Asia looks to be the next frontier for LGBT rights. Countries such as India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh are making strides in the recognition and support of what they call 'third gender' citizens; Nepal and Thailand have announced intentions to legalize marriage equality; and in parts of Tokyo and Beijing, same-sex couples are already afforded a level of legal recognition. We've seen around the world so far, as the visibility of the LGBT community rises, as more people come out and live their lives openly, acceptance grows. It was with such a hope that Paolo Lorenzana founded a new type of gay magazine for the Philippines, TEAM.
The son of a pastor, it wasn't until Lorenzana moved back to the Philippines at the age of 26, after completing a masters degree in New York City, that he came out. "I was empowered by everything that I experienced there," he explains. Five years later, that reinvigorated sense of self would inspire him to create TEAM Magazine. Out recently spoke up with Lorenzana, touching on everything from the Manila gay scene to securing RuPaul's Drag Race favorite Manila Luzon for their most recent cover.
Out: What is LGBT life and culture like in the Philippines?
Paolo Lorenzana: There was a Bohemian sort of gay scene in the '90s. Malate, a district in Old Manila, had a lot of gay bars where artists hung out, gay men, drag queens. But that disappeared really in the early 2000s, and then especially with Grindr, people don't feel the need to go out and cruise. Today, there is one club that's super popular. Whether it's a foreign gay friend who's coming over, or you just want to meet up with your other gay friends, O Bar is where to go. They also bring in the popular drag queens from RuPaul's Drag Race. They basically dominate the scene.
In Filipino society, the issue is more intolerance. Only recently, in the past year, have there been gay men on television that aren't like, the stereotypical, very flamboyant hairdresser, or someone who was just a caricature. Last year there was a drama depicting two gay characters, more "straight acting" gay men, in love with each other. And that became really popular.
So the reception of that was positive?
Yes, and I I think that sort of planted the idea in my mind that, maybe, it's possible to start inundating local pop culture with more of this imagery. I work with this brand called Bench, which is the biggest retail fashion company in the Philippines, and I suggested that we do a same-sex Valentine's Day campaign, and they agreed. So for the first time ever, in February, there was a huge billboard on Epifanio De los Santos Avenue, which is the main artery in Manila, and everyone could see this real life gay couple, and another billboard had a real life lesbian couple, being very affectionate with each other. They didn't look like stereotypes. And it was really successful, people were all over social media showing their support. And actually, surprisingly, shockingly really, we didn't hear anything from the Catholic Church. Overall, everyone was really supportive, which encouraged me to do this magazine even more.
How did the team behind TEAM Magazine come together?
I've been in publishing, locally, for a while now. So it was just a matter of getting friends together and being like, "Hey do you think this is going to work? What topics do you think haven't been covered by local media?" From there, we'd have conversations about people we knew who'd had different experiences, like a guy who recently came out to his kids, the first gay man in the Philippines to use surrogacy, stuff like that. And since taking this project on, I've met so many different kinds of people. It's become a personal journey in a way, and my notions of what it means to be gay have been absolutely expanded. So as I evolve, the magazine evolves, and continues to bring in alternative voices.
Are you easy for readers to find? Are you stocked in stores?
Yes we are. And the way it works here is, if you want to be legitimate, you have to go through the bookstores, which isn't the best financially. But to help, I'm not above taking poorly displayed copies of our magazine and putting them right beside Out Magazine.
How would you describe your magazine?
Well, maybe I can talk about the name TEAM. Obviously, it's a play on that old expression, referring to how a gay guy plays for the other team. At the same time, the word team is so often associated with athletics, which many gay guys growing up feel excluded from. So this was my way of claiming that word, making it ours. At the same time, the gay community in the Philippines is a bit fragmented, so this was a place to bring us together, at least on paper--and we're open to everyone. I never claim to be a magazine for every type of gay guy. We started from what we know, but like I said, we're finding a lot more about other people, and we're always growing to incorporate that.
For the cover of your second issue, which was released in August, you had Manila Luzon from RuPaul's Drag Race. How did that come about?
I'm friends someone who knows the people who manage O Bar, and they mentioned that they were bringing Manila in to perform. I thought, here is someone who's very proud of their Filipino culture, is out, is obviously very vocal when it comes to LGBT issues, and is just, fun. Manila is this very loud, engaging personality, and I wanted in on that. I asked if we could squeeze in a shoot while she was here, and thankfully she was down for it.
I think that the real incentive for Manila Luzon, who is extremely into fashion, was that she would be wearing all of this traditional Filipino regalia, but with a couture twist. She was really excited by that, and even though she had only had two hours of sleep between her performance and an all day shoot, and even though she was probably really hung over, she was wired enough from just the fashion. She was great, and she was just really excited about it all.
What's the general reception been?
We've had no negative feedback whatsoever. People love it, they love the design, and I really love that there are these younger kids are responding so well. We've been holding a lot of events, whether it be a panel where we're talking about the magazine, or nude drawing sessions. We've been meeting a lot of younger readers, and we've seen nothing but support and excitement, and pride that something like this actually exists, that they can buy in a bookstore.
Are there any stand-out examples?
I met this guy in his early 20s at a recent event of ours. It was a workshop on coffee, and it really seemed like he had no interest in coffee whatsoever. So I was just like, why are you here? And he said he's always been looking for a safe space, because he's not out, and there aren't very many opportunities in Manila to meet gay men beyond, you know, O Bar at 3 in the morning, or on Grindr. And that was really encouraging, it made all of this worth it.
Where would you like to see TEAM go?
I would like more frequency, I'd like it to become a monthly. I would also like for us to expand online, and to hold more events. I'm really enjoying meeting people through them. I love meeting people and, throughout the course of an event, learning about their lives and just getting more ideas for stories. That's what keeps this magazine going. That's what's enjoyable to me, and I hope to keep doing that.