Discover Manila gay scene with local boy Rione

Discover Manila gay scene with local boy Rione

#itsmoreGAYinthephilippines …right?

We certainly thought so: the Philippines pretty much out-pink-ed all other countries in Asia from our point of view as foreigners.

Stef Seb curiosity at gay friendly Philippines

Stef and Seb curious to discover what makes the Philippines so phantastically pink friendly

The Philippines is always up there in those popular polls ranking which are the most gay friendly countries in the world. At the same time, it’s a staunchly religious country with over 76 million of the world’s Catholics (the highest after Mexico and Brazil).

The crowds in Manila waiting for the Pope

Rione with the crowds outside Manila Hotel waiting for the Pope’s appearance in January 2015

But regardless of the strongly held religious views, we found the Filipinos to be extremely warm hearted and friendly individuals and totally open minded to us as a gay couple. At no point did we ever feel we had to tread carefully about being gay, compared to our experiences in the Maldives or Sri Lanka.

That’s our point of view as tourists, but what’s it like from the inside? In Manila we met local boy and journalist Rione Palacios, who told us more about being gay in the Philippines and the Manila gay scene.

Rione photography course Tagaytay

Rione posing during a photography workshop at Tagaytay (near Manila)

#1 Magandang umaga Rione! Where are you from and what do you do?

Bonjour boys! I am Rione Palacios, journalist for GIST magazine, a lifestyle publication powered by The Philippines Star (ie similar to The Times in the UK or The New York Times in the States).

I am originally from Cebu City and moved to the big city (Manila) to pursue bigger dreams and of course to maybe find my Mr Big.

Rione friends drinks in Metro Manila

Drinks with Rione and friends in BGC in Metro Manila

#2 Are you openly gay to your friends and family?

Oh yes! But I never felt the need to hide who I am to anybody. I strongly believe that if you can’t be true to your friends and family, then how can you be honest with yourself and look the world in the eye?

Rione local boys telling us about gay manila

An honest Rione looking the world in the eye

#3 What’s it like growing up as gay in the Philippines?

It certainly came with its challenges and it still does. I was raised a Catholic and went to a Catholic school. Most gay Filipinos who are Catholic must grapple with the fact that the Catholic Church still holds a very arcane, anti LGBT stance.

There are struggles that are definitely specific to growing up in a country that is predominantly Catholic and has a very macho culture.

Sebastien gay macho outfit

Sebastien grappling with the macho culture of Filipino society

#4 Did you ever encounter any employment discrimination?

I am very lucky because the industry I work in (ie media and arts) is very tolerant and accepting towards the LGBT community. But the corporate sector is more conservative: some of my friends who work in this sector would just not risk being out at work for fear of it negatively affecting their career.

Having said that, in one job interview with the VP of a big mall chain, he kept focusing on questions about my sexuality (like, ‘who do you live with?’ and ‘are you single?’). Luckily it didn’t get too graphic, but probably because the look on my face told him not to go there!

Rione face expression at interview

Bitch purlEEEZE! Rione’s face expression to overly intrusive interview man!

#5 Are there any popular gay events that take place in the Philippines?

There are quite a few but mainly in Manila. The Metro Manila Pride is the most popular and in fact was the first one in Asia when it started in June 1994.

It has since not only turned into a popular summer event every June, a second annual Pride also takes place in Quezon City each March.

Sebastien outfit Manila Pride

Sebastien preparing his outfit for the next Metro Manila pride

We also have the Quezon City International Pink Film Festival every December (since 1995) and in 2004, the CCP Dream Theatre in Manila hosted the opening of the Pride International Film Festival (PIFF).

And of course, in line with our Filipino obsession with beauty pageants, we always send our Mr Gay World Philippines finalist, without fail, every year, to the Mr Gay World competition since it began in 2009.

We also hosted the 3rd Mr Gay World competition in 2011 at Club MWAH in Manila.

Mr Gay Philippines previous entrants

Previous Mr Philippines entrants for the Mr Gay World competition

#6 Why do you think ladyboys are more accepted by society in the Philippines compared to other parts of the world?

We Filipinos are on the whole, a very accepting society. But despite appearances, our society is largely conservative and can sometimes be very unkind to people who are considered different. It’s a strange mix.

For example, the bouncers of the Valkyerie club in BG City (one of the 16 cities that makes up Metro Manila) barred transgender fashion designer, Veejay Floresca from entering because she was not wearing pants to match the ‘male’ sex identity on her ID card and was instead wearing a sexy yellow dress.

Veejay Floresca friend Facebook status

Veejay’s friend’s Facebook status following the evening she was barred from Valkyrie Club

It was however humbling to see the media backlash to this club, forcing them to issue a pro transgender statement stating they do not discriminate against transwomen and transgender individuals, and stating they needed to provide further training to their staff in this regard.

Veejay Floresca Manila

Veejay Floresca who was unfortunately refused entry at the Valkyerie club in Manila

#7 The Philippines is often regarded as one of the most gay friendly places in the world. Why do you think she has this reputation?

