The Philippines is pretty gay. Well, okay, you’re not going to get hitched there any time soon and discrimination laws are still far off, but for Asian standards, the Philippines pretty much out-pink-ed all other countries we visited during our travels in Asia.
The Philippines always ranks high in popular polls ranking the most gay friendly countries, yet it remains a staunchly religious country with over 76 million of the world’s Catholics – this is the highest number after Mexico and Brazil.
But regardless of strong religious influence, we found the Filipinos to be extremely warm hearted and welcoming to us as a gay couple and at no point did we ever feel we had to tread carefully, compared to our experiences in the Maldives or Sri Lanka.
That’s our point of view as tourists, but we wanted to find out what it’s like from a local, and we met journalist Rione Palacios who gave us the lowdown on gay life in Manila…
This article previously appeared on the gay travel blog of Nomadic Boys, Stefan and Sebastien.
Magandang umaga Rione! Introduce yourself:
Bonjour boys! I am Rione Palacios, journalist for GIST magazine, part of national paper The Philippines Star, our Filipino version of The New York Times. I’m originally from Cebu City and moved to the big city (Manila) to pursue bigger dreams and of course to maybe find my Mr Big (!)
Are you out to your family and friends?
Yes, I strongly believe that if you can’t be true to those close to you, then how can you be honest with yourself and look the world in the eye?
What’s it like growing up gay in the Philippines?
Well at the end of the day, we are a very Catholic country. I was raised a Catholic and went to a Catholic school. Most gay Filipinos who are Catholic must grapple with the fact that the Catholic Church still holds a very arcane, anti-LGBT stance. It wasn’t easy and there are struggles that are definitely specific to growing up in a country that is predominantly Catholic and has a very macho culture.
As a gay man, did you ever encounter any employment discrimination in the Philippines?
I’m very fortunate because my industry is media and arts, so this was never an issue. But I do have gay friends who work in the corporate sector, which is far more conservative, and they would never risk being out at work.
I did have one job interview with the VP of a big mall chain who kept focusing on questions about my sexuality (like, ‘are you single?’ and ‘who do you live with?’ ). It didn’t get any more graphic – probably I had my “GURRRL don’t go there!” face…
What are the popular gay events in the Philippines?
The Metro Manila Pride is the most popular and in fact was the first in Asia when it started in June 1994. It has since not only turned into a popular summer event every June, a second annual Pride also takes place in Quezon City (also part of Metro Manila) each March.
We have also had the Quezon City International Pink Film Festival every December since 1995 and in 2004, the CCP Dream Theatre in Manila hosted the opening of the Pride International Film Festival (PIFF).
And of course, in line with our Filipino obsession with beauty pageants, we always send our Mr Gay World Philippines finalist, without fail, every year, to the Mr Gay World competition since it began in 2009, and hosted the 3rd Mr Gay World competition in 2011.
Why do you think trans people are more accepted in the Philippines compared to elsewhere?
Filipinos are generally a very accepting society. But bear in mind our society is largely conservative and can sometimes be unkind to people considered different. For example, the bouncers of the Valkyerie club in BG City (one of the 16 cities that makes up Metro Manila) barred transgender fashion designer Veejay Floresca from entering because she was not wearing pants to match the ‘male’ sex identity on her ID card and was instead wearing a sexy yellow dress.
It was however humbling to see the media backlash to this club, forcing them to issue a pro-transgender statement that they do not discriminate against transgender individuals.
Why do you think The Philippines is often regarded as one of the most gay friendly places in the world?
This comes from our culture: we are very friendly, warm-hearted people and always look forward to having guests over as you boys found out with Miss Palawan in El Nido ha ha ha:
Which are the popular gay bars and clubs in Manila?
- The main popular gay bars in Manila are:
- 1. Chelu bar in Malate.
- 2. The Distillery at The Fort in Bonifacio Global City: a great place to hang out and have drinks with friends.
- 3. Adonis in Quezon City: a staple on the scene with go go dancers and a young local crowd.
- 4. O Bar in Ortigas City does some really fun drag shows, which you sit and watch, then it becomes a fun club afterwards for dancing.
Are there any gay friendly hotels you recommend?
There are a few popular choices:
1. Where2Next Hostel in Malate is a good for budget travelers. The staff are very gay friendly and have great advice about the gay scene.
2. Tropicana Suites is a good option in Malate if you want to spent a bit more. It has a swimming pool, gym and sauna.
3. The Pan Pacific Hotel has excellent reviews on Tripadvisor, also based in Malate and another good gay friendly option.
4. Sofitel Plaza Manila is a popular chain and well-known for its friendliness towards the LGBT community. The hotel offers great rooms, with an amazing view and a gigantic pool.
Apart from yourself, are there any other famous out Filipino gay celebrities?
Ha ha, thanks boys – I wish (!) but I’m hardly famous!
There are quite a few however, like comedians Allan K and Vice Ganda, TV presenter Boy Abunda, singer Aiza Seguerra and many more.
But unfortunately there’s a shortage of openly gay actors, presumably because they fear that coming out will compromise the roles they will receive. This may be the same in Hollywood but you still get famous gay actors like Ian McKellen, Neil Patrick Harris, Jodie Foster and Portia de Rossi.
Finally, how’s the search going for Mr Big?
Well boys, I’m still waiting for him…If you find anyone from all the traveling you do, just send them all my way.
Catch me on Twitter via @Le_Skinny_Bitch and let’s take it from there!