MANILA, PHILIPPINES — The Philippines still has far to go when it comes to LGBTQ+ rights, but progress continues to be made in the fight for SOGIE equality. Paving the path toward a more inclusive future has always included the unflinching voices of queer and women trailblazers, so it is fitting that those voices are represented by the amazing leaders that took the stage at adobo SheCreative Network’s latest session “Speak Out for Equality” last July 20 at The Astbury in Poblacion, Makati.
Moderated by adobo Magazine Senior Content Manager Nala Ortiz, the brilliant women making up the roster of speakers were Philippine LGBT Chamber of Commerce Director for Research, Learning, and Development Amrei Dizon, Propel Manila Creative Director Nikki Golez, Mynt (GCash) Head of Talent Management Trixie Arias, and Host, Writer, Content Creator, and Miss Trans Global 2020 Miss Mela Habijan.
“In this session, we step up to speak out for equality and advocate for the LGBTQ+ community,” adobo Magazine Founder, President, and Editor-in-Chief Angel Guerrero said in her opening remarks. “We return with another insight-filled session that aims to amplify the voices of women and queer leaders taking a stand on important social issues, such as human rights, inclusion, and respect.”
An organization that continues to lead the charge in ensuring queer professionals are protected across industries is the Philippine LGBT Chamber of Commerce, which was represented by Amrei Dizon at the event.
Addressing the treatment of the LGBTQ+ community in the world of media and creativity, both in terms of inclusion behind the scenes and on-screen, Amrei discussed what it means to create change in the industry. She talked about her experience growing up only ever seeing harmful representation during the few times she saw queer people on screen. [Because of that,] I always felt that I was someone who doesn’t deserve to be successful,” Amrei said. “We need to have more representation.”
But progress doesn’t just mean more representation; it also means authentic, nuanced, and empowering representation. “It’s very important for us to have a voice and for the community to be consulted,” she emphasized.
With that in mind, Amrei took the audience through the different initiatives that mark the Philippine LGBT Chamber of Commerce’s fight for a more LGBTQ-friendly future for Filipinos across sectors and economies. For the world of creativity and media, particularly in advertising, she specified two important actionable steps that brands and agencies need to take: review your current marketing materials and look to diversify your message.
This is something that the creative agency Propel Manila has been doing, as shown in its many campaigns that champion women and the LGBTQ community, such as Retold With Pride and Rebirth Certificate, and #LetsReViewClothes, to name a few. The secret to effective and authentic purpose-driven work? For Creative Director Nikki Golez, it goes deeper than strategy and research; it actually starts in the culture one cultivates behind the scenes.
Nikki emphasized that one of the main things that allow Propel to create remarkable works that speak true to the needs and experience of the target communities is the fact that the messaging Propel puts out is just a reflection of the accepting and inclusive culture the company has created.
From the focus on mental health and a gender-diverse team, to policies like its 30-day gender affirmation leave and gender-neutral bathrooms, Propel’s culture has proven that walking the talk not only gives creatives the safe space they deserve, but also creates an environment conducive to making meaningful work.
“The work is better when people are treated better,” Nikki said. “It’s all on us to make the change that we want to see. It really takes a level of empathy. It’s allyship. It’’s understanding.”
Head of Talent Management Trixie Arias agreed with the vitality of cultivating a culture that sparks change and progress, which she elaborated on in her talk about how diversity and inclusion are crucial to GCash’s vision of tech for change and finance for all.
“In learning and development, what I’ve learned is I can transform people who transform the nation,” Trixie shared regarding her role in nurturing talent, which can be a bridge to progress when done right and with every community in mind.
At GCash, management leadership training courses were built from the ground up, which leads to everyone’s psychological safety. Furthermore, GCash launches projects, such as LQBTQ+ benefits in G-Insure where same-sex couples can avail of insurance products, that ensure inclusion and equity. Processes and policies like these aid in the fight towards a fintech future that empowers every Filipino — regardless of their SOGIE.
“For GCash, inclusion means everyone — inside and outside the organization,” Trixie said. She emphasized that means that GCash also advocates for LGBTQ+ rights beyond company policies and projects and urged everyone to do the same. “When we got out of the workplace, DEI [shouldn’t] end there.”
Highlighting the importance of creative safe spaces for queer people across industries, including entertainment and creative landscape, Miss Mela Hajiban shared her journey as a trans woman trying to reconcile her dreams and the discrimination she met again and again in the entertainment industry.
Mela took us back to her experiences in the early 2000s when she did not know the term trans: “Though masculine presenting, I knew in my heart, I was a queen.” However, it was also then that she faced so much rejection and prejudice that hindered her from her various goals in life. It went to show how difficult it was to dream when you are queer. “Whenever you wish something for your life, people would say ‘Hanggang d’yan ka lang.’”
Eventually, though, through hearing “Reflection” from Mulan, she found the courage to transition. “Six years ago, I took that leap of faith so I can be free,” she recalled.
For Mela, it was through living out her authentic self that she found the opportunities she once dismissed as impossible dreams. As an out and proud trans icon in entertainment, she won the Miss Trans Global 2020 crown, continues to book countless hosting gigs including the Philippines’ first-ever queer dating show Sparks Camp, and achieved her ultimate dream ever since watching the brand’s iconic commercial in the mid-2000s – becoming a Pantene girl. And that’s just the beginning.
However, the opportunities she found since coming out were not just her individual dreams. Rather, she also became a leader in fighting for gender-affirming policies in the country. She has spent the last few years speaking at pride events, appealing to authoritative institutions for proper treatment of queer people, and raising awareness for trans rights. Through her advocacy, the needs of trans people — particularly trans youth — are given a bigger platform and many kids can go to school, graduate, and work on achieving their dreams without being forced to present as someone they are not.
“[Transitioning] allowed me to find the voice that I needed so I can stand for my community,” Mela said. “I want to be visible. I want to represent. So, when the spotlight is given to me, I will share it with people like me”
An insight-filled discussion among the panelists during the Q&A after the inspiring and empowering talks, allowing the outstanding women to exchange more ideas about the sociopolitical conditions needed to create safe spaces, how people can start demonstrating their allyship, and the nuances of how much progress has been made across generations. The rich dialogue was the perfect way to cap a night that left everyone feeling more empowered to stand up for themselves and others on the journey toward a more diverse future.
The adobo SheCreative Network session, “Speak Out for Equality,” is made possible thanks to our event partners and sponsors:
Venue Partner: The Astbury
Don Papa Rum
Food and Beverage Partners:
Jade’s Temple Brewery
RMN (Radio Mindanao Network)
Long-Term Network Partners:
Girls Got This
Philippine LGBT Chamber of Commerce
ASEAN SOGIE Caucus
Asia Society Philippines
PANA (Philippine Association of National Advertisers)