On weekdays in Manila, Al Enriquez, 86, pushes a shabby wooden cart with a rainbow canopy on a dilapidated street. He sells candy and cigarettes outside a bustling commuter supermarket, where sometimes a smoker or a child with some coins stops to make a purchase. In these dense, chaotic streets, Mr. Enriquez – huddled by a T-shirt and basketball shorts hung over his small, aging body – is often ignored by the crowd.

On weekends, however, she goes by the stage name Carmen de la Rue and transforms into a Manila showgirl who wears floor-length dresses, elaborate make-up, high heels and wigs.

Mr. Enriquez belongs to a community of older gay men who call themselves Golden Gays. They have lived together in the Philippines for decades, spending the weekend hosting shows and pageant performances.

The community was founded in the 1970s by Manila City legislator, AIDS activist and columnist Justo Justo. They opened their home to shelter storied lolas, or grandmothers, an affectionate term the group has adopted to refer to its members.

When Mr. Justo founded Golden Gaze, he wanted to create a care home for gay men living on the streets of Manila who had been rejected by their families and society. The community developed into a place where residents were also encouraged to embrace their gender identity. Some members, such as Mr. Enriquez, take on both male and female personas. Others choose to maintain their feminine status identity in their everyday lives.

Mr. Justo sheltered the golden geese at his home until his death in 2012. Without Mr. Justo’s mentor, the group, now consisting of about 20 people, was back on the road. “Many had to go back to the street they came from,” said Ramon Busa, the current president of the Golden Gaze.

One of the members, Federico Ramasamy, better known as Lola Rica, found work as a street sweeper and was given a room in a slum. Lola Rica stuffed her belongings and costumes into the small room and welcomed the other blonde lesbians who had nowhere else to go. Tragically, the apartment caught fire. Everyone was safe, but Lola Rica’s heels, gown, wig, and photos were lost.

“Time is limited. Our philosophy – because we are showgirls – is that the show must go on. Life must go on,” said 72-year-old Lola Monn.

As of 2018 the group did not earn enough money to rent a small house to share in Manila. “We see ourselves as orphans, although that probably doesn’t apply to us because we’re old,” Lola Mon laughed. “We protect each and every one, because we have no caregivers to lean on.”

In the Philippines, there are few systems of support beyond the traditional family. According to government data, more than half of citizens aged 60 and over live without a pension, which automatically classifies someone as living in poverty. The country’s largely Catholic society has long discriminated against the LGBTQ community, meaning many Golden Gays were unable to find jobs when they were young. There was no question of pension.

“He was thrown out of the house by Justo’s family, and I think what sparked that kind of community through that kind of story is the shared experience of rejection that you go through in being thrown out of the house for yourself.” want,” said Mela Habijn, a pageant queen and LGBTQ community organizer.

“That shared experience will always be the anchor of the community,” Ms. Habijaan said. “We know what it’s like to be rejected. We know what it’s like to be rejected. We know the fear of being thrown out of our own homes.”

After being evicted from Mr. Justo’s home, some members of the Golden Gaze entered homeless shelters, but said they felt unsafe in men’s dorms and were uncomfortable with the expectation that they would perform religious rituals, Because many shelters in the Philippines are run by faith-based organizations. In the absence of a traditional family structure, golden gays have had to build their own support system.

During the pandemic, the government restricted older Filipinos, who are considered more vulnerable to COVID infection, from leaving their homes. The government also banned large gatherings to prevent further outbreaks, resulting in the Golden Geese suspending their performances.

“Festivals were gone, there were no shows. The bars were closed. Where was the money going to come from? The girls were the first to suffer from the pandemic,” said Robert Pangilinan, another member of the group, who goes by the stage name Odessa Jones.

The group survived the pandemic with donations from fans and supporters. “We loved it. The community didn’t give up on us,” said 55-year-old Odessa Jones.

The house of the Golden Geese is painted green, the gate decorated with rainbow flags welcoming those who enter. Pictures from the show adorn the walls. Residents share tasks such as cleaning, cooking and caregiving. Becoming a resident is a very informal process that has changed over the years. People can be referred by other residents, and doors are open to aging artists who ask to join or are in need of shelter.

One recent afternoon, the crackling of hot adobo in the kitchen filled the house with laughter. Mr. Enriquez shakes hands with Odessa Jones. A small marble urn was placed on a shelf. It contains the ashes of Lola Rica, who generously shared her apartment in 2021 after the Golden Gaze was kicked out of Mr. Justo’s home. Lola Rica had passed away during the pandemic.

Due to COVID restrictions, Golden Gay was unable to hold a proper funeral for Lola Rica. Someday, when they have extra cash, they dream of going to the seaside – maybe on vacation – wearing black laces, and spreading Lola Rica’s ashes out to sea.

Now that COVID regulations have been eased in the Philippines, Golden Gay is back on stage. On a recent sultry Sunday, in a modest Manila shopping mall, they were preparing for a show wearing elaborate makeup and dazzling gowns. These days, those preparations require a little more effort. Mr. Enriquez is unable to bend down to wear high heels. Lola Mon sometimes needs support to get on stage. A new generation – the Silver Gaze – have become important to the show.

Golden Gay performances are usually pageants during which each lola Demonstrates a talent such as doing a cartwheel in high heels or lip-syncing. Mall-goers stop by to catch a glimpse. His eyes sparkle. The shows are reminiscent of the Philippine fiesta culture, where each neighborhood celebrates the feasts of a patron saint. “It’s a pleasure,” said Odessa Jones. “I missed the applause and cheers of the people. I have boundless energy, because I want to show people that we are still alive.”

As the show ended that Sunday, the Golden Geese held hands and sang “If We Hold On Together” by Diana Ross. After the show, they went home to celebrate their performance over beers. Lola Mon said, “Home is beautiful because there is so much love.” “Love revolves around each other. Our camaraderie is perfect, and because we are together all the time, our companionship is solid.

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