The first transgender person elected to the Philippines’ House of Representative, who is a Catholic, has powerfully asked her peers to pass LGBT non-discrimination protections.
Geraldine Roman addressed the House last Monday for over an hour about the “Anti-Discrimination Bill on the Basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.” Roman filed the Bill in June, but there has been little progress towards passing it for the highly Catholic nation. She appealed to legislators in a personal way, reported Inquirer.net, telling them:
” ‘I cannot turn my back at a group of people, who have long suffered discrimination, and have long been denied adequate legal protection. How can I turn a blind eye to the suffering that I myself have experienced at some point in my life?’
” ‘We are your brothers; we are your sisters; your sons and your daughters, and nieces and nephews. We are your family. We are your friends; your schoolmates; your colleagues at work. . .We are human beings.’
” ‘We love our families. We love our country. We are proud Filipinos, who just happen to be LGBT. The question is: do we, as members of the LGBT community, share the same rights as all other citizens? Does the State grant us equal protection under our laws?’ “
The Bill, if passed, would establish non-discrimination protections for LGBT people in employment, education, and healthcare, and it would train law enforcement on LGBT issues. Sanctions would be imposed for violations which, in addition to jail time and fines, could include human rights education or community service.
Her speech also identified specific problems facing LGBT people in the Philippines. She noted that there have been only 164 hate crimes reported in the last twenty years, due largely to issues with the police. Human Rights Watchreported:
“[LGBT-specific police] initiatives are essential given that LGBT rights advocacy groups have warned that hate crimes against LGBT are on the rise and that the Philippines has recorded the highest number of murders of transgender individuals in Southeast Asia since 2008.
“[Healthcare access] is crucial because the Philippines now has the world’s fastest growing HIV epidemic driven by new HIV infections among men who have sex with men (MSMs). Her support of the bill in such a public and heartfelt manner will hopefully motivate lawmakers to take meaningful action to protect the rights of LGBT people by supporting its passage.”
Roman said she was “one voice among many” urging passage of the Bill because LGBT people “simply ask for equality. With inclusiveness and diversity, our nation has so much to gain.” Despite some positive reviews, her speech and the bill for which she advocates have faced resistance. CNN Philippines reported:
“She was glowing. She would glow even as she fought back tears later on, a few minutes upon delivering her first privilege speech before the session hall. She would glow as she parried questions from her eight or so interpellators, including Rep. Rolando Andaya, Jr. of the first district of Camarines Sur, who would repeatedly address her as ‘Congressman.’ “
Elected with 62% of the vote in her district, Roman has not only made history but is now working to advance LGBT rights. She relies upon her Catholic faith in this work, saying previously that the church had been “a source of consolation” and that “If Jesus Christ was alive today, he would not approve of discrimination. I firmly believe that.”
You can watch an interview with Roman, who speaks about her own journey and her LGBT legislative aims, by clicking here or viewing it below.
A gay Catholic priest in the Philippines marched at Pride this year, and recently shared his story about being gay, being ordained, and being faithful.
Fr. RJ, a pseudonym, marched in Manila’s LGBT Pride Parade earlier this year, reported Rappler. Joined by family and friends, the priest told those celebrating:
” ‘I am gay. . .Homosexuality it is not an issue anymore within the Catholic clergy. . .Why should I be ashamed? My sexual preference never hindered my mission as a Catholic priest.
” ‘Since the day I understood my real identity and fully embraced my sexuality, I also got to understand how to serve God with everything I have, without pretending to be someone I am not.’ “
Ordained four years ago, Fr. RJ knew he was gay in adolescence, but, at the time, this knowledge was worrisome and confusing. The priest’s family was conservative, and the Philippines is a very traditionally Catholic nation. For several years, he kept quiet about being gay and focused on his studies. Then, he fell in love at college. Rappler reported his description of the experience:
” ‘I fell in love with a man who taught me how to accept my true identity,’ RJ said.
“RJ was swept into a year of ‘firsts.’ His first bouquet of roses, first time to hold hands while walking, first time to hear and get notes with ‘sweet nothings,’ his first kiss, and his first gay sexual encounter.
