and I think it's an awesome place with very friendly and cutting edge people.  But like other Asian countries, Japan approaches the issue of LGBT rights timidly, cautiously.  It's a country that doesn't mind if its citizens marry video game avatars, but at the same time "isn't ready" to allow same-sex human couples the right to wed.  I mean no disrespect to my Japanese friends, but that's just weird.  Come on, Japanese government... What's going on in the Land of the Rising Sun?  Robots and video game characters can tie the knot before human beings??  Japan is unique, I'll give them that much.

Japan is a curiosity to me because it's wealthy, prosperous and economically liberal, but fairly socially conservative.  This has to do with ancient traditions more than anything, but over the past decade the ice has started to crack.  The country has taken two significant legal steps toward equality recently, including a law passed unanimously by the Diet which allows Japanese transsexuals who have undergone GCS, or gender confirming surgery, to change their gender on all documents.  

Additionally, in 2009 the Justice Ministry announced it would begin honoring the marriage certificates of Japanese citizens who have married a foreign same-sex spouse if the marriage took place in a country where same-sex marriage is legal.  If the couple choose to reside in Japan, the Japanese government will recognize their marriage and bestow the same rights and benefits as in opposite-sex marriage.  This is seen as a huge move toward equality, and most see it as a step towards eventual marriage equality in Japan.  Furthermore, it seems to me that the people of Japan are far more receptive to the notion of same-sex marriage than their government officials are.  This isn't particularly unique -- such is the case in many nations.  Public opinion often evolves faster than governments are willing to change.  The vast majority of Japanese people that you talk to about marriage equality are entirely supportive of the idea.

Japan and Nepal were the only Asian countries to sign the UN Declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, which condemns violence, harassment, discrimination, exclusion, stigmatization, and prejudice based on sexual orientation and gender identity.  It also condemns the deprivation of social and cultural rights based on those grounds.  The other Asian nations did not sign because they feared it was "an attempt to legitimize same-sex civil partnerships or marriage."

Singapore isn't known for being a friend of LGBT rights.  This is another country that makes me scratch my head.  I often wonder how a country so advanced and seemingly sophisticated can remain stuck in the Victorian era when it comes to marriage and sexuality.  Male homosexuality is actually illegal in the city-state, though the law hasn't been enforced for years.

That Singapore society typically frowns on homosexuality shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, however, when one considers its three dominant faiths:  conservative Confucianism (among the Chinese-Singaporeans), conservative Hinduism (among the Indian-Singaporeans), and conservative Islam (among the Malay-Singaporeans).

Not all hope is lost, however.  Recently the laws were amended to allow transsexual Singaporeans the right to legally change their gender on official documents.  Those who have undergone full GCS are also allowed to enter into marriage.  This one even surprised me, and it's a sign that Singapore, like other Asian countries, is perhaps starting to see some value in fairness.  It's anyone's guess as to how long it will take for the anti-homosexuality law to be repealed, let alone for same-sex relationships to be legally recognized.  When I've asked Singaporeans about this they simply roll their eyes and say "Maybe by the year 2200."  As such the government of Singapore remains extremely homophobic.

South Korea, like Japan, is also fairly socially conservative.  Baby steps for equality have been made in recent years, however, and Article 31 of the Korean Human Rights Committee Law states that "no individual is to be discriminated against on the basis of his or her sexual orientation."  In the military, though, servicemen and women are expected not to reveal their sexual orientation or carry out relationships with someone of the same sex.  In 2009 this code was found to be discriminatory by a military court.  It was appealed to the Supreme Constitutional Court.  On October 27, 2010, the Human Rights Committee weighed in, finding the code unconsitutional.  Now we await the ruling from the Supreme Court.

Transsexual South Koreans are able to undergo GCS in their country, and since 2006, to change their gender on all legal documents.

The Democratic Labour Party is actively involved in fighting for LGBT rights in Korea, including marriage equality as part of their party platform.  They are the country's third largest party.  South Korea's current president, however, Lee Myung-bak of the right-wing Grand National Party, is opposed to marriage equality.  But there is no doubt that education and awareness on LGBT issues is growing among South Koreans, and things can only get better from here!

