MANILA -- Surrounded by steel bars and half-finished glass windows, businessman Brian Tenorio answers emails on his laptop, working to expand his coffee shop chain while rallying fellow LGBTs to break stereotypes that limit them to the beauty parlor.
Tenorio, 40, founded the Philippine LGBT Chamber of Commerce in 2016, hoping to inspire members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community to realize their potential by "activating" role models in management positions.
The LGBT community is a "hotbed of innovations and creativity" and its members work best in situations that require informal negotiation and navigating social circles, said Tenorio, who used to design shoes for tycoon Jaime Zobel de Ayala.
"Our core purpose is to celebrate and promote LGBT contribution to Philippine business, to highlight that we’re not just staff or employee," Tenorio told ABS-CBN News at the construction site of his seventh coffee shop.
"I can also do finance, hindi ito kulutan lang (we don't just curl hair). We contribute to the Philippine economy," he said.
Gays in the Philippines had long fought for equality, where they suffer discrimination and sometimes hate crimes in a society that is tolerant at best, according to advocate groups.
Same-sex marriage is illegal and is frowned upon by the Catholic Church. LGBT groups have also failed to get elected in Congress.
In 2014, the murder of transgender woman Jennifer Laude in Olongapo City highlighted the struggle for equal rights. A US serviceman who killed her was convicted of homicide.
The Philippines is "gay-amused" rather than friendly to gays, psychology professor Eric Manalastas told AFP after Laude's death, referring to harsh comments on social media about the victim.
An online survey of almost 500 LGBT Filipinos in 2014 by advocacy group TLF Share found that one in 10 had been attacked or threatened with violence due to their sexuality in the last 5 years.
The LGBT Chamber's projects include educating business leaders on the "new gender landscape," Tenorio said.
It is also working on the first ever SOGIE Diversity Index for Filipino companies, which will be out in October. SOGIE stands for Sexual Orientation on Gender Identity and Expression, he said.
"To be the first also means the most difficult in birthing this. We have to create the path, it’s not a road less traveled. We have to make a road, that’s what we’re doing now," he said.
The chamber's focus is on self-empowerment and development and is not necessarily a complaints or rescue center, said Tenorio, who has also done consultancy work for the Asian Development Bank and the World Health Organization.
The Philippines is "faster" compared to its Asian neighbors in terms of acceptance of LGBTs, but is behind the US and Europe, Tenorio said.
It is still "difficult" for LGBTs, especially transgenders, to compete in the executive level, but Tenorio said he hoped it would change in the next decade.
"The younger generations, as they grow older, are more accepting of diversity and gender diversity," he said.
"So I think the 20 something now, who will be mid-level managers in 10 years and CEOs in 30 years would not see gender as something that defines a person," Tenorio said.