#DearSurvivor Pride 2024: Celebrating Queer Joys and Empowerment through Collective Care and Vogue

Here is an inspiring thought piece contributed by one of our dedicated volunteers. In this article, "Alex" guides us through their #DearSurvivor PRIDE journey as a volunteer facilitator. Through their perspective, we explore the queer joys, empowerment, and the profound impact of collective care and solidarity.

On June 15, Lunas Collective commemorated this year's Pride Month with its flagship event, #DearSurvivor: Pride Edition. It's a safe space for queer folk and allies, where they quite literally took center stage. Along with its signature sharing circles, this #DearSurvivor partnered with  Filipino Ballroom Community leaders, Father Misha dela Blanca and up-and-coming legendary trailblazer Mother Xyza Mizrahi, and concluded with a vogue jam.

#DearSurvivor was held in the We are Shapeshifters Movement and Gatherings Studio at the First United Building in Escolta, Manila. True to its name, the two-room dance studio that day was transformed with a pride flag and other decorations in queer colors to welcome over 30 participants. This number marks the biggest face-to-face run of #DearSurvivor yet.

Photo Credit: SPARK STUDIOS, De La Salle - College of St. Benilde

As a volunteer facilitator, it was comforting to see circles of people sitting casually on the floor as they shared lunch—volunteers and participants alike, friends and strangers alike. Everybody stayed seated and cozy during the opening remarks by Lunas Collective’s Founder, Sabrina Gacad and warm welcome remarks from Father Misha dela Blanca. This was followed by a Safety Orientation by the organization’s Helpline and Project Coordinator, Janine Del Mundo. Before the activities started, they also played a video message of solidarity from Commissioner Faydah Dumarpa from the Commission on Human Rights.

After the welcoming portion, we got to the heart of the event—the sharing circles. Participants gathered in small groups, each assigned to a uniquely creative space, thanks to the support of Belg Belgica and Espacio Creativo Escolta, Ziv Rei Alexi, and Arts Serrano and One Zero | MNL | Design. 

Being a trained facilitator for these conversations, I'm aware of the kaleidoscope of emotions that they could bring about. With tissues and a few discussion questions prepared, my partner documenter and I made sure our participants felt comfy and started the discussion. 

Sharing the Care
Each time I facilitate a sharing circle discussion, I find myself grateful for the diversity of perspectives, fears, and hopes the group shares with one another. It's through these that I'm able to learn from and connect with different people, which nurture my practice as a responder. 

For this conversation in particular, I was in awe of all the different ways one's sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression (SOGIE) can color their experiences in aspects of life. These labels carry with them implications, many times making queer people vulnerable to gender-based violence (GBV) and othering. 

Yet beyond these experiences of GBV, Lunas Collective believes that queerness is about discovering and living one's most authentic life, which deserves to be celebrated. So together, we shared stories about intimacy, sexual health, work, and even growing older as queer people, as well as the tears and laughter that come with them. 

And just as we shared our vulnerabilities, we also discovered our collective strength. While events for queer folk and survivors of GBV typically bring people together to talk about their shared struggles, an often overlooked aspect of their healing journeys is joy and lighthearted shared experiences that help unapologetically bring out their authentic selves. 

Photo Credit: SPARK STUDIOS, De La Salle - College of St. Benilde

By the end of the discussion, the participants wrote messages for their fellow survivors and allies, and they put this up on the studio mirror for everybody in the big group to read as we reconvened for snacks. 

Following the snack break, Mother Xyza Mizrahi from Ballroom Culture PH enlightened the group about the rich history of the ballroom community as a safe haven for self-expression. She then led the group in an exhilarating vogue jam session. Members of Ballroom Culture PH joined Mother Xyza in sharing their art and their passion for ballroom with #DearSurvivor participants and volunteers. They demonstrated how movement and empowerment intertwine to hold space for healing in this vibrant cultural space.

So on that day, we shed more light on queer joy through movement.

The Art of Voguing
Mother Xyza talked about how people in the Black and Latino queer communities in New York, excluded from positions of power in their communities, families, and the workplace and whose identities were erased by mainstream media, gave birth to ballroom. They came together after hours to discover and showcase their own power via subversive dance movements that were inspired by fashion photo shoot poses, which they called "voguing." This caught on fast in the 1980s and created an international movement, which is now making its way to the mainstream in the Philippines.

Photo Credit: SPARK STUDIOS, De La Salle - College of St. Benilde

Today, ballroom culture continues to liberate people in the queer community, and sometimes even outside of it. The movement hyperbolizes gender as performance and gives everybody the opportunity to express their most flamboyant, authentic selves, whatever that may look like. This way, ballroom reminds people time and time again about the autonomy they have over their bodies and their stories. 

The vogue jam began with basic tutorials as we slowly got into the groove and awkwardly watched ourselves in the mirror. Yet after a while, the speaker started blaring punchy music with hard basslines. Through the increasingly maarte movements, we discovered parts of ourselves that we rarely get the chance to discover, much less bring out around other people. 

Photo Credit: SPARK STUDIOS, De La Salle - College of St. Benilde

By the time the sun had set, the vogue jam ended and the program was officially concluded soon after. Yet the notes from survivors stayed on the mirror and I left the venue feeling a little more in touch with my queerness and the community. 

Regardless of where we might be from or where we're going, events like #DearSurvivor Pride stand as a testament to the importance of finding comfort and pleasure in one's own skin. Chances like that might not be available everywhere, especially for the LGBTQ+ individuals, but I like to believe that a vibrant and welcoming community has always existed—and will continue to exist—for as long as queer people do.

I'm grateful that the queer community can grow more connected and empowered through events like #DearSurvivor. Even beyond Lunas Collective, it was supported by the UP Center for Women's and Gender Studies, EMpower - The Emerging Markets Foundation Ltd,  and The Asia Foundation

Everybody was brought together with the help of our partner organizations, Aromatic and Asexual Support PH, GALANG Philippines, UP Community Development Circle, Philippine Safe Abortion Advocacy Network, Commission on Human Rights, and LakanBini.

And of course, none of the memories we made would have been possible without the spaces of We are Shapeshifters, Espacio Creativo Escolta, Ziv Rei Alexi, and One Zero | MNL | Design, and the refreshments and freebies from First United Building Corporation, the Kula Press, SogieLane, and the Kabataan Community Health Advocacy Team (KaCHAT).