The Laotian children (standing, from left): Jonel, Alvin, Jaynny, Handy, sister-in-law Angel, Alan and
Björn, with her parents (seated) Johnny and Melvida
At the age of 7, Björn Lao knew he was different. Growing up, the Laoag City-based businessman preferred Barbie dolls to the toy guns, cars, robots, and GI Joe figures that his father, Johnny Lao, bought for him and his brothers.
“He would wonder why there were dolls in our toys when he had six sons. He would hide the dolls, but then there were other things to play with, ”Björn told Lifestyle. One of his favorites was a set of miniature palayok (clay pots), a specialty of the neighboring town of San Nicolas.
“That’s what I used to want to play, Lutu-Lutuan (that’s what I used to like to play house),” he said.
Growing up gay with a strict father wasn’t easy. At school he had friends to confide in, but at home he had to hide until his father gave in.
“He didn’t accept it back then (he found it hard to accept).”
But Björn wasn’t the only one. His two older siblings Jonel and Handy also identify as LGBT. Her second sibling, Jaynny, is also LGBT – four of the six sons in her family.
The Laotian siblings are close and four of them – Jonel, Alan, Handy and Bjorn – even work together in their family business.
The youngest two have decided to do their own thing: Jaynny is a fashion designer who has dressed a number of beauty queens from Ilocos Norte, while Alvin, who studied cooking abroad, opened his own restaurant Seafood Capital from chef Alvin Town San Nicolas.
“Our father could not initially accept that four of his sons were identified as LGBT,” said Handy. “He had a set of rules that we had to follow. First we had to be responsible for ourselves and for our actions. Second, he didn’t want any of us to do cross-dressing that we could follow – although Jaynny had a bit of a problem with that. “
Björn then related how her father once went into the store and bought boys’ clothes for Jaynny, who accepted the lot but went back to the store and exchanged them for something he liked better.
“It turned out that Jaynny knew the shopkeeper who agreed to the swap. In the end, of course, he opted for the more feminine pieces. “
All of the siblings were sent to college in Manila, where they could drop their hair and indulge in their kalokohan (jokes). At home in Laoag, however, they were expected to be more cautious.
A third rule her father made – and one that all siblings can rightly follow – was to be successful in whatever profession they chose.
In addition to running the family business, Handy ran for public office and became a city councilor in Laoag. He is also an ex officio board member of the province.
To this day Björn looks up to his older brother Handy and regards him as his mentor and “favorite person in the world”.
“Just because we’re LGBT doesn’t mean we’re less,” Handy said. INQ