Gender neutral restrooms in public schools and chemical castration were just two of the topics discussed during a senatorial candidates forum hosted by the Guam chapter of the National Association of Social Workers and the Division of Social Work at the University of Guam. Twelve candidates – eight incumbents and four newcomers – participated in the forum, which covered topics ranging from minimum wage to whether an individual should be forced to disclose their criminal history when applying for a job.
Go with the flow
The forum was separated into two rounds with some questions aimed at specific candidates.
On the topic of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights and the incorporation of gender-neutral bathrooms for students, Sen. Nerissa Underwood, the legislative chairwoman on public education, said she supported the initiative, adding that the LGBT community has been marginalized for too long.
Jermaine Alerta, a first-time candidate, said individuals should feel comfortable enough "in their own skin" but noted concerns with sexual harassment or assault that could come from anyone using any bathroom. A compromise he forwarded was to install single-use restrooms.
Speaker Judi Won Pat recalled her time as a child, where she and her siblings would use the same restroom and stated that in her office, employees used the same restroom regardless of gender.
"I think we just have to change some of our mindsets here and kind of just go with the flow here in Guam," Won Pat said. "We're not so uptight as they are in the U.S."
Sen. Tom Ada, who stated he was one of the older senators in the legislature, admitted that he was not entirely keen on accepting gender-neutral restrooms. He said that if the community wanted to become more inclusive by allowing anyone to use the restroom they preferred, there should also be consideration for how the majority of individuals felt who used gender-specific restroom facilities. He said that perhaps a solution would be to incorporate a gender-neutral restroom but not do away with gender-specific facilities entirely.
Decolonization and minimum wage
Candidates also discussed strategies for educational outreach for political self-determination. Attorney Therese Terlaje, another new candidate, said she believed questions regarding decolonization and self-determination were the most important questions for this election. The key to self-determination, she added, was control over resources.
"Put people in office who are going to reserve that right for you," she said.
Vice Speaker Benjamin Cruz was asked about his initiative to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. Cruz said that despite the lack of a study to determine the impact of the minimum wage increase to $8.25 last year, preliminary evidence suggests economic improvements. Sen. Rory Respicio, said he also supports the minimum wage increase and stated that he and the vice speaker were moving to address issues with a bill to increase the minimum wage again to $10.10 an hour.
On the military buildup and military-occupied land in Guam, Sen. Frank Aguon said he believes any properties owned by the military and not used for national defense should be identified as excess and returned to the government of Guam.
Ada said that despite some challenges with the military buildup, there would need to be some cooperation between GovGuam and the Department of Defense to address increases in population and resource use. He pointed to the relationship between the Guam Waterworks Authority and the Department of the Navy, as the two work to integrate water and wastewater systems.
The second round of the forum consisted of new candidates Fred Bordallo Jr. and Regine Biscoe Lee, and Sens. Tina Muña-Barnes and James Espaldon. The forum became heated over Guam's chemical castration law, which Muña-Barnes said she and all other female senators in the current legislature opposed.
"I'm going to try and hold my composure here," Muña-Barnes told the forum attendees. "Who are we to alter a human anatomy ... I'm not here to judge that (person) and it really bothers me that the law is on the books."
Bordallo, a former chief of police, said criminals are not always aware of the laws and what could happen to them for the actions they've committed. He added that chemical castration was a new concept for Guam and he preferred some analysis on the matter to see if it really did reduce criminal sexual conduct.
Lee said she opposed castration because it attempted to solve psychological and behavioral issues through chemical means alone. She said the law was a prime example of knee-jerk legislation that was passed without enough input from stakeholders.
Espaldon, who voted to pass the law, attempted to clarify that the law was for those who were convicted of a sex crime and was not mandatory, but at the discretion of the parole board. The chemical treatments, which is to lower a person's libido, would also only last for as long as that individual was on parole. Despite voting for the law, he said he was not for chemical castration because it was only a temporary matter, and there was a chance the individual would re-offend.
"Be careful of what we're talking about here. This law is for a very limited group and it's discretionary and it's for a short period of time," Espaldon said. "I'm a bleeding heart, but I'm sorry. If it was my mother, my sister or whatever ... he still has to be controlled."
He said that chemical castration does not solve the problem of sexual crime on Guam.