The landscape for members of the LGBQTIA+ community and their allies has, without a doubt, progressed over the years. There is more representation in the media that goes beyond the tired “flamboyant best friend” stereotype. There are more opportunities for queer individuals to flourish outside of Pride Month when it becomes tempting for corporations to bank on consumers through the occasional merch and hashtag, without actually putting in the work (see: rainbow washing). More safe spaces exist to celebrate them—from drag-themed brunches to creative studios for queer folk—beyond the common party destination at night. But the fight to be heard and seen is far from done.
The SOGIE Equality Bill, also known as the Anti-Discrimination Bill, still has not been passed into law since its earlier version was filed in 2000 (as the Employment Non-Discrimination Bill). That’s 23, long, arduous years of fighting for gender equality for queer-identifying individuals, and the larger society, as a whole, to enjoy human rights to the fullest.
This June, we recognize young, proud and free individuals who excel in their own creative fields, and through their efforts are clearing the way for the LGBTQIA+ community, making space for others to be their most genuine selves.
It was only recently that EJ Nacion learned how to embrace her femininity. She reveals, “I never really got the chance to, you know, express my feminine side before. I was always the one who [tried] to hide it and [pull] back and just put it on the side.”
After a challenging year that brought EJ to her lowest point, she made a pact with herself that in 2023, she would prioritize herself. “Mas na-express ko ‘yung feminine side ko, which is actually surprisingly good kasi before, I never thought that I would be like this—I would go out in public and wear a fricking skirt or wear a dress or wear makeup. I told myself na siguro ‘yung nag-ho-hold back lang sa’kin was myself…and also the judgment of other people.”
(“I get to express my feminine side, which is actually surprisingly good. Before, I never thought that I would, you know, be like this—I would go out in public and wear a fricking skirt or wear a dress or wear makeup. I told myself that maybe what held me back was myself…and also the judgment of other people.”)
EJ’s very public platform has become her way to reach out to the youth, because, otherwise, she notes, “If we don’t do that for the kids, they will fight for survival without knowing what they [have] to live for.” She hopes there would come a point in time when the queer youth would feel safe enough to be unapologetically themselves. “My dream for the community is for people to not be scared of expressing themselves kasi ang tagal ko ‘yun tinago sa sarili ko (I hid that from myself for a long time).”
Kumare Harvey may have had their start with creating content on Facebook, but the transition to becoming a performer led the rapper to find their community through Club Euphoria. “They have given me opportunities to perform, which became my starting ground,” they recall. “Opportunities were coming [in] left and right after that. So I would say that the queer creative scene is a safe space to be part of.” Needless to say, they’ve been abundant, as we’ve spotted Kumare Harvey in different Pride Month gigs and even helping Sassa Gurl pen lyrics for Maria Hiwaga.
So when you see Kumare Harvey letting it rip on the stage for the hook of Tipsy or their signature bars over sampled beats, you best believe that it’s their most authentic self. “Being in the presence of a crowd gives me the feeling of warmth that brings out who Kumare Harvey is: fun-loving, confident and warm,” they share.
Nonetheless, the road to fully becoming their own had several bumps in the road, which also included making a “safe choice.” For Kumare Harvey, that meant coming out as bi. But that pivotal moment made the rapper realize that they’re more than that—something gayer and more colorful. With the help of social media, Kumare Harvey gained a deeper understanding of queerness. “I got immersed in Instagram culture and found out about queerness, which I thought [meant] non-binary,” they recall. “Then everything became colorful after that. I learned about SOGIE and every day, I become even bolder in expressing who I am!”
Kumare Harvey encourages everyone to protest for LGBTQIA+ rights as a show of allyship. “May it be in social media or the streets, your voice matters,” they insist. “Another way is to support local drag artists and queer performers. You are helping them love what they do and love who they are even more by showing them adoration—but tips are also encouraged!”
For superstar-in-the-making Dom Guyot, today's creative landscape has become more diverse, inclusive and accepting. It’s a state that he believes we owe to those who fought for it to happen. He’s doing his work by singing about his experiences and feelings through slow jams and pop bops, just like his latest single, Mayari. The high-octane dance track is a proud love letter to the LGBTQIA+ community and has helped overcome the shackles that held him down. He shares, “I feel like as I took ownership of who I am and what I bring to the table, I found that my uniqueness is my power.”
Many queer individuals know the pain of religion denying their validity, and it’s an experience Dom is also familiar with. Hearing such invalidation during his formative years impacted him deeply, but Dom has come to re-learn and acknowledge that he has space to love himself. This journey has also become the driving force behind his music. “‘Cause when you give people someone they can relate to, you give them space to belong,” Dom enthuses. “And I never want anyone to feel the way I felt back in high school.”
That reason also makes the singer feel most authentic when music is involved. “I always make sure to be as honest as possible when I make each track, basically making each song a journal entry,” he explains. “When I am on stage, I feel the freest. It’s the time when I just let loose and give everything I got.”
