Tell us about your decision to launch GenderProud.
In 2005, I was traveling from New York to Tokyo with my Filipino passport, with my male name and gender marker. In the Philippines, there still isn’t a law that would allow transgender and intersex people to change name and gender marker on documents. Next thing I knew, two immigration officers took me to the Immigration Holding office. It was an embarrassing and dehumanizing moment. That raised my consciousness of injustice -- no individual should go through that.
What has been your own proudest moment since launching?
Mostly receiving messages from people all over the world about how much my TED Talk had inspired them. People would stop me on the street and share their stories — not just about gender identity, but stories of courage, loss, dreams, passion and disappointments. The human connection in those moments reminds me how grateful I am to be advocating for transgender rights globally.
Where do you think the United States currently stands in relation to other countries in terms of transgender acceptance?
I came from a part of the world where gender fluidity has been part of thousands of years of civilization; there’s Guan Yin, the Buddhist Goddess of Compassion who’s transgender, Hijras in India and many more. In Asia, the LGBT community is culturally celebrated but not politically recognized; in the US, the understanding of gender binary is more rigid, yet there’s a law that allowed me to change my name and gender marker on documents. So it’s a paradox that we at GenderProud are trying to merge — it should be both culturally celebrated and politically recognized. Laverne’s Cox TIME Magazine Cover is historic in that it allows LGBT people all over the world to dream and know that it’s possible to be someone. At the same time, two transgender women in Atlanta were attacked on the train, and striped of their clothes while people on the train applaud.
The fashion industry has always been one of the most supportive of the LGBT community, and in the last few years there has been such a huge focus on the “T.” But there are still those who perceive transgender models as a dicey issue. How do you interpret comments from people such as Tim Gunn, who said models like Andrej Pejic make the waif standard all the more unattainable to cisgender women because “anatomically, women and men have different shapes”?
Fashion, and the arts in general, has always been a great platform to celebrate diversity in expression. Tim Gunn’s opinion is coming from the wrong perspective. You can’t specifically say that Andrej Peijic to be a representation that would cause women to be waif. Andrej should be celebrated, it’s that simple.
What do you hope to achieve next with the Marriott campaign and Gender Proud?
Marriott’s #LoveTravels allows LGBT individuals to be represented in a dignified way. Braden Summers’ work is truly inspirational and his images for the campaign will make an impact with how LGBT individuals are seen authentically in media and society. With GenderProud, I aim to travel the world, meet people of different cultures, and have a conversation with as many people about what it means to be human and transgender.
Reprinted with permission from Styleite. Want more?