The Fight for Transgender Rights in Manila

Transgenders were active in the community as leaders or Shamans before the Spaniards colonized the Philippines. What is known as the LGBT community today lost practically all rights with colonization. Under Spanish rule, homosexuality was punishable by death, and all forms of cross-dressing were banned. The Spanish legacy has been hard to overcome and the island nation’s LGBT community, in part the trans, remains marginalized. Its members often face disadvantages in starting their own business, obtaining civil marriage rights, and even getting hired for jobs.

The suicide rate among non-heterosexuals is higher compared to non-homosexuals. International research shows that the Filipino LGBT community may have as many as 12 million members. It’s impossible to know exactly as not all are registered, or even out for that matter.

The community has a beacon in the face of Geraldine Roman, who is the first transgender member of Congress in the country. She is backing the anti-SOGIE (sexual orientation and gender identity expression) bill which, if passed, will make discrimination against transsexuals illegal. This would be great news for transgender women in Manila and the country. Roman’s election to Congress symbolizes hope for change, a transition to liberal thinking, and a break with stereotypes. If it hadn’t been for her, the bill would never have reached the plenary.

If it is passed into law, violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity expression will be outlawed nationwide. Preventing access to commercial establishments and government services on the basis of being trans will be against the law as well.

The bill has some implications where marital rights are concerned. In an interview with CNN, Roman assures that “there is no reason to fear the civil partnership bill.” She says it is a matter of being democratic enough to realize that all Filipinos deserve legal recognition and all associated rights and obligations.

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