LGBTQ+ Pride celebration in Cagayan de Oro City: In pursuit of golden freedom for rainbow love

By Alessandro Kennz Nioda

The weather was forgiving last Saturday of June. Clouds tinged with a grayish tone almost covered the sky above the streets of Cagayan de Oro City, but streaks of yellow light were able to pierce through. Everyone was worried, what if it will rain today? One could not brush away the question easily in the season of typhoons and monsoon. But the weather turned out to be a blessing for the LGBTQIA+ community. The sky became a benevolent ally.

For two weeks, the city in northern Mindanao, a major island in southern Philippines, celebrated LGBTQ+ Pride Month with Kahilwayan 2023, a series of events and activities that included a series of learning fora and #HowINEQUALITYLooksLike: A Photo Exhibit at the Ayala Malls Centrio. The name is a Hiligaynon word that means “freedom.” Though a Western Visayan language, Hiligaynon is spoken in many parts of Mindanao. Bannering the theme, “Amplifying voices, creating safe space,” Kahilwayan was a celebration encompassing the whole region of Mindanao and organized several of the regional and national LGBTQ+, human rights and advocacy groups including Out and Proud League of Colors CDO, Initiatives and Movement for Gender Liberation Against Discrimination or IM GLAD, Mindanao Pride, Balaod Mindanaw, Amnesty International Philippines, In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement, Tingug-Cagayan de Oro, Inc., Human Rights Youth Action Network or HRYAN, Akbayan Youth Misamis Oriental, Tagoloan Gender Advocacy Group or TAGAD, The Pride Center of Villanueva, Tabang Sikad and AKMK. It gained support from the city government and its Gender and Development program as well as from several big and small businesses.

Kahilwayan culminated with a Pride march on 24 June, simultaneous with several Pride marches in the country including the Pride PH Festival in Quezon City and the Metro Manila Pride March and Festival in Makati City.

The march began at the Rotunda Bypass Road, passed through Velez Street, went around Plaza Divisoria and ended at the Community Amphitheatre in Plaza Divisoria, where a program was held.

The Pride march this year was definitely not the first. Recent marches occurred before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, with Mindanao Pride and Northern Mindanao Pride as the leading organizers. Similar to previous marches, Kahilwayan 2023 aimed to promote the same progressive messages of equality and freedom for all.

During the march, which was participated in by representatives from different agencies, barangays and town governments, advocacy groups, sectoral organizations, business companies and individuals, these messages were loud and clear. A very long rainbow flag was paraded by LGBTQ+ participants and allies, a staple of marches ever since. Contrary to what others might think, disruption is good and noise a necessity, lest one has lost the real meaning of Pride.

As much as it was a protest, the march was also infused with fun, rooted in the safety of one another as a collective, and enlivened further by live band music and laughter. Costumes of different colors caught the eyes of many onlookers. There were times when the long flag lagged behind. As a gimmick, one of the folks in front would yell, “Go!” and the bearers would run with cheers and high spirits. Marchers would greet “Happy Pride” to the onlookers, a gesture of goodwill, a means of spreading the warmth of the march and a way of welcoming everybody in the productive process of enacting change.

The program after the march embellished the evening darkness with light and pomp. Dance and song performances by XTATIC, Taloto Queen, Niq Ramsis and Jules Omar wowed the crowd. Models from the Out & Proud League of Colors, Team Le Rouge Salon and Spa, The Queens and Adalia Model House strutted on the stage in a fashion show. The drag queens Fergie Mercury and Moi Beautiful as well as queens from the Haus of Drag Lords, the Haus of Supreme, Indie Queens and the Haus of La Feya were unmissable. The local drag scene continues to grow, and so does the love that they receive.

Dili mo ikaulaw (You are not something to be ashamed of),” Rolando “Klarex” Uy, mayor of Cagayan de Oro City,  said in his inspirational message during the program.

While self-acceptance is important, respect and acceptance by society and the state make a big difference. Despite the passage of the Cagayan de Oro City Diversity and Equality Ordinance in 2020, the so-called City of Golden Friendship remains to be in progress. Moreover, Kagay-anons have the rest of the Philippines to be concerned about. To wave the community’s flags proudly, to raise placards up high in defiance against prejudice and discrimination, to shout “Ipasa ang SOGIE Bill! Ipasa, ipasa!” on top of our lungs are some of the ways to reclaim space and make the world more just, more livable.