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Gathering to tackle ‘minority issues within LGBTQI community’ held in Phl

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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.”

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NEWSMAKERS

Bahaghari Center head, Disney Aguila, trains HIV hub on Deaf issues, basic FSL

Mx Disney Aguila, co-executive director of Bahaghari Center for SOGIE Research, Education and Advocacy, Inc. (Bahaghari Center), helmed a training of Hearing people who work in HIV advocacy from My Hub Cares (MHC).

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With HIV service providers still predominantly coming from the Hearing community, it is “just right to make them more aware of the need to be sensitive to the issues of Deaf Filipinos”.

So said Mx Disney Aguila, co-executive director of Bahaghari Center for SOGIE Research, Education and Advocacy, Inc. (Bahaghari Center), as she helmed a training of Hearing people who work in HIV advocacy from My Hub Cares (MHC).

“Deaf people, including Deaf LGBTQIA people, are also at risk for HIV infection, and yet existing HIV efforts often exclude them,” said Aguila, who enumerated – among others – the lack of Filipino Sign Language (FSL) interpreters in HIV facilities, absence of FSL-sensitive IEC materials on HIV, et cetera.

Aside from basic FSL lessons, Mx Aguila also gave lectures on specific issues faced by the Deaf community when trying to access HIV testing, and – if one tested HIV positive – access treatment, care and support services.

For Ico Rodolfo Johnson, who helms MHC, it may be cliché, but “we need to make real the saying that no one should be left behind.” In HIV-related efforts, this includes “persons with disability, such as Deaf people, who need to be included in our efforts.”

In the end, said Mx Aguila, “we really need to do more to ensure we’re truly inclusive… and that’s exactly what we’re doing with these trainings.”

To invite Mx Disney Aguila for talks on Deaf LGBTQIA issues and on inclusive development, email info@bahagharicenter.org, or directly contact her via Facebook.

For more information on the inclusive HIV service delivery of My Hub Cares, head to Unit 607 Tycoon Center, Pearl Drive, Ortigas Center, Pasig City; call 0917 187 2273; or visit their Facebook page.

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NEWSMAKERS

‘Red Lives’ reading slated on June 29 to shed light on experiences of people infected, affected by HIV

To shed light on the experiences of people infected and affected by HIV particularly in the Philippines, Bahaghari Center for SOGIE Research, Education and Advocacy, Inc. and Outrage Magazine scheduled an online launch cum book reading of “Red Lives”.

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To shed light on the experiences of people infected and affected by HIV particularly in the Philippines, Bahaghari Center for SOGIE Research, Education and Advocacy, Inc. and Outrage Magazine scheduled an online launch cum book reading of “Red Lives”.

Dubbed “Beyond the pages”, the book reading is slated on June 29, 2023 at 6:00PM via Google Meet.

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This is done in partnership with Mujer-LGBT Organization, Project Red Ribbon, Side B Philippines, My Hub Cares, and Positive Elders Philippines, Inc.

UNTOLD STORIES

“Red Lives” – written by Outrage Magazine editor in chief Michael David Tan – contains “creatively retold” stories from within the HIV community, from both infected with HIV and affected by it.

For Stephen Christian P. Quilacio, HIV project manager of Bahaghari Center and concurrent Mindanao correspondent of Outrage Magazine, “‘Red Lives’ holds immense significance to me. This book serves as a powerful testament to the experiences, struggles, and triumphs of individuals infected and affected by HIV. It provides a platform for their voices – for OUR voices – to be heard, acknowledged, and understood,” he said. “For Bahaghari Center, Red Lives is not just a book; it is a symbol of resilience, empowerment, and hope. It amplifies the voices of the local HIV community, provides a platform for their stories to be shared, and challenges us to create a world free from discrimination and judgment.”

Quilacio – who lives with HIV – added: “Storytelling encourages us to speak truth to power, to take chances, and to support fresh, different viewpoints. We are not alone, the ‘Red Lives’ serves to remind us.”

COMMUNITY THEATER

But “Red Lives” actually hopes to broaden the HIV discourse in the Philippines. To start, it goes beyond statistics and medical jargons, and delve into the personal narratives of those living with HIV, and are affected by HIV.

