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Because Undetectable = Untransmittable

That an HIV-infected person with potent antiretroviral treatment (ART) is not sexually infectious (that is, he/she does not transmit the virus via sexual contacts) is already scientifically proven. But in the Philippines, no HIV-servicing body has yet to openly and officially back U=U. For Bruce Richman, in a resource-lacking setting like the Philippines, “this is a platform for expanded access to HIV treatment (since) reducing HIV stigma will encourage both testing and treatment.”

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In 2012, when 38-year-old Dave* was just diagnosed to be HIV-positive and his CD4 count was less than 10, he was a “regular” of a treatment hub in Metro Manila, be it because “I’d have fever for days, or I’d have rashes all over my body, or whatever,” he recalled. It was during one of his visits to the hospital when the supervising nurse supposedly told him that “ngayong may HIV ka na, huwag na mag-sex ha. Dadami lang kayo (now that you are HIV-positive, stop having sex. If you do so you’ll just help increase the number of HIV cases like yours).”

This of course highlights the discrimination experienced by PLHIVs from medical practitioners themselves. But this particular emphasis on sex/not having sex to stop the spread of HIV also puts a spotlight on the lack of knowledge even among those who are supposed to know better to be able to properly deliver much-needed services (e.g. in this case, there are safer sexual practices available, after all).

And perhaps when particularly considered in a newer context (say, 2017), the ignorance becomes even more apparent since it is now scientifically proven that people living with HIV who are undetectable cannot transmit the virus to their negative partners.

INTRODUCING U=U

In 2008, Pietro Vernazza, M.D. released a statement (“Advice Manual: Doing without condoms during potent ART”, which was approved by the Executive Board of Swiss Aids Federation) in the Bulletin of Swiss Medicine that claimed that “an HIV-infected person with potent antiretroviral treatment (ART) is not sexually infectious (that is, he/she does not transmit the virus via sexual contacts).”

There were parameters set for the claim, i.e.:

  1. As long as the therapy is practiced consistently and monitored regularly by the treating physician;
  2. The viral load on ART has been below the limit of detection for at least six months; and
  3. No infections with other STI are present.

Viral load, which is the level of HIV in a PLHIV’S blood, shows how active HIV is in one’s system. Usually (though not always), if the viral load is high, the CD4 (or T cells, which help activate immune response) count is low, so that the body’s response to the virus is compromised. A low or undetectable viral load indicates that the immune system is actively working to help keep HIV in check.

ART is medication that helps to keep under control the viral load in the body. The viral load is considered undetectable if test shows lower than 40 to 75 HIV virus particles in a milliliter of the blood. If the viral load is considered undetectable, it means the ART medication is working.

Vernazza’s claim – eventually dubbed as the Swiss Statement – that “under (the above) circumstances, potent ART therefore definitely prevents HIV transmission as safely as condoms” did not sit well with many, including public health and professional organizations (e.g. the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC), which questioned Vernazza re his data, and even more pointedly, what he was thinking when he made the supposedly premature claim that was “getting ahead of science”.

Vernazza was, nonetheless, resolute about the message, largely derived from his work with HIV-positive straight people on treatment who wanted to have children with their HIV-negative partners. Condomless sex obviously happened between the serodifferent couples, but of 8,000 patients, not a single report of HIV transmission happened to a partner. This therefore became an ethical dilemma for a clinician like Vernazza since they are supposed to present all equally valid options available and let the patients decide for themselves.

Particularly eight years years later, in 2016, Vernazza was vindicated when studies validated the undetectable=untransmittable (U=U) message – i.e. HPTN 052 and the PARTNER study. But more than the vindication, this also helped evolve the messaging re HIV.

Bruce Richman of the Prevention Access Campaign was able to gather signatures of health experts from all over the world for a consensus statement about U=U; but he reported having a challenging time coaxing US HIV organizations to adopt language that removes the stigma of infectiousness from people who are undetectable.

STAY UNDETECTABLE=STAY UNINFECTIOUS

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The concept is not completely new, since treatment as prevention (TasP) has long been advocated to curb the spread of HIV. But there is now newer and strengthened push for this with the U=U message.

