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HIV stigma and discrimination and official indifference?

Outrage Magazine takes a closer look at alleged discrimination experienced by some Filipinos living with HIV at some government agencies. This begs the question of whether it is time to re-visit “official” policies to ensure that they do not violate the rights of PLHIVs, and even end up promoting stigma and discrimination of those living with HIV.

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Time to revisit ‘official’ approaches to HIV?

The Bureau of Quarantine’s (BOQ) form specifically states that it “encourages” those who will get the yellow fever (YF) vaccination (to get their “yellow card”, which is needed by those traveling to/from select Latin American and African countries, among others) to be “honest” to “avoid possible medical complications”. But honesty, in this case – and as relayed by a Filipino living with HIV, Xander* – came at a price.

“The first step is to fill in a form that expects one to detail his/her medical condition. This form is then checked by a nurse (the second step), who will decide if you can proceed to the third step, which is the actual vaccination. If he/she has doubts about your entries in the form, you will be sent to one of the doctors on duty; he/she will determine if you can get vaccinated,” Xander relayed to Outrage Magazine.

The problem, said Xander, is in the handling of HIV-related cases.

When he went to the BOQ in the City of Manila, first, “my filled-in form was handled by at least three people who passed it around before I was forwarded to the doctor on duty (that day).” And because this section of the BOQ did not have partitions that could have afforded him privacy, Xander deemed what happened to him as “invasive, as it failed to respect my right to privacy,” he said. “In fact, by the time I was forwarded to the doctor on duty, even the other people who were also only there to get vaccinated already knew of my HIV status.”

And then the doctor on duty “was not even familiar with HIV-related cases,” Xander alleged, basing his assumption/observation on this doctor’s “lack of knowledge about CD4 and ARV (antiretroviral medicines) – he kept saying ‘Kailangan ko yung CD-CD ba ‘yun (I think I need that CD thing)?’ and ‘Dalhin mo lahat ng gamot mo sa akin. Hindi ko masyado alam ano yang Lamivudine-Tenofovir-Efavirenz (You have to show me all your medicines. I’m not very familiar with Lamivudine-Tenofovir-Efavirenz).” The doctor’s table was, by the way, right beside the waiting area (where people who were already vaccinated were awaiting their yellow card) and the cashier (where those who get vaccinated pay for the services received), so that everything discussed was done in public.

Xander – with head hanging low – left the BOQ sans knowing that the vaccination he desired; but also shamed because of his HIV status.

HIV AND YF VACC

The doctor on duty when Xander went to the BOQ was – in a way – right to be cautious when he asked for more information about Xander’s health condition.

In a study titled “Yellow fever vaccination in HIV-infected patients”, published in HIV Therapy, Olivia Veit, Christoph Hatz, Matthias Niedrig and Hansjakob Furrer stated that “millions of HIV-infected individuals are at risk to YF, a severe hemorrhagic disease which is endemic in tropical areas of Africa and Latin America.” To deal with this, “the 17D YF vaccine (17DV) is the most effective preventive strategy.” The World Health Organization (WHO), in fact, recommends that all people aged ≥9 months living or travelling in areas where there is a risk of YF transmission to be vaccinated.

Particularly in relation to HIV, there are some things worth stressing here.

First, “data regarding safety and immunogenicity of 17DV in HIV-infected individuals are limited to small studies, mainly in travelers with CD4 cell counts above 200 cells/mm”.

Second, even with sparse information, “according to current recommendations, 17DV should only be given to asymptomatic HIV-infected individuals with a CD4 cell count above 200 cell/mm” since “rare serious adverse events cannot be excluded”. As per WHO, “the vaccine is contraindicated for people who are severely immunocompromised”.

And third, at least according to some studies, “yellow fever vaccine did not result in any serious adverse events in HIV-positive individuals. However, people with HIV responded less well to the vaccine than their HIV-negative counterparts, and the protective effects of the vaccine wore off more quickly.”

All in all, though, there is still “a special need for further studies to investigate the safety and efficacy of 17DV in HIV-infected individuals”.

Section 41 of the IRR (implementing rules and regulations) of the RA 8504 states: “Medical confidentiality shall protect and uphold the right to privacy of an individual who undergoes HIV testing or is diagnosed to have HIV."

Section 41 of the IRR (implementing rules and regulations) of the RA 8504 states: “Medical confidentiality shall protect and uphold the right to privacy of an individual who undergoes HIV testing or is diagnosed to have HIV.”

LAW OF THE LAND

But again, as Xander stressed, YF vaccination isn’t his issue, per se; instead, it is the handling of his situation by a government office as a Filipino living with HIV.

Republic Act 8504 (or the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998, otherwise known as the AIDS Law) states (in Section 3b): “The State shall extend full protection of human rights and civil liberties to persons living with HIV.” Part of the protection clause of the existing law is ensuring that “the right to privacy of individuals with HIV shall be guaranteed.”

