THOMAS ORLINA: Filipino Gay Rising Pop Music Star Releases New Song & Talks with Adelante about Music, Life

By: Al Ballesteros
Photos by: Stephanie Aquino, David Christopher Lee & Pavlos Eteridis

Thomas Orlina is a rising star in pop music, an internet influencer and community advocate. He is an openly gay Filipino-American whose career started on YouTube with a docu-series he created called, “Your Time With Thomas”. During these series, Thomas shared his coming out story, talks about mental health struggles and the Filipino culture.

On May 3, 2024, Thomas will release his latest pop EDM song titled, “Tell Me Your Name” to be available on all music platforms including Apple Music and Spotify. This latest single was designed to show his fan base a more mature side to his music and creative work. This newer direction has given him a chance to express himself like never before, with an edgier sound and hyper-sexual lyrics that help the listener enter a fantasy world. Thomas is teamed up with songwriter Christopher Bugna, whose previous collaboration on the single, “Journey” was an instant hit with Thomas’ audience.

“I’m really excited about this new era in my music. I’ve always been really careful with my image and making sure to curate everything accordingly, but when I heard this record, I took a step back and realized that I could still be my authentic self while exposing a side of me that has been quite private over the years. The truth is, I am a very sexual person and this project allowed me to go there lyrically and visually as the director of the music video,” says Thomas.

“I think when the music video comes out next month for Pride, it’s going to surprise people. I’ve spent my whole life caring about what others think about me, which fed into my insecurities. It’s now time for me to live my life and no longer care what others think of me. I think that’s what makes this new era so powerful.” Thomas says.

Adelante: You say you’ve always cared what others thought of you and your public image has always been top of mind. “Tell Me Your Name” and this edgier music is a departure from that. Why are you shifting now and will we see more of this shift in your future songs and videos?
Thomas: I’ve realized over time that time on this earth is precious and we need to make the most out of it. For so long I’ve limited myself to possibilities and with this particular song, it’s allowing me to break through and feel the most comfortable in my skin. I’m a lot more secure with who I am and make executive decisions with more conviction. You will for sure see a shift in future songs and videos as my progression of confidence is only going to get stronger.

Thomas is has becoming become a well-known figure in the Filipino, LGBTQ and general community. He says he wanted to be a TV star since he was five years old. After a series of jobs in publicity, television production, unscripted television, business and legal affairs, corporate communications, public affairs and film, he started his career as an on-camera personality. He then created a self-produced reality YouTube show, “Your Time With Thomas” which has reached thousands of audiences worldwide on YouTube.

Adelante: Did the docu-series lead you to your singing and music video career?
Thomas: In general I’ve always wanted to be in front of the camera so when I started my YouTube series I was enjoying that process and during the pandemic in 2020, I realized there was a part of my talent I wasn’t truly exploring. Music has been something I’ve been interested in since I was very young. I would write down songs and come up with melodies and so when I had time to think about what was next for me and the challenge I wanted to take on for myself, I thought, let’s do music! From that point on, I developed a solid team of songwriters, producers, dancers, and directors that I’m so grateful to have by my side. Since then I haven’t stopped and now have over a handful of songs that I’m extremely proud of. We recently performed in Los Angeles and I’m gearing up for my performance at Gipsy Nightclub, one of the newest clubs in Las Vegas on May 4th!

Adelante: You mention that sharing your life on the Internet and putting yourself out there had its challenges. What were some of those challenges? And how did you overcome those?
Thomas: Anytime you put content out on the internet, you’re positioning yourself for potential criticism. I had some people say some of the most wonderful things like they found my videos so uplifting, they thought I was brave for sharing my coming out story, and being so vulnerable. A lot of people said they felt inspired as well. On the downside of it, the challenges were the trolls online, the negative haters, and the vicious comments people would write. You have to have thick skin to do what I do, and celebrities like Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian who I’ve modeled my career in some ways, have both shared the same sentiment that you have to have thick skin to be in this industry and to focus on the positive things that are happening as much as possible.

