Iglesia Filipina Independiente Is Ordaining the Country's First Transwoman Clergy


Issues regarding sexual orientation and gender identity persist in deeply religious countries like the Philippines. Members of the LGBTQIA+ continue to face discrimination and hate, even if most organized religions supposedly teach tolerance and understanding for all peoples regardless of how they choose to express themselves or who they choose as partners. 

But sometimes, we get news that make us believe that things are moving toward the right direction.

On Friday, February 24, the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI), which is also known as the Aglipayan Church, announced that it would admit and ordain the first transwoman to its Sacred Order of Deacons. The ordination ceremony for Sister Wylard “Wowa” Ledama, which happens to fall on the feast day of St. Matthias the Apostle, will happen at the National Cathedral of the IFI in Manila and will be streamed live on the Facebook page of IFI Obispado Maximo.

Ordination as a deacon is one of the first steps toward becoming a priest in the IFI.


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A registered nurse, Sister Ledama said the Aglipayan Church’s recognition, affirmation, and celebration of the LGBTQIA+ community, which was enshrined in a 2017 statement entitled “Our Common Humanity, Our Shared Dignity,” motivated her to undergo seminary formation and inspired her to shift her focus “from the clinical to the pastoral.”


“Going through the document, I thought the priesthood would be an effective way to deliver the boundless and supreme love of God,” Ledama said in a statement posted on her Facebook account. “Thus, at the risk of judgment and great difficulty, I chose to become a transwoman seminarian at the Aglipay Central Theological Seminary. Lo and behold, I am the first transwoman seminarian in the notoriously conservative Philippines.”

Ledama cited a lot of “good people” who helped her cope with daily troubles and who made her believe that there was hope for the marginalized, “whom others have called immoral for centuries.” She questioned how policymakers continued to turn a blind eye to the plight of LGBTQI+ individuals, and always responded with the dismissive “The nation is not ready.” She said the attitude insults and dehumanizes LGBTQI+ individuals.

“Despite the stonewalling, I continue to dream of a community where no person feels insecure and unsafe in their identity; where pigeonholes and stereotypes are no more; where gender and sexual minorities do not need to fight for their existence and validation. I still yearn for a world where everyone can express their authentic self, and not be trampled on because of it. 

“In this unique position, I know I can contribute to realizing that dream shared by millions of LGBTIQ+ siblings. I am now an eye-opener. In my passage to priesthood, I am proving that the vocation is inclusive, welcoming anyone committed to work in the vineyard of God. In forging ahead, I am lucky I mustered up the gender-neutral values of conscience, persistence and honesty, which help me forge ahead.”

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In the 2017 statement, the IFI’s Supreme Council of Bishops said it had been “vigilant against unjust systems, confronting racism, slavery and sexism within and without, in a continuous process of theological reflection and pastoral engagement.

“We believe that the Church must openly embrace God’s people of all sexes, sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions (SSOGIE) as we embark on a journey toward a just and peaceful world,” it said. “God’s love and compassion, and the core message of peace and justice in Jesus’ life, lead us in taking this humble step to give objective recognition to LGBTIQ+ individuals, and promote their dignity and rights as human persons.” 

The IFI also allows the ordination of women, with the first woman priest officially ordained in February 1997, and the first woman bishop ordained in May 2019. 

Founded in 1902 by Gregorio Aglipay and Isabelo Delos Reyes, the IFI is the country’s first and oldest independent church. It currently has around six million members.


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