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Advocacy through fashion with the ‘Ukay-ukay Diva’

In 2013, 21-year-old Alem Garcia started posting what he called as “diva stuffs” in his Facebook account. To Alem’s surprise, the posts succeeded in getting him attention, so that – eventually – it “jumpstarted a whole new identity” as the “Ukay-ukay Diva”. And it is now with ukay-ukay that he said he wants to “help advance a feel-good defiance to the standards of gender expression.”

In 2013, 21-year-old Alem Garcia started posting what he called as “diva stuffs” in his Facebook account. He dubbed the series as “Diva tips 101.” To Alem’s surprise, the posts succeeded in getting him attention, so that – eventually – it “jumpstarted a whole new identity”.

And so “Ukay-ukay Diva” entered the scene.

FULFILLING A DREAM

Alem – a graduate of an Advertising Arts degree from the University of San Carlos – now continues giving his “Diva tips 101” in his blog and vlog. “(I see this as) more than a passion,” he said. Instead, “it’s a dream.”

Ukay-ukay are, of course, “secondhand items, hand-me-downs, cast-off apparels and fashion accessories that you would not commonly see in average department stores.”

Alem believes that these items could showcase one’s personality in creative ways.

“I’m a big fashion and style enthusiast,” he said. “However, 60% of my clothes are not branded; they came from ukay-ukay.”

And it is now with ukay-ukay that he said he wants to “help advance a feel-good defiance to the standards of gender expression.” Alem wants to “break standards and forward high levels of self-esteem through clothing regardless of sexual orientation and gender identity.”

ADVOCATING PRIDE

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Alem isn’t just into fashion. During his days as a student at the University of San Carlos, he co-founded the Student Advocate for Gender Equality (SAGE), a student organization for LGBT people longing for belongingness. And now, he continues to actively advocate for LGBT rights and welfare in the university as a member of KABATAAN and other student/youth organizations.

As the “Ukay-ukay Diva,” he sees his work as something “beyond style inspiration”. Instead, it is “as an advocacy to promote and strengthen gender expression – that regardless of a tight budget, you can still fully express yourself,” he smiled.

EMERGING WITH POWER

Perhaps also because of his gender expression, Alem is no stranger to discrimination.

But he said that “amid all the obstacles I have experienced, I was still able to emerge as an individual bursting with passion and dreams. That even though I am a (gay), I can still defy all the (odds).”

Alem credits his family and friends for helping him “be true to who I am.”

In 2015, Alem was invited to be part of Adober Studios (ABS-CBN’s MCN), broadening not only his reach – but perhaps just as importantly, if not even more importantly, the chance to somehow inspire others.

“Never be ashamed,” he said; then adding with a laugh, “even if what you have on are from ukay-ukay.”

FOLLOW ALEM GARCIA ON IG AND TWITTER (@ukayukaydiva), CHECK HIS FACEBOOK ACCOUNTS (www.facebook.com/RedefiningAlem, www.facebook.com/ukayukaydiva), OR SUBSCRIBE TO HIS YOUTUBE CHANNEL (www.youtube.com/UkayUkayDivaNow).

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Justin is a proud Ilonggo, as much as he is a proud LGBT advocate for the youth. A political science student from West Visayas State University, he is the founder of The Student Advocates for Gender Equality (SAGE) Network. At 19 years old, Justin has already given SOGIE, HIV and AIDS, and human rights talks and lectures. He is also a Department of Health HIV and AIDS VCT counselor; and a volunteer and member of Youth Voices Count - Asia, a youth initiative led by young MSM and transgender women. As an advocate, he believes that "only when a brave few will raise the rainbow flag can the LGBT movement really reach its pinnacle."

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