You can tell it’s Pride Month when all the storefronts on Capitol Hill put out their rainbow flags and your newsfeed fills up with invites to parades and dance parties.
With Marriage Equality on the ballot and the first ever Pride ASIA event in the International District, it’s like everyone is feeling us queers.
But like Charlie Brown in “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” this year I was having a little trouble getting into the Pride spirit. Maybe it’s all the flashy lights and commercialism. Or the overpriced cover charges at the local bars and the Budweiser rainbow beads.
It’s hard to dance when thinking about how queer young and old, especially transgender and LGBTQ of color, experience everyday injustices – from disproportionate poverty to harassment on the street.
So I turned to the one person I thought could bring back my Pride spirit: Aleksa Manila, a Filipina immigrant drag queen and transgender person, who also gets political as a drag activist, educator, and counselor for LGBTQ rights. She’s served as an adviser to the Seattle Office of Civil Rights to was the first transgender actor in an all female-cast of the Vagina Monologues.
Manila brings the fierce all year round, but especially for Pride Month. We met up at the historic Panama Hotel for tea, and I asked her how she stays in the spirit:
How do you feel about being a public figure for both the API (Asian/Pacific Islander) and the LGBTQ (Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Trans-Queer) communities?
When I had my first drag title, Miss Gay Filipino in 2001, I felt that it was perceived as a comical act. “Oh here are the queers; here are the gay boys dressed up in gowns.” I wanted to change people’s opinion of us. I didn’t want us and myself to be laughed at. I wanted people to laugh with me. That really inspired me to do cross-sectional work by raising awareness of queer communities within people of color communities and people of color communities within mainstream communities, providing a safe place for all those avenues to intersect.
So I hosted and organized social events, and one of the first ones were Aleska Manila and FRIENDS. I really wanted the FRIENDS part in all caps to emphasize the people that I respect, value, and care about. And that it doesn’t matter what gender you are, what color you are, what your favorite color is [laughs] and all that. Just so that you honor the differences that we have when you look at yourself in the mirror.
What do you think about Marriage Equality?
It’s amazing that we’re getting closer to socially acceptable, legally stamped human rights. You know other states are already doing it, other countries have already been doing it – it’s about time we’re doing it.
The sensitive topic for me is when I hear LGBT folks that don’t necessarily support Gay Marriage. And I’m like: why not? It’s about access. It’s not about you wanting to get married. It’s all right if you don’t want to. The point is that there are people who do. I’ve been raising awareness among my networks to vote yes on Referendum 74. Vote, vote, vote! This is important! You might not have been around to witness the Stonewall Riots or seen your friends die from AIDS, but you know this is about human and civil rights.
What do think about the rise of violence towards LGBTQI?
It’s hard to determine if it’s been happening all along and now getting more media exposure, but regardless of how we’re hearing about it, it’s happening.
It’s heart wrenching when you hear about the hate crimes and you know the people who have been attacked. I’m still aghast by how Danny Vega was attacked and that some people don’t recognize it as a hate crime. An attack that vicious – that takes a lot of thinking and physical intent to harm someone like that.
When you think about homophobia, it’s that fear of being queer. There’s plenty of room to continue teaching about love and concern for everyone. We want to be seen as human beings too.
When you’re having a bad day or thinking about all the difficult things that are happening the world, what do you do to get back your fierceness?
Oh, I’ve never been asked that before. By day I’m a drug and alcohol counselor for a LBGT agency and one of the things that I’ve learned is setting boundaries and honoring self-care. As busy as I get – with school, work, and political advocacy in drag – each thing that I do I try make sure that I’m happy with it.
I’ve certainly had bad days. I generally make it a self-meditation day or an hour to calm down, you know sleep-in or watch a movie. Nothing too grand.
I surround myself with supportive friends and recognize that in some fashion I’ve made an effort to touch someone’s life or make a positive difference. It’s a self-check too, like “oh meditate. Oh, calm down.” Or I go shopping [laughs].
Aleksa Manila is hosting Pride ASIA, a celebration of multi-cultural diversity in the LGBTQ Asian-Pacific Islander communities on Saturday (June 23rd) at Hing Hay Park in the International District.
There will be a vigil for Danny Vega at the site of his attack on Thursday, June 28th at 6:45pm, organized by the Filipino Community of Seattle and the SPD.