Who gets to use public toilets?

"At the root of the incident is the issue of gender identity, and how public spaces accommodate the needs of people of diverse sexual orientations."

Gretchen Diez, by virtue of being dragged away from the ladies’ room by security guards at the Farmers Plaza mall in Cubao, Quezon City, singlehandly propelled the current discourse on transpeople rights in public spaces.

Diez had the presence of mind to livestream video of Tuesday night’s incident on her Facebook account. The footage clearly shows a female, later identified as Chayra Ganal, a janitress working at the mall, hitting Diez and her cellphone.

Bataan representative Geraldine Roman, who is also a transwoman, immediately proceeded to the police station where Diez was held and negotiated for her release. Rep. Risa Hontiveros, well-known for her advocacy for women’s and LGBTQ rights, sent one of her lawyers to assist.

The mall authorities initially pressed a charge of undue vexation against Diez for taking video of the incident. Diez was handcuffed at Quezon City Police District Station 7 in Cubao, then later taken to the Anti-Cybercrime Division after police confusion on how the case should be handled.  

The mall later dropped the charge and Ganal wrote an apology letter for her actions during the confrontation. Diez was released and as of presstime says she intends to take legal action against the mall.

Araneta Center, where Farmers Plaza Mall is located, is being roundly criticized by netizens for their “rainbow capitalism.” Araneta Center has crosswalks painted in rainbow stripes, in reference to the LGBTQ community’s rainbow-colored flag, and held several Pride-themed events in June. Netizens are questioning why mall authorities did not provide proper education about LGBTQ rights to their personnel.

At the root of the incident is the issue of gender identity, and how public spaces accommodate the needs of people of diverse sexual orientations.

Diez, who identifies as a woman, believes that as such she is entitled to use the women’s restroom. She does not feel safe in a men’s restroom, where she runs the risk of bullying or aggression for her gender identity and expression.

Ganal believed Diez, who is biologically male, should use the men’s toilet. Thus she insisted she was only doing her job when she prevented Diez from entering the women’s restroom. However, it is unacceptable that she assaulted Diez, slapping her multiple times and insulting her, clearly reflecting Ganal’s personal prejudices against transwomen.

Transpeople identify as the gender opposite to that they were biologically born with. Though born male, Diez identifies as female, feels female, and presents (projects a physical appearance) as a female. Per LGBTQ rights accepted in many places worldwide, Diez should be able to use the restroom she wants to, the one where she feels comfortable in.

Some have pointed out that biological males in women’s spaces, no matter how they present themselves outwardly, still pose a threat to women’s safety. This is a controversial topic abroad, where some men pose as trans in order to gain access to women, leading to incidents of harassment, aggression, and violence.

The argument has also extended to beauty pageants—last year, transwoman Angela Ponce was crowned Miss Spain—and certain sports where transwomen often defeat biological women, leading to complaints from the latter and from women’s organizations.

On the other hand, why would one assume that a person using a restroom is there with a nefarious motive? Why not understand that they just really need to pee?

Others are proposing the designation of ‘third sex’ or ‘neutral’ restrooms. But this option still ‘others’ transpeople and delays their mainstreaming into normal social life.

A study published in the March 2019 issue of the journal Sexuality Research and Social Policy found that “reports of privacy and safety violations in public restrooms, locker rooms, and changing rooms are exceedingly rare….fears of increased safety and privacy violations as a result of nondiscrimination laws are not empirically grounded.”

In other words, the perception that transgender people are a safety risk to cisgender people in public restrooms is wrong. Actually, it is transpeople who are more likely to be verbally or physically assaulted in such instances, as we saw in Diez’s case.

Education is the key here, and it is necessary for those working in public spaces and who are likely to encounter LGBTQ people on a daily basis, in both private and government sectors.

First, about SOGIE—sexual orientation and gender identity and expression—what it all means, and how to support people as they navigate their identity and self-expression.

Second, about assault. The kuyog culture and the enjoyment of schadenfreude must stop. It’s a failing of Filipinos that they beat up on people who are already down.

Third, about the rights of people who are filming incidents in public spaces. This is not illegal. It provides documentation of the event. For this reason, cops abroad wear body cameras.

If the person being filmed—say, a security guard or law enforcer—is doing nothing wrong, then why object to being videotaped? It’s the guilty who complain and claim ‘privacy.’

Fourth, we must renew the value of ‘kapwa.’ Kapwa, the “core construct of Philippine psychology,” as academics would have it, is the shared inner self, and among other traits it valorizes pakikilahok, an act of community in aid of a person; pakikiramdam, perceiving another’s emotions in order to guide one’s interactions with them; and kagandahang-loob, helping someone in need because all are perceived to belong to one encompassing Filipino community.

To sum up, let me quote Depeche Mode from 1984: “So we’re different colours / And we’re different creeds / And different people have different needs

“It’s obvious you hate me / Though I’ve done nothing wrong / I never even met you / So what could I have done

“I can’t understand / What makes a man / Hate another man / Help me understand…” 

 “People are people and why should it be, you and I should get along so awfully”~still Depeche Mode, the same song /FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO

Topics: Gretchen Diez , Depeche Mode , Gender Equality , LGBTQ , Sexuality Research and Social Policy
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