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Philippines Transgender Lawmaker Urges Protection for LGBT Rights

Bill Aims to Address Systemic Discrimination

The long-delayed move to extend legal protection to Philippines’ lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community got a boost this week. 

On Monday, Geraldine Roman, who in May 2016 became the first transgender person ever elected to the House of Representatives, delivered an emotional “privilege speech” urging her fellow legislators to pass the long-stalled “Anti SOGI [Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity] Discrimination Act.” The speech marked both Roman’s public-speaking debut in the House as well as the highest-profile advocacy push ever by a transgender person in the Philippines. 

Supporters hold placards while marching under a rainbow flag during a LGBT Pride parade in metro Manila, Philippines June 25, 2016.  © 2016 Reuters

A daughter of one the most prominent political families in the northern province of Bataan, Roman dedicated her speech to her father, Antonino Roman, who held the office in previous years and died in 2014. “Daddy, you would be glad to know that they have treated me with the dignity and respect that is due to all human beings,” she said. 

Roman filed the proposed law, House Bill 267, in June. If approved, it will criminalize anti-LGBT discriminatory hiring and employment practices as well as prohibit schools from refusing to register or expelling students on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Senate has introduced companion legislation, Senate Bill No. 935, otherwise known as the Anti-Discrimination Bill (ADB), which had its first hearing last month.

The law will also sensitize police and law enforcement officers on LGBT issues and train them to attend to complaints. In her speech, Roman attributed the relatively low police documentation of hate crimes against LGBT people in the Philippines – only 164 cases recorded since 1996 – to the absence of LGBT-sensitive law enforcement units. These initiatives are essential given that LGBT rights advocacy groups have warned that hate crimes against LGBT are on the rise and that the Philippines has recorded the highest number of murders of transgender individuals in Southeast Asia since 2008.

Roman’s bill would also prohibit discriminatory bars against LGBT access to health care. This is crucial because the Philippines now has the world’s fastest growing HIV epidemic driven by new HIV infections among men who have sex with men (MSMs). Her support of the bill in such a public and heartfelt manner will hopefully motivate lawmakers to take meaningful action to protect the rights of LGBT people by supporting its passage.

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