A small sensation has occurred in the Catholic Philippines. Geraldine Roman is the first trans person to enter parliament.
The Philippines are becoming more tolerant: Geraldine Roman at an election campaign event Photo: reuters
The loud-mouthed bully and future president Rodrigo Duterte dominated international headlines after the elections in the Philippines. Among other things, the controversial right-wing populist called the pope a son of a bitch, made fun of an abuse victim and plans to soon take a "zero tolerance" approach to criminals in the country. If necessary, he would also hang them twice.
But the election also wrote another story: Geraldine Roman is the first transperson to enter the Philippine parliament. With 62 percent of the vote, she will represent the northern province of Bataan in the House of Representatives.
In the majority conservative country, this is a minor sensation. Over 80 percent of Filipinos are Catholic, most of them strict practitioners. Unlike in Germany, the churches there are packed on Sundays. Especially in rural areas, the church has great influence on politics and society. Besides the Vatican, the Philippines is also the only country where there is no divorce law, and abortion and gay marriage are also banned. A deep cut in sexual self-determination was last made in 2001: Since then, a law has made it impossible for trans people to change their gender and name.
Geraldine Roman is also bothered by this law. The 49-year-old has been living as a woman since the 1990s, when she still had the option of changing her name and gender. At the age of 26, the practicing Catholic underwent a sex change operation in New York, but not without first consulting the Jesuit order. "The body is only a shell," they had answered her at the time and blessed the project.
During the election campaign, Roman had experienced numerous hostilities. "The politics of hate, bigotry and prejudice did not win. What won was acceptance, love and tolerance," she said after her victory. An impressive message in a country that officially allows homosexuality, but in reality still discriminates against those affected. No state politician there is openly homosexual.
Hope of the LGBTI community
Roman has two master’s degrees, speaks fluent Spanish, French and Italian. She worked as a journalist for the Spanish news agency EFE. Now she succeeds her mother Herminia Roman in office. The family has had influence in the region for a long time. This is not unusual in the Philippines – a few families still determine politics at both the state and local levels. Roman probably owes her electoral success primarily to this circumstance.
Nevertheless, the Philippine LGBTI community is jubilant. Roman agrees: "Just the fact that someone like me can get into Congress is a statement." Her victory also shows that society is slowly becoming more liberal. Acceptance of homosexuality has increased in recent years and there is now also a small LGBTI community in the capital Manila
There is now a small LGBTI community in Manila and acceptance of homosexuality has also increased in recent years. In Quezon City, a part of Metro Manila, an ordinance was also passed in 2014 to protect sexual minorities from discrimination – against the opposition of the church.
Anti-discrimination is also on Geraldine Roman’s agenda. She wants to advance a related nationwide law that has been sitting around in parliament for a long time without much attention. During the election campaign, Roman was repeatedly accused of representing only this single issue as a politician and therefore not being taken seriously. However, she does not want to limit herself to gender issues.
"Equality is not only about gender, but also about social and economic status. Whether poor or rich, educated or not, everyone_should have the same opportunities," Roman said. That’s why she wants to improve infrastructure, opportunities for education and the healthcare system. Issues that received little attention in the future president’s election program.