Everyone should stand in their truths.
That, in not so many words, is the lesson that US-based transgender model and LGBTQ rights advocate Geena Rocero wants LGBTQ Filipinos to learn, as she made the rounds during her recent trip to the Philippines.
“As an individual, being visible… being vocal is a big step. Knowing about your rights is a huge step. You need to know when and how to speak up when your rights are being violated. And speak up when you see there are violations,” Geena said to Outrage Magazine.
Geena didn’t always have it easy. When she was still living in a humble alley in Guadalupe, she also had dreadful experiences.
“I remember walking from home to school, school to home. (There were) moments when I would be scared because, somehow, the tricycle drivers – maybe they just feel like they’re mobilized – would feel entitled to scream at me, saying: ‘BAKLA (FAGGOT)!’,” she recalled. This is traumatic to “anybody who had experienced that. It creates something in you, that internalized fear. (It was) a very degrading word, (especially with) the way it was said. That’s a moment that I would always remember; a pain that I will never forget. Because it was a reminder of how much I’ve gone through.”
Though Geena moved to the US, the bad experiences persisted. Such as that time she had a very disturbing experience in Japan.
“I remember a moment in 2005, when I was traveling from New York to Tokyo. My California driver’s license had a female name and gender marker, but my Philippine passport had a male name and gender marker. I was at the airport, and the next thing I know, two immigration officers took me and said: ‘We are going to take you to the holding office’,” Geena recounted. “I got to that place where one girl was screaming at one of the officers, saying: ‘There’s this one guy who you know who definitely did something wrong!’, and I was with them just because my documents didn’t match. Just because I’m existing as I am. The experience was very embarrassing. I was asked about the most personal questions. It was a very embarrassing moment, but it also raised my consciousness (and made me ask) on why is it like that.”
Geena eventually came out via the now much-hyped TED Talks episode.
Geena also eventually founded Gender Proud, “an advocacy and awareness organization that brings attention to the need for all transgender individuals to self-identify with the fewest possible barriers.”
CRUSADE FOR EQUALITY
Geena shared with Outrage Magazine her sentiments on the lack of efforts from the government to protect and help improve the lives of members of the LGBTQ community.
Because of the lack of a national mandate to ensure that the human rights of LGBTQ Filipinos are protected, “what’s interesting… what’s happening in (localities) is important. What activist groups have been doing underground (is) try to pass anti-discrimination ordinances in different local government units. It’s important to keep that momentum going because that’s what’s going to protect LGBTQ people. (So we move) city by city, barangay by barangay. Because if the protection is not going to happen in the national (level, then local) communities should make their own steps,” she said.
Geena, nonetheless, conveyed her position on the importance of passing the Anti-discrimination Bill.
“Our campaign for the passage of the Anti-discrimination Bill (is) considered as a controversial issue in the Philippines given that this is a very conservative and highly religious country. So we need to really effectively communicate what we’re advocating for. That this is not just for the LGBTQ community, but also for all members of the Philippine (society),” she said.
Geena already met with Sen. Bam Aquino, with the Association of Transgender People in the Philippines in tow, to discuss the progress of the long overdue Anti-discrimination Bill that Aquino sponsored. They were supposedly assured by Aquino that he will look into the possibility of asking for the creation of a “sub-committee”, which he will head, to initiate a public consultation on the issue.
“Gender Proud’s work in the Philippines is in a different context. The Anti-discrimination Bill is the first step. And me, someone from the Philippines, I know what the culture is, I would lend my voice, my resources, and in any way I can to contribute in moving the conversation forward,” Geena said.
PASSING IT ON
For many, the passage of the Anti-discrimination Bill would probably be one of the best solutions for the different recurring problems that members of the LGBT community continue to face every day. But for Geena, the first step to change what’s been happening in the community will “begin from each one of us”.
“Sometimes, it’s hard to think that there’s still hope – like when you report a violence that you saw. But you need to remember that those little efforts count. And as a community, we are all tied-in together. We just need to really understand each other. Awareness is the most important thing,” Geena ended.