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Walking Her Own Walk: Patricia Velasquez, The World’s First Latina Lesbian Supermodel, Talks Inspirational New Film

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By Megan Smith

Venezuelan beauty Patricia Velasquez is no stranger to firsts. In the 1990s, she walked the runway for the likes of Dolce & Gabbana and Antonio Berardi, making her the first Latina to break into the high-end fashion industry. Having studied acting in New York and Los Angeles, Velasquez also graced the big screen in blockbuster hits like The Mummy and The Mummy Returns and was featured on television series such as Arrested Development and The L Word. And with the release of her new memoir, Straight Walk: A Supermodel’s Journey to Finding Her Truth, Velasquez accomplished another first—she came out as a gay woman and, in turn, became the world’s first Latina lesbian supermodel. Velasquez notes that her decision to come out was heavily influenced by the need to teach her young daughter, Maya, the value of being honest and proud.

Now, Velasquez is in front of the camera once more, starring in Venezuelan director Fina Torres’ new film, Liz in September. The movie follows Liz (Velasquez), a seductive ladies’ lady, as she celebrates her 37th birthday with fellow lesbian friends at a Caribbean retreat. Among these women, homosexuality is as natural as the waves rolling along the sandy shore—nothing is questioned, it just is. Although the trip is a tradition for these friends, this year is different—the women are blissfully unaware that Liz is secretly battling terminal cancer. The whole dynamic changes when straight newcomer Eva (Eloisa Maturen) finds herself at the beach lodge after her car breaks down in town. Never one to turn down a bet, Liz accepts when her friends challenge her to seduce Eva in three days’ time. What Liz doesn’t expect is to find love, personal peace, and a legacy to leave behind.

In mid-November, while Velasquez was abroad in London, I had the pleasure of speaking with her about Liz in September, fans’ reactions to her coming out, and the push for LGBT equality in Venezuela.

Megan Smith: So you’re finishing up work in London?

Patricia Velasquez: Yes, I have a beauty brand that I started five years ago called Taya Beauty that has expanded all over the world—in the U.S., it’s on the Home Shopping Network, and here in the U.K., it’s on QVC. So once or twice every month I have to travel to a different market. I’m very proud of my brand because key ingredients are from [businesses] in the Amazon that are funding indigenous communities, and are sustainable, organic, and environmentally friendly. There are no sulfites, no harsh chemicals, no glues, and no synthetics.

Patricia Velasquez as Liz in Liz in September.
Patricia Velasquez as Liz in Liz in September.

Wow, it sounds like you’re not slowing down a bit! So, Liz in September was released on DVD earlier this month. What initially interested you about Liz’s role in that film?

Fina and I are both Venezuelans, so it was sort of fate that we would do something together. There aren’t many people from our country who are in this industry. When we decided that we were going to work together, we initially started looking at a different script. I then asked Fina to come to a master class that I was a part of in Los Angeles, and when I came out to do a scene, it was actually a scene from the original play [on which Liz in September is based], Last Summer at Bluefish Cove. Fina was sitting next to the teacher, and she leaned over and told her, “That’s so funny that Patricia is doing a scene of this play, because I was offered [the chance] to make a movie of this play many years ago, but we couldn’t get it off the ground.” So I come out, I do the scene, and I think Fina made the decision right then and there that this is the project we needed to work on. I really have to give it up to Fina, because she’s a very well-known director, and she could have very well just taken the rights [to the play] and done the film in English. But she decided to do it in Spanish, and nothing like this has ever been done before in Spanish.

Torres notes that your personal life mirrors Liz’s in a lot of ways—you’re both seductive to women and know the power of beauty. Did you feel like starring as Liz was more autobiographical than acting?

No, actually, I don’t feel that way. I do think Fina took a lot of elements from my life and incorporated them into the film, such as Liz being a model in the past. I also had a dog, and Fina saw me running on the beach every morning with my dog, and wanted to add that to the film. That’s what happens when you put yourself in the hands of a good director and have trust in them—and that’s what I did with Fina. It doesn’t matter what kind of character you’re playing—you can always find similarities between yourself and that character. There are definitely things in the film that mirror my life, but I don’t think Liz, as a whole, is really who I am. I think Liz is a mix of Fina’s [creation] and myself.