Section 41 of the IRR (implementing rules and regulations) of the RA 8504 states:

“Medical confidentiality shall protect and uphold the right to privacy of an individual who undergoes HIV testing or is diagnosed to have HIV. It includes safeguarding all medical records obtained by health professionals, health instructors, co-workers, employers, recruitment agencies, insurance companies, data encoders, and other custodians of said record, file, or data.

“Confidentiality shall encompass all forms of communication that directly or indirectly lead to the disclosure of information on the identity or health status of any person who undergoes HIV testing or is diagnosed to have HIV. This information may include but is not limited to the name, address, picture, physical description or any other characteristic of a person which may lead to his/her identification.

“To safeguard the confidentiality of a person’s HIV/AIDS record, protocols and policies shall be adopted by concerned officials, agencies and institutions.”

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Section 44 of the IRR, in fact, details the sanctions against violators, i.e.:

“Penalties for violating medical confidentiality, as provided in Sec.s 30 and 32 of RA 8504, include imprisonment for six (6) months to four (4) years. Administrative sanctions may likewise be imposed…”

FAILURES OF THE SYSTEM

YF vaccine can only be had in three BOQ offices in the Philippines – i.e. BOQ – Manila, 25th Street, Port Area, Manila (Monday to Friday, 8am to 2pm); BOQ – Cebu, General Maxilom Avenue (Wednesday and Thursday, 8am-9am); and BOQ – Davao, Chavez St. (Fridays 8-9am).

Xander went to BOQ – Manila.

(Outrage Magazine sent on two separate dates two representatives to observe the processes of BOQ – Manila; and we can verify the same – Ed)

The BOQ “system” is somewhat different in Cebu City, still another place where the YF vaccine can be had; though there, forced HIV disclosure could still happen.

(Outrage Magazine also sent a representative to observe the processes of BOQ – Cebu; and we can verify the same – Ed)

In Cebu, people who intend to get the YF vaccine are first asked to “register”. Then those who will be given the vaccination for the first time are ushered into a private room where they are given a mini-lecture by the resident doctor re YF (and in our undercover representative’s case, sermon re HIV). During this mini-lecture, the resident doctor also asked the group if any one of them is HIV-positive. Not surprisingly, none openly admitted his (as there were only males in that batch) HIV status.

Emails were sent by Outrage Magazine to Dr. Janette L. Garin, Secretary of the Department of Health (since BOQ is under DOH), and to Dr. Ferdinand S. Salcedo, Director of the BOQ.

Specifically, Outrage Magazine sought for more information on:

  1. The intake forms of BOQ – e.g. if these rely on self-disclosure of HIV status, and who handles these forms since (as was reported to Outrage Magazine, these were just left on tables so that everyone could see them; and
  2. The set-up of BOQ – e.g. if the doctors on duty were trained to handle HIV-related scenarios, and if people living with HIV are allowed to get more private consultation (instead of discussing the cases in public).

As of press time, however, NO RESPONSES WERE RECEIVED FROM BOTH GARIN AND SALCEDO.

BOQ's Ferchito Avelino is hopeful that stakeholders “work together and disseminate information on HIV and correct myths that breed unnecessary fear that results to stigma and discrimination.”

BOQ’s Ferchito Avelino is hopeful that stakeholders “work together and disseminate information on HIV and correct myths that breed unnecessary fear that results to stigma and discrimination.”

On May 30, however, Ferchito L. Avelino, M.D. of the BOQ responded to Outrage Magazine, stating the bureau’s appreciation of “your effort to communicate to us your concerns. These information is important to us as we continue to improve client-to-doctor engagement (to) make sure that such engagement is within the bounds of medical confidentiality.”

Specific to the first concern raised by Outrage Magazine, Avelino stated that, “yes, the answer to the query on HIV status is based on self-disclosure of the client… although we strongly encourage client to disclose their status as this information is vital prior to the administration of any antigen. Also, our doctor may request the client to secure a certification from their attending physician on the needed for vaccination.”

(The HIV status is based on self-disclosure because of the confidentiality clause in the law – Ed)

Pertaining the possible breach in confidentiality that Xander noted in BOQ, Avelino stated that “aside from the doctor, (the) nurse on duty handles the information that are inputted in the BOQ form.” He added that “actions are made and continuously being updated to put in place systems and processes to make sure that other clients and service providers will have no access to this information.”

Avelino also stated that “the Bureau has medical doctors trained in internal medicine and in public health”, and that “to be updated on clinical practices, we conduct sessions in handling medical cases. In the past, we had sessions on HIV with representatives from the positive community.”

Avelino is hopeful that stakeholders “work together and disseminate information on HIV and correct myths that breed unnecessary fear that results to stigma and discrimination.”

a person living with HIV (PLHIV) was given a PWD (person with disability) card by the City Social Welfare and Development (CSWD) that identified the bearer as a “PLHIV”. After a complaint was filed, the card was replaced; though the replacement now stated that the bearer of the ID is “mentally ill”.

