It was in 1994 when the very first Pride March was held in the Philippines (and in Asia). The Philippines was actually the pioneer in the region.
“There was no interference or harassment along the way, but a lot of noise and shouting in the ranks of the 50 or so marchers,” recalled Fr. Richard Mickley, who used to head Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) in the Philippines. MCC held a mass during that first Pride March in the Philippines.
Aside from Mickley, Oscar Atadero – then with ProGay Philippines – helped make the event happen, along with the likes of Murphy Red, et al.
Incidentally, 1994 also marked the 25th year since the “modern” lesbian and gay movement “started”, thanks to the Stonewall Inn Riot in New York.
“We recognized that we now had open, not closeted, organizations. But the movement was still quiet or unknown. We felt we needed a (local) Stonewall,” Mickley continued.
So the date was set.
The route was planned.
As the small group of LGBT organizations marched along Quezon Avenue to Quezon Memorial Circle, they were confronted by the park police and was asked, “Where are you are you going?”
“We had no assembly permit. We sat by the roadside until the activists of ProGay ironed out the stumbling block. (After it was settled), we made our way to an assembly area with a stage,” Mickley said.
But in the end, “the first Pride March brought a publicity breakthrough. The purpose of the Pride March was realized – (to show) that the gay and lesbian people of the Philippines are real people, and they are not freaks in a closet,” Mickley added.
In 1996, several LGBT organizations formed the Task Force Pride (TFP), a community-driven organization that was to be in-charge of organizing the annual Pride March in Metro Manila.
“One of the highlights of the early years was that of 1998. The Pride March was part of the contingent of the National Centennial Parade, as the Philippines celebrated 100 years of independence. Let that sink in. We marched in front of two presidents at the Quirino Grandstand, just before the transition from Fidel Ramos to Joseph Estrada,” Mickley said.
Ten years later, the LGBT movement in the Philippines grew bigger and stronger. And the fight for equal rights was – finally – in everyone’s consciousness.
TFP continued to organize the annual march – at least the one in Metropolitan Manila. As a network, it was headed by different members of the LGBT community, representing different organizations. Every decision, every move was derived from consultations by/from the participating groups and members.
“More than the celebration, what was really memorable was that despite the community coming from all walks of life and various agendas, sub agendas, locations, et al., it was great to see everyone working as one, for just one moment in a year,” Great Ancheta, one of the organizers of the 2004 and 2005 Pride celebrations, said.
There were years when Pride almost did not happen.
In 2013, Quezon City was supposed to host the annual Pride March, but the supposed organizer (the local government unit/LGU) opted to cancel the event to donate the funds collected to the victims of Typhoon Yolanda.
“I was rattled with the idea that there will be no Pride March that year. I had to call all possible LGBT advocates that could help me organize Pride in two weeks time,” Raffy Aquino, one of the organizers of the 2013 Pride celebrations, said.
Aquino – with the likes of GANDA Filipinas, Outrage Magazine and Rainbow Rights Project – reached out to different organizations and establishments in Malate (at that time still thriving as the LGBT capital of the country).
“We had more or less P5,000 in funds, which came from the previous TFP organizers. I even waited until six or seven in the evening in Manila City Hall, the day before the event, for the permit to be released,” Aquino added.
But the 2013 Pride March happened.
And then came 2014, when “a super typhoon hit the country at the same time when Pride was scheduled, and we nearly had to cancel. Despite that, people still attended. (And) understandably, it had the lowest turnout in years. But it still showed that for many people, celebrating Pride is still important,” Jade Tamboon, one of the organizers of the 2012 and 2013 Pride celebrations, said.
Organizing an event like the Pride March is not an easy feat, with organizers needing to deal with different factors – both internal and external to the LGBT community.
“Working with the local government was one of our challenges (during our) time. Securing permits was also hard. And of course, rallying up sponsors,” Ancheta said.
Since the LGBT community in the Philippines is (still) only tolerated and not widely accepted, getting supporters that could help the event happen has been the most common problem year after year.
“Financing Pride has always been a major challenge, then and now. People don’t realize how expensive it is to mount Pride. But there’s also the logistics – the sourcing of materials, permits and vendors – that’s another thing people rarely see when they go to a Pride celebration,” Tamboon said.
He added, “this has been a perennial problem of the Pride organizers: early fund-raising. It may be because organizers have not come up with a solution, rather than raising funds so close to the event date.”
Today, organizing Pride marches – or aptly, parades – is mostly dominated by the young members of the LGBT community. And – whatever their stands/positions may be on LGBT human rights – this is as should be/bound to happen, with the passing of the baton inevitable.
But the younger generation have it somewhat easier. As Ancheta said, “Pride celebrations are not limited now to the Pride marches/parades or events, with support for Pride now coming from various companies as evidenced in social networking posts.”
There are now also numerous Pride-related events – whether in the form of marches or parades – in various parts of the Philippines, from Baguio City to Cebu City, Davao City to Iloilo City, Iligan City to the Province of Batangas, among others. Even within Metro Manila, other cities already started their own (separate) Pride marches/parades, finally “devolving” the so-called Metro Manila Pride parade (nee “march”).
But even if the expressions of Pride (now) vary, that sense of solidarity – and raising awareness via that solidarity – remains…
“The increased interest and participation during the recent years, especially among the younger people, is a success in itself. More and more people are unafraid to be out and to showcase their (so-called) Pride,” Tamboon added.
“The recent Pride celebrations are successful in terms of numbers; they were able to target a bigger audience and wider corporate supporters. The younger organizers are also creative and well-versed in branding and marketing. They were able to utilize social media and digital marketing,” Aquino stressed.
STRUGGLE NEEDS TO CONTINUE
But for Aquino, everyone needs to remember that “Pride is not just a one day event.”
“The LGBT community of the Philippines is no longer hidden, closeted or unknown. We are here; we are everywhere – with our heads held high,” Mickley said. “We are on the way, (but) we are (still) seeking equality in the human family,” Mickley said.
*Interview requests were also sent to other past Pride organizers, but – as of press time – Outrage Magazine did not receive any response from them.