” ‘Our days were among the happiest moments of my life. I felt I belonged and recognized. I was freer; I didn’t have to hide my fears. I was me whenever I was with him.’ “
That relationship eventually ended, but Fr. RJ said he learned to “accept my true self and sexuality” through the experience. And soon after, he realized the call to priestly life. Rappler’s report continued:
“The priest remembered how he prayed that pain and hatred leave his heart. The scars of his first agony were still there. . .Staring at the Paschal candle as it flickered in the cold afternoon breeze, the priest began to realize that his first love was not the man who broke his heart. It was Christ.”
Fr. RJ would begin formation a year later, and he has been in religious life since then, saying he has “never felt different or discriminated.” He commented:
” ‘I don’t know if they are aware that I am gay, but I believe, even if they do, they will not judge me. . .homosexuality is common within the organization of the priests.’
” ‘We crack jokes about it. We talk serious matters concerning sexuality and there are a lot of priests who are vocal they are homosexuals. . .[while others hide] inside the closet because of fear or confusion or guilt.”
Fr. RJ’s story has helped initiate a conversation about gay priests, and LGBT rights more broadly, in the Philippines. Professor Jayeel Serrano Cornelio of Ateneo de Manila University, a Catholic school where he directs the Development Studies Program, said “a priest who is gay is not unusual” and further:
” ‘For me, the bigger issue is whether many other Catholics still find it problematic. There are so many young people now who do not find it a problem at all. And maybe they are ‘freer’ because they are not priests. . .[the church should send] a stronger message of compassion and inclusion.’ “
Obstacles for gay priests remain, as the church has offered mixed messages about homosexuality and the priesthood. The Rappler news article quoted Fr. Eduardo Apungan of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines as saying openly gay men should not be admitted to the priesthood, but if a priest comes out as gay after being ordained, he should not be condemned. This stance was backed by Bishop Broderick Pabillo, auxiliary of Manila, an archdiocese led by the pastorally-oriented Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle.
Pope Francis, himself, has weighed in about gay priests, which were the object of his famous “Who am I to judge?” comment that he has since expanded to include all LGB people. Recent gay controversies at Ireland’s national seminary and resigned Archbishop John Neinstedt reveal the issue of gay men and the priesthood is far from settled, to the detriment of gay priests and the People of God they faithful serve alike.
But Fr. RJ is contributing what he can to promote inclusion of LGBT people in the church. Last year, he wrote about baptizing the child of a same-gender couple and challenged Filipino bishops on their anti-marriage equality stand which Fr. RJ said was “wrong and hurtful and a far cry from the Gospel.” Bearing witness by sharing his story of coming out and coming to religious life is another step in that work.
Bishops in the Philippines responded to the Orlando massacre by sharply condemning anti-LGBT violence.. Their statement joins other Catholic reactions to and reflections about the Orlando attack.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) released a statement, signed by Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen Dagupan, that immediately identified the shooting as a “hate crime.” The Conference continued, according to GMA Network:
“First, this was a hate-crime — the murder of persons because of disgust for their sexual orientation. Bearing in the depth of his or her soul the image of the Creator, no human person should ever be the object of disgust. . .
“No matter that we may disapprove of the actions, decisions and choices of others, there is absolutely no reason to reject the person, no justification for cruelty, no reason for making outcasts of them. This is a project on which we, in the Philippines, must seriously embark for many are still forced to the peripheries because the norms of ‘decent society’ forbid association with them.”
Noting the Jubilee Year of Mercy called by Pope Francis, CBCP’s statement said that, “As important as it is to be right, it is far more important to be merciful!” They called for more dialogue, and for the government and all Christians to protect LGBT lives because the unity in Christ outweighs any differences. Their statement sharply contrasts with responses from many of their episcopal counterparts in the U.S. who failed to recognize the Orlando shooting as targeting LGBT people.
Terence Weldon, writing for Quest, a U.K. group for LGBT Catholics, also queried how Catholics can concretely respond, expanding the discussion to include the entire faithful:
“What are we to do, ourselves, to combat the homophobia that is is fostered within some sectors of the Catholic Church and its practice?
“We must never forget that ‘the Church’ is far, far more than just the bishops and priests, but includes all of us. When Catholic teaching tells us to oppose and condemn any form of violence or malice, in speech or in action, against homosexuals, that is a command to all of us, as individuals and collectively, as an organization. How have we responded up to now, to that command? How can we do so, in future? Is there room for improvement, in our response?”
One way the church has responded positively to the massacre in Orlando is through efforts by Catholic Charities of Central Florida to help victims and their families, reported the National Catholic Reporter. Catholic Charities has provided bilingual staff and pastoral care providers who have assisted with translation, immigration matters, burial arrangements, and counseling.
