Articles ● Finding my people: Gelo Zarsuelo, Philippines

Share post

Finding my people: Gelo Zarsuelo, Philippines

Gelo in his studio

Growing up in Aklan, Philippines, Gelo Zarsuelo continues to make waves in the Art Community with his emotion-driven and distinct art style that mainly plays on pastel colors in contrast with his zoomed-in take on queer romance that speaks for itself. This 21-year-old emerging artist from the Philippines continuously shakes the traditional norms of art by creating pieces that focus on queer relationships. His intriguing pieces emanate an atmosphere of anonymity to make the viewers think that the muses in the piece are not specific people but can be anyone—even themselves.

At an early age, this self-taught artist always had an interest in the arts as he would draw endlessly every day but it wasn’t until the 9th Grade that he realized that this can be more than just a hobby. Gelo recalled saying to his younger self that no matter how indefinite the future is, one thing is for sure, his career path would be related to the arts. Thus, he pursued the strand Arts and Design in his Senior High School years.

He majored in Fashion Designing at the Iloilo Science and Technology University – Lapaz as he had always seen himself in the fashion industry. He recalls creating the most intricate designs in elementary and was well-known on his campus because of it. It even reached the school administration where he was even asked to design the Senior High School uniform and it is still being used now by the students of his alma mater. Gelo knew that he made the correct decision with fashion designing because he will be able to earn a living while doing something he loves. However, the pandemic took a toll on the Zarsuelo household and this made Gelo put his education on pause until things got more stable. He states that this was a collective decision between him and his parents who were supportive of his choice. Upon being asked if he would have continued his studies if the pandemic never happened, Gelo talked about always seeing himself as a fashion designer and experimenting with the fields of the garment industry and
traditional arts. It would have been as if he was painting but this time not on a flat plane such as a canvas but on fabric.

With one look at a certain piece, anyone could be able to identify Gelo’s work. His distinct choice of colors, the themes he specifically chose, and the attention his pieces command from the audience make his work stand out even in a group exhibit full of other talented artists. With over a hundred million aspiring artists and thousands of emerging artists in the entire world, Gelo stands out by creating emotion-driven spontaneous pieces that play on pastel colors to balance out the most intimately sensual concepts. He adds that while he is happy with his art style now, he acknowledges that this is not permanent and will continuously evolve. His hunger for self-improvement pushes him to challenge his existing notions of what art is and pushes boundaries of what the world thinks art is supposed to look like. Quoting Gelo when asked about the difficulties of being a queer artist, “my art will find its people”.

He brought up his works “Getaway” and “Your Warmth” as examples of his current art style. These two works are parts of a series he submitted during the 2022 ArtxPride: Kinaiya exhibit during the 7th Iloilo Pride March wherein they were immediately sold before the program started. Gelo explains that these pieces showcase the intense emotions of two lovers yet can be interpreted as anyone’s body due to the way it was cropped. He emphasized that the anonymity of the subjects made his pieces relatable to everyone who saw them and induced the feeling he wanted his audience to feel after looking at the pieces. Additionally, due to his spontaneous manner of creating art, he makes sure to end his sessions with satisfaction as his piece may be the “ugliest” to other people but if the artist sees it as their most beautiful creation, then no one can tell them otherwise. “The best work is the one that you believe in the most” — Gelo.

In the Philippines, people see a career in the arts as a lost cause as they have this mindset that it is not a real and stable job, thus, emerged the Starving Artist mindset. However, Gelo states that this was always something he had wanted and would do anything to make ends meet. Aside from his skills and the hard work he put in to hone this, he owes a lot of his success and growth as an artist to his supportive parents not only to his creativity but also to his sexuality. “If I’m not confident and fully accepted of my sexuality, I wouldn’t be able to paint same-sex couples in an intimate setting”, Gelo said. Unfortunately, his mother passed away during the pandemic and he shares that when she was still alive she always told him that she always knew he would become an artist. She always knew he was going to make it.

