By Patrick King Pascual, VERA Files
March 1, 2012 was a historic date not only for the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community but also for the University of the Philippines.
It was the day when UP students voted the first transgender chair of the University Student Council (USC).
Gabriel "Heart" Diño, a 22-year-old MS Applied Mathematics student, defeated three other candidates --- Martin Loon of the UP College of law, Amencio Melad III of the Militant Stand UP coalition, and 4th year BA Tourism Major Maria Shaina Santiago.
Another transgender, Pat Bringas, also won a seat in the student council.
Before winning the student council's topmost position, Heart was a councilor who handled the USC committee on gender and was also a leader of UP Babaylan.
"I had difficulty with my packaging, whether I will be the Heart that people know and expect me to be, or will I be the Heart who will conform to the stereotypes of being the USC chair, which is serious and formal," Heart recalled.
With her head held high, she ran on the platforms of "zero-tolerance in frat-related-violence, budget watch, transparency and accountability and zero cases of gender discrimination and sexual harassment."
During the campaign, Heart received several negative remarks pertaining to her being a transgender (a person whose gender identity and expression does not match his or her assigned sex at birth).
"In one of the dorm assemblies, my fellow candidate said that she is the only girl candidate for the chairperson position," Heart recalled. "It was so sad, because she is an incumbent. I have been saying to them that I am a girl with transgendered experiences."
Some of her school mates considered her an incompetent candidate, thinking that being a transgender, she had nothing to offer to improve their condition as state university students.
There was even a student from the College of Law who confronted Heart and asked her directly why she was using her sexuality to campaign for the position.
Her credentials and her capacity to lead the student council did not matter to some students. Her sexuality was always made an issue against her.
However, her recent victory proved that gender should not be an issue and that anyone (straight or LGBT) could be a leader as long as he or she is capable to lead and knows the responsibilities required by the position one is running for.
Heart recalled there were also good things that happened during her campaign, like having met a lot of people who believed in her, and inspired her to continue her fight. Some even helped her in the campaign.
"Heart's victory was a landmark in the LGBT community in the Philippines," a member of UP Babaylan said. "We (UP Babaylan, the first and largest LGBT student organization in the Philippines) were very proud of her. The years we spent fighting and advocating for equal rights in the university is already tangible."
Ladlad party-list said Heart's victory only showed that "the horizon of one's dreams is infinite, whether one is lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender."
Ever since her teachers in Claret School told her parents of her feminine actions and tendencies, Heart has started to see things differently and accepted the reaction of her family, schoolmates, and other people towards her gender.
"I can still remember clearly how the janitor in one of the malls in Makati blocked the door when I tried to enter the female comfort room," Heart said. "I knew that time that something needs to be done about this unfair treatment to transgender people."
She continued: "So when I got the chance to join UP Babaylan, I took it, and from then on, I became an LGBT advocate."
Heart's triumph was for the entire LGBT community in the Philippines. It inspired hundreds if not thousands of LGBTs who dream to achieve and accomplish something they are afraid of.
"Just do what you want... don't be afraid of what other people will say to you," Heart said. "As long as you're not doing anything wrong, there's no reason for you to stop doing what you believe in."
(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")