Frank Bruni, a columnist for The New York Times who is gay and Catholic, wrote that now is a time for solidarity with LGBT people. Bruni implored anti-LGBT politicians to act for solidarity, using words that could be equally applicable to the U.S. bishops, whom Bruni criticized in the column:
“Just show up. And by doing so, show that the absence of ‘gay’ or ‘L.G.B.T.’ in your statements immediately following the Orlando massacre. . .isn’t because you place us and our concerns behind some thick pane of glass with a Do Not Touch sign that stays up even when blood and tears pool beneath it. . .You want to show our enemies what America stands for? Then stand with us.”
John Freml, coordinator of the Equally Blessed Coalition, wrote in The State Journal-Register that in his Diocese of Springfield, Illinois, Bishop Thomas Paprocki had been silent thus far. Freml commented:
“The silence of our own bishop, and the refusal of other Catholic bishops to even name the LGBT community, not only contributes to the continuing invisibility and marginalization of LGBT people in our church, but it quite literally results in their deaths. I am baffled at how our bishops can call themselves ‘pro-life,’ when their actions have clearly demonstrated that they do not value all human life equally.”
In the Equally Blessed coaltion’s statement on Orlando, they noted:
“While we struggle against the forces of homophobia in our church and in our society, we must also remain steadfast in our opposition to racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia in all its forms.”
LGBT Catholics Westminster Pastoral Council, an outreach effort by the diocese of Westminster (London), expressed their solidarity in a statement, recalling their own origins as a response to an episode of anti-LGBT violence:
“Having ourselves been born, as a worshiping community, out of the 1999 Admiral Duncan Soho bombing when three people were killed and 83 people injured, we know only too well that such violent attacks on our communities are never far away.
“LGBT targeted hate-crimes must be recognised for what they are: assaults on the precious dignity of each human being as ‘wonderfully created as God’s work of art’ (Psalm 139). We call upon religious leaders of all faith traditions to recognise the reality of the Orlando outrage. We specifically call upon our Catholic leaders to acknowledge how the language of some official documents on sexual orientation can, in fact, incite and support those who commit such violence.”
LGBT Catholics Westminster’s statement called on Pope Francis and the Vatican to respond with concrete actions combatting anti-LGBT violence and discrimination, including “support the global decriminalisation of homosexuality, with an end to the use of the death penalty and torture for LGBT people.”
Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, released a letter to Pope Francis about church leaders’ problematic responses. In the letter, which followed up the organization’s initial statement, Duddy-Burke wrote:
“To fail to explicitly acknowledge [victims’ LGBT identities] strips the victims, the survivors, the injured, the grieving of an essential component of their humanity. It sends a message to their loved ones and families that this part of their identity should not be named, affirmed, and celebrated as they are remembered.
“It also means that you and many other Catholic leaders have missed yet another important moment to explicitly and unequivocally condemn violence directed towards LGBT people. Vague references to ‘respect for the dignity of all people’ or other such phrases are sinfully inadequate, whether in response to the horror in Orlando, or when addressing the persecution faced by LGBT people anywhere in the world.”
Fr. Joseph McShane, president of Fordham University, New York, affirmed in a statement that solidarity with communities affected by the massacre, including LGBT ones, was not only consistent with the University’s Jesuit and Catholic identities, but necessary because of these identities :
“As a Jesuit university (and hence a university whose entire life and mission is inspired by the Gospel and its challenge to live in love), Fordham joins people of good will around the world in condemning the Orlando attack. In addition, however (and precisely because of our Jesuit identity), the University offers its heartfelt support to the LGBT and Latino communities both on campus and throughout the country. It also offers its equally heartfelt prayers to the families and friends of those who died so senselessly on Sunday morning.”
To read Bondings 2.0‘s full coverage of the Orlando massacre and Catholic responses to it, please click here.
Asked how her identity as a trans woman has affected her work as a Filipino congresswoman, Roman answered in the interview:
“What really hurt me the most was when they judged my relationship with God, because my entire life, I have tried my best to maintain a relationship with God and to be a good person. And for people who do not know me, who do not know my heart, to judge me, especially in public, it was painful.”
Roman said that she did not mind the questions and even criticism she faced for her gender identity and decision to undergo gender-confirming surgery. By doing her work and doing it well, Roman hopes to convince critics that “we’re just ordinary people and we deserve respect.”
