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Almost always, sanctuary for the queer and trans community means being bathing in the colorful, garish glow of club lights and blaring dance music.
Here, they forge community and solidarity, where something as commonplace as dancing could be a radical and defiant act because elsewhere, they can be denied entry for simply being themselves.
Spaces and networks like this were built because elsewhere, there isn’t acceptance, and often, they face only prejudice, hate, and even death. (Just jump into the history of ballroom culture to get a glimpse at what this means).
Even then, in a world that’s hostile to these people for who they are and love, no place is completely safe for them. One only has to look at the deplorable tragedy of Orlando’s Pulse Nightclub.
Nonetheless, even without the guarantee of absolute safety, these places provide comfort with being around people who are familiar with your specific struggles. (READ: Someday they will understand why we hold each other’s hands)
It doesn’t even need flowing booze or loud music because being a haven absolutely doesn’t mean being “intense on the senses.”
By no means exhaustive, below is a list of a few notable places across the metro that embrace the LGBTQ+ community:
Today x Future/Futur:st
Today x Future – Future or TxF to its regulars – is an institution in its own right. It is, figuratively and, often, literally one of Cubao’s hottest spots where many queer and trans people converge.
The hole-in-the-wall bar/nightclub at the peripheries of Araneta Center plays host to a variety of events dedicated to different music genres as seasoned and up-and-coming DJs go behind the decks. On weekends, it becomes extremely jampacked as the crowd spills out onto the street until way past after dark.
The sound that pulses through its sweltering dance floor is as eclectic as its set of regulars – from leftfield electronica, Berlin-esque techno, shoegaze, Japanese disco to gay pop anthems. However, expect that as soon as they play the likes of Carly Rae Jepsen or (especially) Robyn’s “Dancing On My Own,” you’ll find it hard to get inside as the gays will come a runnin’ to dance inside.
Futur:ist, its Makati spinoff club – so to speak – has the same spirit of the original Cubao location. While it has a different set of patrons, it has a kitchen that’s dishing out mindblowing concoctions to match the jams from the DJ booth.
Today x Future – 32 General Malvar Ave, Cubao, Quezon City
Futur:ist – 5062 Guerrero St, Makati City
Propaganda posters and portraits of Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, Mao Zedong, and others line this watering hole’s walls. But the brilliant rainbow flag, which Fred’s Revolución proudly files alongside the Philippine flag, is a familiar sight.
Since opening its first bar in Cubao X, Fred’s is thriving with its outpost at the revitalized First United Building along historic Escolta Street. Aside from serving hearty dishes and a superb selection of craft beers, the bar was actually one of the first to sign up for a safe spaces campaign before the need for them was expressed in law.
First United Building, 413 Escolta St, Santa Cruz, Manila
Shop 66 Cubao Expo, General Romulo Ave, Cubao, Quezon City
Expect bopping pop anthems, drag queens, and go-go boys at the upscale Nectar in snazzy Bonifacio Global City.
Nectar, branded as a luxury nightlife destination to cater to the LGBTQ+ crowd, hosts the likes of the weekly Poison Wednesday, and its very own drag competition, Drag Cartel. The atmosphere turns even more electric than usual when it occasionally hosts queens from the hit reality TV show, RuPaul’s Drag Race.
The Fort Strip, 5th Ave cor 26th St, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City
O Bar’s reincarnation in Ortigas Center (from its original Malate spot) retains a lot of the energy that made it one of Manila’s essential gay clubs.
The cavernous venue features a wider dance floor and a grand stage where some of Manila’s finest drag queens stage elaborate numbers. Some of the drag queens that has graced its stage include Drag Race alums Jiggly Caliente and Manila Luzon.
South Dr, Pasig City
This Kamuning dive bar can easily pass as “your imaginary friend’s apartment.” There’s a TV, a PlayStation, and live bands. Get sufficiently buzzed with cheap beer, and that’s probably the perfect time to lip sync for your life – or sing along to showtunes like those from Hamilton. But it’s not just a space to get entertained.
The lesbian-owned joint often hosts different advocacy and activist groups which hold talks and events that not only concern the immediate queer community, but other marginalized and disenfranchised groups as well.
41 B T. Gener St, Quezon City
The underground club XX XX and its adjacent sister cocktail bar, 20:20, stages an eclectic variety of parties. There, musicians and DJs – from regulars of Berlin’s techno scene to Pinoy rock stalwarts – come to play.
XX XX also hosts Elephant, a rave that happens every Thursday night, where it’s okay to be the proverbial elephant in the room. “[It] isn’t a place for Top 40, but for the new, fresh, and unknown,” co-host Paul Jatayna told Purveyr.
Elephant’s off-kilter vibe and eclectic set of partygoers include models, artists, designers, drag queens – anyone, really, as they all dance to the beat of disco, house, techno, and more. There are themed nights dedicated to Madonna, the Matrix, and even balls for drag and BDSM.
