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Once we were grown-ups…

That the world is ageist – that is, discriminating against those who get old – is frequently noted. And the LGBT community is not exempted from this cruelty of looking down on the mature-aged members of the community. A Bahaghari Center for LGBT Research, Education and Advocacy (Bahaghari Center) study done by Raine Nuyles Cortes, John Ryan Nual Mendoza and Michael David dela Cruz Tan notes why this needs to be stopped, and why there is a need for inclusion of these “invisible people” particularly by a group of people that – as a whole – continues to be discriminated against.

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Select parts were completely lifted from Ginintuang Agora: The Community and Sexual Life Stories of Mature-Aged Gay Men of the Home for the Golden Gays by Raine Nuyles Cortes, John Ryan Nual Mendoza and Michael David dela Cruz Tan.

On December 4, 2010, right after the 2010 Pride March, the annual gathering of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex and ally (GLBTQIA) community in the Philippines, Rev. Richard Mickley, O.S.Ae, Ph.D. – the abbot of the Order of Saint Aelred, a SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) registered religious society of mostly gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members – sat by himself not too far from the stage where the after-parade program was being held. He was… awaiting his turn to speak.

“They’re taking a while,” he said – not even with a hint of exasperation, just stating an observation. He then got to talking that, considering he’s already over 80 years old, he is “consolidating everything I have done (for the GLBTQIA struggle for just under 40 years).” It was a realistic way of looking at mortality.

Mickley never got to speak that night – others who were younger (thus supposedly more exciting) were given priority, leaving him no time to address the crowd. It may well be considered a slap on the face on the person who, with Pro-Gay Philippines’ Oscar Atadero, actually started the Pride March in the Philippines (and Asia, for that matter) in 1994. What can only be worse is that a few months before the parade, Task Force Pride, the organizer of the annual Pride celebration that he helped establish, was considering giving recognition to GLBTQIA leaders who shaped GLBTQIA history in the Philippines. When Mickely’s name was raised, only a handful among the members of the (then) executive committee even heard of his name, with someone even saying “must be some old queen.” All he has accomplished for the GLBTQIA community seemingly easily dismissed with reference to his age (and aging).

This highlights how aging is perceived in the GLBTQIA community – a perception that may be best summarized in what Kertzner (2006) observed as the stereotyping of gay male aging as a descent from “adolescence to obsolescence.” Within the GLBTQIA community, the “gay generation gap” has been noted by Russell and Bohan (2005) to focus between the youth and those in middle age, arguably fracturing the GLBTQIA community into groups with cohorts divided according to social and political influences.

There exists in the GLBTQIA community an emphasis on youth, so that ageism has become a serious problem in it (Knauer, 2009). The GLBTQIA community, especially the gay male community, is said to be a youth culture focused in bars (Hostetler, 2004) that – while they may have been historically important meeting places of community – reinforces the preference for youth (Hiyasaki, 2007). Indeed, “in a community where twenty-something gay men consider thirty-something gay men to be irrelevant, getting either group to take an interest in the lives and well-being of octogenarians presents an obvious challenge” (Knauer, 2009).

There exists in the GLBTQIA community an emphasis on youth, so that ageism has become a serious problem in it. The GLBTQIA community, especially the gay male community, is said to be a youth culture focused in bars that – while they may have been historically important meeting places of community – reinforces the preference for youth. Indeed, in a community where twenty-something gay men consider thirty-something gay men to be irrelevant, getting either group to take an interest in the lives and well-being of octogenarians presents an obvious challenge.

It was after noticing the ignoring of the mature-aged members of the GLBTQIA community that led to Raine Nuyles Cortes, John Ryan Nual Mendoza and Michael David dela Cruz Tan to conduct a research involving select members/residents of the Home for the Golden Gays (HGG), a one-time residence of aged men who have sex with other men (MSM). The output – entitled Ginintuang Agora: The Community and Sexual Life Stories of Mature-Aged Gay Men of the Home for the Golden Gays – captured through the life stories the issues that affect them.

