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The Creative Economy Gay Index: Why Tolerant Cities Attract Creative People

Words by Paolo Mercado
Illustration by Glendfort Lumbao

In the small circle of experts comprising the field of creative economy, Richard Florida is one of the top names in urban development and city-specific creative economy enablers and ecosystems. His groundbreaking work, The Rise of the Creative Class, posited some of the most foundational and controversial perspectives on how cities become attractive to the Creative Class. In the tenth anniversary edition of his book, he states, “I define the Creative Class to include people in science and engineering, architecture and design, education, arts, music and entertainment whose economic function is to create new ideas, new technology and new creative content.” 

The Creative Class, therefore, are the innovators, mavericks and upstarts. They are the ones crazy enough to think they can change the world, and many of them actually do. Florida demonstrates, through in-depth research and data analytics, how a city’s ability to attract and sustain a creative class spells the difference between economic prosperity or stagnation. A Creative Class is attracted by and contributes to an ecosystem where culture, creativity, consumption and innovation combine to drive economic growth and positive social development. 


Florida posits that three elements must be in place in for the Creative Class to thrive in a city. Talent, the first element,involves those policies that recognize, value and incentivize creative talent in selected creative sectors. There are “creative meccas” that have been established for decades as the epicenter of certain creative fields: Broadway for theater, Hollywood for film, Silicon Valley for digital, and Paris or Milan for fashion. But beyond these well known centers, certain places such as Edinburgh in Scotland or Lyon in France are positioning themselves purposively to attract creative talent in very specific fields such as performing arts and gastronomy.    

The second enabler is technology. To a great extent, media and digital technology is what enables artists and artisans to reach a broader audience for their ideas and thus develop a larger market for their creativity. Thus cities are encouraged to provide affordable, high-speed internet access and training in digital tools.  

Most people agree with Florida’s thesis up to this point. However, it is his third element that many critics find controversial:tolerance. Florida demonstrates through his studies that cities with a higher tolerance for diversity in gender, race or religion are also the cities that perform better economically compared to those cities intolerant of diversity. Florida even developed a Gay Index where he clearly showed the correlation between tolerance and acceptance of the LGBT community with economic prosperity. The higher the Gay Index of a city, the more economically successful it will be. The reason for this is that a high Gay Index is a barometer for a bigger context of diversity and inclusion in a given city. A city that embraces its gay community is also likely to embrace migrants and people of different races, colors and creeds, thus creating the melting pot essential to creativity and innovation.

So, the question for the Philippines is, where do we stand in Florida’s Gay Index? 

Unfortunately, Florida’s work focused mainly on North American cities. But within Southeast Asia, the Philippines is seen as one of the more tolerant societies when it comes to LGBT rights.

On the surface, the LGBT community seems well represented and tolerated in most Philippine creative industries such as TV, film, performing arts, visual arts, advertising and design.  But in some cases, the attitude towards gays in these industries still belies a level of discrimination. Gays are tolerated, for example, if they bring glamor (“baklang diva”) or humor (“baklang payaso”) to the work culture. They provide entertainment and diversion to an otherwise boring or stressful work environment. But are creative industries really open to LGBT in all levels of leadership? Are LGBT people limited only to styling, slapstick and comedic roles in a creative organization? Are they accepted as industry leaders who can bring unique value to our creative economy? 

One such organization, the Philippine LGBT Chamber of Commerce, hopes to change that perception. It is an industry organization of businesses of, by, and for the LGBT community in the Philippines. The main goal of the organization is to promote good business and national economic development via the efforts of its LGBT members.  Chaired by multiawarded designer Brian Tenorio, its Board of Directors include Simoun Ferrer, Angel Romero, Jay Yao Campos III, Evan Tan, Jeoff Solas, Amrei Dizon, and JV Salud.  

The vision and mission of the organization reflects a very inspiring ambition for the country. As stated in its website (, its core purpose is to “champion the LGBT contribution to Philippine business.” It’s vision is to promote business excellence and development in the Philippines and in the region, by advocating for workplace equality, business excellence and national development, community-building, pride and professional placement. A three-point mission, launched in 2017 and ending in 2020, aims to promote SOGIE diversity in the workplace, champion LGBT leadership in business and across industries, and to celebrate and recognize corporate role models of diversity. 

Perhaps with the leadership of the Philippine LGBT Chamber of Commerce, our country can become a role model for ASEAN to show how embracing Tolerance can lead to a thriving creative economy.


About the Author: 

Paolo Mercado is a marketing professional, raised in a family of advertisers and writers, with a passion for teaching and an obsession for the performing arts. He is currently the Senior Vice President of Marketing, Communication and Innovation of Nestle Philippines.

This article was published in the adobo magazine Gender 2018 issue.

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