Gay Manila: local boy Rione tells us about the gay life in the Philippines

Stefan Arestis

The Philippines really does out-pink most other countries in Asia.

In all those “most gay friendly countries in the world” type surveys, The Philippines is always up there, even though it is such a staunchly religious country with over 76 million practising Catholics. Along with Taiwan, Thailand and Israel, it's paving the way forward for LGBTQ rights in what is a very conservative continent. Most recently, the controversial President Rodrigo Duterte did a U-turn and came out in favour of marriage for all.

We found the Filipinos to be extremely warm hearted and friendly individuals. At no point did we ever feel we had to tread carefully about being gay, compared to our experiences in the Maldives or in Sri Lanka.


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

Gay life in the Philippines Rione interview about Manila gay scene
Rione posing during a photography workshop at Tagaytay (near Manila)

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

Bonsoir boys! I am Rione Palacios, originally from Cebu City. I moved to the big city (Manila) to pursue bigger dreams and of course to find my Mr Big.

After writing for The Philippines Star, one of our large national newspapers, I became the marketing communications manager of a publishing firm and I've got some big exciting plans ahead for 2018.

Gay life of Manila and gay bars with Rione
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?

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

It certainly came with its challenges, and  sadly 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-LGBTQ stance.

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

Rione local boys telling us about gay manila
An honest Rione looking the world in the eye

#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 private life (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 Manila gay scene and gay life in the philippines 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.

We love our film festivals. We 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 Philippines representative to the Mr Gay World competition since it began in 2009. As well as hosting it in 2011, guess who won the 2017 and 2019 titles?  

Hehehe – you guessed right: our very own John Fernandez Raspado, Mr Gay Philippines won the competition and became Mr Gay World 2017 and then Janjep Carlos in 2019.

gay life in the philippines gay world competition 2017 winners
John Raspado went from Mr Gay Philippines to become Mr Gay World in 2017

#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’ gender identity on her ID card and was instead wearing a beautiful 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 What do you think makes the Philippines so gay friendly?

The famous Filipino hospitality of course, which is deeply routed in our culture. We are a very friendly, warm-hearted people and always look forward to having guests over, as you boys found out…

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 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 hangouts in Manila are:

  • 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.
  • Nectar: in Bonifacio Global City, the newest club gay club in Manila, a really fun, cool, hip place, with drag shows and sometimes dating games for gay guys.
Gay bars Manila gay scene 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 open to gay tourists, so it should not be difficult to find a room as a gay couple. The hotels below have been tried and tested by friends of mine, both local and tourists:

THE PAN PACIFIC HOTEL   Check prices now

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

SOFITEL PLAZA MANILA   Check prices now

  • 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.
  • Rooms start from $300 (£200) a night.


Misterb&b is the Airbnb equivalent for the LGBTQ community. Unlike on Airbnb, you know your host is gay, avoiding any nasty surprises when you check in. It is also a great way to meet gay locals and discover the underground gay scene. Click below to get 10 € (or $10) off your first booking.

WHERE 2 NEXT HOSTEL   Check prices now

  • Located in Malate, this gay friendly hostel is a good option for budget travellers.
  • The staff are very super cute, very welcoming, love LGBT travellers and have great advice about the Manila gay scene.
  • Prices start from $15 (£10) for a bed in a dorm.
Where2Next gay friendly hotel in Manila gay scene
Taking over the gay friendly Where2Next hostel in Malate

#10 Are there any openly gay Filipino celebrities?

There are quite a few, 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 Filipino gay celebrity Manila gay scene
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!

gay life in Philippines Rione interview Manila gay scene
The search for Mr Rione Right continues…

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Stefan Arestis

Stefan is the co-founder, editor and author of the gay travel blog As a travel nerd, he has explored more than 80 countries across 5 continents. What he loves the most about travelling is discovering the local gay scene, making new friends and learning new cultures. His advice about LGBTQ travel has been featured in Gay Times, Gaycities, Pink News, Gay Star News, Attitude and Towleroad. He has also written about gay travel for other non-gay specific publications including Lonely Planet, The New York Times, The Guardian and The Huffington Post. Stefan is also a qualified lawyer, having practised as a commercial property litigator in London for over 10 years. He left his lawyer days behind to work full time on Nomadic Boys with his husband Sebastien. Find out more about Nomadic Boys.

10 thoughts on “Gay Manila: local boy Rione tells us about the gay life in the Philippines”

  1. Hi Rione read y..r post in i am coming to Manila in Nov, I wonder if you can recommend a gay guide to take me to the gay bars in Manila. Thanks

  2. 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

  3. 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 🙂

  4. 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..


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