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BACOLOD, Philippines – In Bacolod City, there are LGBTQ+ performers longing for a dedicated space where they can express their creativity and showcase their talents.
While the Philippines has seen a rise in interest in drag shows, there are still few spaces, especially in the provinces, for performers to practice and celebrate this art.
Bacolod City drag queens Moi, Jaundi Lierre, and Kelly Spirit share how, aside from rare bookings in events, their one major avenue to channel their colors is through The Burning House, a Pride party in the city which is only held once during Pride Month. The party is usually held in the city, along with a Pride March organized by Humanist Alliance Philippines International Bacolod.
Established in 2018 as a passion project by a group of friends, Burning House was initially set “to make space for party” for the LGBTQ+ community in Bacolod City during Pride month. With activities like beauty pageants, dance showdowns, lip sync battles, and face-offs, the LGBTQ+ community and their allies get to showcase and appreciate their art of performing. First-time goers from different towns in Negros Island traveled to Bacolod just for the party.
In previous years, the party required a payment of P200 from attendees to generate funds. However, they decided to waive fees this year, aiming to ensure that the Pride celebration was affordable and accessible to everyone.
“We want to be able to foster a platform where everyone can get to know these great talents from designers, organizers, makeup artists, performers, and introduce them to everyone else in the community…Build a barangay basically,” Burning House organizer Geli Arceño said.
Arceno added that local businesses, visual artists, and volunteers from various groups – environmental, human rights, democratic organizations, among others – formed a “broad alliance” to make the party a collaborative event.
“We really tried this year to reach out to every sector…to health workers, Sangguniang Kabataan Federations, young queers,” said Arceno.
Navigating challenges and overcoming stigma
With a lack of dedicated LGBTQ+ spaces in the city, many performers look forward to the annual Pride party to showcase their talents.
“Na-outpour ang amon expression of art sang whole year nga na sa June just because dira usually [gatabo] ang Burning House,” drag queen Moi said.
(Our expression of art from the whole year pours out in June just because this is when Burning House happens.)
“Kay halin kami sa Manila, medyo nacompare namon nga didto ya there are spaces gid where people are celebrated. Not only as queer people, but they do drag as their profession,” Moi stressed.
(Because we came from Manila, we can compare that there are spaces there where people are celebrated.)
Drag queen Jaundi Lierre echoed the sentiment that they don’t have the platform for drag other than being booked for major events. Yet, when they do get booked, they sometimes encounter misconceptions about their art.
Jaundi shared that when they performed at the Masskara Festival, they were called comedians instead of drag performers.
The need for safe spaces
Burning House organizer Geli Arceno adds that Negros has a long way to go from genuine inclusivity and creating a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community.
“There are a lot of bars that are very homophobic [in Bacolod]…and they hire a lot of people that need a lot of education in terms of overcoming their prejudice against queer people,” Arceno added. As a result of this, drag performers in the area can’t freely express themselves because of the judgment they face every day.
Inclusive spaces are important for queer performers and creatives as it gives them the opportunity to showcase their talents with respect, fair compensation, and genuine celebration, without being subjected to ridicule or mockery.
“It’s very important as a queer person to forget, to not be so guarded when it comes to being queer…The idea of being safe and allowing yourself to not be hampered by fear, especially if you’re in creative work…, without being scared if you are deemed as vulgar or too much, or just be made fun of because of your gender,” Arceno highlighted.
“We walk in the streets, we fight all the time. There’s so much grief in being an LGBTQIA person. [Burning House] provides that load off,” Arceno added.
Along with Moi and Jaundi, drag queen Kelly Spirit not only found a space, but she found a home and sense of belonging because of Burning House.
“We have formed our sisterhood because sa online lip sync contest sang Burning House. Kung wala kami to, indi kami kilalahay subong,” Kelly Spirit added.
(We have formed our sisterhood because of the online lip sync contest at Burning House. If we didn’t attend, we wouldn’t know each other.)
Embracing true colors: A call for progress
While Burning House has provided a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community in Bacolod City, this effort is only held once a year.
Although organizers want to expand, due to limited resources, they are unable to do so.
“The organizers are ordinary people taking [time] out of their actual desk jobs to be able to do this [event]. There are a lot of hopes to be able to expand [but] right now, I don’t think we have the capacity,” Arceno shared
As the Pride party offers a temporary respite, the demand for permanent LGBTQ+ spaces in Negros continues to grow.
“If anyone wants to open a safe gay bar in Bacolod with lots of fun activity nights, I think everyone would really welcome it,” Arceno urged. – Rappler.com
Myrrh Flores is a Rappler volunteer from University of the Philippines Visayas. She is an incoming sophomore studying Bachelor of Arts in Communication and Media Studies, specializing in Journalism and Radio Broadcast.