Safe to say that the Dom Guyot Experience™ is the popstar’s best reflection of himself, but it’s also an invitation to seek yours, too.
“Five years [ago], there weren’t [many] scenes or communities to be a part of, but these days, there’s always something for everyone,” Alan Segui tells Wonder. “I feel like the creative scene today has numerous opportunities to branch out, to experiment even.”
The fashion photographer and owner of Studio Segui has dedicated his career to cultivating creativity in his community. In 2022, he created the studio as a safe space and creative playground for everyone. Not only is it operated by members of the LGBTQIA+ community and its allies, but they’re all proudly probinsyanos cementing the idea that all are welcome here.
“There’s so much opportunity for queer people these days, but I would love to see more representation and clients actually booking [us for our] talents, not just as a marketing ploy, especially during June or Pride Month,” he declares.
Alan illuminates the significance of finding a community to help one overcome the isolation of being a queer person. “This is why I keep emphasizing finding your community, finding your people—because when you do, there is no feeling like it. When you find your people, you’re also going to find yourself.”
For plus-size model and writer Miss Coco, Pride Month is booked and busy. As grateful as she is for the ever-growing diversity in the industry and, with it, the opportunities she receives, she wishes that “people like me weren’t put in a specific box, and only when it’s convenient.”
Having been brought up in a devout Catholic household like many queer Filipinos, Coco felt held back to explore her identity and sexuality. She admits, “I sometimes still struggle talking about my romantic relationships with my relatives. But with the love and support of my friends, and the power of media and representation, I gained an open mindset about the world, which gave me the confidence to just be myself.”
Fashion and beauty have played a significant role in the promising content creator’s journey to self-love. It has even helped her heal. “Media, makeup and fashion are tools that helped heal my inner child. Through these tools, I was able to work on healing my past wounds, and to change how I used to perceive the world.”
She further adds, “I realized that it was always about the mindset; that I can unlearn certain beliefs about societal norms and about myself that I was taught at a young age. While it hindered me from being me, I am open, proud and confident because of those past experiences.”
Just as it takes time to learn, the same amount of time and effort, if not more, are required to unlearn something so deeply ingrained in many of us. “I’ve been in a private Catholic school for half my life—all girls, no less. We were always taught that being with a girl was a sin. I’ve had internalized homophobia before and I always kept to myself,” opens up all-around fashion creative Yana Kalaw. It wasn’t until college that she began “unlearning things she thought were bad,” that she started to feel proud and free. Moreso when Yana came out to her parents, it was “the most freeing thing ever.”
Yana has since learned to embrace herself and to do that fully, she’s had to learn to love herself deeply, “may it be the good [or] the bad.” These days, she feels her most authentic self when she’s able to create and work on projects that she really believes in “while looking good in my fun and maximalist fits!”
On what Yana would tell her younger self, she says, “Never doubt yourself and your skills. It’s okay to take your time to find yourself and just enjoy life. You are stronger than you think and you can achieve the things that you want if you just work hard and believe.” Since coming into her own, Yana has learned a thing or two about allyship, too: “Not judging [people] by their sexuality and giving equal opportunities whether a person is straight or queer [help].” After all, “queer creatives shouldn't just be celebrated for one month. We should be given opportunities even if it’s not pride [season].”
For trans-Pinay popstar Stef Aranas, the current industry has embraced diversity, where trans and femme people continue to create their niches with the help of social media platforms. But it doesn’t mean all is well, because institutions and society still have to unlearn transphobia and bigotry. “Trans woman roles continue to be depicted by cisgender men, while actual transgender women still have difficulty breaking into the industry,” she calls out. “Currently, I have few to no contemporaries as a transgender pop singer in the industry, and this is not for lack of trans talent.”
Before becoming a rising star in the local music industry, Stef had her fair share of overcoming hurdles in discovering her identity. “In grade school, I was still in the closet, and I was very unhappy—to the point that I started projecting that on my friends,” she recalls. After coming to terms with that, she slowly opened up to them about the journey. “I learned that those people were actually my safe space in that all-boys school setting. Eventually, with their help, I learned to stand in my power and live my truth.”
One listen to this proud QC Gurl could have you concluding that Stef is a natural at what she does—especially if it’s singing her honest and cheeky bops into the mic. But Stef admits that loving herself in all aspects is still an ongoing process. “As a Libra, I overthink everything in my life, and I always find room for improvement and things to aspire towards,” she admits. “The goal, of course, is to be as happy with myself as much as possible and, hopefully, fully embrace myself.”
A show of allyship for Stef means supporting queer artists. It doesn’t have to be monetary. “Liking our posts, sharing our content and listening to our music goes a long way. Come to our shows and exhibits. There are so many ways to support queer creatives.”
