Geraldine Roman, the first transgender congresswoman in the Philippines, is backing a national bill that will make discrimination against the LGBT community illegal. Her support is hardly surprising, but her election to public office was.
To the western world, it was a ray of light – after all, you didn’t expect this to happen in a devoutly Catholic country with a heartbreaking record of violence against transgender persons.
To many, her election symbolized a hope for change, a break with stereotypes, and a transition to progressive thinking. The congresswoman, who had her sex surgically altered more than two decades ago in New York, is a beacon to the LGBT community. The Anti-SOGIE discrimination bill was introduced in the Congress of the Philippines 17 years ago, but it wasn’t until Roman’s action that it reached the plenary.
If SOGIE (sexual orientation and gender identity expression) is adopted, violence and discrimination on the basis of gender identity expression and sexual orientation in schools and workplaces will become illegal. What is more, prohibiting access to commercial establishments and government services on the basis of sexual orientation or being transgender will be outlawed too.
The Philippines has yet to catch up with many Western countries in terms of LGBT acceptance. It is also behind other Asian countries like Taiwan, which will legalize same-sex marriages in the foreseeable future.
There were 28 murders of LGBT community members on the territory of the island country in 2011 alone. Philippines made world headlines when a member of the US Marines killed Filipino transgender Jennifer Laude in 2014. Many transgender escorts are forced to keep their interactions with customers online-only due to the spread of violence on the streets. TSescorts.com, an online service for transgender escorts to find clients, says that in the last few years demand for their service has grown by 500%.
Resistance to the bill is anticipated, but there is some support too – 145 congresspersons have signed it already and it has good prospects of becoming law. Geraldine Roman has played a pivotal role in the legislative lobby.