I Gave Out “Free Hugs” in This Year’s Manila Pride Parade

For this year’s Metro Manila Pride Parade, I made a sign in big, bold, and colorful letters that say, “FREE HUGS”. As it was my first time in a Pride Festival, I didn’t know what to expect nor was I sure if strangers would actually be willing to hug me. This was my best friend’s idea and I figured to just go with the flow as I thought it would be a fun thing to do together. However, little did I know what hugging strangers can actually do to me and do to them.

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I’ve always felt like an outcast. Not like everybody, I’m the type of person who would continuously have a hard time finding a box to fit in and then try to stay there. I can’t seem to navigate an easy way to interact with people and find peculiar minds that are alike with mine. I’ve always figured that the place I grew up in is a place that I will never, ever fit in.

The moment I walked into Marikina Sports Center, I could already feel the energy, the good vibe and more importantly, the love that was going all around the place. The arena was packed with people that scream, “QUEER” up on their sleeves. I didn’t feel nervous or anxious at all, but my heart was pounding with excitement and so much enthusiasm for whatever hugging strangers may come to be. As my best friend and I walked around the place with “FREE HUGS” signs above our heads, that was when people started coming up to us.

And there I was, hugging strangers I had never met before. One hug after the other, my heart was wide open just as their arms were when they wrapped those around me. With every hug I received, I felt the genuine love from deep within their hearts. It was a really strange connection for I felt the pain they went through, the strength they managed to build, and the love that they are willing to give. And so, I gave the love back.

We greeted each other by saying, “Happy Pride!” Then, it was followed by conservations that ran along the lines of, “I love your outfit!”, “Where are you from?”, “What’s your Instagram?” Some I got to talk to and made friends with, while some asked for pictures with me. It was a bit overwhelming, but the good and genuine kind.

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I’ve had people giving me weird looks when they heard that I was going to Metro Manila’s Pride Parade. As a straight woman, to me, it doesn’t matter whatever gender preference you have, what community you belong to, or how you look that makes you qualified to attend an event like this. To me, it was also a celebration of support for the queers, the outsiders, the outcasts who all came together and rejoiced in love and acceptance and stood against inequality and discrimination.

The sign I was holding above my head was more than just “free hugs”, I realized that it was rooted from the words that say, “So do I.” Do you feel like you don’t belong in the norm? Do you feel like you’re different than most people? Are you tired of it?

Well, so do I.

Want a hug?

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