Fil-Am fashion model fights for transgender rights

by Rose Carmelle Lacuata,

Posted at Apr 04 2014 01:14 AM | Updated as of Apr 04 2014 06:43 PM

MANILA -- Geena Rocero, a Filipino-American fashion model and activist who admitted being a transgender, is giving back to the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community through the Gender Proud campaign.

Gender Proud aims to help change perceptions about transgender people, as well provide proper health access to all transgender people, Rocero told ANC Prime Time on Thursday night.

The movement also aims to send a message why it is important for countries all over the world to have a gender recognition law, she said.

Such a law, Rocero explained, will allow all transgender people to change their name and gender marker in legal documents, without having to be forced to go through surgery or sterilization, or other dehumanizing barriers.

Rocero came out as a transgender at a TED conference.

Rocero said that at the age of 19, she had to go to Thailand to undergo surgery before she could legally change her name and gender marker in the United States.

"You should be allowed to express how you feel, and your legal documentation should match that," she said.

Rocero said in 2005, she was questioned at an immigration counter in Tokyo for having a male name and male gender marker on her Philippine passport.

"I presented my Philippine passport, with a male name and male gender marker, and I was held at the immigration counter for hours, asking me who I am. I understand that it is a security measure, but it shouldn’t be that hard for people to express themselves."

She also said that for transgender people, it is important that legal documents show who they are.

"How can you be confident to apply for a job if your documentation does not match who you are?" she asked.

Rocero explained that not having legal documentation that matches a person's appearance presents an opportunity for discrimination.

"A cop can always stop you and question you. It's unfair, and it should stop. To change your name and gender marker is very basic."

For Rocero, working for the rights of the LGBT community is her way of giving back to the community that helped her a lot, especially when she was still in the Philippines.

She added that she was inspired by her friends who are pursuing the same campaign. "We now see each other and ask ourselves how could we move this agenda forward? How can we make people realize that this [gender] is a very important issue?"

When asked about how her family reacted to her coming out at the TED conference, Rocero said she is lucky to have a supportive family. "My mother, she's been the hero of my story. I'm very lucky in that way. I know not everyone has the same experience."

She also noted how conversation about sensitive topics should be encouraged, despite people's different opinions.

"Conversation is very crucial. People will always disagree on things, but as long as there's a mutual understanding that there needs to be a conversation about gender, gender assignment, how society deal with gender binary, sexual orientation, people should not be afraid to talk about a sensitive subject, as long as it is for the sake of curiousity and conversation."

Being an activist who fights for the LGBT agenda, Rocero wants everyone to understand the nuances in words used to identify members of the community.

"Gay is sexual orientation, transgender is gender identity. I am not gay. I am a girl. I knew I was a girl when I was 5 years old," she said.

Rocero said coming out is not the end, but the beginning of her work to push LGBT rights forward.