Last June 24, 2017, the 23rd Metro Manila Pride March was held in the streets of Marikina City. It was a sight to behold; boisterous laughter and joyous chanting filled the air as thousands of people gathered together in front of the Marikina City Hall. The usually dull grounds of the city hall were now decorated with bustling booths, colorful banners, and quirky costumes. Empowering shouts had replaced the honking of cars, as marchers paraded down the streets under the blistering heat, waving their flags up high for all the world to see. In a matter of hours, the streets of Marikina had turned into a second home for the LGBTQ+ community.
Longest running Pride Festival
The annual event continues to empower the community, and aims to support members who feel alone, trapped, and unable to be who they want to be for fear of being rejected. It couldn’t have come at a better time, with the recent transformation of singing sensation Charice Pempengco to Jake Zyrus, and the outright distaste Filipino boxing champion Manny Pacquiao showed for homosexuality just last year. It’s amazing to see how—in spite of the vehement oppositions against its members—the LGBTQ+ community continues to power on, refusing to surrender the fight for equality.
Jessie Dimaisip has been a part of the march for as long as he can remember. Being one of the long term organizers, he was part of the first core group that marched under the rainbow flag in 1994. The Philippine Pride March is, in fact, currently the longest-running one in Southeast Asia. According to Dimaisip, Pride March in the early years was a challenge to organize.
“It was very hard kasi a lot of organizations were headed by straight people who were not supportive of [pride march].” As part of Task Force Pride, Dimaisip was tasked with finding, coordinating with, and meeting up with contacts. “It’s like a butterfly spreading its wings,” says Dimaisip with a gap-toothed, enthusiastic smile. From the cocoon of 1994 to the butterfly of 2017, Pride March has come a long way in just a short span of years.
A flock of supporters
The event started on the grounds of Marikina City Hall, where booths selling merchandise served to entertain the people before the program began. As early as 11 am, an excited crowd began to line up outside the event area. Despite the sweltering heat, the marchers had wide smiles on their faces, donning their best creative outfits to properly express themselves. Flags representing various sexualities dotted the crowd of 4,000 people.
Marikina Mayor Marcelino Teodoro officially opened the event with his welcome address, followed by a keynote speech from Senator Riza Hontiveros. Both are ardent supporters of the LGBTQ+ community, who welcomed and thanked the hundreds of volunteers and marchers that enabled their plans to become reality.
At around 1 pm, the afternoon program kicked in, featuring solidarity speeches by both advocates and members of the community like Ja Quintana, Matthew Chang, Wanggo Gallaga, and Trisha O’Bannon. Sharing their own personal experiences, they preached messages of encouragement and love, as well as persevering through trials that may come.
Speaker and staunch community supporter Trisha O’Bannon has been going to Pride March for the last three years. “People will always fight for you, you don’t have to feel alone anymore,” she says, describing her own experiences growing up with a legalistically religious Catholic family.
Frank Tamayo, an intern at TEAM, an LBTGQ+ centered magazine, says that Pride has always been enjoyable, a “party with a purpose”, and a safe space to be who you are.
On the other hand, it is the second time attending Pride for Stephen Ferriols, a volunteer. “Pride is such a free and overwhelming experience,” Ferriols says, waving a large rainbow flag. “It’s being accepted everywhere without being judged.”
Aside from free HIV tests being conducted during the Pride Festival, a survey was also put out by Rainbow Right, in hopes of aiding the legislation of the long-awaited Anti-Discrimination Bill.
Grace amidst social crucifixion
Around half-past-three, enthusiastic marchers assembled at the starting point, keen on starting the parade. However, as participants were getting ready to march, anti-LGBT protesters started to rally at the entrance like moths drawn to a flame. Armed with bibles, posters, and microphones, they began hurling derogatory insults at the marchers.
Unfazed, the participants continued to assemble for the march; the presence of the protesters appeared to brighten the spirits of the community. A couple of members of the parade even performed splits and short dance numbers, as the preaches of the protestors were eventually drowned out by the chants and shouts of the marchers.
Floats dominated the streets, drag queens and transgender alike, in their festival finery, showered passers-by with flowers and blown kisses, and wave after wave of marchers flooded out of city hall. It was truly a breathtaking sight.
Organized by different groups, the parade made its way along the streets of Marikina. Banners representing the different groups such as Rainbow Rights, Filipino Freethinkers, Bahaghari-Manila, and Amnesty International were proudly toted by the participants.
Among the marchers was the President of the Filipino FreeThinkers, Red Tani, an alumni of De LaSalle University, and an ally of the LGBTQ+ community. “The Philippines is a good place to practice human rights since we’re ahead of our neighboring countries in terms of rights,” he says, regarding the Anti-Discrimination Bill. “It’s a litmus test for equality.”
A step closer
After the march, a crowd gathered around the staging area for the evening Pride Program, which was graced by the presence of Nora Aunor. Performances by local singers and creatives were next in the lineup, including Flying Ipis and Lady Gagita, among other members of the community. In the middle of the performances, a rainbow graced the skies above the event just as the sun set. Finally, to end the night, a festival dance party broke out as the marchers celebrated an overwhelmingly successful event.
Although the Philippines has opened itself up to accepting the LGBTQ+ community, it still has a long way to go. The LGBTQ+ community continues to confront bitter adversities and mockery in their daily lives—a fight they meet with the battlecry of #LoveWins. Despite all this, however, the Philippines isn’t too far from love at all. In fact, it is one step closer.