Stonewall: Honouring 55 years of Global Pride and 30 years of Philippine Pride

Stonewall: Honouring 55 years of Global Pride and 30 years of Philippine Pride

Written by Bahaghari Philippines, in collaboration with Pinay Collection | Photo by Open Table MCC

Stonewall Riots: Roots of Pride

The Stonewall Riots, which began in the early hours of June 28, 1969, were a series of spontaneous demonstrations by members of the LGBTQIA+ community in response to a police raid at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City's Greenwich Village. Because violent homophobia was rampant during those times, gay bars such as Stonewall paid the police “protection money” to keep their spaces safe. However, the police abused this, continuing to ask for their dues despite Stonewall being up-to-date with their payments. The community fought back against this harassment for 3 days in the form of continuous protests and even clashes with the police, all to protect their own. Key figures in the riots included Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two transgender activists who played significant roles in mobilizing the community and as leaders of the movement.

Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera among protesters. Photo Credit:

Following the riots, Johnson and Rivera co-founded the Street Transvestite (later, “Transgender”) Action Revolutionaries or STAR, an organization dedicated to supporting homeless transgender youth and advocating for transgender rights. However, their activism did not end in just fighting for LGBTQIA+ rights. They knew there were more issues the LGBTQIA+ community had to fight. They highlighted the intersectionality of LGBTQIA+ rights with other economic and social issues, such as homelessness, poverty, and racial discrimination. They have always forwarded the idea that the fight for equality must address all the different struggles and challenges faced by marginalized communities. As Johnson’s famous saying goes, “No pride for some of us without liberation for all of us.”

The Stonewall Riots is widely considered a turning point in the LGBTQIA+ rights movement. The riots and the work that Johnson and Rivera did after aroused the LGBTQIA+ community, leading to the formation of many LGBTQIA+ activist groups and first Pride marches all over the world, laying the foundation for the modern fight for LGBTQ+ equality and rights.

Stonewall Manila: Pioneering Pride in the Philippines

Among those inspired by the Stonewall riots were groups of LGBTQIA+ Filipino activists. One of the notable groups during this time was the Progressive Organization of Gays in the Philippines (PRO-GAY). Established in 1993, a group of gay student activists developed the idea that gay Filipinos must involve themselves in the struggle for national liberation to achieve genuine gay liberation. Similar to Johnson and Rivera’s ideals, PRO-GAY believed that the oppression of the LGBTQIA+ community does not start and end with gender-based oppression but is tied to the oppression that all working-class people face.

A year after their establishment, PRO-GAY, with Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) Manila, organized the first Pride March in the Philippines and Asia. Led by Rev. Richard Mickley, Oscar Atadero, Murphy Red, and Allan Tollosa, the march commemorated the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots and registered the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community. Staying true to their core values, the PRO-GAY and other attendees of the march even protested the imposition of Value Added Tax and oil price hike which would negatively impact Filipinos, LGBTQIA+ or not.

PRO-GAY & MCC in 1994 at the first Pride March in the Philippines. Photo credit: Open Table MCC

They marched from the corner of EDSA and Quezon Avenue to the Quezon Memorial Circle where the event concluded with a mass held by Rev. Mickley. Though small in number, being only attended by 50 to 60 people, this was the first time a group of LGBTQIA+ organizations and individuals were seen on national television marching for their rights. Organizers assess the event as a success despite the number of attendees. As Rev. Mickley recounts, “The purpose of the Pride March was realized – (to show) that the gay and lesbian people of the Philippines are real people, and they are not freaks in a closet.” The march was later dubbed as “Stonewall Manila” or “Pride Revolution.” 

Stonewall Manila was a groundbreaking event in the Philippines. It brought visibility to the LGBTQIA+ community and their issues, fostering a sense of solidarity and activism. It also paved the way for subsequent Pride marches and contributed to the country's gradual progress of LGBTQIA+ rights. It is remembered as a courageous and pioneering event that set the stage for the ongoing fight for LGBTQIA+ rights in the Philippines and across Asia.

