Get to know PH's first transgender politician

ABS-CBN News

MANILA – Geraldine Roman is excited to deliver on her promises after making history as the Philippines’ first transgender politician.

Roman, who won a seat in the first district of Bataan, said her victory proves that members of the LGBT community can take an active role in building the nation.

“It does send a statement to Philippine society in general,” she said in an interview with ABS-CBN News’ MJ Felipe.

But she is quick to add that she does not plan on focusing on just LGBT rights as a congresswoman, but “equality on all terms.”

“When you mentioned the word transgender [to refer to me], I don’t mind, really, because that’s what I am. But what I want to tell everybody is this – the ideal situation is where we don’t have to talk about gender anymore,” she said.

“Whether you are babae, lalaki, bakla, tomboy, mayaman, mahirap… may pinag-aralan o wala, tayong lahat ay may dangal, may dignity, because we are children of God,” she added. “Meron tayong mga karapatan na dapat igalang, kilalanin at ipaglaban dahil tayo ay mga mamamayan ng ating bansa. What I’m going to fight for is equal opportunity – pantay-pantay na pagkakataon upang mapanibago, mapaunlad, mapaginhawa at mapaligaya ang ating mga buhay. That is what is equality for me.”

Equality, indeed, is at the heart of Roman’s legislative agenda. Each of the eight letters represents an advocacy – “E for education, Q and U for quality and universal health care, A for agriculture, L for livelihood, I for infrastructure na dekalidad, T for transparency in government, and Y for Youth.”

Roman is determined to file bills for these advocacies during her term. “So lahat ‘yan… I will file a bill. ‘Yun ang aking target. Measurable results tayo, eh… I hope to get eight out of eight… Or at least five out of eight. I have a lot of time and a lot of work ahead of me.”

Supportive family

Roman, 49, said nobody had to convince her to run for Congress, noting that she just wanted to continue what her family started.

She is set to succeed her mother as representative of Bataan. Her late father was also a congressman.

Geraldine Roman (center) is greeted by her supporters during a Miting de Avance in Orani, Bataan last May 6. Romeo Ranoco, Reuters

“Sarili kong desisyon ito when I came back in 2012 to take care of my ailing father. He was dying so I decided to come back home. I used to live in Spain,” she explained. “That was when I saw na marami kaming natutulungan – our family, ang parents ko, particularly. And I said, well, somebody has to continue the tradition of service of the Roman family. And here I am.”

While growing up as a transgender was quite challenging for her, Roman still feels lucky to have a family who supported her every step of the way. 

“You become the butt of jokes of your friends, or so-called friends, you are teased by your classmates, you are bullied in school. You grow up and try to be the best person that you are and still, you are judged by other people,” she recalled.

“But my life was relatively easy compared to many people of the same condition who are not accepted by their families,” she added. 

Roman shared that her father and brother even took care of her when she underwent sex realignment surgery in New York at the age of 27.

“[When I woke up after the surgery] I had this big bouquet of white flowers given by my father. He even set up a small altar beside my bed. That was how supportive he was of me,” she said. 

Paying it forward, Roman now strives to educate her constituents – particularly parents – about being a transgender.

“I was telling them my life story in the hope that they will understand and accept their children the way my parents accepted me,” she said. 

Informed decision

Roman proudly labels herself a Catholic who happens to be a transgender as well, and is out to show that “those two things are not irreconcilable.”

“You can reconcile the fact that you are Catholic and that you are true to yourself,” she said.

(READ: Meet 5 Pinoy celebrity transgenders)

Addressing her critics, Roman said she made an informed decision and even consulted with Jesuits while studying in Ateneo.

“I studied at Ateneo de Manila and that’s a Jesuit-run school. Before making the decision to undergo sex realignment surgery, I consulted with the Jesuits. And you know what they told me? They told me: ‘Geraldine, the body is just a shell. If you feel that by modifying the outside, you can become a more loving, more generous and a happier person, go ahead, because what is important is the heart. God looks at the heart and not what you have in between your legs,’” she said. 

She also cited the “liberal atmosphere” in the University of the Philippines, where she also studied, saying that this helped with her transition.

“In Ateneo, I couldn’t wear my hair long, ‘di ba? But when I entered the University of the Philippines, it had a more liberal atmosphere. I started growing my hair,” she said. 

While she is proud to be a transgender, Roman said there came a point when this was used against her during her campaign.

“Pinilit gamitin ng aking mga katunggali ang aking kasarian as an issue. Gusto nilang gamiting batong pamukol sa akin. Their type of politics was of hatred and bigotry, of discrimination, of judgment – self-righteousness also to a certain extent. But I’m happy that that type of politics did not triumph,” she said. “Ang nagtagumpay ay pulitiko ng pag-unawa, ng pagtanggap sa iyong kapwa-tao, paggalang sa diversity, respect. That is the type of politics that I want to promote.”

Roman went on to promise Filipinos that she will be “the best legislator that I can possibly be.”

“I will prove to them that we are also human beings. We love our country, we love our fellowmen and I just want to remove the basis that they have for judging us,” she ended.

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