She tests island attitudes and acceptance
Until this past decade in America, it wasn’t uncommon for LGBT individuals to be harassed or even be violently assaulted. While the world is more accepting of LGBT today, individuals in this sector still experience discrimination and harassment. Guam is no exception to the unevolved attitude toward the alternative lifestyle, according to Lasia Casil, president and founder of Isa Guam and Guam Pride.
Casil is Chamorro. Yet, she didn’t feel welcomed in Guam as a transgender. She once lost a job opportunity at a local hotel when the HR department learned about her identity. “I left Guam 25 years ago for being bullied — being told that I'm less than [Guamanian], being told that I didn’t deserve to be here.”
During her absence from Guam, Casil worked in real estate in Los Angeles, New York and Thailand. Now back home for good, Casil designs jewelry for her own ‘Infinite Charm’ product line and is engaged in social activism.
“I came back years later and found out that’s still going on,” said Casil, who is hoping to make it to the Democratic Party’s senatorial line-up in the August primary. “Recently someone called me a man. It shows that there is ignorance and bigotry on this island. That's one of the reasons I'm running for senator.”
A couple of months ago, a 16-year-old came up to her and told her he was being bullied at school. “A kid come up to me and told me his mother took in two of his friends because their parents kicked them out for being gay. We have a serious problem on this island,” Casil said, noting that there's little support for LGBT on Guam. “These are homeless kids that are being discriminated against because they're LGBT. And it's not being addressed. When you're homeless, it leaves you vulnerable to abuse and addiction. I want to make sure there are laws protecting the youth from being bullied… and laws preventing discrimination in healthcare, housing and public spaces.”
Casil, who studied at the University of Maryland in Munich, Germany, has established herself as the voice for Guam's LGBT. Since the Isa Guam and Guam Pride’s goal is to promote equality, Casil said, “I want to make it accessible to the whole community. I've wanted to create Pride events that were outside of the nightclubs because in the clubs you have to be 18 to enter and it feels very exclusive.”
About a year and a half ago GVB approached Casil and asked her to make a presentation about LGBT tourism. “GVB joined the International Gay and Lesbian Travel Association because they wanted to explore this market,” said Casil, who is also president of I Sengsong Chamorro's Merchant Association. “The biggest draw of LGBT tourists to different countries is Pride events. When I presented to GVB about a year and a half ago, in a room of about 20 employees, I asked them if they knew what pride means and only one person raised their hand. Most of them had no idea what Pride was. I had to educate them, because Pride is an important part of LGBT culture. Pride isn't just a party — it’s remembering our fight and what we have gone through since Stonewall.”
Her presentation was meant to educate GVB on the LGBT culture and what Guam has. “We don't know how many LGBT people visit Guam because we don't ask them,” she said. “I told GVB if I were to develop this, it would be a five-year plan and I'd need their help for five years. This would align with the GVB goals of 2 million by 2020. Advertising to this community can contribute to that.”
Casil, however, worries about possible “pink washing.” One of the most common mistakes made by companies trying to tap the LGBT market is thinking they can just put a rainbow flag on their product and it makes it LGBT friendly. “We're a very savvy crowd,” Casil said. “If the company isn't donating to LGBT causes, we'd know it.”
Casil hopes to create more responsible and respectful ways to market LGBT tourism. Citing PATA reports, Casil said there were 25 million LGBT visitors around the world last year and 8 million of those came to the Asia Pacific region. “If Guam could capture 1 percent of that, which is 80,000 visitors, that would mean $125 million to our economy,” she said.
While her platform is focused on equal rights, Casil is also engaged in environmental and cultural activism. “I'm an advocate for protecting the environment and protecting Chamorro lands. I'm not anti-development. I'm pro-responsible development,” said Casil, who is also a founding member and president of Save Southern Guam. “Those developers didn't follow the rules set before them. The Guam Land Use Commission didn't listen to the community when we said we didn't want those towers in our backyards.”
As Guam’s first transgender candidate for public office, Casil’s senatorial run will be a clear test of the island’s attitude and acceptance of its LGBT members.