Op-Ed

For LGBT rights, the time is now! – Rep. Geraldine Roman

Transcript of the privilege speech delivered by Rep. Geraldine B. Roman, 1st District of Bataan, House of Representatives, on the need to pass an anti-discrimination law for LGBT people in the Philippines.

Mr. Speaker, I rise on a question of personal and collective privilege.

I say personal – from the innermost recesses of my heart and memory – because part of what I am about to share with the members of this august body and with our visitors in the gallery, was written by my late father, Tony P. Roman Jr., a former member of this House, and a friend to many of you.

Tony Roman was the epitome of a macho politician with his iconic moustache and charming good looks. He is remembered as a legislator, with a gift of eloquence and communication, as well as a much-appreciated sense of humor, expressed with his baritone voice.

Congressman Teddyboy Locsin once described Tony Roman as “a sharp lawmaker who drafted laws like an experienced surgeon cuts with a knife.”

But I remember him most not because of all of these wonderful traits, which make me very proud. I remember him dearly because he was a father who loved, accepted, supported, and defended me, Geraldine Roman, his transgender daughter, with no question or condition, whatsoever.

In October 2013, shortly before the Barangay Elections of that year, as my mother and I were busy meeting with several barangay captains, I clearly recall how my father, then a frail shadow of the sturdy man he used to be – he had already lost more than 30 pounds of weight due to emphysema – called me out of the meeting and sat me down in a corner of our living room.

He held my arm and said, “Geri, I know you are going to make it as a congresswoman. How I pray I will be still around when you win in 2016. But just in case, I want you to know that I dreamt of you last night, delivering your first privilege speech. I want you to remember what I am about to tell you.”

“Really, Daddy?” I asked. “Did you really dream about my first privilege speech?” To be honest, at that moment, I had a gut feeling that all he wanted me to do was to memorize his own thoughts, and that he was just using this so-called dream as an excuse to convince me to use his words when this time comes.

“Yes. I dreamt it,” he assured me. “Just remember these words…”

What I heard surprised me. Rather than a victorious speech with a legislative agenda meant to impress my future colleagues, what he was telling me basically constituted a plea. Instead of a triumphant discourse meant to shame potential detractors, my father’s speech sounded more like an appeal for my colleagues to look beyond my gender and to accept me as an equal. It was an appeal meant for you, my colleagues in Congress, to overcome whatever biases you may have and focus on what I had to offer. It was a humble plea for all of you to respect me, if not for who I am, for who I represent, and these are the noble people of the First District of Bataan.

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The better part of me could not imagine saying those words. But I could understand where those words were coming from. Here was a father who was dying. He was not questioning my qualifications nor my ability to win, but he knew perfectly well that for me to be an effective lawmaker, I had to gain the respect of my colleagues. And he was willing to beg for that respect. All for the sake of his transgender daughter.

If my father could hear me now, I would tell him this: “Daddy, you and I need not beg my colleagues for respect. I am glad and proud that the members of the 17th Congress have not only welcomed me with open arms. They have dealt with me as a full-fledged colleague, as an equal. Daddy, you would be glad to know that they have treated me with the dignity and respect that is due all human beings.

For this, maraming salamat mga mahal kong kasamahan.

Nais din ng LGBT community pasalamatan ang aking mga kasama sa Kongreso na lumagda bilang co-authors ng Anti-Discrimination Bill Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. Tangapin po ninyo ang mga rosas sa inyong mga mesa, bilang simbolo ng pagkakaisa at ng pasasalamat. Kayo po ang #equalitychampions ng ika-labing-pitong Kongreso. Palakpakan po nating lahat an gating mga #equalitychampions.

Mr. Speaker, my dear colleagues, I stand before on a question of personal privilege. But I also speak before you on a matter of collective significance.

I say collective, because what I thought would be a victory for an ordinary politician like myself, has instead been described as a turning point, a paradigm shift, a light at the end of the tunnel for a sector of society that has long been judged, marginalized and neglected.

As much as I would have wanted to focus my entire energy to serving the people of the 1st District of Bataan, in the tradition started by my father and continued by my mother, I cannot turn my back at a group of people, who have long suffered discrimination, and have long been denied adequate legal protection. How can I turn a blind eye to the suffering that I myself have experienced at some point in my life?

Dear colleagues, you know who we are.

We are your brothers, we are your sisters, your sons and your daughters, and nieces and nephews. We are your family. We are your friends, your schoolmates, your colleagues at work, your Twitter and Facebook buddies, your neighbors. We are part of society.

We laugh, we cry, we love, and yearn to be loved. We are human beings. We love our families. We love our country. We are proud Filipinos, who just happen to be LGBT.

The question is: do we, as members of the LGBT community, share the same rights as all other citizens? Does the State grant us equal protection under our laws?