When asked about how he would describe his art and what makes it distinct, Gelo answered “I represent a community. My art represents something. The visibility of queer outside of the usual stereotypical boxes we were put in, outside of entertainment, and pageants. My artwork represents the visibility of the queer community in the art industry”. He adds that he creates spontaneously and allows his brush to do all the talking as if on instinct. His play on raw human emotions and the remarkability of sexuality are translated into colors and this level of intensity in of his themes he mellows out through the use of pastels. This contrast gives his pieces that “Gelo Zarsuelo” signature that everyone seems to adore so much.

Last October 28, 2022, he attended and was one of the featured artists for the Philippine Financial and Inter-Industry Pride’s (PFIP) 9th-anniversary gala and first Bahaghari Awards at Quezon City, Manila. According to their Facebook profile, PFIP defines themselves as a “collaborative, voluntary and non-profit community of Pride/LGBT+ advocates and allies from private organizations in the Philippines”. Gelo recalls passing his artworks without expecting anything as he was “used to rejection” yet knew it wouldn’t hurt to try. On the morning before the ArtxPride 2022: Kinaiya exhibit launching, he receives an email congratulating him for not only being accepted as one of the nine artists, but as one of the only three participants to present four painting works during the gala. He expressed the overwhelming happiness he felt but was overshadowed by the financial struggle that awaits him. He was already struggling to pay for his studio and the cost of buying new materials, now he had to think about where to get the financial aid to pay for his flight and accommodations for this trip to Quezon City which was miles away from the city of Iloilo. He knew this was an opportunity he could never pass up so he called for help on his social media accounts and due to the benevolent donors, he managed to rack up a sufficient amount to make his travel to the Bahaghari Awards comfortable. He thanks Youth Voices Count (YVC) for being the main proponent and the first to heed his call to sponsor his trip to Quezon and be able to attend one of the momentous moments of his life.

This is only the start of Gelo’s emergence as one of the most notable artists in the country and an honorary representation of the queer community in the art world who will continue to break the barriers that hinder other queer artists. Gelo has the talent to create a realistic painting but he chose to be true to himself even if the risks are big in this society that values paintings that are close to life renditions of still life objects or people plus the fact that his queer-inclined themes aren’t what can be considered as normalized concepts in the art world. He can always opt to turn to publicly accepted art but it’s not gonna be rewarding for him. It will burn him out and tire him. He chose art as his career path because he knows he won’t get tired of it but choosing subjects or concepts that he does not want will be exhausting. You lose a lot of potential customers or you lose yourself.

One of Gelo’s entries to the PFIP titled “After Midnight”

There will be people who are willing to buy your work regardless of your sexuality. You will find your people. You can thrive in the arts and be unapologetically queer. The artist does not conform to the standards of society; the artist creates their own standards when it comes to their art. Representation motivates other queer folks to be more visible and eradicate the fear of judgment towards their sexuality because they will see that someone like them made it big and have hope they will, too. Gelo even cites that people in the entertainment industry like Vice Ganda make other queer members dream of being on national television because the boundaries have already been broken and they’ve seen the warm welcome being shown to people in the same community. He hopes that this would be the case in the art community with queer artists and that they would not be placed in the spotlight for the sake of clout. No one would put “23-year-old straight artist” on the artist profile so why do we still single out queer artists as if they are a spectacle?

Gelo gives words of encouragement to aspiring queer artists that regardless of having little to no supporters who believe in them, if they believe in themselves and believe that there is something waiting for them in this career path, they should continue and make it happen. “No one’s going to build something for you but yourself because if you like your work then that’s more than enough reason to continue.”

Upon asking what Gelo has in store for 2023, he answered that he plans to produce a solo show and hopefully enter an art residency that will not only catapult his ambitions but allow him to produce bigger and better pieces. 2023 will be the year he experiments with his craft and evolves into the artist he once just dreamt to be. It will not be an easy path but this year, he will continue on his journey of finding his people.