South Korea has yet to sign the UN Declaration on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity, reportedly due to opposition posed by right-wing Christian groups in the country.  South Korean delegates have, however, voted in favor of gay rights in the UN General Assembly.  Nepalese and Japanese delegates are the only other Asian delegates who have also voted in favor of gay rights.  (Though Taiwan is also supportive it is not part of the UN due to its official standing as still being part of China.)

Straight soldiers for civil rights

Though LGBT discrimination still exists in most parts of Asia, there is certainly reason to be optimistic.   Even in communist China more and more are showing support for LGBT rights, especially among the younger generation.   A 2000 survey showed that over 48% of mainland Chinese view homosexuals favorably, and a same-sex marriage bill was even proposed (though dismissed) in 2007.  In 2010 there was also a picture campaign featuring straight Chinese holding signs of support for LGBT rights, and the willing participants numbered in the thousands -- including many Buddhist monks.

Asia is rising and progressing, and hopefully the rights and dignity of all Asians will rise and progress at an equally impressive rate.  It may take time, but the momentum will continue to build by changing hearts and minds, one at a time if needs be.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Thumbs-up for Pink and Perry

American singers Pink and Katy Perry both have new songs out with pro-equality messages.  To top it off, the videos further promote the message.  Pink's video, Raise Your Glass, features a same-sex wedding complete with the newlyweds kissing at their reception, and Katy Perry's Firework also features a guy-guy kiss.

These are great songs with a great message, and I applaud both Pink and Katy Perry for boldly taking a stand to promote equality.  The question remains whether these video will be shown in their entirety on TV in the Philippines, or whether the MTRCB will panic at the sight of two men's lips touching and, in order to prevent the sky from falling, decide to censor it...

If that's the case, you can at least see Firework right here:

Update:  January 2011
I travel back and forth between Norway and the Philippines quite a lot, and I was home in Norway for the holidays.  Low and behold, I happened to see this video on Norwegian TV while I was there, and it was shown in its entirety (including the kiss).  Then I came back to the Philippines and caught the video on MYX Philippines (kind of the Filipino MTV), and surprise surprise, the kiss was censored out.  How sad.  I don't know why the Philippines is so afraid of everything.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Demand an End to Bullying

Anti-gay bullying has always been a huge problem in many schools around the globe.  Now the issue is getting headline coverage and attention due to several gay teenagers in the U.S. who have committed suicide because they were being continually harassed and bullied by classmates.  Nowadays the bullying doesn't end when a child leaves the school grounds, it follows them home through text messaging and online social media.

This is disgraceful and disgusting and we must demand an end to verbal and physical harassment.  That means parental involvement, putting pressure on school administrators to teach tolerance and acceptance.  Children must be taught that words such as "fag" and "queer" are demeaning and hurtful, and calling a gay person those words is just as unacceptable as calling a black person the "n" word.  It means kids who aren't being bullied, but who see or hear other kids getting bullied, must report the behavior to their teachers, and teachers must take swift action.  It means kids who are being bullied or harassed must not simply accept it.  It means not approving of and laughing along with our peers when demeaning jokes are told about gays and lesbians.

In the Philippines specifically, it means that public officials must be held accountable for the bigoted and unacceptable statements they make, such as the incredibly shameful COMELEC's 2009 statement that homosexuals are "immoral," "unseemly," "transgressive," and a "threat to the youth."  Or congressman Bienvenido Abante's many deplorable anti-gay statements.  Or the crass comments made by the MTRCB's Marissa LaGuardia.  When such public statements of intolerance and ignorance are made, and then allowed to stand without reprimand, it sends a message to the youth and the nation as a whole that it's okay to be prejudiced against gays and lesbians; that it's okay to chastise and mock them.

Such statements aren't just ignorant, they're also dangerous.  They give a tacit stamp of approval for bigotry, hate speech, and hate crimes, as well as imply that there is shame in being gay or lesbian.

