Although the homophile movement has its roots in the 1950s, Gay Pride was born in the United States in the 1960s with the LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and similarly-minded) community staging annual reminders to protest the social exclusion they suffered from the repressive conservatism of the time.
Today, LGBTQ+ communities around the world hold their own Pride events, usually in the Gay Pride month of June, that have become iconic badges of how welcoming and inclusive their societies have become.
To mark this year’s Pride month, Maritime Fairtrade presents the second part of the story of able seaman Reymon “Rae” Laolao, (Read the first part here), the self-styled “seafairy” who wants to prove that Gay Pride sways not only on land but on the seas as well.
Rae has been a seaman for seven years and has shed his share of blood, sweat, and tears. But if he could change one thing about life at sea, it would not be the exhausting work that every seaman, gay and straight, experiences. “I would rather change the mindsets of people on board.”
“We can achieve a smooth and stress-free contract once people working on board know how to respect and understand one another,” the 26-year-old seafarer said.
Being an overwhelmingly male-dominated industry, seafaring presents unique challenges, especially for LGBTQ+ and women seafarers. Gay seafarers, in particular, often feel pressured to fit in the industry’s conventional idea of a “macho” crew on board ships.
While positive steps have been taken in recent years, however, with the nature of the industry and with vessels’ crews holding different legal and social opinions of homosexuality, it can be difficult for gay seafarers to speak freely and openly about their sexual identity.
And despite the increasing acceptance of gay seafarers in the shipping environment, many of them still experience discrimination, harassment and underestimation at sea.
The social dynamics on board ships, however, seem to be gradually changing over time. This may be true if we base it on the photos circulating online showing gay seafarers aboard ships demonstrating LGBTQ+ empowerment in the industry.
Working harder to prove his professionalism
One of them is Rae, who seeks to promote the confidence, cheerfulness, patience and world-class competence of gay seafarers.
“It’s a great challenge to work on board as an LGBTQ+ member. You don’t know what kind of people you will be working with once you join the vessel. Some are very welcoming and some are not,” he told Maritime Fairtrade.
“As a seafairy, I always aim to break gender stereotypes and prove to them that LGBTQ+ seafarers have something to offer on the table,” Rae added.
He shares this happy disposition in life at sea via photos and videos he posts online—selfies in poses fit for the seaman’s edition of Vogue magazine, groupie with colleagues, dancing TikTok moves, and cat walking on the ship’s hallways.
Unlike other seamen, Rae never dreamed of being a seafarer. “I was just influenced by my brother-in-law who is also a seafarer. As I started sailing, I realized that I had made the right choice because of its competitive salary,” he said.
“Aside from being surrounded by a lot of guys, being able to travel the world is also what I like most about seafaring,” Rae added.
Oftentimes, seafarers can find themselves living on board with crew members of other nationalities with different societal beliefs or negative attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community.
He recalled an experience in 2016 where some people underestimated his ability to perform tasks on board, and doubted that he could actually do his job.
“I was under observation at that time because I just joined the vessel. It’s a great challenge for me on how to change that impression about me,” Rae narrated.
But that experience challenged Rae to work harder and he eventually proved his worth later to everyone, but it was quite difficult to overcome the mindsets of colleagues who belittled his ability to work.
Gay Pride moving forward
“Today, I have stepped up as the breadwinner in our family and am currently renovating our old house. Being a seafarer allowed me to get the things I wanted for myself,” Rae said, adding that more LGBTQ+ members should also step up to the challenge.
Rae is now aboard a bulk cargo ship and will be away for months. His time on board has also given him ideas on how the industry can be more inclusive. It all begins at the recruitment stage, Rae said, urging shipping firms to be fair in terms of processing employment on board ships without any sexual bias.
“They should not look at the gender of each individual. They should look at a person’s ability and skills to see if he or she is fit for the position being applied for,” said Rae. Shipping firms can also play an important role against bigotry by imposing rules against gender discrimination on board ships.
The maritime industry should strictly enforce such rules against gender discrimination or mistreatment, to enable LGBTQ+ seafarers to express themselves freely and work without fear of discrimination.
“Companies should impose or create reflective learning videos regarding ‘gender discrimination’ to give awareness to all seafarers,” he said.
Life at sea is certainly not easy at all. Seafaring is considered one of the most dangerous occupations in the world and is often exposed to traumatic events, such as sea accidents, extreme weather conditions and sometimes piracy and kidnapping.
And Rae has some advice for his fellow Pride members who plan to build a career in seafaring: “For my fellow brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ+ community, life on board ships is not easy. We are exposed to various perils at sea. There are many challenges to your job and even the people you will be working with.”
“You are all welcome aboard, but are you ready to take the challenge?” he asked.
Top photo credit: iStock/ Vanessa Nunes