In 2014, when he was ordained into priesthood in the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), Rev. Alfred Candid Jaropillo said that “everyone knew I’m gay.” He did not think his sexual orientation was – or would be – an issue, particularly since in the same year, UCCP released a pro-LGBT statement dubbed “Let Grace Be Total”.
Playing with the so-called “queer alphabet”, that statement is anchored in UCCP’s belief in the equal standing of everyone, and because its tradition of faith has always been “affirming, welcoming, and accepting”.
As stressed by “Let Grace Be Total”, LGBT people “have suffered through acts of discrimination, ridicule and even outright oppression and murder. They have been treated as if they are abominable creatures (that) do not deserve to be treated as human beings.” However, “the LGBT community no longer wants to suffer silently from oppression… We can’t impose on others because of our privileges.”
And because for UCCP the “idea of human rights is perceived as the right of every human creature to be regarded and treated as a human being… it is our duty as professing Christians to see if there are those denied their potential to rise to the image of God in them.” UCCP, therefore, believes that if it condemns LGBT people who have done nothing, it is perpetuating injustice; and this is a legacy that it does not want to leave behind.
But months after working as an administrative minister in a city church in the Visayas, a senor minister allegedly hacked Rev. Jaropillo’s Facebook account. His private – and very personal – conversations with gay friends were copy-pasted, printed and then distributed first to the church’s council, and then the churchgoers. It was eventually discussed at UCCP’s national conference.
The issue with Rev. Jaropillo, according to those who opposed him, was his conduct as a gay man, which is said to be unbecoming a church leader. “That I even spoke gay lingo was an issue,” he recalled, adding that “my gender expression became a tool used to oppress me.”
And because the parish could not accept his being gay, Rev. Jaropillo was padlocked out of his church, with a security guard hired just to prevent him from entering the church’s premises.
The bishop went to the church to speak with the council, which was adamant in barring Rev. Jaropillo from serving. And this eventually created a schism in the church, with a big portion of the churchgoers leaving that parish to establish their own church. There are now two UCCP churches in this city in the Visayas, and Rev. Jaropilo is pastoring the other – and newer – church.
“All throughout the experience, I kept faith,” Rev. Jaropillo said. “But it also pushed me to be aware, and to promote gender justice.”
According to Rev. Rex Reyes Jr., General Secretary of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), “churches can be guilty of teaching but failing to listen.” This is why for him, it is always “welcome when there is willingness to talk even with very contentious issues.”
NCCP is a fellowship of 10 Protestant and non-Roman Catholic Churches in the Philippines, and UCCP is a member church. Aside from UCCP (which has the aforementioned “Let Grace Be Total” statement), four other NCCP members already have LGBT-affirming statements.
NCCP’s foray into LGBT human rights may have been boosted by its HIV-related efforts.
In 2013, during a project consultation a year after NCCP formalized its HIV program, one of the issues raised was the need to include discussions on gender and sexuality because “HIV can’t be properly understood sans these,” said Darlene Marquez-Caramanzana, Secretary of the Program Unit on Ecumenical Education and Nurture of NCCP.
So when NCCP started a new HIV project in 2014, one of its components was on education on sexuality, though this particularly focused on its relationship to HIV. This project continues to date.
In 2015, at the 24th General Convention of NCCP, a statement was released tackling issues surrounding human sexuality, particularly LGBT. Dubbed “Create Safe Spaces for Understanding Human Sexuality”, this statement affirmed that human beings are created in the image of God, thereby imbuing them with dignity. Part of that dignity is “being able to freely express oneself.” This same statement noted that “human sexuality is a gift from the Creator, a truly good and perfect gift that must be affirmed and celebrated.” The statement went on to say that issues on sexuality continue to be wrapped in secrecy due to wrong perception that sex talk is indecent talk. However, there is now a growing number of LGBT people who “dare to openly express their sexual orientation and gender identity”, even when they are met with discrimination and condemnation.
It is this that led the General Convention to call its church members to: 1) create spaces where persons can discuss about sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI); 2) develop biblically-based/theologically sound materials on human sexuality to be used for study and reflection to be used in churches; and 3) to draw in persons of different SOGI into activities of the church and church organizations.
NCCP eventually held a gathering – dubbed “Love, Diversity & Justice” – specifically tackle SOGIE.
For Rev. Reyes, conversations should not stop so everyone could hear various perspectives, including from LGBT people themselves, Biblical and theological experts, and even from churches that do not necessarily subscribe to the pro-LGBT positions. “Willingness to talk,” he said, “is a good step.”
TEXTS AND CONTEXTS
Biblical and theological scholars stress the need to reconsider people’s appreciation of texts.
According to Prof. Arche Ligo from St. Scholastica’s College, there is a need to re-read the Bible. For instance, Genesis 1:27 states: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” As per Prof. Ligo, it clearly mentions that God already created a human, and then made male and female after that human. Inquiring about this “first human” is necessary because “that Genesis has two creation stories seem to imply a two-step view of humanity: that the original intent for humanity is androgyny not segregation of sexuality (man and woman).”
