On June 25, an estimated 29,000 members of the LGBTQIA+ community and allies (according to the organizers) flocked to CCP Open Grounds in Pasay for the annual Metro Manila Pride March — marking its first in-person event two years since the pandemic began.
Efforts to commemorate Pride month over the past two years had not been lost, with organization leaders gathering to express dissent during the Mendiola Pride in 2020 and at the Bantayog ng Mga Bayani in 2021. But it was only last Saturday that the community had taken the streets once again for its historic march.
Themed “Atin Ang Kulayaan: Makibeki Ngayon, Atin Ang Panahon,” the atmosphere of this year’s Pride is vibrant as it is defiant. Kulayaan, a play on the words “kulay” and “kalayaan” brings a focus to all individuals of the spectrum with the respect that each has lived experiences that must be honored. It likewise emphasizes that Pride is a protest, as it calls for true liberation for the community.
As witnesses of historical revisionism, this year’s Pride also urges us to go back to our roots and retrace the oppressions that led to today’s movement. More than this, it celebrates and honors the strides we have made to create an inclusive future.
The need for the SOGIE Equality bill
June, as the month of LGBTQIA+ visibility, has further highlighted that our country’s existing programs and laws fall short in protecting one of our most vulnerable communities from discrimination.
Central to the calls of each group and sector is the urgency for the SOGIE Equality Bill to be passed into law. This would be in fulfillment of the rights as detailed in our 1987 constitution upholding the dignity of all persons under the equal protection clause.
Its earliest version can be traced back to two decades ago when Akbayan Partylist Rep. Etta Rosales and the late Senator Miriam Santiago first filed the Anti-Discrimination Bill in Congress. Years have passed and despite the lobbying of activists, the prevailing struggles of the community remain, with the bill still impending legislation.
Senator Risa Hontiveros, who first filed the SOGIE Equality Bill in the Senate in 2016, promised the community in a virtual solidarity speech that she will be with us throughout the fight until equality is ours. “Magsisimula na ang 19th Congress, the drumbeat for equality is getting louder and louder,” she says during the Pasay Pride march.
The challenge to keep themselves protected remains and is magnified in their regular day-to-day life because of the absence of this law, particularly in seeking safe spaces for the community to freely celebrate their identities.
And there’s been no shortage of cases of hate crimes and gender-based violence recorded every year. In a report by Fuller Project, at least 50 transgender or gender nonbinary individuals have been murdered in the Philippines since 2010.
Retracing history as we enter a new administration
Rey Valmores-Salinas, Bahaghari Chairperson, also raises that the nearing change in the administration calls for a greater need to go back to our history, “Ang Pride Month kasi na ito, it’s unique, it’s historic. This is the Pride Month na papunta tayo sa susunod na administration. Kaya napakahalaga na balikan ang anim na taon, including ang pandemic years at tingnan kung paano natrato ang LGBT.”
In 2019, Gretchen Diez, a trans woman, was barred from using the women's comfort room of a mall in Cubao despite the Gender Fair Ordinance in Quezon City. In 2020, President Rodrigo Duterte granted an absolute pardon to the killer of Jennifer Laude, undermining years’ worth of fighting for justice.
Valmores-Salinas adds, “Ngayon, isa itong opportunity para hamunin ang susunod na pangulo na isulong ang karapatan ng LGBT. Kagaya ng pagkakaroon ng SOGIE Equality Bill, same-sex marriage, at iba pang pagkapantay-pantay sa iba’t ibang espasyo.”
Bongbong Marcos, the president-elect, is yet to express a concrete platform to ensure the safety and protection of the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community.
Giney Villar, first Coordinator of the Womyn Supporting Womyn Centre, a lesbian rights
NGO, also underlines that our history and the actions we take now have implications for what the future holds. “Ano ba ang kinabukasan kundi ang pinagkabit kabit na ngayon,” Villar says.
Villar further notes that to learn from the mistakes of our past, we have to revisit our history and keep asserting our rights as homophobia and misogyny are still within our ranks, “Kaya importante na maging mapanuri sa sarili nating karanasan at ang pag-alam ng ating kasaysayan.”
Celebrating all colors of the spectrum
With the Pride March serving as an avenue to freely express our truth and individuality, groups and individuals dressed in drag and as beauty queens flooded the parade. Attendees were all masked up, a striking contrast from celebrations of previous years as the world enters the third year of the pandemic.
Nicky Castillo, overall co-coordinator of Metro Manila Pride, mentions challenges to staging this year’s event: “Definitely balancing fundraising, shifting contingency and protocols for safety and security. It was also really important for us to gather information to ensure the theme is reflective of the community’s insights to truly make it a community-centered call, especially since the socio-political landscape has changed and continues to change so much.”
What remained the same this year was the participation of various sectors and members of the community. Many were carrying placards to voice out their support and conviction for issues affecting LGBTQIA+ rights, with calls for climate change action, workplace inclusivity, ending impunity, and minimum wage hike, among others.
Reverend Joseph San Jose who is part of the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) in Marikina, was one of the representatives who marched from the religious sector. MMC is one of the organizers of what is considered to be the first Pride March in the Philippines held on June 26, 1994. “In a country of conservatives, where religion is known to have prejudice towards the LGBTQIA+ community, our presence in the parade leaves a big statement,” he said.
As Pride brings inclusivity and diversity to the forefront, intersex individuals also marched to ask for visibility within the community. Dale Gregory Medina, a public school teacher, recently became a member of Intersex Philippines. He has been attending Pride Marches since 2018. “Mas special ‘tong Pride na ‘to kasi kasama ko ‘yung grupo ko, kasama ko ‘yung identity ko,” shares Medina. “I want people to know that our bodies are not a disease and that we are also part of the LGBTQIA+.” Intersex Philippines’ co-founder, Jeff Cagandahan, is the first Filipino permitted by the Supreme Court to change name and gender markers.
Post-march, the celebration went full swing with drag performances, DJ sets, and solidarity speeches from trade unionists, church leaders, and other various sectors recognizing the struggles of the members of the community, including those part of our indigenous groups.
As we all yearn for the fateful day for the SOGIE Equality Bill to be enacted into law, one thing is certain, the community will continue to march and fight back, however arduous the journey may be. There is no certainty of what the future holds, but let Pride celebrations be a reminder that the fight against backward ideologies and socio-economic injustices must go beyond the march itself. Hope and resistance will refuse to die out when the battle for equality is far from over.