A person living with HIV (PLHIV) was given a PWD (person with disability) card by the City Social Welfare and Development (CSWD) that identified the bearer as a “PLHIV”. After a complaint was filed, the card was replaced; though the replacement now stated that the bearer of the ID is “mentally ill”.

While the BOQ is used here as a sample government office, it is – incidentally – not the only office (and a government office, particularly) that has issues when dealing with HIV-related cases.

Humphrey Gorriceta, a Filipino living with HIV, once recalled how he was “forced” to disclose his HIV status in the Land Transportation Office (LTO). Upon renewing his license in the LTO in Rosario, Cavite, Gorriceta had to take a drug test (a requirement).

“I just took my ARV about an hour or two before the testing (before giving my urine specimen), and the drug test result turned out positive. They asked me the routine questions if I have consumed alcohol recently or have taken any prohibited drugs. I said no. I asked why, and they said that they will have to send it to the DOH for confirmatory (drug test). I told them no need for that. I confessed that I am on ARV, and possibly the false-negative result is due to my ARV. I showed them my ARV caplets. They asked what ARVs are. I was surprised they didn’t know. I told them I have a lifetime condition that required me to take ARV, and that ARVs are like very strong antibiotics for a specific infection. They still didn’t get it and continued to ask about the meds. So I told them that ARVs are maintenance medication for HIV. I had to make the disclosure. I ended up explaining about HIV and ARV,” Gorriceta said.

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Gorriceta added that he “felt it was uncalled for. I felt I was pushed against the wall to do the disclosure. For them to have a drug testing service means that they should be educated or at least be oriented of the possible scenarios why a person would come out (false) positive to drug testing.”

The mandatory drug testing for driver’s license applicants was scrapped after the Republic Act 10586 (Anti-Drunk and Drugged Driving Act) took effect in June 2013.

In another case, this time in Cagayan de Oro City (CDO), a person living with HIV (PLHIV) was given a PWD (person with disability) card by the City Social Welfare and Development (CSWD) that identified the bearer as a “PLHIV”. After a complaint was filed, the card was replaced; though the replacement now stated that the bearer of the ID is “mentally ill”.

For Stephen Christian Quilacio of the Northern Mindanao AIDS Advocates (NorMAA), this highlights “the lack of knowledge in handling an issue that continues to be very sensitive,” he said.

Stephen Christian Quilacio: Voice from Northern Mindanao

NorMAA now helps provide support to the CDO PLHIV.

“While we say that there is no shame in being HIV-positive, as it is supposed to be only a medical condition, we remain cognizant of the fact that society as a whole continues to not be accepting of PLHIV, who are often stigmatized and discriminated. Care should therefore be given in handling HIV-related cases; and this is not always provided even by those in government offices,” Quilacio said.

NorMAA: Safe space for PLHIVs in Northern Mindanao

According to Ico Rodulfo, president and CEO of Project Red Ribbon, “discrimination among PLHIVs in government offices is still rampant. Project Red Ribbon has encountered a lot of reports and from personal experiences in the PLHIV community, where PLHIVs were bullied, not given chances to be promotion or are talked into quitting their posts. The Foundation also had an experience with one government agency which has an HIV program, but where the staff didn’t respect the confidentiality of the PLHIV and disclosed the status of the client to the neighborhood where she resides. This eventually caused her to be bullied and pressured to move out as her neighbors feared that her HIV might infect the entire barangay.”

Project Red Ribbon: Responding to a growing need

CONFRONTING STIGMA AND DISCRIMINATION

Yet another example happened back in Cebu City, with the handling of the cadaver of a PLHIV who passed on. There, after the demise of the PLHIV, his family was allegedly told to “ilubong dayun ang patay kay basin makatakod (immediately bury the dead as it could infect others)”. His casket was also tightly wrapped in layers of plastic.

Outrage Magazine contacted the office of Dr. Ilya Tac-an, head of Cebu City’s Epidemiology Center and STD Detection Center, who said she will refer the publication to the one in charge with the cadaver section. Tac-an, nonetheless, stated that as far as she knows, the City Health Department is following the provision on the proper disposal of dead persons as mandated in the Presidential Decree 856, s. 1975, or the Code on Sanitation of the Philippines.

IRR of Chapter XXI (Disposal of Dead Persons) of PD 856, s. 1975, states that when the death due to “dangerous communicable diseases”, including HIV, the following are the requirements:

  1. The remains shall be buried within 12 hours after death;
  2. The remains shall not be taken to any place of public assembly;
  3. Only the adult members of the family of the deceased shall be permitted to attend the funeral;
  4. The remains shall be placed in a durable, air tight and sealed casket; and
  5. No permit shall be granted for the transfer of such remains.

As of press time, Outrage Magazine did not receive the referral from Tac-an.

However, according to Nenet Ortega, R.N., a licensed embalmer who is with the International Development Leadership and Learning Corporation now as one of its technical experts on health system strengthening/health sector reforms, as long as Universal Precautions (standard infection control guidelines) are followed, the risk of infection from a dead body is very low.

