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.