How the Cebuana model, athlete, and social worker is steering society to a future that’s more loving, accepting, and empowering.
The gays are winning,” a CNN Philippines headline back in October read, the morning following the coronation of Miss Universe Philippines (MUP) 2021 Beatrice Luigi Gomez. The big statement captured what turned out to be a shared sense of victory among the members of the Filipino LGBTQIA+ community.
Gomez, 26, a fashion model, athlete, and development worker from Cebu City, was revealed to be proudly queer, finally giving the pageantry world’s ever-supportive gay community the representation it has long deserved.
This is what makes pageantry interesting especially in the Philippines, a place where aged concepts of patriarchy, feudalism, and homophobia still permeate. Reducing pageantry into a mere variety show would only draw a collective squint from the local pageant industry, some of whom have made both a living and a life in this so-called Olympics for beauty and brains.
No need to rehash our fateful Miss Universe win back in 1969. Pageantry has evolved in the Philippines so much since that now it has its own universe. At the time of this writing, for example, the country had just won Mis Intercontinental, Miss Globe Miss, and Aura International—all in a matter of weeks.
For its reach, the pageant world run by “the gays” have become political, intellectual, and deeply personal. Dare we say, even spiritual. Its influence has only spread further these days thanks to social media.
On one hand, beauty queens have dramatically graduated from just speaking in charity events to discussing global, political issues to the rest of the world in a click. On the other, with fans and followers mostly from the marginalized queer community always watching, ladies like Gomez have found themselves in a constant state of pressure to be socially relevant.
Luckily, the country’s next Miss Universe bet—just by being herself—is delivering so far and steering society to a more modern, diverse, and empowering direction.
“Pageantry for me is a different field, hindi siya yung nagpapaganda ka lang. Like, you would just pose and represent the designer and the clothes that you’re wearing. No, beauty pageants are something else. You don’t just represent your (glam) team, but you get to represent who you are and the people who are like you,” Gomez tells Lifestyle Asia.
“As for me, I’m a part of the LGBTQIA+ community. This is a great platform to be the community’s voice and to encourage everyone to see who we are and the things that we celebrate. And to also be the voice of the children that I represent—yung mga bata na I’m advocating for.”
Growing up ‘queer’
The Miss Universe Organization (MUO) has had its first transgender contestant in Angela Ponce (Miss Universe Spain 2018) and its first lesbian contender in Swe Zin Htet (Miss Universe Myanmar 2019). And while our very own Gomez isn’t the first openly queer to join the international pageant, her identity still jolted local news outlets during her coronation.
Fighting for better LGBTQIA+ representation in the world of entertainment including pageants, Gomez shares she had a pretty easy journey to self-actualization. Lucky for her, she had a supportive family behind her the whole time.
“In high school, I was in an all-girls class. Co-ed yung school namin, but the classes were separated (by sex). I think that’s when I first realized that I was into both sexes,” Gomez recalls.
“Wala naman akong sad or dramatic coming out story like some members of the community. So, I actually consider that as something to be grateful for—when my family knew about my preferences, they accepted me right away and they were very supportive,” Gomez shares.
Her family was aware of the possible negative things that would come once I’d come out in public, she continues. “Yet, they made sure na whatever happens, they will be there for me,” Gomez shares. “And that, for me, is something that I hold onto, that whatever challenges that I go through by being a member of the LGBTQIA+ community, I will be okay because I have a strong support system with me.”
Gomez grew up in the company loving maternal grandparents, while her older sister stayed with the paternal side. Though her parents split when she was five, she still managed to have a memorable childhood built on fun and harmony.
She joined sports clinics every summer, trying her hand in arnis and basketball (her dad was a former hard court athlete himself). She eventually committed to volleyball, a sport that would fly her out for competitions and expose her more beyond her hometown. In a more figurative sense of seeing the rest of the world, Gomez consumed world history books growing up—which fueled not just her wanderlust but also her sense of independence.
