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How Pride Marches began in the Philippines and where they're going

By John Patrick Magno Ranara Published Jun 13, 2024 3:10 pm Updated Jun 30, 2024 3:23 pm

The month of June may see dark and gloomy weather, but the LGBTQ+ community is here to make everything bright as a rainbow with their annual Pride Month celebrations.

Pride Month shines the spotlight on the queer community and is dedicated to uplifting their voices, culture, and rights through various activities—whether it be wearing dazzling outfits, attending lively concerts, supporting fundraisers, or just simply raising your rainbow flag during marches.

Now that it’s that time of the year again, PhilSTAR L!fe is marking the occasion by exploring the beginnings of Pride Month in the Philippines and whether the commemorations are helping the community move forward in society.

How the rainbow was formed

Pride Month typically culminates near the end of June with large public demonstrations in the form of marches, parades, concerts, and more. 

These open-access events wouldn’t be here today if not for the LGBTQ+ groups who gathered and marched in 1970 through Manhattan.

The activists organized this to commemorate the Stonewall Riots anniversary and called it the “Christopher Street Liberation March”—which would later be known as the first Gay Pride Parade.

Since then, their inspiring act to empower their own community and protest against issues that have been adopted by other states in the US, and it wasn’t long until other countries from all over the world began to hold their own marches. These include Italy, Taiwan, Singapore, Poland, and of course, the Philippines.

One of the very first Pride Marches held by Filipinos happened in 1992 when a lesbian contingent called Lesbian Collective participated in the International Women’s Day march in March of that year.

Another demonstration took place in 1994, co-organized by the Metropolitan Community Church in Manila, the first LGBTQIA+ Affirming Christian church in the Philippines.

Unlike the extravagant marches today that see thousands of people showing up, this one was only composed of some 50 members of the Progressive Organization of Gays and the Metropolitan Community Church, who marched from Quezon Boulevard to the Quezon Memorial Circle.

Despite the low number of attendees, it still had the distinction of being the first Pride March in Asia.

"The courage and dedication to stage this march, blasted as a day for and by the LGBT, broke barriers in a country where gay people were never expected to be visible, let alone seen speaking out on numerous national issues plaguing the LGBT community," Reyna Valmores, chairperson of Bahaghari, told PhilSTAR L!fe.

Thanks to the courage of these groups, it paved the way for the larger Lesbian and Gay Pride March in 1996.

Rev. Joseph San Jose, Pastor of Open Table Metropolitan Community Church, said that these first marches are significant to the LGBTQ+ community as “someone had to start something from somewhere to instigate or trigger things to get going.”

“The Lesbian March during the Women’s March, for me, highlighted the importance of queer women in the women’s movement and in our own LGBTQIA+ movement, and that the oppression and liberation of LGBTQIA+ people are rooted and connected with the oppression and liberation of our sisters, mothers, and women in general,” San Jose said.

“The 1994 Pride March highlights the first time that queer people organized themselves for themselves by themselves in their own march,” he added.

However, Valmores said that there have been many other watershed moments pivotal to the community that deserve to be recognized. These include the formation of UP Babaylan—the first LGBT organization in Asia—in 1992, and the ratification of marriage equality across the organs of the Communist Party of the Philippines in 1992, which is the first modern government to do so.

How Pride Marches have evolved

According to San Jose, it was in the year 2015 that Philippine Pride Marches saw significant growth.

At the time, the 21st Metro Manila Pride March was held in the streets of Luneta Park and was still being managed by Task Force Pride (TFP), the convenor of the annual community-driven Metro Manila Pride Season. A report by The LaSallian detailed that over 1,500 LGBTQ+ supporters registered for the event that year.

Come 2016, Metro Manila Pride (MM Pride) became a formal organization and took over from the community consortium of TFP. The crowds grew even larger, with 4,500 waving their rainbow flags in the air.

The succeeding years saw the same success, attracting an estimated 7,718 attendees in 2017, 20,000 to 25,000 in 2018, and an astonishing 70,000 in 2019.

Pride month celebrations in the Philippines have grown bigger and more abundant over the years. From only a handful of organizations organizing events mainly in Metro Manila, we now see many formations across the archipelago organizing Pride marches in their respective locations with the number of attendees growing year by year,” Valmores told L!fe.

“Visibility for the LGBTQIA+ community has skyrocketed, with more LGBT organizations blossoming, becoming politically involved, and making legislative efforts to protect LGBTQIA+ rights,” she added.

