The Philippines has become an international pageant powerhouse not just because of its major pageant title holders especially the 4 Miss Universes – Gloria Diaz (1969), Margarita Moran (1973), Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach (2015) and Catriona Gray (2018) – but also because it is now in the centre of international beauty pageants providing gowns, national costumes and runway training for different candidates all over the world.
To add to the list of Filipinos making a mark in the world of international pageantry, is a woman who has been known for her ground-breaking contribution to human rights activism throughout the world. Just recently, Fil-Am model, staunch LGBTQI activist and multi-awarded producer, Geena Rocero was given the esteemed role to be the Ambassador to this year’s Miss Universe Nepal. Geena, a transwoman famed for her talks about transgender rights at the United Nations Headquarters, the World Economic Forum and the White House, will help usher the new age of modern pageantry.
According to the National Director of Miss Universe Nepal 2020, Nagma Shrestha, apart from the pageant being completely digital, it has become more inclusive - forgoing weight and height requirements and encouraging transgender women to participate. This advocacy is very close to Geena’s heart having fought for the human rights of transgender men and women for so many years.
Geena Rocero was born in the Philippines where she was exposed to local trans beauty pageants. She left for the US when she was 17 and later on embraced her transition with the support of her mother at age 19. She was discovered by a fashion photographer when she was 21 and was immediately signed under the Next Model Management where she spent the next 12 years modelling for international swimsuit and beauty editorials, earning herself a large fan base.
In 2014, she came out on TED Talks where she told her inspiring story – her childhood, her life on the runway, transitioning and her advocacy to lending her voice to create positive conversations on the improvement and development of transgender rights. In 2015, Geena worked as Executive Producer for a digital series called “Beautiful As I Want To Be,” featuring the lives of transgender youth. In 2016, Geena together with Tracey Norman became the first openly trans model to be featured on Harper’s Bazaar. Touted as an American Supermodel, Geena added another feather in her wide-brimmed hat when she was featured on the 2019 issue of Playboy – the first Asian-Pacific Islander openly trans woman to be featured on the magazine. Now she paves the way to more possibilities as she works as Ambassador for the Miss Universe organization as they welcome the trans community to the pageant which began with Ms. Spain, Angela Ponce.
Watch here to see Miss Universe 2019, Zonzibini Tunzi’s online interview with Geena Rocero for the beginning of Pride month last June.