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5 LGBTQs Who Overcame Discrimination to Make a Mark in Philippine Beauty and Fashion

Their achievements here and abroad prove that they are stronger now.
5 LGBTQs Who Overcame Discrimination to Make a Mark in Philippine Beauty and Fashion

This article is part of a series produced for Pantene. To view other articles, click here.

In recent years, we’ve been seeing more and more members of the LGBTQ community succeed in their chosen fields. While knowing they’re successful might be enough for some of us, learning about the entire journey helps us respect and admire them more deeply. Below, the stories of some of them who play a part in the beauty and fashion industries. Read on to find out what they struggled with and how they surpassed it.

Paolo Sumayao, 32, Sales and Marketing Manager, Writer

I’m from a town 20 minutes outside the city of Naga. Being a small town boy, I was seen as inferior in many waysclothing choices, toys, hobbies. That, apart from being a queer, flamboyant little boy, I believe, prompted my classmates to bully me. I remember writing an essay about single parenthood and my classmates dismissed it as “sissy” and pathetic.

The bullying was perhaps just one of my many motivations to excel. More than anything, my family was my main driving force. I’m the eldest. My parents separated when I was young, so my mom sees me as the head of the family.

I then had to make a lot of sacrifices—the biggest was being away from my family most of the time. Since there’s really no career in retail in the province—and I wanted to work in retail—I had to live in Manila on my own. I stayed in Manila working in different positions in retail for a decade, and during that time I was challenged to prove that a province-educated professional like me has the mettle to outperform everyone else. Eventually a part-provincial, part-Manila company offered me a job in the South Luzon arm of Havaianas and Sunnies Studios. I worked my way up to become its sales and marketing head.

Apart from having a career in fashion, I'm a fellow at the first LGBTQ National Writers Workshop. I’m also the editor of the upcoming landmark anthology Bikol Bakla. My goal now is to publish my own book, a collection of poems or short stories where I would honor my mom and the many facets of her womanhood, motherhood, and sisterhood. I’ve always felt that mothers have a hand at shaping the lives of the members of the LGBTQIA community in several ways.

Mela Habijan, 31, Writer, Vlogger, Actress

I graduated cum laude in college and became a writer for top-rating shows such as Gandang Gabi Vice and Your Face Sounds Familiar. I ran to be a member of Marikina's city council and used the slogan "Bago. Bata. Bakla." Despite losing the elections, I knew I won many hearts. Back then, people knew me as Erick.

I started transitioning on my 30th birthday, but I have always seen myself as a beauty queen. In fact, when I was 4, I saw Miss Universe on television for the first time and immediately, my ultimate dream was to be Miss Universe. However, growing up, people would tell me I couldn’t compete, let alone join the pageant because I was a boy; I wasn’t biologically female.

My brother and sisters were the first ones to know of my desire to transition and I am blessed to have supportive siblings. As for my parents, I wrote them a letter a day before my 30th birthday to come out as a transgender woman and tell them of my decision to live as a woman. It was nerve-wracking because I didn’t know how they would react. But to my surprise, my papa told me, “If you think you’re going to be a better person as a woman, go and live your life!”

It took me 30 years to transition because I was eaten by fearsfear of losing job opportunities, fear of being disrespected by others, and fear of being rejected by my parents. But when I felt that my parents’ love is bigger than my fears, that I will be respected more by people for being true to myself, and that loving myself is greater than any rejection I will be getting, I found the courage to live my truth. And now, I’m at my happiest.

JL Crespo, 22, Fashion Stylist

I never took up fashion or styling classes, but I was lucky enough to be an apprentice for a year and a half for Ryuji Shiomitsu.

As a stylist, I get inspiration from a variety of things: a film, a country, or a book. Inspiration can be found all around us every day and with the internet, it’s so easy to get motivated.

Aside from styling, skincare has always been another passion of mine. Working as a freelancer, I figured I have all the time in the world to do something about my passion. It was around the start of when I thought about carrying it out, so I put up a blog to share my knowledge about skincare!

Locally, I’ve worked with brands like Nisce Skin Basics, Rraw PH, Soak Opera, and Nature SC, to name a few. Internationally, I’ve worked with Wishtrend, Dear Klairs, Frank Body, and Ole Henriksen. Although it’s still in the works, I am collaborating with Drunk Elephant next!

As someone who works in the fashion industry, I can say that it’s not as glamorous as it seems. It’s a lot of hard work and late nights, but everything is worth it in the end.

Honestly, going from an apprentice to an individual stylist was frightening because I didn’t know if I could do it and if people were going to book me. I figured the only way to know the answer was to do it. Believing in myself and trusting my gut has brought me to where I am today.

Rebie Ramoso, 41, Visual Artist and Digital Painter

My journey to art was a long one. I graduated with a degree in psychology. While I knew at the age of 5 that I wanted to be an artist, it took me 10 years of pursuing a different course and career to finally decide that I was meant to do what I have always dreamed of doing. I studied painting at the College of Fine Arts of the University of the Philippines. That was where I met my mentor, Prof. Yasmin Almonte, whose encouragement and faith in my abilities were instrumental in my decision to be an artist.

There will often be resistance and skepticism when you go against the grain. The challenge that I had to face as a visual artist using new media was to make people in the Philippine art scene recognize that what I had to offer was a legitimate art form. Part of that was having to face rejections because the fine-art scene then did not have space for it.

So I had to look elsewhere—and that was when I realized that while it took time for the country's art scene to embrace what digital artists do, other parts of the world were setting the stage and platform for it. I was lucky that what I had to offer was what they were, in fact, making a new category for.

Now that the Philippine art scene has become more open to new media, I am hopeful that we can share our worldview and our stories with more people in the country. Through our art, we can make sense of what's going on within and around us. I would like to think that my art speaks to my audience and allows them to reflect on their lives and the decisions that they have made. I feel that I have done my work as an artist when someone tells me that my work hits his/her core. I recall someone thanking me and saying that my work has allowed her to process her experience of loss. The fact that my work is able to facilitate someone’s process of healing—that in itself is very rewarding.

As my artworks dwell on the inner realm of human experience, I hope that my digital paintings are able to speak to a wider audience, regardless of their background. I want to make art as long as I’m alive. Now, my digital paintings have been featured in international exhibitions of contemporary art in Bruges, Rome, Florence, and New York. I’m blessed to represent the Filipino art community in large contemporary art fairs such as Art Expo New York 2018. I am also preparing for a solo exhibition in Rome, Italy, in 2019.

Muriel Vega Perez, 32, Professional Celebrity Makeup Artist and Hairstylist

As a registered nurse, it was hard to shift from a science-based to an art-based career. I had to deal with people who question the capacity of my intellect, or those who associated my career shift with my sexuality: “I knew he wasn’t really smart in the first place,” or “You should be in that industry because that’s where gay people belong!”

People think we don’t use our intellect to excel in this field. They think it’s all about fun. But, really, we need to be persevering, professional, and hardworking.

It has its perks as well. As a makeup artist, I love that I travel a lot. I meet people who inspire me to be a better artist. I’m gay as a box of 120 colors of crayons. When I work, that 120-colors-of-crayons gayness can be seen in the faces I glam up! The best part is when you find people you love working with—you make new friends. And I always find it heartwarming when the people I work with show gratitude because the makeover makes them feel better.


These people show us that despite the odds, we can always emerge stronger. Choose to be #StrongerNow, and discover more stories of hope by watching this video and following Pantene on Facebook.

This article was created by Summit Storylabs in partnership with Pantene.