After the Metro Manila Pride March became increasingly celebrated over the years, Filipinos soon voiced out the need for other parts of the country to hold their own Pride Marches, like in Iloilo, Cebu, Zamboanga, and Cagayan De Oro.

This was to “highlight the lives, struggles, and specific context of LGBTQIA+ Filipinos” in those areas and enlighten others that LGBTQIA+ Filipinos “exist and struggle in every city, town, and barangay in the country,” according to San Jose.

With social media giving greater access to LGBTQIA+ content and representation, he believes that the “Filipino consciousness is shifting towards greater and greater tolerance and hopefully towards social acceptance even as legislation lags behind.”

Nevertheless, Valmores stressed that “difficulties and challenges from the early years remain,” noting that queer Filipinos are still denied civil and democratic rights, whether in terms of marriage equality, gender recognition, and more.

Are the marches making an impact?

In 2023, it appears that discrimination against the rainbow community is still far from becoming extinct. The question now stands: Are queer people achieving what needs to be achieved through their Pride Marches, or are they wasting their time chasing after rainbows?

San Jose noted, “One of the primary intentions of the Pride Marches in the early and mid 90s is to highlight that LGBTQIA+ people exist. We are here. We have rights. We have struggles. To bring awareness to our existence in the wider public and bring forth discussions.”

“Conducting the annual Pride Marches highlights all of that and so much more. Therefore, we are achieving that with the ever-growing tolerance of the wider public with LGBTQIA+ individuals, couples, and families,” he added.

Since lawmakers are still debating on the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity/Expression or SOGIE Bill, the Philippines has yet to have a national law that punishes discrimination on the basis of sex, gender identity or expression.

“Despite progress, LGBTQIA+ individuals still face discrimination, harassment, and violence. Achieving full equality and protection under the law remains an ongoing struggle,” Valmores said.

She underscored that there is still “immense work to be done to ensure concrete legal protections and the full enjoyment of rights for the LGBTQIA+ community, not only on an individual level but comprehensively, in the realm of Philippine culture, economy, and politics.”

But the skies aren’t completely bleak as a number of local government units have enacted their own ordinances to safeguard their queer residents. These include the capital Manila, and major cities such as Quezon City, Iloilo City, Cebu City, Davao City, Baguio, and more.

“About 14 to 15 years ago, you [would] never see any LGBTQIA+ couple holding hands or even kissing in public. Now, I see them in MRT and the malls, and when I try to check if someone will approach them to say something negative, nothing,” San Jose said.

He continued, “There’s an increase of bravery among the younger generation to be unapologetic of their relationships and their gender expressions in public and in social media.”

Marching to the future

There’s no denying the color that Pride Marches have brought into what could have been a bleak life led by the LGBTQ+ community.

But the issues they face still persist, which is why several organizations are once again preparing to hold their respective Pride events to not only help queer people take pride in their identities, but to also raise awareness of the various problems plaguing the LGBTQ+ community.

This year, San Jose hopes that human rights abuses, red-tagging, state-terrorism, labor issues, and economic hardships happening worldwide should also be given attention to, as Pride “is not an isolated and separated struggle.”

“We should be concerned with the impacts of climate change on our lives and future. We should be concerned with the integrity of our territories in the West Philippine Sea,” San Jose said.

For Valmores, she shared that their organization aims to shed light on the passage of the SOGIE Bill as “it is way past time for us not to have a national anti-discrimination bill.”

They also want to highlight the 10th death anniversary of Jennifer Laude, the transgender woman who was slaughtered by US soldier Joseph Scott Pemberton, who had been released last 2020 after only six years in “VIP detention.”

Apart from these, Valmores wishes to shed light on national issues that disproportionately affect the queer community, such as pushing for equal pay for equal work.

“How could LGBTQIA+ Filipinos talk about living with dignity when we could scarcely afford to live at all?” she said.

In the years to come, Valmores believes that Pride “must first and foremost be a protest” so long as “discrimination, violence, and other manifestations of gender-based exploitation persist.”

“As the saying goes, LGBTQIA+ issues are people’s issues, and people’s issues are LGBTQIA+ issues,” she said. “More and more LGBTQIA+ formations must integrate with the masses and stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the fight for safe spaces, higher wages, and democratic rights.”

San Jose, on the other hand, hopes that these events should continue to be “a balance of protest and celebration,” where people raise awareness of intersectional injustices while also cheering for the community’s achievements and colorful diversity.

“I look forward to the time and world where there’s no longer a need to organize any pride march because every queer child is accepted, every couple blessed, every person and family has enough, all wars have ceased, and everyone is living in harmony while celebrating the diversity of the human family and all of creation,” he said.