Check out more of his works on Instagram: @gelozarsuelo

     Atty. Rea proudly introduces herself as a human rights lawyer. She completed her Juris Doctor (JD) degree (Law Degree) from Central Philippine University and recently passed the Philippine Bar Exam.

     At present, she is a part of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) – Panay Chapter where she serves as the Vice Chairperson. They are a group of lawyers who are committed to defend, protect, and promote human rights, especially of the poor and the oppressed. NUPL is an organization established to respond to any form of harassment, intimidation, and human rights violations in the Philippines.

      Dr. Emmanuel D. Dayalo holds a doctorate degree in Education major in Educational Management and is currently an Associate Professor of Capiz State University-Roxas City Main Campus, Roxas City, Capiz. He is the co-adviser of United Colors of CapSU Roxas City Main Campus (UCC) which its organization’s advocacy is for the empowerment and capacitating the LGBTQIA+ students’ right, health programs and other organized activities to have a voice in the University. Presently, he holds the position as the Coordinator of the Student Organization and Activities of the campus.

      He was recognized as the Outstanding Coach/Adviser of the Student Organization and received an award in Research and Extension of the University of Capiz State University, Roxas City Main Campus.

     Heart is currently taking up her undergraduate at West Visayas State University with a Bachelor of Secondary Education Major in Social Studies. At her third year in the university, she co-founded the first and only student-led organization towards gender-sensitive, responsive, and progressive aims known as DUAG-WVSU. 

    She is the interim Secretary of Iloilo Pride Team and Chairperson of DUAG-WVSU which are both organizations in the city of Iloilo that have already established their significance in advocating for gender equality. Her contributions to her advocacies have led her to receive awards such as the 2017 Rotary Club of Iloilo City Boys’ and Girls’ Week Celebration (City Administrator) and the Gerry Roxas Leadership Awardee 2018.

      Karon was one of the founding members of the national YKP network in Nepal. In 2016, one child care home (CLHIV and CABA) was supported solely by Karon through fundraising, collaborations with corporations and celebrities. In India, she actively advocated to CCM India, concerned stakeholders, to incorporate YKP and YPLHIV’s agenda during the C19RM country proposal submission process and High Level Meeting. She is a Youth Steering Member of #GenEndIt and the Focal Point for Youth LEAD. SRHR and HIV have been her primary focus areas since 2010, especially for young people on different platforms of Sub-national, National, Regional and Global.

     Aside from being YVC’s Advocacy and Network Engagement Officer, Karon is also currently working on her thesis to complete her Master in Arts of Sociology.

     Jan is passionate about seeing through the potential contributions of psychological sciences and human rights advocacy in LGBT people’s lives. He is currently Program Associate of ASEAN SOGIE Caucus and is a member of the LGBT Psychology Special Interest Group of the Psychological Association of the Philippines. He has written for various platforms and publications on a diverse range of topics from gender and sexuality to human rights experiences in different contexts. Jan’s desire is to engage in productive and meaningful work that bridges scholarship with practice rooted in people’s real experiences.

     John Michael is one of the current board members of Youth Voices Count and holds officership positions as President in ALIVE Support Group, member of Network Plus Pilipinas, and YPLHIV United Nation Youth Advisory Board Ph Sector Representative.

     As part of the organizations mentioned, JM advocates in providing safe spaces for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors and continuous education on HIV/AIDS awareness to eradicate the stigma and discrimination surrounding it.  

    As the longest serving member of YVC, Brian takes pride in championing for the rights and welfare of LGBTQIA+ youth in the Asia-Pacific region time and time again. Our resident scholar and academician has a master’s degree in Sociology and is a licensed professional teacher in the Philippines. He believes that education helps people to be enlightened about basic human rights that everyone must enjoy and thus explains his interests in working for the academe. He is also an active member of various organizations helping community members of LGBTQIA+ and people living with HIV in the Philippines including being the former OIC-Executive Director of Pinoy Plus Advocacy Pilipinas, Inc.

