The Philippines is a beau-con-crazy (beauty contest) nation, so everyone was glued to their television sets on the morning of 31 January, watching Miss Universe, which was held in Manila. I don’t consider myself a huge fan, but I found myself popping in and out of the office pantry, where the rest of the team was watching, just to see how our country's candidate, Maxine Medina, was faring.
I entered just as she was asked, ‘What is the most significant change you’ve seen in the world in the last 10 years?’ Maxine was visibly nervous and wasn’t able to answer well:
The last 10 years of being here in the world… is that I saw all the people being in one event like this, in Miss Universe, and it's something big to us that we are one, as one nation, we are all together.
Immediately, the people in the pantry all started giving their own takes, discussing how they would have answered. One of the young staffers said that, since we were now living in a digital era, ‘social media’ should have been her answer.
While I agree social media is important, I would have answered the question this way:
Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, for that question. The most significant change I’ve seen in the world in the last 10 years is the acceptance of diversity, especially when it comes to our friends and family in the LGBT community. Now, not only do we have laws for their equal protection and rights, but in many countries all over the world, same-sex partners are now free to marry and be with the person they love, and have the state recognize and support that union. Because in a world as crazy as ours, only love remains true, and every person on this planet should be free to dream, care, hope and love. And at the end of the day, love will prevail, and love wins.
I imagine the audience members going crazy, clapping, cheering and jumping to their feet, because in my mind, that would be the moment that would define Ms. Philippines at the Ms. Universe pageant. She could have done better with such a crowd-pleasing answer.
My husband jokes that I think everyone is gay, that not only do I have ‘gaydar’, but I also have ‘gay-fi’. For those of you who don’t know the difference, ‘gaydar’ is simply a detecting mechanism, while ‘gay-fi’ is telepathic communication. He says that if I were in a room full of a thousand people and there was only one gay person there, we would still somehow find each other. This is true, and not long ago, it did happen, at a Maroon 5 concert.
I have always found myself gravitating towards gay people, and vice-versa. Maybe it’s because of shared beliefs or interests, or it could be something in my brain chemistry that draws me to them. I never saw gay people negatively, as freaks in society. My parents had gay friends. I grew up with them, I’ve always felt they were special and unique, and some of the most important people in my life happen to be gay.
I see changes in our country. Just recently, I attended a briefing at a big multinational firm, where a man was dressed in a men’s Oxford shirt and slacks, but decided to put a twist to it by adding a big pearl necklace, suede women’s pumps and a Louis Vuitton handbag with an Hermès scarf wrapped around the handle. Some years ago, this would have been unheard of, and he would probably be scared to be ostracized by his colleagues. I see same-sex couples not scared to hold hands, or express their love in front of others. People don’t judge, nor would they stare and find this odd.
There are also more LGBT-friendly establishments now. These establishments are branding themselves either by explicitly welcoming LGBT people, or simply hanging a rainbow flag. At Grey Philippines, we have an anti-discrimination rule. Gender orientation can never be a factor in hiring, promotion, or performance review.
There are role models: for example, Danton Remoto, a poet, university professor, and radio commentator, who’s been at the forefront of gay political activism in the country, and co-founded the first gay political movement. Ian King, a scion of one of Manila’s notable families, after living as a straight, married man, recently came out as a transgender woman. She remains married to her wife, and has gained the admiration of not only those in the LGBT community, but of the public in general. The Philippines has also elected its first transgender congressperson, Geraldine (formerly Gerry) Roman. She has launched a bill which seeks to ban discrimination based on one’s sexual orientation and gender identity, Time magazine recognized her as one of the “Inspiring Women of 2016”.
This openness to, and acceptance of, the LGBT community has been the biggest change I’ve seen in the last decade. Because of my affinity towards them, and because there are so many of them in the public relations and advertising business, it excites me to see more and more progressive, enlightened clients and brands addressing the LGBT community, both in ATL and BTL communications.
This is a great time for PR in the Philippines. There are many more ways to reach the customer, so PR has come to the forefront, and it is story-driven. We can and must identify real, empowering, and authentic stories for the LGBT community, among others. For me, LGBT is about love, acceptance and equality, and these things apply to everyone, LGBT or otherwise. These are stories that need to be told. They are positive and affirm all of us, regardless of orientation.
PR is not just about helping brands tell their stories, but also about identifying to whom, and how, the stories should be told. It’s also about delivery, which channel to use to get the message across. Though some people still see PR as just ‘publicity’ or mounting an event, it is actually more dynamic than that. For a brand to be successful, it needs a solid, kick-ass public relations plan, that will connect with all stakeholders. We’ve seen elections won through PR, why shouldn’t brands or clients use PR as well to win in communications? PR is everywhere. We live and breathe PR in our day-to-day lives, more than we realize it. PR shapes the narrative of our daily lives. LGBT stories, of love, acceptance and equality, have finally become part of our mainstream narrative. The sooner that brands and clients accept this, the better and more effective their campaigns will be.
Ana Ysabel R. Ongpin is managing director of Campaigns & Grey Public Relations in the Philippines