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‘Humbled and honored’: Celebrating the achievements of LGBTQ FilAms

By: Cristina DC Pastor

Awardees hoist the rainbow flag that symbolizes LGBTQ Pride. Photos by Ness Bantog

A jewelry designer, a TV journalist, and a makeup artist for Norah O’Donnell were among the nine Filipinos who were honored November 26 in PAFCOM’S 1st Gawad Pinoy Pride.

Reagan John Rada who owns RJP Gem, the only Filipino-owned jewelry and gem store in Manhattan’s Diamond District; The Filipino Channel’s multi-awarded correspondent Don Tagala; and Ally Castle, a trans Pinay who is a makeup artist for CBS’ O’Donnell were recognized for their “outstanding achievements.”

Also receiving the awards were Math teacher Johjoh Demol-Jenae, aesthetician and salon owner Apple Miranda, nurse manager Jackie Baras, primary care provider Mario Sanchez, entrepreneur and CEO/owner of Popsie’s LLC Marisse Panlilio, and compliance officer Alex Esteban.

“I am the person I am today because of my roots in the Philippines, and the woman I’ve become in the land that embraced and validated me for everything I am,” said Ally Castle (Castillo) in a tearful speech.

She said it is “touching” that her first award came from her fellow Filipinos who have made a mark here in the U.S. “In the end,” she said, “we may all have decided to pursue our paths outside our native homeland, but our hearts remain as proud Filipinos forever.”

Ally Castle receives her plaque and trophy from guest of honor Dr. Dely Go (left) and PAFCOM board chair Dr. Connie Uy.

The winners from left: Ally Castle, Apple Miranda, Jackie Baras, Mario Sanchez, Reagan John Rada, Johjoh Demol-Jenae, Alex Esteban, and Marisse Panlilio. Not in photo is ninth awardee Don Tagala.

Reagan John Rada who carved a name for himself in the jewelry industry, recalled how he was bullied as a queer kid growing up in the Philippines.

“I’ve always felt that I was inferior and inadequate; and often bullied and mocked for living my truth. This event proves that we can overcome adversity and exceed in any field we choose regardless of our sexual preferences,” he said to enthusiastic applause.

Rada, who started out as a cleaning boy in a jewelry store in Los Angeles learned the ropes and started designing gems. His artistic skills caught the attention of actress Elizabeth Taylor who invited him to work for her The House of Taylor Jewelry Company.

Alex Esteban, who is a compliance officer for a nonprofit children’s services, said the Gawad Pinoy Pride reflects the importance of acknowledging the invaluable contributions and experiences of the LGBTQ+ community.

He said his wish is that “together, we will continue to break down barriers, shatter stereotypes, and build a more inclusive world where love unites us all.”

Gawad Pinoy Pride organizer and former PAFCOM President Roxanne Cajigas said the award is given to individuals of diverse gender identities. Hopefully, she said, it will inspire other FilAms and somehow “lessen the stigma and hate” against the LGBTQ community in America.


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