“This way, it humanizes the HIV community, shedding light on the challenges they face, the resilience they embody, and the discrimination they encounter. By sharing these stories, the book hopes to foster empathy, compassion, and a deeper understanding of the realities faced by the community,” said Aaron Moises C. Bonete, administrative officer of Bahaghari Center and concurrent managing editor of Outrage Magazine.

The stories in “Red Lives” are also produced via theater advocacy, so that “the stories are brought straight to the people,” Bonete added. This way, “we expose people to viewpoints that we may not have previously considered or been aware of in the field of HIV. Hopefully this teaches more people to be more empathetic to those whose lives were touched by HIV.”

For Bonete, “theater can contribute to our understanding of what it means to be human, and staging ‘Red Lives’ humanizes real HIV stories. These stories need to be shared, listened to, and passed on.”

Bonete added: “With the book reading, we hope to create a safe, affirming, and inclusive environment for dialogue and reflection, we aim to break the stigma and foster a deeper understanding of the challenges that serve as an opportunity to engage with diverse perspectives and foster empathy among participants while promoting a community that stands in solidarity with those affected by HIV.”

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BIG ADVOCACY

“Red Lives” is, in the end, “a call to action for individuals, organizations, and society at large,” said Quilacio. “It is a reminder of the importance of supporting and advocating for the rights and well-being of people living with HIV, and even those affected by it. By coming together, we can challenge misconceptions, dispel myths, and work towards creating a more inclusive and compassionate society.”

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NEWSMAKERS

Bahaghari Center, Outrage Mag publish book creatively retelling stories from PH HIV community

Bahaghari Center for SOGIE Research, Education and Advocacy, Inc. and Outrage Magazine released a book, “Red Lives”, that author Michael David C. Tan said contains the “creative retelling of stories from the local HIV community.”

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To give face to people infected and affected by HIV, Bahaghari Center for SOGIE Research, Education and Advocacy, Inc. and Outrage Magazine released a book, “Red Lives”, that author Michael David C. Tan said contains the “creative retelling of stories from the local HIV community.”

The Philippines now has 54 new HIV cases per day. In March 2023 alone, 2,078 news HIV cases were reported, a 35% increase to the number for the same period last year. Majority (97%) were male, with most of them belonging to the 15-34 age group (including 48% from the 25-34 age group, and 31% from the 15-24 age group. Notably, 125 of the cases reported in March involved 10-19 year old Filipinos, with 103 of them infected through sexual contact.

“Year-on-year, the number of Filipinos getting infected with HIV has been increasing from ‘only’ 13 per day in 2013 to 41 in 2022 to the 54 new HIV cases we now have per day,” Tan said, “and with younger Filipinos the most affected sector.”

For Tan, it is “important to stress this since HIV still kills… at least in contexts like the Philippines.”

Also in March, 57 deaths were reported due to any cause among people with HIV; since 1984 when DOH started reporting on this, 6,474 deaths were already reported due to any cause among people with HIV in the country. Sadly, only over half (67,194 of 114,008) of the total number of PLHIVs take ARVs; meaning, not everyone has access to life-saving medication.

All these numbers are important, Tan said, as they “show us the worsening HIV situation in the country.” However, “these numbers do not tell the full story because all Filipinos living with HIV, and their loved ones looking after them have stories to tell.”

“Red Lives”, Tan said, hopes to highlight some of these stories.

“Red Lives” has sections on: finding out one’s HIV status; looking after minors with HIV; dying and death; HIV for Deaf LGBTQIA people; transgender-specific HIV-related issues; treatment, care and support; and loving beyond HIV.

“Part of the fight against HIV lies in hearing of, and hopefully understanding of the stories of people,” Tan said.

Tan aded: “We all should ask: Why do people engage in behaviors that put them at risk for HIV infection? What are their experiences when they test HIV-positive? How do people around them react? Aside from their medical condition, what continue to be challenges for PLHIVs? And with their status, what continues to inspire them to do better in life?”

For Tan, “answers to such questions put a face on a social issue, thereby helping us understand why the country’s HIV situation is where it is now; what we can do to better the situation; and… what we can similarly do to better the lives of those infected AND affected by HIV.”

With “Red Lives”, the intention is “to start telling these stories so that, hopefully, they’d not only be heard but eventually be listened to.”

COPIES OF “Red Lives” ARE AVAILABLE FROM BAHAGHARI CENTER, AND OUTRAGE MAGAZINE.
CONTACT 09287854244 or 09162727715, OR EMAIL info@outragemag.com.

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