There’s the PARTNER study, which involved 1,166 serodifferent couples at 75 clinical sites in 14 European countries. To be included in the study, one partner had to be HIV-positive and have an undetectable viral load on ART, and the couple did not always use condoms when they had sex. Between September 2010 and May 2014, 1,000 positive/negative couples had 58,000 acts of penetrative sex without condoms. The study reported that not a single infection happened between the couples.

It is worth noting that 11 people involved in the study became HIV positive. However – and this is noteworthy – none of these infections were phylogenetically linked transmissions; meaning, they got infected not from their HIV-positive partners but from others.

The PARTNER study is particularly important because it included both gay and straight couples.

The PARTNER study is being continued, with PARTNER 2 expected to continue until 2019.

The same results from the PARTNER Study were reported in the HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN) 052 study, a Phase III, two-arm, randomized, controlled, multi-center trial to determine whether ART can prevent the sexual transmission of HIV-1 in HIV-1 serodiscordant couples. One thousand seven hundred and sixty-three (1,763) HIV serodiscordant couples at 13 sites in nine countries were enrolled in HPTN 052; one person is HIV-infected and the other is not.

In 2011, the study initially showed a 96% reduction of HIV transmission within the couples involved. The final results (reported in 2015) showed a sustained 93% reduction of HIV transmission within couples when the HIV-infected partner was taking ART as prescribed and viral load was suppressed.

The HPTN 052 study was, in fact, relevant in the recommendation of the World Health Organization (in 2013) that ART be offered to all PLHIVs who have uninfected partners to reduce HIV transmission.

U=U is now endorsed by numerous international organizations, including AIDES –France, AIDS Foundation of Chicago, Australian Federation of AIDS Organizations, British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS – Canada, Human Rights Campaign, National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD), National Black Justice Coalition, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, San Francisco AIDS Foundation,, and the Terrence Higgins Trust – United Kingdom.

Various experts responding to HIV also already came out to back U=U.

For instance, Dr. Carl Dieffenbach, director of the Division of AIDS of National Institutes of Health (NIH), stated in an earlier interview: “If you are durably virologically suppressed you will not transmit to your partner… I’ll say this again, for somebody who is in a discordant couple, if the person (with HIV) is virologically suppressed, ‘durably’ – there is no virus in their system, hasn’t been for several months – your chance of acquiring HIV from that person is zero. Let’s be clear about that: zero. If that person the next day stops therapy for two weeks and rebounds, your chance goes up. That’s why we talk about ‘durable’ viral suppression… You’re as durably virologically suppressed as good as your adherence.”

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Dr. Michael Brady, medical director of the Terrence Higgins Trust in London, England was quoted as saying that “we can now say with confidence that if you are taking HIV medication as prescribed, and have had an undetectable viral load for over six months, you cannot pass on HIV with or without a condom.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Myron Cohen, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases of the UNC School of Medicine; and principal investigator of HPTN 052 stated: “If people are taking their pills reliably and they’re taking them for some period of time, the probability of transmission in this study is actually zero… When you treat a person who is HIV infected you render them no longer contagious. Over a period of years that benefit is further realized… Sexual relationships can be much safer because [treatment] suppresses transmission. There is a societal benefit, a public health benefit, an altruistic benefit. ”

“We’ve also come across the shortsighted view that this information only improves the lives of people living HIV, when in fact this is a game changer for the epidemic because of its impact on HIV stigma, testing, treatment uptake and adherence, which will ultimately lead to more people knowing their status and getting to undetectable,” Bruce Richman said.

RESISTANCE TO THE MESSAGE

The benefits of U=U go beyond the medical – e.g. in helping serodifferent couples conceive. For instance, worth noting is how U=U can help deal with HIV criminalization, particularly since there are countries that still prosecute PLHIVs who do not disclose their HIV status to their sexual partners. The US, for instance, is infamous for sending to jail PLHIVs who spit, scratch or bite others sans disclosure of HIV status, and even if there were no known risks of transmission.

