The names bringing new meaning to empowerment, taking up space and telling LGBTQ+ stories
What a time to be alive, ladies. Each celebration of Women’s Month is a little more meaningful than the last; each step toward the future is a little more assured for the generation to follow. In championing the stories of women, during and beyond the month of March, what’s often revealing is that while there is a lot to celebrate about this compelling surge of female empowerment, there are still so many stories of women we’ve yet to hear. In a way, we’ve barely scratched the surface.
Giving due credit to the women who’ve laid the groundwork, clearly, we’re on the right track by ensuring that more and more women from different walks of life are represented—and that women see women like themselves take up space, take a stand or rally for things like acceptance and equality.
Queer women make a fraction of this. And in honor of Women’s Month, we pay tribute to the strong, willing and able individuals belonging to this group who have done more than push for a well-deserved seat at the table.
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In 2014, French actress Adèle Haenel came out as lesbian while accepting her César Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Katell Quillévéré’s drama Suzanne. She has since been at the forefront of France’s rather lagging #MeToo movement, applying a constant pressure on both the French government and the film industry to step up their efforts.
“There is a #MeToo paradox in France: It is one of the countries where the movement was the most closely followed on social media but, from a political perspective and in cultural spheres, France has completely missed the boat,” Haenel said in a The New York Times interview. “Many artists blurred, or wanted to blur, the distinction between sexual behavior and abuse. The debate was centered on the question of [men’s] ‘freedom to bother,’ and on feminists’ purported puritanism. But sexual abuse is abuse, not libertine behavior.”
More on the former, Haenel has called on President Emmanuel Macron, urging the government to address violence against women via better legislation. On the latter, Haenel is insistent on the expansive roles women deserve in cinema. “Recycling clichés,” she told The Guardian, “is a sign that a film lacks courage.” She continues to build her successful film career by choosing to champion stories that sincerely consider women and their worldview.
For Haenel, this advocacy hits close to home as someone who has experienced sexual assault herself. She revealed to Mediapart in November 2019, a time she felt ready to come forward, accounts of inappropriate contact by director Christophe Ruggia, whom she worked with on the film Les Diables (The Devils). She was 12 years old at the time and the abuse persisted until she was 15. Ruggia was arrested in January 2020. Watch her Mediapart interview below (and set closed captions to English).
Of the many ways to advocate for gender rights, Janlee Dunca is living proof that leading with love, light and education is key. As a proud trans woman, Dunca uses the platforms available to her to spread awareness about gender identity as a spectrum, sharing her life story as an example.
“My story involves two phases of coming out. I came out as a gay man first and then I came out as a trans woman,” she shared with Wonder in May 2018. “Back in the day, I didn’t have a complete grasp of what gender identity was. There were no ready resources that allowed that. It wasn’t in the media, it wasn’t being talked about at home or in school. Back in the day, it was only gay, lesbian or straight. I therefore thought I was gay.”
Since coming out again as a trans woman, she has used her voice and her story to empower many others going through a similar journey. “It’s easy to assume that realizing things about who you are is automatic and clear-cut, but it isn’t. I think that’s one thing people don’t realize about self-discovery and gender identity: It’s not as simple as ticking off boxes with personality traits on a checklist,” she elaborated. “While I didn’t automatically identify as trans because of what I learned, it did mark the beginning of a long process of self-reflection and self-analysis and reading and research. Only then did I feel like I could truly identify myself as a trans woman.”
Dunca stresses that apart from living out one’s truth, keeping informed and educated acts almost like a civic duty. “This is what I always tell people of all ages: Education is key,” she shared. “Do your research, do your homework and consult with other people if you have questions. This is a community that will always be ready, willing and able to listen to you and enlighten you.” In addition, she is a staunch advocate of HIV-AIDS awareness, regularly working alongside the non-profit organization LoveYourself, Inc. to help raise funds for the improvement of its community centers and free HIV testing and treatment facilities.
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50 years ago, being LGBTIQ+ was considered a crime in the US. People were arrested if they appeared to be so. People were arrested for simply who they are. 50 years ago, members of the LGBTIQ+ community were not allowed to convene in public spaces. They gathered in little private havens where they can be themselves — one of which is the Stonewall Inn. 50 years ago today, June 28, 1969, police arrived at the Stonewall Inn to arrest LGBTIQ+ patrons. But people inside and from the neighborhood fought back and rioted, sending a clear message of resistance against the status quo of gender-based violence and discrimination. This continued for 6 days, serving as a catalyst for the LGBTIQ+ movement. A year after, with the movement getting traction, the term #PRIDE was coined, reminding society that anyone can have pride in who they are. Today, we see progress in how the LGBTIQ+ community is being treated. At the same time, we still have a long way to go, especially here in the Philippines, in terms of gender rights. As much as Pride is a celebration, we must always look back and remember that at its core, Pride is a protest — a protest that will propel us to continue fighting for acceptance and equality. Today, we commemorate the #StonewallRiots, the roots of Pride, and we will continue to champion equality and acceptance. I call on everyone to be with us, to fight with us, to #ResistTogether until we see no more trace of discrimination. Happy Pride! ???????????????
