Google Philippines ended Pride Month on a meaningful note with a livestream called “Pride Conversations” featuring remarkable members of the LGBTQIA+ community. Sharing stories of love and support, success and triumphs were Antipolo City Barangay Councilor Kristine Ibardolaza; Aesthetic Surgery fellow Dr. Berry Beriña; motorcycle enthusiast and vlogger Gaki Azurin, more popularly known as “GakiMoto”; comedian, host, and YouTube creator Mikey Bustos; and Google Philippines Program Manager Melai Lopez.
A dressmaker/designer by profession and former beauty pageant titlist, Kristine is the first transgender woman elected into a government position in Antipolo City. She had been serving their city as the livelihood section head and helping oversee TESDA training programs for the 16 barangays when she was approached by their barangay captain to run for public office.
While she was nervous about running, she felt it was important to show her community who she really was. “I showed them who I really was. I didn’t have my hair cut or dressed and acted like a man,” she said. Her doubts were cleared away by the support of their community. “They embraced my personality and I won,” she added.
Kristine added that being elected into public office gave her an additional responsibility to uphold. “I felt that this opened a door to my trans sisters, that we could run for office and do ordinances at the barangay level, especially in the grassroots,” she said.
For Gaki, pursuing motovlogging and being active in the motorcycle community is something that she wants to do for herself and refuses to let herself be bothered by any naysayers. “You’d get the rude comments saying that you know nothing about motorcycles and how to handle them,” she shared. “But motovlogging something that I did because I wanted to show the Philippines to my friends in other countries. I just went for it.”
Gaki added that she is usually one of the few females who join and cover motorcycle events, but a lot of people go to her vlog when they need advice. She believes that no one should let gender identity or gender issues get in the way of what they want to do. “I hope people just follow what they wanna do, as long as your intentions are good and you’re not stepping on anybody in the process, keep doing you,” she said.
For her part, Dr. Berry was fully supported by her doctor dad and nurse mom. “From my transitioning to going through med school, their support gave me courage to take risks and succeed in my battles,” she shared.
This support also helped Dr. Berry weather the challenges she encountered as she began her career. “In the medical society, when you talk about surgery, it’s a very macho, very masculine specialty,” she said. “When I was trying to enter residency training for general surgery, I had to prove myself worthy simply because I am a trans woman.”
Dr. Berry shared that when she was interviewed for the post, some consultants were against accepting her into the program. This only further motivated her to work harder. “When I was accepted, I took it as a challenge to prove doubters wrong. The one way to overcome their biases is for me to continue working hard,” she said. “I know I put my heart into what I do and people can see the integrity and give me the respect.”
For Mikey, coming out was a scary, big jump. The YouTube star and his partner have been together for a long time, but he shared that he kept their relationship a secret fearing how it would affect his career as a content creator. “We were afraid of upsetting others–it’s a strange thing.” he said.
Mikey added that he realized he had nothing to be afraid of. “There was an outpouring of love!,” he said. “We were expecting to lose endorsements, lose subscribers. But no, it was just wonderful. It opened us up to a whole community of allies and the LGBT community.”
Mikey also felt being a content creator allowed him to use his platform to raise awareness about the LGBTQIA+ community. For him, being a bisexual public figure could help explain and break stereotypes. “Growing up, I felt like if you were bisexual or gay, there was a certain look, a certain way to act, certain things you would be interested in,” he said.
“We feel that us coming out could show the younger generation who may be hiding that you could show your authentic self and succeed in life,” Mikey added. “It doesn’t have to be a deep dirty secret. It’s chill and normal and okay.”
Melai also credits her family for being her solid support system throughout her whole journey. “I really believe they’re the reason why I have been able to focus on my work, which in turn has allowed me to excel in the workplace. I recognize that some people are not as fortunate to have a supportive family,” she shared.
For Melai, it is important that she finds support at the company where she works. “The one that I really love about working with Google is that respect is a core value,” she added, sharing that this was evident as early as during new hire orientation. “We already talk about diversity, equality and inclusion because that is a manifestation of respecting each other in the workplace.”
She shared that employees are required to undergo training in courses such as unconscious bias and bias busting so that all employees understand how to be more respectful and inclusive. “The training shows us how unconscious bias can cause us to overlook great ideas, undermine individual potential, and create a less than ideal work experience for Googlers,” she added.
Empowering the community
Aside from Pride Conversations, Google also showed its support for the LGBTQ+ community through “Pride March From Home: United for Covid Relief”. This project is led by Pride@Tech, a group of employees from tech companies and community volunteers. Their initiative for the online Pride March this year is using Google Maps to enable people to show solidarity for the annual traditions of Pride March while staying safe at home. Towards the end, marchers were able to make a donation that will go to LGBTQ+ communities affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
Google fosters a diverse and inclusive culture where LGBTQ+ employees are respected, celebrated, and empowered, and fosters an open environment for employees to share about issues that matter to them.
Among the benefits for Google’s LGBTQ+ employees around the world including the Philippines are:
Same-sex health benefits: Google is committed to and provide same-sex health coverage for Googlers and their partners.
Employee assistance program: Google offers free emotional wellbeing support, 24/7, 365 days for Googlers and their dependents, as well as access to free expert information on legal, financial, and other topics. These services are confidential.
A non-birth parent has at least 12 weeks of paid parental leave to spend with a new child (any parent who has a child born or adopted).
A ramp-back policy to help a non-birth parent transition back to work after a long leave is available.
Googlers also have the freedom of establishing their preferred pronouns (he, she, xe, they) so colleagues will know how to best address a LGBTQ+ employee in the workplace to show inclusion and respect.
“Google is always committed to diversity and equality. We deliver on this goal in a number of ways from sustaining an inclusive workplace, to providing grants, to helping continue important discussions through events such as ‘Pride Conversations’. Through this campaign, we hope to celebrate the inspiring stories and honor the valuable contributions of our LGBTQ+ community,” said Mervin Wenke, Communications and PR Head for Google Philippines.
In case you missed it, the “Pride Conversations” discussion is available on the Google Philippines YouTube channel.