Stopping intolerance and bullying means we all have to do our part -- gay, straight, bi, and trans alike.  It's no longer acceptable to simply say "well bullying happens... it's normal... kids will be kids... boys will be boys."  No.  Tormenting others simply because of the way they were born is absolutely unacceptable.

It will take everyone to help stamp out this disgraceful behavior, but especially the heterosexual community.  Let's all do our part to ensure the safety and dignity of all persons, from the schoolyard to the backyard.

As U.S. first lady Michelle Obama said, "Kids will follow our lead.  They will follow our example, but we've got to set it."

For more information, you can visit "Stop Bullying Now"

Friday, October 15, 2010

How to avoid catching "the gay"

Talk about confusing.  I recently got my hands on a mini-booklet put out by the Focus on the Family organization.  As some of you may know, Focus on the Family is an American Christian conservative group which is very anti-gay and anti-abortion.  They also have a program called Love Won Out, which aims to turn homosexuals into heterosexuals through prayer and varying degrees of exorcism.

So within their information they have a handy little list to help youngsters avoid catching the germs that make people gay, written by an out-of-touch-with-reality man named Don Schmierer.  The list gives things that cause homosexuality, or so they believe.  It goes like this:

1.  The individual's self-will
2.  Looking at pornography
3.  Seeing gayness portrayed in the media and culture
4.  Having been molested
5.  Having parents who are adulterous
6.  Being seduced to do gay things by friends
7.  A failure in parenting or church leadership

Nice.  So if this were true, 100% of people should be gay.  Of course the list wasn't subjected to scientific scrutiny, and pretty much only includes things that Mr. Schmierer seems to frown on personally.

The Focus on the Family list goes on to include:

1.  Same-sex experimentation
2.  Negative spiritual influences
3.  Personality temperament
4.  Negative body image
5.  Public education
6.  Fear of or inability to relate to members of the opposite sex

Most of them are just nutty.  Personality temperament?  Which temperament?  Being too happy?  Too melancholy?  A temperament that likes watching too many episodes of Glee?  And public education...  Seriously, public education?  Again, the majority of people should be gay if this were true. 

That last one is the most interesting, however, because the organization contradicts what it has said in other publications.  In other statements they say that in their youth homosexuals feel more comfortable with, more secure with, and are better at relating to members of the opposite sex.  But in the list above they state the opposite:  that a fear of, or an inability to relate to the opposite sex can lead to homosexuality.

So, as a biologist I'm just wondering:  if being able to relate to the opposite sex can lead to homosexuality, and not being able to relate to the opposite sex can lead to homosexuality, then how does anyone become heterosexual??

At the end of the booklet they state:  "As this booklet has made clear, no one cause for homosexuality can be pinpointed."  Right.  It's really not too surprising that they come to that conclusion since they ignore biological factors.  Geniuses.

My all time favorite "cause" of homosexuality came from a wacky ├╝ber conservative website called WorldNetDaily a couple of years ago.  They proposed that soy is the reason kids go gay.  Yes you read that right.  Soy, as in soy milk, tofu, anything with soy in it.  Some people are so obsessed with homosexuality that they're willing to blame anything for it.  If it's not the devil it must be the demon-possessed bean called soy.  They may blame everything under the sun, but of course they always avoid mentioning genetics because that would prove them wrong.  That's the convenience of paranoia.

If you'd like to take a look at some supposed cures for homosexuality espoused by Pro-Life Philippines and cleverly adapted by a Filipino blogger, click here.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Pro-Equality Companies

These companies are great places to spend your money.  Not only are they proudly supportive of LGBT rights, including marriage equality, but they also put their money where their mouth is by donating millions of dollars to pro-equality campaigns and issues.  If you're going to spend that hard-earned cash, these are great places to do it: 

1)  Levi's
Very active in political activism and public calls for LGBT equality, Levi's even ties pro-marriage equality white ribbons to the mannequins in their U.S. stores.  Levi's was also the first Fortune 500 company to offer benefits for same-sex partners of their employees. 

2)  Nike
Nike isn't afraid to go on record in support of marriage equality, and the company has donated big money to help achieve it.  Nike also offers equal benefits to all its employees -- whether they're straight or gay. 

