30 October 2023

Queens of Manila by Sam Barker

Queens of Manila, a captivating project by Sam Barker, sheds light on the vibrant lives and unique stories of the Golden Gays, a community of elderly drag queens in Manila.

The Golden Gays’ roots trace back to 1970 when Justo Juno, a Manila City lawmaker and AIDS activist, established a shelter for marginalized gay men living on the streets of Manila, rejected by their families and society. This shelter evolved into a haven that encouraged residents to embrace their gender identities freely. It wasn’t until 2018 that the group managed to secure a small house in Manila, offering a newfound sense of security and unity. Lola Mon, the president of the Golden Gays, humorously refers to the group as orphans who protect and support each other because they have no other caregivers to lean on.

Despite their vibrant presence in the local community, the Golden Gays face challenges in terms of societal acceptance and financial sustainability. They navigate life without traditional family support, relying on their collective resilience and resourcefulness to sustain themselves. Their mission, as described by LolaMon, centres on providing sanctuary, shelter, and support for indigent elderly gay men.

Sam Barker expressed his deep admiration for the group’s resilience, stating, “I wanted to capture the strength and dignity this extraordinary group of people operates with.” These scenes were shot over two nights, set against the Golden Gays’ favourite neighbourhoods in old town Manila. Sam wanted to convey the rich tapestry of Manila through a genuine depiction of its streets and buildings and a glimpse into the lives of the communities residing there. Displaying the raw texture and vivid colours of Manila, Sam’s photographs beautifully capture the Golden Gays’ vibrant existence and their unwavering camaraderie.

Sam Barker’s Queens of Manila serves as a powerful reminder of the enduring spirit found within communities that celebrate unity and self-acceptance, even in the face of adversity.