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#NoDifferent: Because trans rights ARE human rights

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In some ways, transgender people in the Philippines may be “relatively better (off) than other transgender people in other countries,” noted Kate Montecarlo Cordova, vice president of the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP).

There are some “developments” worth noting that may be seen to exemplify this. For instance, in the Philippines, transgender people are somehow treated as women by some men when it comes to relationships (though, Cordova admitted, remaining “questionable is the courage of men to come out in the open and declare that their girlfriends are transgender”). Also, gone are the days when transgender people were only pigeonholed as comedians and entertainers, with trans Filipinos somewhat able to express themselves more openly in public (though not all reactions are necessarily always positive, Cordova acknowledged).

But Cordova is first to note that “discrimination is (still) everywhere.”

It is because of these continuing challenges that transgender people face that highlights the observance of the Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR).

And as part of YDoR 2012, Bahaghari Center holds the “No different” campaign, part of the earlier “I dare to care about equality” photographic campaign calling for everyone to take a more proactive stance in fighting discrimination done also by Bahaghari Center as part of the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO), celebrated every May 17.

As stated by Patrick King Pascual, who – with Deaf transgender rights advocate Disney Aguila – co-coordinates the “No different” campaign: “Fear-mongering against members of our community that highlight our supposed (and ill-conceived) ‘oddities’ is erroneous.”

Founded in 1998 by Gwendolyn Ann Smith, a transgender graphic designer, columnist, and activist, to memorialize the murder of Rita Hester in Allston, Massachusetts, TDoR is held every November 20 so that the world – particularly members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community – can mark, thereby bring attention to the continued violence endured by the transgender community; as well as to memorialize those who have been killed as a result of transphobia, or the hatred or fear of transgender and gender non-conforming people. TDoR has evolved from the Web-based project when it was started, into an international day of action observed in over 185 cities throughout more than 20 countries.

For Naomi Fontanos of Gender and Development Advocates (GANDA) Filipinas, “the advancement of human rights is generally uneven around the world. I don’t think it can be actually said that transgender people overseas are better off compared to those of us in the Philippines. In the US, for example, transAmericans continue to be vulnerable to workplace discrimination. Not all states recognize transfolks in the gender they identify as in their legal documents. The same is true in Canada. Marriage rights are also still being contested for many transpeople around the world. In ‘First World’ countries that have state gender recognition mechanisms, some aspects of the law may still violate transpeople’s rights. In Sweden, for example, transpeople are forced to undergo sterilization. In Japan, they should not have children before transition. In Hong Kong, a transperson has to carry an ID card that explicitly says he or she has Gender Identity Disorder (GID). Otherwise, other laws are used to persecute transgender communities. In Singapore, which is highly economically progressive and where transpeople can change their identity documents, Section 377 of their penal law inherited from British colonial rule, is used to harass transwomen as going against ‘the order of nature’”.

The challenges are compounded in pre-dominantly Muslim countries like Indonesia and Malaysia, where “I believe they have more challenges. In Malaysia, a court has just denied the petition of Malaysian transwomen known as mak nyah to put to judicial review Section 66 of their Syariah Criminal code, used to abuse, harass and violate the rights of tranwomen there. In the ASEAN, foreign ministers do not want to protect Southeast Asians from discrimination and unequal treatment based on their sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) by refusing to include SOGI in the proposed ASEAN Human Rights Decalration. In Hong Kong, a court also denied the petition of a transwomen to marry her long-time boyfriend. In Uganda, a bill that will impose the death penalty on ‘gay’ people can definitely be used against transgender people as well.”

“In all continents of the world, transpeople have their own crosses to bear in terms of state and non-state actors restricting their freedoms and impacting the quality of their lives as human beings and citizens of their countries,” Fontanos said.

And so for Fontanos, the observance of TDoR each year is an important event in the global human rights movement as it brings to the fore the reality of transgender people’s vulnerability to hate violence. “It is important to observe TDOR because ever since it started in 1999, 14 years ago, the number of transpeople who die each year who are remembered during TDoR has steadily increased and not decreased. The prevailing statistics suggest that a transgender person is murdered somewhere in the world every 72 hours. If you look at the number of transpeople killed by hate violence each year, it is very depressing,” she said.

NEWSMAKERS

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.

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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.”

Michael David C. Tan – who received “Art that Matters for Literature” from Amnesty International Philippines – at work while providing media coverage to members of the LGBTQIA community in Caloocan City.

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.

Michael David C. Tan – also a winner for Best Investigative Report in 2006 from the Catholic Mass Media Awards (CMMA) – has continuously tried to highlight “inclusive development”.

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’.”

Michael David C. Tan – seen here giving SOGIESC and HIV 101 lecture to over a thousand students in Quezon Province – said 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.”

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.

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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.

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All photos courtesy of Falana Films

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.”

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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.”

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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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