Below is a transcript of the letter submitted by Hender Gercio to the Department of European Languages, College of Arts and Letters, University of the Philippines Diliman. Hender Gercio is our former Punong-Babaylan (President).
Feel free to comment and share your opinions. ANONYMOUS COMMENTS WILL NO LONGER BE PUBLISHED (updated march 3, 2011).
February 7, 2011
TO: Prof. Wystan de la Peña
Department of European Languages
College of Arts and Letters
University of the Philippines Diliman
RE: Incident Report and Request for Action
Please allow me to introduce myself through this letter. I am presently a junior undergraduate student pursing a degree in European languages (with French as specialization) in your Department. I was also part of your EL170 (Techniques of Translation) class during the summer of 2009.
I also identify as transgender, as a transsexual woman to be exact. I was assigned male at birth, but I have undergone gender transition and now live full time as female. Should you require more information to familiarize yourself with these concepts, an FAQ sheet published by the American Psychological Association about transgender individuals and gender identity is attached to this letter.
I would like to seek your assistance in addressing an issue that has come up during my classes with a member of the DEL faculty, Ms. Dominique “Nikki” Del Corro. I am currently her student in French 30-31 (Advanced Spoken French; Tuesdays to Fridays, 2:30-4:00PM) and EL 181 (Directed Language Activities: Practicum; Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11:30AM-1:00PM).
On January 27, 2011, after our EL 181 class, Ms. Del Corro approached me and asked when it would be convenient for me to have a talk with her. I inquired about the purpose of the meeting and she told me not to worry and that it was something related to my subjects French 30-31 and EL 181. We had the discussion on February 2, 2011 after our French 30-31 class.
Ms. Del Corro began by saying that she noticed me correcting my classmates whenever they referred to me using male pronouns (in French: il, lui) or male forms of address (in French: Monsieur). I replied that I identified and socially presented myself as female, and that addressing me as a woman was the appropriate thing to do. She then asked me about my biological sex. I told her that my legal sex (i.e. the sex/gender marker on my legal documents) was male, but I argued that this was irrelevant and ultimately misleading, because my legal sex did not accurately reflect my real-life identity, that of being a transsexual female.
Ms. Del Corro then admitted to me that she did not feel comfortable addressing me as female in class. She said “I am a Christian, and this is against my religious beliefs.” She also told me that she cannot separate being a Christian from who she was as a teacher. She then continued that she believed that homosexuality was a sin, and it was due to this reason that she cannot allow herself to accept and address me as female (I actually interrupted her to say that I was transgender, not homosexual/gay, but that did not affect her stance). Our conversation ended in a standstill, between my right to be recognized in my chosen gender in class and her right to her religious belief. We finally agreed to escalate this to you for a decision.
In the section “Academic Freedom of Faculty Members,” the UP Diliman Faculty Manual states that
2.1 Members of the teaching staff enjoy academic freedom; Provided however, That no instructor in the University shall inculcate sectarian tenets in any of the teachings, nor attempt either directly or indirectly, under the penalty of dismissal by the Board of Regents, to influence students or attendants at the University for or against any particular church or religious sect or political party.
By insisting on refusing to address me as female in class due to her religious belief, Ms. Del Corro is clearly succumbing to religious bias while inside the classroom. In addressing me as male (via the use of male pronouns, masculine forms of address, masculine adjectives, etc.) in front of the entire class, she deliberately invalidates my gender identity and implicitly propagates her religious belief that “homosexuality/transgenderism is wrong/evil/immoral/sinful and should not be accepted.” Since she is the authority figure inside the classroom, her legitimization of this practice (of refusing to recognize me as female) also indirectly influences my co-students in adopting the same homophobic/transphobic religious view.
Ms. Del Corro could also be found in violation of some of the articles of the “Code of Ethics for Faculty Members” in the UP Diliman Faculty Manual. Members of the faculty of the University of the Philippines should commit to:
III. Promote a strong sense of nationalism and enduring concern for social justice, gender equality, cultural values, community welfare, and protection of the environment;
Promoting concern for social justice necessitates an awareness of the complex issues of power, privilege and prejudice in today’s society. Instead of advocating to change structures that exclude groups and individuals (such as sexual and gender minorities), Ms. Del Corro, through her homophobic/transphobic views, participates in their further oppression. In judging my female gender identity as “invalid” just because I am transgender, she definitely does not promote gender equality (between transgender and non-transgender females) either.
Consenting to Ms. Del Corro’s actions also runs contrary to the cultural values and traditions of the Department of European Languages, of the University of the Philippines Diliman, and of the secular Philippine state.
