And then it happened, what may be considered as one of the most unexpected events in the history of the Philippine LGBT community – when the center of the LGBT goings-on, where almost everything began, the place everyone in the world considers as the “center of LGBT Philippines” is experiencing a slow and painful death.
It may have been emphasized early this year, in January 2013, when O Bar Malate decided to close its doors, and leave the corner of Ma. Orosa and Julio Nakpil, not with flashy lights, not with Kurrant 7’s, not with bottles and buckets of SanMig Light and Red Horse, but with colorful memories of what used to be a gay space open for seven nights a week for everyone. O Bar’s owners made a choice to just focus on their bigger (that eventually became their only) branch in Ortigas in Pasig City – a move that, at first, was merely an expansion of the business to reach a wider and a different crowd, but eventually ending in the closure of the original Malate branch to focus more on the latter.
The cardiac arrest didn’t stop there. Months after O Bar Malate closed, there were rumors going around the community that BED Bar would also be closing its doors. This news was taken with a grain of salt and was initially largely ignored. But as the weeks passed, the number of people going to BED Bar drastically reduced not only by a few numbers but by groups. Not surprisingly, regular patrons may have been worried, but still chose to ignore what was unfolding then.
And so, when April 2013 came, the largest and arguably the most influential LGBT club in the Philippines, BED Bar, announced that they’re closing their doors in Malate. They may re-open again (very) soon to a new location.
Everything happened so quickly, and when the month of May came, the only surviving LGBT club left in Malate, Chelu, remains as the only pink noise you could hear in the streets of Ma. Orosa and Julio Nakpil; the rest are now offering vibrations and chantings of the heterosexual crowd.
Years ago, when Club Government opened in Makati, it attracted so much attention, but it wasn’t a force to be reckoned with – Malate stood still and remained as the heart of the pink crowd.
But now, with just one huge bar, Chelu, and some small karaoke and chill out places like Midz Lounge, one question that needs answering is: Are they strong enough to keep Malate standing?
It’s not just the bars and clubs that made Malate the heart of the LGBT community, of course. The annual pride marches, the few LGBT awareness related events, and many others all used to be held in Malate, too. But they all slowly stopped. Advocates and allies alike found different venues to hold these events – which could be seen as a good thing, spreading the awareness and widening the reach of the LGBTs, though in the end, they didn’t link back to Malate.
Years ago, when an LGBT organization decided to hold the annual Pride March in Quezon City, among the reasons cited were: there wasn’t enough time to prepare and arrange permits in Manila, to coordinate with the bars and clubs in Malate, and (most importantly for them) the government of Quezon City offered to support the holding of the Pride March there. The organizers “swallowed” their “pride” and accepted the offer; and while it proved to be a successful celebration, it can be argued nonetheless that it was not “complete”. It was not celebrated “at home”.
And as years passed, the celebration of Pride never came back home fully.
We cannot blame club owners with the decision they made – to move to a better a place, to a more lucrative location for their businesses.
We also cannot blame LGBT organizations that are slowly moving away from Malate, if they find Quezon City, Ortigas or Makati a more convenient place to hold events and practice their advocacies. If in that way they can be more effective, then it’s not a really bad call.
But mainly, it is the community that should be held accountable for what happened to Malate.
They forgot what Malate has given to them. How many guys/possible and failed relationships did they meet along the streets and inside the clubs? How many times did they scream for their rights, at times while holding a bottle of beer or trying to stand still in the middle of the crowd? How many gossips and stories have been told and heard in the streets of Ma. Orosa and Julio Nakpil, and on what Malate really means to LGBT community?
This is not an article about ranting, this is not an article about blaming.
This is an article full of regrets; this is an article full of shame.
After all, the party will never stop, the screams and chants for equal rights will continue, and the growth of the LGBT community will carry on, BUT it just won’t be in our home.