The Philippines landed a major LGBT rights victory with the election of Geraldine Roman, a trans woman and Liberal Party member, to the country’s House of Representatives.
Roman, 49, transitioned more than two decades ago. She will represent the Bataan province, north of Manila, the capital, taking over the seat that once belonged to her mother. She secured 23,814 votes Monday, beating her opponent by more than 13,000.
She’s proudly campaigned for greater trans rights in the Philippines.
“That somebody of my condition is going to enter congress for the first time is a statement that even transgender people can serve our country and should not be discriminated against,” she told Agence France-Presse. “Gender only becomes an issue when you try to keep it a secret. I’m so happy so why should I be ashamed?”
Roman expressed her support for a 16-year-old anti-discrimination bill that would offer equal treatment of the LGBT community in the workplace, hotels and schools, according to AFP.
Other policy goals include modern infrastructure and upgrades to Bataan’s hospitals.
Roman will face an uphill battle in a country that is known for marginalizing and abusing its LGBT community.
Divorce, abortion and same-sex marriage are still illegal in the predominantly Catholic country, AFP reported. Changing one’s name and sex is also banned.
The country’s primary LGBT political party, Ang Ladlad, was accused of “immorality which offends religious beliefs” by the election commission in 2010.
Roman lived in Spain and worked as an editor at a news agency before returning home in 2012 to care for her parents. She promised to carry on the family’s political legacy, the BBC reported.
Her appointment coincides with a major debate on trans rights underway in the U.S. The Justice Department filed a lawsuit against North Carolina on Monday, deeming the state’s “bathroom bill” discriminatory and in violation of civil rights law. Gov. Pat McCrory (R) approved a bill in March that would block transgender people from using the bathroom that correlates with their gender identity.