In Photos: Critical Moments in Philippine LGBTQIA+ History

In Photos: Critical Moments in Philippine LGBTQIA+ History

June 13, 2024 | Written in collaboration with Bahaghari Philippines

June is Pride Month, one of the most colourful times of the year! It is society's dedicated time for the celebration and honouring of LGBTQIA+ community. But more than that, we must not forget our history and the reasons why we can be loud and proud today.  For Filipino LGBTQIA+, we have a deep history with many ups and downs dating back to pre-colonial times. 

Pre-Colonial Period: Acceptance and Reverence

Before Spanish colonization, many indigenous societies had a more fluid understanding of gender and sexuality. Babaylan, Katalonan, and Asog were some of the titles of spiritual leaders from indigenous groups. They were often women or feminized men who were allowed to have relations with fellow men. These leaders held significant power and respect within their communities. 

 Babaylan, ang manggagamot. Detail of Mural “History of Philippine Medicine” by Carlos “Botong” Francisco. Image credit:

Alongside the major role of the Babaylan in society, diverse gender identities in pre-colonial Philippine society are showcased in the myths and stories from that time. For example, Lakapati or Ikapati, the goddess of fertility and agriculture, was portrayed as a feminine figure with both male and female genitalia which symbolized balance in nature. 

Lakapati. Image Credit: CJ Reynaldo, caldatelier (on X)

The acceptance of diverse gender identities during the pre-colonial period highlights a time when the Philippines embraced a broad spectrum of sexual and gender expressions.

Spanish Colonization: Imposition of Heteronormativity and Resistance of native Filipinos

The arrival of Spanish colonizers brought with it the imposition of Catholic values, which severely disrupted the indigenous cultural landscape. As the existence of local spiritual practices and leaders threatened the teachings of the Catholic Church, the Spanish colonial regime demonized the Babaylan and made same-sex relations and gender variance taboo, labeling them as sinful and immoral. 

Of course, we know the Filipino people did not simply allow Spanish colonization to happen. Naturally, various communities across the archipelago aggressively fought against the violent erasure of their culture and way of life. Leading some of these revolts were Babaylans such as the Tamblot who led the resistance in Antique, Bohol and Pagali who was a major contributor to the resistance in Cariraga, Leyte. Even in the 1600s, we see a glimpse of the innate militancy of Filipino LGBTQIA+ (though they did not identify as such during that period), especially when oppressed. 

Tamblot, an illustration. Image Credit: The Bohol Chronicle

In areas of the Philippines which were not affected greatly by the Spanish colonization, pre-colonial ideas of gender identities still exist. The Teduray, the Indigenous group in Minadanao, have retained their concepts of the “mentefuwaley libun'' and “mentafuwaley lagey” which translates to “one who becomes a woman” and “one who becomes a man,” respectively. This is similar to what we now know as transgender.

Uka, Mentafuwaley Libun from the Teduray. Image Credit: Stuart Schlegel

Late 1900s: Slow Progress and Initial Activism

The post-war period brought gradual social change worldwide. The 1960s and 1970s saw the rise of various social movements globally, including the push for LGBTQIA+ rights. Notably, the Stonewall riots in June 1969 in the United States inspired many LGBTQIA+ formations around the world to fight not only for the end of LGBTQIA+ oppression but also all other forms of oppression in society.

 In the Philippines, the LGBTQIA+ community began to organize more visibly. In 1975, the Home of the Golden Gays was established to lend support to elderly gay men who were estranged from their families due to being gay. The now underground women’s organization, MAKIBAKA, released a position paper on the issues of sexual orientation due to the lack of lesbian representation and involvement in the gay rights movement. The establishment of the University of the Philippines Babaylan, the first LGBT student organization in the country, in 1992 also marked a significant milestone. 

UP Babaylan Archival Photos. Image Credit: UP Babaylan

The Golden Gays. Image credit: Philstar

Inspired by the Stonewall riots, the first Pride March in the Philippines and Asia was held in Quezon City on June 26, 1994. Organized by the Progressive Organization of Gays in the Philippines (ProGay Philippines) and Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) Philippines, the groups marched to Quezon Memorial Circle to rally for LGBTQIA+ rights as well as the levying of Value Added Tax. The event has since been dubbed as Stonewall Manila.

