WHAT HAPPENED. Blogger and transgender woman Sass Rogando Sasot was addressing last Friday, June 3, graduates of a high school in Cavite where she was the opening speaker when a church group, owner of the venue, shut off the lights and the sound system.
Another version of the story says Sasot was the guest speaker. It was also not clear how long she had gone on with her speech, even with dead electricity, before she was evicted off the stage.
Church of God World Missions Philippines, owner of the site in Dasmariñas City, granted its use to the school, Southern Philippines Institute of Science and Technology (SPIST) in Imus City, on condition that:
(a) the “sanctuary” (the facility) shall not be used “for political endorsement”;
(b) the church shall not allow any LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) “to perform a special number or even be a guest speaker” on their podium or pulpit;
(c) the school shall donate a “reasonable” amount “to cover for church upkeep.”
NON-ISSUES. Apparent non-issues, which don’t affect the rights of the parties in the contract of use, are Sasot’s qualifications to be a speaker and whether she used the forum for politics. Most likely, she didn’t do the second, as the campaign was over. As to the choice of speakers, that was the school’s right to pick; besides she reportedly is no ordinary blogger, she has a master’s degree in politics.
Even the use of the church pulpit — which Sasot claimed she didn’t do as she used the podium brought by the school — may not matter if it’s true that an oral agreement followed the written contract between the parties, which made clear a total ban of any LQBTQ performer.
REMULLA HITS ‘DISCRIMINATION.’ Cavite Governor Jonvic Remulla defended Monday, June 6, the transgender blogger and staunch supporter of president-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. Because of Sasot’s part in the event, light and sound were cut off and, according to one news report, later Sasot was asked by a Church of God staffer to get off the stage.
Remulla said Cavite “does not condone discriminatory acts against members of the LGBTQ community.” He cited a Cavite City ordinance that makes it unlawful to discriminate against any person or group of persons on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
NOT THE ‘BAWAL BASTOS’ LAW. A lawyer in a public commentary cited the Safe Spaces Act (Republic Act #11313 of 2018), which defines “gender-based sexual harassment in streets, public spaces, online, work places, and educational or training institutions.”
Was the Church of God guilty of violating the “Bawal Bastos” law? In imposing that condition against LGBTQs performing at its church premises, did it commit a crime or, at least, impose an illegal condition in its contract?
If it was guilty, committed a crime, or imposed an unlawful condition, it must not be under the Safe Spaces Act.
The acts enumerated under the “Bawal Bastos” Law include, among others, “cursing, wolf whistling, catcalling, leering and intrusive gazing,” and the like, all involving comments and statements that constitute “an invasion on a person’s personal space or threaten the person’s sense of personal safety.”
CHURCH RELIES ON CONTRACT. Bishop Anthony Velasco, a senior pastor of Church of God, in an official statement, emphasized that the conditions were specific in the written contract and were agreed upon again in a meeting between the church administrator and the school staff.
Pastor Velasco said the school representative made the down payment on the eve of the graduation ceremony and was told that if the condition would be violated, the church would shut off light and sound for the affair. The school was told to look for another venue or change the speaker. SIPST’s rep “apologized” and opted to change Sasot, Pastor Velasco said.
The principal question would be whether the church would be guilty of discrimination under the city ordinance cited by Governor Remulla. If the contract condition was invalid, that would make the action against Sasot wrongful.
Those supporting Remulla’s view can say the condition was contrary to law and not binding on the school. The church can argue that the condition was agreed upon in good faith and SIPST breached the agreement and Church of God’s trust.
RELIGION AS ‘SHIELD.’ Religious freedom is apparently invoked by Church of God. Pastor Velasco said the school should respect the church’s belief, even if it’s wrong to other people, just as Church of God respects school institutions and the LGBT community. Velasco said LGBTQs are “human beings and for this reason we should respect life.”
But clearly, the pastor’s and his church’s “respect” for LGBTQs does not include anyone of the group being on stage and performing at their “sanctuary.”
Governor Remulla deplored the church group’s use of its faith as “shield to spread hate and bigotry” when a church “should be about compassion and tolerance.” Those who acted against Sasot, Remulla said, were “using the Bible in the most dangerous way possible,” using it “in the context of a culture 2,000 years old.” (The oldest biblical text found is about 2,700 years old, says History.com.)
A court resolution of the case inevitably would require looking at religious freedom clashing with gender equality.
SASOT NOT A PROTAGONIST. Blogger Sasot is not a party to the contract between Church of God and the school. She was just a guest, although she may consider herself legally injured by the embarrassment caused by the eviction from the stage, preceded by the blackout and the silenced microphone.
But her being a rabid Marcos Jr. supporter caught national attention from an otherwise minor local event in faraway Cavite. Residual passion from the May 9 election didn’t help reduce the noise over the issue in social media.
But the main issue of religious freedom vs gender equality is as serious as can be. It can happen anywhere in the country where the line between clashing rights is not sharply drawn and the contenders hold their respective ground.
In the Cavite controversy, the school could’ve used another venue, as there must be others elsewhere. Or the Church of God could’ve simply refused. After all, leasing out its sanctuary for an event is not its work or business.