In today’s discussion about gender identity and expression, the Philippines has had its highs and lows. From debates about the use of comfort rooms to the polarizing SOGIE bill, it’s been quite a roller coaster for the LGBT community. That being said, there’s still hope for transgender people in the country. Just recently, two trans women named Mikee Vitug and Jess Labares became the newest flight attendants for airline CebGo under JG Summit, the parent company of Cebu Pacific. This makes them two of the first transgender women to be part of a cabin crew in the Philippines.
The two women were declared as the newest members of the CebGo team after a 57-day training program that consisted of daily exams, survival swimming lessons, and fire and smoke drills. Commenting on what they went through, Labares described it as “the most difficult training” she’s experienced.
While this is an inspiring achievement for the transgender community, both women revealed that becoming flight attendants wasn’t initially their dream. Labares viewed it as a challenge, while Vitug, who was a licensed pharmacist at the time, took up training as a “random idea” that seemed impossible.
Later on, the two found that the training was harder than it looked, and that the job itself was difficult despite its sunny facade. They realized that this profession was crucial because of their duty to keep the passengers safe.
In their previous work, they also experienced setbacks, mostly due to the stigma against their transgender identity. Vitug, in particular, mentioned her decision to resign from her previous work after they prohibited her from presenting as a woman during the start of her transition period. This isn’t an isolated case, as it’s been reported that 30% of LGBTI Filipinos have been discriminated in the workplace due to their orientation and gender identity.
In spite of all the hardships, they were able to pass their tests through sheer dedication and hard work. Vitug feels honored to be one of the first transgender women part of the cabin crew. She expressed optimism that this achievement could be the catalyst for change on how people perceive their community. Labares also saw this as a sign that our country can move forward into acceptance, and that companies can be inclusive.
Vitug encouraged other employers to exert effort in making the workplace an accepting place for the community. She suggested for companies to hold seminars tackling gender sensitivity and issues as a way to make them feel more included and protected. She also encouraged members of the Philippine transgender community to keep their head high, study diligently, and do their best against all odds.
Despite this good news, the Philippines still has a long way to go on issues about sexual orientation, gender identity, and acceptance. Laws still have to be passed to ensure their fair treatment, and people still need to open their minds to the struggles they face. With that said, the stories of Mikee Vitug and Jess Labares are proof that we can move forward as a country, and that the LGBT community can be successful if we give them the opportunity to shine. Let this be a beacon of hope for every LGBT individual struggling to be accepted that it does get better, so hang in there.
Congratulations, Mikee and Jess! We hope you continue to fly high!
(INQUIRER.net, Outrage Magazine)