MANDAUE CITY’S ANTI-DISCRIMINATION ORDINANCE
Mandaue City has seen its first transwoman march on graduation day looking as how her heart feels — a woman.
Hezekiah Diaz, 21, using the city’s anti-discrimination law, is the first ever graduate of Cebu Doctor’s University (CDU) to convince school officials to allow her to present herself as a woman as she walked up the stage to receive her diploma — the symbol of her hard work after years studying Bachelor of Science in Nutrition and Dietetics.
Fighting for her identity as a woman at school was a not an easy journey for Hezekiah, or Heze to her friends. But what did it for her on graduation day was the year-old Mandaue City Anti-Discrimination Ordinance.
The ordinance approved in April 2016 titled “Anti-Discriminatory Ordinance for People of Diverse Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE)” prohibits the discrimination of people of diverse SOGIE in school and at work, among others.
“It’s not about encouraging them, it’s about letting yourself be yourself,” said Mandaue City Administrator Danilo Almendras.
“It’s about time. Mandaue City has been tolerant compared to others. We are very open, in our employment, we don’t discriminate,” Almendras added.
The ordinance, he said, should help people express themselves regardless of their sexual orientation.
As one of its guiding principles, the ordinance upholds the right of a person of diverse SOGIE to self-determination of one’s sexual orientation or one’s gender identity.
Roller coaster of emotions
Heze, who hails from the town of Isabel, Leyte, was a man by birth but said she has always been sure that her heart was that of a woman.
“I think that my struggle is mainly rooted on outdated policies of the university, and if that is renewed, everything else follows,” she told Cebu Daily News in an interview.
“When I was given the freedom to be myself, I did not have to deal with insecurities, I just shine. I become more confident and can function normally in my daily life,” she added.
Her transition to being a woman began three years ago.
And while she has not had any difficulties in her day-to-day life in the university as a transwoman, her struggle started just as she was about to graduate from the university.
Two weeks before graduation, as Heze was busy complying with her requirements, including having different school officials sign her clearance, the school disciplinarian’s secretary refused to sign her clearance after she presented her school ID, which showed a man.
The secretary, Heze said, asked her to get her clearance from the head disciplinarian, himself.
At the back of her mind, Heze knew something was terribly wrong.
A day after, she went back to the school and asked help from her favorite teacher who promised to accompany her to the disciplinarian to have her clearance signed.
The meeting never pushed through and Heze was instead accompanied by a friend.
At the disciplinarian’s office, Heze said she was told about the school’s policies: transwomen had to have their hair cut as part of the rules to have students look and act as their birth gender.
“My world fell to pieces while I cried. I tried not to, but tears wouldn’t stop falling as I answered, ‘Sir, I am sure that you do not understand because you do not have a female’s heart. My confidence is attached to the way I present myself and if it would be changed, I might go into depression. Please, let me keep my hair and present myself with how I please’,” Heze recounted.
There was a glimmer of hope when the disciplinarian said that he will try to negotiate with school authorities for Heze.
But soon after, her hopes were dashed when Heze was advised to at least wear a man’s wig during the graduation ceremonies; and she wasn’t taking any of it, she said.
Armed with sheer guts, Heze ran to the dean’s office to elevate her concern.
The dean told her that the school would have to base her gender on what was written on her birth certificate.
“I did not give up yet. I told him I can talk to the university’s vice president and see if he approves,” Heze recounted.
“I ran once again to the fifth floor and just in time, he was there. I said, ‘Sir, I am from the College of Arts and Sciences, Nutrition and Dietetics. I suggested to the dean that if you could approve of me to present myself as a female, he would let me’,” Heze said.
It was a small victory as she was told by the vice president that he had no problem with it and to put her request in writing.
On the same day, Heze submitted her letter, which explained that she is now a transwoman, having had undergone male-to-female hormone replacement therapy.
The next day, Heze returned to the vice president’s office but was told to come back the day after.
Heze said she came back the day after but was told that there was no legal basis for her request and that he had to talk to the university president, Dr. Potenciano Larrazabal Jr.
Heze continued to appeal but was told to come back another day.
Time was running out as Holy Week was approaching and there were no offices. The Monday after the Holy Week was also the start of their graduation practices and she had yet to hear of her request’s approval.
“During the practice, I lined up with the females and they never had a problem with it until the disciplinarian began to arrange seats by gender,” said Heze.
“I was pulled out and forced into the male area so I had no choice but to sneak out from the practice,” she said.
Crying, Heze called her mother, a school teacher in Leyte, to ask if she already booked a flight for Cebu to attend her graduation.
Heze wanted to tell her mother to cancel her flight as she was no longer attending her own graduation.
But she changed her mind and soldiered on for her mother’s sake, said Heze.
“Defeated, I just went back to the practices and held my tears back,” said Heze.
Then came the breakthrough.
“Upon going home, there was a glimmer of hope inside me so I consulted a trusted friend and he gave me the ordinance of Mandaue City. He said it will all be worth it,” Heze said.
Armed with more than just her guts this time, Heze wrote another letter to the dean and school disciplinarian; and attached a copy of Mandaue’s anti-discrimination ordinance.
“I don’t know how but the president himself signed my letter. It was also his birthday that day. I felt crazy and ran to my friend who helped me and hugged him to say thank you, I could not have done this without you,” she said.
Heze’s happy ending
After days of anguish, Heze walked up the stage on graduation day, April 23, garbed as a woman in a delicate white, off-shoulder dress as the first ever transwoman in Mandaue City to graduate, looking just as she had wanted.
Heze is now busy preparing for her board exams set in August with her parents’ full support.
“My tears of love and happiness come from the bottom of my heart. My love for you has a lifetime guarantee because Heavenly God sent you into my life to give me something to fight for. No matter what you do, I may not like it or we may argue and disagree, but I will always love you beyond reason,” her mother Cielo said in a Facebook post addressed to Heze.
“Let’s ignore people who judge and comment hurting words because they too face problems,” she added.
Although her father Rey — an overseas Filipino worker in Saudi Arabia — was not able to make it to her graduation, he still managed to express his love and admiration for Heze through photos of her graduation on his FB account, captioned “Proud Daddy” and “Strong is beautiful.”
If anything, Heze wants her struggles and her story to serve as an inspiration to others.
She hoped to share her story with as many people as possible by joining beauty pageants and entering the pageant world.
“I want to advocate around the world that transwomen are not different human beings. We deserve our rights as much as other human beings do,” she said.
“I feel a step closer to my dreams — a world where everyone has the right to live the life she wants,” she added.