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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 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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‘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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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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