March for those who can’t

'Pride celebrations should be less about celebrating individuality, and more on remembering collective history and strengthening solidarity'

Manu Gaspar

Published: 3:39 PM December 9, 2015

Updated: 3:39 PM December 9, 2015

“I have no doubt we shall win, but the road is long, and red with monstrous martyrdoms.” – Oscar Wilde

But the fight, especially at home, is far from over. 

Joseph Pemberton was found guilty of homicide, not murder. Philippine HIV cases may reach 133,000 in seven years. The Comprehensive Anti-Discrimination Bill remains pending in the Senate. Many hate crimes are undocumented throughout the country. 

The apparent exclusion and discrimination has had its long history here in the Philippines. It reeks of ignorance, hatred, and toleration.

But the community has always been resilient in its own little, colorful ways: localized pride parades, even if only for a few hours, have provided for an open, hate-free space to celebrate love, sexual diversity, and gender fluidity (and, at its very core, humanity) in the face of adversity.

We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re not going anywhere.

It’s only fitting and morally responsible, then, to march for those who have paved the way for the rainbow at the end of the road, and for those who can’t.

Homophobia: Not much has changed

While no anti-LGBTQIA+ laws ever existed in the Philippines, there are many of those who came before that have had to endure the social stigma that came along with homosexuality.

Refusing to subscribe to heteronormativity meant being laughed at and left alone: bakla was synonymous to being a parlorista, a cross-dresser, and effeminate; being a tomboy meant hating making-up, wearing masculine clothes, and being abused as a child.

Yet these very people had the unshakable courage — more so than those people who ostracized them — to live through every single day of their lives.

Nowadays, one only has to look around to know that the gender binary doesn’t fit us. It’s actually the other way around: it’s us that don’t fit the binary. We come in different colors and flavors and sizes. But however vibrant and expressive the Philippine LGBTQIA+ community has been for the past years, not much has really changed.

GAY PRIDE. Members of the LGBTQIA+ community hold marches to commemorate the efforts of the early advocates while remembering the need for further progress. Photo by Alecs Ongcal/Rappler

Society’s answer to sexual diversity was to create more labels such as patolaspamintas, and closetas. The Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) supports the anti-discrimination bill as an “act of charity," not as a right in itself. Presidential candidates have no ambitious plan for the LGBTQIA+ community. Even some within the community discriminate other members (“no effem pls”).

And so despite all of these, we ask: are our efforts not futile? Why do we still march for a cause? We can celebrate our own individuality and then party afterwards, period!

Pride marches are not about you

We march not for ourselves. Certainly what we are is something to be celebrated for. But the pride march was made never for the individual. It was – always and should be – about the movement and the ultimate cause we’re all fighting for.

We march, with pride and with our heads held up high, to remember those who have walked the very path we’ll be walking on. We remember those who have sacrificed much of themselves – their time, dreams, and families – to pave the once-muddy road and fill it with rainbow glitters.

We march because this very same parade gave us the courage to be ourselves despite fear of ignorance, hatred, and humiliation. 

We wave our rainbow flags not only as a celebration of LGBTQIA+ solidarity, but also as a sign of protest: it is high time for Philippine society to recognize that LGBTQIA+ rights are human rights.

This issue of unwarranted exclusion, humiliation, and abuse transcends each and every one of us: all human rights should not be exclusive to a particular sexual orientation or gender identity. It should be enjoyed by all.

We should refuse superficial toleration. We must demand genuine equality that empowers, not excludes. And we demand them in the highest standards: through actual and inclusive legislation that will ensure protection and change in attitudes.

We march for those who are in homophobic environments due to, are forced to subscribe to, and who have taken their lives because of society’s restrictive standards. We march for those who can’t, because we were once not able to. 

But we can only be heard if we are many. Our strength is in numbers. So if you can, regardless of your sexual orientation and gender identity, help pave the way towards the rainbow at the end of the road.

People before us have done so much. We can only do better. Let’s keep waving that rainbow flag and march on. –

Manu Gaspar is a recent graduate of the University of the Philippines - Baguio and a member of Amnesty International Philippines.