CEBU CITY – “The so-called LGBT community is exclusionary,” said Jeff Cagandahan, the first Filipino who was legally allowed to change his name/gender identifiers in all legal documents in 2008. This is because, “even while it attempts to be inclusive, it fails to also highlight the issues of the minorities within this already minority community.”
In the case of the intersex community, in particular, “although this community counts us as among its members, we do not even figure out in the ‘rainbow alphabet’, so that our inclusion is somewhat tokenistic, and our presence actually erased,” Cagandahan said.
Cagandahan was one of a handful of LGBTQI leaders from all over the Philippines who highlighted the need to focus on the “minority issues within the LGBTQI community” at Pasigarbo sa Pagkatawo (Behold Our Identity)!: 4th LGBT National Conference.
FAILURE TO GATHER
There have only been three nationwide LGBTQI gatherings since the 1st LGBT National Conference was held by UP Babaylan in 1997. In fact, it took 14 years before the 2nd LGBT National Conference was held in June 2011; and then another two years after that before the 3rd LGBT National Conference was held in 2013 in Pasig City.
The fist two national gatherings failed to produce outputs that the local LGBTQI movement was able to use in the long run. It was the 3rd LGBT National Conference – held under the auspices of UNDP and USAID – that produced a report that eyed to guide the local LGBT community as it moves forward. Called “Being LGBT in Asia: Philippines Country Report”, the report that was released in 2014 reviewed the legal and social environment faced by LGBTQI people in the Philippines. This report was actually part of a broader initiative entitled “Being LGBT in Asia: A Participatory Review and Analysis of the Legal and Social Environment for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) Persons and Civil Society”, which was launched in 2012 as an Asia-wide learning effort undertaken with Asian grassroots LGBT organizations and community leaders alongside UNDP and USAID.
The need to conduct another national gathering was deemed necessary because a lot has happened four years since the last LGBTQI gathering. Helmed by Outrage Magazine with Bahaghari Center for SOGIE Research, Education and Advocacy, Inc. (Bahaghari Center) and Bisdak Pride Inc., this time around, coming on board to support the 4th LGBT National Conference were: UNDP, Rep. Geraldine B. Roman, National Council of Churches of the Philippines, Sen. Chiz Escudero, Asean SOGIE Caucus, Unitarian Universalist Church of the Philippines, City of Bogo, City of Cebu, City of Lau-Lapu, Province of Cebu, and Philip A Castro and Christopher Hancock.
This was the first time that the national conference for LGBTQI Filipinos happened outside of Metro Manila and Luzon, providing opportunity to highlight the issues that affect those outside the so-called “imperial Manila”, including those in the Visayas and in Mindanao.
NO ONE LEFT BEHIND?
According to Michael David dela Cruz Tan, editor of Outrage Magazine, which helped facilitate the national gathering, numerous pro-LGBTQI related developments have been happening in the Philippines.
For instance, in 2017, the Anti-Discrimination Bill (ADB) passed the third and final reading in the House of Representatives, the first time this happened in 11 years. The first transgender person was also elected in the House of Representatives in the 2016 national elections (in the person of Rep. Geraldine B. Roman). More local government units now also have anti-discrimination ordinances. Also, a bill recognizing same-sex relationships is now pending in the Lower House.
However, “not everyone in the LGBTQI community can claim to benefit from these successes,” Tan said.
NUMEROUS ISSUES TO FACE
This may be best shown by the Philippines’ HIV and AIDS situation, which continues to be problematic. In May 2017, for example, there were 1,098 new HIV positive individuals reported, the highest number of HIV infections in the country for a month since 1984. Most notably, 95% of those who tested HIV positive were male, with the main mode of transmission through sexual contact among men who have sex with men (MSM), many of them gay and bi men (86%).
Speaking as a Deaf transwoman, Disney Aguila – founder of TransDeaf Philippines – said that Deaf LGBTQI people in the Philippines have difficulties in accessing HIV-related services. There are currently no available HIV counselors fluent in Filipino Sign Language (FSL). And because the law (RA 8504) mandates that all people who get tested should receive counseling, many Deaf MSM are unable to get tested. For those who are able to get tested, communication barriers persist in accessing treatment, care and support.
“Even if there are supposed to be numerous programs to deal with HIV as it affects the LGBTQI community in the Philippines, not everyone under that umbrella is covered,” Aguila said.
For Ramon Busa, chairperson of Home for the Golden Gays (HGG), there is also the “continuing ignoring of seniors within the LGBTQI community.” Senior LGBTQI people’s issues include: housing, livelihood/source of income, and access to medical care/services and/or funerary services.
According to Naomi Fontanos of GANDA Filipinas, the issues affecting the LGBTQI community are intersectional, “and so when we try to find solutions to these issues, we should consider these intersectionalities.”