I think this really comes from our culture. We are very friendly, warm-hearted people and always look forward to having guests over as you boys found out with Miss Palawan ha ha ha:

Miss Palawan in El Nido with Stef and Seb

Posing with this friendly old dear in El Nido, who called himself “Miss Palawan”

#8 Which are the popular gay bars and clubs in Manila at the moment?

The Manila gay scene used to be based in Malate, but most places there have either closed down or moved. Chelu bar in Malate is still going strong though. 

Otherwise, the main popular gay bars in Manila are:

  • the Distillery  at The Fort in Bonifacio Global City: a great place to hang out and have drinks with friends (NB. don’t confuse it with the other Distillery bar in Eastwood).
  • Adonis in Quezon City: a staple on the scene with go go dancers and attracts a young-ish, mainly local crowd.
  • O Bar in Ortigas City does some really fun drag shows, which you sit and watch, then it becomes a fun club afterwards for dancing.
Gay bars Manila: O Bar club in Ortigas

Drinks with friends at O Bar in Ortigas (not sure what the bouncer was trying to do to Stefan!)

#9 Are there any gay friendly hotels you recommend?

Manilla is quite open to gay tourists, so it should not be difficult to find a room as a gay couple. The options below have been quite popular among my gay friends:

MISTER BNB   Book online

  • For gay travellers who want to meet gay locals, this is a great option. You are renting a room in a local’s home, and you also get to experience the culture and make new friends.
  • Prices start from $10 (£7) for a bed.

WHERE 2 NEXT HOSTEL   Book online

  • Located in Malate, this gay friendly hostel is a good option for budget travellers.
  • The staff are very welcoming, have great advice about the Manila gay scene and I believe you boys stayed there (ha ha ha!)
  • Prices start from $15 (£10) for a bed in a dorm.


  • Also based in Malate but more high end. Friends stayed there in the past and said the staff was very gay friendly
  • Prices start from $170 (£110)


  • A popular chain and well-known for its friendliness towards the LGBT community.
  • The hotel offers great rooms, with an amazing view and a gigantic pool.
  • Prices start from $300 (£200)
Where2Next hostel in Malate

Taking over the gay friendly Where2Next hostel in Malate

#10 Apart from yourself, are there any other famous out Filipino gay celebrities?

Ha ha, I wish but I’m not particularly famous boys! There are quite a few though, like comedians Allan K and Vice Ganda, TV presenter Boy Abunda, singer Aiza Seguerra and many more.

But unfortunately there’s a shortage of openly gay actors, presumably because they fear that coming out will compromise the roles they will receive. Whilst this may be the same in Hollywood, you still get famous gay actors like Ian McKellan, Neil Patrick Harris, Jodie Foster and Portia de Rossi.

Vice Ganda

Famous Filipino comedian, Vice Ganda

#11 Finally, how’s the search going for Mr Big?

Well boys, I’m still waiting for him…If you find anyone from all the travelling you do, just send them all my way.

Catch me on Twitter via @Le_Skinny_Bitch and let’s take it from there!

Rione at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila

The search for Mr Rione Right continues…

Travel with us as we swam our way through Boracay and Palawan in our Philippines travel video and read more about backpacking in the Philippines from our buddy Will.


Discover gay Manila with the Nomadic Boys


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  1. Warren Page

    Hello. I love The Philippines. I was there MANY years ago when the 1st. Robinsons BURNT DOWN…I stayed with my friend at Hotel Mabini…….He was Butch and kept a LOT of Local Guys Happy….
    I want to revisit soon….Would like HELP to find a Comfy Hotel..Quiet Location..maybe act as a guide to various locations from time to time…I loved the Copacabana Drag Shows…Hope to catch up with more ! I would NOT like to come over in the Midst of the HOT HUMID Season…Please contact me.. I intend to stay for 14 days…. cheers…. Warren the Dancing Queen. ( 75 ) Australia..

    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks for your comment Warren. Definitely check the recommended hotels in this article 🙂

  2. NOM NOM Boris

    Love these interview articles, they really get an insight into the local world. How do you normally find people to interview? Few years back, I went to Philippines and absolutely loved it. It was indeed very welcoming and heart warming country. I did go to a club in Fort, but don’t remember which one. I doubt it was gay since it was packed with straight couples. My friend’s family who live there were very friendly and open. Her aunts event tried to set me up on dates with their gay relatives. One tried to come, but got stuck in traffic hahah. I can’t wait to go back and explore more gay scene 🙂

    • Stefan Arestis

      Ha ha ha thanks!

  3. Anne Slater-Brooks

    Love this. I find it sad that in today’s world this bigotry still exists. Frankly I don’t really think that someone’s sexual orientation should be what defines them and don’t understand people who feel the need to judge. Maybe I’m naive but articles like these must be a great support to people who struggle with these issues. Great interview

    • Stefan Arestis

      Thanks Anne ?


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