A drag queen’s fight for climate justice, healthcare, and inclusion

June 27, 2024

By Dominic Gutoman, Bulatlat

For a Negros-based drag queen, fighting for queer emancipation means standing up for human rights, climate justice, and access to health.

Ghillean Pranz Fegidero (he/they) is known in the local drag scene as Celestia (she/her) and debuted on February 17, 2023, in Bacolod City. Her first performance is a lip sync smackdown of Olivia Rodrigo’s hit song “Good For You.”

“Even if it is a contest, I wanted to send a message. So I raised a banner at the end of the song to stand against the patriarchy,” Fegidero said in an interview with Bulatlat.

“I realized that I love doing drag ever since I was introduced to their world. I love the creativity behind. I realized that it is such a huge platform for people to become political and influence others,” they added.

This opportunity helped them to develop more creative ways to speak about certain issues and expand their sphere of influence, with the aim to educate and inspire more people to join different causes.

Pride as a protest

Fegidero is one of the co-founders of Negros Pride this June 29, a local celebration in their region with an anticipated 2,000 to 3,000 participants this year. This initiative campaigns for several advocacies, running from national (passage of SOGIE Equality Bill) to international (call to stop the ongoing genocide in Palestine).

“Last year, during our local Pride March, we pulled it off despite a three-week preparation. This was attended by 2,500 people,” said Fegidero.

This year, one of the objectives of Negros Pride is to convene a movement that calls for the end of gender-related violence, equal rights and acceptance, and create a discourse on SOGIE-based solutions.

The SOGIE Equality Bill has been stalled in Congress for more than two decades. The bill was first filed by the late Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago and former Akbayan Representative Loretta Rosales in 2000. It has been consistently refiled up until today. This bill aims to strengthen the protection of Filipinos against discrimination related to gender identity.

“A lot of people still do not understand the SOGIE Equality Bill. They think that it only highlights LGBT people, but no, it is for everyone. Even straight people have their own SOGIE,” said Fegidero. “While we can say that the society is more tolerant to the LGBT community, it is not as accepting as we want it to be.”

Part of the buildup activities of Negros Pride is to conduct educational discussions on the rights of gender-diverse people and how activism helped them advance their cause. Fegidero is the instructor of their module on “Herstory: How Drag is Political.”

Queer justice in climate justice

Even as an emerging drag queen, Celestia immediately started her career by partnering with the development and humanitarian organization Oxfam Pilipinas to create content about the climate crisis. In the form of reels, she initiated conversations about the connection between the climate crisis and public health, and how the government needs to implement policies that reduce carbon emissions.

However, beyond social media, their involvement towards climate justice has deeper roots. It started in curiosity when they was still an avid follower of Youth for Climate Hope, a coalition of climate organizations and individuals in the Negros, watching their campaigns from plastic-free to coal-free region.

“After the pandemic, I had the guts to message one of the founders, I want to join them and learn about the climate. I really did not understand it at first, but right now, I am happy to be part of the many victories we share,” they said.

During Fegidero’s birthday in 2022, they joined the public scoping session to oppose San Miguel Corporation’s plan to establish a liquefied natural gas (LNG) power plant in Negros. LNG power plants are primarily made up of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that could warm the planet faster. It can also harm local communities with pollution and emissions from burning gas.

Due to the fierce opposition of the Negrosanons and the community of San Carlos City, where the power plant was planned to be built, SMC withdrew its application for an Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC) with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) in November 2022.

“Together with the communities of San Carlos, we were happy that the project did not push through. I am happy that I am in this movement,” Fegidero added.

Photo by CSAB Student Government

Barriers to healthcare

Fegidero represented the Negrosanon Young Leaders Institute Inc. in the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s program “Breaking Down Barriers to Healthcare.” This is a dual-track program for civil society organizations (CSOs) and journalists, to strengthen their approach in combating human rights marginalization to Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), Tuberculosis (TB), and Malaria.

“Ever since high school, I have been a staunch advocate of sex education. It stemmed from the rising teenage pregnancy cases to HIV awareness in our country,” they said.

In the Philippines, as young as 15 years old have HIV infection. The Department of Health recorded that there are around 1,500 people living with HIV (PLHIV) in the country, but only 64 percent are currently receiving antiretroviral therapy.

“We are the most vulnerable when it comes to this. I do hope that we could raise awareness through education… Who will speak if not us? If we do not start to speak up for our rights, as people, then nothing will happen,” Fegidero said.

The key populations and vulnerable groups with HIV are men who have sex with men (MSM), trans and gender-diverse people, sex workers, people who use/and or inject drugs, and also persons deprived of liberty (PDL).

Towards queer emancipation

A large chunk of Fegidero’s advocacy came from their firsthand experience, back when they was still a student — sanctioned for cross-dressing even as an openly gay non-binary individual.

“As gender-diverse people, it is important that we speak because we are directly experiencing these issues. Our community experiences it way worse,” said Fegidero.

They also highlighted that members of the LGBTQ+ community are more prone to homelessness and poverty. “We are prone to experience legal and societal discrimination in times of crisis and calamities, and we are not given the same resources and recognition compared to heterosexual people.”

For Fegidero, the fight for queer emancipation is still far from over. They believe that the struggle is also intersectional, as many LGBTQ+ individuals are still facing aggression in the workplace, schools, and other institutions they deem oppressive.

“I don’t think the government is doing enough. We do not have policies that govern and protect the LGBT community. Even in the environment aspect, when it comes to creating climate-related policies, the LGBT community is still not included. We have our own story to tell,” they ended. 

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