Marion graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Accounting Technology which has made her suitable for being the Accounting Associate of Youth Voices Count. She lists watching movies as one of her hobbies that helps her wind down during her leisure time.

     Bloom finished their Bachelor of Arts in Development Studies from the University of Auckland with Second Class/First Division Honors, and their Masters in Education in Adult Learning and Community Development at the University of Toronto. They successfully launched Asia’s first application for queer gig workers, successfully advocated for the inclusion of queer migrant workers for Vertie Southeast Asia’s study about the situation of migrant workers in Thailand during pandemics, and successfully helped Non-binary Thailand partner with queer CSOs overseas especially in the South East Asia region. Currently, they are the consultant of ASEAN SOGIE Caucus, and the Head of the IR Unit for Non-binary Thailand.
    They take pride in being a neurodiverse non-binary/trans activist based in Thailand who has been involved in activism and international development for almost five years.

   Adams Phan graduated from the Ho Chi Minh City University of Education majoring in Teaching English as a Foreign Language in 2017. During  his 4 years in the university as the Chairman of the Department’s Student Union, and the Vice President of the University’s Student Association, he took part in planning and implementing many social and cultural activities and events as well as having a former background in coordinating non-profit projects and organizing events. 

    He was granted the “Bridging the Gaps Learning Institute” Scholarship by Aids Fonds in 2017, received a Certificate of Completion of the “MSMIT Regional Training of Trainers” Workshop, and was also awarded a Certificate for Outstanding Achievements in Social Activities by the Vietnamese National Students’ Association. Although graduating from HCMC University of Education, he shares that he has had an abiding passion for social activities and advocacy since his early twenties. 

   He always longs to contribute his youth to help enhance and improve the rights and healthcare services for LGBTIQ+ communities nationally, regionally, and worldwide.

   Fila Magnus graduated as cum laude at Upper Iowa University majoring Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Communications. She served as the Director of Communications for the International Youth Alliance for Family Planning (IYAFP) for over 6 years and is currently working at Mental Fitness Hub. 

   Fila is a member of the For Youth Initiative Kuala Lumpur (FYIKL) and shares that she is committed to ensuring that youth from all walks of life are granted access to knowledge and resources that they require in order to be able to make informed decisions and choices in regards to their autonomy and sexuality. If she’s not advocating for SRHR, refugees, or politics in general, you’ll find her in some part of the globe in search of the faith in humanity that she’s lost along her way.

   Rizky “Ekky” Ashar Murdiono is a graduate student of Computer Science and Information Technology with extensive knowledge in social issues, media, and content development. Back in 2016, he studied a non-degree in Advancing Human Rights at Kennesaw State University.

   He is a Co-Founder of the 2030 Youth Force Network and has practical experience in the United Nations in digital communication. He was also a U-Report Learning Consultant for UNICEF Indonesia from 2021 to 2022, and has been featured on TIME Magazine in their article entitled “Eight Young Leaders on How They Want to Shape the Decade Ahead”. He was also awarded the N-Peace Award in 2016.

     Je-ann is the current Project Finance Officer under the Finance Department. She graduated from the University of San Agustin with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration major
in Marketing Management.

       Her involvement in her University’s Little Theater organization led her to find an interest in theater, films and the arts. Aside from theater arts, she also partakes in the company’s production work including stage management and most notably, heading the organization’s marketing team.

     She is a graduate of AB Political Science from West Visayas State University (WVSU), in Iloilo City. In her days in college, she was the founding Prime Minister of WVSU Debate Circle, the ROTC Corps Commander and later a Volunteer Instructor in the Air Force Reserve Command. When she ran for the first time in their University Student Council, she was elected number one councilor. Her interest in leadership grew when she joined the 10th National Youth Parliament, organized by the National Youth Commission in 2014, where she later on became the Regional Convener for Western Visayas.

