Thursday, June 29, 2017

A Day of Rainbows: Being Together in the Biggest Philippine Pride March So Far

About 7,000 people, members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) community, and straight allies, gathered at the Plaza de los Alcaldes in the city proper of Marikina in the afternoon of June 24, 2017, for the 2017 Metro Manila Pride March to celebrate diversity; show solidarity; be visible; assert rights; and call for an end to discrimination, homophobia, transphobia, bullying, marginalization and other issues the LGBTQ+ faces.
It was the biggest pride march in the country thus far, in terms of attendance. It was also graced with more visibility from other sectors of the LGBTQ+ and saw more support from businesses and straight allies.
The Metro Manila Gay Pride March has been held for twenty-three years now, making it the longest-running in Southeast Asia. It has been held in December, coinciding with related human rights events such as Human Rights Week, World AIDS Day (December 1), Philippine National Lesbian Day (December 8) and International Human Rights Day (December 10), as well as in June, widely regarded as Pride Month, which started as the commemoration of the Stonewall riots in New York in 1969, a important moment in the LGBTQ+ struggle. The marches were held in Manila, Makati City and Quezon City, supported by local government units.
This year, Marikina City, at the northeastern part of Metro Manila, hosted the event, with its mayor Marcelino “Marcy” Teodoro expressing support to the community and emphasizing acceptance rather than tolerance.
The 2017 theme, “Here Together,” emphasized inclusiveness and solidarity—“for family, for friends. For those who march with us and for those who can’t. For safe spaces, for rights, for love, and for pride.”
The LGBTQ+ pride march is first and foremost a form of protest as much as it is a celebration. It almost always appears like a party, and it is a manifestation of the character of many members of the sector, especially the gay men. They are known for their predilection for showiness, as well as their ability to transform their plight and adverse situations into something funny, a coping mechanism as well as a form of resiliency. But the happiness and gaiety shown at the march are also manifestations of protest, a show of strength and persistence, rising above from the many downs.
“At its core, pride is protest. It is our small contribution to help elevate the discourse on how LGBTQ+ rights are human rights and that each life is as equally important as the next person. While we always aim for an empowering, affirmative, inclusive, and fun safe space for all, we always reiterate that pride started as a protest, and that’s what we’ll always circle back to,” said Loreen OrdoƱo, a member of the organizing committee.
Aside from numerous issues the march was addressing, the passing of the Anti-Discrimination Bill was a major one.
“Seventeen years ago, then-Akbayan party-list representative Etta Rosales filed the first Anti-Discrimination Bill in Congress. Seventeen years after, andito pa rin tayo, nagmamartsa para sa pagkakapantay-pantay at para sa kalayaang umibig,” said Risa Hontiveros, an activist, a long-time ally of the LGBTQ+ movement and currently a senator.
The bill is now in the senate, a major achievement.
A keynote speaker of the pride march, Hontiveros continued, “We celebrate Pride this week remembering that the issues we marched for decades ago are the same issues now. We hear of kids getting bullied in school, of trans people refused of employment, of gay people heckled on the streets. In an independent study by the UNDP, in the first half of 2011 alone, 28 LGBT-related killings were reported in the country,” she continued. “These numbers are extremely alarming. They represent a deadly and irrational prejudice against those who do not conform to the traditional notion of sexual identity and orientation and a deep-seated hate that we refuse to acknowledge and address. For a country seen by many as liberal and tolerant of different views, the Philippines still has a long way to go in protecting the rights and lives of the LGBT community.”
She also criticized the national government and President Rodrigo Duterte, known for his sexist speech and disdain of human rights: “The Duterte government’s attitude towards this problem is also troubling. While many governments chose to respond positively and pro-actively to this issue, the Philippine government has chosen to default. In the recent vote in the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to retain the Independent Expert on Discrimination and Violence against LGBTIQs, the Philippines abstained. Citing our lack of policy against discrimination, the Duterte government has chosen to renege on our human rights obligations. We let hate win.”
She continued: “The macho-politics of Duterte have failed LGBT hopes. While he paraded himself as an ally during the campaign season, promising same-sex marriage in the Philippines, he turned back on his promise not one year into his term. The change he promised became an endless parade of strongman tactics that preyed on the vulnerable. This is why today, my brothers and sisters, we march. We assert the safe space of your community and celebrate the struggle under the banner of equality.”
“We march for Jennifer Laude who was murdered in a classic trans-panic excuse. We march for Jake Zyrus, ridiculed by many for his brave transition. We march for the kids who get bullied in school. We march for those who can’t,” Hontiveros stated. “Friends, love is the currency of our struggle. Love trumps hate. Love will win. Mga kasama, we will win.”
