Get To Know These 11 Asian and Pacific Islander Gender-Defying Changemakers

Classes may be out of session, but Pride Month has only just begun! School yourself on some of the biggest transgender and gender non-conforming Asian and Pacific Islanders changing the game of culture and entertainment. 

Alok Vaid-Menon (they/them) 

The nibling (a gender-neutral term for “niece” and “nephew”) of Indian LGBTQ+ rights activist, Urvashi Vaid, Alok Vaid-Menon is a gender non-conforming, transfemme, poet, artist and activist whose work covers gender, race, culture and trauma. Over the years, they’ve used their platform to discuss how gender expression affects the wider world around us, with their movement #DeGenderFashion, calling to degender the fashion and beauty industry, reaching mainstream audiences. 

Bilal Baig (they/them) 

The co-creator and star of “Sort Of,” a CBC Television (think CBS, but Canadian) and Max dramedy, Bilal Biag is a calm force of nature known for their dry wit and deadpan delivery. The semi-autobiographical series is the first Canadian primetime show led by a queer, South Asian Muslim. It attracted critical acclaim and was the most-nominated television series at the 10th Canadian Screen Awards. Baig’s criticism of the awards show’s division of gender in the acting categories led to a change in how the award categories were named, leading to Baig winning the inaugural Canadian Screen Award for Best Leading Performance in a Comedy Series. 

Chella Man (he/him) 

Deaf, queer, transgender, Jewish, Chinese actor, artist, writer and activist Chella Man can’t help but call upon  his identity in everything he does. He first rose to prominence in 2017, documenting his transition and personal experiences with gender on his YouTube channel and garnering the attention of publications like i-D, Teen Vogue and GQ. He signed with IMG Models in 2018 as their first Deaf and transmasculine model, was cast as Jericho in DC Universe/Max’s “Titans,” published his first book, “Continuum” and became one of the first openly transgender men to work with Yves Saint Laurent Beauty. 

Geena Rocero (she/her)

From her tenure as a beauty queen and fashion model to her iconic TED Talk in 2014 where she came out to the world, to her work as a producer, author, activist and speaker, multi-hyphenate Geena Rocero has lived many lives. She became one of the first openly transgender models to cover Harper’s Bazaar alongside Tracey Norman, and is the first openly transgender Asian model to pose for Playboy. She shares her incredible story in her memoir, “Horse Barbie,” recounting her early career, her transition and, ultimately, her strength in her truth. 

Ian Alexander (they/he)

Actor and activist Ian Alexander truly exist on another level. After starring in Netflix’s sci-fi thriller, “The OA,” they provided the voice, motion capture and face model for Lev, a major character in “The Last of Us Part II.” They also joined the cast of “Star Trek: Discovery” in 2020 as Gray Tal, making Alexander the first transgender actor to play a transgender character in the “Star Trek” canon. 

Isabel Sandoval (she/her) 

Filmmaker and actress Isabel Sandoval became the first openly transgender woman of color to compete at the Venice Film Festival in 2019, having written, directed and starred in the critically acclaimed “Lingua Franca.” The film follows the story of an undocumented trans woman who falls in love with the adult grandson of the elderly woman she’s working for. The film was later acquired by Ava Duvernay’s distribution company ARRAY, whose mission is to amplify the voices of filmmakers of color. 

Jaiyah Saelua (she/her) 

Identifying as fa’afafine, the Samoan word that refers to non-binary people, Jaiyah Saelua is the first openly nonbinary, transfemme to compete in a FIFA world cup qualifier. She was featured in the 2014 documentary, “Next Goal Wins,” which followed the American Samoa national football team’s efforts to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Since becoming the first nonbinary player to participate in a FIFA tournament, she’s been named a FIFA ambassador for equality and LGBTQ+ athletes. 

Janet Mock (she/her) 

Writer, producer, director and LGBTQ+ activist Janet Mock has been making waves in transgender visibility for over a decade. After working as a journalist and editor at People magazine, she was catapulted into the spotlight after coming out publicly as a trans woman in a 2011 Marie Claire article. Since then, she’s been an outspoken activist for transgender rights, an accomplished writer documenting her experiences as a trans woman of color, an Emmy-nominated producer for her work on FX’s “Pose” and the first trans woman of color hired as a writer for a TV series in history. 

Leyna Bloom (she/her) 

Actress, model and activist Leyna Bloom’s feature film debut in 2019, “Port Authority,” is the first film in Cannes Film Festival history to feature a trans woman of color in a leading role. She became the first openly trans woman of color to appear in Vogue India in 2017 and the first openly trans Black and Asian American model to be featured in the 2021 Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. 

Sasha Colby (she/her) 

Lauded as your favorite drag queen’s favorite drag queen, Sasha Colby has held legendary status well before her run on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” She won the Miss Continental drag pageant in 2012, is a regular drag performer in clubs across the country and is an activist for transgender rights and visibility. She made “Drag Race” herstory this past year as the first Native Hawaiian to be cast and the first winner of Polynesian descent since the show’s beginnings. 

Terry Hu (they/them) 

Terry Hu is an actor who made history playing Disney’s first openly nonbinary character in the Disney Channel Original Film, “Zombies 3.” Subsequently, they were the first openly nonbinary actor to have a leading role in a live-action Disney movie. Hu is also featured in the third and fourth seasons of Netflix’s “Never Have I Ever” as Addison, a nonbinary student from an elite high school who eventually becomes Fabiola’s partner.