Two US Filipinos add visibility and voice to transgender rights movement

By Troy Espera, ABS-CBN North America Bureau

July 3, 2014

SAN FRANCISCO – Two Filipinos in the US have stepped up to add visibility and voice to issues that an estimated 700,000 transgender Americans face.

Filmmaker Cecilio Asuncion’s documentary “What’s the T?” that follows the lives of five transgender women was recently praised by the Advocate magazine for creating an “introduction to the uninitiated on trans issues.”

Following a successful run at film festivals across the country, “What’s the T?” made its debut on the popular video on-demand site Hulu in June. The DVD version is also set to hit major retail stores later this summer.

“I honestly didn’t think this would happen,” Asuncion said. “As a documentary filmmaker I’m just happy I got to tell these women’s stories because they trusted me. I will always treat them like the stars that they are.”

Transpinay model and trans rights advocate Geena Rocero emerged this year as a vocal proponent of gender recognition laws for trans people through her nonprofit Gender Proud.

She’s currently one of the spokespeople for the Marriott Hotel’s LGBT friendly ad campaign “#LoveTravels” and recently spoke in Washingto, DC in front of a very high profile audience.

“I can honestly say that in the last two weeks I’ve gotten to see the President. I got to speak at the recent Democratic National Committee LGBT gala”

This week she returned to Washington to attend the White House LGBT Pride Gala, where President Obama announced plans for an executive order to ban discrimination against federal workers based on gender identity.

Both Asuncion and Rocero say there’s still more work to be done to advance transgender issues, and they’re grateful for the support the Filipino has given them.

“There’s something very important about our culture in the Philippines,” Rocero said. “Because I was able to fully express myself as a woman at such a young age, it allowed me to really be in tune about my truth. Having that culture allowed me to become this person.”

“You know what? That’s the irony of it,” Asuncion said, comparing perceptions about transgender people in the Philippines to the United States. “America being a first world country, you have more legal rights. But society-wise, there has to be more acceptance.”

That’s why trans folk here applaud Asuncion and Rocero’s success, and the success of others who say it’s time to push transgender issues into the spotlight.

“We need that kind of advocacy on the national level just because as transgenders we’re kind of on the sidelines,” transwoman and advocate Bionka Stevens said. “People don’t really want to notice us or put us in the frontline.”

You contact Troy Espera at troy_espera@abs-cbn.com for more information.

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