Pasuquin is arguably one of the most backward municipalities of Ilocos Norte. It is economically slow, unprogressive, and stagnant. The town’s tourist attractions, if any, are not as well-known as the mindless bickering of its political families. Its Biscocho, though good, has never made it big on a national or regional scale. Salt-making, once a pride of this town, is no longer exactly traditional as the rock salt they use is now imported by bulk from Australia. The town could have made it big if only they supported the idea of setting up a dragon fruit farm first broached by resident Editha Dacuycuy, but she instead set up her now-famous farm in adjacent Burgos town after Pasuquin officials showed little interest.
These said, Pasuquin may not exactly be a model town, but there is, dear karikna, one thing the town is proud of. Such is little known, little emphasized, but is actually huge: its gay pride.
The Manila Pride March bills itself as the “oldest gay pride march in Asia.” Its first edition was staged in 1994. But did you know that an organized gay parade is being held in Pasuquin for forty two years now, starting in 1975?
A group of successful gay professionals formed the Sunflower Organization in the 1972. Its first project was the Sunflower Festival, a drag parade that celebrates pride in gay identity and fosters camaraderie among its members. Surprisingly, the people of this small and tightly Catholic town welcomed the idea. Mothers and fathers were supportive of their gay sons. Town folks watched the festival participants not with ridicule or contempt, but only with respect and admiration. It was such an extraordinary phenomenon that led American filmmaker Shawn Hainsworth to produce the documentary “Sunflowers” which earned critical acclaim in the 1997 Chicago Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and other film fests in North America. The film brought the Sunflower Festival in the international gay radar.
It’s a puzzle, dear karikna, how gay empowerment has become ingrained in the culture and consciousness of Pasuquenos, but Benly Agudelo Academia, current Sunflowers Organization president, offers this insight: “Sunflowers was started by successful professionals who were respected members of the community.” That is why, he said, “at the end of the day, people looked at our talents and contributions, and not on our gender.” Truly, the organization, through its yearly parade, has shown everyone that success and honor is no monopoly of heterosexuals and so no gay must be forced to linger in the dark. Aptly, the organization is named after the Sunflower which is known to face the sunlight. Members call themselves “sunflowers.”
In the absence of any record that would prove otherwise, Sunflowers is the oldest gay organization in the Philippines, if not in Asia. The University of the Philippines Babaylan, the largest LGBT student organization in the Philippines, was oranized only in 1992 while Progay-Philippines was formed in 1994.