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Finding love in a hopeless place with the Golden Gays of Manila

By Yra Luis Gener Gutierrez Published Jun 09, 2023 5:00 am

It’s a warm Wednesday afternoon, and the sunlight peeks into a house in a narrow alley of Pasay City. The Home for the Golden Gays of Manila is a small apartment filled with big portraits of their members in drag and full faces of makeup, not too different from pageant queens and iconic artists. Beyond the crowns and gowns, the house is also brimming with warmth and love; it is a hopeful place for senior gay men in a bustling city where community rarely comes as much as it goes.

“‘Yung salitang sisterhood, applicable sa amin ‘yun dahil ang tagal na naming magkakasama,” shared the group’s president, 73-year-old Ramon Busa. The Golden Gays was first established in the 1970s by Justo Justo, a Pasay City councilor, columnist, and LGBTQ+ activist. Currently, they have 19 members, all performers and showgirls.

Home for the Golden Gays of Manila is a small apartment filled with big portraits of their members in drag and full faces of makeup, not too different from pageant queens and iconic artists.

Ramon, who goes by Monique de la Rue or Lola Mon, added that it is love and friendship that binds the community together.

Beyond a feeling, love is a way of surviving

For the Golden Gays, love is an act of consistently caring and looking out for each other. “Tulungan, suportahan. (That’s) one way of surviving,” said Rico Ramasamy, 68, also known as Lola Rico.

Manuel Busa, 72, the group’s long-time staff and Lola Mon’s younger brother, knows exactly how to care for the lolas. “Bago magpuntahan ang mga lola sa isang event, nakaayos na lahat. Unang-una, tarpaulin, silya, at lamesa. Habang nagme-makeup, nagpre-prepare ka nang (suotan sila) ng sapatos kasi hindi sila pwede yumuko. Tapos mga bra, wig, aalalayan mo magsuot.”

The Golden Gays dream of a future where every queer Filipino has a place they can call home.

Love also means teaching the next generation of gay men to always cultivate a safe space for their community. “Mayroon kaming silver gays, so sila rin mismo mino-mold namin. (Tinuturo namin na), unang-una, love, love, love—wala nang iba kung hindi love. Kasi ‘pag wala ‘yan, the group will be dissolved,” Lola Rico explained.

“Dito, love and sharing are never-ending,” Elizabeth, 71, added. “Isa kaming helping hand and shoulder to cry on.”

Calling for genuine acceptance

The home remains open to provide shelter and care for elderly queer people with nowhere else to go—the same mission it had when it was first opened. This is a testament to the enduring love of found family, but also a sobering realization that despite considerable progress, rejection, and discrimination are still prominent shared experiences for queer Filipinos.

Rico Reyes

“Ang culture noon, iba. ‘Pag nagkaroon ng bayot na anak ang isang family, ikinakahiya nila ‘yun, itinuturing nila ‘yang sakit sa lipunan—curse kung tawagin,” Lola Mon said. “Nangyari rin dito sa Pilipinas ‘yung (pagturing) ng clinical practitioners at World Health Organization (WHO) sa homosexuality (bilang) mental disorder. Nakakaawa at nakakalungkot.”

“(Idineklara) ng WHO na hindi mental disorder ang homosexuality on May 17, 1990, na pinangalanan nilang International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia,” Lola Rico continued.

Tricia Javier

This proves that legislation and culture change often go hand-in-hand, often reflecting and reinforcing each other. “‘Yung acceptance (para sa LGBTQ+), wala hanggang ngayon. Mayroon tayong sinuslong na Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Expression Equality (SOGIE) Bill na siyang magbibigay protection sa LGBTQ+ community. Kung ito ay maipapasa sa senate—kasi mula 2000 hanggang ngayon, nakabitin pa—protection ‘yan ng queer community,” Lola Mon argued.

Contrary to the popular misconception that the SOGIE Bill grants “special rights” to the LGBTQ+ community, Lola Mon listed some of its benefits: “Magkakaroon tayo ng access sa mga public accommodation, mga government grants. Mabibigyan tayo ng karapatan na gamitin ang health facilities, tsaka jury system. Mabibigyan tayo ng equal treatment pagdating sa mga kasuhan at civil cases.”

Monique de la Rue

These are essential rights that everyone should be entitled to, no questions asked. “‘Yan ang tanging susi: SOGIE Bill!” Lola Rico exclaimed.

It’s undeniable that love is a cornerstone of the home, but it remains a band-aid solution to the material struggles of the Golden Gays. “Panahon ngayon ng mga milyon na condominium. Ang tataas ng bilihin sa malls. Tapos ang Golden Gays, andito lang (sa bahay na nirerentahan). Parang hindi akma,” Elizabeth said. We are reminded, yet again, that they came together due to institutional neglect, due to systems that fail to provide social safety nets, especially to people in the margins.

Evangeline Pascual
Hopes for the future

“Main mission (namin) ay sanctuary, kanlungan, pagkain para sa mga indigent and abandoned senior gay men, mga bading,” Lola Mon declared. “Ang aming vision ay magkaroon sana (kami) ng isang permanenteng residence na angkop sa pangangailangan ng Golden Gays.”

Being abandoned by their families and living in the streets is one of the many injustices that senior gay men face. Lola Mon shared that the younger generation is worried about this reality; “Saan kami pupunta ‘pag senior na kami?” has been a big question for queer Filipinos. “Home kasi ang habol namin talaga. From this magkakaroon pa kami ng more opportunities to accommodate ang ibang members, kasi dumadami talaga ang gays sa paligid na walang mapuntahan.”

“Dito, love and sharing are never-ending,” Lola Elizabeth (upper left), 71, said.

Lola Rico continued: “Kapag wala na tayo, kawawa sila. Kailangan iniisip natin sila at ang ikagaganda ng situation nila.”

And while it’s true that we have come a long way, Tricia Javier, another member of the group, reminded us: “Kailangan ng unity and understanding.” These are important in fighting for genuine change and making sure our collective voice is heard.

Onstage, the Golden Gays of Manila are the ultimate performers. Their passion for their craft makes every show exciting to watch, bringing joy to every single person in the audience. This is all rooted in love—for themselves, their sisters, and the next generations of queer Filipinos, including me. Talking to the Golden Gays, I’m reminded of why the LGBTQ+ community comes together, especially during Pride: to continue what the queer people before us have started and to pave new ways for us, and for those who will come after.