Carl Nassib made history this month as the first active NFL player to come out as gay. His announcement coincided with Pride Month, a movement to raise visibility for humans' right to love and identify in a way that is authentic 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, sparking the Stone Wall Riots that were largely led by LGBTQ+ people of color and trans women (who today remain among the most marginalized). That incident ignited protests around the country in the push for equal rights.
More than 50 years after the Stonewall Riots, 29 states still do not have laws that explicitly shield LGBTQ+ Americans from discrimination. In 2021, we’re seeing a broad push for systemic changes led by a collective of marginalized groups who are continuing the fight for equity, from Black Lives Matter to #StopAsianHate. The Pride movement itself is multifaceted, and can further raise visibility for various groups within the community, such as transgender rights, bisexuality acceptance, HIV awareness, and older adults.
Thomas Orlina, a gay Filipino-American, is using his platform as a pop recording artist, influencer, and advocate to capture the breadth of the social justice movements intersecting with the Pride Movement. This month he released an uplifting anthem and music video called “Brush It Off,” which celebrates Pride as well as touches upon issues such as mental health awareness and the inequities brought to greater 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: In what ways do you think Pride has evolved since the Stonewall Riots of 1969?
Thomas Orlina: Since the Stonewall Riots, we have seen an explosion of various Pride events held in cities across the country and around the world. These events have also transcended to smaller communities in an effort to normalize Pride in areas that have traditionally taken longer to accept us.
We also see many large corporations celebrating pride month by promoting LGBTQIA+ causes, such as Target creating a pride collection every year, and various airlines promoting Pride on their social media channels. Many of these corporations also donate proceeds to initiatives such as The Trevor Project. Overall, greater visibility has helped allow our community and message of inclusivity to become more accepted. There is still progress to be made, but we have made incredible strides since the Stonewall Riots in 1969.
Holly Corbett: What do you think are some of 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 spread awareness for groups who felt they were being silenced. The pandemic amplified the discrimination and inequities experienced by many groups, which accelerated these movements in an effort to advance greater equity and promote inclusivity. I feel that we still have a long way to go in order 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 pushed us slowly in the right direction. This is why I choose to use my platform to help promote these meaningful causes.
Holly Corbett: What inspired you to write "Brush It Off"?
Thomas Orlina: I began writing the lyrics to "Brush It Off" over ten years ago when I was in college and first coming out. In high school I felt like I was living two different lives. I was kind of this character, making sure I was living up to everybody else's image of who I thought they wanted me to be. I wasn't being my authentic self. When high school was over, I felt like I no longer needed to maintain the image I built for myself. At the time I actually did come out, I was in a previous relationship and the double life caught up to me. I took more than a year off of social media to care for 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 stuck with me and helped me get through some challenging times. I knew I wanted to share these lyrics with the world to help others who were feeling like they didn’t fully belong, so I collaborated with songwriter Dexter Giffard.
Holly Corbett: What is the main message you're trying to send with the video?
Thomas Orlina: Bringing awareness to inclusivity and diversity is a huge part of the video's message. The video includes people of various 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 they are being represented in this new mainstream look in entertainment.
Holly Corbett: What do you consider to be the biggest “ism” facing the Pride movement right now?
Thomas Orlina: I believe cisexism and homophobia are two major issues facing our community today. Cisexism is the beliefs, structures, and actions that promote the idea that someone’s authentic gender is the one they were assigned at birth. This is a major topic right now as there have been cases all the way up to the Supreme Court regarding trans people. One major play recently was revamping the Pride flag to include transgender colors in an effort to work toward a more inclusive community. This also displays various colors to represent different cultures as well. Sadly, homophobia also remains present as there are many people in society who still see our community as something uncomfortable and abnormal.
Holly Corbett: What role does representation in the media play in building belonging in the LGBTQ+ community?
Thomas Orlina: I feel that the LGTBQ+ community being normalized in the media, social media, television shows such as Modern Family, and movies such as Love, Simon, have helped create more acceptance for our community. By normalizing our community on-screen and within various social media channels, we are able to capture a wide range of audiences.
Sharing my own coming out story on [my YouTube show] “Your Time With Thomas” was one of the toughest decisions to make as an influencer and content creator. Being vulnerable on-camera for the world can be a scary thing, but I hoped in doing so I was going to make a difference in someone’s life. I received messages from people all around the world thanking me for sharing my story and saying they felt more empowered being in their own skin. I learned that individually, we all carry our own unique power with our voices, and that we shouldn’t shy away from sharing those stories that can make a difference in someone’s life.
Article originally published in Forbes.