Our Department, considered as the home of experts in European languages and cultures, should supposedly be full of people who are well-versed in European affairs, and who have been exposed to and influenced by Europe’s liberal, humanistic and progressive climate. Europe has achieved leaps and bounds when it comes to advocating for equal rights for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people. The European Court for Human Rights recognizes transsexuality as a protected characteristic under Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Last year, France has become the first nation in the world to drop transsexualism from its list of mental disorders. DEL also proudly embraces the sexual and gender diversity of its faculty and staff, as evidenced by the number of its employees who are openly gay. It strikes me as highly ironic how Ms. Del Corro, herself an alumna of two highly progressive and radical educational institutions (UP Diliman and the University of Paris-Sorbonne), could continue to hold such bigoted beliefs about LGBT people.
The founding of the University of the Philippines Babaylan, the first and biggest organization of LGBT students in the country, in 1992 and its consistent recognition by university authorities year after year, demonstrates UP Diliman’s commitment to supporting its LGBT students in their struggle for equal rights within and outside the campus. The Diliman Gender Office conducts gender sensitivity training sessions to organizations, university institutions, and interested individuals. The UP Office of Guidance and Counseling offers its services to students who are in need of support in matters of coming out, relationships and other LGBT-related issues. The RGEP class Social Science 3 (Exploring Gender & Sexuality) provides a means for all UP students to understand and appreciate the diversity of genders and sexualities that exist within nature. These are just some of the initiatives that clearly portray UP as an LGBT-friendly campus.
Philippine society, heavily influenced by the Christian doctrine that Ms. Del Corro has invoked above, has been traditionally hostile to the LGBT community. The State should clearly remain separate from the Church, however, and little by little we are seeing advances in this campaign for secularism. Early last year, the Supreme Court overturned the Commission on Elections decision disqualifying the LGBT party-list group Ang Ladlad from seeking a congressional seat on grounds of “immorality.” This recognition of LGBT people as a minority group with legitimate concerns is a big statement on the part of the Philippine government in distancing itself from religious dogma. House Bill 956, seeking to prohibit a wide-range of discriminatory policies and practices against Filipino LGBTs, is currently pending in Congress.
V. Instill in our students the passion for learning, the discipline attendant to the pursuit of excellence, intellectual honesty, and respect for the humane;
“Humane” is defined as “marked by compassion, sympathy, or consideration for humans or animals” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary). Choosing to continue addressing me as male in class (either because of her religious belief or because my legal sex remains to be male), regardless if I insisted that I self-identify as female, is anything but compassionate, sympathetic or considerate. Ms. Del Corro is aware of how mentally and emotionally distressing the effect of being misgendered is, especially on transgender individuals such as myself, yet she chooses to misgender me anyway while invoking her religious freedom. This is definitely not the brand of “respect for the humane” that you would like your teachers to instill in their students.
VIII. Reject activities and interests that interfere with our responsibilities as faculty members and conflict with the interests of the University;
As a language teacher, Ms. Del Corro’s primary duty is towards her students, us language learners. I cannot claim to be an expert on this area, but I am sure that the effect of the classroom environment on the language learning rate of students is huge. It is important that language learners feel relaxed, safe and welcome before any learning can take place. How can a transgender student like me feel welcome in class if my teacher refuses to recognize my gender identity, which is integral to me as a person? How can I feel relaxed when I feel mortified every time I hear male pronouns, forms of address and adjectives being used to refer to me? How can I feel safe when I know that at the back of my teacher’s mind, she thinks that I am immoral and that I am condemned to go to hell when I die?
Religious prejudice has no place within the classroom’s four walls, especially if it is a UP classroom. I am therefore demanding, in behalf of all present and future transgender students of this public and non-sectarian university, for my chosen gender identity to be affirmed and respected. I implore you to exercise your professional authority over Ms. Del Corro, and require her to treat and address me as female in class (through the use of female pronouns, feminine forms of address, feminine adjectives, etc.). I hope for a speedy resolution of this concern, and I await the opportunity to report to your office and have a dialogue with Ms. Del Corro and yourself. Thank you and more power.
BA European Languages
Student Number 2xxxxxxx
UPDATE: I had the dialogue with Ms Del Corro and Mr de la Peña last February 18 (Friday) 4PM. The chairperson informed me that he cannot require Ms Del Corro to address me as female since my legal gender remains to be male (as it will forever be unfortunately, unless a Philippine gender recognition law gets passed) and that there was no university policy addressing transgender students. He also stated that Ms Del Corro did not violate any of the university rules (i.e. academic freedom, code of ethics).
I am frustrated by how easily respect, political correctness and common sense get thrown out the window in favor of a mere technicality. I am angered by the unnerving tolerance of university officials to transphobia/homophobia, allowing bigotry to fluorish under the guise of religious freedom, depriving LGBT students of their human rights in the process. I am horrified, that with the absence of regulations that ensure the safety and well-being of LGBT students in Philippine schools, that we will continue to be moving targets of bullying, harassment and violence.
As of now, I am still waiting for the signed written copy of Mr de la Peña's decision so that I can escalate the case. I hope this finally opens the door to the active lobbying for LGBT rights to be recognized in UP Diliman and other educational institutions across the country.
My pronouns are MY pronouns. I don't care who your God is, but I will not let you take my gender identity away from me.