       She then pursued her studies to take up law in San Beda University in Mendiola, Manila. As a law student, she was still active in student organizations: She joined moot court competitions, she served as layout artist in 2 of San Beda Law’s Official Publications: The Barrister and San Beda Law Journal. In her last year in law school, she was the President of San Beda Law Human Rights Advocate (HRA), where she was later conferred Leadership Award by the Association of Law Students of the Philippines (ALSP) and her organization, HRA was awarded top advocacy organization.

      She passed the 2019 Bar Examinations and became a full-fledged lawyer by 2020.

        She worked as Associate of Javier Santiago Torres & Panghulan Law Offices. She now runs her own RLB Law Office as a solo practitioner and serves as Notary Public for and in Quezon City. She serves as legal consultant to MSMEs and Non-profit organizations. At present, she is the Vice President for Communications of the National Society of Parliamentarians, Inc., the Chief Legislative Staff of Councilor Quin Cruz of Pasig City Council and part-time law instructor in Malayan Colleges Laguna – a Mapua School. Interestingly, she is the creator and blogger of The Young Lawyer PH. Recently, she served as Resident Parliamentarian during the Bangsamoro Youth Parliament held last Nov. 7-11, 2022 at Cotabato City.

A lawyer by profession and an artist by heart.

Rukshana is a transgender activist and blogger from Nepal who started sharing their personal experiences as a transgender person at the young age of 15. Currently taking up her bachelor of arts in Legislative Law at the Chakrabarti Habi Education Academy–College of Law, Rukshana shares an interest in intersections of language, SOGIESC and law wherein she works around policy changing through legal activism. As of present, she is the Executive Director of Queer Youth Group since October 2020 which is a youth-led network working for the Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Sex Characteristics (SOGIESC) rights in Nepal. A devoted advocate for SOGIESC, Rukshana holds officerships in multiple organizations such as Vice President at the Gender and Sexual Minorities Youth Network of National Youth Council, Organizing Committee at the Nepal Pride Parade, Chief Secretary at the LOOM Nepal, Individual Member at Amnesty International Nepal, Focal Person from Nepal at Youth LEAD,, and Board Member of the South Asia Hub, Innovation For Change. She is recognized as a speaker at the opening panel in Women’s Pre-Conference and contributor in the Women’s Manifesto during the ILGA Asia Conference in 2022.

Due to her outstanding contributions to her advocacies, she received the National Volunteering Award by the Ministry of Youth and Sports of the Government of Nepal in 2020, and Youth Change Maker Award by the United Nations Youth Student Association Nepal in 2018.

     An advocate at heart, Louela is a part of several youth-led organizations in the Philippines with various advocacies ranging from climate justice, environmental protection, gender equality, human rights, SRHR, mental health prioritization, youth empowerment and HIV/AIDS awareness. She is currently the Interim Chairperson of Iloilo Pride Team after serving the organization for 4 years as the Admin Officer, Executive Secretary at Proyekto Philippines, Member of Team Dugong Bughaw, and more.

     She graduated as Summa Cum Laude at West Visayas State University majoring in English Language Studies and is currently taking up her Masters in English Language Studies at the same institution. During her stay at the university, she served as the Vice Chairperson at the University Student Council and Federated Student Council where she organized programs and initiatives that advocated for student involvement in societal causes and being the voice of the students that lobbies their concerns to the administration.

       In July 2022, she was awarded by JCI Regatta as one of the Top Outstanding Students in Iloilo and a Top Circle Awardee which is the most prestigious recognition given by the award-giving body.

     Ronan passed the Philippines nursing licensure exam in 2022 immediately after graduating his Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from the University of San Agustin. While juggling his academics, he was elected governor of his college’s student council (Nursing Student Council) in 2021 and board member in 2019 where he was awarded the leadership award and Agustino para sa Tao award due to his excellence in service. He is also a certified Safety Officer (SO1) after completing his training.

         He is currently a dialysis nurse in training. He handles the Intersex projects of YVC.