3)  Microsoft
They have pumped some seriously big-time cash into pro-marriage equality campaigns, as well as to help defeat discriminatory state laws in the U.S.  Chairman Bill Gates (the world's richest man), and Microsoft CEO Stephen Ballmer, have also showed support on their own by personally donating their own money to equality campaigns.  Microsoft also gives benefits for their employees' same-sex partners. 

4)  American Airlines
Very active in the fight for same-sex marriage rights, AA also treats all its employees equally when it comes to benefits and everything else. 

5)  Apple
Apple has given major money to pro-equality campaigns, including the fight against Prop 8 in California, and gives its employees in same-sex relationships the same benefits as the ones in opposite-sex relationships.  So all of you who use the iPhone, iPod, iMac and iPad, in addition to getting a great product you're also helping support equality! 

6)  Google
Google has always been a major player on the equality front.  Proudly celebrating diversity, giving full health benefits to partners of all employees, and contributing big checks with lots of zeros on them to fight against inequality, Google's about as fiercely pro-LGBT as you can get.  The founders of Google have also donated hundreds of thousands of their own personal dollars toward equality. 

7)  Starbucks Coffee
The Seattle-based coffee giant frequently features pro-LGBT messages in their shops and on their products, extends equal benefits to partners of employees, and have always been publicly supportive of equal rights for the LGBT community. 

8)  Ford, Volvo, Volkswagen, BMW, and Mercedes
These auto titans have each been very supportive of equal rights for LGBTs around the globe. 

9)  The Coca Cola Company and Pepsi Cola Company
Both of the world's biggest beverage companies are well known for being supportive of LGBT rights, and both received perfect scores for equality from the Human Rights Campaign in the U.S.  This one makes me smile because essentially the whole world loves softdrinks, and 95% of all softdrinks sold worldwide (from Sprite to Mountain Dew) are made by either Coke or Pepsi.  So even when anti-gay people buy these products they're unwittingly supporting LGBT rights! 

10)  Scandinavian Airlines
SAS is a staunch public supporter of LGBT rights in every way.  The company, which is jointly owned by the governments of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, is well known for having the world's first same-sex marriage performed at 30,000 feet on a flight from New York City to Stockholm. 

11)  Johnson & Johnson
The maker of a wide range of personal hygiene products sold the world over.  They're also very pro-LGBT rights and marriage equality, and have donated cash to further those rights.

Also noted for their full support of equality are the following companies, which also grant health benefits equally to partners/spouses of same-sex couples: 

The Walt Disney Company




MasterCard, Visa, and American Express



Coors Beer, and Anheuser-Busch (maker of Budweiser)

GlaxoSmithKline, Merck, Novartis, and Pfizer (pharmaceutical companies) 

The Shell and Chevron oil companies


Marriott Hotels International


Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Reproductive Health Bill Headache

A more recent post discussing RH (and abortion) in the PH can be read by clicking here.

Apparently for the past few years there has been a lot of hubbub in the Philippines over a proposed Reproductive Health Bill.  As a non-Filipino I never really gave it much thought, until it was brought to my attention in an email I received from a concerned man who is worried that gay rights will lead to legalised abortion via the passage of what he called the "liberal reproductive health law."  His premise was that same-sex marriage causes numerous societal problems, listing drug legalisation and abortion as examples.  He also cited Norway as an example of a country where both abortion and drugs are legal because of same-sex unions.

Honestly the argument he makes is confusing.  First, there is no evidence from any country that legalizing same-sex marriage leads to drug legalisation or other social problems.  Second, drugs are actually not legal in Norway.  He may be confusing Norway with the Netherlands, a country to the south of Scandinavia, where personal use of marijuana is legal but other drugs are not.

As far as abortion goes, it has been legal in Norway since 1979 (and in the Netherlands since 1981) -- 22 and 29 years, respectively, before same-sex marriage became legal in the two countries.  The two have no bearing upon each other; same-sex marriage did not cause abortion legalisation, nor has it caused an increase in abortion rates.

