The heavily Catholic nation of the Philippines this week elected their first transgender person to the House of Representatives, while at the same time electing to the Senate a boxing star who made a vicious anti-gay comment during his campaign.
The Tablet reported that the transgender woman won the congressional seat by a wide margin of votes:
“Liberal Party candidate Geraldine Roman, who has been living as a woman for more than two decades, trounced her closest rival in the congressional district of Bataan, winning 62 per cent of the unofficial vote.”
During the campaign, Roman, a Catholic, answered critics who said she should not be running for office. She told the AFP:
“If Jesus Christ was alive today, he would not approve of discrimination. I firmly believe that.”
Roman, who succeeds her mother as representative of their home district of Bataan, campaigned saying that her first loyalty was to the people of her district. But she also did not downplay LGBT issues, making them an integral part of her platform. On the campaign trail, AFP reported:
“Roman said, if elected, she intended to back an anti-discrimination bill that has been languishing for 16 years that would give the LGBT community rights, such as equal treatment in the workplace, hotels and schools.
“She will also campaign to make changing gender legal.
” ‘I am living proof that such a law will allow transgender people to pursue happiness and become productive citizens,’ she said.”
Roman transitioned her gender in the 1990s, legally changing her name and her gender on certificates. Yet in 2001, the Philippines made it illegal to make gender changes on official documents. She campaigned to overturn this law, as well as to extend non-discrimination protections for employment, education, and public accommodations.
In a separate race for the Philippines’ Senate, Manny Pacquiao, a boxing star who had made a vicious anti-gay slur during the campaign, won the seat. In February, Pacquiao said that people involved in gay and lesbian relationships were “worse than animals.” Initially, he defended the remark, saying he was “just telling the truth,” but after much criticism, including a rebuke from Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz, he apologized.
The Philippines is the third-largest Catholic nation in the world, and it has not legalized same-sex marriage. In his January 2015 visit there, Pope Francis coined the term “ideological colonization” to refer to social and legal changes taking place in marriage, which many commentators saw as a criticism of marriage equality.
In Roman’s campaign, her family’s political legacy was seen as an important positive, yet LGBT leaders in the Philippines still see the win as an important victory:
” ‘Even if she’s just one, she will create noise,’ Anastacio Marasigan, spokesperson of the Lesbian and Gay Legislative Advocacy Network, told AFP.
” ‘That will help us in mainstreaming or highlighting issues often ignored, like HIV and sexual violence.’ “
Roman’s gender identity was attacked during the campaign, but she was confident that her transgender status would not be a detriment to her election:
“My life has not been a secret. . . .I grew up here. People know me. (Gender) only becomes an issue when you try to keep it a secret. It’s nothing bad. I never hurt anyone in the process. I’m so happy so why should I be ashamed?”
The Voice of America reported Roman’s reaction to the news of her victory:
“Roman said her experience showed that the ‘politics of hatred, bigotry and discrimination did not prevail,’ adding that what triumphed was ‘acceptance, love and tolerance.’ “
She also expressed the hope that more LGBT Filipinos would follow her example and enter political races.
Congratulations to Ms. Roman and to the Philippines for this historic victory!
–Francis DeBernardo, New Ways Ministry