PASUQUIN, Ilocos Norte: With red ribbons pinned on their colorful gowns, members of the gay community gathered here for the annual Sunflower Festival as they sought to raise awareness and support for those living with Human Immunodeficiency Virus-Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (HIV-AIDS) in the country.
Dubbed as the oldest gay pride celebration in Asia, the Sunflower Festival has been held annually since 1975, highlighting the creativity and fostering pride, camaraderie and acceptance of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community.
Festival pioneer and crowned queen Larry Orque said the “sunflower has been chosen as the theme for the festival as it follows the direction of the sun from sunrise to sunset where it gets its energy. This relates and proves that gays are energetic, creative and very resourceful in their everyday lives.”
Veering away from the usual festivities, the event this year, held late Monday afternoon, affirmed its commitment toward battling the stigma and promoting HIV-AIDS awareness as there has been an alarming rise of cases across the country.
Ilocos Norte Tourism Officer and this year’s Miss Sunflower Festival Star of the Night Aianree Raquel took the opportunity to ask everyone to support the campaign for HIV-AIDS awareness.
Raquel congratulated the festival organizers for keeping the annual event alive for more than four decades already, saying, “Thank you, sunflowers (a term used to refer to the members of the LGBT community here), for the chance to walk with you tonight. Since 1975, you have built long history of pride and beauty worthy of recognition,” she said.
In the past years, Ilocos Norte has been in the forefront of uplifting gay pride and equality. Last February, the province held its first gay beauty pageant dubbed as the “Miss Ilocoslovakla” aiming to educate and uphold respect among all genders in society.