20A-20B La Fuerza Plaza, 2241 Don Chino Roces Ave, Makati City
A little farther from the usual haunts of trendy Poblacion and a little near Rockwell, Pineapple Lab is a creative hub dedicated to artists and makers of all pronouns and colors of the spectrum.
In June 2019, for instance, Pineapple Lab hosted The Lil Gay Shop, “retail experience that highlights the sparkly spectrum of magical makers within the LGBTQIA+ community.”
6053 R Palma St, Makati City
Also in the emerging nightlife hub of Poblacion, Commune is a gem of a café in this lively part of Makati – tucked in the middle of Rockwell and the vicinity of Ayala Avenue.
The café, which champions Philippine coffee, is famous for its three-dimensional lattes and its pair of resident cats. However, it also flies the rainbow flag – a message that in this space, where everyone and everything is welcome.
It’s also a venue for talks and other events (such as improv shows). Sometimes, these concern the LGBTQ+ community, so it’s particularly busy and buzzing during Pride Month.
36 Polaris St, Makati City
LoveYourself, as an advocacy group, is known for its HIV screening and care services, as well as education and prevention programs, but its centers are not only part of the battle against the epidemic, but the stigma, too. More than being healthcare facilities, its community centers want to do away with the intimidating atmosphere associated with clinics of its sort.
In addition to HIV screening, LoveYourself – through its Lily and Victoria centers – has been providing services for transgender people. This includes hormone replacement therapy and counseling.
Click on this link for LoveYourself locations
Open Table Metropolitan Community Church
At present, they are known as the Open Table Metropolitan Community Church (MCC).
The Open Table MCC isn’t just some run-of-the-mill Christian congregation that simply welcomes or tolerates the LGBTQ+ community. It’s a sanctuary built and maintained by the people that have been shunned by the Church at large. (READ: A Christian church embraces the LGBT community)
“Love is our greatest moral value and resisting exclusion is a primary focus of our ministry,” stated the church. “We want to continue to be the conduits of a faith where everyone is included in the family of God, and where all parts of our being are welcomed at God’s table.”
Various symbols of the LGBTQ+ community are juxtaposed with Christian icons at Open Table. Worship services are ecumenical in nature, as their rites share elements of several Christian denominations.
The church also officiates matrimony or “Holy Union” for couples who wish to affirm their commitment to each other and be spiritually joined. However, this is still ultimately symbolic, as society and the state doesn’t recognize these unions as legally binding.
Alfonso De Oro Corporation, Unit 401, 4th Floor, 587 Sierra Madre St, Mandaluyong City
Why safe spaces matter
At one point, the Philippines, a predominantly Christian country, was ranked among the most “gay-friendly” places in the world, at least based on a global survey by the Pew Research Center. According to that study, it even bucked the trend in the Asia Pacific region, where negative views abound.
But often, “social will” isn’t matched by “political will” – that is, the need for the State and its laws to protect this visible but marginalized community. (READ: Is the Philippines really gay-friendly?)
In April 2019, the Safe Spaces Act, a “policy instrument to protect us from gender-based street harassment,” lapsed into law. It is meant to push back against “any unwanted and uninvited sexual actions or remarks against any person” in public spaces, from catcalling to “misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic and sexist slurs,” and more.
However, an anti-discrimination bill, also known as the SOGIE (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression) bill, languished in the 17th Congress. While the bill was passed in the House of Representatives, it didn’t make it past the second reading in the Senate. (READ: Life without bullies? Why Senate must pass anti-discrimination bill)
“It was one of the first bills sponsored in 2016. Should we still debate about something as basic as equality? For three years? Really?” said Senator Risa Hontiveros, who filed the measure in the upper chamber.
State protection is an imperative. Elsewhere, within and outside the metro, safe spaces like the ones mentioned above aren’t as accessible to all. Privilege check: you need to have decent means, or perhaps live in imperial Manila.
In the meantime, we band together in solidarity with each other, as having each other’s backs is already a revolutionary act in itself. Clichéd as it might sound, we have each other and our well-meaning allies.
As a Mashable opinion piece pointed out: “Many advocates agree that what will work is empowering members of the community to keep each other safe.”
“It’s important that LGBTQ people are given space to claim their individuals needs, while also listening to what would ensure someone else’s comfort,” Mashable’s Katie Dupere wrote.
With the dearth of legal and state-sponsored mechanisms to protect queer and non-cisgender Filipinos, being unfazed and persistent in demanding equality – also in the spaces we occupy and live – is paramount.
As MUNA’s song, “I Know a Place,” goes: “They will try to make you unhappy; don’t let them. They will try to tell you you’re not free; don’t listen. I know a place where you don’t need protection. Even if it’s only in my imagination.”
We have to toil in making that imagination a reality. – Rappler.com
Planning to visit the Philippines? Use this Cebu Pacific Promo and explore these day and night destinations that embrace the LGBTQ+ community.