Filipino transgender woman says congress run about legacy, not landmark

ORANI, Philippines (Reuters) - Contesting an election in the Philippines is a tough task, even more challenging when the main opposition is not rival candidates, but discrimination and gender prejudice.

Geraldine Roman insists she can overcome that. Once a man, she now finds herself on the brink of becoming the country’s first transgender person to be elected to public office in an national election to be contested on Monday.

Roman, 49, has lived as a woman for two decades since changing her name and shares her home with her male partner. She has been campaigning hard for a seat in the national congress in her native province of Bataan in northern Philippines.

Roman said she is no novelty candidate and her popularity is about policies and pedigree. She is running for the seat vacated by her mother, who has served a maximum three terms in the 300-seat chamber.

“The ideal situation is where gender is not an issue and we can focus on the platform, the agenda and the personality and the character of each candidate,” Roman told Reuters during a march in her home town of Orani, where yellow-shirted supporters cheered and chanted her name.

“That’s what is important, not the gender really.”

Roman said her aim is not about making a statement, but to continue her family’s public service, although she admitted she was initially concerned about failing and denting her mother’s legacy.

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Her campaign still marks a breakthrough of sorts in a predominantly Catholic country where the church has strong political influence.

Though it has not taken a position on transgender individuals, it has lobbied hard against divorce, abortion and same-sex marriage.

Roman said she has endured character assassination by rival candidates, but has managed to block that out because the public had given her a warm reception.

“At the start, my opponents are trying to convert my gender into an issue and it turns out that people don’t mind,” Roman said.

“People look beyond the gender and look at what you offer and what’s in your heart. That is the most important thing.”

Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Ed Davies