By Albert Tan Magallanes, Jr.
In 2011, a few of his Deaf friends visited Michael David C. Tan – editor of Outrage Magazine and executive director of Bahaghari Center for SOGIE Research, Education and Advocacy, Inc. (Bahaghari Center). “They had with them the death certificate of another Deaf person. The cause of death stated: ‘immunocompromised’. They didn’t know what the word meant,” he recalled. “There isn’t even a sign in Filipino Sign Language for this word.”
A year after that, Tan did a research on the knowledge, attitudes and practices of Deaf LGBTQIA Filipinos that put them at risk for HIV infection. This study – now with Bahaghari Center – had noteworthy findings:
- 87% (53 of 61) had sex before they reached 18.
- 36% had numerous sexual partners, with some having as many as 20 sex partners in a month.
- Only 34% use condoms. And even among those who used condoms, 19% had condom breakage during sex because of improper use.
- Only 47% of the respondents heard of HIV and AIDS,
- Only 31% consider HIV and AIDS as serious.
Not surprisingly, “since 2012, I have personally known Deaf men who have sex with men (MSM) who either tested HIV-positive or passed away from AIDS-related complications,” Tan said. And “this highlights how some sectors are being left behind in the current HIV responses.”
Part of this has to do with “sex being discussed in ways that are not understood by key affected populations,” Tan stressed.
This was also Tan’s message at the policy forum held by the Department of Science and Technology – National Research Council of the Philippines (DOST-NCRP).
Themed “Increasing public’s level of awareness on HIV/AIDS through digitized arts”, the event was held “in recognition of the urgency to address the issue of the growing number of HIV infections in the country”; though it also eyed to highlight the efforts that “mitigate if not stop the epidemic”.
Speaking as a core advocate, Tan said that there is a need to make sure that messages sent out vis-à-vis HIV is “properly understood.”
Already, Bahaghari Center – with Outrage Magazine – has conducted various activities that specifically deal with this.
In 2012 and 2014, for instance, “Deaf Talks” was held to discuss SOGIE 101 and HIV 101 among Deaf LGBTQIA Filipinos.
But even then, “we noted how some sectors have not even progressed from the basics yet.”
In Quezon City, “we’ve been asked to accompany Deaf MSM to toilets so they can show us what’s wrong with their privates.” In Davao City, “I’ve been asked if swallowing yellowish penile discharge is normal,” Tan recalled.
More recently, Bahaghari Center trained over 30 Deaf LGBTQIA Filipinos to start testing other Deaf Filipinos for HIV. “But while we already talk about ARV, U=U, VL, and so on, members of the Deaf community are still asking us how to properly put on a condom, or what lube is.”
Tan stressed that, “sadly, the misunderstanding remains. And this is because the language often used may be scientifically sound, but is not necessarily understood by the very population we want to reach.”
Other minority sectors are also not getting reached by HIV-related efforts, according to Tan, including: Indigenous People, persons in prison, sex workers, other PWDs, seniors, et cetera.
Tan said that there are practical solutions that can be considered.
First, “we need to discuss sex holistically,” he said. “We need to talk about sex work, policing of gay sex in gay venues, reality of transactional sex even among the young, and so on.”
Secondly, “we need to use language that is understandable to all. For that matter, change messaging per population.” In the case of the Deaf community, for instance, Bahaghari Center released public service announcements/PSAs using Filipino Sign Language. This way, “we discuss HIV using a language that is understood by a population that is also at risk for HIV infection.”
And lastly, “there is a need to stop fear-mongering and sex-negative lessons,” Tan said. “Telling people not to have sex won’t stop them from having sex. It will only drive them away from service providers.”
With the Philippines now having 32 new HIV cases every day, Tan said that “the tasks ahead of us are monumental.” However, things can still be done “if service providers start with being more inclusive.”