Hindi naman gaya ng Scarlet Fever or diphtheria ang AIDS para ilibing (AIDS is not like Scarlet Fever or Diphtheria that requires for the body to be buried) within 24 hours. It also does not require hermetically sealed coffin,” Ortega said.

Ortega added that “TB, polio, hepatitis and HIV can effectively be killed by formaldehyde and other embalming chemicals. Also, embalmers are trained to protect themselves from getting any infection during embalming process. You know what, as long as there are no microorganism that is resistant to formaldehyde and other embalming fluids and chemicals, and as long as embalmers have the means to protect themselves, embalmers can and will always be able to serve the public.”

The fear of the dead PLHIV infecting others is also baseless, Ortega said. “Remember that the virus need a living cell as its host in order to replicate. When the body dies, all the cells die, so therefore the virus dies as well kasi patay na din ang mga white cells (because the white cells also die) within 24 hours. And by exposing it to formaldehyde earlier than 24 hours, the faster the cells are preserved, but the virus dies.”

Ortega added: “That incident in Cebu exposed the immediate family of the person who died to further stigma and discrimination. That action indirectly tells people na namatay ang taong nasa loob ng ataul na nakabalot pa ng plastic sa isang nakakahawa, nakakadiri at (that the person inside the coffin that is wrapped in plastic died from a contagious, disgusting and) fatal kind of disease.”

For Ortega, “that incident in Cebu is a gross discrimination. As if balutin ng plastic ang coffin (by wrapping the coffin in plastic) would be a protection enough to keep HIV. That is bullshit! Ignorance spreads stigmatization and discrimination, including ignorance of the simple Universal Precaution. And Universal Precaution is basic. It is practiced in all clinics, lying in, hospitals of all levels, in schools with anatomy, physiology, clinical and chemistry laboratories, in morgues, in all places where exposure to bodily fluids may happen.”

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For Dr. Jose Narciso Melchor Sescon of the AIDS Society of the Philippines, “the City Health Office is handling and tracking these cases through the death certificate filed by relatives prior to the burial. Hospitals are required by DOH to report the types of infections borne as part of surveillance (PIDSR, or the Philippine Infectious Disease Surveillance Response). Take note what is discriminating is what you put in the death certificate and not necessarily the process or handling as there are funeral parlors highly competent to handle such cases (e.g. Funeraria Oro).”

For Sescon, “the reality is that not all funeral parlors are trained or are competent to handle bodies with infectious diseases. Yes, I agree that standard precautions must apply, but the reality is, not all abide by this. Add to this the reservations of the owners of embalming establishments if they are not trained to deal with such cases.”

In cases where there are no experts that can handle the cadaver of PLHIVs, “there are DOH memorandum or administrative orders that the city must follow that within 24 hours, the body should already be cremated or be buried. If only there are a lot of trained embalmers to handle highly infectious diseases, not only HIV but also the likes of meningococcemia and chicken pox, then it will not be a problem.”

Sescon added that “this may be why a PLHIV’s body had to be cremated or buried within 24 hours, particularly if there are no trained embalmers around, most especially in far-flung areas.”

He added, nonetheless, that “the manner of relaying the correct information is also important so that the situation is better understood.”

Both Ortega and Sescon advocate the further professionalization of the funeral industry for the people in it to know how to properly handle sensitive cases, such as when involving a dead PLHIV.

“I agree with the need to professionalize the profession for only then will this issue be somehow resolved. Professionalizing increases the quality standards of operations, provision of licenses and permit will depend now on meeting the quality standards in embalming bodies and or running a funeral parlor,” Sescon said.

RAMPANT STIGMA AND DISCRIMINATION

HIV-related stigma and discrimination has long been reported in the Philippines by the likes of Remedios AIDS Foundation and Pinoy Plus Association in a study called Exploring the Realities of HIV/AIDS Related Discrimination in Manila Philippines, published in 2005; APN+, Pinoy Plus Association and UNAIDS in AIDS Discrimination in Asia: From the Perspective of Persons Living with HIV/AIDS,

Published in 2002; and GNP+, Pinoy Plus Association and UNAIDS in The People Living with HIV Stigma Index in the Philippines, published in 2010.

These studies, in fact, note that the area where PLHIVs experience most discrimination is the healthcare setting (both public and private), with instances cited including: refusal to treat on the grounds of HIV status, different treatment on grounds of HIV status, testing for HIV without the knowledge of the individual, breach of confidentiality and denied of health insurance.

Eddy N. Razon of the Pinoy Plus Association, in his report AIDS Related Stigma and Discrimination in the Philippines, also noted the “non-availment of redress mechanisms” of PLHIVs. Among the reasons provided include: lack of understanding on what constitute human rights violations; lack of knowledge on available redress mechanism; unwillingness to come out and be identified in public in the course of seeking redress; and the cost of legal action.

