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A Closer Look at LEAD Filipino’s Queer Lakbay Summit and its Commitment to Social Change

Once a year, queer Filipinx creatives, educators, and activists across Northern California come together in San Jose for the Queer Lakbay Summit, an annual gathering organized by a passionate team at Leadership, Education, Activism, and Dialogue (LEAD) Filipino that cultivates a space for dialogue, celebration, and community building.

Lakbay is a combination of the Tagalog words lakbay for “journey” or “to take a trip” and bakla, meaning “gay” or literally, “third sex.” Drawing inspiration from these words, the Lakbay Summit seeks to ignite a sense of inspiration and provide opportunities for participants to engage in self-reflection and exploration while fostering a journey toward wholeness.

The Queer Lakbay Summit emerged from a 2016 workshop organized by LEAD Filipino organizers Daniel Lazo and Jenny Edra that later evolved into a retreat in 2019. At the heart of its success lies the Queermittee (Queer Committee), a driving force behind the program’s thought development, content creation, and production.

“We’re hella queer. A lot of us identify as LGBTQ+,” Queermittee Director Celeste Francisco (they/them/siya) said.

Francisco cited disconnects between Lead Filipino’s early programming and team demographics, wherein two-thirds of its members identify as queer—the Lakbay Summit aimed to address these needs by prioritizing queer Filipinx experiences, stories, and narratives.

Every Lakbay Summit since its inception in 2021 has explored diverse themes and brought together various musicians, artists, community resources, and small business vendors. Lead Filipino’s third summit in June 2023, “Halo-Halo: Get Into the Mix!” centered on relationship dynamics, intergenerational dialogues, and community care.

“It’s like a mix of all different toppings: activism, mental health, storytelling, disability justice, and art,” Francisco said. “We had all these different voices and topics that were really important to us. That’s why we picked Halo-halo as the theme.”

Workshops were the highlight of this year’s summit. Francisco offered particular praise for Sera Fernando’s workshop, “Empowerment Beyond the X.” Fernando, a Manager for the Santa Clara Office of LGBTQ Affairs and Chief Diversity Officer for Silicon Valley Pride, focused on the impacts of current anti-trans violence and legislation in the United States.

In light of the recent Supreme Court rulings limiting LGBTQIA+ protections, LEAD Filipino and its Lakbay Summit are becoming critical spaces of resistance that grow collective self-empowerment and facilitate conversations rooted in organizing and social justice principles.

“We’re activating these networks and spaces to move and bring our people into our statewide advocacy. It’s important to show people that you can engage, pull these levers, and push these buttons,” said Dr. Gel Cortez (she/her), Executive Director of LEAD Filipino. “We need a presence to influence the outcome of something that could be onerous and atrocious to LGBTQIA+ communities.”

Outreach Queermittee member Luzanne Batoon (she/they) cherishes the Lakbay Summit, recognizing its rarity in San Jose.

“There’s not many queer things in San Jose. I always have to go to Oakland or San Francisco for queer events, especially during Pride month. It was nice to have something local and in person that’s queer,” Batoon said.

As the event progresses, attendees can anticipate a stronger and larger gathering achieved through fruitful collaborations with other LGBTQIA+ organizations and queer and trans-Filipinx collectives.

Sharing space as a community and among people with similar identities was a major highlight for Cortez.

“The workshops, speakers, emotions and feelings, and the stories that were shared all left an imprint on me. It was the moments between organizing with the Queermittee,” Cortez said. “I love being with other queer folks. It’s not even a matter of safety. It’s how we relate, our banter, and what we talk about—just having those types of conversations at that depth and height. I feel like we go everywhere mentally and emotionally together.”

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