This text (Genesis 1:27) is 500 years younger than Chapter 2:7,22, which states that “God formed man from the dust of the ground… and man (ish) became a living being…” and “And the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman (ishah) and brought her to the man.” But Prof. Ligo said that while the Bible recognizes two sexes (zakar for male, and neqebah for female), this is only when talking of Genesis. And “if the whole Bible is considered, there is a more complex view of sexuality than what contemporary debates acknowledge,” she said.
For Prof. Ligo, the “contemporary debates” also need to take into consideration different factors.
For one, there are the doctrinal influences. St. Augustine, for instance, “had issues with women and how to place them within the context of faith”. Not surprisingly, Augustinian monk Jerome, who helped translate the Hebrew Bible into Latin, including the Greek New Testament, imparted that if a woman serves God, she will cease to be woman and becomes a man. This is apparent in the archaic naming of nuns, who assumed male names – e.g. Mary Joseph, Mary Benjamin.
Second, there are also erasures if not of Biblical texts, then discussions of the same. Prof. Ligo said that some Biblical writers actually imagined the concept of intimacy to include those happening between two people of similar sex. For instance, 1 Sam 19:1-4, 1 Sam 20:17 states that “by becoming David’s woman, Jonathan gave up his place for his beloved friend to assume kingship over Israel.” According to Prof. Ligo, this is no longer discussed because this is deemed controversial.
The erasure also happens in heterosexual sexual intimacy. With sexual intercourse seen as part of the creative act happening within marriage, ignored are “sex services” rendered by “concubines”. This may be best seen in the case of upholding of Isaac over Ishmael, even if the latter is the true firstborn of Abraham, though with a kept woman.
Third, texts may also be read differently; for instance, albeit coming from Abrahamic tradition, Roman Catholics will read texts differently from those following Islam. Even the Oral Torah (Jewish texts) – i.e. Talmud and Mishna – names five genders.
Fourth, the changing role of people in society affects ongoing theological discussions. For instance, as the women’s movement surfaced, sexual intimacy was no longer only considered as an act to reproduce. Even looking in New Testament, Prof. Ligo said, Jesus no longer talked about “go(ing) forth and multiply”.
Fifth, the changing times need to be taken into consideration in contemporary theological debates. According to Prof. Ligo, there are Hebrew words connected with sexuality, i.e.: basar echad, which means “one flesh”; dabaq, meaning “join”, “cling” or “cleave”; and shakab, meaning “to lie with”. All these refer to sexual intercourse, so that the act was not frowned upon in theological texts. However, the act started to be frowned upon, and language mimicked this even if – she said – language is not supposed to be dirty.
For Prof. Ligo, in the end, when reflecting on human sexuality, the focus should be on how Jesus defined the person. That is, made in the image and likeness of God, with one’s class, race or gender all irrelevant. As stated in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” For Prof. Ligo, this erases the hierarchies through baptism and everyone is made as one under Jesus Christ.
Prof. Ligo’s challenge to the church, therefore, focuses on accountability, responsibility, and gender appreciation/gender consciousness/gender responsiveness. This is because for her, efforts to remove stigma, highlight human rights, and promote acceptance and respect “require a deep sense of respect for persons, no matter what their SOGIE may be; recognition of human rights; and belief that everyone was made in the image and likeness of God,” she said.
DISMANTLING THE ‘-ISMs’
For Prof. Karl James Villarmea from Silliman University, to better the response of churches to LGBT people, the view on sexuality itself has to be reconsidered. And for him, it is unfortunate that sexuality is always considered inside the “Holy Trinity of Sexuality” – i.e. heterosexuality, heteronormativity and heterosexism.
“These are concrete ideas that shape people’s beliefs. For instance, how views of heterosexuality, heteronormativity and heterosexism shape laws, such as the Revised Penal Code of the Philippines that sanctions women more than men,” Prof. Villarmea said.
And so for Prof. Villarmea, these “operative assumptions” need to be considered for them to be changed. As such, “the transformation and deactivation of heterosexual assumptions is the contemporary theological task of Filipino Christians.”
Dr. Liza B. Lamis from the Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches sees the continued “othering” as the issue. Women’s bodies, for instance, “continue to be abused, battered and demonized, with the latter arguably be best seen in teachings in churches that refer to women as ‘temptresses’ or as ‘gateways to hell’. In a deeper analysis, the poorest of the poor, oppressed of all the oppressed are women.”
For Dr. Lamis, just as women were “othered”, LGBT people are also considered “others”. So for her, “if the church says it loves God, then this should be expressed in loving others, especially the most difficult to love.”
THE CHURCH AS A FOE… AND SANCTUARY
UCCP’s Rev. Jaropillo isn’t alone in having a noteworthy experience because of his church, with numerous others attesting having just-as-bad or even worse experiences brought by their faith.
Episcopal Church in the Philippines’ Felics Ombis Balangi, for instance, was openly told by some church leaders that his church that it is not yet ready to open up to LGBT people. Iglesia Filipina Independiente’s Mama Kish Lineses was told she was “gawa ng demonyo (made by the devil)”, and church leaders (supposedly jokingly) told her she had no place in the church. The United Methodist Church’s Pastor Carleen Nomorosa – who was raised by same-sex parents – being asked if she is “a real woman” because, among others, she “spoke with a big voice”, and that she’s already 30 and yet still not married. Metropolitan Community Church’s Pastor Kakay Pamaran explicitly told by her former church that LGBT people will go to hell. And The United Methodist Church’s Claire Balabbo being told she is “salot sa lipunan (pest in society)”, among others.