And so – back to the access to the YF vaccine at the BOQ – Xander said it is a “Catch 22 situation. We’re damned if we disclose, and damned if we don’t disclose.”

In his case, Xander is first to admit the good of knowing how he may react to what will be injected into his body. He is now seeking medical clearance from his personal doctor, just so he can present some documentation to the BOQ.

But Xander said that he isn’t a “special case – there are others like me who also had YF vaccination, and who opted not to admit their HIV status just to be done and over with with the YF vaccination”.

And Xander said he understands the other PLHIVs, stressing that “unless protections are given to those who openly admit their HIV status, then expect PLHIVs to lie instead to protect themselves from stigma and discrimination.”

In CDO, NorMAA’s Quilacio believes in the need to revisit the approaches in the delivery of services of government offices, among others; though this time, “these need to be informed by the very people they claim to serve. Otherwise, if they persist as if it’s all business as usual, then they’re just going to continue doing things insensitively, and maybe even against the laws that ought to be upheld.”

Rodulfo said that “the challenges are aplenty. First, we need to educate the government offices and agencies about HIV and the law. Second, we need to implement the HIV in the workplace policy as required by RA 8504 and the DOLE mandate, so all government offices educate the workforce re respect of the rights of the workers with HIV. And third, we need to continue to push for anti-discrimination ordinances and policies.”

Rodulfo is, nonetheless, hopeful that change will come soon. “As change is coming with the next President, we are hopeful that reforms will be implemented to finally stop stigma and discrimination of members of the PLHIV community,” he said.

“We may still have a very long way to go when dealing with HIV-related issues,” admitted Xander. “But we’d have an even longer way to go if the very institutions that swore to uphold our rights – i.e. the government – are the very ones that violate them.” And so, “change needs to happen. And they need to happen fast.”

*THE INTERVIEWEE REQUESTED FOR HIS REAL NAME NOT TO BE USED TO PROTECT HIS PRIVACY

THIS IS A DEVELOPING STORY, AND OUTRAGE MAGAZINE WILL CONTINUE PURSUING LEADS THAT HIGHLIGHT NOT ONLY ERRONEOUS PRACTICES BUT BEST PRACTICES WHEN DEALING WITH HIV IN VARIOUS OFFICES

The founder of Outrage Magazine, Michael David dela Cruz Tan is a graduate of Bachelor of Arts (Communication Studies) of the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia. Though he grew up in Mindanao (particularly Kidapawan and Cotabato City in Maguindanao), even attending Roman Catholic schools there, he "really, really came out in Sydney," he says, so that "I sort of know what it's like to be gay in a developing and a developed world". Mick can: photograph, do artworks with mixed media, write (DUH!), shoot flicks, community organize, facilitate, lecture, research (with pioneering studies under his belt)... this one's a multi-tasker, who is even conversant in Filipino Sign Language (FSL). Among others, Mick received the Catholic Mass Media Awards (CMMA) in 2006 for Best Investigative Journalism. Cross his path is the dare (read: It won't be boring).

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Majority of Catholics call for church to change its damaging approach to LGBT people

Fifty-six percent of baptized Catholics believed that the current teachings of the church could cause a child/young person to feel that being LGBT was a misfortune or disappointment. Meanwhile, 65% of baptized Catholics believe that the church should reconsider its teaching re LGBT people.

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Photo by Jon Tyson from Unsplash.com

Majority of practicing Catholics in the world’s eight biggest Catholic countries want the Roman Catholic Church to adopt a more positive approach towards young people and to change their teaching on LGBT.

This is according to a poll carried out by YouGov for the Equal Future 2018 Campaign; the poll was conducted in Brazil, Mexico, Columbia, Philippines, US, France, Spain and Italy. Collectively these countries comprise half of the world’s total population of baptized Catholics.

“These poll findings are a clarion call to the hierarchy of the Catholic Church from its members that it is time to change their approach to LGBT people. The people of the Catholic Church are leading the way on LGBT issues and it is time the upper management caught up with their flock,” said Tiernan Brady, campaign director of Equal Future 2018.

Asked whether they believed “It could be damaging to a child/young person’s mental health and well-being if they felt that being LGBT was a misfortune or disappointment, 51% of baptized Catholics agreed with the statement. Only 25% disagreed with this.

Fifty-six percent of baptized Catholics believed that the current teachings of the church could cause a child/young person to feel that being LGBT was a misfortune or disappointment.

Meanwhile, 65% of baptized Catholics believe that the church should reconsider its teaching re LGBT people.

“The figures clearly show that Catholic people across the globe believe that the current teaching and approach of the hierarchy towards LGBT people is now damaging to children and young people and the clear majority wants the Church to change its approach,” Brady ended.

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6 Ways Filipino Protestants are breaking the taboo on sexuality

Religious taboo on sex, gender and sexuality remains prevalent in the Philippines, representing a major challenge in HIV prevention and sexual and reproductive health services for children and young people. But here are six ways Filipino Protestants are breaking this taboo.