Roman noted that she “[had] not heard any kind of condemnation from the Church,” whose bishops retain influence in the Philippines and frequently weigh in on political affairs. Indeed, the congresswoman cited the church as a “source of consolation” as she came to know and embrace herself:
“One is born a transgender person, so he or she has no choice. And when you have no choice about something, I don’t know why there should be moral judgment attached to that condition. Even before undergoing my sex realignment surgery, I’ve been a practicing Catholic, so just to be sure, I had to consult the Jesuits at Ateneo de Manila University, where I was educated. And they told me this: ‘Geraldine, the body is just a shell. If you think by modifying the outside, you can become a more loving, more generous, and happier person, go ahead, because what is important is the heart, and God looks at the heart and not what you have in between your legs.’
“So for me, the Church I belong to has not treated me with rejection. In fact it has been a source of consolation for me, even during my growing years, when the internal struggle was very intense and I would often get depressed. The incidence of depression among transgender people is very high, until they have that definitive moment when finally, their body is aligned with their psyche, with their mind, with their heart. So the Church was a source of consolation for me.”
In a separate interview with PhilStar, she cited two other incidents of church ministers offering support. At her 10th high school reunion in 1994, the current principal introduced Roman to teachers as “the first alumna” of their all-male high school. In addition, Jesuits at Fordham University prayed for and ministered to her when Roman underwent gender-confirming surgery in New York.
Roman shared, too, about being raised in a “very Catholic” family which frequently discussed the meaning of their lives and God’s will for them. She credited her parents, both politicians themselves, with heavily influencing her involvement in politics. Her father taught her that every person has dignity as a child of God with “a special purpose in life.”
Roman concluded the interview with the hope she would not merely be “the transgender politician,” but Geraldine Roman the good legislator who helped people. Still, she remains committed to legislation that helps LGBT people because she understands firsthand the discrimination and difficulties such communities face. She identified civil unions as a goal, saying that while it is not marriage it is a starting point to ensure same-gender couples can access equal rights.
Roman’s words reveal how seamlessly one’s Catholic faith and desire to serve others pair with LGBT advocacy for the benefit of all, a revolutionary message for a very Catholic nation.
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?”
Facing a push from LGBT advocates for marriage equality, Catholic bishops in the Philippines strongly stated their opposition to the initiative in a pastoral letter. The bishops’ harsh rhetorical style triggered a beautiful response from a gay priest in that country, Fr. RJ.
The August letter from the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines attacked same-gender unions, saying they are “not and can never be a marriage as properly understood and so-called” and is not “similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage,” reported The Bangkok Post.
The bishops also claimed homosexuality is “objectively disordered” and that Catholic lawmakers should oppose marriage equality “in a particularly vigorous way.” None of this language is novel, but its repetition causes harm.
In response posted at Outrage Magazine, Fr. RJ described the bishops’ letter as “wrong and hurtful and a far cry from the Gospel” . He wrote:
“This pastoral letter not only violates the teaching of the catechism about accepting and respecting LGBTs, it further violates Pope Francis’ teaching against judging and marginalizing LGBTs. . .The Gospel is about human rights, and equality, and about love. Instead of opposing equal rights for LGBTs, Holy Mother Church should be at the forefront of defending and protecting LGBTs persons, LGBT couples, and LGBT families.”
Specifically on the question of marriage equality, so harshly criticized by the bishops, Fr. RJ said:
“Jesus was always on the side of the marginalized. Jesus was always on the side of human rights and human dignity. . .
“I challenge any bishop to look an LGBT couple in the eye and prove to them that their marriage perverts and undermines the common good. The reality is that the legalization of same-sex marriage enhances human rights and social justice.”
In UCA News, Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan, the Philippines Bishops Conference president, clarified that gay people should be respected, that pastoral workers cannot inquire into a person’s sexuality, and that families must welcome gay members.
However, Fr. RJ rejects these statements as false compassion, noting that the bishops quote the Catechism on homosexuality except for the part about respect, compassion and sensitivity. He continued:
“The Church herself is a family. This pastoral letter ostracizes the Church’s LGBT sons and daughters. This pastoral letter does not preach mercy. Instead, this pastoral letter preaches discrimination and injustice.”
