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Pride Month Special: Atty. Lee Verdoguillo on Accepting and Protecting

In June of every year, we both celebrate the LGBTQ+ activism and culture and commemorate the years of struggle for equal rights and the ongoing pursuit of fair justice.

As society’s becoming more accepting over the last decade, there are still others who experience pervasive discrimination as being subject to slurs or jokes, suffering rejection by a family member, or experiencing deprivation from opportunities.

We asked Lee Verdoguillo, lawyer and LGBTQ+ member, to share her experiences as a transgender woman and answer questions to shed light on some issues happening in the LGBTQ+ community.

Do you recall the day that you came out? Can you take me to that moment?

Lee: Yes, very much. Being a gay child was already pretty evident so coming out was not necessary for that. It was more of an open secret. However, coming out as trans was different because my parents could not understand what that was. They feared that I might get ridiculed because of cross-dressing [which they thought was the case]. So when I came out as trans, they were not very supportive about it because they’d want me to be a gay man instead, which was more pleasing in the eyes.

What kind of challenges did you face when you came out?

Lee: Transitioning [as transgender] in a country where no proper medical guide is available for trans people. You have to research and figure out for yourself whatever works for you. Also, early in my transition, I always get misgendered, which was also another distressing experience. However, my struggles cannot equate to the struggles of others like me who are less privileged.

Did something change [in terms of treatment/opportunities] when you came out?

Lee: Yes, more opportunities came my way. In college, I became an honor student and graduated Cum laude. Mainly because I had peace of mind being myself. So, I was able to excel in my academics. Even now in my career, I get many opportunities because I am different, and it’s an advantage. They get amazed by the fact that I am trans and a lawyer.

Did you experience discrimination in your career as a lawyer?

Lee: So far, not yet. The two words “trans” and “lawyer” rarely exist in the same sentence. That is why when people learn about me, it’s more of a surprise because that’s rare. I only know of two other trans lawyers in the Philippines. Sometimes, however, myself being trans overpowers me being a lawyer.

What do you think is the biggest issue that the LGBTQ+ community is currently facing?

Lee: I think the community needs to learn about sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (SOGIE). How can we, as a community, effectively assert our rights if some of us in it are oblivious about these matters? Some of us have internalized homophobia and transphobia, and it shows in some of our opinions. We have to begin in the community and spread awareness beyond.

What are your thoughts about the SOGIE Equality Bill?

Lee: It is a need. Laws are there to address specific issues. There is a reason why this bill is pending in Congress. It just did not come out of anywhere. There is no true equality until a less privileged LGBT individual in one corner of this country can comfortably apply for jobs without shame for who they are without having to compromise who they are so they can get employed.

For you, how will the SOGIE Equality Bill safeguard the LGBTQIA+ community?

Lee: It will protect everyone, including the LGBTQIA community. It protects PEOPLE from discrimination based on their sexual orientation/gender identity. It will further protect the marginalized LGBT community from discrimination in schools, employment, and public spaces. We cannot pretend it is not happening. It is!

Do you agree with the notion that the SOGIE Bill is subjective and only favors the LGBTQ+ community? Why or why not?

Lee: Again, it protects EVERYONE. A man who wants to work at a beauty salon and gets refused because they want a gay man or woman, although he is just as capable as either, can use this law to protect himself.

We already have laws and policies that protect everyone. Why is there a need for the SOGIE Equality Bill to be approved?

Lee: Nope, we don’t have existing laws that protect everyone. Each has a specific purpose and marginalized groups to be protected. We have laws that specifically protect women and children from violence and exploitation. We have laws that protect indigenous groups, persons with disabilities (PWDs), Labor Laws for laborers, etc. We don’t have laws that specifically protect people from discrimination based on their Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. That is why it is needed.

What do you think that people should know about what’s right about SOGIE Bill?

Lee: Again, it protects everyone because all of us have a sexual orientation and gender identity. People might say, why make laws for people who choose a particular lifestyle? Again, it’s never a choice to be LGBT. Why would we choose to live a life full of discrimination?



This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.