PHILIPPINES: Filipina Trans Beauty Queens Get Political in Fight For Equality

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The trans community in the Philippines occupies a uniquely visible platform in local culture. Families flock to the popular beauty competitions, which are often timed to coincide with festivals. Some are broadcast nationally.
“Even the smallest village here in the Philippines celebrates fiesta,” Maki Gingoyon, an activist and former beauty pageant contestant, said. “And in every fiesta celebration, there is usually a beauty pageant for transgender women.” 

But broader cultural and political barriers remain in the battle to win acceptance and equal rights for trans individuals, advocates argue. 

In the predominantly Catholic Philippines, transgenders cannot change their gender under national law. Confusion about the difference between gender identity and sexual orientation is widespread, thanks in part to the use of the term bakla to describe both gay men and transgender women. 

The absence of full recognition and legal protection opens the door to discrimination, both in the workplace and in society as a whole. And, as the 2014 murder of transgender woman Jennifer Laude demonstrated, hate crimes remain a real threat. The Philippines had one of the highest rates of murders of transgender people in all of Asia from 2008 to 2014, according to the international Trans Murder Monitoring project.

Rocero and activists on the ground and abroad are trying to change that. They're pushing for the passage of an anti-discrimination law that would allow for gender changes on official documentation, a proposal that has long stalled in the country's government. They are also working to end stigma by encouraging transgender women to speak out about their experiences. 

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