There has been much coverage lately of the election of transgender woman Geraldine Roman to the Philippine House of Representatives. American news outlets convey their surprise that this would happen in the Philippines, a Catholic country which does not allow same-sex marriage, abortion or divorce. They are shocked that a conservative nation would elect a transgender woman to public office with more than 60 percent of the votes.
Western media is touting this as some sort of progressive move in an otherwise conservative nation. Their perception of the Philippines is that it is an ultra-conservative and religious country. In America, “religious” is often equated with “intolerant.” This is not surprising when fundamentalists and radicals in the States use their religion as a justification for hatred. Where Americans use their religion to condone bigotry, Filipinos embrace the command to “love thy neighbor.”
While it is true that there are intolerant people of all races, I have found the general Filipino attitude to be more welcoming than the American attitude. There are several members of my family who identify as gay or lesbian. They are never threatened with being disowned as I’ve so often seen in American families. I was never raised to condemn people based on who they choose to love. In fact, I did not even realize the word “gay” meant anything other than “joyful” until I heard my American classmates using the word as an insult.
I don’t know of any Filipinos who are shocked that Roman would win the vote. Why should we be when Vice Ganda, a homosexual man known for his effeminate mannerisms, is one of the nation’s biggest superstars? Mainstream Filipino TV has more positive portrayals of the LGBT community than its American counterpart.
America, unlike the Philippines, allows same-sex marriage, abortion and divorce, all things which people claim prove it is an enlightened and accepting country. Yet the country is currently torn over allowing transgender people to use a bathroom unless it matches the gender assigned on their birth certificate.
Yes, the Philippines is a Catholic country. But it is a loving one. The Bible tells us to love one another, not judge one another. Geraldine Roman’s election is not extraordinary. It is not a surprising rounding of the corner towards tolerance. It is the natural progression of a country which teaches its children to love instead of hate.
While the Philippines is still taking strides towards acceptance and tolerance for all people, on the whole it is more accepting than America.