The Philippines’ premier LGBTQ+ club, O Bar Philippines, and The Red Whistle, a leading HIV, health, and human rights advocacy organization in the Philippines, presented the second annual LGBTQ+ Icons of the Year awards on Saturday night, June 24, 2023, during O Bar’s 11th annual Philippine Pride Party held at O Bar’s iconic venue in Ortigas Center, Pasig City.
This year’s edition of the awards is special because it marks the beginning of a long-term partnership between O Bar and The Red Whistle on advocacy work for the LGBTQ+ community. The selection committee has also expanded the awards to create new categories to recognize the needs of the advocacy and the work done by many LGBTQ+ individuals and allies in advancing the community’s cause.
The program was hosted by award-winning actress, host, and news anchor Jervi “KaladKaren” Li after a show stopping opening show by O Bar queens, dancers, celebrity guests, and drag artists from all over the country. O Bar COO Ramon Papa opened the program by welcoming the crowd to O Bar and thanking them for their continued patronage and support through the years. The selection committee composed of Papa, O Bar’s Queen Anita, The Red Whistle Founder Niccolo Cosme, and The Red Whistle Executive Director Benedict Bernabe were on stage to present the awards.
Risa Hontiveros is Ally for Change
First to be recognized was the “Ally for Change” award recipient Senator Risa Hontiveros, who was cited for her unwavering support to pass key legislation and policies that will ensure equal treatment of the LGBTQIA+ community. In a video acceptance speech, Sen. Risa thanked the community for including her in the roster of Icons of the Year. “This work for a more equal world and a more equal country is very personal to me because I’m the mama of a queer young daughter. I will use the affirmation and the joy that this award brings me to keep on pushing for the passage into law of the SOGIE Equality Bill.”
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Mela Habijan recognized as trans and non-binary youth champion
The “Young People’s Champion” award was given to beauty queen, host, and advocate Mela Habijan for championing the cause of young trans students, ensuring that they grow up in gender-affirming learning spaces, with their gender identity officially recognized. An emotional Mela, who arrived straight from the PridePH Festival in Quezon City, said with an audibly strained voice, “Habang meron tayong paninindigan, kahit hirap tayong magsalita, may boses at puso ang paninindigan para sa iba. And I choose to stand for young LGBTQIAP+ people.”
“I personally do not want them to experience a world that limits their opportunities, I don’t want them to experience a world that is violent. I don’t want them to experience a world that does not recognize their individuality. Karapatan ng kabataan trans at kabataang non-binary na kilalanin ng lipunang Pilipino, mag-aral ng mabuti, magpakahusay, at abutin ang kanilang mga pangarap.”
Precious Paula Nicole is Beacon of Representation Awardee
The Beacon of Representation Award was received by O Bar’s own daughter, Drag Race Philippines Season 1 Winner Precious Paula Nicole. Precious was cited for her relentless pursuit of excellence in her craft, passion for performance and the art of drag, and pushing for LGBTQIA+ visibility. In accepting her awards, Precious reminisced how she started in O Bar 13 years ago and how the bar honed her skill and artistry as a drag queen. “Wala na akong ibang masabi kung mahal na mahal ko ang O Bar. Dito po nabuo si Precious Paula Nicole. Dito ako nag-rerehearse, minsan dito na rin ako natutulog.”
A surprise announcement for Trans Trailblazer awardee KaladKaren
KaladKaren called on last year’s Icon of the Year Awardee, Queenmelo Esguerra, to help present this year’s Icon of the Year award. Before the awarding of the final trophy, Queenmelo announced a surprise category this year, the Trans Trailblazer award, which was given to KaladKaren for paving the way for trans people in news and entertainment as an award-winning actress, host, and TV news anchor
As visibly shocked KaladKaren accepted her award stating that “I always make sure to include the LGBTQIAP+ community in whatever aspect na ginagawa ko sa aking career because I’ve always believed that trans visibility matters, representation matters. I’m sure that after opening so many doors, blazing trails, marami pang katulad ko ang mabibigyan ng pagkakataon. I really pray na hindi lang ako yung magiging transgender news anchor, or best supporting actress. I hope mas marami pang tulad ang mabigyan ng pagkakataon. Magagaling po kami. Kailangan lang po namin ng pagkakataon.
“Ang sarap ma-recoginze ng sariling mong komunidad”—Vice Ganda
The most coveted award of the night for Icon of the Year went to comedian, actor, host, and recording artist Vice Ganda, for their positive representation of the LGBTQ+ community and their “unkabogable” contribution to Philippine society at large. “Sa ilang taon ko sa showbiz, kahit papaano, may mangilan-ngilan na rin akong natanggap na pagkilala. Marami nang iba’t ibang eskwelahan, unibersidad at pamantasan n nagbigay ng pagkilala sa body of work ko. Marami na ring award-giving bodies na kumilala sa mga naimbag ko sa mga trabaho ko. Maraming organisasyon na rin ang nagbigay sa akin ng tropeo, plake. Pero wala nang mas sasarap pa sa pakiramdam na kilalanin ka at irecognize ka ng sarili mong komunidad.”
“Seriously, from the bottom of my heart, this means so much to me. This really means so much to me. Ang sarap sa pakiramdam na tinatanggap, minamahal, sinusuportahan, at kinikilala ka ng mga kasamahan mo sa sarili mong komunidad. Napakasarap po non. Napakasarap,” Vice Ganda shares.
O Bar and The Red Whistle launches the GANDA Pride Fund; Vice Ganda donates on the spot
Inspired by the work of the Icons of the Year, O Bar and The Red Whistle also launched the GANDA Pride Fund on the same night. GANDA stands for Gender Affirming, Nurturing, Defense, and Advocacy.
In explaining the inspiration for the fund, Benedict Bernabe of The Red Whistle said, “We are inspired by O Bar dahil hindi lang ito isang bar. Isa din itong pamilya na tumutulong sa ating komunidad sa panahon ng pangangailangan. As you’ve heard, our awardees have done amazing work in the fields of gender affirmation, nurturing those in need, defending the abused, and advocating for our rights. We want to make this work sustainable by creating a fund dedicated to this purpose. Ito po ay manggagaling sa pagmamahal natin sa isa’t isa, deretso sa mga nangangailangan.”
In a night full of surprises, Vice Ganda makes another iconic move by committing 100,000 pesos on the spot as initial seed funding for the GANDA Pride Fund while giving her acceptance speech for Icon of the Year, which earned a thunderous applause from the O Bar crowd.
O Bar and The Red Whistle congratulate all the awardees and thank them for their iconic contribution to the LGBTQIAP+ community in the Philippines. We celebrate and honor their legacy and we hope that their work and life continue to inspire others, especially the Filipino LGBTQIAP+ youth.