Stonewall Manila, 1994. Image Credit: Global Voices

The late 20th century and early 21st century witnessed an increase in LGBTQIA+ activism. The foundation of organizations such as the Lesbian and Gay Legislative Advocacy Network (LAGABLAB) in 1999 played a crucial role in lobbying for anti-discrimination laws. Despite these efforts, the LGBTQIA+ community continued to face significant challenges, including legal barriers and societal discrimination.

Image Credit: Lagablab

2000s to present: Strides Toward Equity and Continued Challenges

As we entered the new millennium, more individuals have been inspired to organize and form LGBTQIA+ formations. In December 2002, the first and only transgender support and rights advocacy group of that time was formed- STRAP. In 2005, STRAP (currently Society of Trans Women of the Philippines) began operating both as a support group and activist organization in Manila.

 STRAP in Feb 2024. Image Credit: STRAP

LGBTQIA+ activism was also spreading wider across the nation. In Cebu, C.O.L.O.R.S. or Coalition for the Liberation of the Reassigned Sex (now shortened as Transgeder Colors) was formed. What started as a campus-based organization in 2002 has now transformed into a registered non-stock, non-profit transgender organization advocating for trans-health and rights. 

C.O.L.O.R.S in 2017. Image Credit: WHO

In recent years, the struggle for LGBT rights in the Philippines has gained momentum. High-profile cases and public figures have brought increased visibility to LGBTQIA+ issues. The introduction of the Anti-Discrimination Bill (ADB) or SOGIE Equality Bill, although not yet passed into law, has been a focal point of advocacy efforts. This bill aims to protect individuals from discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics (SOGIE-SC). (What exactly is SOGIE-SC? gives a quick rundown here.)

The presence of openly LGBTQIA+ politicians, such as Geraldine Roman, the first transgender woman elected to the Philippine Congress in 2016, represents significant progress. Moreover, the rise of social media has provided a powerful tool for mobilization and awareness, amplifying the voices of LGBTQIA+ activists.

Rep. Geraldine Roman. Image Credit: Facebook

Despite these advancements, the Filipino LGBT community continues to face significant challenges. The pervasive influence of conservative religious groups and cultural stigmas often hinders the progress of legislative reforms and societal acceptance. Hate crimes, discrimination, harassment, and social exclusion remain prevalent issues that need to be addressed.

The murder of transwoman, Jennifer Laude, in the hands of US soldier, Joseph Scott Pemberton, in 2014 was major news nationwide. Even non-supporters of LGBTQIA+ rights in the Philippines were in support of the call for Justice for Jennifer. It was a turning point in LGBTQIA+ activism in the Philippines as it blatantly exposed the interconnectedness of LGBTQIA+ rights and other socioeconomic issues in the Philippines such as the presence of US military bases in the country. 

Photo of Jennifer Laude. Image Credit: 

A year after her death, LGBTQIA+ group Bahaghari re-established itself as an LGBTQIA+ organization which not only fights for the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community but as well as other oppressed and marginalized sectors of Philippine society.

Protest in honour of Jennifer Laude. Image Credit: Bahaghari

During the 2020 COVID-19 lockdowns, Bahaghari was the first LGBTQIA+ organization to organize a Pride March for the year. Along with other allies, the group protested against the militaristic lockdown response of the Duterte administration and the passage of the Anti-Terror Law. 20 individuals were arrested for the action yet the case against them was dismissed in December of the same year.

Pride 20, as pictured in the 2020 Pride Protest in Metro Manila, Philippines. Image Credit: Bahaghari

Now, a major struggle for the community is still the passage of the SOGIE Equality Bill. Currently, it is still in its second reading at the House of Representatives, waiting for approval. Many LGBTQIA+ groups have been taking aggressive steps to raise awareness and correct misconceptions of the public towards the bill in order to hasten its progress. 

A Journey of Persistence and Hope

The history of the LGBTQIA+ struggle in the Philippines is a rich and complex narrative that is deeply intertwined with the country’s broader social, political, and cultural developments. From the deep acceptance and appreciation of gender diversity in pre-colonial times to the ongoing fight for equality in contemporary society, the journey has been marked by both setbacks and triumphs. The journey of the Filipino LGBTQIA+ community truly displays beauty, militancy, and persistent pursuit of equity. While significant progress has been made, the road ahead requires continued advocacy, education, and solidarity to achieve true justice, full life, and genuine liberation for all.

Follow the work of Bahaghari Philippines here to continue your advocacy the LGBTQ+ rights in the Philippines,

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