Specific to the trans community in the Philippines, issues also include: absence of law that will allow trans people in the Philippines to legally change the names assigned to them, as well as their gender markers in all legal documents (i.e. gender recognition law); and problems with accessing medical services.
There are still other LGBTQI-related issues that are also not getting traction particularly in the Philippines.
Dats Ventura, a lesbian who is part of a Lumad (indigenous people) community in Northern Mindanao, lamented the negligence of their issues that – aside from their gender identity – also include militarization of their ancestral domains, leaving them even more vulnerable to State-sanctioned abuses.
Meanwhile, queer artist Kareen Kristeen V. Bughaw said that there are also “emerging issues that the LGBTQI community should already include in discussions, such as alternative forms of relationships – e.g. polyamory – that is already there and yet remain ignored.”
WANTED: INCLUSIVE DEVELOPMENT
Moving forward, “the recommendation is not only to make LGBTQI-related efforts inclusive, but to also go beyond didactics,” Outrage Magazine’s Tan said.
Among others, specific recommendations from the 4th LGBT National Conference include: the establishment of an LGBTQI center that will serve as depository of knowledge; creation of listing/directory of LGBTQI organizations that will be made accessible to everyone; regularization of the national conference; and creation/strengthening of support systems within the LGBTQI community so its members can help each other on practical matters (e.g. learn from each other on community organizing, development of anti-discrimination ordinances, registration of community-based organizations into legal entities, and documentation of abuses in local contexts).
For intersex Filipino Cagandahan, “until we make the LGBTQI community inclusive by broadening it, then it will continue to fail the people it claims to represent.”
Bahaghari Center’s MDCTan recognized for ‘Art that Matters for Literature’ by Amnesty Int’l Phl
Bahaghari Center for SOGIE Research, Education and Advocacy, Inc. (Bahaghari Center) head Michael David dela Cruz Tan was cited by Amnesty International Philippines as a human rights defender whose works help bring changes to peoples’ lives, particularly via the establishment of Outrage Magazine, the only LGBTQIA publication in the Philippines.
Bahaghari Center for SOGIE Research, Education and Advocacy, Inc. (Bahaghari Center) head Michael David dela Cruz Tan was cited by Amnesty International Philippines as a human rights defender whose work help bring changes to peoples’ lives, particularly via the establishment of Outrage Magazine, the only LGBTQIA publication in the Philippines.
Tan – who received “Art that Matters for Literature” – is joined by co-awardees Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), Most Distinguished Human Rights Defender – Organization; Bro. Armin Luistro, FSC, Most Distinguished Human Rights Defender – Individual; and Lorenzo Miguel Relente, Young Outstanding Human Rights Defender.
These awards are part of “Ignite Awards for Human Rights”, given to human rights defenders in recognition of the impact their work bring in changing peoples’ lives through mobilization, activism, rights-based policy advocacy and art. First of its kind, it is Amnesty International Philippines’ top honor given to human rights defenders in the country.
According to Tan, getting the recognition is an honor, particularly as “it recognizes our work in highlighting the minority LGBTQIA community in the Philippines. But this also highlights that for as long as there are people whose voices are ignored/left out of conversations, those who are able to should take a stand and fight for them.”
In a statement, Butch Olano, Amnesty International Philippines section director said that “this season’s recipients come from varying human rights backgrounds, from press freedom and right to education to gender equality and SOGIESC rights, but they share one dedication, that is to fight for basic rights of Filipinos. They truly ignite the human rights cause, speaking up against injustices and exposing inequalities on behalf of those who, otherwise, will not be heard.”
Olano added: “Amnesty International Philippines strongly believes that our individual and collective power as a people working towards transforming and uplifting each other should be given due recognition and appreciation despite the political turmoil the country has been experiencing for a few years now. It is necessary to shine a spotlight on those individuals who continue to pave the way for collective action.”
The nominations for Ignite Awards 2020 was opened exactly a year ago (May 28), and it took the organization a year to finalize the nominations and vetting process together with its Selection Committee and Board of Judges chaired by Atty. Chel Diokno.
May 28 also marks Amnesty International’s 59th anniversary.
“When people lead in taking a stand for human rights especially in difficult situations, it emboldens many others in their struggles against injustice. Our Ignite Awardees’ commitment is all the more remarkable because of the alarming levels of repression and inequality that ordinary people are experiencing amid this pandemic. Throughout and certainly beyond the immediate crisis, these human rights defenders will continue to stand up on behalf of the most vulnerable in our society. Together, we will call on the government to ensure access to universal healthcare, housing and social security needed to survive the health and economic impacts of Covid-19, while ensuring that extraordinary restrictions on basic freedoms do not become the new normal,” Olano said.
Tan – who originated from Kidapawan City in Mindanao, southern Philippines – finished Bachelor of Arts (Communication Studies) from the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia. In 2007, he established Outrage Magazine, which – even now – remains as the only LGBTQIA publication in the Philippines.
