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In Search of the Pink Peso

The concept of the pink currency had a “breakthrough” in July 1991, when the conservative Wall Street Journal referred to the gay and lesbian community as a “dream market.” With a buying power in billions in the US alone, is it time to finally recognize the power of the pink peso?

The 17th Philippine Advertising Congress (AdCong) ran an “unusual commercial” that aimed to heighten the awareness on the group that, for many, is still not considered a “real market:” the Filipino gay market.

The ad starts with the footage of a man jogging. As he catches women’s attention, literally turning their heads, he is accompanied by the succession of demographic texts:

“Single. 29 years old. Athletic. P1.3 million annual salary. Is he your market?”

As the man stops to catch his breath, he turns to find an attractive woman who is openly eyeing him. He smiles at her direction – but, it turns out, he is actually looking at a handsome – albeit bookish – man sitting behind her. The next shot shows the two men facing each other, nearly kissing; followed by the closing shot of the two of them walking down a beach boardwalk into the sunset, arms on each other, as the message to advertisers flashes: “Talk to him straight.”

Interestingly, while the ad came out in 2000, nothing else has been done to progress the pink peso concept, thereby failing to raise the awareness of the existence of the buying power of the Filipino LGBT community – and, arguably, even the recognition that there is an existing LGBT market, and it is one to contend with.

EMERGENCE OF A MARKET

Supposedly, the concept of the pink currency had a “breakthrough” in July 1991, when the conservative Wall Street Journal referred to the gay and lesbian community as a “dream market.” And it may actually truly be, considering that gay Americans alone are estimated to have spend over $610 billion in 2005.

The figures are, however, mere estimates, mainly because accurately determining the number of sexual minorities – as a requisite to measuring their power – is, as it stands, difficult, with the complexities of, among others, self-identification, definitions of terms, survey methodologies, et cetera. In 2001, Canada’s census bureau found 1.24 million gays and lesbians, which totals to 8.1% of the population – though the figure may actually be higher, considering many continue to not self-identify with the community for fear of social repercussions. Also in 2001, in Australia, over 19,500 same-sex couples reported themselves to the census, equaling 1.5% of all the country’s couples. In 2002, report from The Netherlands, the first country to recognize gay marriage, found 50,000 gay couples, which is 25% higher than five years before the survey. And in the periods of 1989-1990, and 1999-2001, in Great Britain, the National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles identified 19,000 and 11,000 people, respectively, to have “detailed results about sexual experiences with same-sex partners.”

Generally, though, the widely accepted estimate of the total number of LGBTs is from 4% to 10% of the total population (though the Kinsey and Janus studies in 1948 and 1993, respectively, place the number of bisexuals between 22% and 37% of the population). Thus, in the Philippines, if the concept is to be followed, there are approximately 8.6 million – give or take – Filipino LGBTs, basing on the 86 million estimated total number of Filipinos.

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A clearer picture may be illustrated by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) national survey on the situation of the Filipino youth in 1998 (studies done in 1996), wherein 5% of the (surveyed) young males are said to prefer to be females, and 7% of the females prefer to be males. Interestingly, 23% of the males claimed that gender preference “does not matter,” and 30% of the females claimed the same.

The ensuing recognition that this figure exists as a market is the premise on which the pink currency stands on.

IN ABSENTIA

According to PR practitioner L.A. Acosta, the industry easily “dismisses the presence of the pink market because, gender-wise, there still remain only two markets: male and female,” she said, stressing that, “at least in the Philippines, anyway.”

In her experience, “thus far, the needs of the stereotypical gays (read: “flaming faggots”) are already answered by female products, while the non-stereotypical gays (read: butch), as well as those still in the closet are answered by male products,” she said.

In an earlier interview with Newsbreak, Carla Ong of Ogilvy & Mather agreed. “They are a potentially profitable market, but we are still not zeroing in on them,” she said. “Companies think they are a small segment, (and) they also don’t want to be identified with the gays because their bigger markets might be compromised.”

Thus, in the Philippines at least, the pink market is there, but is not really there.

Overseas, the figures – though not necessarily representing the real goings-on in the community – are impressively stacking up, e.g. the 1998 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras injected A$99 million into the Australian economy, and the 8,000 (2,500 foreigners) gay men said to have participated in Singapore’s annual Nation party pulling in S$6 million.

No wonder that, already, various establishments of various industries have been gearing towards responding to this market.

For one, international tourism has “dipped its finger” into this development, with the establishment of such online sites as OutandAbout.com, QTMagazine.com, GayTravel.com, BlueWay.com, LambdaResorts.com, PurpleRoofs.com, Damron.com and GayHotelsGuide.com – all of them featuring gay and gay-friendly venues to go to; as well as the re-creation of various destinations, such as New York, Amsterdam, Sydney, and Thailand, among the many, to capture the pink market. Secondly, gay lit was established (just as chick lit was), to specifically cater to the literary needs of LGBTs – and is even moved a notch higher when the stories make it to film, with the success of, among others, Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain, and, earlier, If These Walls Could Talk II, The Birdcage, Crying Game, et cetera. And thirdly, and still in show business, there were already steps taken to “mainstream-ize LGBT,” with the success of Will & Grace, Queer As Folk, et cetera.