The Philippines’ own Republic Act No. 8504, or the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998, also makes it necessary to disclose one’s status – albeit (unlike in other countries) it is mum on the possible criminal liability of those who fail to disclose. Section 34 (under Article VI, which deals with confidentiality) mandates disclosure to sexual partners – i.e. “Any person with HIV is obliged to disclose his/her HIV status and health condition to his/her spouse or sexual partner at the earliest opportune time.”

But despite the pluses of U=U, not everyone is on board (perhaps as of yet) with its promotion.

Interestingly – and this is a major point worth stressing, too – many of those who express reluctance (if not blatant opposition) to U=U are HIV community advocates and organizations. In the US, for instance, Bruce Richman of the Prevention Access Campaign was able to gather signatures of health experts from all over the world for a consensus statement about U=U; but he reported having a challenging time coaxing US HIV organizations to adopt language that removes the stigma of infectiousness from people who are undetectable.

The Prevention Access Campaign stated that “the majority of PLHIV, medical providers and those potentially at risk of acquiring HIV are not aware of the extent to which successful treatment prevents HIV transmission… Much of the messaging about HIV transmission risk is based on outdated research and is influenced by agency or funding restraints and politics which perpetuate sex-negativity, HIV-related stigma and discrimination.”

“We had a difficult time in the beginning because NGOs are not always early adopters, and some have been driven by 35 years of fear of HIV and PLHIV. They may not be confident in the science and are understandably concerned about saying anything that will lead to more transmissions,” Richman said to Outrage Magazine.

There’s also the “longstanding history in the field of overprotecting people who do not have HIV at the expense of people with HIV’s basic human rights to accurate information about our social, sexual and reproductive health. We’ve also come across the shortsighted view that this information only improves the lives of people living HIV, when in fact this is a game changer for the epidemic because of its impact on HIV stigma, testing, treatment uptake and adherence, which will ultimately lead to more people knowing their status and getting to undetectable,” Richman added.

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There have been pluses, and “we’re happy to see momentum now. NGOs are beginning to catch on because leaders in the US, like NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygience, National Association of State and Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD), Housing Works, and San Francisco AIDS Foundation have made statements and updated their public information and social marketing campaigns. Just (a few weeks ago), Canada’s official source for HIV information, CATIE, endorsed U=U.”

In the Philippines, however, no HIV-servicing body has yet to openly and officially back U=U.

CHALLENGES IN PHL CONTEXT

Dr. Jose Narciso Melchor Sescon, who helms the AIDS Society of the Philippines (ASP), said that U=U may still be considered a “medyo (somewhat) sensitive issue in the Philippines.”

For one, this is the number of PLHIVs availing of ART continues to be low. In November 2016, for instance, the total number of Filipinos living with HIV was pegged at 38,872. But only 17,388 are on ART.

Secondly, “ARV adherence is (still) a major concern.” Among people working in the HIV advocacy, it is not uncommon hearing about PLHIVs who are “lost to follow-up”.

Thirdly, “we should also consider co-morbidities,” Sescon said. One may have undetectable viral load yet still engage in other unsafe sexual practices, such as having numerous sexual partners. “So I’d still offer using (other forms of) protection.”

And fourthly, Sescon expressed apprehension based on “real life” situations particularly “in a context like the Philippines.” While clinical trials may have yielded desirable results, “how much of these can be translated and put into reality or the true context of the Philippines?”

Sescon said that “even with scientific evidence showing non-transmission, it will still take time for this to sink in the minds among serodiscordant couples.”

The benefits of U=U go beyond the medical – e.g. in helping serodifferent couples conceive. For instance, worth noting is how U=U can help deal with HIV criminalization, particularly since there are countries that still prosecute PLHIVs who do not disclose their HIV status to their sexual partners.
IMAGE FROM PIXABAY.COM

The consensus statement from the Prevention Access Campaign admitted certain limitations – e.g. that many PLHIVs may not be in a position to reach an undetectable status because of factors limiting treatment access (including inadequate health systems, poverty, racism, denial, stigma, discrimination and criminalization); pre-existing ART treatment resulting in resistance or ART toxicities; and refusal to start treatment. All the same, it stressed that “understanding that successful ART prevents transmission can help reduce HIV-related stigma and encourage PLHIVs to initiate and adhere to a successful treatment regimen.”