Not everything is gloomy, with some experiences highlighting the goodness of churches.
IFI’s Rev. Fr. Franz Forster, for instance, admitted hearing Bible verses thrown his way to tell him LGBT people are wrong. But people at the grassroots already tell him to “come as you are”. Fr. Noel Bordador of found acceptance in the Episcopal Church in New York; he has been married for 22 years now. And Pastor Pamaran herself works as the first openly lesbian staff of a seminary (i.e. Union Theological Seminary), having also studied there as the first openly lesbian seminarian there during her schooling.
For UMC’s Balabbo, “at least in (some churches), LGBT people are now more tolerated/accepted because anak din naman daw sila ng Diyos (they’re also children of God),” she said.
FOCUS ON WELL-BEING
According to Prof. Beatriz Torre, Coordinator of the LGBT group of the Psychological Association of the Philippines (PAP), to better the plight of LGBT people, stigma needs to be tackled.
“There is stigma expressed via religion, such as when people of faith preach that being LGBT is a sin. There is also stigma in public opinion; as reported by Manalastas & del Pilar in 2005, for instance, one of four Filipinos said they do not want to have a gay neighbor. There are also crimes committed against LGBT people, with 144 hate-related deaths already reported since 1996. Lastly, there is also stigma promoted even by psychology. For instance, a local textbook published in 2007 claimed that parents should protect their child from homosexual tendencies,” Prof. Torre said.
For Prof. Torre, stigma affects the well-being of LGBT people. Citing the minority stress theory of Ilan Mayers, Ph.D., she said that being part of the sexual minority does not lead to poor health, but experiences of stigma are those that reduce well-being for LGBT people.
But Prof. Torre said that there is silver lining to this, with views about being LGBT now changing. In the past, homosexuality was equated with being a disorder, and “solutions” were attempted to be made to “cure” it because it was considered as “contagious”. But in 1973, homosexuality was removed from DSM (which lists down illnesses); and in 1992, homosexuality was removed from ICD of the World Health Organization. In the Philippines, PAP released an LGBT-affirmative policy statement in 2011 to clarify that being LGBT is not a disorder.
Prof. Torre said that disorder is defined with specific criteria – i.e. prevalence, that it causes dysfunction, and that it causes suffering. In the case of being LGBT, these are not met. So for PAP, the focus is now on stigma and how this affects LGBT well-being.
“There was a time when being LGBT was a diagnosed disorder; but modern research has shown that these are only variants of sexuality,” Prof. Torre said. “So the question now is not ‘Are they ill and how can we treat them?’ But ‘How we can help make them happy, too, and promote well-being?’.”
The journey towards inclusivity continues to be ongoing, said Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, Executive at the Office of Health and Wholeness Advocacy and Executive Director of the United Church of Christ HIV & AIDS Network (UCAN).
UCC in the US, for instance, started discussing about human sexuality as far back as the 1950s when Alfred Kinsey released his report, to the 1960s with the so-called “sexual revolution”. UCC even has an adult curriculum, Created in God’s Image, and a partnership with the Unitarian Universalist Association for the Our Wholes Lives and Sexuality and Our Faith curriculum, which stressed that “sexuality is a good gift from God” and the assumption that “people seek to express their sexuality in ways that are loving, healthy and pleasurable.”
But “UCC’s journey is not yet complete. UCC already has LGBT clergy and 1,500 churches have adopted open and affirming covenants. However, over 3,500 churches still do not have open and affirming covenants,” Rev. Schuenemeyer said.
As such, UCC – like many churches – is “still in process”.
And that process is faster for some churches than for others.
For instance, as it eyes to remain relevant in a changing world, Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) has already ordained women into priesthood, accepts LGBT people into priesthood, and more recently, it released a statement titled “Our Common Humanity, Our Shared Dignity” on the 7th of February to promote LGBT human rights.
According to Rev. Erah Maga-Cabillas, IFI’s pro-LGBT statement goes as far as “asking for forgiveness from the LGBT community for the church’s indifference when LGBTQ people were discriminated; and when they were hurt through the church’s own deeds.” IFI also affirms that LGBT people have the right to love and be loved; and that acceptance means protecting them against abuses, HIV, et cetera.
For Rev. Maga-Cabillas, for IFI, the discrimination against LGBT people is part of the struggle for human rights.
Iglesya Evangelica Metodista En Las Islas Filipinas – which was founded in 1909 as the first indigenous Filipino church – now has a working paper “tackling the LGBT issue”. This paper – an output of Lupon sa Doktrina (Committee of Doctrine) – follows UCCP’s LGBT statement by also affirming that LGBT people were also made in the image and likeness of God.
According to IEMELIF Pastor Ferdinand G. Mercado, the church is cognizant of changing times. He cited an American study that claimed that 59% of Millenials are dropping out of the church; and one of the reasons for the dropout is the church’s failure to address the realities of today’s issues, which includes the plight of LGBT people. The church, therefore, “has to respond to the changing times.”
