Rica Paras can recall how, sometime in the summer of 2004, in the early days of Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP), she was inspired by a college friend – Sass Rogando Sasot, one of the founding members of STRAP – to become a transgender rights advocate. “I thought the work that she does was amazing, and I was quickly drawn to be part of it,” Rica said.
Now the chairwoman of STRAP, she believes that the LGBT community as a whole has a lot of issues to contend with, since “there are so many issues in the LGBT community – and at all levels – from school, home, workplace, legal, health, HIV and AIDS, morality, and the list goes on and on…” That there are numerous issues can be challenging, Rica admitted. Particularly, at times, “we do not know where to concentrate our efforts (since many of) the advocates are taking in all these responsibilities. I think is we should concentrate on certain issues and make sure it is resolved (before moving on). I would rather us win one time big time (even if we) lose a lot of small time concerns,” she said.
One of those in need of more focus, for Rica, is the “passing the Anti-Discrimination Bill right now to have a tangible law that will protect the LGBT community.”
Rica graduated from Ateneo De Manila University with mathematics degree and worked for a multinational IT company. It was her stint in the syndicated show Pinoy Big Brother that propelled her to become one of the more recognizable LGBT faces on Philippine TV, since she was the first and only transgender housemate who entered the Philippine franchise of the TV show Big Brother.
Rica is also currently one of the elected Board of Trustees of Ladlad, the partylist group vying for a place in Congress. “I personally am in support of passing the Anti-Discrimination Bill right now to have a tangible law that will protect the LGBT community.
There are numerous issues that perturb Rica. “I am disappointed with the ‘old school mentality’ surrounding gays and the gay culture – for instance, there are concepts on ‘lokokohin lang ang mga bakla’, ‘nakakahiya ang baklang nagpapakababae’, ‘mas ok ang baklang palalaki pa din’, ‘magpapaputol ka din ba?’, and ‘anong pangalan mo sa gabi?’”
For Rica, the old school mentality “is what stigmatized a lot of the LGBT Filipinos growing up, and it is an extra baggage that brings a lot of us down until now. This has furthermore made it difficult for us to educate and move forward with modern human rights concepts. It saddens me when both LGBT and Filipino community still dwell on these,” she said.
Nonetheless, she finds inspiration in “each LGBT Filipino because they will continue to fight and will make future LGBT generations live a better life”.