Unofficial results show that the Philippines is electing its first-ever transgender member of Congress — Geraldine Roman, who’s winning nearly 62 percent of the vote in her district, according to polls.
Like many Filipino politicians, Roman is part of a political dynasty: She will be taking over her House seat from her mother, currently a representative of Bataan, who has hit her three-term limit. Roman’s father held the seat before that.
“The fact that she comes from a prominent and politically powerful family definitely helps her candidacy in this conservative, predominantly Catholic country where abortion, divorce and same-sex marriage are all illegal,” Michael Sullivan reported for NPR in the run-up to the election.
Now Roman has claimed victory — a significant milestone.
The status of LGBT people in the Philippines made headlines earlier this year, when boxer and politician Manny Pacquiao compared gay people to animals. (He later apologized.)
And according to the AFP, there are currently no openly gay politicians active at the national level in the Philippines.
Roman told the AFP her life “has not been a secret,” and that her father always encouraged her to be confident in the face of teasing about her gender.
Roman transitioned in the ’90s. She speaks three European languages and lived in Spain before returning to the Philippines to take care of her father when he fell ill, the AFP writes.
Ahead of the election, she told the news agency that a victory would be “a statement that even transgender people can serve our country and should not be discriminated against.”
The AFP noted the many challenges:
“On the most basic front, a law was passed in 2001 making it impossible for transgender Filipinos to change their name and sex.
“In 2010, the election commission also barred the Ang Ladlad party, which represents the LGBT community, from contesting the polls, accusing it of ‘immorality which offends religious beliefs.
“The Supreme Court overturned the commission’s ruling, but Ang Ladlad failed to win a seat in Congress in the past two elections.”
Roman is a member of the ruling Liberal party.
She told AFP she will campaign for an LGBT anti-discrimination bill and for the legalization of gender transitioning. But she has emphasized, both to AFP and to Reuters, that her campaign hasn’t been about her gender identity — it’s been focused on her family legacy.
“At the start, my opponents are trying to convert my gender into an issue and it turns out that people don’t mind,” Roman told Reuters.
“People look beyond the gender and look at what you offer and what’s in your heart. That is the most important thing.”