This brings us to the Philippines' controversial Reproductive Health Bill: House Bill No. 03.  Based on a reading of the full text of the bill, it seeks to promote information on and access to both natural and modern family planning methods that are medically safe and legally permissible.  It seeks to ensure an environment where both women and couples have the freedom of informed choice as to which type of family planning they choose to use, according to their needs, personal convictions, and religious beliefs.  That's the extent.

This is what all the fuss is about?  This is what is deemed as a scary, liberal, "D.E.A.T.H." (pro-death, euthanasia, abortion, two-child policy, homosexuality) bill?  Really?? 

What's strange is that some people say Europe is evil because we have abortion.  But you don't have to investigate very deeply to discover that Western European abortion rates are actually the lowest in the world.   In the Netherlands, there are nine abortions per every one-thousand pregnancies. In Norway there are roughly fifteen abortions per one-thousand pregnancies.  But did you know that the abortion rate in the Philippines is averaged at twenty-seven per every one-thousand pregnancies?  Abortion is illegal in the Philippines, yet its abortion rate exceeds even that of the United States (23:1,000).

In Norway the parliament passed a reproductive health bill of its own last year. Well it actually wasn't a new bill, it was more of an upgrade.  We've already had very liberal reproductive health policies since the 1960s.  The new Act is an initiative to cut the abortion rate in half by 2013, by making birth control pills absolutely free to girls aged 16 to 20.  The law now states that it is every young woman's reproductive health right to have access to a free supply of birth control pills, paid for by the government.

A study conducted in two Norwegian cities in 2008 showed that providing women aged 20-24 with free birth control (the pill, injection, patches, spirals, and vaginal rings) cut the abortion rate in those cities in half.  The government was so impressed that it drafted a new bill to subsidise the cost of hormonal contraceptives, with the aim of halving the national abortion rate.  The bill had wide support from all political parties and became law on the 1st of January, 2011.

I'm quite surprised that some Filipinos, including the man who emailed me, think House Bill 5043 is "liberal" and "wicked."  It looks like a very conservative and cautious bill to me.  I understand full well that the Catholic Church doesn't like the bill, and I know that H.E. Archbishop Oscar Cruz says it will "lead to the implementation of an immoral policy."  If they honestly believe that, they are within their right to say so, but I for one cannot see how giving Filipinos the basic option to decide family planning matters on their own is either liberal, wicked, or immoral.  The Filipino people are not children, and they should not be treated as such.

Of course there are other "grave concerns" surrounding the bill, including the much-feared implementation of sex education in the schools.  This seems to be the boogeyman under the bed for many conservatives.  I suppose the status quo of teenagers swapping STDs and getting pregnant is the best way to go? 

I know that if you already don't like Norway, this next bit of information will really seal the deal.  Not only do we have comprehensive sex education in the schools, but students are able to get free condoms from the school nurse anytime.  Birth control pills for girls are also available for free from school nurses, starting at age 16.  Condoms and pills are also available for free from government-run Youth Health Centres which can be found in every community.  What's more, teenagers can order condoms online for free and have them delivered to their home two days later (up to 20 condoms at a time), paid for by the Norwegian Health Department.  Imagine that ever happening in the Philippines.

But in all seriousness, there are very big differences (obviously) between the policies of our two countries. Nordic governments tend to base their policies on research rather than religion, and provide extensive public education programs using a wide range of media. The end results speak for themselves: lower teen pregnancy rates, lower STD infection rates, lower abortion rates.  Teenage abstinence-only education doesn't do that, by the way; proper sex education and access to contraceptives does.

If the goal is to protect the health, dignity, and well-being of the people, then it is high time to use methods that show results. Hopefully for the Philippines, the Reproductive Health Bill will pass, and soon.  And if it does it will at least be a step in the right direction.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

And Argentina makes 10

Congratulations, Argentina!

Just past 4 a.m. Buenos Aires time on July 15th, 2010, the Argentine Senate voted to approve a bill legalizing same-sex marriage in the country.  On July 22nd, President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner signed the bill into law.

The new law grants same-sex couples the same rights and benefits as opposite-sex couples, including adoption and inheritance rights.  It makes Argentina the first South American nation to grant full marriage equality to all citizens; a true progressive step for the 91% Catholic country.  Argentina joins nine other countries around the world that currently have full marriage equality.

