‘Sometimes we don’t need to go to safe spaces. Sometimes the safe space is us’

Content creators Marina Summers, Johnreyslife, JM Banquicio, Levi Reyes, and Sara De Guzman on coming out, representation, and the importance of allyship in building safe spaces for the LGBTQIA+ Community.

For years, the world celebrate the legacy of the LGBTQIA+ Community—its wins, struggles, and resilience—every month of June. Much like what’s happening around the world, Pride in the Philippines is a protest. It is a call for equal rights, safe spaces, and conversation that sheds light on the stories of the queerfolks. Echoing that mission is Google Philippines as it hosted its first-ever in-person Pride Conversations dubbed “#CreateSafeSpaces.”

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From left: Irene Franco Habijan, Google PH's Mervin Wenke, Mela Habijan, JM Banquicio, Julie Anne Fajardo, Johnreyslife, Kat Reyes, Sara De Guzman, Clarisse De Guzman, Levi Reyes, Baus Rufo, Marina Summers

After three years of doing it online, Google Philippines gathered LGBTQIA+ Youtube content creators for a meaningful conversation that’s all about creating safe spaces for the community, whether online or in the physical world. Drag artist Marina Summers, travel vlogger JM Banquicio, beauty content creator Johnreyslife, and couple Sara De Guzman and Levi Reyes of digital biking tips journal Darling PH, together with host and activist Mela Habijan, share their stories in making a community online, their coming out experience, and other things that made them queer icons in Youtube. Below are some of the lessons we learned from their journey, which they hope will empower and inspire their brothers and sisters in the community to celebrate and live their authentic life.

Coming out and letting people in

Coming out is one of the stages that challenge many queerfolks. Though, it is not a requirement, declaring who you are to other people and to yourself is definitely an act of bravery. For Sara, coming out to her family was a daunting task. That's why she chose to do it on her birthday. Right after she blew her candle, she told her family that she's gay.

"I felt the love and acceptance... at the moment I felt free," she said. "Since then, I have been closer to my family than before."

As a young flamboyant kid, Marina didn't see the need to come out. As she said, her family has always been supportive of her. But that doesn't mean things were easy. During the first times she dressed femininely, she felt a certain guilt in her as her siblings were teased because of her. After finding her true self through the art of drag, she decided that it was time to take her family into her world.

"Hindi ako lumabas. Sila yung pinapasok ko sa life ko (I didn't come out. I let them into my life)," Marina said. "I need to welcome them to my other self. Now, they are the most supportive."

The role of allies

Allies can come in many forms. They can be family, friends, colleagues, an influential figure, and others. They help make sure that LGBTQIA+ people feel accepted and allow them to live authentically and fearlessly, especially in a conservative country like the Philippines.

Despite her initial concerns, Mela's mom Irene Franco Habijan said she learned to accept Mela as she believed that God created her this way. She also defended Mela from discriminatory remarks, emphasizing that “God has given us all the assurance that we can all go to heaven, including people like Mela.”

Content creator and Bekenemen producer Baus Rufo, who is Marina’s creative partner, consistently shows his allyship by ensuring that drag queens are treated well in shows.

“Drag is not cheap. It takes a lot of effort to look this good. The least us producers can do is to make sure they are properly valued, and they are seen for all the efforts they put into a three- to five-minute performance, which takes a lot of preparation,” he said. “I’ll never stop lending a hand and supporting drag queens like Marina.”

Proper representation

Among the many things the community is fighting for is visibility. This is not just about being seen but also feeding people the stories that truly represent each individual from different spectrums. For Johnreyslife, doing beauty content on Youtube allowed her to live authentically and make a difference in the local beauty landscape.

“I used to face discrimination and hate for simply being ‘morena’ and ‘trans’. Now because of YouTube and content creation, I’m able to break barriers in the beauty sphere and be a face of representation,” Johnreyslife said. “Regardless of your sexual orientation, gender, or skin color, anyone is welcome and can succeed on YouTube. Keep striving and dreaming because dreams do come true!”

Creating safe spaces is also important for young LGBTQIA+ kids who are still exploring their identity. It’s why Marina started her YouTube mini-series “Chasing the Sun,” where she showcases the art form of drag and the behind-the-scenes of her performances. For her, this was her way of telling stories that are close to her heart, while inspiring the younger generation and pushing for accurate representation of LGBTQIA+ people.

“It’s a way for me to pat that little Marina on the back because she can finally watch herself on screen,” the drag artist said. “This is also for the LGBTQIA+ kids like me who are looking for people they can identify with on TV and social media. We always talk about representation a lot. It really strikes a chord with someone looking for a sense of belongingness and representation in the media… Sometimes we don’t need to go to safe spaces. Sometimes the safe space is us.”