POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – A Polk County woman is now the face of Pantene’s latest holiday campaign, Coming Home Should Be #BEAUTIFULGBTQ.
The ad features the Trans Chorus of Los Angeles and profiles several of its members. It opens with the choir singing “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.”
According to the campaign that partnered with GLADD, 44% of LGBTQ people feel as though they can’t go home as their true selves during the holidays.
“As a child, I never saw people like me and I didn’t think they would accept me as a woman,” said Miliana S.
Miliana – who is from Jamaica, Queens – spent her teen years living in Polk County, Florida.
“I think if a trans person can make it in Polk County, they can make it anywhere,” said Miliana.
Miliana, who now calls California home, explains that living in Haines City as a suicidal teen, a runaway and a trans woman was complicated and at times felt defeating.
“I have been called the n-word, the f-word, I have been called everything in the book. I have had my life threatened,” she said.
And if that wasn’t enough, Miliana claims receiving proper health care during her transition was also a challenge.
“I feel like I was a pioneer for Polk County. I transitioned in 2006. I was 17 years old. At that time, there weren’t medical providers who knew what trans was. They were not willing to help me with my transition. I had to self-medicate and take hormones over the black market,” said Miliana.
Miliana is now a health care professional herself who sings, acts and models. She also credits herself as starting the first Gay-Straight Alliance at Polk State College.
“Now I work in healthcare and I work for the LGBT community. I primarily focus on the trans community and I get to do a lot of advocacy and activism in that field and push for a more inclusive medical system for the trans community,” she said. “I use my past to fuel me to do the work that I do, to ensure that others do not have the same hardships that I did. I can tell my story to others and let them know, you may be suicidal, you may be struggling, hold tight, it’s going to get better.”
Miliana brings that same strength and message in Pantene’s holiday ad as she explains how her hair is now a symbol of her strength.
“A woman’s hair is her crown and glory. For me, having hair was a really big thing. When I started my transition, one of the first things I did was grow out my hair. My father didn’t like that, so he shaved my head bald,” said Miliana.
Over time, Milianan tells 8 On Your Side her family and community have accepted her and she now finds joy in going home.
“Be brave, be strong, don’t hold back. Be your true authentic self, other people will get in line,” said Miliana in the ad.
In addition to Pantene’s video series, the company has also pledged to make a $100,000 donation to Family Equality, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to advance legal and lived equality for the LGBTQ community.