MANILA, Philippines - Remember the ?flower platoon??
Back when the Reserve Officers Training Course (ROTC) was still mandatory for male college students, it symbolized discrimination against gay students. Real men marched in real platoons; gay students were with their pansy fellows in the flower platoon. Their only duty was to cheer for their manly counterparts or run errands for them.
Well, the ?flower platoon? disappeared with the abolition of compulsory ROTC in 2001, but the underlying biases that created it still persist. They come in the form of unwritten rules or the ubiquitous ?morality clause? in the student manual. They are meant to crack the whip on what some sectors still describe as ?moral deviants??lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBT), as well as unmarried pregnant students.
Some schools run by religious congregations or organizations, like St. Joseph?s College in Quezon City, ask unwed pregnant students to drop out or take a leave of absence until after they deliver their babies.
An admissions officer at the Saint Pedro Poveda College in Quezon City says the issue is simply about being consistent with the Catholic faith. ?Pregnancy outside of marriage sends the wrong message about premarital sex,? she explains.
But for women?s rights activists, policies against pregnant students are discriminatory. Dr. Guy Estrada-Claudio of the UP Center for Women Studies believes that these policies are very judgmental on women?s sexuality. ?It punishes women in the end. To be pregnant, women have to be in a heterosexual marriage. They are not given a choice,? she says.
She cautions, too, about the danger of schools being complicit in sexual abuse, especially if the context of the pregnancy is unknown. ?Schools could be punishing students who are in fact victims of rape or incest,? she adds.
Not all Catholic schools discriminate against unmarried pregnant students though. The College of the Holy Spirit in Manila and Miriam College in Quezon City, for instance, have taken a progressive stance on the issue.
In De La Salle University, however, while unmarried pregnant students are not punished, the prohibition could apply to unmarried pregnant female faculty members, if the rather vague clause ?public scandal? in the faculty manual were applied.
Notes DLSU professor Natty Manauat: ?The rule is contained in a broad and vague morality clause in the faculty manual, but I don?t think it has ever been applied. But that?s exactly the problem?it is there and it can be arbitrarily imposed.?
The same vague policies on morality hound lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students, who are brought under control through their attire and physical appearance. In the Philippine Normal University in Manila, effeminate gay students are barred from sporting long hair, using make-up, or wearing earrings while inside the university. Curiously though, masculine and ostensibly heterosexual students are allowed to wear long hair and earrings, and even apply foundation on their face.
In San Beda College in Manila, masculinity tests used to be imposed on presumably gay students. Students can?t enrol if they fail the arbitrary test administered by a panel composed of school officials and faculty members who rate a student according to their perception of masculinity.
Even in the more liberal enclave of the University of the Philippines, discrimination still exists. Perci Cendaña, the first openly gay chair of the UP University Student Council, recounts that during the campaign period, homophobes resorted to nasty tactics against him. ?There were even graffiti in some men?s restrooms during the campaign period with phrases like ?Perci Kadiri? and ?Bading ?wag iboto.? It was a great disappointment because this was UP,? he says.
How then does one address discrimination and stigma against LGBT students and unmarried pregnant students? The Student Council Alliance of the Philippines, a broad network of student councils and governments, views discrimination as a sign of a poor democracy. ?Education knows no sex, religion, physical status or gender,? says SCAP Sec. Gen. Bianca Lapus.
SCAP has been pushing for the passage of the Students Rights and Welfare Bill (HB2584) to ensure equality inside schools and campuses. Also pending in Congress is the Anti-Discrimination Bill (HB956), authored by Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel in partnership with the Lesbian and Gay Legislative Advocacy Network (LAGABLAB), which would penalize discrimination against LGBTs in schools, workplaces, and other areas.
Unless these bills are enacted, kicking stigma out of our schools remains a test we all have to face and pass.