It can be difficult to build a career for yourself especially when you’re just a newbie. What can be even tougher is to pave a successful path for yourself in the face of discrimination and social stigma. Yet this a challenging road often walked upon by our brothers and sisters in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community.
In celebration of Pride Month, Kalibrr has rounded up a few inspiring members of the Filipino LGBT community who have not only become successful but have made an impact on society as well.
With a wildly successful chain of beauty salons, a resort, and a line of beauty products, it would be hard to believe that Ricky Reyes even had a humble beginning. And yet, Mother Ricky, as he is also called, began his career as a floor sweeper in a beauty salon before becoming a hairdresser.
By 1973, he was able to open his first salon, and not long after, changed the beauty salon game in the country by opening the first mall-based salon in SM North Edsa and his business soon grew exponentially.
Despite his much earned success as an entrepreneur, he is even more amazing as a philanthropist. He established the Ricky Reyes Learning Institute, a center that offers free training to aspiring beauticians and also founded CHILD Haus, which temporarily offers free lodging, transportation and medicine for sick children undergoing treatments. Ricky has also put up ten livelihood centers in poverty-stricken areas and has run his Isang Gunting, Isang Suklay program, a training program for housewives, out of school youths and the like, for over thirty years.
One of the country’s foremost theater actresses, Monique Wilson is a name that is instantly familiar to Filipino theater fans. At the tender age of 18, Monique left the University of the Philippines when she was handpicked by Cameron Mackintosh himself to play the lead role of Kim in the original London production of Miss Saigon.
She went back to Manila to found the New Voice Company theater group, which aims to present socially conscious pieces to its audience, and is currently one of the leading theater groups in Asia. Monique is also a director of One Billion Rising, a global movement to end violence against women. She is also the Director of International Affairs of the Gabriela Women’s Party. And if that isn’t enough, Monique is the international spokesperson of the Purple Rose Campaign, a campaign to end the trafficking of Filipino women and children, and has spearheaded several campaigns aimed at empowering women.
While Monique has always been open about her sexuality, in 2012, she publicly came out as a lesbian in support of the One Billion Rising campaign. She recently wed her partner of 17 years in London.
Multi-awarded fashion designer and Project Runway Philippines judge, Rajo Lauren is an icon and a pillar in the local fashion scene. His childhood love for fashion was further honed when he was educated in the New York Fashion Institute of Technology and Central Saint Martin’s in London. He debuted into the Philippine fashion scene when he won the ASEAN Young Designers Competition at the age of 21.
His designs range from ready-to-wear to haute couture, accessories to women’s bags, and pretty much everything else in between. Rajo is also the go-to fashion designer for the country’s elite socialites and local celebrities, such as Anne Curtis and Sarah Geronimo.
Beyond dressing up his customers in his gorgeous designs, Rajo is also busy making the world a more beautiful place. He serves as a designer and business consultant for Rags2Riches, a social business enterprise that aims to provide livelihood opportunities to skilled rug weavers of Payatas. He has also served on Bantay Bata’s Board of Directors and has supported many of their projects.
From the beauty pageants of Manila to the catwalks of New York, Geena Rocero has steadily built her modeling career to become a regular fixture in international modeling campaigns. After transitioning and legally identifying as a woman, Geena moved to New York where she was discovered by a fashion photographer and was soon signed on to NEXT Model Management. She has spent over 12 years successfully modeling for swimsuit, lingerie and beauty editorials.
Proving to be more than just a pretty face, Geena has become an outspoken advocate of transgender rights. Geena famously came out by giving a TED Talk about her gender identity – something that was once a secret to most of the people in her industry. Her TED Talk has been viewed more than 2.6 million times by people from all over the world.
She co-founded Gender Proud, an organization that strives to break barriers for the transgender community and help build awareness of the discrimination, violence, and legal difficulties faced by the transgender community. Part of their advocacy is to help give transgender men and women equal rights, most especially the right to legally change their genders – something that eluded Geena in her native country.
The life of a Filipino immigrant can be tough enough because you’re so far away from home, but being a gay immigrant just might make things a bit more difficult. That, however, did not stop Robert Bernardo, Commissioner for the San Mateo County Harbor District, from being the first openly gay elected official in San Mateo County, California as well as one of the highest ranked Filipino-Americans elected to office in the United States.
Robert’s road to political success started when he served as a member of South San Francisco’s Personnel Commission and its Planning Commission. His day job as the Port Manager of the Port of Oakland, the fifth largest port in the United States, prepared him for his role as commissioner. He has cited fiscal sustainability, responsible development, and environmental stewardship as some of his priorities.
Florencio “Fawa” Batula
Prior to running for office, Florencio “Fawa” Batula sought the advice of a local parish priest who told the transgender mayor of Palapag, Northern Samar that she should go serve her people and wasn’t even advised not to dress up. Heartened by his openness, she pursued the position and won the office for town mayor.
She admits that political opponents and detractors did not hesitate to use her gender identity to attack her and distract people from her platform. But with the help and solid support of her family and the LGBT community in her town, she pulled through. Fawa attests that the seeing the LGBT community become so politically involved inspired younger members to be active in their respective communities as well.
Source: Philippine Online Chronicles
Not only is Gregory Cendena the first Filipino to lead as the chairperson of the National Council of Asian Pacific Americans (NCAPA), a coalition of 31 organizations for Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Hawaiian (AANHPI) communities, but is also the first openly gay person elected to the position.
The NCAPA aims to lead efforts in greater policy building and presence for its member communities. Gregory also aims to channel the spirit of bayanihan to connect the Filipino community with the other members of the AANHPI communities and advance the NCAPA’s social and economic agendas.
Source: Asian Journal
These are just a few of a countless number of inspiring and talented members of the Filipino LGBT community. Got other inspiring figures you’d like to share or suggest? Leave it in the comment section below!
Feature image by: LGBT Pride – Philippines