Next up for marriage equality: Luxembourg perhaps?  The government of this European nation announced July 15th that they are moving forward with crafting legislation to provide same-sex couples with marriage and adoption rights.  Luxembourg has had same-sex civil unions since 2004, but it looks like full marriage equality is on the way.

And the Finns may not be far behind.  The government of Finland is also calling for marriage equality.  Latest polls show that Finns overwhemingly support same-sex marriage, and Finland's Justice Minister Tuija Brax says that "it is essential that everyone be treated equally before the law, regardless of sexual orientation." 
Four of the five major parties in the Finnish legislature agree, and following the legislative cycle a new gender-neutral marriage bill could be voted on as early as 2011.  Finland has had a civil union law since 2001.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Brief Comparison

Anti-discrimination law
In the Philippines: No
In Norway: Yes 

Anti-hate speech law
In the Philippines: No
In Norway: Yes 

Same-sex civil unions or marriage
In the Philippines: No
In Norway: Yes (civil unions from 1993-12/31/2008; marriage equality since 1/1/2009) 

Adoption for same-sex couples
In the Philippines: No
In Norway: Yes 

Immigration rights for same-sex couples
In the Philippines: No
In Norway: Yes 

Artificial insemination available for lesbian couples
In the Philippines: No
In Norway: Yes (the government even pays for it)

Representation of same-sex couples in advertising and on TV
In the Philippines:  No
In Norway:  Yes

Other areas of contrast:
  • Abortion:  Legal in Norway, illegal in the Philippines
  • Divorce:  Legal in Norway, illegal in the Philippines
  • Free contraceptives in schools:  In Norway yes, in the Philippines no
  • Corporal punishment (e.g. spanking):  Legal in the Philippines, illegal in Norway
  • Scientifically-accurate information on sexuality/sexual orientation taught in schools:  In Norway yes, in the Philippines no

I am not listing these facts in order to gloat about Norway, but simply to show the stark contrasts between the two countries.  It may also help explain why it has been such a culture/society shock for me as a very liberal Norwegian being in a very conservative place like the Philippines.

The Philippines is a beautiful country with beautiful and hospitable people whom I respect very much, so this is not any kind of Philippines-bashing I assure you.  I'm merely stating the facts of the matter as they stand today on the issue of LGBT rights.

Personally, Filipino conservativeness is a culture shock for me, but I understand entirely that culture shock goes both ways.  Filipinos and other Asians who have been in Scandinavia experience the shock as well, just in the opposite direction.

BigBroNorway: These two have a bedsheet over them... most don't!
I remember when a Filipina housemate of the Pinoy Big Brother TV show did a housemate exchange and went to the Big Brother Finland house.  She was shocked that the house was so sexually open and “free.”  She said her head was spinning because she had seen two housemates having sex...and the two had only just met about five hours before that.  She also saw two guys in the house having sex, which really set her mind spinning.  And then of course on Scandinavian TV we show it all, no holds barred!  (We don't censor language, nudity, or sex on TV.)  The picture shown here, by the way, is the most G-rated example I could give from Big Brother Norway!

So of course going from the more wholesome Pinoy Big Brother house to a much more liberated Big Brother house in Scandinavia left that Filipina in a state of culture shock.  I recall one of the housemate's comments about her: “What's her deal? --- is she a nun in training?'”   There was a similar culture shock experienced when a Big Brother Thailand contestant came to the Big Brother Norway/Sweden house.  He was wide-eyed most of his time there. ;-)

In the Philippines, by contrast, the MTRCB (the Philippine censoring board) issued a warning to Pinoy Big Brother because the housemates were merely talking about contraceptives and were kissing.  Oh no!  Talking and kissing!  Those heathens!  Yes the MTRCB thought that was too provocative for TV.  What?!  (Take a look at the letter; it's pretty hilarious!)  They actually even suspended the show for one week...for a kissing scene and a bikini!  Wow, our two countries are really polar opposites in so many ways.

