IN PHOTOS: How Baras, Rizal celebrated its first Pride march

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The 10 contestants of Baras’ first drag contest. Photo by MARGA BUENAVENTURA

When you enter the municipality of Baras, Rizal, a stone arch welcomes you: “The Home of Sikaran and the First Organic Town.” Organic, because Baras is recognized as the first in the country to practice organic agriculture. Sikaran is a Filipino martial art that originated from the town itself; it mostly uses kicking, and is said to have been practiced in pre-colonial era Philippines.

Baras is a town of firsts, and in June this year, it celebrated another milestone — its very first Pride March. Pride celebrations in the Philippines have been largely celebrated en masse around large metropolitan areas. In 2022, there were simultaneous Pride celebrations around the country, including three in Metro Manila alone: Marikina, Quezon City, and Pasay.

The LGBTQIA+ community that organized Baras’ Pride festivities had initially anticipated a little over 175 attendees. On the day of the Baras Bahaghari Pride March, more than 300 people attended, including allies, local government unit (LGU) personnel, even officers from the local fire bureau and police force. A local attendee says that she was happy to hear that Baras was having a Pride celebration, because she and her friends found transportation to Metro Manila Pride events too costly.

A contest walks to introduce herself to the judges in pink sequined coords and bedazzled boots. Photo by MARGA BUENAVENTURA

This contestant wore a contrasting black and white swimsuit but added a Pride flag to her outfit to fit in the bahaghari theme of the night. She later on won second place. Photo by MARGA BUENAVENTURA

The march culminated at the Baras Kasarinlan Eco-Park, a narrow, finger-shaped piece of greenery that juts out to the Laguna de Bay, a space that the local government of Baras calls a “gender sensitive” space. Tracts of farmland and rows of fishing boats surround the park. Residents say that the park was a pandemic project, and that for many years, it was simply kilometers upon kilometers of wild fields.

There was a small crowd that gathered at the park’s center, all anticipating the evening’s main event. Someone in the crowd tells their friend, “Mag video ka, baka may ma-send tayo sa Kabulastugan.”

10 Baras residents dressed up in full drag regalia to compete in a drag competition, a pastiche of the incredibly popular “Ru Paul’s Drag Race.” In one of the lip syncs, a bald queen in a sequined jumpsuit dons a long wig and pulls it off mid-song as confetti fell out, a move inspired by “Drag Race” season nine winner Sasha Velour.

Each contestant was given time to introduce themselves with a catchy line. (One queen said, “Say no to drugs, say yes to drag,” arguably one of the more witty intros that evening.) Many of the costumes were clearly homemade, but spoke volumes of their creativity: metallic bustles made of aluminum insulation foam and rainbow butterfly wings with cut down tree branches as dowels.

One queen made rainbow butterfly wings using fabric and repurposed branches. Photo by MARGA BUENAVENTURA

The prize money was modest, but clearly meant a lot to the contestants. Still, they were gracious in defeat. The winner, drag name God of Hunks, turned emotional when his name was called. He was the only drag king in the competition. He wore a long rainbow cape with his torso decked out in glitter, and a DIY caduceus — an allusion to his godliness, one guesses. During his introductory statement, he said that he wanted to represent the queer community through the creativity of his own drag. According to the judges, votes tipped in his favor after he climbed the gigantic “Baras” sign on stage and then did a split on top of it during the group lip sync performance. It was, in the judges’ words, “commitment.”

While the march and drag competition were huge parts of Baras’ Pride celebrations, it was merely a way to culminate the big plans the municipality has for the LGBTQIA+ community. According to Gimarl Garrovillas, municipal federation president of Baras’ LGBTQIA+ Federation, they decided to hold an in-person Pride celebration to give the community as sense of acceptance in what Garrovillas calls the municipality’s “inclusive administration.”

“The LGBTQIA+ community has always had excellent support from the Baras LGU,” Garrovillas says. “The establishment of an organization or federation for the LGBTQIA+ of Baras has long been a dream of our beloved outgoing municipal mayor and vice mayor-elect, Kathrine B. Robles.”

Part of their Pride activities included an election of officers from the LGBTQIA+ Federation, ensuring that each barangay would have an elected representative. (In fact, some of the representatives were part of the drag competition, so they took their oaths that evening in full drag.) The federation is attached to the LGU’s Gender and Development (GAD) Program, with the help of municipal GAD focal person, Mary Ann Geronimo.

For Geronimo, having an LGBTQIA+ Federation is in line with how they support all citizens of Baras — for as long as there is an active community to serve. “Last year, we provided financial assistance for makeup artists, hair stylists, photographers, and dance instructors, [who are] almost dominated by LGBTQIA+ members as support due to COVID-19,” Geronimo says. “I am confident that with [the citizens’] active participation, the LGU support is always available.”

Officers of the Baras LGBTQIA+ Federation held their oath taking ceremony during their Pride celebrations. Photo by MARGA BUENAVENTURA

Contestants took inspiration from popular drag queens like Sasha Velour. Photo by MARGA BUENAVENTURA

As a newly formed group, the LGBTQIA+ Federation is now on the way to earning accreditation from the Sangguniang Bayan, as well as having a formal name and logo. Among their upcoming initiatives include street signs inspired by the Safe Spaces Act, such as “Safe TRANSport” and “Safe Space for Loading and Unloading,” which will be placed along a national highway and several TODA loading/unloading zones. They also plan to propose that for all civil weddings held at Baras, the LGU will cover the fees of hair and makeup artists who are registered members of the federation to encourage the growth of local livelihood.

The municipality of Baras may have held a modest Pride celebration relative to its big city counterparts, but it’s clear in the passion of its citizenry that it takes a lot of heart to celebrate Pride — not only because of how it affirms the individual self, but because of how important it is to feel accepted in one’s community. As its residents prove, Pride doesn’t have to be a gathering of thousands. It doesn’t have to be a commodified exercise either. Surely there are many other stories like this we have yet to hear; Baras, one hopes, may just be one of many other small towns who understood what it meant to take Pride for the very first time.