In 1995, when Aleksa Manila was 20 years old, she emigrated from the Philippines to the United States, joining her mother in Kirkland. Manila cites her mom—a single parent who put four children through college—as her life’s inspiration. “Growing up, she told me stories of how she challenged gender stereotypes, how she overcame an abusive relationship, and how compassionate and giving she was with her church and community,” she says.
Today, it’s easy to see her mother’s spirit at work in Manila’s life. She’s a well-known, award-winning drag performer and LGBTQ advocate. Last year, she won Mayor Jenny Durkan’s Pride Award for Outstanding Leader; this year, you’ll find her at Seattle’s annual pride celebration, hosting PrideFest Main Stage at Seattle Center on June 30.
Her first drag performance—to Madonna’s “Vogue”—was nearly 18 years ago, when she was the host of a safe-sex variety show at the now-closed Nippon Kan Theatre in the Chinatown–International District. “We re-created [the number] as a very Asian Pacific Islander production,” Manila says, “except, instead of fireworks, we dispersed condoms.”
Her advocacy grew into a professional career. For 16 years, Manila worked with the Seattle Counseling Service, which provides mental health counseling, substance abuse treatment and other services to the LGBTQ community, on Project NEON, the “Needle and Sex Education Outreach Network” branch of its work. She now works as a program supervisor and counselor for the organization, and continues to entertain and educate as a drag queen for organizations and causes across the city.
Using her platform to promote issues that move her—including Lifelong AIDS Alliance, whose annual Gay Bingo fundraisers she hosts in drag—Manila uses humor, charisma and a positive attitude to create awareness about serious topics. Echoing the spirit of her mom, she says, “I’ve always believed drag is a platform. Just by nature of dressing up out of the norm, you’re already making a statement. You’re already a rebel.”
Close to a Clean Sweep
In 2001, Manila was crowned Seattle’s Miss Gay Filipino, a competition in which she won every category except Miss Congeniality.
To Boldly Go...
Manila has a decorated hosting career, but she considers serving as the grand marshal of Seattle’s 2014 pride festivities, alongside beloved Star Trek actor George Takei, as one of her fondest memories.
A resident of the Chinatown–International District, Manila champions Seattle’s Asian Pacific Islander community. In 2012, she founded Pride Asia, a nonprofit whose mission is to “celebrate, empower and nurture the multicultural diversity of the LGBTQ communities through the Asian Pacific Islander lens.”
Editor's note: This article has been updated since print publication.