Adelante: More and more research continues to document that social media use contributes to mental health conditions, especially in young people. Studies point towards the isolation over use may cause, unrealistic high bars set for one’s physical look, lifestyles which are often unattainable, bullying, etc. As an influencer that got his start with social media, what are your views on these issues?
Thomas Orlina: I find a lot of truth in this. To this day, I always tell myself to not compare my fortune or success to someone else. It’s a very tough place to be in because there is that feeling of doubt sometimes but I try to focus on the amazing things that are going on and do the best that I can. This year on Instagram I posted a photo for the first time in a thong of me in Palm Springs and I openly talked about my body dysmorphia struggles. So many people wrote me messages also feeling the same way about their bodies and I found strength in knowing sharing my story can help others overcome their issues as well. Once you find that mental strength to put all that energy into being the best version of yourself and feeling comfortable with who you are, you become unstoppable and that’s where I feel I am at currently.

Born in the United States, Thomas says he is a Filipino-American who proudly identifies as Asian-American. Last year, he released “I Want it Right Now” to honor AAPI month and to be included in the movement that champions the Asian community, Asian artists and the culture. He says he shares his creative talent as an AAPI artist to champion meaningful projects, advocate for the community and continue to shed light on the importance of visibility and equality. Thomas says he wrote the song “I Want it Right Now” to celebrate confidence, being comfortable in one’s own skin, and embracing the power of being assertive. “Growing up, I struggled with self-acceptance, especially as an openly gay artist, I found myself second-guessing myself.

Adelante: You say growing up you struggled with self-acceptance issues, what are some examples of these struggles? And, how did you overcome your struggles of self-acceptance? Were any of your struggles for self-acceptance related to your cultural heritage?
Thomas: I think growing up in an era where diversity wasn’t widely accepted or discussed, I felt very different in terms of my appearance. People would bully me and get their hands and do slanted eye faces and were mean to me at times. I think I just had a lot of that happening growing up and it was really hard to be proud of my cultural background. Also growing up knowing I was gay was very tough in the sense that I had felt the need to shield who I was by pretending to be straight and that caused a lot of mental issues ultimately. Between both of these aspects, I think over time it was easier to feel more comfortable but back then, I had a lot of tough times dealing with accepting certain things.

Adelante: The Filipino community, like many other ethnic communities is not generally accepting of persons who are LGBTQ. How do you think this on-going stigma can be broken down with respect to the Filipino community and the API community in general?
Thomas: My mission is to continue to trailblaze for the Filipino community and show them that we are all equal as much as possible. Continuing to show them my talents in hopes that my passion for advocating for mental health and equality shines through and they look beyond my sexual orientation. The more the community sees talent, respect, and compassion, I think there’s always a possibility for positive change and growth both for our community and the future.

Adelante: There are perhaps no other Filipino LGBTQ music artists at your level of visibility in the industry at this time. Is this fact helping your career to be the trailblazer of sorts for the Filipino community?
Thomas: I am self-aware that my team and I have created a lane that not many people are in and I’m super proud of that. For so long I’ve wanted to look up to someone that looks like me or does what I do and I’m glad to be one of the first to do it. I think my goal now is to continue to do the best that I can in hopes that younger generations of people who look like me or come from the background and story I do, draw inspiration to know that they can do it if they apply themselves and put in the work it takes to get here.

Adelante: Is there a difference with respect to acceptance and the openness of the Filipino LGBTQ community here in the United States vs. in the Philippines?
Thomas: What I think is so fascinating is there is a huge population of people in the Philippines that identify as LGBTQ and it is so widely seen on television, especially people like Vice Ganda, who is one of the most famous Filipino public figures in the Philippines. I think just based on the fact that we’re comparing two different countries there will naturally be a difference, but there are tons of LGBTQ people in the Philippines so I think it might be very similar.

