Even amidst an ongoing pandemic, there is no hindrance at all for Filipinos and LGBTQIA+ organizations in assembling together to celebrate Pride Month in 2021. With massive public gatherings such as parades and festivals still canceled due to COVID-19 restrictions this year, the LGBTQIA+ community and its allies have continued in relocating these festivities on livestreams, webinars, and other online gimmicks in social media platforms. 

Volunteer organization Metro Manila Pride (MMPride), known for their advocacy of empowering Filipino queer communities and their initiative of organizing the widely known annual Metro Manila Pride March, has also carried on with staging online events and programs to push their cause. For 2021, MMPride has settled with the theme ‘SULONG, VAKLASH! Sama-samang pag-aklas ang ating lunas!’ and stresses that Pride is still a protest, especially during the pandemic where cases of queer discrimination and abuses persist. 

Through clever and effective wordplay, the term vaklash is adopted from the words bakla (gay) and baklas (break off), and evokes the message of tearing down the oppressive and unjust systems that continue to harm the LGBTQIA+ community. Thus, the theme calls for unity in the fight against discrimination and violence, and expresses the sentiments of MMP as shared in a statement on their site that only through collective action will they have their salvation.

The theme also advocates for the passing of the SOGIE Equality Bill, the demanding of accountability from the government for state-sponsored human rights violations, and the need for further medical involvement to combat the pandemic for the benefit of Filipino queer communities and other marginalized entities. 

While the Philippines is statistically one of the most LGBTQIA+ friendly countries in Southeast Asia, it still is unfortunately notorious for permeating consistent prejudice against queer individuals, with factors such as inadequate portrayals and misrepresentation in the media attributing to that instance. Adding on to that is the lack of legislation, particularly the inaccessibility of same-sex marriage, which also deprives the LGBTQIA+ people of their right to union, mostly due to the country’s overly religious upbringing and the Church’s massive influence on the beliefs of Filipinos and the state.

Occurrences of tokenism in businesses also affect the community, as queer indiviudals are merely recruited or marketed only for the benefit and reputation of the company and thus not providing them genuine treatment and opportunities. Cases of transgender and non-binary-based violence and killings have also been reported over headlines across the years, and each time such an incident would be broadcasted, there would always spark enraged reactions and movements from the community. 

LGBTQIA+ people are persecuted daily, and ‘Sulong, Vaklash!’ aims to change that through organizing as a collective to dismantle the homophobic status quo. Pride has always been a protest—a revolution, and besides clamoring for recognition, it was birthed with the intention of responding to the injustices the oppressive systems have laid on the queer minority. Pride was the moment when the LGBTQIA+ community felt the need to be emancipated from their fear of torment, as they realized that strength in numbers could topple the oppression they have been long subjected to. 

However, members of the community should not be complacent yet, for their days are still numbered under the eyes of persisting bigotry perpetrated by tyranny in government, conservatism in the Church, tokenism in capitalist enterprises, and other societal hurdles. But as long as the struggle is fought together, and that the queer narrative in organizing is never blurred or erased, a safe and dignified future will always be within grasp. Uno Sta. Ana // File Photo by Ericka Del Mundo

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