True to its vaunted cutting edge, the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, has produced another first: a transgender as chair of the university student council. The election of Heart (nee Gabriel Paolo) Diño to the top post of the UP student body is a major victory for the LGBT (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders) community and, as far as the UP student population represents a cross-section of society, reflects a sea change in the public perception of its members—a clear recognition of their capabilities and potentials in the political realm. Think of the not-too-distant past when the likes of Diño were assaulted, insulted, and taken advantage of in all possible ways, and, on the other end of the spectrum, laughed at, indulged and patronized, and you get an idea of the significant stride that was made.
To be sure, it could merely have been because of Diño’s looks. Yet the winning candidate of the Alyansa ng mga Mag-aaral para sa Panlipunang Katwiran at Kaunlaran is also a standout, academically speaking, graduating magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and going on to pursue a postgraduate course in applied mathematics. Hardly the expected “soft” field for a member of a community long handicapped and banished to the margins for going against traditional grain, in fact a radical departure from its stereotypical calling (couture, say, or the business of beauty). It is thus reasonable for attentive observers to expect the new chair of UP’s student council to take on the challenging post with a “scientific” perspective backing a survival instinct certain to have been honed to a keen point by discrimination, whether covert or blatant, willful or accidental.
Born male, Diño is female in looks, clothing and conviction. On those grounds (having discovered early on as a child the pain peculiar to her kind—“a girl trapped in a boy’s body”), and not merely by force of biology, does she lay claim to female references, including the right to use women’s restrooms. “It’s who I am.” One leg of her campaign platform, antigender discrimination, is predictable and announces the direction of her agenda; her own self, wearing her heart on her sleeve, as it were, can very well be “Exhibit A.”
The other legs of Diño’s platform, transparency and zero fraternity-related violence, may be viewed as an acknowledgment of the wide range covered by the post to which she was elected. Transparency in the affairs of not only the premier state university but also (and necessarily) of the government is devoutly to be wished, as is the stamping out of frat “rumbles” and the deadly practice of hazing that continues to prevail and flourish in educational and other institutions despite the law specifically enacted to address it.
But high expectations arise precisely because of Diño’s uncommon victory. From reports, she received 3,290 votes, 547 more than independent candidate Martin Loon of the UP College of Law, 1,072 more than Amancio Melad III of the militant Student Alliance for the Advancement of Democratic Rights in UP, and 1,390 more than Shaina Santiago of the Nagkakaisang Iskolar Para sa Pamantasan at Sambayanan sa UP. Diño is thus called upon to take on more than the struggle being waged by the LGBT community and to address other pressing concerns, including tuition matters particularly as these apply to students from low-income families; the declining quality of instruction and the state of services in UP campuses nationwide; the sufficiency (or not) of the budget allotted by the Aquino administration to education (P238.8 billion in 2012, from P207.3 billion in 2011) vis-à-vis state schools, colleges and universities, as well as the crying needs of teachers; and, not the least, the position of UP students on the burning issues of the day, such as corruption in government, the accountability of erring public officials, even the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona.
All that, yes, and perhaps more, with the end in view of working toward a truly progressive society where gender sheds its false importance and where, borrowing from Sartre, it is possible to “act upon history and the world and bring about a different relation between [humans] on the one hand and history and the world on the other.”
How does that old adage go? That women’s work is never done?