In Marikina, the LGBTQ community finds a formidable ally

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This year’s Metro Manila Pride brandishes its unique form of protest with some assistance from the local government of Marikina. Photo by KITKAT PAJARO

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — In the middle of Marikina’s Plaza De Los Alcaldes, a young man has just slipped out of his denim cutoffs to reveal the white, one-piece vinyl bikini hugging his body. He waves hello and reapplies his lip gloss. It’s just a little past noon on Saturday, June 24, at this year’s Metro Manila Pride March.

In the blinding light of midday, the man’s outfit change glows in all its defiant glory, a bold statement of norm resistance that demands to be seen. The seat of the local council towers behind him. At the moment, his statement is quite literally backed by government.

Surrounding him are over 7,500 other attendees, some in full festive regalia, of the annual protest-cum-celebration of the LGBTQ community. The event draws together members and allies of the queer sector to celebrate their varied identities and to march for urgent causes.

Pride March 29.jpg One of the many organisations who marched on Saturday cheers in celebration of the queer identity. Photo by KITKAT PAJARO

Among many others, HIV awareness organizations Red Whistle and Love Yourself were present, handing out informational pamphlets and condoms to attendees as they marched. Student collectives like the University of the Philippines Babaylan and University of Santo Tomas KILOS also rallied for gender-inclusive education.

The celebratory nature of Pride can never be fully divorced from the movement that it represents. Metro Manila Pride has always been reflective of the social conditions that plague LGBTs. Throughout the event’s colorful 23-year history in the Philippines, a number of advocacies have made themselves visible under the banner of Pride’s rainbow flag.

Pride March D2.jpg Co-coordinator Loreen Ordoño dyed her hair a rainbow just for this year’s pride. It is her fourth year organising the annual pride march. Photos by KITKAT PAJARO

Leading professor in sociology and queer studies John Andrew Evangelista writes that the first ever Metro Manila Pride March in 1994 was also a rally against oil price hikes and the Expanded Value Added Tax. This year’s Pride, for its part, also collected support for victims of the crisis in Marawi, care of civilian group Temperamental Brats, who received donations in exchange for handmade T-shirts.

The resounding message of this year’s Metro Manila Pride was the need for the timely passing of the Anti-Discrimination Bill. “Seventeen years ago, then Akbayan Representative Etta Rosales filed the first SOGIE (sexual orientation and gender identity and expression)-specific, anti-discrimination bill in Congress,” says Sen. Risa Hontiveros, one of its advocates, during the march. The bill that has evolved from that first filing has yet to be passed.

And yet this year’s Pride march is a reminder that there’s reason to remain hopeful. The march, held in Marikina, has found an enthusiastic supporter through its local government.

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“This is the first time that Metro Manila Pride is (being) hosted by Marikina City,” says co-coordinator Loreen Ordoño. For the past three years, the march was held at Luneta in Manila. Ordoño and the rest of the team behind the event wanted to bring the safe space of Pride to a new city. “We’re Metro Manila Pride. It’s Metro Manila, not just Manila. We want to live up to that name,” she says.

Though Marikina had been shortlisted to host this year’s Pride in the first few meetings, Ordoño said the team had originally scrapped Marikina as one of the options. She shares that the city’s local government had already spearheaded their own initiatives to support the LGBTQ community.

Offhand, Ordoño mentions a number of these events: “Sagaylahan, it's a sagala for gay contingents. They also had their own Marikina Pride march last year. The city health office also has their HIV awareness project in cooperation with organizations like Love Yourself and The Red Whistle.”

Pride March 58.jpg Marchers hold up a large Pride flag. Photo by KITKAT PAJARO

Ordoño and the other conveners of Metro Manila Pride wanted to maximize the impact of the march by holding it in a city that hadn’t yet voiced out its support for the LGBT. This was until they were approached, albeit indirectly, by Marikina’s local government.

“During our first community meeting, one of the leaders of [non-government organization] LGBTBUS approached us and told us that the [Marikina] City Health Office wants to partner for Metro Manila Pride,” she says. “The government is actually very open to it,” Ordoño adds, gesturing to the high-ceilinged lobby of Marikina City Hall, which doubled as the holding area for drag queens and dancers who were set to perform on stage.

“This was the first time that we actually got to step into a Mayor’s office and hear him say that he supports the community,” she says.

“Hindi tolerance, eh. It’s living together, people living together … We are not created the same, but we are created equal.”

Aside from providing the venue and on ground security for this year’s Pride March, the city government of Marikina also lent the voice of Mayor Teodoro, who gave the event’s welcoming address.

Teodoro says he is a believer in equality. In a conversation with the organizers of Metro Manila Pride, the 46-year-old mayor clarifies: “Hindi tolerance, eh. It’s living together, people living together … We are not created the same, but we are created equal.” This shared belief is the reason why the Marikina local government unit is a partner of Metro Manila Pride, he says.

In the same interview with Metro Manila Pride’s organizers, he sends a call for camaraderie with the LGBT sector. “We promote our inherent value as human beings,” he says. “We are differently-abled, but the fact still remains that we could work together for our community and for each and everyone’s development.”

Pride March 2.jpg Sugar Del Castillo, Gender Committee Head of the University of the Philippines Student Council was on stage to represent the student sector. “As a university student council we try to fight for all the advocacies that our students as well as the country find important. We never put one struggle ahead of the other.” Photo by KITKAT PAJARO

In stark contrast to the militant riots against police raids at Stonewall, the 23rd Metro Manila Pride found state-provided police guarding attendees against religious protesters bearing signs saying “Homo Sex is a Sin,” waving them on the sidelines of the parade. It was a brief, but well-warranted sigh of relief.

While the national government may continue to lag behind the fight for gender equality, Marikina City’s vocal, tangible backing is a large step forward. The movement continues, and it might have found a valuable new ally.