Among others: In 2015, he wrote “Being LGBT in Asia: The Philippine Country Report” for UNDP and USAID to provide an overview on the situation of the LGBTQIA movement in the country, and where the movement is headed; and in 2018, he wrote a journalistic stylebook on LGBTQIA terminology to help media practitioners when providing coverage to the local LGBTQIA community.
Tan – also a winner for Best Investigative Report in 2006 from the Catholic Mass Media Awards (CMMA) – has continuously tried to highlight “inclusive development”. For instance, speaking at a 2019 conference on human rights and the Internet organized by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and the Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA), he said that “there is a disconnect between what’s online and what’s happening on the ground. And this stresses one thing: The need to not solely rely on making it big digitally, but also go beyond the so-called ‘keyboard activism’.”
Along with Tan, this year’s awardees join 2018’s recipients: Sen. Leila De Lima, Most Distinguished Human Rights Defender-Individual; DAKILA Philippine Collective for Modern Heroism, Most Distinguished Human Rights Defender – Organization; Floyd Scott Tiogangco, Outstanding Young Human Rights Defender; and Cha Roque, Art that Matters for Film.
Bahaghari Center bats for holistic approach to dev’t, including in social movements
That minority sectors even within already ‘minoritized’ communities should never be forgotten is something that “we should always, always remember,” said Aaron Bonete, associate editor of Outrage Magazine.
BANGKOK, THAILAND – That minority sectors even within already ‘minoritized’ communities should never be forgotten is something that “we should always, always remember,” said Aaron Bonete, associate editor of Outrage Magazine (the only LGBTQIA publication in the Philippines) and concurrent project officer of Bahaghari Center for SOGIE Research and Advocacy, Inc. (Bahaghari Center).
Bonete spoke during the #SayEnoughAsia Campaign Skillshop helmed by OXFAM as part of ENOUGH, a global campaign launched in 2016 to end violence against women and girls by changing “widely accepted and harmful social norms that too often justify violence against women and girls to ones that promote gender equality and non-violence.”
With feminism, for instance, Bonete said that “often neglected are the intersections of identities – e.g. a woman who is experiencing violence may also be a lesbian, or be an Indigenous Person, or be a person with disability, or be someone living with HIV, or be a sex worker, and so on. Identities do not exist in a vacuum; and yet the specific identities demand very particular responses, and so not seeing these layers of identities is detrimental to all developmental efforts.”
According to Gopika Bashi, Asia Campaigner of the ENOUGH campaign, there is a need to “put our politics into practice – as INGOs we need amplify and support feminist movements, not just through resourcing, but also through facilitating the sharing of knowledge and skills with activists and campaigners at the frontlines.”
The campaign, therefore, wants to “provide a safe and brave space for feminist activists and campaigners in Asia who are campaigning against gender-based violence in their own countries, to come together, learn and share.”
Asia is, of course, of particular interest to ENOUGH campaign.
According to the ENOUGH campaign, in Asia in particular, the “growing violence and impunity by the States, fueled by identity-based politics, are exacerbating social exclusion and gender inequality, eroding women’s rights in many Asian countries.” Add to this “religious extremism and authoritarianism (that) are growing in the region.” As a result, “we see human rights under attack, increasing threats of violence against women, and a constriction of the space for civil society, both local and international, to operate.”
It doesn’t help that “at the heart of this structural impunity around VAWG/GBV lies an ‘acceptability’, which is rooted in strongly held patriarchal norms by both state and non-state actors, that continue to justify this violence in all its forms. For decades, women’s rights and feminist movements have continuously worked at multiple levels to challenge this acceptability through using multiple innovative strategies.”
And here, Bonete stressed the need for “inclusive approaches.”
Bonete added “the seeming neglect to include men in discussions of feminism,” he said, adding that “women empowerment won’t happen if the approach is ‘men vs women’.”
With Bonete during the #SayEnoughAsia Campaign Skillshop was transgender woman Ms Disney Aguila, president of Pinoy Deaf Rainbow and concurrent project coordinator for PWD Affairs of Bahaghari Center. Like Bonete, Aguila emphasized that “the oft-repeated saying that ‘none of us is free until all of us is free’ remains valid. We have to be inclusive, otherwise, efforts won’t succeed but will only advance those who are not necessarily in need of them most.”
Inclusive responses to HIV needed – Bahaghari Center
For Disney Aguila, board member of Bahaghari Center, “it needs to be emphasized – particularly today as #WAD2019 – that HIV can only truly be dealt with if everyone is on board.”
In early 2019, Jay (not his real name), a Deaf gay man who lives outside Metro Manila, was encouraged by his friends who knew community-based HIV screening (CBS) to get himself tested. It was, he recalled, “the first time someone offered me this service; so I caved in.”
