They ‘mothered’: 7 Pinoy gay icons we grew up loving

TomasinoWeb
8 min readJun 14, 2023

By Kurt Alec Mira

(Artwork by Kurt Alec Mira/TomasinoWeb)

When we were kids, watching television and films became our hobby. We looked up to prominent features who helped us accept our identities. Our close friends in grade school would witness us randomly belting pop songs, despite lacking the skills in singing. Sometimes, we would imagine ourselves as heroines and impersonate TV characters like Darna, Zsazsa Zaturnnah, or the sang’gres in Encantadia.

Through music and television, we became obsessed with people who exude boldness and power in the roles they portray or the music they create. They taught us how we could fully embrace our sexuality, and that there is nothing wrong in being different.

In terms of pop culture, we are a gay nation. As we celebrate pride month this 2023, let’s take a trip down memory lane on some of the best Pinoy gay icons who created an impact on our shared existence.

1. Rufa Mae Quinto

(Photo from Netflix Philippines)

If America has Jennifer Coolidge, we have Rufa Mae Quinto. Everything she does is a textbook definition of camp.

Queers would never miss her first-ever blockbuster hit, Booba, in which she starred as the title character. It gave birth to myriad of classic scenes gays molded in kanal culture would religiously share on social media as memes. Among her filmography, the restaurant scene on her 2009 film, Status: Single, still had the gays and the girls in a chokehold. Of course, in a country that rejects LGBTQ rights, staying single became the norm.

Her distinct voice, together with her campy personality, continues to amuse everyone. Looking back, there was even a time when she trended on Thai Twitter because of her comical rendition of the Disney film Frozen’s Let It Go. Last April, the Comedy Princess also went viral with her parody advertisement of the Korean Netflix action film Kill Boksoon.

With her signature lines such as the famous “Go go go!” and “Todo na ‘to!,” it is undeniable that Rufa Mae materially shaped the Filipino pop culture we know today. So if you see me jamming to Rufa Mae’s Booba, please mind your own business.

2. Vice Ganda

(Photo from Vice Ganda/Facebook)

Thanks to Direk Wenn V. Deramas, we have our own version of Mulan at home, and it’s Praybeyt Benjamin. Before becoming a household name, the Unkabogable Star first performed at comedy bars until he was discovered by Ogie Diaz. Several years later, he gained massive popularity hosting ABS-CBN shows It’s Showtime and Gandang Gabi, Vice!, where he forever changed the landscape of hilarious interactions.

Vice Ganda shares synonymy with Christmas, owning most of the cinemas in almost every Metro Manila Film Festival season. As such, the common Pinoy loves Vice Ganda. Although at the same time, many found him unfunny because of his “insulting” banters.

I once read a comment while watching Dolphy’s famous Banayad Whiskey scene in Father en Son, on how his comedy style depicts true comedy, unlike gays who use others to be the butt of their jokes. What fragile masculinity would never understand is how these witty remarks are our own ways of claiming power from macho-feudal society. Meme Vice might have started as a problematic comedian, but he learned his lessons and is now using his platform to advocate for queer rights.

In a country where Christians constituted the majority of the population, he mainstreamed gay discussions in the era of social media. As a result, a lot of gay kids felt confident about themselves and more gay lead roles — other than being a sidekick — are offered to queer actors as well. Indeed, that’s what makes Vice Ganda truly special to the LGBT community.

3. Maricel Soriano

(Photo from @officialmaricelsoriano/Instagram)

The gays love three things: drama, fashion, and party — and Maricel Soriano will not miss any of this.

Ask the gay titos about her, and they would tell you she is the original “babaeng bakla” of the 1980s up until now. Just listen to the way she speaks and you would be amazed with her command of swardspeak. Her street-smart, quick-witted remarks, plus her tandem with Roderick Paulate, cemented her status as a gay icon and the Taray Queen of the country.

Whether comedy, drama, or even horror, the versatility of the Diamond Star is evident in her film characters. Some of her iconic movie lines we love to lip sync include “Wag mo ‘kong ma Terry Terry!” in Minsan Lang Kitang Iibigin and her “Wala sa damit” line in Saan Darating Ang Umaga, which gave her the FAMAS in 1983.

While Inay Marya is a veteran in acting, she also became the life of disco and dance parties. Alongside her friends in showbiz like Raymond Lauchengco, she even held her own concert. To further add, Filipinos still dance to her version of Magic Fire’s Body Dancer — her most signature dance that originated from her film with Kuya Dick, Jak En Poy. The film can be streamed for free on YouTube.

