The rain didn’t stop Karel—a young blood and one of the backbones of the organization that puts together the annual soiree—from crossing the street from her work at the hospital to a café for an interview. The tail-end of the typhoon Jolina, ravaging Aurora, parts of Central Luzon and Manila, was about to leave the next morning, and what a queer coincidence for that typhoon to be named after such a style icon.
The World, the Universe rather, is indeed an amazing thing.
It’s a week away from a pageant that has surpassed years of economic depression, residency issues, missing earrings, broken platform shoes and has since then stamped an important milieu in the Bikol landscape. We sat down to discuss the things that matter: how, after forty-eight years, Miss Gay Bicolandia stood strong.
Paolo: Call it Resilience. This year marks the 49th year of the pageant. How are the preparations so far?
Karel: Well all the preparations are mostly Mama Rodel’s(Villamora) work as pageant chairman, and I’m only one of the event hosts and staff.
P: and you’ve been one of the pillars of the organization that put this together?
K: Yes, I made sure to extend help in any way that I can.
P: We noticed that the pageant had several reboots over the years, major improvements happened in terms of stage design, pageant format, the assortment of the candidates, among others. Is there something new this year?
K: This year, we intend to follow the Miss Universe format. There’d be prejudging before the pageant and right after the opening number, we’ll announce the semi-finalists, and so on. The competition of course would be tighter. We’re crowning five (or six) candidates and no runners-up definitely.
P: Everybody then is a winner.
K: Yes! We’re crowning Miss Gay Bicolandia, Miss Gay Tourism, Festival Queen, Miss Gay Cher Ami International, and Miss Gay Naga City. The sixth crown will hopefully be called Miss Gay Camarines Sur, awarded to residents of the province only, but if there’d be issues, we might opt for the title Miss Gay Camarines instead.
P: Issues on the residency of the candidates have surrounded the pageant for so long, similar to other pageants and even at non-gay pageants. How is your organization responding to this?
K: We’ve eventually formulated a set of guidelines and rules on this and each year, we’ve become more and more rigid in implementing these rules. In fact, this year, we’re rolling them out through a Miss Gay Bicolandia ‘booklet’ to formalize everything. The booklet clearly indicates the pageant rules and regulations plus the responsibilities of the would-be titleholder.
P: That’s a huge leap forward to institutionalize this pageant. For next year’s 50th year of the pageant, what are your plans?
K: The plans haven’t been drawn yet but we’re pretty sure it’s going to be bigger. We envision a reunion of the past winners much like the 50th Binibining Pilipinas in 2013. We plan to invite them for a grand ball and perhaps do a cameo during the pageant night itself. The goal? Do everything in Filipiniana! We’re excited!
P: That’s a milestone the Bikol gay communities should be proud of. I mean forty-nine years is no joke—it’s even older than some of our Titas. What significant contributions do you think did the pageant make in the region?
K: Besides becoming a premier event during the Penafrancia fiesta, we’ve established the fact that the pageant itself is the longest-running pageant in the country and in South-East Asia (we hope to have this entered in Wikipedia to legitimize everything). Also, over the years, we’ve made a mark in coming up with candidates with a purpose. The focus has slowly shifted from ‘beauty and wit’ to ‘wit and beauty with a purpose,’ much like its Binibini counterparts. Our past Queens Toni Aviles from 2015 and Queen Hugo from 2016 have made significant contributions through their individual advocacies and charitable activities. I think we’ve really stepped up from the shrouds of glamour.
P: I like what you said about ‘wit and beauty with a purpose.’ It’s high time for everyone to have a sense of advocacy and purpose when stepping onto a platform such as the Miss Gay Bicolandia. On top of this, the pageant has made a mark in creating a sense of awareness for the love of pageants among Bicolanos. We’ve produced beauty icons such as Miriam Quiambao, Venus Raj, Rachel Peters and the late Melody Gerzbach, among others—and some of them even admitted that as preparation, they would watch gay pageants all over the region. The region’s love for beauty pageants have been fanned by no less than Miss Gay Bicolandia’s enduring times. What is so special about this pageant anyways?
K: The history! The pageant went through so many debacles over the years but we survived through it. We even survived the Martial Law years: holding the pageant secretly at hotels to make sure the annual tradition is kept alive. Also, for the first time in history, we allowed a candidate with disability to compete: she even made it to the top 10. Things like these make the pageant really special.
P: And the region’s issues with a high number of HIV cases.
K: That’s something we really hope to address this year and in the coming years. Much like the previous years where we did pocket sessions on HIV awareness and sexual health during pre-pageant activities, we hope to have the same for this year. As a healthcare worker, this cause has been very close to my heart. It’s also saddening that most cases which emerged recently included a huge percentage of minors.
P: The pageant really should become a platform for awareness.
K: Yes—other than gender discrimination, gay-, transphobia and double standards, I think today’s the best time to talk about HIV awareness openly, through venues such as these.
P: That’s true in all forms. If there is one thing you wish to improve in Miss Gay Bicolandia, what would it be?
K: I think it’s important to really involve LGUs, or NGOs and other organizations, and get support from them fully. Pageants are important cultural and artistic indicators of progress, and I believe that these groups should provide support to the cause to push local talent at the fore. We’ve seen Cebu and Iloilo’s prominence in the gay pageant scene, but only because LGUs in the provinces have provided support in many ways.
P: We hope that this conversation, especially through a channel such as OURVIBEPH, help you in getting the push, but I have one last question.
K: I hope it isn’t about a detailed history of the pageant. Mama Anjo and Mama Rodel are the best sources for that.
P: Of course! I’ll have them for another interview, but my question is, had Miss Gay Bicolandia been an absence, meaning no gay pageant this big in the region ever prospered, what could the gay community be busy at during the Penafrancia?
K: Oh there’s a lot! We’re probably busy doing hair and make-up for majorettes during the Military Parade, working on choreography for various street dancing contingents, creating dresses for formal events, more! The gay community here would be busy with so many responsibilities!