‘The fabulous Geraldine Roman’

LODESTAR - Danton Remoto (The Philippine Star) - May 13, 2016 - 10:00am

My friend, the columnist Vic Agustin, said that there is at least one gay senator and several gay congressmen in the Philippines, but none of them are out of the coffin, este, the closet.

I will not be so bold – or reckless – as to guess who these personas are, but I surely am humming like a bird that Geraldine Roman ran as congresswoman of Bataan’s first district – and beat the competition with 62 percent of the votes in her favor.

She campaigned in pearls and lipstick, and the regulatory yellow shirt of her parents’ Liberal Party. In the heat and dust of summer 2016, she campaigned and won, becoming the country’s first public transgender politician.

Ms. Roman said she worked hard to win. “I trust that you will accept me for who I am, no matter how others treat me. I will persevere,” she said in one of her campaign sorties.

Ms Roman, 49, was schooled at the Ateneo de Manila University for grade school and high school, and at the University of the Philippines for her college.

“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.

She said that her father and brother took care of her when she underwent sex realignment surgery in New York when she was  27.

“[When I woke up after the surgery] I had a 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.

Now she wants the same treatment for other transgender Pinays. “I was telling the parents of transgenders my life story in the hope that they will understand and accept their children the way my parents accepted me,” she said.

She said she made an informed decision before undergoing surgery and 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,’” 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.

Ms. Roman got a scholarship to study Journalism at the Universided del Pais Vasco in Spain. She speaks fluent Spanish, French and Italian and has two masters’ degrees. She also worked as a senior editor at the Spanish News Agency. While studying at the university, she met her partner, a Spanish national to whom she has been married, in a country that allows loving, same-sex couples to get married. Buti pa sila.

In 2012, like many of us who were schooled abroad and worked there, she faced a crossroad: whether to stay abroad or return home, to care for her ageing parents. And like many of us, she chose home.

The rest, as they say, is her story.

“That somebody of my condition is going to enter Congress for the first time is a statement that even transgender people can serve our country and should not be discriminated against,” Ms. Roman said.

There are no openly gay politicians in the Philippines. I am the chairman of Ladlad Party-list, which the Commission on Elections did not accredit in the 2010 elections, calling us “a threat to the youth” and peddling “immorality that offends religious beliefs.” Really, me?

For this, I brought the case to the Supreme Court, which allowed Ladlad to run only a month before the elections, with a vote of 13-2. The other party-lists had three months to campaign; we only had three weeks. We got close enough to victory, with less than 10,000 votes away from a congressional seat. We ran again in 2013, but lost to parties that had more money and more media mileage.

Thus, we were elated beyond belief when Ms Roman won. She said: “If Jesus Christ was alive today, he would not approve of discrimination. I firmly believe that.”

Netizens celebrated the news of Ms Roman’s election win, calling it a “huge breakthrough” in a country where transgender people face widespread discrimination and violence. Ladlad Party-list has an ongoing Hate Crimes Watch, which has listed 170 crimes against LGBTs since 1986.

Ms. Roman also said “the politics of bigotry, hatred and discrimination did not triumph. What triumphed was the politics of love, acceptance and respect.” She was mocked and made fun of during the campaign, but the fabulous Geraldine Roman faced them with her signature sangfroid.

She will also push for an anti-discrimination bill (ADB) that has long languished in Congress. The ADB wants to ensure equal treatment in the workplace, schools, commercial establishments and government offices. It does not have any same-sex marriage provision. She will also support a Freedom of Information bill.

“My life has not been a secret,” Ms. Roman said. “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?”

Still, the soft-spoken and refined congresswoman said she did not want to make gender the heart of her political career.

Roman plans to continue the medical assistance and scholarships her family has been providing for three generations. Her socio-economic platform also includes modernizing public hospitals and expanding Bataan’s road network.

Every summer has a story. This is the brave and moving story of Ms. Geraldine Roman, Congresswoman of Bataan.

What is your summer story?

Comments can be sent to danton.lodestar@gmail.com


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