As Filipino LGBT Attitudes Evolve, a Transgender Congresswoman Is Elected

The Philippines has elected a transgender Congresswoman in an otherwise macho election cycle, illustrating the country’s increasing acceptance of the LGBTI community.

Earlier this month, Geraldine Roman was elected to Congress in the Philippines, making history as the conservative Catholic country’s first elected transgender politician.

Roman fought a tough battle in a macho election cycle. Her opponent described her as “a sinner and unworthy,” boxing champion Manny Pacquiao ran for (and won) a Senate seat after vocalizing strong opposition to same-sex marriage, and Rodrigo Duterte, the President-elect whose outrageous comments included vows to be a “dictator” and execute 100,000 criminals.

Influenced by the Catholic Church, divorce, abortion and same sex marriage remain illegal in the Philippines, and transgender people are unable to legally change their name and sex.

Roman’s win shows that in spite of these obstacles, attitudes toward LGBT issues in the Philippines are evolving rapidly. Logo and Viacom have just released the results of the ILGA-RIWI 2016 “Global Attitudes Survey on LGBTI People,” a poll of nearly 100,000 respondents in 65 countries, including the Philippines. Among its findings are that Filipinos are ahead of global averages in their acceptance of the LGBT community.

The survey found attitudes towards LGBT people in the Philippines to be quite compassionate. A majority of respondents agreed that human rights should be applied to everyone, regardless of whom they feel attracted to or the gender they identify with (70% Filipinos vs. 66% globally). They were also more likely to perceive bullying of LGBT young people as a significant problem (57% vs. 51%).

Filipinos are largely comfortable in the presence of LGBT people. Three out of four said they would have no concern if their neighbor were gay or lesbian (vs. 65% globally) and 70% would feel no concern if they were unable to identify their neighbor’s gender at first sight (vs. 64% globally).

They were also more likely than global respondents to say that their feelings toward LGBT people have improved over the last five years (42% vs. 34%). Among Filipino respondents in this group, knowing a gay person was the main driver of these more positive feelings, followed by the opinions of friends and family.

Filipino respondents were also considerably more likely than global respondents to know a gay person (61% vs. 46%). Of this group, 64% of Filipinos reported having close family members or good friends who are gay (vs. 49% globally).

One area where Filipino attitudes lag other countries is same sex marriage, which only 23% of Filipino respondents believed should be legal (vs. 33% globally). Interestingly, Roman herself has said that she is not yet in favor of same sex marriage, though she does favor a proposal to introduce legislation for civil unions. Time will tell whether this stance is a political move to appear more closely aligned with Pope Francis’s relatively tolerant (but still not quite accepting) positions on some key LGBT issues.

Additionally, nearly two-thirds of Filipino respondents said that they would be upset if one of their children told them they were in love with someone of the same sex. The driving sentiment here may be less a feeling of non-acceptance than a desire to shield their children from the legal challenges and other forms of discrimination that the Filipino LGBT community faces.

Just as politicians like Roman can support legislation to broaden LGBT rights in the Philippines, they have an opportunity to expand public acceptance through their influence. Nearly a third of Filipino respondents said they would be more likely to accept LGBT people if their favorite celebrity did, too (29% Filipinos vs. 21% globally).

Roman has said that she fended off her opponents’ attacks by telling the public about her life story and struggles—and in doing so, she won 62% of the vote. If she and others continue to voice their stories, it’s possible that the Philippines’ laws will someday catch up to its more progressive attitudes.