      Having done some activism for the Marshall Islands both locally and regionally with climate change, youth empowerment, LGBTQI rights, and nuclear injustice, Nenol takes pride in being an advocate for the causes he is passionate in, being a part of Youth Voices Count and taking a step in amplifying young LGBTQI+ voices. This also inspired him to co-found the first Marshallese LGBTQI Youth Support called Brighten the Rainbow. He is featured in “We Have a Dream” which is a collection of stories from young leaders around the world.

     Tharindi is currently a feminist activist and researcher based in Sri Lanka, and has worked with the Youth Advocacy Network Sri Lanka (YANSL). They are a trainer on advocating for comprehensive sexuality education and providing knowledge on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) where they actively advocate for safe abortion and bodily autonomy for women.

     One of Tharindi’s brainchild initiatives is an Instagram page which mainly focuses on the process of reaching out to queer women in Sri Lanka, a platform that helps in providing them visibility and strategy direction on programming through social media and other means.

    They have completed their Bachelors (BA Honors) in English and Linguistics at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Sri Lanka.

      Johnmel M. Estimar is the founder and senior adviser of La Villa Pride, a grassroots-level organization for LGBTQI in Villa, Iloilo. They are also a member of the Iloilo Pride team, a Community Based Screening motivator for HIV and an LGBTQI Rights Activist. Miles, as they like to be called, graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration at John B. Lacson Foundation Maritime University-Molo, Inc. They also hold an Associate Degree in Cruise Ship Management in the same University.

     They have ample experience in clerk and accounting work for nine years from their previous employer, they are currently employed with Youth Voices Count as Finance Manager since 2019.

      Mx. Toni graduated with a bachelor’s degree of secondary education majoring in English at the Capiz State University back in 2021. Aside from this, they sought out other educational opportunities such as Advocacy and Project Management at the Women Deliver Digital University (2015), International Women’s Health and Human Rights at Stanford University (2014), and Global Health and Humanitarianism at the University of Manchester (2013).

   An advocate of many causes, they are members of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, and Y-PEER Pilipinas, founder of the Y-Cap for SRHR, founder of United Colours of CapSU, and Alumnus of Women Deliver Young Leaders Program. Back in 2018, they were awarded as the SDG 5 Youth Champion due to the amiable service they have rendered for gender equality.

     A learner for life and a seeker of knowledge, Justin graduated his Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Political Science at West Visayas State University, Philippines and took on a Master’s of Arts in Human Rights and Democratisation (International Program) at the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies at Mahidol University, Thailand under the APMA / European Union Scholarship. At present, Justin is pursuing a Juris Doctor (JD) degree (Law Degree) from the College of Law, University of San Agustin, Philippines.

    Justin entered Youth Voices Count, Inc. in 2018 while studying in Thailand. He later took on the role of Executive Director beginning 2019 and successfully set up the legal registration of the organization in the Philippines under the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Since then, he has been leading the organization in various programs and projects centered around LGBTIQ children, adolescents, and youth. Outside Youth Voices Count, Inc., Justin is active in other initiatives in the field of research and law. He was a law student fellow of the Legal Education Advancement Program (LEAP) of the Legal Education Board and the UP Law Center in 2022.

    As an aspiring lawyer, he hopes to one day be instrumental in providing legal support for marginalized populations. Justin has also published reports, journal articles, commentaries, and book articles in the fields of law, HIV/AIDS, LGBTIQ, and Human Rights.

        In 2018, he was awarded the Young Achiever HERO Award by APCOM Foundation during the HERO Awards reception at the Royal British Embassy in Thailand for his outstanding work on equality and human rights. He is one of the Youth Council members of the Global Fund, an international financing and partnership organization that aims to “attract, leverage and invest additional resources to end the epidemics of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria”, and a Board Member of the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia Committee.

      Tashi is the South Asian representative in the Core Working Group. He is affiliated with the Queer Voices of Bhutan.