An overview of legal references to the LGBT phenomenon shows that there are no direct references to lesbian, gay, transgender and bisexual individuals. In fact, these terms are nowhere to be found in any of our existing laws, save for a few references to “sexual orientation.” It is clear, therefore, that this sector, and its needs, have been consistently overlooked.

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We lack psychosocial counselors equipped with the proper skills and training to respond to the needs of individuals with LGBT-related depression, anger, suicidal tendencies and family relationship issues.

There is no data concerning violations of labor standards involving LGBT employees.

There is confusion even within the judiciary, with no less than the Supreme Court using LGBT and homosexuals interchangeably in some of its decisions, even if not all LGBT people are homosexuals.

In our collective knowledge, the Philippines has had numerous incidents of hate crimes against the LGBT. Sadly, only 164 of these have been documented as cases since 1996, because there is no single officer or even a desk within the DOJ, the PNP, and the NBI that documents and monitors such hate crimes.

And when in June 2011, the UN Human Rights Council introduced a Joint Statement urging States to end violence, criminal sanctions and related human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, our own Permanent Representative to the UN did not support it.

My dear brothers and sisters in the LGBT community, I want you to know that I am but one voice among many in this august chamber that says it is time. It is the time to pass the Anti-Discrimination Bill on the Basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity. And the time is NOW!

Once passed, this measure will prohibit the following discriminatory acts:

If an employer, whether from the private or public sector, includes sexual orientation or gender identity in the criteria for hiring, promotion, transfer, designation, work assignment, re-assignment, dismissal, performance review, selection for training, in the computation of benefits, privileges and allowances – that is discrimination.

If a school or any educational or training institution refuses to admit a student or participant or chooses to expel him or her solely on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, that is discrimination.

If a school imposes disciplinary sanctions, penalties, restrictions and requirements harsher than the usual that infringe on the rights of students on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, that is discrimination.

When a student or a trainee is harassed, punished or restricted due to the sexual orientation or gender identity of his parents or legal guardians, that is discrimination.

If this measure is passed, the Commission on Elections will have no right to prohibit the registration or revoke the accreditation of an LGBT organization based on sexual orientation, just like what it did to Ang Ladlad party-list. Never again, should such an outright rejection and blatant act of discrimination by a government agency based on sexual orientation and gender identity be permitted under our laws.

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The bill also underscores the right of every LGBT individual to have access to or use of establishments, facilities, utilities or services, including housing.

Bakit naman may mga restaurants at clubs na ayaw magpapasok ng transgender? How different are we from your other patrons? Di ba nagbabayad di naman kami? Ipagbabawal ng batas na ito ang mga ganitong uri ng diskriminasyon.

What if a member of the PNP harasses a person because he or she is LGBT? Then the proposed law will make that officer accountable for his or her actions. Harassment occurs when a person is arrested or placed in custody and subjected to extortion, physical or verbal abuse, because that person is gay and vulnerable.

One cannot also force a person to undertake any medical or psychological examination to alter the person’s sexual orientation or gender identity without the consent of the person involved.

If that person is a minor and below the age of discernment, then the approval of the appropriate Family Court shall be required, and the Office of the Solicitor-General can represent that child.

What happens to those who violate the law?

A jail term of not less than one year but not more than six years awaits. Add to that a fine of not less than Php100,000 to a maximum of Php500,000.

In addition, the court may sentence the guilty party to community service, and to undergo human rights education, including familiarization with and exposure to the plight of the victims.

What else does this measure seek to accomplish?

Under Section 7, the Women and Children’s Desks now existing in all police stations shall also act on and attend to the complaints and cases covered by this Act. Officers assigned to these desks shall undergo appropriate training with a human rights-based approach to include, among others, gender sensitivity, awareness in proper terminology, the dynamics of LGBT relationships and the proper handling hate crime investigations.

Nais ko lang sanang balikan at dugtungan ang naging panawagan ng aking ama sa inyo, mga kasamahan sa Kongreso. Sana po, katulad ng inyong malugod na pagtanggap sa akin, ay tanggapin po ninyo ang pagiging pantay-pantay ng bawat Pilipino, LGBT man o hindi.

Recognizing our rights and dignity will in no way diminish yours. We are not asking for special privileges or extra rights. We simply ask for equality. With inclusiveness and diversity, our nation has so much to gain.

And yet, sadly, previous attempts to pass this law have all failed.

Mr. Speaker, dear colleagues, history awaits!

The time – and the opportunity – to pass the Anti-Discrimination Bill on the Basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity is NOW.

Ako po si Geraldine Roman, anak ng magiting na lalawigan ng Bataan, transgender, mambabatas, Pilipino.

Maraming salamat po.

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