Fr. RJ ended his essay hopefully, however, with a call for the church to repent and be converted from the “sin of homophobia” it currently enacts and move towards valuing LGBT people as God does:
“As human civilization advances and as our understanding of human rights progresses, it is time to let go of past errors. . .The good news is that we can also learn from our mistakes and correct our past errors. Homophobia and discrimination against LGBTs is one area where we have gravely misunderstood God’s plan. The truth is that God created LGBTs and God has a beautiful place for LGBT persons and LGBT families in His loving plan.”
All of this debate comes as LGBT advocates in the heavily Catholic nation are applying for marriage licenses. They want to set up a constitutional legal case that may bring about marriage equality if successful. For more information on the legal strategy, click here.
The rejections allow challenges to the nation’s Family Code currently before the nation’s Supreme Court to proceed, according to The Strait Times. Lawyer Jesus Falcis claimed that limiting marriage to one man and one woman as the Code does is unconstitutional, and he will file suit on behalf of partners Crescencio Agbayani and Marlon Pelipe, whose application was rejected.
Agbayani is a Christian minister, and he is clear “this is not an issue of religion but of equal protection” reported The Inquirer.
Filipino Catholic bishops vocally opposing marriage equality, fearful of change following the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision to legalize marriage for lesbian and gay couples. According to The Bangkok Post, Archbishop Socrates Villegas, head of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, reiterated the bishops’ opposition to LGBT equality, and he added:
“[T]he US Supreme Court decision will not go unheeded. We shall study it with assiduousness, and revisit our concepts and presuppositions.”
A bishops conference spokesperson admitted the U.S. decision would increase pressure in the Philippines reported UCA News, but the spokesperson also cited Pope Francis’ remarks about resisting “ideological colonization” during a recent visit to the country. As Bondings 2.0 previously reported, that comment has been widely misunderstood, and it seems is being again misapplied here.
Momentum for marraige equality is growing, however, as LGBT advocates expand their voices in a nation where 80% of 100 million residents are Catholic. June’s Metro Manila Pride drew hundreds according to Gay Star News, and one priest’s letter in Outrage reveals the reality that LGBT Catholics are increasingly in need of pastoral care as more people come out and form families. Father RJ wrote about the baptism of a same-gender couple’s child, concluding:
“The baptism went smoothly. Throughout the ceremony, I referred to Frankie and Shane as the parents of Pink. Frankie later told me that she got goosebumps when I first mentioned both their names as the parents. . .
“Out of fear of being subjected to ‘harsh words’ from the so-called ‘good Catholics’ and from the ‘shepherds’ of the Church, Frankie and Shane almost put off the baptism of their beautiful baby Pink. Would that one day, such ceremonies could be conducted openly and without fear, with the loving blessing and warm embrace of our Holy Mother, the Church.”
Yet, in the only nation (besides the Vatican) where divorce is still illegal and where the bishops’ influence remains pervasive, religion, and specifically Catholicism, will certainly continue playing a major role. Hopefully, more clergy and religious like Father RJ will begin speaking up about the good and faithful LGBT people they know and challenge the bishops’ anti-equality message.
Despite widespread actions for marriage equality and 72% public support, Prime Minister Tony Abbot, who is Catholic, remains firmly opposed to equal marriage. He denied members of Parliament a conscience vote on the Equal Marriage Bill that would have likely passed, and he instead called for a national referendum after 2016 elections, reported The New Civil Rights Movement.
Following a June decision paving the way to legalize same-gender marriages, Mexico’s Supreme Court has ruled 9-1 that bans on same-sex adoptions are also unconstitutional and violate a child’s rights, according to The Advocate. Marriage is “already legal in Mexico City and the states of Chihuahua, Coahuila, Guerrero, and Quintana Roo,” but is expected to expand when couples challenge local bans. The nation’s Catholic bishops, as expected, objected to expanding marriage rights, reported On Top Magazine.
Polish attitudes towards LGBT equality are slowly evolving, reported NPR.An LGBT pride parade in the historic city of Gdansk drew 1,000 marchers, and there has been more LGBT media exposure recently, according to one advocate.
Robert Biedron, the first openly gay member of Parliament, claims the change in attitude is “in part because the Catholic Church’s is shrinking in Poland and because more Poles are coming out of the closet.” Shrinking episcopal influence, coupled with personal knowledge of LGBT people, have been a key recipe for pro-equality Catholics to effect change elsewhere. Hopefully, there will be rainbows over Poland soon enough.