Aside from Hontiveros, another major personality who marched and showed support to the community was iconic actress Nora Aunor. Unlike those in other countries, especially the United States, where many celebrities show solidarity with the LGBTQ+, the local march is almost always devoid of showbiz personalities.
Ang tao iba’t iba ang kulay. Lahat pantay-pantay. Lahat may karapatan magmahal anuman ang kasarian nila (People are of different colors. All are equal. All have the right to love anyone, whatever the gender),” Aunor said.
While not present, other celebrities expressed support through social media such as Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach, actress Saab Magalona, singer Jake Zyrus (formerly known as Charice Pempengco) and designer Francis Libiran. Vice President Leni Robredo made a video message for the march, expressing encouragement, becoming the first high-ranking government official to express support for the march.
The Metro Manila Pride March events started at 12 noon with the opening of the Proud Street Fair, showcasing LGBTQ+ and LGBTQ-friendly enterprises. Official Pride merchandises were made available, as well as clothing, accessories, souvenirs and memorabilia, and food.
Sebastian’s Ice Cream sold rainbow popsicles and Moonleaf Tea Shop offered its special Love Equality drink. Precious Pages showcased its Pride Lit, said to be the first imprint dedicated to LGBTQ+ stories, which publishes mostly romance and comics.
The march itself began at four in the afternoon and went around the Marikina City Hall complex. The participants mostly came from different organizations, most of which were LGBTQ+. There were arts and culture groups, faith-based organizations, grassroots and community organizations, human rights advocacy groups, civil society organizations, support groups and student groups. There was even a group of deaf LGBTQ+.
Marchers came from different parts of Metro Manila, as well as from other parts of the country including as far as General Santos City.
The biggest contingent came from businesses including multinational companies such as Telus International Philippines, Concentrix, IBM, American Express, Thomson Reuters and Shell Pilipinas. Marches in previous years were mostly composed of non-governmental organizations and supportive individuals.
“We could not get a single corporate sponsor before,” said Lara Sia, co-founder of Side B, an organization of bisexuals, who had helped organize past marches.
Sia is also a training Leader with Concentrix for four years now. The business process outsourcing (BPO) company debuted in this year’s Pride March.
Concentrix is one of biggest BPO in the country with about 22,000 employees and 65 clients, according to Sia, who was in the march to push for diversity and inclusion in the corporate level and recognition in the national level, among others.
Hazel Ludovice, straight ally, regional marketing and corporate communications Leader of Concentrix, and an executive committee member of the company, pushed for their participation in the march.
“The BPO [industry] in general, specifically Concentrix, is supportive of the LGBTQ+ community. For us it’s really about diversity. We don’t really care about your sexual orientation. What’s important to us is delivering quality work to our clients,” she said.
It is notable that all of the participating businesses were international ones, many of which were BPOs.
“I think it’s because we’re open-minded,” said Ludovice. “We believe in gender equality, and also the capability of each person to contribute, not measuring them on their sexual orientation.”
“A lot of the BPOs have global bases. When the global base supports diversity and inclusion, that trickles to the Philippines,” Sia explained.
With the participation of businesses, there was also a significant increase of participation among straight people. Previously, straight people and businesses stayed away from the Pride March like it’s a plague, careful not to be suspected of being gay as if it is the dirtiest of stains. Now, the climate is freer, more positive and more understanding, encouraged by visibility of straight allies in other parts of the world.
While the previous years’ marches were known to have numerous drag queens and trans women, this year saw more visibility from other sectors such as the trans men. There were also many first-timers who posted photos and experiences, ranging from the jubilant to the inspiring, in their social media accounts, and the Pride March’s Facebook page. 
A show and party were held after the parade, featuring several performers including impersonators Divalicious Mariah, Gorgeous Dawn and Lady Gagita; garage punk group Flying Ipis; indie folk rock artist TheSunManager; The Voice of the Philippines semi-finalist Rita Martinez; Theater in Alternative Platforms, which is known for its “Ampalaya Monologues;” spoken word group Words Anonmous; and poet Wanggo Gallaga.
This year’s Metro Manila Pride March was, indeed, the biggest in many aspects. It is heartening to see that many Millennials joined, marched and celebrated, picking up the cudgels from their predecessors of activists. Most likely, the magnitude is a result of years of indefatigably advocating and voicing out for LGBTQ+ rights despite being ignored; being inspired by the positive developments in the LGBTQ+ struggle around the world; and the current state of uncertainty and of disregard and mocking of human rights, galvanizing the community.
A small group of evangelicals preaching sin and doom was also present as usual, and there was threat of rain, but they remained at the fringes, their increasingly angry voices inundated by show of love, and the rain just came as a light drizzle to lessen the heat. Instead, the heaven culminated the day with rainbows.

Senator Risa Hontiveros

Nora Aunor