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American athlete Megan Rapinoe, having dedicated her high school, college and professional career to soccer, knows the extent of systematic sexism within the male-dominated sports industry. Apart from rallying for equal pay for female athletes, Rapinoe, over the years, has shed light on one important aspect of speaking truth to power: intersectionality. In 2016, the USWNT star knelt during the national anthem in USA’s friendly game with Thailand to express solidarity with Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback who previously refused to stand for the national anthem given the country’s treatment of racial minorities.
“I’ve talked to people who are equally inspired and outraged. I welcome both of those conversations,” she told NBC Sports Washington about the incident. “I think, overall, it’s been positive—and what I mean by positive is that we’re talking about it. That’s ultimately what I want. I don’t know all the answers; I don’t know exactly what my next step is; I don’t know exactly how is the best way that I could be an ally with this issue. And that’s the conversation that I want to have: of how can I be involved, how can I—as a white, gay woman—be an ally in this issue and try to bring awareness and try to break down some of those barriers that I think prevent us from having conversations that we really do need to have in this country?”
Other ways Rapinoe has punched up include a fearless head-on rejection of President Donald Trump when she expressed that she would not be “going to the fucking White House” should the US team win its fourth World Cup as well as calling out Sports Illustrated during her Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of The Year award acceptance speech, no less, for not “publishing more diverse writers and for not honoring more athletes who are women.”
Finally listened to full Megan Rapinoe speech citin Kaepernick. It’s beautiful. My God we need more Rapinoes pic.twitter.com/BifgMWOQd2
— ChuckModi (@ChuckModi1) November 13, 2019
When Ryan Murphy’s Pose premiered in 2018, it made history for casting the largest number of transgender actors in regular roles for a scripted series. This put actress Angelica Ross on the mainstream map. But this proud trans woman had long been giving back to her community with TransTech Social, a creative design firm she founded that serves as an incubator for LGBTQ+ talent, professionals and jobseekers. This, among her many other early accomplishments, landed her the Human Rights Campaign Visibility Award in 2016.
“To all the visible trans people who have come before me, who have endured countless days of harassment and discrimination in broad daylight,” she said, kicking off her acceptance speech. “And a special thanks to the trans women of color who are pushed out of their homes and into the margins.” She continued: “They’re pushed into the criminal system, into addiction and into the arms of men who violently flex their masculinity when it comes into question. We’re pushed into sex work because it was the only work that we could get. It was the only place where we were told we were beautiful and had value. For all the trans people who are burned by the magnifying glass that [brings] such high visibility and for those who still feel invisible, I accept this award and I dedicate this award to you.”
Indeed, Ross has used her visibility and voice to fight for transgender rights. She delivered a keynote speech at the 2019 Lesbians Who Tech & Allies Summit. That same year, she hosted the United States national 2020 Presidential Candidate Forum on LGBTQ Issues.
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“As a t-shirt-clad, sneakers-wearing millennial who hardly fits the plaster cast of the average Filipino lawyer, I find myself struggling the most with reconciling two things that I sense are at odds today,” explained Tugade to Inquirer, citing the Filipino people’s reverence for a profession like hers going hand-in-hand with a deteriorating respect for the law. “This year appears to be the year of lawyering dangerously: Defending the rule of law has in itself become risky business.”
With the on-again, off-again political unrest, Ross Tugade, no doubt, picked a risky time to pursue law. But the urgency of such a calling isn’t lost on her. As a former attorney at the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, Tugade spent two years of her career seeking justice for Martial Law victims and coming face to face with the country’s crippled justice system.
Today, her legal know-how is something she incorporates into her writing that touches on topics “ranging from the passionately personal to the highly political, with bits of cultural commentary in between.” This undertaking as a visible member of the LGBTQ+ community is also not lost on her.
some snippets from the @TheGUIDON interview I did late last year in time for #EDSA34. I drew experiences working for the victims’ reparations board, as well as my scholarly efforts in studying EDSA, historical revisionism, and transitional justice. pic.twitter.com/Kvr13wV3cw
— ross t (@rosselle) February 25, 2020
Know a queer woman you would like the rest of the world to honor? Tell us who she is and sound off in the comments section.
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Art Matthew Fetalver