Ilocos Norte’s oldest gay parade affirms commitment to HIV-AIDS awareness

PASUQUIN, Ilocos Norte —- With red ribbons pinned on their colorful gowns, members of the gay community gathered here for the annual Sunflower Festival as it sought to raise awareness and support for those living with Human Immunodeficiency Virus-Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (HIV-AIDS) in the country.

Dubbed as the oldest gay pride celebration in Asia, the Sunflower Festival is held annually since 1975, highlighting the creativity and fostering pride, camaraderie, and acceptance of the LGBT community.

Festival pioneer and crowned queen Larry Orque noted that the “sunflower has been chosen as the theme for the festival as it follows the direction of the sun from sunrise to sunset where it gets its energy…this relates and proves that gays are energetic, creative, and very resourceful in their everyday lives.”

Going away from the usual festivities, the event this year held late Monday afternoon affirmed its commitment towards battling stigma and promoting HIV-AIDS awareness as cases have seen an alarming rise across the country in recent years.

Ilocos Norte Tourism Officer and this year’s Miss Sunflower Festival Star of the Night Aianree Raquel took the opportunity to call for the support of everyone in fighting HIV-AIDS.

Raquel also congratulated the organizers of the festival for keeping the annual event alive for more than four decades already, saying, “thank you, sunflowers (a term used to refer to the members of the LGBT community here), for the chance to walk with you tonight. Since 1975, you have built long history of pride and beauty worthy of recognition,” Raquel beamed.

In the past years, Ilocos Norte has been in the forefront of uplifting pride and equality. Last February, the province held its first gay beauty pageant dubbed as the “Miss Ilocoslovakla” aiming to educate and uphold respect among all genders in the society.