But Richman believes that in a resource-lacking setting like the Philippines (where less than half of PLHIVs access ART), “this is a platform for expanded access to HIV treatment. The more PLHIV on treatment in the Philippines, the closer the country will get to ending the epidemic. Test and treat is the most effective method. Reducing HIV stigma will encourage both testing and treatment.”

BOLSTERING THE U=U CONVERSATION

And while the conversation on U=U continues, perhaps worth underscoring is the relevance of this on how PLHIVs view themselves.

Back in the treatment hub in Metro Manila where Filipino PLHIV Dave goes to (and where he is now “with CD4 count over 500 – way better than the nine when I started; and with undetectable viral load to boot,” he said), U=U has helped him see himself as “a human again.”

“I must admit that there were times in the past when I felt like the virus itself, as if just waiting to make others ‘sick’; and even internalized this oft-repeated notion that people like me are ‘dirty’,” Dave said. “Now I know that if we truly want to deal with stigma and discrimination – not just the health benefits – linked with HIV, we should start talking about U=U.”

*IN THE PHILIPPINES, WHEN A PERSON LIVING WITH HIV IS ENROLLED/REGISTERED INTO A TREATMENT HUB, HE/SHE IS ASKED TO PROVIDE: 1) YEAR OF ENROLLMENT; 2) INITIALS OF FIRST NAME, MIDDLE NAME AND SURNAME; AND 3) NICKNAME. THIS IS THE CODE NAME USED BY THE INTERVIEWEE.

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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Malabon passes anti-discrimination ordinance on the basis of SOGIE

Malabon City now has an anti-discrimination ordinance (ADO) that prohibit: discrimination in schools and the workplace, delivery of goods or services, accommodation, restaurants, movie houses and malls. It also prohibits ridiculing a person based on gender and/or sexual orientation. Penalties for discriminatory act/s include imprisonment for one month to one year, a fine of P1,000 to P5,000, or both.

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Still slow national move; better local endeavors.

In the absence of a national law that will protect the human rights of LGBTQI Filipinos, a growing number of local government units are taking the lead in ensuring that LGBTQI-related discrimination is checked. And now the city of Malabon has joined the list of LGUs with an anti-discrimination ordinance (ADO).

City Ordinance 16-2018, signed on September 10 by Mayor Antolin Oreta III, declares “as a policy of Malabon City to actively work for the elimination of all forms of discrimination that offend the equal protection clause of the Bill of Rights.”

Among the prohibited acts in the ADO are: discrimination in schools and the workplace, delivery of goods or services, accommodation, restaurants, movie houses and malls. It also prohibits ridiculing a person based on gender and/or sexual orientation.

Penalties for discriminatory act/s include imprisonment for one month to one year, a fine of P1,000 to P5,000, or both.

As with other ADOs, the Malabon ordinance similarly mandates the creation of the Malabon City Pride Council, tasked to monitor complaints, assist victims of stigma and discrimination, as well as recommend to the city council additional anti-discrimination policies and review all existing resolutions, ordinances and codes if these have discriminatory policies.

The same Pride council will oversee the implementation of an anti-discrimination campaign and the organization of LGBTQI groups in the barangays of the city.

The Malabon ADO also aims to include anti-discrimination programs (including psychological counseling, legal assistance, and forming of barangay-level LGBTQI organizations), with the budged to be sourced from the gender and development (GAD) plans, projects and programs (uo to 5%).

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The ADO also tasks the Malabon police station to investigate cases involving violence based on SOGIE.

Also with the ADO, Malabon will now commemorate LGBTQI-related events, including the International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia on May 17; Pride parade in December; World AIDS Day on December 1; and Human Rights Day on December 10.

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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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ALL PHOTOS BY MICHAEL DAVID C. TAN

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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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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