Photo Credit: Open Table MCC

Like the Stonewall Riots and queer activists that came before them, Stonewall Manila and PRO-GAY have also inspired more Filipino LGBTQIA+ individuals and groups to broaden their definition of gay or gender liberation and make it more intersectional.  

The Reality of Pride Celebrations Today

From humble beginnings, Pride month has grown internationally, marking significant progress in the LGBTQIA+ rights movement. These vibrant celebrations of diversity and inclusion are becoming staples in cities worldwide, including the Philippines, where they have gained considerable momentum. In the Philippines, Pride events are not only a platform for advocating LGBTQIA+ rights but also a colorful cultural phenomenon, attracting tens of thousands of attendees. 

Increasingly, corporations and companies are participating in these events globally, recognizing their value for promoting social responsibility and inclusivity. However, it has quickly turned into what has been called “rainbow capitalism” or “corporate pride.” This is the phenomenon where around Pride month, corporations adopt LGBTQIA+ symbols, like using pride flag colors on merchandise, promoting same-sex relationships in advertisements, and even donating to and sponsoring Pride marches and events, to signal support for the LGBTQIA+ community. While on the surface this seems like a positive move towards inclusivity, many have criticized this phenomenon.

LGBTQIA+ individuals, like all other people, are consumers. Selling products and services to a specific market can be seen as exploiting the community that craves acceptance and representation of their identities and expressions for financial gain. This reduces the rich history and struggle of the LGBTQIA+ community to mere marketing opportunities. It raises the question of whether these companies would support the community if it did not present a profitable opportunity.

There is also criticism of companies' performative activism and inconsistent support. Is changing the color of the company’s logo to the rainbow on social media accounts and pages during June enough? Do these companies have anti-discrimination and harassment policies in place for their employees and do they provide the same benefits to LGBTQIA+ employees and other employees? This temporary support undermines the fight for equity and the ongoing struggles faced by LGBTQIA+ individuals. Genuine allyship requires consistent action and advocacy, not just seasonal marketing campaigns.

Particularly in the Philippines, individuals and groups such as Bahaghari have criticized the presence of the US embassy in this year’s Pride event in Quezon City. Filipinos have not forgotten how US soldier Joseph Scott Pemberton was easily pardoned for his murder of Filipino trans woman Jennifer Laude. The US embassy protected Pemberton and allowed for the dismissal of his case. Additionally, the US government has also not stopped sending troops to the Philippines with the existing VFA and EDCA agreements. Historically, where there are foreign soldiers, there is an increase in red light districts* and a rise in the number of individuals who engage in sex work. This pattern has been observed in various contexts, including during the Second World War, which saw thousands of 'comfort women' in the Philippines, South Korea, China, and other Asian countries. These women, many of whom were coerced or forced into sex work by military authorities, endured severe human rights violations. It's important to recognize that while this is not always the case, the circumstances leading individuals into sex work, particularly in conflict zones, are complex and frequently tied to coercion, exploitation, and socioeconomic desperation. How can we ensure there won’t be another Jennifer if this is the case?

Why should Pride continue to be a protest?

Despite impressive progress in LGBTQIA+ rights in many parts of the world, discrimination, harassment, and violence against LGBTQIA+ individuals persist. Issues such as workplace discrimination, lack of legal protections, and societal prejudice remain prevalent.

In the Philippines, for example, a national anti-discrimination bill or the SOGIE (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression) Equality Bill, which aims to protect individuals from SOGIE-based harassment and discrimination, has still not been passed– more than 20 years since the first filing of the bill. Health and wellness necessities particular to the LGBTQIA+ community, such as trans-affirming healthcare, programs for HIV awareness, and mental health resources and support systems for LGBTQIA+ individuals who are impacted by discrimination and lack of acceptance, are not being given space and prioritization by the majority of the country’s lawmakers and leaders. 