Exposure to other cultures and ways is a good thing though, so no harm no foul.  I'm not saying that being sexually “loose” is either good or bad; that's for each person to decide for themselves.  Some cultures are open, some are not, and it is what it is.  Live and let live I say.

Okay, "Bigmanoncampus91" asked for it so here you are:  a segment from one of the episodes of a TV show called Paradise Hotel Scandinavia, a popular reality show similar to Big Brother.  This is not a special web version -- this is a clip from regular prime-time TV.  If you didn't believe me that our TV is much more "liberated" in Scandinavia, now you will.  I think the MTRCB would have a heart attack if they saw this!

See also:  Philippine Status Quo

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Comment policy

Anyone is free to comment on this site.  I only ask that two simple guidelines be followed:

1)  Please be decent and respectful in the words you use.  Even if there may be disagreements, there is no need to name-call or be disrespectful to others or their beliefs.

2)  Please post all comments in English.  This makes it inclusive for everyone, regardless of what country they may be from. 

Thank you!  Mange takk!  Maraming salamat po!

Friday, June 18, 2010


Homosexuality is a hot-button issue to say the least. Not many issues are able to create as many sparks and fiery debates as this one.  Many countries around the world are moving ever forward, increasingly granting more and more rights and protections to gays and lesbians. Others are not.

As a Norwegian living in the Philippines, I happen to be caught between the two. I come from Norway, a very progressive country in Europe, and I now find myself in the Philippines, a very conservative country in Southeast Asia. The contrasts are overwhelming at times. My own country is cold, the Philippines is hot; Norway is developed, the Philippines is developing; Norway has a small population, the Philippines' population is quite large; Norway is a secular society, the Philippines is still highly religious in the home, the school, and even the halls of government.

The contrast in the two countries' laws is immense as well. While Norway has very liberal laws regarding, for example, divorce, abortion, and gay rights and same-sex marriage, the Philippines is a stronghold of conservatism, a place where both divorce and abortion are illegal, and where gay rights are still seen as something "foreign." Having been raised in an open, liberal society, the way things are in the Philippines can be admittedly frustrating.

I personally am heterosexual, but I have a cousin who is gay. He recently married his partner and they have since adopted a baby. Perhaps the fact that I have a gay family member has spurred a desire in me to see that he is entitled to all the same rights under the law. Perhaps the fact that I am from a staunchly egalitarian society plays a role as well. Perhaps the fact that I am also a biologist has something to do with why I am writing this blog. As a man of science, accurate information based on facts are of great importance to me. The amount of misinformation on homosexuality floating around the planet has stirred the disdain of myths and inequality that I have inside me.

I have often heard said to gay and lesbian people, "Oh you're gay?...well, there's a cure for that." Being that most people who say that are religious conservatives, the assumption is that they mean you can "pray the gay away." Cute but incredibly naiive when viewed through the lens of modern science.

Biology, which is my field of expertise, together with neurology, embryology, and genetics, are on the front lines of this issue.  While theologians and armchair moralists quibble over doctrines and Hebrew Old Testament verses, we in science are afforded to work with powerful "little" things called facts.  And while doctrines are open to interpretation and verses written in ancient languages must be scrutinized ad nauseum in light of historical, cultural and linguistic contexts, scientific facts are purely scientific facts.  One cannot ponder them into obscurity if one doesn't like what they show evidence of.  They are facts, not opinions, and by their very nature they are concrete.  

This blog's posts and pages will explore those facts, which each day grow more and more numerous and convincing.  The data and peer-reviewed research from all corners of the globe are showing one thing:  a homosexual orientation is no more of a choice than a heterosexual orientation.  Again, this has nothing to do with opinions, feelings, doctrines, or beliefs.  The scientific evidence speaks perfectly well enough for itself.

For those who believe "there's a cure for that," this blog is for you: to shed light, facts, and broaden understandings. It is also for the many gays and lesbians who daily struggle in the face of prejudice, discrimination, and bigotry at the hands of people who just don't know any better. It is to let you know that there are many straight people - including many straight Christians - who are not against you, but who stand with you and fight for you. It is to let you know that you are not strange, disordered, deviant, or abnormal. That is why I'm writting this blog: to say to people who push a "cure," that knowledge is actually the best cure.

