Last Saturday, I attended my first ever Pride march. I’ve been out to my family in my teens and I’ve stopped dodging the questions about my sexual preference as far back as my early twenties. I’ve relatively lived a life outside of the closet most of my life. And even if I was out and unashamed of it, I’ve never found a reason to go to Pride.
I didn’t understand it. Back then, I felt I had no reason to be there. I had nothing to prove. I was not struggling against the world or society. I was generally accepted as a gay man and didn’t feel discrimination or stigma. There was no reason for me to go to Pride. That’s what I thought, at least.
It wasn’t until last year that I finally understood what it meant to go to Pride. It happened when I was in Bacolod and recovering from kidney failure and I had spent many days not doing much. Orlando happened and, for some reason, I was really on it. I was checking Twitter constantly and I had stayed up all night just reading news reports about it. It was a horrific event so far away from me but I felt scared. I was affected. I got very emotional.
I didn’t realize what it meant when they said “clubs are a safe space for the LGBT community” until that moment. It wasn’t until then that I realized how important it was for me to be a gay man out of the closet and living my life openly and freely. It wasn’t until Orlando that I didn’t realize I am so lucky and fortunate that I am surrounded by amazing people who do not discriminate me for my sexual preference. My family, my friends, and my work have always known and have always treated me with respect.
This is not the case for everybody. I wanted to go to Pride last year but I had a catheter sticking out of my neck and I was in Bacolod. But I wanted to go. I really wanted to go badly.
When I got back to Manila, it totally slipped my mind. I was so happy to be back and to be working again and to be hanging out with my friends. I moved in to my own place and got working and things were going great. And then, through working with Team magazine, I joined Victor Platon as co-host to the organizers of Pride. Loreen Ordono and Nicky Castillo, the organizers, talked to us about it and I was so dead-set in going.
And then I got asked to be a part of the program. Early in the afternoon, when things were still setting up, there would be solidarity speeches from various groups and organizations to show the full representation of the community that was on board for Metro Manila Pride. The theme was #HereTogether and everyone was invited.
I was given ten minutes on stage to recite poetry or tell a story. Anything, really, to just put out more energy to the event. I read a poem I wrote specifically for Pride. I’ve never written a poem about being gay before. It was the toughest thing to do. I’ve written a lot of poems about love — both the persona and the other are male — but it didn’t feel right to read any of those. I had to write a new one and I spent two weeks thinking about it, writing down verses, hoping it would all come together in time for Pride.
The day before Pride and I wasn’t done yet. I looked at all my notes and panicked. And then I just went for it. Of everything I wrote prior, I only really kept one verse. Everything else was made up, working around the thought of “why I should be at Pride.”
They want us to be straight
but the world is round
and the heart is curved.
Everything bends, even light.
— from Everything Bends by Wanggo Gallaga
first performed at the Metro Manila Pride March 2017
I posted the above quatrain on my Instagram and on my Facebook wall and I even saw people on Twitter quote the line. I feel so proud of that considering it was practically a photo-finish piece. A friend of mine, who is also the literary editor of the Philippine Graphic, asked if she could print the poem in Philippine Graphic and I can’t wait to send it. I’m quite proud of it.
The sun was out, people came in droves, I was surrounded by friends, and all the people that I didn’t know where all smiles and giving off good energy. It was a such a wonderful feeling to be there with so many people who felt safe and uninhibited. They felt welcomed. They felt like they belonged. It was wonderful.
And then there was the march itself. We were approximately 7,000 people strong. Victor and I went around the grounds and we approached the registration desk around 2:30 in the afternoon and asked how they were doing and they said they were sure to have been more than 5,000 people already. I’m so sure more people came in before the march itself which started at around 5pm. And that was just one entrance. We didn’t ask the other registration table at the other entry point.
I gathered all my friends who were there and who didn’t have a group to march with and we all joined the Team magazine group. We were quite small but we were loud and just bursting with positive energy that some other people joined us as well. We were happy to have them.
And then we marched.
And it was wonderful. We circled the City Hall and out into the street into, at least, two major highways. Over 5,000 members of the LGBTQIA community walking proud and it was such an amazing feeling.
A lot of us were marching for the first time and I had a bought a rainbow flag and I was carrying it around and I felt like I was making a stand for something really important. I felt like we were making such a huge statement, an important one.
We’re here. We are people. We come in all shapes and sizes. There are old people and young people. Men and women. Trans men and trans women. People with families. Professionals. Artists. Students. All kinds. We were there and we were making our voices heard. We were standing up for the people who can’t. We are marching for the people who feel like they don’t have a place to be themselves. We are marching so that the people on the streets who were watching could see that we are people and that maybe they should just treat us like everybody else.
There were religious protesters but very few of them. There was a religious group holding out placards asking for forgiveness for having treated the community in the past. That group got hugs from so many people. Old ladies were waving and children were dancing along with us. There were stares too, for sure, but I didn’t see any of it
I had a huge smile on my face and I couldn’t have been any happier than I was just walking there. It was hot and I had been there since ten in the morning but I was surrounded by good people and there was so much joy.
There was so much joy.
I am so happy I came. I really am. And I know better now. What to bring and how to prepare and what to expect. I want to be there again in the next Pride. I want that feeling again. And I want to see all those people out there smiling and feeling safe and happy and that they belong.
Because they belong. We all do.
Happy Pride month, everyone.