Breathing social work
Gomez lived the working student life, doing modeling gigs since she was 14. Her late teens weren’t the most ideal to some, with the young beauty eventually stopping school for work. She was an aspiring writer and lawyer taking up Mass Communication at the University of San Jose-Recoletos, when opportunities came knocking too often on her junior year.
At around 20 years old back in 2015, Gomez first tried her luck in pageantry through Miss Mandaue. She eventually landed second runner-up. She later worked as an advanced party staff and protocol officer for former Cebu District 6 Congressman Luigi Quisumbing. She would then become Quisumbing’s private secretary and personal assistant in the latter’s successful bid as Mandaue City mayor in 2016.
In 2019, out of work following Quisumbing’s failed reelection, Gomez tried her luck again in pageantry by joining Binibining Cebu. Representing her hometown San Fernando, she would bag the crown and succeed her eventual fellow MUP 2021 contender Steffi Aberasturi.
Gomez saw her career gradually turn toward social work, further developing a newfound passion in it. She made it make more sense later by immersing herself in, yes, military work.
“The first time I encountered the Philippine Navy was when I was in Mandaue. [They were] the ones who trained our swab officers. I was amazed by the work that they did. They opened up the idea to me that I can be a reservist—actually, yung mga reservist, they were not required to do the regular job of a soldier. But they were vital when it came to response in disasters and relief operations and civil military operations,” she shares.
While Gomez, then newly hailed Binibining Cebu, was kept from joining the navy due to safety and health issues, she “realized that I could still do more for the community.”
“I didn’t want to just stand there and not do anything. So, when I was doing all those charity works, I encountered the Philippine Navy again. They became my partner in one of those outreach activities. They eventually recruited me to train for the Marine Reserve Corps. I didn’t hesitate, I submitted my requirements right away.”
Gomez took the Basic Citizen’s Military Training in January 2021, finishing it in two months as a “corporal.” She was promoted to naval reserve sergeant a few weeks after winning MUP.
Sports, pageantry, public service—Gomez was finally seeing things fall into place.
This is where she unleashes. “I got independent quite early, and that’s one thing that I want to share to the youth. That it’s very important that we make ourselves self-sufficient at a young age so that we don’t have to always depend on anyone. The people who are helping us are not always going to be there. If we are able to empower ourselves and see the potentials that we have, we will be able to continue with life regardless of the challenges na madadaanan natin. We will be capable of achieving our goals and aspirations as long as we know how to utilize the skills that we have.”
“That’s why it’s important to empower these children, and provide opportunities for them, and guide them properly.”
This year, Gomez launched BeyouthfulPH, a social media initiative on “building communities with empowered youths.”
“Right now, I’m working with children in conflict with the law and victims of armed conflict. These children kasi, mga ‘juvenile delinquents’ as some would call them that, people think that they’re a nuisance to the community. What we don’t see is that they’re also just victims of their circumstances, that no one is guiding them and that they don’t have the opportunities that will allow them to grow and develop and experience being a kid,” she says.
“So, this is one thing that I want them to learn—to be disciplined, and diyan ko na-i-incorporate yung sports, to allow them to find their passion na magagamit nila one day to uplift themselves and get them out of their situations. So that one day, they will be out of where they are and be law-abiding citizens of their country, and hopefully, just help their families get out of poverty and be the hope for the rest of the younger generation.”
Whatever her fate is after Miss Universe, Gomez plans to continue what she’s already started—her purpose, as she calls it.
“After I graduate from college, I will be taking up a Masters in social work. I’d like to focus more on the charity work I’ve already started back home. It would be a great opportunity for me to be able to practice nga yung pinag-aralan ko if I engage in social work. Hopefully, if I win Miss Universe, then it would be a bigger platform for me to extend more help to the communities I will be helping,” she muses.
“Because, really, only when you find your purpose and do something about it can you say you finally have a meaningful life.”
