For a country that’s all too often conflicted about its own identity, the Philippines saw countless hates crimes against the LGBTQIA+ throughout the years. In 2020, its local government pardoned US marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton in killing transgender woman, Jennifer Laude, back in 2014. More recently, residents of a small town south of the country forcibly shaved the heads of people who are part of the queer community, citing it was against their Islamic religion. To date, there is no national law protecting LGBTQIA+ individuals from discrimination.
Voices from queer communities and allies across the archipelago have grown stronger, with rallies and movements becoming a cornerstone in the fight for genuine acceptance — much of it stemming from visibility in the nightlife industry.
Pre-pandemic, queer parties have longed reigned in the Filipino subculture. From raves in the 90s to inclusive safe spaces like Today x Future, Limbo and XX XX, the demand for equality is witnessed on the dance floor. While these clubs have been the recent victims of closure no thanks to covid, some like the queer rave collective, Elephant have endured.
“Elephant has become an exploration of the limitless bounds of identity on the dance floor — whether it be through music, movement, fashion, or anything in between — it's queer," co-founder Paul Jatayna explains. "I like to think that the boundaries of queer are limitless, which in perspective makes it very inclusive. Elephant has also become a playground for new sounds and ideas where the Elephant community has the freedom to play with. I'm not saying though that Elephant started this movement because I still genuinely feel that Elephant was a natural progression of the parties that I attended in the past. There was Today x Future, Panty Monsters, Hotdog. However, I think when the music was refocused to techno, that's when Elephant really became more alive and found its own DNA unintentionally molded from the techno beats.”
The 31-year old artist, promoter and event organizer grew up attending queer nights across the metro. Together with Superstarlet XXX, Jujiin, Paolo, XX XX co-founder Anna Ong, and core members, Bruce Venida and David Sorrenti, they established Elephant as a weekly debauchery — an invitation to break away from the norms and embrace the outrageous. From themed nights like BDSM, Evening Gown Competition, Prom Night and welcoming the likes of Herrensauna, Boris, Chris Cruse and Ouissam as international headliners, it offered boundless opportunities to express oneself.
“The successes were definitely the jam-packed nights when we had very special DJs or themes like when Herrensauna played, whenever we hosted our annual 80s Prom Night and Evening Gown Competition, and even those fun nights when basketball star player Arnold graced us with his playlist for the first time. That was really fun,” Jatayna opens up. “However, most people would only come for the highlighted nights and not come back for the regular nights. What helped us power through the empty nights was the Elephant regulars who were always there to support and dance until closing time. Saying this makes me sad and miss Elephant even more!”
With the pandemic seeing raves come to a grinding halt, Elephant continuously exerted efforts to empower inclusivity and make space for continued recognition of local queer talent.
“Honestly speaking, Superstarlet XXX and I aren't really fans of online parties. I know it's inevitable, but it's just different. I feel like I don't have to go into detail on why, but I'm sure a lot of clubgoers understand,” he says. “Despite that, we've hosted three streaming parties so far. The first was our fourth anniversary in 2020. The second was really special though because we, fortunately, got to collaborate with NY's Community Bread. That was the time when trans PSa
“It's genuinely the people around Elephant. Every single member and regular really contributed to Elephant's identity. When we used to convert XX XX into Elephant art exhibitions, their energies really affected us and vice versa. The stories of our trans and nonbinary friends also developed Elephant into a more inclusive space beyond what Superstarlet XXX and I could imagine.”
It isn’t easy to look forward to when clubs re-open, seeing as the rest of the world have started raves and the local government continues to stifle possibilities of the nightlife coming back. However, hope isn’t lost. If anything, the long wait has made more partygoers, event organizers and DJs become more pensive on how the Filipino nightlife scene should return.
“I think post-pandemic would pretty still be like pre-pandemic. People would still come in cliques. Clubgoers would still follow where their music is and support where their DJ friends are playing. For me, it's fine as it is. Perhaps maybe there would be more people going out than before because there's this feeling of regret that we didn't push ourselves to go out when clubs used to be open all the time,” Jatayna quips. “However what I care about more are to answer the social issues and inequalities surrounding the club scene.
"This pandemic, we've really grown into understanding the true meaning of equality and I want this to be actualized when the club gates open. DJs, artists, and promoters should be compensated accordingly. Brands who want to collaborate should also collaborate with the LGBTQ+ community in fighting for legal rights. Corruption in drugs should be called out. I have a long list in my head. XX XX has unfortunately already closed its doors so I hope Superstarlet XXX and I will find a suitable home for Elephant in the future. The future is queer!”
As to what Elephant have up their sleeves in the next coming months, Jatayna shares: “We're probably making a Christmas or New Year special but we haven't planned anything so far. Yet it kinda sucks, you know? I'd really rather dance with everyone physically than listen to a streaming party alone in my apartment.”
[Images by Jack Marion & Elephant]