Gay and happy (Philippines Daily Inquirer)

I was browsing the Internet looking for background information on Ireland’s recent referendum that approved same-sex marriage when I came upon a report on a Gay Happiness Index, or GHI.

There are all kinds of indices that have sprouted in recent years: Human Development Index, Gender Gap Index, Information Communication Technology Index and, yes, several Happiness indices. But the GHI is new, just released in May.

I decided to write about the GHI instead, but will get back to Ireland and same-sex marriage toward the end of the column.

The GHI sounds almost redundant; after all, aren’t the two terms almost synonymous? There’s also the stereotype of the gay man who’s always happy and entertaining. The GHI challenges the stereotype of the always happy gay male with a formidable amount of statistics that show continuing discrimination, if not outright oppression and persecution, of gay men in 127 countries.

Launched by the Amsterdam-based Planet Romeo, an Internet dating site for men, the survey was able to get some 115,000 men to participate, 99 percent of whom self-identified as gay and 1 percent as trans.

I’m usually skeptical about Internet surveys, but this one was well-crafted and professionally administered through the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz. The questionnaire was made available in 25 languages, including Tagalog, with an invitation to participate first posted on the Planet Romeo home page.

Planet Romeo is a very busy website. When I checked a few minutes ago, there were 46,807 people online globally, including 3,094 from the Philippines. (I have to admit being shocked. If there were 3,094 men looking for dates at 7 in the morning, what must it be like at night? Note that the straight or heterosexual dating sites are also that active, day and night.)

It’s not surprising that Planet Romeo was able to get more than 100,000 participants for its survey, which asked questions grouped around public opinion (gay men’s feelings about society’s views on homosexuality), public behavior (gay men’s experiences of public treatment, including discrimination), and life satisfaction (how satisfied one is about life, as well as self-esteem). With some complicated formulas, the responses were then used to construct the GHI.

Highest, lowest

The countries with the highest GHI, from ranks 1 to 10, were Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Uruguay, Canada, Israel, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Luxembourg. Ireland ranked 25th, a notch ahead of the United States at 26th.

Generally, the highest GHI were found in Scandinavia and Western Europe, plus Australia and New Zealand, and Uruguay and Argentina in Latin America. The 18 countries that allow same-sex marriage tended to be among those with the highest GHI, although there are exceptions, notably Israel and Switzerland.

The lowest GHI was found in Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa, with the exception of South Africa, which ranked 22nd. (South Africa also recognizes same-sex marriage.) The lowest ranking countries, 123rd to 127th, were Iraq, Kyrgystan, Ethiopia, Sudan and Uganda.

Asia ended up in the middle, with a wide range in the ranks. Highest was Thailand (16th), followed by Taiwan (34th), Cambodia (35th), the Philippines (41st), Japan (43rd), Vietnam (52nd), South Korea (57th), China (63rd), Singapore (64th), Nepal (67th), Indonesia (73rd), Malaysia (77th), India (81st), Sri Lanka (90th), Brunei (96th), Bangladesh (112th) and Pakistan (113th).

Let me concentrate now on the findings for the Philippines.

Generally, the GHI followed perceptions on how supportive governments are of gay men. Thus, Iceland, which had the highest GHI, got a score of 82 for supportive government, compared to 14 in the Philippines. Our score is still much higher than many countries, including Taiwan where the government had a score of 3, Japan with 3, Singapore with 2, and China with 1. The lowest ranking countries had scores of 0 for a supportive government.

The survey respondents were asked about their experiences of discrimination. In the Philippines, 29 percent of respondents said their parents did not accept their sexuality, with 5 percent reporting they were banned from their homes. The survey asked, too, about experiences in the work place or, for students, in their schools, and found that 9 percent had lost or could not get a job because of their sexuality, while 6 percent were refused a promotion.

Asked about experiences of verbal and physical assaults in the last year, 25 percent of the respondents in the Philippines said they had experienced verbal insults, 9 percent were threatened with violence, and 6 percent had suffered minor physical assault and 3 percent serious physical assault. (Compare that last figure to Uganda, where the figure was 25 percent.) The respondents should have been asked if they knew of gay men who had been killed for their sexual orientation, because that happens, even in the Philippines.

Self-esteem and acceptance

Life satisfaction ratings parallel those of public opinion and public behavior-that is, in countries that are unfriendly to gays, the respondents also reported more dissatisfaction with their life. In the Philippines, 17 percent of the respondents reported low self-acceptance (compared to 6 percent in Thailand, but 21 percent in China).

Planet Romeo has said it would conduct more research into the situation of LGBT communities throughout the world-a welcome development. The survey did not ask for views about same-sex marriage, perhaps because a foregone conclusion is that there would be overwhelming support for such a move. An alternative would have been to ask respondents how many years they think it would be before this would be possible in their country.

In the Philippines, a Global Survey of Roman Catholics conducted in 2013 reported 84 percent of Filipinos opposed to gay marriage, which could mean that same-sex marriage will never be legalized here.

On the other hand, with 18 countries now allowing such a marriage-including those with many overseas Filipino workers such as the United States, Canada and, yes, Ireland-we will find more and more OFWs returning home, for a visit or for good, with a same-sex spouse.

I’m inclined to believe that there will be more acceptance, rather than rejection, of such couples. Politics and religion aside, the challenge comes mainly from biology: Everyone, and I mean everyone, will have a gay and lesbian relative.

Yet, 24 percent of respondents in the Philippines said they had not come out to their family. The Planet Romeo survey also found that 28 percent of its respondents were in a relationship with another male. Wouldn’t our families be happier if we recognized our gay relatives and the special someone in their lives?

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