Liz in September was released shortly before you came out as a lesbian in your new memoir, Straight Walk: A Supermodel’s Journey to Finding Her Truth. In the film, Liz and her friends seem so natural and comfortable in their sexualities. Did starring in Liz in September impact your comfort level with your own sexuality in any way?

No, I wouldn’t say that. But what I would say is that shooting the film made me realize how important it was to release the book. The film was definitely the seed of my last push to get the book out. It made me realize that it was time for me to inspire other people. I wasn’t necessarily feeling uncomfortable in my sexuality—I’ve lived my life openly for many years—I just didn’t say it out to the world. What did happen in the process between the film and writing the book is that I became much more comfortable in my femininity. Before, I wouldn’t say, “Yes, I am gay,” because I thought that I would betray my fans—who were mainly  guys—and that it might [impact the kind of work I would be able to get]. I didn’t know it would be completely the opposite—I have much more work than I used to. But as a result of [being so accepted as a lesbian], I definitely realized that my femininity wasn’t something that was only related to work, and that I could own who I was. The combination of the movie and the book had a lot to do with that.

The film takes place in your home country of Venezuela, where homosexuality is still relatively taboo. What is the country’s current climate toward LGBT people, and how have your Venezuelan fans reacted to you coming out?

It’s been very surprising, because in Venezuela we don’t have any sort of legislation surrounding LGBT rights—zero. I don’t necessarily think that it’s something that the people or the government are against, I just think that because we are struggling with so many really, really basic issues (like needing running water, or electricity, or having food on the table), LGBT rights haven’t been on the agenda.  But I definitely don’t think the fact that we’re dealing with day-to-day issues should take away from the need and the importance of trying to achieve legislation and rights for our community.

I think a movie like Liz in September creates a conversation. A book like mine starts a dialogue, for sure. I wrote this book really to inspire people to live their truth. Your truth may be that you’re not practicing the religion that you want, or just the fact that you’re gay and you can’t openly talk about it or be who you are. The book sends a message to people that it’s okay to be whoever you want to be, and that you’re not alone. People have been extremely supportive throughout the world—in my community in Venezuela and definitely in the Unites States. If anything, I have to say the LGBT community in the United States has been incredibly supportive of me coming out. It’s been a very beautiful journey.

Patricia Velasquez. Photo: Jenny Woodman
Patricia Velasquez. Photo: Jenny Woodman

In the 1990s, you broke barriers by becoming the world’s first Latina supermodel. After coming out, you accomplished another first by becoming the world’s first Latina lesbian supermodel. In an industry where no one else really looks like you, whom did you look to as a role model?

That’s such a good question. I don’t know! In terms of the LGBT world, I didn’t really have that role model. What I didn’t know is that I was going to become one for so many people after I came out. Maybe the fact that I didn’t have a role model is why I wasn’t really looking to become one, and why—when the book came out and I became a role model for so many people—it was a little shocking to me. I wrote the book with the mentality that if I could help one person, then that would mean I had done my job. But along the way, we’ve helped so many people. If my coming out helps other people, and I can inspire them just by being who I want to be and living my life freely and showing them I’m a person like anyone else—successful, happy, and fighting for her dreams—then I welcome the idea of being a role model to people.

You’re a supermodel, an actress, you’ve created your own beauty brand, and now you’re an author. What’s next on your list?

More than anything, I’m a mother. I’m very, very busy, and I’m extremely thankful that I’ve been given the opportunity to work and to do these projects. I tend to get bored quickly—I need to be creating different things at the same time. But my acting is definitely the thing that calls to me the most. What I would really like is to have a little more time to focus on my acting and to do more projects like Liz in September. When you work on projects that make a little bit of a difference in history, acting-wise, it’s such an incredible experience. I think that when we—Latins and South Americans—shoot our films, they take on a different dimension in the sense that we become part of the social change that’s happening in our countries. And I would like to have time to do many more of those, because they really fill my heart.

Liz in September is now available from Wolfe Video (wolfevideo.com).

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Megan Smith

Megan Smith is the Assistant Editor for OutSmart Magazine.

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