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Gay political party competes in Philippines elections

For the first time, Ang Ladlad, or "Out of the Closet," vies for three congressional seats set aside for minority groups.

Ang Ladlad, the Philippines' gay political party, participated in national elections this week for the first time. They are vying for three congressional seats allotted to minority groups. If they win, first on their agenda is to re-file the anti-discrimination bill. Here, Filipinos display placards that say "Pass the anti-discrimination bill" during a lesbian and gay parade in Manila, Dec. 8, 2007. (Romeo Ranoco/Reuters)

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines' gay political party participated in the country's national elections for the first time this week, seeking to raise the profile of gay rights in this predominantly Roman Catholic country.

“It's like a national coming out!” said Danton Remoto, founder of Ang Ladlad, or "Out of the Closet," as the party is called in English. “I've been getting text messages all day from our members who say their whole family or entire neighborhood voted for Ang Ladlad," he added, shortly after casting his vote.

Representing lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people (LGBT), Remoto has been trying to get Ang Ladlad registered with the commission on elections, or Comelec, since the party's inception seven years ago.

But Comelec has twice denied the organization, which boasts around 25,000 members. The first time Comelec said they didn't have enough members, even though they did. The second time, which was last December, Comelec denied them on the grounds that the organization was “immoral.”

But Remoto, dubbed the “Rainbow Warrior” by the local media, refused to give up. He and other party members took the fight all the way to the Supreme Court and won last month, nevermind it was already two months into the three-month campaign period.

“Comelec turned down our accreditation saying we are espousing immoral doctrines," Remoto said. "What they cited in their legal document is the holy Quran and the holy Bible, which we think violates the separation of church and state in the Philippines — and that is enshrined in our constitution."

Even though the group did not have much money or time to campaign, Ang Ladlad members, including national secretary Bemz Benedito, felt confident they could secure at least one of the three congressional seats available to minority groups.

Benedito, one of five Ang Ladlad nominees vying for a congressional seat, is a transgendered Filipino who works for Ang Ladlad-supporter Senator Loren Legarda, who is also running for vice-president.

The party is running as one of 187 party list groups. These groups represent the marginalized in Philippine society and together comprise one-fifth of congress.

Ang Ladlad has supporters not only among politicians, but also among the Catholic clergy and ordinary Filipinos.

“I think Ang Ladlad should be in congress,” said elementary school teacher Maria Christina Dayao as she went to cast her vote. “Let's face it, gays are discriminated against in our society and its time their voices should be heard.”

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/philippines/100510/election-gay-rights-movement