If you're misinformed, confused, unsure, ignorant of the facts on the matter, unaware of what modern science has to say, well...there's a cure for that.


It is important of course to remember that the Philippines is a very socially conservative country -- a place where divorce is not yet even legal. The powers that be, and always have been, are deeply religious. Though they may be sincere they are often sincerely wrong, and more and more frequently they find themselves on the opposing side of modern scientific findings.

I read a newspaper opinion piece written by an outspoken Filipino Catholic priest, in which he asserted that the Philippines is "the last bastion of family and life in the world." Though slightly misguided, this priest, and throngs of other like-minded religious conservatives, wholeheartedly believe that to be true; and they are willing to resist tooth and nail any agenda they believe may alter the status quo.

They are the very embodiment of conservatism: defend and uphold the thoughts and ways of old, and resist change at any cost. It would be admirable if only it weren't so narrow and impractical, for to do so requires one to either deny or altogether ignore scientific facts. Many place their beliefs above everything else, ignoring all evidence that contradicts them. It has been said that one should not have to surrender one's mind in order to be a faithful believer. I couldn't agree more.

But I must take caution not to become the very thing I take a stand against: intolerant. I have neither disrepect nor disdain for Catholics or any religious person. I myself am a Christian, and my faith is an important part of my life. Religious conservatives have just as much a right to voice their opinions in good conscience as anyone else, and I am not nor have I ever been intolerant of those views.

The issue for me arises in the way those views are often voiced and propagated, that being to the exclusion of all others. Furthermore, many religious conservatives have a desire to take their private beliefs and transfer them upon everyone else through legislation or the ballot box. This is where I take issue.

It is one thing to believe in and follow the teachings and edicts of one's faith in one's own life; it is another thing altogether to insist that your neighbor must also live their life according to your beliefs. Such an attitude is both irresponsible and damaging, and has no place in a modern, pluralistic democracy. We went down that path in Europe in the middle ages and the end result brought nothing but oppression, disunity, and eventually blood-shed. Please learn from our mistakes.

Speaking of ballot box morality, I am reminded of the Proposition 8 fiasco that took place in California in 2008. The Supreme Court of California had found it unconstitutional for the state to deny same-sex couples the right to marry, and social conservatives thought the sky was surely falling. Then, in November of that year, a California-wide initiative was placed on the general election ballot: it was called Proposition 8, and the intent was to allow Californians to vote on whether or not same-sex couples should be barred from marrying under state law. The measure passed by a margin of 52-48%, and gay Californians saw a constitutional right stripped away from them in an instant.

When news of this broke, I was practically sick to my stomach. I was home in Norway at the time, and when my family, friends, and colleagues discussed the matter we were all utterly disgusted by it. We weren't entirely shocked that the measure passed - after all, America has its fair share of social conservatives that's for sure. What was really shocking to me and most other Norwegians (indeed many Europeans overall), was that Prop. 8 made it on the ballot in the first place.

Imagine, citizens in a democratic nation going to the voting booth to decide the civil rights of their fellow citizens! It literally boggled my brain. It would be a tropical day in Norway before anything like that would happen there. That's almost offensive to even imagine. It's equivalent to asking people to vote on whether or not interracial couples should be "allowed" to marry, or whether Asians should be allowed to move into "white neighborhoods."

I think it will go down as one of the great social injustices of our time, but hopefully it will be found unconstitutional before too much longer.

Oscar Wilde put it well: "Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live; it is asking others to live as one wishes to live."

UPDATE ~ August 4, 2010:  a 9th Circuit US Federal Judge ruled that Prop 8 violates the US Constitution and is therefore unconstitutional and overturned.  The matter will most likely go to the US Supreme Court after a ruling on appeal by the 9th Circuit Appeals Court, which is scheduled to begin December 6th, 2010.  It looks as though America is finally edging ever closer (slowly) to nationwide marriage equality, and it seems the days of discrimination against gay and lesbian Americans are numbered.