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In the Philippines, the religious taboo on sex, gender and sexuality remains prevalent. This taboo represents a major challenge in HIV prevention and sexual and reproductive health services for children and young people.

As a response, there are select efforts that help advance talks on sex, gender, and sexuality in faith-based contexts – e.g. in the case of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), there is now work on sex, gender and sexuality modules.

Here are six ways Filipino Protestants are breaking the taboo on sexuality.

1. Understanding how faith influences knowledge

Research demonstrates that faith-based organizations influence HIV knowledge in the youth.

In 2014, after engaging 213 teenage Pentecostal Botswana church members, Mpofu et al. found that the church youth “conceptually frame their HIV prevention from both faith-oriented and secular-oriented perspectives. They prioritize the faith-oriented concepts based on biblical teachings and future focus.”

The NCCP notes the effects on the youth of the church’s silence on sexuality.

“Sometimes young people feel the need to talk about sexuality. But because the church as a whole is not talking about it; they feel that it is not worth talking about inside the church,” said Ms. Arceli Bile, acting program secretary of the Program Unit on Ecumenical Education and Nurture of the NCCP.

2. Breaking the silence

“We find it unfortunate that issues on sexuality are not discussed in the open due to a wrong perception that sex talk is indecent talk,” said Bile.

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Thus, in 2015, the NCCP General Convention approved a statement on creating safe spaces for discussing human sexuality. “We offered this to member churches and associate members. We need to provide material that would help the discussions,” Bile added.

Giving sex education is mandated by the Reproductive Health Law signed in 2010 by then-President Benigno Aquino III. Specifically, comprehensive sexual education is to be incorporated into science, health, English, and physical education courses. This education begins in grade 5 and extends through grade 12. However, opposition by the Roman Catholic Church continues. They believe that sex education encourages the young to engage in sex outside marriage earlier.

As of July 2016, the Department of Education has yet to develop the minimum standards of sex education. Once developed, schools and other learning facilities should comply with the standards.

3. Knowing that the youth are most harmed

The low level of knowledge and awareness in the youth on sex-related matters – including on HIV – has increased vulnerability. Risks are higher among key affected populations, particularly in young women, gay, bisexual, other males who have sex with males, and transgender people.

A 2013 survey by the University of the Philippines Population Institute showed that one out of 3 Filipino youths (aged 15–24) has had pre-marital sex. More alarming than this is the fact that 78% of those who had pre-marital sex for the first time in this age bracket did not use any protection against pregnancy or sexually transmitted infections.

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Not surprising then is the significant rise in the incidence of HIV among the same age group as well as a rise in teenage pregnancy noted from 2014 to 2018. In 2016, 14% of all the AIDS-related deaths reported in the country were in youth aged 15–24 years old.

4. Making churches come together

In 2015, NCCP conducted a study on HIV-related efforts among its member churches. It revealed that member churches strongly support comprehensive sex and sexuality education. The study also described existing efforts by the churches on sex and sexuality education to children and youth. These efforts are often integrated in existing church initiatives. These efforts included discussions of human sexuality in Christian education in schools, youth gatherings (usually for those aged 12 and up), sex education classes, and youth camps.

However, not specified in the study were the age brackets of the young people reached and the types of sex and sexuality education offered. In addition, none of the education efforts included sex and sexuality issues of LGBT youth.

As a response, the NCCP, in partnership with the Church of Sweden, gathered theologians and academics in 2016. They worked on a framework that comprised objectives and key concepts in providing discussions on sex, gender, and sexuality.

“We had our study sessions and reflections on how this can be embraced by the churches or not. Especially on issues on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression,” said Bile. “We discussed this thoroughly because the writers still have a lot of confusion. Especially on how we can use more inclusive terms in dealing with younger children. Sometimes we consider whether they really need to know these concepts at such an early age.”

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5. Valuing the local context

“In localizing this educational material in the Philippines, we need to understand these concepts in our context. This understanding would result in experiential activities. We should provide something that they can relate to, instead of getting some ideas from elsewhere,” said Bile.

The material will cater to nursery and kindergarten students, up to senior high school.

“We hope this material could be of help in providing safe spaces for discussion, then, we will conduct pilot tests to check if this is appropriate. We are thinking of holding training on how to facilitate this as well as check for revisions and modifications,” added Bile.

6. Transforming theologies

Bile anticipates some resistance from the churches but remains hopeful.

“The theological understanding of the body may be one of the controversies in accepting this kind of material. What we hope is that we are also producing a theology that is more inclusive and non-discriminatory,” she said. “This material would promote a theology that challenges the churches to be more compassionate and open, as well as, one that reaches out especially those who are discriminated.”

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Metro Manila’s LGBT gathering breaks attendance records, highlights ubiquity of LGBT people if not causes

Showing growing widespread popularity of everything LGBT-related in the Philippines, Metro Manila’s annual LGBT gathering was attended by an estimated 25,000 people. Moving forward, the challenge is how to leverage this growing number of parade participants to actually push for policies promoting their human rights.

