Pride March 2016: 'Golden Gays' looking for a home
MANILA, Philippines – At around 5 PM of June 25, a parade of cars, vans, and motorcycles adorned with colorful balloons, flags, and posters drove off along Ma Orosa street in Manila.
With troops of people in flashy costumes waving rainbow flags and dancing to the tunes of Spice Girls and Whitney Houston, the LGBT community filled the streets of Manila with love and energy. (READ: IN PHOTOS: 22nd Manila Pride March)
Different companies and organizations were part of the parade, but one that stood out was the group of the Golden Gays. Clad in lavish gowns, bright makeup, and colorful wigs, the “lolas” from the Home for the Golden Gays (HGG) joyfully waved to the crowd and posed for photos.
The HGG was established in 1975 by LGBT rights activist and columnist Justo Justo to serve as a safe haven for homeless elderly gays in Metro Manila. Most of its dwellers come from the province and do not have families of their own.
Among the lolas is Cesario De Guzman. An impersonator of singer Didith Reyes, whom he called a “great sexy singer,” Cesario also goes by the name Manette Imbestor, a wordplay on the name of comedienne Nanette Inventor. “We’re both plump,” he joked.
An hour before the parade began, Cesario, together with the other lolas, was sitting on the lawn near the entrance of Nayong Pilipino. Dressed in a pink gown with a white shawl, and adorned with silver jewelries and cosmetics accented by red lipstick, he posed for photos.
Turning 60 on July 7, Cesario has been living with the Golden Gays for two years. Born and raised in Pampanga, he eventually left for Manila to study. Having only finished a year in college, he then looked for a job in order to support himself. He worked as a cook for different restaurants, and with years of experience, he now claims to be the “best cook in town,” serving his specialties which include kare-kare and lengua.
In 2014, he found out about the HGG from the Members Church of God International (MCGI), the religious group he currently belongs to. But before joining the MCGI, he has been a part of numerous religions. Born a Catholic, he then became a part of Iglesia ni Cristo and Born Again before joining the MCGI. He said that MCGI accepts gays, but with reservations.
“We are accepted at MCGI, but they don’t allow this,” he said, referring to cross-dressing. But still, he believes that cross-dressing is a part of who he is. “A gay is a gay,” he puts it.
When he strutted down the pathway, it showed how cross-dressing is something that he has been doing for many years. But according to him, he was just influenced by his fellow lolas. “I’m just a simple gay. I only started to cross-dress now that I’m old,” he admitted.
Cross-dressing, however, is not entirely new to him. “When I was younger, my mother used to dress me with clothes for girls,” he said. His mother already knew that he was gay even when he was still in grade school, but it was only in high school that he was able to confirm it. “During high school, that was the time when I learned that I’m gay. I got attracted to guys, especially handsome ones.”
More than 4 decades after realizing his sexuality, he sees clearly the difference between the gays of then and now. “Before, there weren’t any events like this,” he said, referring to the pride march and LGBT get-togethers. “Back in my youth, there were only gay bars.”
“Nowadays, there are many vices, and several killings,” he said. “I wish the youth would emulate us, because we really try to be good role models for them.”
Looking for a home
Ramon Busa, the president of the HGG, expressed the same sentiments. “I want them to see us as inspirations,” he said, referring to the younger LGBTs. “We reached this age – 65, 75, 80 – without any major ailments. We want them to realize that they can live normally without the use of body-altering drugs.”
Ramon, 66 years old, replaced Justo when the latter died in 2012. The two were good friends, way back in the 1980s, but grew apart when Justo entered politics, serving as a barangay chairman and a 3-term councilor in Pasay.
With the death of Justo, the Golden Gays also lost their home at 108 David Street, Pasay. Currently, the lolas live with relatives, former members that have extra rooms in their houses, and a small room in the barangay hall.
“Our immediate goal is really to have a home,” he said. “There are still many homeless gays in Pasay, everywhere, especially those who sleep in the Cultural Center. As much as we want to adopt them, we can’t because we currently don’t have our own home.”
Their former abode was a two-story house with approximately 350sqm in floor area, which could accommodate more or less 15 people, with others only staying as visitors. For him, to have a new home similar to the one before would be more than enough.
But even though the lolas are faced with a difficult problem, Ramon chose to enjoy the company of the LGBT community. “It’s fun because there’s unity,” he said, referring to the event. “When people of the same sexual orientation and gender identity get together, they really understand each other.”
His final message for the youth: “Maintain the highest self-respect, self-esteem. Whatever the age, appearance, or status, when people see you as respectable, they respect you.”
Messages of solidarity
Before the parade started, different organizations delivered their solidarity speeches, which were received with a warm, energetic support from the crowd.
Among the organizations was Bahaghari, which believes that “our issues are intimately linked.” The organization’s slogan, which is “LGBT tumindig. Tumindig laban sa karahasan at diskriminasyon. Tumindig laban sa isang sistema na nagsasamantala sa lahat ng tao,” aims to support the marginalized members of the LGBT community.
Tetet Villares of Calgary Dyke and Trans March sang, along with the crowd, “To take each moment, and live each moment, in peace eternally. Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” “LGBT rights are human rights!” she said, a sentiment that was shared by Ging Cristobal of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.
Tetet also stressed the importance of an anti-discrimination law. “The road has been long, hard, and frustrating for all activists who tirelessly fight for us for so long,” she said. “But because of all of you, I feel very hopeful that one day, the law of this land will see us all as equals.”
Lastly, Jan Latorre of Pinoy Filipino Transgender Men (PFTM) appealed to the families of the LGBTs: “We are now in front of every people, Filipino people, non-LGBT people. Show the love and care of anyone to anyone in the world. Love and respect starts with each and every one of us.”
A golden moment
After an hour of marching around the vicinity of Rizal Park, the community got together in front of the towering Lapu-Lapu shrine in Luneta for the post-pride program. There were dancing, singing, and spoken word performances, and among the sea of approximately 4,500 people were rainbow flags waving in the air.
As the sun went down, the energy only went higher. At around 7:30, the lolas of the HGG took to the stage for their anticipated performances.
First was an interpretative dance to the tune of Pink’s “Just Give Me A Reason.” Wearing a pink gown, one of the Golden Gays danced throughout the whole song, with the crowd cheering on. What followed was a lip-sync performance of Beyonce’s “Listen.” Clad in a red dress, the lola lightheartedly threw her stilettos while performing, to the delight of the crowd.
For their final performance, all the lolas of the HGG took to the stage and sang Diana Ross’ “If We Hold On Together.” It was a touching moment, with the crowd singing along, waving their hands and rainbow flags up high – as high as their pride can go.
As the song goes, “If we hold on together, I know our dreams will never die.” Holding their hands together, the Golden Gays continue to dream of a safe haven for the lolas of the LGBT community. – Rappler.com
A student of the University of Sto Tomas, Renzo Acosta is a Rappler intern.