For the second time in a row, Metro Manila Pride (MMP) had to bring their annual Pride festivities online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The group organized this year’s festivities under the theme #SulongVaklash. “Vaklash” is a play on the word “pagbaklas,” or dismantling the system that oppresses the LGBTQ+ community and other minority groups.
Months into the pandemic, LGBTQ+ discrimination had become even more apparent: Pride protestors were illegally arrested, a deceased UP professor’s same sex partner was denied recognition, and countless cases of harassment and violence against queers persisted, with some leading to murders.
“The LGBTQ+ community was already vulnerable before the pandemic, but [the pandemic] has exposed this vulnerability further,” MMP campaign and communications head Apa Agbayani told Rappler.
Agbayani said this year’s theme recognized that the solution to the pandemic, human rights abuses, and other crises are collective action and care. The festivities are focused on celebrating queer creators, raising discussions on LGBTQ+ issues, and even teaching individuals how to make protest art.
Why go online?
Prior to these efforts, MMP campaigns and communications co-head Mikhail Quijano shared that organizers had considered no longer continuing Southeast Asia’s largest Pride march back in 2020, due to the need to overhaul their operations and bring physical activities completely online.
“The challenge [also] remains that our audience is not all online,” added Agbayani. “Even in their homes, some Filipino LGBTQ+ individuals are not safe and out, so not everybody can openly participate even in digital Pride events.”
Agbayani added that the physical march is a physical space where one can “feel loved and accepted,” which he thinks is hard to recreate online.
Still, for the organizers, the pros outweigh the cons. MMP overall co-coordinator Nicky Castillo emphasized the need for more opportunities to stand up for advocacies amid attacks on human rights advocates and limitations posed by COVID-19.
“It is tough enough in the middle of the pandemic. Collective care is one of the biggest things to help us heal while undergoing this collective trauma as well,” said Castillo.
MMP is composed of LGBTQ+ volunteers and allies who work together on top of their day jobs. Aside from managing remote work, they also have to address personal challenges in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Agbayani said one of their challenges is not being able to plan things in person and direct a large team of volunteers. However, the online setting has also made it easier for them to find common schedules for meetings, often at night.
Recreating Metro Manila Pride online is not an easy feat. It is harder to make these stories visible in a space where billions of people post everyday.
“[Migrating online] challenges us to innovate and find new ways to do the same advocacy work,” Agbayani said.
This meant having to explore different platforms and think up of new activities for the community to participate in virtually.
Among their new moves is holding talks and discussions on Twitter Spaces and Zoom.
Throughout June, MMP hosted different online hangouts such as “VALIK-TANAW,” a queer history talk where professors traced LGBTQ+ oppression beyond the gender lens, and “AKLASRUM,” where different queer artists and organizers shared their process of crafting protest art.
Since activities are done virtually, MMP can now reach allies and members of the LGBTQ+ not only in Metro Manila but also in other parts of the Philippines.
Given its reach and access, migrating Pride activities online also means making these spaces safe for everyone. The organization actively moderates the event’s attendees.
“We want to create safe spaces for everybody, so we try to get rid of anybody who’s there to say bad things,” Agbayani shared.
Hosting these events online also means dealing with technical difficulties, especially on Facebook, where broadcasting copyrighted music used by drag performers is prohibited. Last year, the main Pride program was rebroadcast multiple times to adjust to this concern.
The LGBTQ+ community has warmly welcomed MMP’s shift to online spaces. Despite missing the physical space where their family and friends could gather, many people have recognized the organization’s efforts.:
It’s a nice reminder that the community still exists and that we are still here even if we can’t be together in person. Celebrating Pride amidst COVID shows solidarity at a time when so many of us are mourning, and strength when so many of us are feeling isolated and lonely.— Cha (@chacherryred) June 27, 2020
“We’ve designed these events to spotlight folks from the community, to shed light on our history, [and serve as an] opportunity to see and participate in the advocacy,” Agbayani said.
As the 2022 elections draw near, LGBTQ+ groups are now doubling their efforts in rallying people to their intersectional advocacies, especially for the passage of the SOGIE Equality Bill.
“It’s more important now to continue, especially when COVID threatens to invisibilize so much of our [already vulnerable] community and our struggles,” Agbayani emphasized.
The organizers also hope that this Pride celebration will be an opportunity for people of diverse identities to come together, hold the government accountable, and fight for science-based and humane COVID-19 response.
“Tuloy pa rin ang laban natin para sa karapatang pantao (Our fight for human rights continues),” Agbayani emphasized, reminding people that solidarity in Pride is a protest even after June. – Rappler.com
Joven Jacolbia is a Rappler volunteer studying organizational communication at the University of the Philippines Manila (UPM). He serves as editor-in-chief of Assortedge Media, and is research and education head of Bahagsari UPM.