Arguably, the Internet is the best source of information – as well as corroboration – of the growing recognition, at least elsewhere, of he pink market, and its currency, with numerous sites focusing on the LGBT community, e.g. PlanetOut.com, which was founded in 1995 by Tom Reilly as a portal serving online gay and lesbian communities; 365Gay.com, which started as a daily news source, though has now grown to include other contents on health, ravel, entertainment, et cetera; and GayWired.com, which pioneered gay retailing online, offering gay and lesbian themed videos, music, calendars, et cetera to these communities.

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Fortunately, although slow, some moves are already happening locally.

For one, there are already three publications specifically catering to the LGBT market – though even this claim is, of course, contentious, since the LGBT community is not defined yet in the Philippines, therefore the publications only respond to a some in the diversified community (e.g. gays exposed to the Western concept for Icon and GP magazines, and the stereotypical gays for Valentino), thereby failing to unify LGBTs (and, arguably, even alienating the members from each other).

Secondly, Circuit Asia, for example, organizes a series of parties, as is done overseas for Filipino gays (the target market, as well as their token fag hags and other non-homosexual friends), with the ticket prices ranging from over P500 to well beyond P1,000, which is a somewhat substantial amount in a country with under P350 as the minimum daily wage.

Thirdly, there is an emerging theme of gay-related discourses in cinema and theater, with the likes of Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros and Zsazsa Zaturnnah: Ze Muzikal getting raves, and actually doing well in the (mainstream) box-office.

All the same, the pink peso – if the concept of pink dollar is to be followed – is nowhere near visible, but is often incidental.

BEYOND THE MONEY

And this may be the case for a while yet because of various factors, including the still big influence (even if the influence is unjust, and even inhuman) in the predominantly Christian country of the Roman Catholic Church, which continues to openly ostracize LGBTs (while covering up heterosexual sexual acts of erring church officials); the “conflict” of the members of the LGBT community (segregationist tendencies of the straight-acting or pa-mhin and the effeminate or pa-girl), which continues to prevent it from forming a unified group; and the expectations from the Filipino families’ non-marrying members (to support their families instead of “wasting” their money elsewhere, e.g. indulging oneself, et cetera, which are the usual activities made by LGBTs in other countries).

Thus, while going to the gym is a normal activity of gay guys in, say, the US, the same is not necessarily true to gay Filipinos, who, because they are not married anyway, are expected to spend their money on their unmarried siblings to help the parents out (though, admittedly, this is the same expectation from unmarried non-homosexual siblings, though they are somewhat freed of the expectation the moment they marry). Also, while gay Britons or Europeans can afford to book a cruise ship to travel to, say, Seychelles, gay Filipinos can only gather in mainly domestic destinations, such as Puerto Galera – and, for that matter, still without necessarily self-identifying as traveling gay guys.

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In an earlier Newsbreak interview, Ferdie Buenviaje, who used to head TLF Share Collective, a non-government umbrella of gay organizations, said that it is understandable for companies to have apprehensions when it comes to targeting LGBTs because it is difficult to segregate a predominantly invisible market. “It is unrealistic to lump all members of the gay organizations to come up with a representative number of gays here because memberships are very fluid,” he was quoted as saying. “(So) openly targeting the gay market is economically risky.”

It is thus interesting to note that, overseas, the concept of the pink currency is already moving in different directions. Among others, there are those who advance the concept as nothing but just a myth. MV Lee Badget of the University of Maryland in the US revealed in her study that “some gay and lesbian people are wealthy, some are poor, and most are somewhere in the middle along with the majority of heterosexual people.” And, already, there have been backlashes in the use of the pink currency to advance gay rights. According to the Hobart-based Community and Family Rights Council, “compared to women, the disabled, elderly and indigenous Australians, homosexuals as a class seem to be economically, socially and politically successful according to their own publicity, and do not qualify for legal protection.”

The Philippines is, however, still far from having to discuss the pros and cons of using the pink currency as a means to attain political ends that will rally the LGBT community’s rights. Therefore, while outside the Philippines there are already calls to “put the pink (currency) in perspective,” locally, the struggle remains more basic – the identification, and subsequent acknowledgment, of the existence of a gay market.

But whether the pink peso exists or not, said E. Lopena, who owns and runs beauty salon Top Touch in Cotabato City in southern Philippines, should be “inconsequential.” “May pera man sila o wala, hindi mawawala ang mga bakla,” he said. Thus, in his experience, although he has the money to spend on whatever he wants, money “is not necessarily the issue, but on whether it helps advance our rights.”

For now, the advancement of LGBT rights is as evasive as the pink peso. So AdCong’s 29 year-old athletic gay guy who owns P1.3 million may, indeed, walk down a beach boardwalk with his newfound geeky boyfriend – but they are definitely not walking into the sunset.

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  1. Pingback: Support pink | Outrage Magazine

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