Finding her place in the universe
To this day, pageants still invite criticism or even mockery from the uninformed. Do they sustain by being over-glorified, over-commercialized beauty competitions? Are the causes and advocacies even genuine? Yet, MUO, which is behind Miss Universe, Miss USA, and Miss Teen USA, finds itself at peace with its thrusts that have made the Miss Universe brand that way since 1952. It’s a platform “run by women for women,” as the Miss Universe site writes, helping women to overcome their lack of confidence to become better people for others.
It doesn’t seem at all like a press release, with Miss Universe’s current philanthropic partners always on the move. Smile Train, led by Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray, is bent on helping children from developing countries with untreated clefts. There are also Best Buddies, a volunteer movement that enables “one-to-one friendships, integrated employment and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities”; and God’s Love We Deliver, a home delivery service for people with cancer, HIV/AIDS, and other serious diseases.
Gomez, as someone who’s been in social development for the last six years herself, hopes to finally hop aboard the Miss Universe platform soon to give her own projects a much-needed boost.
“Miss Universe could actually create change and impact to communities all over the world,” she says. “It’s a celebration of the strengths of all women. It’s a common ground where different cultures get together and share what our differences are—and that’s where we unite to solve problems. It’s an opportunity to help and inspire others while celebrating each one’s differences.”
Gomez says she has been helping the kids of her hometown even before, but she wants to “expand her advocacy and reach out to all the children in conflict with the law and victims of armed conflict, especially places like Israel—they’re going through the same problem.”
“Yung mga bata doon, they’re going through hardships because of the armed conflict that’s going on there. It’s something common that maybe I can speak about. That while we are all busy dealing with this conflict, we also have to consider yung mga bata na naaapektuhan in these wars.”
Her caring and giving nature was on full display at the tail end of 2021. After Super Typhoon Odette ravaged the Visayas—including Gomez’s hometown—just before Christmas, many were left without a home and basic necessities.
As soon as she arrived in Cebu, she was seen doing everything from giving out meals to children and preparing relief goods for families. Gomez also spent time with the victims of a fire in Mandaue.
“We may have so much work to do but I’m grateful to be given another year to do more projects with you to make more lives better this year,” she says in an Instagram post.
Grit and passion
In retrospect, helping the youth is how Gomez could only pay it forward. She wouldn’t be in this position of relative power and influence, after all, had it not been for her family and friends who have loved, accepted, and supported her no matter what growing up.
Much like the Jewelmer golden South sea pearl, Beatriz Luigi Gomez is a brilliant embodiment of rarity in her own magnificent way—her captivating story is one of grit and passion. She says of this newfound mission, “I just want to send a message—that we have to continue allowing people who are representing their beliefs, to be in whatever field they want to excel in.”
The country’s bet, unfortunately, just fell short of the crown in Israel. Behind a stellar finals night performance, she made it all the way to the top five, beyond the expectations of several pageant experts. India ended up winning it all.
But a loser, Gomez isn’t. And a lot of work remains in inspiring future generations, young hopefuls that look up to public figures like her.
“This would encourage them to be themselves, to genuinely accept who they are. So growing up, they won’t ever hesitate. Nothing would hinder them. That whatever challenges na ma-e-encounter nila in the future, they will continue to stay positive,” she says. “That they will be able to achieve their aspirations in life as long as they stay true to themselves. That they know that there’s a safe space for them and people will accept them regardless of their preferences.”
In Gomez’s ideal world, the gays are forever winning.
Photos JERICK SANCHEZ
Creative direction MARCYELLOW
Makeup MICKEY SEE, assisted by MELCHOR RODRIGUEZ
Hair RENZ PANGILINAN
Styling RAIN DAGALA, EM MILLAN, assisted by ELAINE VILLAPANDO
Shoot coordination MAE TALAID, ERICA LUNA
Shot on location at NOBU, CITY OF DREAMS MANILA
Special thanks to JEWELMER for pieces Ms. Gomez is sporting