IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Michelle Dee and her advocacies on autism awareness, gender equality
Being a beauty queen is more than just bearing the weight of the crown. It is about having the courage to use a platform to stand up for your advocacies and to be a “force for good.” And for Michelle Dee, she is dedicated to serve even before winning the coveted Miss Universe Philippines crown.
Dee — who is crossing over from Miss World 2019 to Miss Universe 2023 — is long known for her advocacy on autism awareness and inclusivity even prior to her coronation. But this is an advocacy that didn’t just appear out of nowhere or was spawned as added interest. It’s a pledge that comes from the heart and “first hand experience,” as her brothers Mazen Marquez and Abraham Lawyer are diagnosed with autism.
The actress-beauty queen is also an advocate for gender equality and is determined to show what the Philippines has to offer. And for someone who has so much passion in her, she’s thankful that pageantry opened more doors.
“I grew up seeing [my mom Melanie Marquez] use her platform and pour it out into all the charities that she was involved in,” she said at a “Crown Conversations” interview with Vogue Philippines. “At a very young age, she taught me that you know the best thing in life is giving back. When you’re in the position to give back to your community, then you should do that.”
Autism awareness and inclusivity
Being a sister of two brothers within the autism spectrum was an “everyday battle between what was normal and what was normal for the world” for Dee. Her determination to speak up for her brothers’ needs — without the mere act of sitting by and hoping things would be better — turned out to be a lifelong purpose for their right to be heard.
“One in every 100 children is born with autism,” she said in her Voice for Change video for Miss Universe. “The community should join forces and work together towards the sustainable development goal of creating opportunities for all.”
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Dee, who was named the goodwill ambassador of the Autism Society Philippines (ASP), has long been using her platform to speak up for people with special needs. But she believes that the Philippines, and the world in general, has a lot more to offer for anyone with disabilities — as a way of giving back to Mazen and Abraham.
“They’re the reasons why I’m trying to build this platform to get more eyes and ears into autism awareness in the Philippines. Especially because I grew up in a first-world country, and I saw all the resources that were just readily available for anyone with a disability. And I do want that here in the Philippines,” she told Vogue Philippines.
The beauty queen-actress said she will continue to work on her advocacy “whatever happens in the global tilt.” But if she does win the crown, she wants to use her voice in the Miss Universe pageant to get the attention of its audience.
“This year I was able to lobby [for] my advocacy to be part of the program of Miss Universe,” she continued. “So that’s 27,000 individuals on the spectrum that got the attention of the Miss Universe Philippines audience. It’s just such an amazing platform to do the good that you want to do.”
One of her recent activities with ALS is giving assistance to autism-stricken job seekers earlier this month, where she asserted that everyone deserves an “inclusive workplace” that accommodates “even neurodiverse individuals” to further their right to “express their own capacity and capabilities.”
“A lot of the individuals on the spectrum are not given that opportunity because the common perception is that they can’t do it. It’s just about opening those doors and creating those opportunities because, again, this isn’t one of the more popular advocacies to bring on,” she further added.
Shortly after being crowned as Miss Universe Philippines 2023, Dee came out as bisexual although she didn’t want her second attempt in the national tilt to be centered around her gender orientation.
This is her way of proving that she wants to be “much more than [her] own gender” because her pageant journey is not about her. It’s about empowering the voices of those who need it the most.
“I joined the pageant because this is much greater than myself. This is about the cause I’m fighting, advocating for: autism awareness. That’s my main goal,” she told Mega magazine in an interview. “My identity is not what I want to be remembered for. I felt like coming out during the competition would shock everyone, and cloud everyone’s judgment. I also wanted to do that within my own timeline, and it wasn’t the right time.”
Even though her advocacy centers around autism awareness and inclusivity, Dee declared at a Pride March in Quezon City that she will not only raise the Philippine flag in the global tilt, but also the LGBTQIA+ community.
“I’ve been an advocate for LGBTQIA+ for as long as I can remember. Even before coming out, I’ve been attending pride marches,” she shared to Mega. “Own who you really are and have that self-worth and confidence to control your life. If you try to take that away, I’ll take it back. It boils down to respecting people and spreading love and spreading light.”
Bringing glory to the PH
Given her purpose-centered advocacy and lifelong call, it’s no surprise that Dee is also a firm believer in her countrymen as the best that the Philippines can offer to the world.
“We are the true heart and soul of the Philippines, with the way we are hospitable, with the warm smiles, and we are the reason the world keeps coming back for more. No matter where the universe takes me, I will always be proud to call the Philippines my home, and no matter what happens, I will always be proud to call myself Pinoy,” she said during the final question and answer round of the national tilt.
Despite being in the heat of her Miss Universe journey, she also took time to undergo training in order to be enlisted into the reserve corps of the Philippine Air Force last September.
And while Dee has given so much of herself, even though the global tilt will commence on Nov. 18, she believes that “life’s too short” to not fulfill her other commitments — especially when her own country is involved.
“I will always think, If I can manage it, then why not? Because life’s too short to keep giving myself excuses not to do things I know will fulfill my purpose in life, and service to others and my country has always been one of them,” she told INQUIRER.net.
It’s clear that Dee is treading a path filled with uncertainty. After all, she is on a quest to bring back the Philippines’ semi-final streak and bring home the fifth crown in the global tilt. Her mother was crowned as Miss International 1979, while her cousin Teresita “Winwyn” Marquez was named as Reina Hispanoamericana 2017.
The pressure, however, is what motivates her to be at her best. “I actually work best under pressure. I actually thrive under pressure,” she said with a glint in her eyes in her post-Miss Universe Philippines 2023 coronation video.
So, it’s no surprise that Michelle Dee has the makings of a queen who will be a force of good.