Transgender Rep. Geraldine Roman: ‘I had to deal with insults, people calling me names, saying I was immoral’

Congresswoman-elect Geraldine Roman: ‘Filipinos becoming more open.’ Photos by Ellen Wallop/Asia Society

Congresswoman-elect Geraldine Roman: ‘Filipinos becoming more open.’ Photos by Ellen Wallop/Asia Society

By Cristina DC Pastor

The first transgender member of the Philippine Congress said she won for speaking her “truth,” and for fighting insults about her sexual orientation and allegations of “immorality.”

Congresswoman-elect Geraldine Roman of Bataan also said she found it “quite paradoxical” that in the U.S., which is a strong advocate for gender rights and equality, Hillary Clinton’s gender remains a “big deal.”

“Hillary Clinton is a very qualified candidate,” said Roman, 49, speaking before Asia Society’s Diversity Leadership Forum on June 10. “Until we reach that point where we don’t talk about gender anymore there’s still a lot to be done here.”

In her province of Bataan, known in world history as the site of the infamous Death March, Roman is the third member of her family to run for public office. Her father Antonino became an assemblyman in 1978 when the Philippines was under a parliamentary legislature, and later a congressman when the country shifted to a bicameral Congress. His wife Herminia succeeded him in 2007, and now their daughter is taking over. She disputes her family is a dynasty arguing one is a dynasty if members of a family are “holding office simultaneously.”

“In our case, I don’t consider us a dynasty,” she said. She easily garnered 62 percent of votes to win her congressional seat, a victory that stunned analysts and seasoned political watchers.

Being a transgender woman, Roman’s election highlights the attitudes the conservative Philippine society may have about gender. She said there is now a “growing openness” in her Catholic country to LGBT people. She said her poll victory may be a “sign Filipinos are becoming more open.” It’s possible, she said further, that Filipinos are becoming more receptive toward integrating members of the LGBT in all spheres of life, including public office.

“One’s personal circumstances, whether it’s gender race, or religion, should not be a hindrance if one wants to serve public office. Within the context of the Philippines, which is a very traditional society, maybe it’s “a sign Filipinos are becoming more open,” she said.

Her path to the House may have been paved with the “good record of public service” of her parents and this growing social openness of people in her province. But it has not been that easy, she said.

“I had to deal with insults. My opponent called me names, mocked my anatomy, questioned my qualifications simply because I’m a transgender woman,” said Roman. “My opponents were saying I had no ideas, that I was an immoral person.”

She addressed all those “fears about the unknown” that she said promoted hatred, discrimination, and bigotry. “I combat it with knowledge, explained the history of transgender people.”

“I knew I had my morality and my ethics. I’m a very spiritual person and a practicing Catholic,” she continued. “Just hold on to that truth and explain who you are. Try to appeal to sentiments of acceptance and tolerance. That’s how I made it.”

Roman, according to reports, speaks five languages including Spanish, Italian, French and English. She was educated in Ateneo de Manila from elementary to high school, and studied journalism in Spain where she worked as senior editor for the Spanish News Agency before coming home to Bataan in 2012 when her father fell seriously ill. She is the second of four children. Two of her brothers live in the U.S., one in Ohio, the other in New York. She had the opportunity to visit her brother in New York when she was in town for the Asia Society forum. She recounted with delight how in her brother’s home, diversity was evident in the three daughters having different political views.

“In a family of five members how is it that the girls would root for three candidates, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump. How is it possible these girls were raised by the same parents and same values and yet they developed distinct mindsets and personalities?” she posed the question.

“My brother’s experience is shared by millions of American families,” she said. Diversity, she stressed, truly transcends cultural and religious differences.

Roman joined fellow speakers Tracy Doi, CFO of Toyota Motor Sales, USA; Royanne Doi, Chief Ethics Officer, Prudential; Jeff Yang, columnist and SVP at The Futures Company; and S. Shariq Yosufzai, Vice President, Global Diversity, Chevron in the Asia Society forum.

‘My family is not a dynasty.’

‘My family is not a dynasty.’

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One Comment

  1. Kristen Crayton wrote:

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