Meanwhile, working-class LGBTQIA+ Filipinos experience low wages, inhumane working conditions, lack of job security due to contractualization, and minimal to no other job benefits such as HMOs, on top of the lack of opportunities due to discrimination and gender-based abuse and violence in the workplace. Almost 30% of Filipinos experience discrimination at work, 18% of LGBTQIA+ Filipinos are denied work because of their SOGIE, and 23% of LGBTQIA+ Filipino workers are told to wear “gender-correct” outfits before being given a job offer.

Filipino LGBTQIA+ youth also have distinct challenges today. Aside from gender-based abuse and repressive school policies, Filipino LGBTQIA+ students also face the reality that education is inaccessible in the Philippines, especially in the countryside. An estimated 3 million youth were not able to enroll for the school year 2023-2024. A yearly budget cut for public schools also worsens the education crisis in the Philippines by not giving teachers and students effective and appropriate resources for learning.

Under the current administration of Pres. Marcos Jr., the LGBTQIA+ is not a priority. He has not mentioned the calls of the LGBTQIA+ community in the past two SONAs (State of the Nation Address), he has not prioritized the SOGIE Equality Bill and has instead prioritized a Charter Change which will only worsen economic conditions for Filipinos, including LGBTQIA+. He has also allowed for the expansion of EDCA (Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement) sites which only fuels geopolitical tensions and does not consider the risk of more Jennifer Laudes coming out of these unfair treaties. 

There is so much more that the Filipino LGBTQIA+ must stand up for as well as condemn. This is why it is of utmost importance that the Filipino LGBTQIA+, regardless of where they may be, recognize its militant roots from the Stonewalls that came before us. The Filipino LGBTQIA+ community and its allies must continue to resist oppressive and discriminatory policies, practices, and systems to achieve true freedom and liberation. The fight for genuine equality and acceptance is far from over. Until the LGBTQIA+ community attains liberation from all forms of discrimination and oppression, Pride will and must continue to be a protest!

Honouring the militant spirit of the Pride marches 

Notably, LGBTQIA+ organizations and formations in the Philippines continue to uphold Pride's militant roots. Just this month alone, there have been several demonstrations and campaigns organized by these formations that show us that Pride remains to be a protest. 

In regions outside the metro, Southern Tagalog Pride organized the region’s annual Pride march with the theme: “AKLAS VAKLA! LGBTQ of Southern Tagalog, March for Human Rights and Resist Against Imperialist Aggression,” showcasing how LGBTQIA+ rights and other socio-economic issues of the Filipino people are linked together. Metro Baguio Pride’s LumabLAVrn, attended by almost 3000+ people, marched for similar calls.

Metro Baguio Pride March. Photo Credit: UP Baguio Outcrop

In Quezon City, Bahaghari Metro Manila organized a candlelight memorial on the 26th for the 30th anniversary of Stonewall Manila and a longer commemoration event on the 30th to honour the leaders of Stonewall Manila who have passed. Students of the University of the Philippines - Diliman also attended their local Pride march called “Rampa Kweens Tungo sa Kaligtasan, Kalusugan at Kalayaan” which was organized by the university’s gender office, student council, student organizations including Bahaghari UP Diliman and Gabriela Youth UP Diliman, and Metro Manila Pride.

Rampa Kweens. Photo Credit: Tindig ng Plaridel
In years past, the Metro Manila Pride also organized the biggest Pride marches in the country’s capital region with themes such as “Tayo ang Kulayaan! Samot saring lakas, sama-samang landas!” in 2023, “Atin ang Kulayaan! Makibeki ngayon, atin ang panahon!” in 2022, and “Sulong Vaklash! Sangkabaklaan Tumindig para sa Trabaho, Ayuda, at Karapatan! Macho-Pasistang Pamumuno, Wakasan!” in 2021 alongside Bahaghari.

As we remember the first Pride march in the Philippines and Asia-Pacific and the Stonewall riots that gave inspiration to it all, it is clear that the militant spirit of protest and activism remains a powerful force within the LGBTQIA+ community in the Philippines. Through continuous organizing and mobilizing of the LGBTQIA+ community, we can ensure that Pride will  not just appear as a celebration but also a resolute declaration of the community’s enduring fight for genuine equality and human rights. 

Makibeki, ‘wag mashokot!

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