The death of our dear transgender sister Jennifer Laude of Olangapo City at the hands of suspect American serviceman Joseph Scott Pemberton moved us because Jennifer belongs to an already marginalized group, aptly called sexual minority or community – or those persons with different sexual orientation, gender identity and expression – commonly known as lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBT).
Just recently, the LGBT community is internationally protected by the UN Human Rights Council, including the Philippines, when it voted to support LGBT rights. The UN Human Rights Council has taken a fundamental step forward by reaffirming one of the United Nations’ key principles – that everyone is equal in dignity and rights, said Jessica Stern, executive director of the International Gay and Lesbians Human Rights Council.
In 2007, the Yogyakarta Principles on the Application of International Human Rights Law in Relation to Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity were released by a group of 29 international human rights experts.
In a press release, it said, “The Principles affirm binding legal standards with which all States must comply. They were adopted by a group of distinguished experts in international law following a meeting in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Among the group of experts are a former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN independent experts, current and former members of human rights treaty bodies, judges, academics and human rights defenders.”
In the Philippines, only a handful of cities, namely Cebu, Davao, Quezon, and San Fernando in Pampanga, passed an ordinance protecting the rights of LGBTs. In theory, the passage provides a ‘blanket’ protection, punishing the culprits which violate such rights. An assessment has to be made as to the degree of its implementation, if it is implemented at all.
But the case of Jennifer Laude is different, unique, and troublesome, because it is not just between a man and a transgender woman; it also involves the Philippines and the United States bonded by an unjust and unequal Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) in favor of the latter. Here comes the rub: Pemberton is an American serviceman protected under the auspices of VFA.
The unjustness of such military agreement was exemplified by the notorious Daniel Smith case – whitewashed and forgotten. In 2007 Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, a US serviceman was acquitted by the Court of Appeals (CA) of raping “Nicole,” a teenage Filipina.
On the other hand, we can very well argue to understand the uniqueness of this case by understanding international agreements and conventions supportive of LGBT rights since all of these are well articulated on an international level. Applying it to the Philippine context with our own culture and tradition in relation to our acceptance and tolerance to the practices of gay community is a challenging and daunting task ahead of us.
Nevertheless, regardless of who Jennifer is, a crime is a crime, and we don’t want another “Daniel Smith.”