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There but not there.

Perhaps showing growing widespread popularity of everything LGBT-related in the Philippines, Metro Manila’s annual LGBT gathering patterned after Western Pride celebration/s was attended by an estimated 25,000 people. Even if figures are wrong, this still easily topped last year’s 8,000 participants in the event that was held in Marikina City for two years now.

While the number is impressive as a show of force and as advertising magnet for those targeting the pink market, it – nonetheless – does not necessarily equate to promotion of LGBT causes in the Philippines.

Addressing the crowd, Nicky Castillo – again co-head of the organizing team – stressed the much-repeated call to see Pride not just as a one-day/month-long event, particularly since many members of the LGBT community continue to face hardships. This is particularly true to those whose SOGIE is interconnected with their being also members of other minority sectors, including Indigenous Peoples, persons with disability, religious minorities, et cetera.

Speaking to Outrage Magazine, Det Neri – chairperson of Bahaghari-Metro Manila – a multisectoral militant and nationalist LGBT organization based in Metro Manila – said that LGBT people encounter discrimination not only because of their SOGIE but also because they belong to “kinabibilangang uri”.

Lupa para sa mga magsasaka, pagwawakas ng contractualization, regularisasyon ng mga manggagawa kabilang na ang mga LGBT na manggagawa, edukasyon para sa kabataan kabilang ang LGBT na kabataan, self-determination para sa mga katutubo at mga Moro (Land for LGBT people who are also farmers, ending contractualization, regularization of workers including LGBT workers, education for the youth including LGBT youth, self determination of Indigenous Peoples and Muslims),” Neri said. “Ang punto: Ang laban ng LGBT ay laban ng mamamayan; ang laban ng mamamayan ay laban ng LGBT (The gist: The fight of LGBT people is the fight for people’s rights; and the fight for people’s rights is also the fight of LGBT people).”

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In a statement, Deaf transpinay Disney Aguila – president of Pinoy Deaf Rainbow and founder of TransDeaf Philippines – added that “joining a parade, hosting LGBT-related events, or even passing an anti-discrimination bill are good. But those are not enough. Real Pride happens when we’ve changed mindsets so that people of different SOGIE can take pride in their identity… including in their different abilities/disabilities.”

Moving forward, the challenge not just for Pride’s organizers but the Filipino LGBTQI community as a whole is how to leverage this growing number of parade participants to actually push for policies promoting their human rights. – WITH INTERVIEWS BY MICHAEL DAVID C. TAN

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The impetus for organizing LGBTQI Pride in the Phl

All year round, various parts of the Philippines host LGBTQI Pride marches/parades/events. But the very first one happened in Metro Manila, which Outrage Magazine revisits to see how the annual LGBTQI gathering continues to evolve.

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It was in 1994 when the very first Pride March was held in the Philippines (and in Asia). The Philippines was actually the pioneer in the region.

“There was no interference or harassment along the way, but a lot of noise and shouting in the ranks of the 50 or so marchers,” recalled Fr. Richard Mickley, who used to head Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) in the Philippines. MCC held a mass during that first Pride March in the Philippines.

Aside from Mickley, Oscar Atadero – then with ProGay Philippines – helped make the event happen, along with the likes of Murphy Red, et al.

Incidentally, 1994 also marked the 25th year since the “modern” lesbian and gay movement “started”, thanks to the Stonewall Inn Riot in New York.

“We recognized that we now had open, not closeted, organizations. But the movement was still quiet or unknown. We felt we needed a (local) Stonewall,” Mickley continued.

So the date was set.

The route was planned.

As the small group of LGBT organizations marched along Quezon Avenue to Quezon Memorial Circle, they were confronted by the park police and was asked, “Where are you are you going?”

“We had no assembly permit. We sat by the roadside until the activists of ProGay ironed out the stumbling block. (After it was settled), we made our way to an assembly area with a stage,” Mickley said.

Aside from Fr. Richard Mickley, Oscar Atadero – then of ProGay Philippines – helped make the first LGBT Pride March in the Philippines happen, along with the likes of Murphy Red, et al.
PHOTO COURTESY OF FR. RICHARD MICKLEY

But in the end, “the first Pride March brought a publicity breakthrough. The purpose of the Pride March was realized – (to show) that the gay and lesbian people of the Philippines are real people, and they are not freaks in a closet,” Mickley added.

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CONTINUING PRIDE

In 1996,  several LGBT organizations formed the Task Force Pride (TFP), a community-driven organization that was to be in-charge of organizing the annual Pride March in Metro Manila.

“One of the highlights of the early years was that of 1998. The Pride March was part of the contingent of the National Centennial Parade, as the Philippines celebrated 100 years of independence. Let that sink in. We marched in front of two presidents at the Quirino Grandstand, just before the transition from Fidel Ramos to Joseph Estrada,” Mickley said.

