Carl Nassib made history this month as first active player in the NFL come out as gay. His announcement coincided with Pride Month, a movement to raise the profile of the right of humans to love and authentically identify with who they are, and to celebrate the LGBTQ + community.
Today is also the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, a catalyst for the LGBTQ + rights movement. On June 28, 1969, police raided a gay bar in New York City, triggering the Stone Wall riots which were largely led by LGBTQ + people of color and trans women (who remain among the more marginalized). This incident sparked protests across the country for equal rights.
More than 50 years after the Stonewall riots, 29 states still have no laws that explicitly protect LGBTQ + Americans from discrimination. In 2021, we are witnessing a broad push for systemic change led by a collective of marginalized groups continuing the fight for fairness, from Black Lives Matter to #StopAsianHate. The pride movement itself is multifaceted and can increase the visibility of various groups within the community, such as transgender rights, acceptance of bisexuality, HIV awareness and older people.
Thomas Orlina, an American homosexual of Filipino descent, uses his platform as a pop artist, influencer and advocate to capture the breadth of social justice movements that intersect with the pride movement. This month he released an uplifting hymn and music video titled “Brush it”, Which celebrates pride and addresses issues such as mental health awareness and inequalities brought to light during the pandemic. I (virtually) sat down with Orlina to talk about what inspired him to work on this project and how he thinks the pride movement has evolved since the Stonewall riots.
* This interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Holly Corbett: How do you think pride has evolved since the Stonewall riots of 1969?
Thomas Orlina: Since the Stonewall Riots, we’ve seen an explosion of various Pride events held in cities across the country and around the world. These events also transcended small communities in an attempt to normalize pride in areas that have traditionally taken longer to accept us.
We also see many large companies celebrating Pride Month by promoting LGBTQIA + causes, such as Target. create a pride collection every year, and various airlines promoting Pride on their social media. Many of these companies also donate revenue to initiatives such as The Trevor project. Overall, greater visibility has allowed our community and our message of inclusion to be better accepted. There is still some progress to be made, but we have made incredible progress since the Stonewall riots of 1969.
Holly Corbett: What do you think are the intersections between the Pride movement and other movements happening in 2021?
Thomas Orlina: The Pride movement, much like the Black Lives Matter movement or the Stop Asian Hate campaign, all began to help raise awareness among groups who felt silenced. The pandemic has amplified the discrimination and inequalities experienced by many groups, which has accelerated these movements in a bid to advance greater equity and promote inclusiveness. I think we still have a long way to go to align much of our country and society as a whole, but these movements and the use of social media to promote these issues have slowly pushed us in the right direction. That’s why I chose to use my platform to help promote these important causes.
Holly Corbett: What inspired you to write “Brush It Off”?
Thomas Orlina: I started writing the lyrics to “Brush It Off” over ten years ago when I was in college and going out for the first time. In high school, I felt like I was living two different lives. I was kind of that character, making sure I lived up to the image of everyone who I thought they wanted me to be. I was not my authentic self. At the end of high school, I felt that I no longer needed to maintain the image I was building for myself. By the time I came out, I was in a previous relationship and the double life caught up with me. I took over a year off social media to take care of my mental health and figure things out for myself. That’s when I wrote “Brush It Off”.
The chorus, “Brush it off baby, don’t let it get to you,” had a timeless message that really stood out to me and helped me get through tough times. I knew I wanted to share these lyrics with the world to help others who felt they didn’t belong to them fully, so I collaborated with songwriter Dexter Giffard.
Holly Corbett: What is the main message you are trying to send with the video?
Thomas Orlina: Raising awareness of inclusiveness and diversity is a video message. The video features people from a variety of backgrounds, races, ages, and body types. It also highlights movements like the Black Lives Matter movement, the Stop Asian Hate movement and Pride. When people watch this music video, I want them to see the many diverse faces in the video and know that they are represented in this new mainstream look in entertainment.
Holly Corbett: What do you see as the biggest “ism” the Pride movement is currently facing?
Thomas Orlina: I believe that cisexism and homophobia are two major issues facing our community today. Cisexism are the beliefs, structures, and actions that promote the idea that a person’s genuine gender is the one assigned to them at birth. This is a major topic at the moment because there has been case up to the Supreme Court concerning trans people. A major piece recently has been the redesign of the Pride flag to include transgender colors in an effort to work towards a more inclusive community. It also displays different colors to represent different cultures. Sadly, homophobia also remains present as many people in society still view our community as something uncomfortable and abnormal.
Holly Corbett: What role does media representation play in building membership in the LGBTQ + community?
Thomas Orlina: I feel like the LGTBQ + community is normalizing in media, social networks, TV shows like Modern family, and films such as Love, Simon, have helped create greater acceptance for our community. By standardizing our community on screen and across various social media channels, we are able to engage a wide range of audiences.
Share my own coming out story on [my YouTube show] “Your time with ThomasHas been one of the toughest decisions to make as an influencer and content creator. Being vulnerable in front of the camera to the world can be a scary thing, but I was hoping that by doing so I was going to make a difference in someone’s life. I received messages from people all over the world thanking me for sharing my story and saying they felt more empowered being in their own skin. I’ve learned that individually we all carry our own unique power with our voices, and that we shouldn’t hesitate to share these stories that can make a difference in someone’s life.