These Beauty Queens Are Fighting For Transgender Rights In The Philippines Torey van OOT Oct 6 2015

Refinery29 has partnered with Allison Rapson and Kassidy Brown, founders of the media company We are the XX, for a documentary series exploring the lives of women around the world. “A Woman’s Place” features the empowering stories of female activists working for real change in their communities. This story draws on interviews conducted by Rapson and Brown, as well as additional reporting from Refinery29 in New York.

Geena Rocero vividly remembers when she first laid eyes on her California driver’s license at age 19: “It was beautiful, it was powerful, it was validating,” she recalled. For Rocero, an international model born in the Philippines, that photo ID card was about much more than being able to legally drive or establishing herself as a California resident. For Rocero, the power was in the gender listed on the card: female.

“All of a sudden, I felt like I could conquer my dreams, I felt like I could go anywhere in the world and announce to the world: ‘This is where I am. Look at my ID.’ It reflected who I am,” said Rocero, who is transgender. Now, Rocero is helping lead the charge for equal rights and legal recognition for transgender people in her home country.

In some respects, the trans community in the Philippines occupies a uniquely visible platform in local culture. Unlike the U.S., where transgender models have struggled to be included, the Philippines’ vibrant pageant tradition has long celebrated transgender beauty. Families flock to the popular beauty competitions, which are often timed to coincide with festivals. Some are broadcast nationally.

“Even the smallest village here in the Philippines celebrates fiesta,” Maki Gingoyon, an activist and former beauty pageant contestant, said. “And in every fiesta celebration, there is always a beauty pageant for transgender women.”