Jay was reactive; and “my world crumbled,” he said.
Though his friends tried to comfort him, telling him that knowing his status is good, “since at least now I can take steps to get treatment and live a normal, healthy life,” Jay wasn’t assuaged. His friends had to eventually go back to Metro Manila, and he worried that he would be left on his own to “find ways to access treatment.” And the same issue that did not make testing accessible for him – i.e. him being Deaf – is now the same issue he believed would hinder him from getting treatment, care and support (TCS).
Jay’s case, said Ms Disney Aguila, board member of the Bahaghari Center for SOGIE Research, Education and Advocacy Inc. (Bahaghari Center), highlights how “numerous sectors continue to be ignored in HIV-related responses.”
Aguila, the concurrent head of the Pinoy Deaf Rainbow, the pioneering organization for Deaf LGBTQIA Filipinos, added that “it needs to be emphasized – particularly today as #WAD2019 – that HIV can only truly be dealt with if everyone is on board.”
WORSENING HIV SITUATION
As reported by the HIV/AIDS & ART Registry of the Philippines (HARP) of the Department of Health (DOH), the Philippines has 35 new HIV cases every day. The figure has been consistently growing – from only one case every day in 2008, seven cases per day in 2011, 16 cases per day in 2014, and 32 cases per day in 2018.
In July, when HARP released its (delayed) latest figures, there were 1,111 newly confirmed HIV-positive individuals; this was 29% higher compared with the diagnosed cases (859) in the same period last year.
Perhaps what is worth noting, said Aguila, is the “absence in current responses of minority sectors” – e.g. when even data does not segregate people from minority sectors, thus the forced invisibility that used to also affect transgender people who were once lumped under the MSM (men who have sex with men) umbrella term.
For Aguila, this is “detrimental to the overall response re HIV because specific needs are not answered.”
DEAF IN FOCUS
In 2012, Michael David C. Tan – publishing editor of Outrage Magazine, the only LGBTQIA publication in the Philippines, and head of Bahaghari Center – conducted “Talk to the Hand”, the first-of-its-kind study that looked at the knowledge, attitudes and related practices (KAP) of Deaf LGBT Filipinos on HIV and AIDS. The study had numerous disturbing findings.
To start, majority of the respondents (33 or 54.1%) were within the 19-24 age range at the time of the study, followed by those who are over 25 (21 or 34.3%). Most of them (53 of 61 Deaf respondents) had sex before they reached 18. Many (36.1%) of them also had numerous sexual partners, with some respondents having as many as 20 sex partners in a month.
Only 21 (34.4%) use condoms, and – worryingly – even among those who used condoms, 12 (19.7%) had condom breakage during sex because of improper use.
Perhaps the unsafe sexual practice should not be surprising, considering that not even half (29, 47.5%) of the respondents heard of HIV and AIDS, with even less that number (23, 37.7%) knowing someone who died of HIV or AIDS-related complications. And with not even half of the total respondents (29) familiar with HIV and AIDS, not surprisingly, only 19 (31.1%) considered HIV and AIDS as serious, with more of them considering HIV and AIDS as not serious (20, 32.8%) or maybe serious (22, 36.1%).
The study also noted that the level of general knowledge about HIV and AIDS is low, with 40 (65.6%) of them falling in this category. Only about 1/5 of them (12, 19.7%) had high level of knowledge about HIV and AIDS. Even fewer (9, 14.8%) may be classified as having moderate knowledge level.
For the Deaf community, at least, accessing testing and – if one tested HIV positive – the TCS is challenging because “we’d need Filipino Sign Language (FSL) interpreters who can help make sure we’re getting the right information/treatment/et cetera, Aguila said. And in the Philippines, the numbers of service providers who know FSL remain very limited.
Already there are Deaf Filipinos trained to conduct CBS particularly for other Deaf Filipinos – here in “Stop HIV Together“, a photo campaign stressing the need for inclusion.
INCLUDING OTHER MINORITIES
Aguila stressed that forced invisibility, obviously, does not only affect the minority Deaf community as far as HIV-related responses are concerned – e.g. “other persons with disability continue not to have HIV-related interventions,” she said.
For Aguila: “To truly stop HIV and AIDS, we need to be inclusive.”
Back in the city south of Metro Manila, Jay was forwarded to a counselor who knows FSL so that he can be supported in accessing TCS. Even that was “problematic,” said Jay, because “I was ‘forced’ to come out to someone I didn’t necessarily want to disclose my status only because I had no choice.”
For him, this highlights “how we just have to make do with what’s there; and there really isn’t much that’s there to begin with.”
He feels “lighter” now, however, having started his antiretroviral treatment (ART). But he knows he’s one of the “lucky people with contacts”; and that “not every one has access to the same support I had… and that’s something we need to deal with.”
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