They say life is a never-ending journey of self-discovery. This much is true for artist and model Liam Labrooy, who came out when he was 21. “Even though I had known for a while, I found it very hard to admit it to myself and then, later on, to other people. People who I considered close to me would make comments and jokes here and there, and that sorta just kept me in the closet,” explains Liam. “I know they weren't trying to be insensitive, and let's be clear, I was already a walking gay icon at the time (while still in the closet though, hahaha), but I needed to come out on my own time. Once I moved to Los Angeles—being in a new city surrounded by people who didn't know me—allowed me to finally admit it to myself, and slowly to other people.”
Fully and unabashedly embracing oneself is a process that takes time to learn. But once you do, you develop a strong sense of self that isn’t easily torn down. “I’ve literally stopped caring what people think about me,” declares Liam. “I know who I am, I know what my intentions are, and I don't feel the need to prove that to anyone else. Especially on social media nowadays, it can be very toxic and judgmental. I used to be scared to post gayer content. But once I stopped caring, I was able to let my full creativity out and post freely.”
Today, Liam Labrooy is thriving in an industry where queer individuals are the industry. He feels lucky to be part of and work in a space where one’s authentic self is valued. “I walk into a set, and I'm always surrounded by people that support and lift each other up, and it’s such a great feeling. It truly keeps me wanting to work in this creative industry forever,” beams Liam.
How can we extend the same energy across different industries? For Liam, the answer is quite simple. “Don’t treat us differently. I always say that straight people don’t have to come out so why should we? There’s nothing wrong with being gay and so I don’t feel the need to use that label often.”
Most of Filipino Twitter watched Yanihatesu grow up. From being a 16-year-old with a camera, she’s transformed into one of the most significant voices of her generation. Now a student-slash-full-fledged content creator, Yani has come to learn how to balance relatability and preserving things for herself. “Feeling ko kasi ‘yung brand ko, or ‘yung brand ni Yanihatesu ay (I feel like my brand or the Yanihatesu brand is) very grounded on authenticity to the point that people will see it as oversharing,” she admits. But that doesn’t deter her from unabashedly showing the world who she is. “I don't hold back,” she proclaims. “Anytime, anywhere and every time, ‘yun yung pinaka-authentic na (that’s the most authentic) Yani.”
But becoming one of the internet’s beloved queer creators wasn’t free of struggle, especially when she battled internalized homophobia and biphobia while remaining in the public eye. Yani worked to unlearn all these with the help of SOGIE discussions and the pandemic podcast she co-hosted called Gabi Ng Bading. Each shoot had her discovering more about herself from the insights she got from conversations with a diverse group of people—mothers, icons, queer individuals and even straight people. Embracing herself involved “learning how other people embrace themselves and see how I can apply that to myself,” she shares. “Napakahalaga talaga dumikit sa komunidad, ‘yun lang ‘yun (It’s really important to immerse yourself in the community, that’s just it)!”
If Yani could go back in time and talk to the version of herself who had just come out, she’d offer her words of comfort. “Let things happen, let yourself love freely,” she expresses. “Okay lang matakot (it’s okay to be scared). You'll get through it. You'll get through it stronger and braver, and sobrang daming nag-aabang na opportunities for you (there are a lot of opportunities waiting for you). And I am so proud of you, Yani.”
For M1ss Jade So, real-life Bratz and drag queen extraordinaire, the contemporary landscape for queer creatives is very much liberating and inspiring. This generation of hustlers and go-getters “[pushes] my creativity with no limits because it’s infinite.”
The act of becoming her most authentic self took a while; admittedly, it was only this year that she found her divine purpose through a spiritual awakening. She confesses, “I felt that I wasn’t proud and free when I was a little child. I have a lot of insecurities until now that I’m still battling. Letting go of it is really a long process…I’m in that process. Back then, when I was in high school, people around me perceived that life is just about being good and perfect; I was not, my rebellion developed.”
The Ultimate Goddessa proclaims, “I found my higher self these past years. I learned a lot from her, devoured and embodied [her to my] mind, body and soul.”
Being in drag makes M1ss Jade So feel empowered, “like a goddess, not just a regular woman.” She considers the process of drag a divine intervention. She admits, “When [I] pick up a makeup brush and put it on [my] face, sinasapian ako ng makeup ‘day (the makeup becomes part of me).”
For those who want to become allies of the drag community, she recommends supporting not just the mainstream but the local drag scene, too. She declares, “‘Tipping is compulsory,’ Alaska [Thunderfuck] said that! And it should be anytime, anywhere. When you see a drag queen, appreciate them. Don’t hold ‘em wigs, don’t touch our clothes!”
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The demand for systematic change doesn’t end this June. Being an ally is 365 days a year. Whether as members of the community or as advocates, we all need to actively act towards providing safe spaces for LGBTQIA+ individuals. And for you, dear reader, take up space; don’t underestimate the power of your voice to yield change.
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Photography Stephen Capuchino
Fashion Direction Kai Franco
Beauty Direction Elisa Aquino
Production Design Paul Jatayna
Location Secret Studios