Meanwhile, the Convention of Philippine Baptists Churches similarly promotes the idea that “homosexuals are not ‘subhumans’ but also created in the image and likeness of God.” And so, according to CPBC’s Jabez Oberes, “CPBC commits to create an open space for conversation and dialogue with those who do not share their values and conviction in the stream of LGBTQ; and uphold Christian principle on justice, human dignity, gender equality and sexual integrity.”
For other churches, there are no official positions yet; but there are already discussions happening about human sexuality, and particularly SOGIE and LGBT.
The Salvation Army, for one, already started tackling LGBT issues during its Conference of Leaders in Singapore in 2014, with a survey then done to ascertain issues revolving around human sexuality that TSA needs to focus on. The results of that survey mentioned same-sex relationships (including being LGBT) and transgender issues.
According to Lt. Col. Elsa Oalang, TSA’s intention is to “contextualize Jesus” because “unless Jesus does not fit my context, he won’t be relevant to me”. And for TSA to be a “living church, no one opinion should dominate; we should listen to our people.”
The Episcopal Church in the Philippines also still has no official statement on human sexuality. But according to Fr. Stephen Ofo-ob, “just because we have no statement doesn’t mean we’re apathetic.”
Fr. Ofo-ob said that there may be pro-LGBT efforts in some dioceses, but these are positions from bishops only at the diocesan level, not the official stand of the church.
Particularly referring to LGBT people, ECP stands “in the middle”. “We say we welcome you. We can’t quote the bible to condemn LGBT people. But we can’t have a stand yet; but at least we started discussing it already,” said Fr. Ofo-ob.
For Iglesia Unida Ekyumenikal – which was established only in 1995 – there continues to be no statement for LGBT people, even as the church has already started ordaining women into priesthood. There are also individual/personal efforts in dioceses that aim to be inclusive of LGBT constituents.
Meanwhile, the Apostolic Catholic Church continues to respect only the sex assigned at birth of people, said Jimson C. Aratea. However, Aratea stressed that “LGBT people are accepted in ACC (even as) we retain our conservatism.”
MAKING THE CHURCH WORK
According to Prof. Revelation Velunta from the Union Theological Seminary (UTS), there are basic affirmations shared by everyone – e.g. that God created everything; difference is the most fundamental part of God’s creation so that diversity should be seen as God’s gift; meanings, expressions, et cetera are social constructs; and sexuality is an expression of humanity and since humanity is fundamentally diverse, its expressions are diverse.
For Prof. Velunta, “the reason we have problems is (because) we were made to believe everything should be the same. Everything should start with difference because everyone is different.” Here, even the ecumenical movement was born from the existence of difference.
Stressing that the problem is not about diversity, Prof. Velunta said that “our problem is imperialism (i.e. forcing a single truth on a plural world) – e.g. the belief that Christianity is the only way, and we force this to be the only truth.”
To engage a text (i.e. Bible) used to oppress, Prof. Velunta recommends the “jeepney approach”. Meaning, to turn the text into something that will work to accommodate inclusivity. Prof. Velunta used the jeep as a good example of turning something ugly into something that identifies Filipino identity (i.e. jeepney). The jeep was brought to the Philippines by Gen. Douglas McArthur during World War II as a means to traverse the rough terrains of the country. But after the war, Filipino ingenuity turned the war vehicle into the communal vehicle that it is now known as today. In this sense, Filipinos turned it into something that works for Filipinos.
Prof. Velunta said that Greek texts used in the Bible used to have deeper meanings. For instance, paides – now used to refer to young slaves – also actually meant “young boyfriends”. Nowadays, people say that Jesus did not say anything about LGBT people, but there are passages when Jesus did not raise an eyebrow when dealing with assumed LGBT people in the Bible. The case of the centurion who asked Jesus to heal his paides is a case in point, with Jesus healing the sick not because of who he was but because he was sick.
In responding particularly to sexual minorities, Prof. Velunta has a challenge: “Build bridges. But you can’t build a bridge from the middle. Take sides.”
And at the end of the day, engagement of various stakeholders should be the goal. As Rev. Myke Sotero of the Metropolitan Community Church-Metro Baguio said, “We can’t win the fight for LGBT human rights without the support of our straight allies. And here, engagement is always a good step.”
Back in the Visayas where he experienced discrimination, UCCP’s Rev. Jaropillo now helms an LGBT-affirming church. “Discrimination happens,” he said, “but this only highlights the need for us to do more.” Because for him, in the end, “everyone can play a part in making the church more welcoming for everyone.”
What it’s like to be trans in Taiwan
Tamsin Wu visits gay-friendly Taiwan, where she meets Abbygail Wu, founder of Intersex, Transgender and Transsexual People Care Association (ISTSCare), who said that the country is still failing its LGBTQ citizens, and particularly lags in promoting trans rights.
Taiwan may be the most gay-friendly country in Asia, but according to Abbygail Wu, founder of Intersex, Transgender and Transsexual People Care Association (ISTSCare), the country still receives a “failing mark” when it comes to LGBTQ equality. Transgender people, in particular, usually bear the brunt of sex-based discrimination.
