(SPOT.ph) "Why is there no gay liberation movement in the Philippines?" The eminent scholar J. Neil C. Garcia poses this question in the beginning of his magisterial book, Philippine Gay Culture: Binabae to Bakla, Silahis to MSM (1996, 2008). In the context of the early 1990s, he wonders why there was "no unified, continuous effort to organize" among contemporary Filipino gay men (2008: 5). The publication of this seminal book could not have been more serendipitous.
The First Pride March in the Philippines: A Short History
Philippine Gay Culture was released in the same year that all active queer activists and activist groups in Metro Manila gathered for the 1996 Metro Manila Pride March. Spearheaded by ReachOut Foundation, this event was the first time the entire Filipino queer community came together and presented themselves as such to the broader Philippine society. It was certainly not the last.
After three years of leading the Metro Manila Pride March, ReachOut Foundation handed its organization to Task Force Pride, a collective of unaffiliated individuals and representatives from different groups founded in 1999. They shepherded these marches for around two decades before the Metro Manila Pride organization took over in 2017.
But the impact of the 1996 Metro Manila Pride March goes beyond the tradition it started. As if in response to the challenge posed by Garcia, this event marked the beginning of a unified and continuous effort to organize the community. The efforts to put up an annual Pride March have allowed advocates from different backgrounds and constituencies to work together to promote the human rights of gender and sexual minorities in the Philippines. Their collaborations, while not always harmonious, inspired other social movements and maintained the connections between generations of Filipino LGBTQ+ advocates.
An example of this is the founding of Lesbian and Gay Legislative Advocacy Network Philippines (a.ka. Lagablab) in 1998. Their main purpose is to advance and protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of Filipino LGBTQs, including the passage of the Anti-Discrimination Bill which has been stuck in Congress since 1995.
Some leaders who have been involved in Task Force Pride (TFP) also went on to start the party-list Ang Ladlad in 2003. The first accredited LGBTQ+ political party in the Philippines and perhaps in the world, it ran on a progressive platform to ensure the social welfare of the members of the queer community. Despite its losses in the 2010 and 2013 elections, the party list has shown us how we can turn our movement into a powerful political force.
Multiple Firsts of the Metro Manila Pride March
When did the pride marches in Metro Manila begin?
This question has animated many conversations within the community in the last few years. Some of the discussions have been heated, even virulent. But these discussions have also occasioned thoughtful reflections.
In his peer-reviewed article published in 2017, for instance, the prolific academic John Andrew Evangelista examines these tensions to underscore a conflict of political ideologies within the Philippine LGBTQ+ community. An article published in 2007 the journal Saliksik gives another perspective on these discussions.
In my capacity as the director of the Babaylan Archive Project, I have also been asked to weigh in on this question. It has allowed me to review all the relevant materials that my team has gathered so far and to reminisce with fellow Filipino LGBTQ+ advocates whom I have not spoken to for a long time. Based on my research, this is my position:
- The Metro Manila Pride March that we know now can be traced directly to 1996.
- The continuities from 1996 to the present around the organization of this annual tradition can be clearly established through existing primary sources.
- The impact of this event has been unparalleled in the history of the Philippine LGBTQ+ movement.
In making this argument, I recognize previous expressions of Pride in Metro Manila. These early acts of resistance were important precursors to the 1996 Metro Manila Pride March. I think we, as a community, should celebrate all of them.
In 1992, the The Lesbian Collective participated in the International Women’s Day celebrations to articulate their specific struggles. During the march, they had to fight to claim their own voices and spaces within the supposedly progressive feminist movement. That lesbian women were the first constituency to demand that our rights be given as much weight as the rest of the community. At the very least, we need to counter the dominant tendency to center our histories on the experiences of gay men.
UP Babaylan marched for the first time in the university’s Lantern Parade in 1993. "Out of the closets, into the streets!" was their rallying cry. While they met jeers as they passed certain areas, the general reception to their participation was positive. This experience emboldened succeeding members to join the parade in the succeeding years. Since then, the participation of UP Babaylan in the University of the Philippines - Diliman's Lantern Parade has become a tradition for this organization.
