The Philippines is a predominantly conservative Catholic nation, where religion still wields considerable influence in political institutions. This is a nation in which a Cardinal was instrumental in toppling two Presidents, and Catholic Bishops were responsible in saving a third. Even smaller indigenous christian churches like the INC are courted by politicians for their endorsement.
Despite all this, it seems that the electorate may be more open minded and progressive than one can discern from the surface. For the first time in the country's history, the conservative nation has elected its first transgender politician into public office.
The name of this groundbreaking politician is Geraldine Roman, a 49 year old transwoman who just won the Congressional seat of the first district of northern Bataan province.
She did not only overcome the traditional values of her people, she also won by a landslide, claiming 62% share of the vote against opponent Danny Malana.
"The politics of bigotry, hatred and discrimination did not triumph. What triumphed was the politics of love, acceptance and respect," Roman told Agence France-Presse.
Geraldine Roman comes from a political family, and will be succeeding to her mother's congressional seat. Her late father also served in Congress.
Like many members of the LGBT community, she had a difficult childhood coming to terms with her identity. “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,” Roman recalls of her time growing up.
Geraldine feels lucky to have a loving and supporting family. "My life was relatively easy compared to many people of the same condition who are not accepted by their families,” she says.
In fact, her father and brother were the ones that took care of her when she underwent sex-reassignment surgery in New York City when she was 27 years old.
"(When I woke up) 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 fondly recalls.
But it was not only her family that was supportive, in contrast to many openly vocal Christian groups that would openly campaign against members of the LGBT community. Geraldine in fact sought, and received guidance from the priests at her school.
“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 says.