A Conversation with Congresswoman Geraldine Roman – Gender, Politics and Inspiration

Written by: Julia

Edited by: Amelie

Visual by: Kailani

“The world is not perfect and discrimination will always be here: always remember to keep your head up and to keep your core intact.” Rep. Geraldine Roman expresses her opinions on support and confidence in the face of discrimination and challenge.

On the 14th of April, the ISM community, hosted by creative writing publication Liham, had the honor to speak to Filipina congresswoman, Geraldine Roman. Roman is currently serving under Bataan’s 1st District, and is the first transgender woman elected to the Philippine Congress. She has garnered international acclaim, awarded as one of the ‘13 Most Inspirational Women in 2016’ by Time Magazine.

Born in Bataan, Roman grew up in a supportive household alongside her parents. As she navigated the changes in her physical body and her natural inclination of playing with dolls and other feminine hobbies, she found herself as a victim of bullying and trauma. This led to Roman’s struggles with finding her place and identity in a relatively conservative society. 

It was when she moved to Spain after attaining a scholarship to pursue journalistic studies that she began to truly come to terms with her identity as a woman. She vividly remembers being directed to the women’s bathroom in supermarkets and public places, which served as a source of empowerment and solidified Roman’s identity as a transgender female. Following this, in 1996, Roman decided to undergo sex reassignment surgery in New York, with full support from her family and friends. Reflecting on this experience now, Roman tells us that “the love and support of family and friends are very important – this, for me, was what was able to spark change.” 

When she received news that her beloved father had fallen ill back in the Philippines, she immediately flew home and decided to pursue a career in public service and politics, after struggling with finding meaning and passion in her life. Her father advised her that “life is meaningless if it solely revolves around yourself,” encouraging her to pick up a career in public service and hence run for office. When asked about her opinions on pushing for personal beliefs on the political stage, she advised to “avoid being idealistic – don’t lie, but manage your expectations.” She further addresses the rise of cancel culture amongst our generation and encourages forgiveness and understanding, stating that “there are no perfect politicians nor bills, and we can’t operate by cancelling other people on the basis of a single issue.” 

Roman’s transition into the political sphere was a rather challenging experience – the simple goal of helping and supporting the underprivileged masses morphed into a larger challenge involving trying to stay objective in the making of difficult political decisions while balancing personal and public opinion. She shared her experiences with working on the capital punishment laws, highlighting her need to vote against her own moral beliefs in order to represent her constituents beliefs and values This, she believes, is most important, saying that “as a politician, I ground myself by always thinking about my people first. What decisions and what choices will yield the greatest benefits to my community and the people who are depending on my decisions?” 

As a politician, Roman is a pioneer of LGBTQ+ inclusion movements in the Philippines, having unanimously passed the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Expression Equality (SOGIE) Bill. She too identifies as a very religious and devout Catholic believer, and shared some of her thoughts on the weaponization of religion in the response to a question from Phoebe Carios (9), who inquired about the relationship between gender equality and the religious nature of Philippine society. Roman expressed her thoughts on the Philippines being a more conservative nation in contrast with the “more secular West”, and believes that  “religion is not evil, but when it is used and weaponized, it’s a completely different story.” 

However, she encourages individuals to look beyond just gender identity, as a firm believer that it is equal rights across sectors and people that is what will truly lead to the development of the Philippines into a better and safer country. When answering Sarah Park (10)’s question on becoming a better ally and supporter of the LGBTQ+ movements, Roman advised the student body to “combat bias and prejudice through talking and knowledge,” and that “educating oneself will lead to more talk, less fear and more knowledge.”

The ISM community is highly grateful to Congresswoman Roman’s many insights, ranging from her opinions on growing political issues in the Philippines to her opinions on religion, identity and self-expression.. Speaking to Roman was an eye-opening experience that was able to expand the worldviews and perspectives of many, and as the ISM community continues to work towards achieving as supportive of a student body as possible, we hope that Roman’s talk will encourage and spark new and budding discussions within the unique and diverse cohorts in the school. Support your fellow Bearcats!