In 1994, members of the Progressive Organization of Gays in the Philippines (a.k.a. Pro-Gay Philippines) and the Metropolitan Manila Church - Manila held a rally around the Quezon Memorial Circle. This march was the first event consciously and deliberately embrace the Western discourse of Pride. In the manifesto that the members delivered and published, the groups discursively connected the local struggles of local gays and lesbians, including anti-poor taxation practices, to the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City that launched the international LGBTQ+ movement. "The media picked it up and it spread like wildfire," according to an account by Fr. Richard Mickley, founder of Metropolitan Community Church - Manila. The attendees of the Pride March were invited to talk shows like Mel and Jay and Debate.
But this particular effort was never replicated. There was no Pride March in 1995. It took two more years for another network of advocates to organize the entire community. The effect of these marches were also limited to their own constituents. These events did not necessarily lead to "unified" and "continuous efforts to organize" the entire Philippine LGBTQ+ community. The turning point for this development, as I have argued earlier, was the 1996 Metro Manila Pride March.
And yet, at the same time, the 1996 edition would not have been possible without them. The Metro Manila Pride March, therefore, did not have a single but several points of origins. To make sense of this history, it is important for us to consider the multiple significant firsts that occurred not only before but also after this turning point.A first that I think we should definitely highlight was when the first transgender women's group, under the banner of Society of Transsexual Women in the Philippines, participated in the 2006 Metro Manila Pride March as a distinct constituency. Two years later, in 2008, they coined the term "transpinay," which captures the local histories and unique experiences of transgender Filipinas.
Other firsts that must be noted are the many pride parades in cities and towns outside of the capital. There have been marches from the north, such as Baguio; to the south, such as Cagayan de Oro; and from urban centers such as Cebu City to remote municipalities such as San Julian in Samar. All of these events have been variably inspired by the Metro Manila Pride March. But how?
Each of these organizing collectives have their own multiple firsts to celebrate. At a certain point, we need to thread them into the broader narratives of the Philippine LGBTQ+ community. To what extent are these groups connecting to the Metro Manila Pride March? To what are they participating in our community efforts? What does the proliferation of pride parades all over the archipelago mean to our movement? And what does it mean to the members from the regions?
More work needs to be done to document this history.
Towards a Critical History of the Metro Manila Pride March
Why is it important for us in the Philippine LGBTQ+ community to mark firsts? I think this exercise is useful for us to remember by sharing our experiences and archiving the traces of our efforts for the next generation. For this purpose, this exercise is important.
But the focus of the discussions about the first Pride March in Metro Manila, especially on social media, has been on who did what first. This has been the dominant approach of Filipinos to our public history. But it need not be the approach that we take here.
Because this approach to history is simplistic. It privileges the accomplishments of a few great men over the intricate dynamics of networks and processes across space and through time. It flattens the complexities and contingencies of our narratives. And for what? To market our events to the highest bidders? To pad our activist credentials? To burnish our own legacies? This historical approach has always struck me as regressive and colonialist.
I agree with Evangelista that ideological differences have underpinned these discussions. He was right when he said that memories are always already partial, fallible, and political. But perhaps, the more important question is: How do write the history of the Philippines' LGBTQ+ movement while being fair to the testimonies of others and, at the same time, critical of all existing evidence?
Developing the multiple firsts approach to this story has been my response to the thorny ethical complications of this history-making process. It is inclusive and transparent, a story of all and not of few, and movement-driven. Maybe, this is the history that the community needs: How the Philippines' LGBTQ+, in spite of internal differences and external challenges, have forged on over the years through the Metro Manila Pride March.
Teilhard Paradela is a doctoral candidate in History at the University of British Columbia in Canada. His broad area of interest focuses on the cultural histories of Southeast Asia in the 20th Century. In his dissertation, he traces the emergence of audience research in the Philippines. Paradela is also the director of the Babaylan Archive Project, an online archive of primary sources on the LGBTQ+ organizing in the Philippines. You can reach him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.