ISTSCare has a one-woman 24/7 hotline service. Abby has dealt with calls concerning struggles related to suicide attempts, job insecurity or homelessness, and even domestic violence. To provide support and assistance to hotline callers, ISTSCare also partners with NGOs and other LGBTQ-related organizations.
Aside from the hotline service, the organization does its advocacy work through protests, by maintaining an online presence, as well as directly communicating with political figures and trans-friendly journalists to rouse awareness and discussion on transgender and intersex issues.
In 2014, four years after the first official notice regarding gender reassignment procedures in Taiwan was issued, the Ministry of Interior (MOI), with the support of the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW), announced the easement of legal requirements on changing gender identity. MOI promised that it would immediately work on letting transgender citizens change their gender marker without having to go through rigorous psychiatric assessments, sex reassignment surgery (SRS) and parental approval. However, MOI backtracked since then.
“MOI, which is handling the national ID cards, they said there are still a lot of research to do about the gender issue and they try to get some professional opinions, but MOHW already said this is not a medical issue, it’s an internal affair issue. So MOI, they’re just under the pressure and paused a lot of meetings… and now the issue is still under research for four years,” Abby lamented. “We’re the first Asian country to pass the bill but it’s not implemented.”
Despite MOHW already stating that medical professionals should not have a say when it comes to determining one’s gender identification, transgender citizens are still presently forced to consider SRS. Besides that, they are also required to seek the expensive involvement of psychiatrists and, outrageously, the consent of their parents. Otherwise, their gender identity cannot be legally recognized.
Abby clarified that not all transgender people want the help of doctors to validate their gender identity. Hence, SRS is especially discriminatory towards transgender citizens who do not wish to undergo surgery. “What is gender? Is it just based on our anatomy? Or is it in our behavior? In our mind? Or in the way we dress?… There are a lot of factors that influence what gender one identify as, but society focus on the least publicly visible aspect – our sex organ.”
Abby continued, “There are risks to surgery and that is one of the reasons why not all transgenders want to go through it. And also, they may question themselves, ‘Do I really want to have surgery or is it just for the sake of getting this ID?’”
“One day before the presidential election, I went to the DPP (Democratic Progressive Party) headquarters to talk with the Department of Woman. I told them, ‘tomorrow is already the day for voting, are you going on stage and advocate for transgender rights? This has been neglected for the past 3-4 years. Then they just told me, ‘this requires social consensus’… I went out of that meeting deeply upset,” Abby shared.
With lack of funding, community support and societal understanding of trans issues, how could transgender rights obtain social consensus when this feat requires acceptance and approval from the status quo in order for the relevant social change to take effect? Why should the rights and well-being of a minority group fall in the hands of the majority? Currently, both the public and the government possess inadequate knowledge in dealing with transgender issues, which exacerbates the struggles transgender citizens face.
Prejudice against transgender folks can also be felt within LGBTQ communities. On one hand, some non-transgender members of the LGBTQ community question the gender identity of trans people. On the other hand, there is also internalized transphobia.
“A lot of transgender are more binary [in the way they see gender]. They think a man should act and look a certain way and that a woman should act and look a certain way… ISTSCare does not condone this kind of thinking,” Abby said.
When asked why ISTSCare is run by only three people (including Abby and her partner), she shared that many transgender citizens in Taiwan find it difficult to prioritize doing advocacy work because their life situation is oftentimes mentally and emotionally taxing. On top of having to deal with an unsupportive family, they often face discrimination in the job market. Hence, there’s a high level of difficulty for them to get a good job, gain professional working experience and make a decent living, let alone have the financial resources to go through SRS. As of now, they’re in this loop of societal discrimination and economic vulnerability with no recourse.
Another reason for the lack of transgender-focused activists in Taiwan is attributed to the problem of privilege. Abby adds that well-off transgender citizens tend to be exclusive in their social group. Post-surgery and after assimilating in heteronormative society, they also tend to ignore the struggles faced by less fortunate transgender citizens. They would rather not get associated for fear of being found out and face discrimination. Albeit joining Pride Parades, they are at other times nowhere to be found when it comes to advocating for transgender rights.
Abby said that ISTSCare’s main goal right now is to push for a non-discriminatory, comprehensive gender identity law in Taiwan.
“We hope to be like Argentina. Just file [required] papers to the courthouse and they will assign the legal gender change. No need to go through any kind of medical process.”
Having a well thought out gender identity law may not help solve all transgender issues and alleviate them from all of their struggles. However, getting the said law done and implemented right would be one significant progress for the recognition of the human rights and dignity of, not only transgender citizens, but also intersex and non-binary people.
Chance of HIV-positive person with undetectable viral load transmitting the virus to a sex partner is scientifically zero
The PARTNER 2 study found no transmissions between gay couples where the HIV-positive partner had a viral load under 200 copies/ml – even though there were nearly 77,000 acts of condomless sex between them.
Confirmed and needs to be stressed: The chance of any HIV-positive person with an undetectable viral load transmitting the virus to a sexual partner is scientifically equivalent to zero.
This is according to researchers who released at #AIDS2018 the final results from the PARTNER study. Results originally announced in 2014 from the first phase, PARTNER 1, already indicated that “Undetectable equals Untransmittable” (U=U). But while the first study was lauded in tackling vaginal sex, the statistical certainty of the result did not convince everyone, particularly in the case of gay men, or those who engage in anal sex.
