By Brontë H. Lacsamana
With rainbow-themed profile photos and Pride Month events proliferating online, June marks the time of year when the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and/or Questioning (LGBTQ+) movement is in full swing. Businesses big and small are joining the growing number of allies that support the LGBTQ+ community in ways that go beyond rainbow-washing.
When it comes to “solidarity that translates into concrete actions of acceptance and not just tolerance,” there’s still so much more to do, said Raymond “Ronn” A. Astillas, chair of the Philippine LGBT Chamber of Commerce at a recent Pride event organized by Google Philippines.
Making a more diverse and inclusive work environment through adopting non-discrimination policies and promoting equitable benefits remains a big challenge for companies, he added.
Meanwhile, LGBTQ+ individuals themselves have gradually become more visible over the years, looking out for each other and making themselves heard on social media, no matter what month. “We all must commit to and celebrate Pride every day,” Mr. Astillas said, inviting the general public to learn more about the community.
BEACONS OF HOPE
Several LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs shared their stories leading micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic at the same Google Pride event.
“My team and I are always open in discussing LGBTQ+ issues with each other,” said Ann Marie “Amrei” C. Dizon, founder of creative agency Vitalstrats Creative Solutions. Wearing a rainbow bowtie, she shared how accepting differences within the workplace fostered flexibility and adaptability — qualities that enabled her 17-year-old agency pivot to offer digital services that during the pandemic.
Acceptance was also top of mind for Nariese Giangan when she opened Food for the Gays (FFTG) Café with her girlfriend. Located in Quezon City, the café serves as a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community, complete with rainbow flags at the door and a rainbow-colored grilled cheese sandwich on the menu.
“Minsan may nagtatanong, pwede ba mga straight diyan? Of course, pwede. Wala tayong discrimination dito [Sometimes people ask, are straights are allowed there? Of course, yes. We don’t have discrimination here],” she said.
LGBTQ+ businesses can become cultural centers and beacons of hope in their own locales. Alex “Rui” Mariano, owner of the Fairygodbarbie House of Beauty, started her business specifically to help her fellow trans women transition through a one-stop shop for nails, lashes, and facial services.
“Sabi ko sa sarili ko, what if kung mag-business ako and at the same time i-share ko na rin yung mga secrets ko (I told myself, what if I start a business and at the same time share all my beauty secrets)?” said Ms. Mariano, whose online business eventually led to a beauty spa frequented by cis and trans women alike.
Abigail “Abby” Biyo and her girlfriend did something similar with Nirvana Hostel and Restaurant in Siargao. Despite the lockdowns, Ms. Biyo continued selling products such as “paliyema” (palitaw with yema filling) in local markets and ensuring safe protocols in their establishment so they could continue providing job opportunities in the island.
“The pandemic should not stop you,” she said, in an effort to encourage other struggling LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs, “It’s difficult, but it’s important to keep going.”
Companies are becoming more involved in efforts to improve diversity and inclusion in the workplace as well.
“(The private sector) has been using the term diversity and inclusion more often, and we have many firms seeking training on it,” said Nathalie Africa-Verceles, director of the University of the Philippines Center for Women and Gender Studies (UPCWGS), in a recent B-Side podcast. “We used to get a lot of requests from government agencies, schools, universities, but many companies are now becoming interested.”
Snacks company Mondelez Philippines, Inc., for example, held a Pride Month forum to commemorate signing on as a member of Philippine Financial and Inter-Industry Pride (PFIP), a non-profit organization that aims to foster a corporate industry that is safe for the LGBTQ+ community.
“One of our building blocks of a winning growth culture is diversity and inclusion — creating a safe workspace and ensuring we respect personal, cultural, and professional practices,” said Aileen Aumentado, People Lead of Mondelez Philippines, Inc.
Mondelez provides healthcare benefits for domestic partners of all genders and allows primary caregiver and single parent leaves, regardless of birth story. “Our commitment is to treat everyone with care and integrity, and the best way to express that is through allyship,” she added.
According to PFIP, Mondelez Philippines’ efforts are only the beginning of a long journey toward widespread diversity and inclusion.
“We have to institutionalize sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression (SOGIE) education because we have to continuously educate our community members and make it part of our corporate screenings and onboarding,” said PFIP operations strategist Christopher M. Eugenio, “Then it will become part of language and everyday interactions.”
MY PRONOUNS ARE ‘THEY/THEM’
The Philippines, despite having companies like Mondelez taking necessary steps, continues to lack diversity policies, with the LGBTQ+ community being discriminated against and denied benefits that cisgender workers have.
“The most common microaggression in the workplace is not using or promoting the use of preferred names and pronouns, but these usually stem from ignorance,” said Mr. Eugenio, emphasizing the importance of required SOGIE education. He also brought up gendered, binary dress codes limiting LGBTQ+ individuals’ right to dress to their gender expression, and the lack of a bathroom policy limiting the right to access inclusive amenities and facilities.
These concerns and more should be addressed by the Anti-Discrimination Bill or SOGIE Equality Bill, which remains pending in both the House and the Senate to this day.
“We hear examples of discrimination in schools, public transport, restrooms, and the workplace. It’s only legislation that can effectively put a stop to it,” said Ms. Africa-Verceles of the UPCWGS.
PFIP’s Mr. Eugenio challenged corporate allies to do more. “It’s more than just diverse hiring. The next question is, what are you going to do to make us feel safe, welcome, and supported?”
According to “Pride and Prejudice,” a December 2020 report by the Economist Intelligence Unit sponsored by Manulife, Barclays, and Nomura, only 11% of respondents employed at companies across seven Asian economies feel that being openly LGBTQ+ is advantageous to career progression, while 40% think otherwise. Further, 36% of respondents feel that it is easier for LGBTQ+ people to advance professionally if they keep their sexual orientation and gender identity private.