Ten years later, the LGBT movement in the Philippines grew bigger and stronger. And the fight for equal rights was – finally – in everyone’s consciousness.

Metro Manila Pride March in 2011, when the annual gathering was still political.

TFP continued to organize the annual march – at least the one in Metropolitan Manila. As a network, it was headed by different members of the LGBT community, representing different organizations. Every decision, every move was derived from consultations by/from the participating groups and members.

“More than the celebration, what was really memorable was that despite the community coming from all walks of life and various agendas, sub agendas, locations, et al., it was great to see everyone working as one, for just one moment in a year,” Great Ancheta, one of the organizers of the 2004 and 2005 Pride celebrations, said.

There were years when Pride almost did not happen.

In 2013, Quezon City was supposed to host the annual Pride March, but the supposed organizer (the local government unit/LGU) opted to cancel the event to donate the funds collected to the victims of Typhoon Yolanda.

“I was rattled with the idea that there will be no Pride March that year. I had to call all possible LGBT advocates that could help me organize Pride in two weeks time,” Raffy Aquino, one of the organizers of the 2013 Pride celebrations, said.

The Pride march almost did not happen in 2013; but REAL community effort – with approximately P5,000 – still made it happen.

Aquino – with the likes of GANDA Filipinas, Outrage Magazine and Rainbow Rights Project – reached out to different organizations and establishments in Malate (at that time still thriving as the LGBT capital of the country).

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“We had more or less P5,000 in funds, which came from the previous TFP organizers. I even waited until six or seven in the evening in Manila City Hall, the day before the event, for the permit to be released,” Aquino added.

But the 2013 Pride March happened.

And then came 2014, when “a super typhoon hit the country at the same time when Pride was scheduled, and we nearly had to cancel. Despite that, people still attended. (And) understandably, it had the lowest turnout in years. But it still showed that for many people, celebrating Pride is still important,” Jade Tamboon, one of the organizers of the 2012 and 2013 Pride celebrations, said.

PRIDE HURDLES

Organizing an event like the Pride March is not an easy feat, with organizers needing to deal with different factors – both internal and external to the LGBT community.

Pride in 2015 remained political; even if the march also started to become as just a parade.

“Working with the local government was one of our challenges (during our) time. Securing permits was also hard. And of course, rallying up sponsors,” Ancheta said.

Since the LGBT community in the Philippines is (still) only tolerated and not widely accepted, getting supporters that could help the event happen has been the most common problem year after year.

“Financing Pride has always been a major challenge, then and now. People don’t realize how expensive it is to mount Pride. But there’s also the logistics – the sourcing of materials, permits and vendors – that’s another thing people rarely see when they go to a Pride celebration,” Tamboon said.

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He added, “this has been a perennial problem of the Pride organizers: early fund-raising. It may be because organizers have not come up with a solution, rather than raising funds so close to the event date.”

YOUNG PRIDE

Today, organizing Pride marches – or aptly, parades – is mostly dominated by the young members of the LGBT community. And – whatever their stands/positions may be on LGBT human rights – this is as should be/bound to happen, with the passing of the baton inevitable.

By 2017, the annual Pride has followed the Western format, with private companies supporting the parade, and some even co-opting the LGBTQI struggle.

But the younger generation have it somewhat easier. As Ancheta said, “Pride celebrations are not limited now to the Pride marches/parades or events, with support for Pride now coming from various companies as evidenced in social networking posts.”

There are now also numerous Pride-related events – whether in the form of marches or parades – in various parts of the Philippines, from Baguio City to Cebu City, Davao City to Iloilo City, Iligan City to the Province of Batangas, among others. Even within Metro Manila, other cities already started their own (separate) Pride marches/parades, finally “devolving” the so-called Metro Manila Pride parade (nee “march”).

But even if the expressions of Pride (now) vary, that sense of solidarity – and raising awareness via that solidarity – remains…

“The increased interest and participation during the recent years, especially among the younger people, is a success in itself. More and more people are unafraid to be out and to showcase their (so-called) Pride,” Tamboon added.

“The recent Pride celebrations are successful in terms of numbers; they were able to target a bigger audience and wider corporate supporters. The younger organizers are also creative and well-versed in branding and marketing. They were able to utilize social media and digital marketing,” Aquino stressed.

STRUGGLE NEEDS TO CONTINUE

But for Aquino, everyone needs to remember that “Pride is not just a one day event.”

“The LGBT community of the Philippines is no longer hidden, closeted or unknown. We are here; we are everywhere – with our heads held high,” Mickley said. “We are on the way, (but) we are (still) seeking equality in the human family,” Mickley said.

*Interview requests were also sent to other past Pride organizers, but – as of press time – Outrage Magazine did not receive any response from them.

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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.

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IMAGE DETAIL FROM jahcordova FROM PIXABAY.COM

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.

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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.”

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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.

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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).”

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IMAGE DETAIL FROM JUDGE FLORENTINO FLORO FROM WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

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.”

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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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