But now, PARTNER 2, the second phase, only recruited gay couples. The PARTNER study recruited HIV serodifferent couples (one partner positive, one negative) at 75 clinical sites in 14 European countries. They tested the HIV-negative partners every six to 12 months for HIV, and tested viral load in the HIV-positive partners. Both partners also completed behavioral surveys. In cases of HIV infection in the negative partners, their HIV was genetically analyzed to see if it came from their regular partner.
And the results indicate “a precise rate of within-couple transmission of zero” for gay men as well as for heterosexuals.
The study found no transmissions between gay couples where the HIV-positive partner had a viral load under 200 copies/ml – even though there were nearly 77,000 acts of condomless sex between them.
PARTNER is not the only study about viral load and infectiousness. Last year, the Opposites Attract study also found no transmissions in nearly 17,000 acts of condomless anal sex between serodifferent gay male partners. This means that no transmission has been seen in about 126,000 occasions of sex, if this study is combined with PARTNER 1 and 2.
While this is good news overall in the fight against HIV, related issues continue to plague HIV-related efforts, particularly in countries like the Philippines.
For instance, aside from the overall silence on U=U (undetectable = untransmittable), use of anti-retroviral therapy (ART) continue to be low. As of May 2016, when the country already had 34,158 total reported cases of HIV infection, Filipinos living with HIV who are on anti-retroviral therapy (i.e. those who are taking meds) only numbered 14,356.
The antiretroviral medicines in use in the Philippines also continue to be limited, with some already phased out in developed countries.
All the same, this is considered a significant stride, with science unequivocally backing the scientific view helmed in 2008 by Dr. Pietro Vernazza who spearheaded the scientific view that viral suppression means HIV cannot be passed via a statement in the Bulletin of Swiss Medicine.
‘God loves LGBTQIA people; so do we.’
A Christian church wants members of the LGBTQIA community to know that “they are loved by God.” Val Paminiano, pastor of the Freedom in Christ Ministries, says that “we would like to apologize on behalf of the mainstream churches that condemn the LGBTQIA community. Sorry for hurting you; (and) even for using the Bible to hurt you.”
God’s love is for all.
“(We want the members of the LGBTQIA community to know that) they are loved by God,” said Val Paminiano, pastor of the Freedom in Christ Ministries, which has been making its presence known particularly in LGBTQIA Pride events to highlight its Christian anti-anti-LGBTQIA position.
Approximately 80% of Filipinos are Roman Catholic, and the church’s teachings continue to dominate public life in the Philippines. As it stands, church’s teachings re LGBTQIA people still often revolve around the “hate the sin, love the sinner” statement, so that LGBTQIA people are tolerated so long as they do not express their being LGBTQIA.
This “hate the sin, love the sinner” stance seems to be reflected in dominant perspectives re LGBTQIA people in the Philippines.
In 2013, for instance, in a survey titled “The Global Divide on Homosexuality” conducted by the US-based Pew Research Center, 73% of adult Filipinos agreed with the statement that “homosexuality should be accepted by society”. The percentage of Filipinos who said society should not accept gays fell from 33% in 2002 to 26% that year.
But more recently, in June 2018, a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey showed that a big percentage of Filipinos still oppose civil unions. When 1,200 respondents across the country were asked whether or not they agree with the statement “there should be a law that will allow the civil union of two men or two women”, at least 61% of the respondents said they would oppose a bill that would legalize this in the country. Among them, 44% said they strongly disagree, while 17% said they somewhat disagree. Meanwhile, 22% said they would support it, while 16% said they were still “undecided”.
For Paminiano, “we would like to apologize on behalf of the mainstream churches that condemn the LGBTQIA community. Sorry for hurting you; (and) even for using the Bible to hurt you.”
Churches continue to be lambasted for not changing with time – perhaps most obvious in the treatment of LGBT people of those with faith. But the number of denominations openly discussing – and even coming up with statements of support of – LGBTQIA issues is increasing.
All hail the beauty queen
A glimpse into the life of a trans woman beauty pageant enthusiast, Ms Mandy Madrigal of Transpinay of Antipolo Organization.
This is part of #KaraniwangLGBT, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBT people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”
“I feel accepted.”
That, said Mandy Madrigal, is the main appeal of joining beauty pageants.
“I feel so loved when I join pageants. Especially when people clap for us, cheer for us. And when you win… it (just) feels different.”
Assigned male at birth, Mandy was in primary school when her father asked her if “I was a boy or a girl”. That question scared her, she admitted, because – as the only boy among six kids – she thought she did not really have “any choice”. “So I answered my father, ‘I am a boy’.”
But Mandy’s father asked her the same question again; and this time, “I said, yes, I am gay.”
No, Mandy is NOT gay; she is a transpinay, and a straight one at that. But the misconceptions about the binary remains – i.e. in this case, she is associated with being gay mainly because she did not identify with the sex assigned her at birth.
In a way, Mandy said she’s lucky because “I believe he (my father) accepted (me) with his whole heart.”
The rest of her family did, too.