As an ally and a mother, Marya frequents gay bars like Nectar Nightclub and O Bar to entertain fans. With the help of drag queen and Drag Race Philippines contestant Xilhouete, she transformed into her drag persona, Kinang Inay, for a YouTube vlog. If we were to write about all instances where she supported the LGBTQ community, it would be her biography.

4. Iza Calzado

(Photo from @missizacalzado/Instagram)

If the gays would get a chance to have a superpower, it would be slaying enemies while staying pretty. Thanks to GMA Network, Y2K kids enjoyed an abundance of fantasy series. And so, it is time to honor the icon who gave us Sang’gre Amihan: Iza Calzado.

Every gay kid who watched the series probably acted as a sang’gre in their rooms behind their parents’ backs. In retrospect, after Encantadia, many pageant contestants started portraying Amihan in their costumes. During that time, Iza was supposed to play the iconic Pinoy superhero Darna, but the role was given to Angel Locsin.

From Amihan, Iza became widely known in the internet community as Mama Mary. Not because she played as one, but because of her look in Starting Over Again.

But of course, it’s not only men — both straight and gay — -who revere her. She also awakened the gayness among Filipino sapphics, most recently when she finally played Darna in the 2022 adaptation of the same name.

5. Regine Velasquez-Alcasid

(Photo from Drag Race Philippines: Untucked/WOWPresents Plus)

Picture it: Araneta Coliseum, 2000. A legendary diva wearing butterfly wings appeared on the stage. Moments later, she began to soar high while belting On The Wings Of Love — everyone left stunned. Folks, that’s Regine Velasquez for you. Every Filipino queer knows a Regine song by heart.

Throughout her stardom, the Asia’s Songbird released remarkable records that we love to sing in the karaoke. From the feel-good Shine to the heartwarming Dadalhin, Regine always performs with raw emotional intensity and a subtle sense of longing we identify with. Which is why, perhaps, she is considered the country’s best-selling recording artist of all time.

Like a love letter, a die-hard fan even wrote an undergraduate thesis about the history of Regine’s gay iconicity. In fact, it was similar to the late American actress Judy Garland. That is, both icons represent a tragic story with a blend of talent and vulnerability, embellished with glamor and camp.

If we are being real, Regine certainly has attracted the highest multigenerational LGBTQ fanbase. She even admitted before that when the gays start idolizing you, then you are an icon. Just watch any drag shows or impersonations, and you would always see a Regine-inspired performance.

6. Sarah Geronimo

(Photo from Viva Records)

When Sarah Geronimo won in Star for a Night hosted by the one and only Asia’s Songbird, I viewed it as Regine bequeathing the crown to Sarah G.

As a kid, I always sang her hit songs Forever’s Not Enough and How Could You Say You Love Me. Perhaps, in singing we find solace amidst the bullying and judgment we felt in our childhood. Performing like her while taking a shower briefly manifested to me what emancipation feels like.

Her musical prowess and her skills as a performer expanded over the years. From ballads, she gave us Kilometro, Dati-Dati, and now Alam. The gays were also behind the resurgence of Tala when a Facebook video showing a group of teenagers dancing to the Sarah G hit went viral. Ultimately, the song became the national gay anthem.

Singing is not enough for the Popstar Royalty to love us. Her Laida Magtalas era provided us the laughter and the confidence we needed as we grew up. Through her craft, Sarah G taught us kilig and the pains of adulting. That’s why Laida Magtalas version 2.0, you will always be famous!

7. Nadine Lustre

(Photo from @jpcleds13/Twitter)

Come on, it’s 2023! It’s about time to admit that Nadine Lustre is a gay icon of the Filipino Gen-Z. Everything she does, becomes a part of the Pinoy pop culture — whatever time of the year it is.

Even the gays imparted her a new moniker, President Nadine — which started in 2017 when her fans on Twitter playfully joked that she should be the president of the country “to improve the quality of our lives.” Since then, the term has been used whenever she breathes on social media.

Among her contemporaries, Nadine is one of the few who have accomplished a lot of things for the gays and society as a whole. Way back 2019, her unwavering and unconditional allyship for Pride when she donated in private and supported the Metro Manila Pride March in Marikina.

Feisty yet humble, she inspired many kids to be who they really are, but most importantly, to take action and not just spew some words when it comes to social issues. That being said, Nadine has been vocal about her advocacies for mental health and the environment — a trait young queers should have too.

Our local gay icons are icons not as a result of merit, but of virtue. We don’t simply call them ‘icons’ due to their popularity, nor because they played gay roles. We crowned them as such because they’re just like us, and at the same time, we want to be better like them.

Taking a deeper look, it’s almost always women who have been icons for the gays. We both share the struggles of being feminine in a patriarchal country. Hence, misogyny has no place in our community. Now, that’s mother.

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