“I wasn’t out yet when I first started celebrating Pride,” said Nikko Atienza from La Union, Philippines. Atienza wasn’t sure about his identity at the time, but something told him it was important to show up, to show solidarity somehow. He did that by going to Pride celebrations along with his friends, both queer and straight.
“Admittedly, there was some sort of guilt in me. How could I genuinely support Pride when I myself was not even out and proud? I felt like I was kind of an impostor,” Atienza told VICE.
Celebrating Pride while in the closet as a queer person sounds paradoxical. When the rainbow flags come a-flyin’ on June 1st, the queer people who protest, party, and play look proud, confident, and unapologetic. All of these can seem like prerequisites to joining the celebration. But Pride is many things, and there’s more than one way to celebrate it. It started as and continues to be a protest. It’s a time to learn and remember queer history. It’s an invitation to connect with communities, as well as yourself. It’s a recognition of identities and relationships, public and private. While out and proud queer people can do this however they like, those in the closet can, too.
“If cis-gendered, heterosexual families can attend Pride [events], and if major corporations can make a profit off slapping rainbows on their products for all of June, actual queer people can celebrate Pride regardless of whether they’re out or not,” said Lu, a Filipino American currently based in New York.
The first time Lu celebrated Pride was by accident. They were on a train to San Francisco, overwhelmed by the plethora of rainbows and glittery bodies, when a stranger recognized their panic and tried to soothe it with conversation. Lu told the stanger that they were comfortable telling people they were bisexual, but had never celebrated Pride. They ended up spending the entire day with the stranger and their friends, attending various celebrations.
“What [the strangers] didn’t know was that afterwards, I went back to my hotel room and cried so hard. I was grateful I was alone to let it all out. Pride will do that to a person—it will overwhelm you to be around so much love and acceptance, especially if that’s as unfamiliar to you as it was to me at that time,” Lu said.
“Pride will do that to a person—it will overwhelm you to be around so much love and acceptance, especially if that’s as unfamiliar to you as it was to me at that time.”
But not everyone will have the same opportunity. In many places, being out means putting yourself at risk of real danger.
“While it’s important to celebrate who you are and our colorful history, it’s also important to stay alive until you can live on your own or in a community that genuinely accepts you,” said Lu, acknowledging that many queer people simply can’t come out.
Queer people who celebrate Pride loudly and proudly were likely once in the closet themselves, and few forget what that’s like. Part of why they commemorate Pride is to celebrate their being out, but it’s also to make it easier for others who aren’t. They remember the struggle and are happy to continue the fight for those who can’t, yet or ever.
“Growing up in the 90s, I was configured to instinctively hide, be quiet about, and in some cases, even be ashamed of being gay, or being perceived as one. I was constantly internally conflicted and challenged on how I could be proud of who I am,” said Sanriel Chris Ajero, an accountant from Manila, Philippines.
Ajero said that he slowly started accepting himself after reading about Pride history, watching movies and documentaries about the LGBTQ community, and listening to queer voices in different Pride celebrations.
“By celebrating these fearless trailblazers, I felt like I was also celebrating myself,” he said. “This is why I think it is important to celebrate [Pride], not just to commemorate those that came before us, but also for the younger generation. For that one other kid in the middle of nowhere, having trouble accepting themself, secretly watching the Pride celebrations from their phone, and probably thinking about making a first step towards finally getting to know and embracing themself.”
“This is why I think it is important to celebrate [Pride], not just to commemorate those that came before us, but also for the younger generation.”
Even queer people who are out sometimes find it difficult to celebrate Pride.
“I have yet to attend an actual Pride event or parade,” said Alphonzo Alegrado, a filmmaker based in Cebu, Philippines. “Though there was always a desire to join the big events, it was always overshadowed by my fear of being seen amongst other queer folk, having that spread on social media, and getting outed to my family in that way.”
Alegrado said that internalized homophobia and biphobia, along with “Catholic indoctrination” initially prevented him from comfortably celebrating Pride, but he’s learning to overcome these. He has since come out to more friends and family, and has found safe spaces to engage with other members of the community.
It’s important to remember that there’s also no pressure for people to come out just because it’s Pride.
“You don’t have to come out to validate your queerness,” said Hannah Jabla, a recording engineer based in Manila.
“You don’t have to come out to validate your queerness.”
Jabla said that before was out, she felt jealous of those who were, but she celebrated Pride in her own way by being a good ally.
“Pride is a celebration you can have within yourself,” said Auds Cruz, an entrepreneur, also from Manila.
“Every day, you wake up for you and I think that’s the most important thing. Fighting a battle within [yourself] is already heavy as it is, so learning to love oneself is the key to winning this,” Cruz said.
There are ways to celebrate Pride in private, too, and they’re no less important than celebrating in public. They don’t even have to look like typical celebrations.
“If someone’s not yet out, there are still many ways to celebrate Pride,” said Manila-based banker Kit Panga. Panga attended her first Pride parade in Malate, Philippines, in the 90s. At the time, she was also marching for the friends she lost to HIV and AIDS. She has since joined Pride celebrations around the world.
According to Panga, queer people who are not out can participate by learning more about the lives of their LGBTQ friends and colleagues, using inclusive language, correcting mistakes as they see them happen, or donating to an LGBTQ organization.
Ajero, the accountant, said that education is also an important way people can celebrate.
“You should learn about the history of why there is Pride, why we celebrate it, the important figures in this movement, the struggles of our people and what has changed in how the world views us today. You can read books or watch movies and documentaries to help you. This is not just an important lesson, but could also be a catalyst to help you learn to accept yourself, or even assist you if you decide to come out,” said Ajero.
He added that supporting queer artists and queer-owned businesses is also a good way to celebrate. Meanwhile, Alegrado, the filmmaker, suggested consuming queer media.
“The safest thing you can do as a closeted queer person is to get on Netflix or YouTube and find [queer] stories. For queer people who are still discovering themselves, or anyone who just doesn’t feel comfortable coming out, I think it’s important to see people on screen whose experiences you can identify with,” said Alegrado.
Pride is rooted in community. Its foundation is a rich history passed on through generations of queer people with shared struggles and joys. At present, there are ways to go towards LGBTQ equality, representation, and acceptance, and these cannot be achieved for one unless they are achieved for all. But Pride is also personal. Each queer person fights their own battles, overcomes their own struggles, and finds their own joys. This in itself is worth celebrating—from inside or outside of the closet.
“Thankfully, someone shared with me that it was OK. That I didn’t need to be out to celebrate Pride,” Atienza, who felt like an impostor when he joined Pride celebrations before he was out, said. “That being out is not a prerequisite to supporting Pride. That my presence was more than enough.”
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