Though – speaking realistically – Mandy said this may be abetted by her “contributions” to the family. “Hindi naman aka basta naging bakla lang (I’m not a ’typical’ gay person),” she said, “na naglalandi lang o sumasali lang ng pageant (who just flirts, or just joins beauty pageants). Instead, Mandy provides financial support to her family by – among others – selling RTW clothes and beauty products. In fact, some of her winnings also go to the family’s coffers. By helping provide them with what they need, “it’s easy for them to accept me as a transgender woman.”
Growing up, Mandy realized that while “makakapagsinungaling ka sa ibang tao, pero sarili mo, hindi mo maloloko. Kaya mas magandang tanggapin mo ang sarili mo para matanggap ka ng ibang tao (you may be able to lie to others about who you really are, but you can’t lie to yourself. So it’s better to accept your true self so that others will be able to accept you too).”
Mandy was “introduced” to beauty pageants when she was 13 or 14. At that time, a friend asked her to join a pageant; and “I won first runner up.” She never looked backed since, even – at one time – earning as much as P20,000 after winning a title. Like many regular beauconeras (beauty pageant participants), she also heads to distant provinces to compete, largely because – according to her – prizes in provincial competitions tend to be higher. The prize money earned helps one buy more paraphernalia for the next pageants, and – in Mandy’s case – also helps support her family.
FORMING A FAMILY
Beauty pageants are competitions, yes; but for Mandy, pageants also allow the candidates to form bonds as they get close to each other. Pageants, she said, can be a way “na maging close kami, magkaroon ng magagandang bonding… at magkakilala kami (for us to be close, to bond and get to know the others better).”
Pageants can be costly, Mandy admitted – for instance, “you have to invest,” she said, adding that a candidate needs to be able to provide for herself (instead of just always renting) costumes, swimsuits, casual wear, gowns, and so on.
In a way, therefore, having people who believe in you helps. In Mandy’s case, for instance, a lot of people helped (by providing necessities she needs) because “naniniwala sila na I am a queen inside and out,” she smiled.
But this support can also rack the nerves, particularly when people expect one to win (particularly because of the support given).
One will not always win, of course; and this doesn’t always give one good feelings. In 2017, for instance, Mandy joined Queen of Antipolo, and – after failing to win a crown – she said many people told her she should have won the title, or at least placed among the runners-up. “naguluhan ang utak ko (That confused me),” she said. “‘Bakit ako ang gusto ninyong manalo?’ But that’s when I realized na marami ako na-i-inspire na tao dahil marami nagtitiwala sa akin (I ask, ‘Why do you want me to win?’ But that’s when I realized that I inspire a lot of people, which is why they count on me).”
This gives her confidence; enough to deal with the nervousness that will also allow her to just enjoy any pageant she joins.
A TIME TO SHINE
Mandy believes pageants can help LGBTQI people by providing them a platform to showcase to non-LGBTQI people why “hindi tayo dapat husgahan (we should not be judged).”
Generally speaking, Mandy said that “ang tunay na queen ay may malaking puso (a real queen has a big heart).”
And she knows that not every pageant is good for every contestant. There will be pageants where you will be crowned the queen, she said, just as there will be pageants where you will lose. But over and above the winning and losing, note “what’s most important: that there’s a lot of people who supported you in a (certain) pageant.”
At the end of the day, “sa lahat ng patimpalak, pagkatandaan natin na merong nananalo at may natatalo. Depende na lang yan sa araw mo. Kung ikaw ay nakatadhanang manalo ay mananalo ka; kung nakatadhanang matalo ay matatalo ka talaga. Yun lang yun. Isipin mo na lang na meron pang araw na darating na mas maganda para sa iyo (in all competitions, remember that there will always be a winner and a loser. It all depends on your luck for the day. If you are fated to win, you will win; if you are fated to lose, you will lose. That’s that. But still remember – even when you lose – that there will always come a day that will be great for you).”
Iloilo City passes anti-discrimination ordinance on final reading
The city of Iloilo has joined the ranks of local government units (LGUs) with LGBTQI anti-discrimination ordinances (ADOs), with the Sangguniang Panlungsod (SP) unanimously approving its ADO mandating non-discrimination of members of minority sectors including the LGBTQIA community.
Pride comes to the “City of Love”.
The city of Iloilo has joined the ranks of local government units (LGUs) with LGBTQI anti-discrimination ordinances (ADOs), with the Sangguniang Panlungsod (SP) unanimously approving its ADO mandating non-discrimination of members of minority sectors including the LGBTQI community.
The ADO was sponsored by Councilor Liezl Joy Zulueta-Salazar, chair of the SP Committee on Women and Family Relations. Councilor Love Baronda helped with the content/provisions of the ordinance.
“Everyone deserves equal protection under the law. This local legislation reinforces the Constitutional rights and the inalienable human rights of everyone to be treated equally,” Zulueta-Salazar said to Outrage Magazine. “It has always been a question of equality versus equity. Your government is a duty-bearer to protect everyone under the law. Moreso those who have time and again, been victims of injustice borne out from bigotry and indifference. That has to change now. Discrimination has no place in the ‘City of Love’.”
The ADO defines acts of discrimination to include: refusal of employment, refusal of admission in schools, refusal of entry in places open to general public, deprivation of abode or quarters, deprivation of the provision of goods and services, subjecting one to ridicule or insult, and doing acts that demeans the dignity and self-respect or a person because of sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, race, color, descent, ethnic origin, and religious beliefs.