Thomas says volunteering is important and is a value for his family and the Filipino community. He says volunteer work is instilled in him and is a cornerstone of his parents and family and he credits them, his sister and brothers in law for this value. “Remember to give back. Even though I’m always so busy doing different things, I always try to get out there to help other people.”

Adelante: Giving back to the community and volunteerism is important to you. Why do you feel it is important to give of one’s time to help others? Do you feel this is a general value of the younger LGBTQ community, in general or more culturally specific to yourself and Filipinos?
Thomas: I’ve always said since day one, I want to use my platform to do good. Whether it’s promoting non-profits or shedding light on what others are doing to make a difference, that will always be something that I will advocate for. I think it’s important to do things beyond ourselves. Helping people in general is a good deed and I hope to do more. I’m a part of a non-profit organization, Asian Mental Health Project, and being an Asian-American, there is a sense of responsibility to promote the importance of taking care of your mental health that this community needs to learn more about. I’m happy to lend my voice to those initiatives. I can’t fully speak for the younger LGBTQ communities but I do know this is important for me and I hope that others also draw inspiration from the desire to make a difference that they too will find ways to give back in their way.

Thomas connects with his family living in the Philippines via Facebook and other social media. “One thing I love about the Filipino community is the unity.” “I wouldn’t exchange my Filipino heritage for anything else.”

Adelante: Growing up Filipino and API, did you experience any discrimination for being Filipino from the larger communities? And if so, how did you deal with it?
Thomas: I grew up in a community that wasn’t as diverse so naturally people will look at you differently. I honestly tried not to think about the differences in appearance and just tried my best to fit in and not put too much thought into race. Luckily I surrounded myself with nice people growing up, so I felt protected in some ways.

Adelante: May is API and Pacific Islander Heritage month. What is your message to the API and PI LGBTQ community? Also, what is your message to the larger gay community and gay Latino community about the API and PI community?
Thomas: My message is to find what you are passionate about and go for it. I spent a lot of time thinking of doing it versus putting things into action. I want to pass that advice down to the next person in my community. For the larger gay community, I would say to be your authentic self and find power in your individuality. Everyone is different, so find what makes you special and run with it. I’d also say, be kind to one another, life is hard already, but it does go a long way to just be a good person and treat people well.

Thomas says he knew he was gay in elementary school, but hid it for a long time. He actually sought and won Prom King because he wanted people to see him as not gay. He says when he decided to share it with the world, he told his sisters first. After, he set out to tell his “very religious” mom and dad via a typed up a written letter presented to them. After being informed, his parents told him they accepted him and loved him. He says then the lying could now go away. He says when he heard the words, “I love you and I accept you for who you are” from his parents, “it was almost like my life started over.”

“Once I came out, I had all these amazing friends. I was like, man I should have done this earlier”.

Thomas says to others thinking about coming out, “if you’re feeling alone, if you’re feeling like no one understands what you’re going through, I promise you there are people who do”. “It doesn’t matter if you feel like you can’t come out. You don’t have to come out; don’t feel pressured, you make your own decision and when that moment comes, then do it.”

Adelante: You indicate among your sayings are “count your blessings, not your problems”. Why do you feel this is so important to do?
Thomas: This is probably my mantra forever. We often as humans find ourselves highlighting negative things and replaying what we wish we could have done, versus shedding light on the blessings and things we are gifted with in life. I always remind myself of this quote. It helps calm my nerves when I’m on stage performing or in pressured moments. Everything in life is meant to be in my eyes, so focusing on blessings versus problems is a very powerful way to think and has truly gotten me far in my career from a mental stand point.

Adelante: Thinking back on your life as a child and teenager what words of encouragement would you give to a younger Thomas about the road ahead?
Thomas: I would say to go for it, don’t hold back from things you believe in because the opportunities are out there waiting for you. I’d tell my younger self to get started as soon as possible, put in the hard work and one day, you might just find yourself on the cover of one of the most iconic magazines in the world.

IG: @thomasorlina