Penalties range from P1,000 for the first offense, P2,000 for the second offense and imprisonment of not more than 10 days at the discretion of the court, and P3,000 and 15 days imprisonment on the third offense.
The ADO also mandates the creation of the anti-discrimination mediation and conciliation board headed by the mayor. This board will initiate the filing of cases against violators.
“Discrimination… violates basic human rights thus making it our duty as public servants to protect our citizens from unwarranted and unfair treatment coming from their fellow citizens, or worse from their own government. We respect and give emphasis to the right of every person because what matters is for us to be humane and to do everything in love,” Baronda said to Outrage Magazine.
Zulueta-Salazar added that “having worked with the marginalized sectors of our society through non-government organizations like the Family Planning Organization of the Philippines Iloilo Chapter and the different barangay local governments in Iloilo City, we have seen how the struggles of the LGBTQI, of the urban poor, of the religious minorities including the Indigenous Peoples displaced in the city. This ordinance is for them, not for special or preferential treatment from their government, but to give them what they truly deserve: a more just and equitable treatment by providing an enabling environment for them to be equally productive members of the society.”
For Zulueta-Salazar, the salient points in the Iloilo ADP may be the same as the other ADOs across the country, “but the one we have here in Iloilo City is a product of hard fought struggle for equality not just for one sector of the society, but generally as a statement that the ‘City of Love’ does not discriminate based on gender, age, race or religion. That in the ‘City of Love’, truly it can be said now that love wins.”
For Iloilo City-based Rev. Alfred Candid Jaropillo, who heads the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP), the ADO “is a step for the ‘City of Love’ in creating a community where the rights of all its constituents are respected and protected. As a clergy of the UCCP, I commend our government officials for passing the said ordinance (to show that) Iloilo is indeed a safe city for our sisters and brothers coming from the LGBTQI community.”
The Iloilo City Legal Office has 60 days from approval to promulgate the implementing rules and regulations (IRR), while the Public Information Office shall conduct an information drive 30 days from approval. The ordinance takes effect 10 days after its publication in a local newspaper.
Mandaluyong City passes LGBT anti-discrimination ordinance
With the continuing absence of a national law that will protect the human rights of LGBTQI Filipinos, the city of Mandaluyng passed Ordinance 698, S-2018, which seeks to “uphold the rights of all Filipinos especially those discriminated against based on their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE).”
With the continuing absence of a national law that will protect the human rights of LGBTQI Filipinos (largely – at least for this year – because of a weak political support from the Philippine Senate via the non-leadership on this issue by Senate Pres. Vicente Sotto III and Majority Floor Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri), localized anti-discrimination efforts are again in focus. This time around, the city of Mandaluyng passed Ordinance 698, S-2018, which seeks to “uphold the rights of all Filipinos especially those discriminated against based on their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE).”
With this, it is now “the policy of the Mandaluyong City government to afford equal protection to LGBTQI people as guaranteed by our Constitution and to craft legal legislative measures in support of this aim.”
According to Dindi Tan, secretary general of LGBT Pilipinas, which helped push for the passage of this anti-discrimination ordinance (ADO), said that “the tactic now is to shift from a national lobby to local lobby, which is more pragmatic and feasible given the prevailing political environment in Congress.”
The Mandaluyong City ADO is specific to he LGBTQI community. Other ADOs in other localities lump the LGBTQI community with other minority sectors, including persons with disability (PWDs), seniors, cultural minorities, et cetera. But this city ordinance is specific to LGBTQI people, focusing on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.
“We continue to relentlessly lobby for the passage of local ADOs and similar policies such as this one from the Tiger City of Mandaluyong pending the enactment of a national law made for (this) purpose,” Tan said. “We can’t afford to wait forever for the Anti-Discrimination Bill (ADB) to pass in the Senate and the bicam while our LGBTQI sisters and brothers on the ground continue to be the targets of gender-based violence and discrimination.”
Mandaluyong City’s ADO specifically prohibits such discriminatory acts as: denying or limiting employment-related access; denying access to public programs or services; refusing admission, expelling or dismissing a person from educational institutions due to their SOGIE; subjecting a person to verbal or written abuse; unjust detention/involuntary confinement; denying access to facilities; and illegalizing formation of groups that incite SOGIE-related discrimination.
For the city to attain its goals, activities lined-up include: incorporating LGBTQI activities in Women’t Month celebrations; hosting of seminars in private and public spaces; and month-long Pride celebration in November, culminating on World AIDS Day on December 1.
The ADO also “strongly” encourages the Mandaluyong City Police District “to handle the specific concerns relating to SOGIE through existing Violence Against Women and Children (VAWC) desk in all police stations in Mandaluying City.”
A Mandaluyong City Pride Council will also be established to oversee the implementation of the ordinance.
Any person held liable under the ADO may be penalized with imprisonment for 60 days to one year and/or penalized with P1,000 to P5,000, depending on the discretion of the court.
Pushed by Sangguniang Panglungsod councilor China S. Celeste, Mandaluyong City Mayor Carmencita A. Abalos signed the ADO on May 17.
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