As the authors stated: “In a country like the Philippines, where a dearth of information about the mature-aged population as a whole – even more so the mature-aged gay men – is noticeable, hearing the stories straight from the sources becomes not just ideal, but a must, in order for them to take a more active role in the making of impressions of themselves… (What this highlights is) how life stories become identifiers not just of the person telling his/her story, but of the community he/she belongs to/moves in. Here, an individual life story also becomes a community’s life story.”

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AGORA AND GAY

Price (2008) cited the work of Wahler and Gabbay (1997) to put a spotlight on the frequent forwarding of “pejorative stereotypes” about older gay men and lesbians, including “living lives of rejection, shame, loneliness, isolation, poor psychological adjustment, and sexual predation on younger men (p. 1,342). For Trentham (2010), this is the “stereotype of the lonely homosexual or the bitter old queen, images that as a gay man, I am all too familiar with although I have no sense of how these stereotypes came to be.”

That homosexuals are largely ignored in researches is unfortunate since the mature-aged member of this population reported concerns similar to heterosexual-identifying mature-aged men and women (Whitford, 1997). These concerns have been noted to have been exacerbated, nonetheless, by fear of loneliness in older age, a reduced social life and marginalization from the gay community (Heaphy, 2007; Hughes, 2007), as well as lack of financial resources and appropriate care and living arrangements (Bayliss, 2000).

Of interest to Cortes, Mendoza and Tan’s study were the sexual practices of mature-aged members of the GLBTQIA community, particularly gay men. This is because various studies have been highlighting the need to focus on young men who have sex with men (MSM), in the belief that they are more at risk of HIV infection (for example, McAuliffe et al., 1999; Age Concern England, 2002); but none have given mature-aged gay men the same amount of attention.

Admittedly, just as more studies on GLBTQIs are surfacing, the experiences – thus the needs – of older gay and lesbian citizens have started to also become more visible (for example, in the UK, Heaphy, Yip, & Thompson, 2004; Pugh, 2005). Mainly, not only are the studies too few, their coverage has – even now – failed to question, thereby attempt to effect the existing damaging beliefs about GLBTQIs.

Being gay and being old (also referred to as agora in gay lingo) may be considered a double whammy, a gold mine for would-be discrimination. Already identifying contrary to the heteronormative narratives, gay men who live in the fringes of the society are further discriminated against when they grow older, with all the stereotypes going with aging additionally impressed upon their already stereotyped lives.

The issue is even more obvious among transgenders (TGs) and intersex (also members of the GLBTQIA community, and who are, most times, erroneously grouped with gay men), since “the historical development of modern day biomedicine, psychology and psychoanalysis is bound up in the complex interactions of a Eurocentric, heterosexual, Judeo-Christian viewpoint” (Witten, 2002). The “restriction of the underlying theoretical construct of sex and gender to the dualistic genital sex model has eliminated all biomedical and psychosocial healthcare research on behalf of both the intersex population” (Witten, 2002) and “gender-variant individuals” (South, 2000).

FACING ISSUES

That the mature-aged members of the GLBTQIA community has issues to contend with goes without saying.

Internal homophobia, for instance, helps create the “other” – i.e. how a heteronormative society may consider GLBTQIs; and how gay men, for example, may treat each other.

Combinations of the risk factors when mature-aged gay men engage in sexual acts therefore become problematic. The HGG interviewees, for example, openly discuss having anal sex without the use of condoms, “basta bata ang ka-sex para siguradong malinis (as long as you do it with a young man to be sure he’s clean),” Mother Leony said. He added that, “of course, huwag magpaputok sa loob (as long as he doesn’t orgasm/cum inside you).” That proper information do not reach them, even if they are still actively engaging in sexual activities, make their every sexual encounter a gamble in getting infected or, hopefully, not.

Greg, a resident of HGG, proudly claims being “heterosexual-looking” – akin to the Western concept of “straight-looking and/or straight-acting,” which supposes that gays, by their very being, act more like women than like men (since genders are defined, in this view, only between the biological men and women, with gays believed to mimic women and lesbians believed to mimic men). “Noon pa, ganito na ako (From way back, I have always been like this),” he said. Acting as “straight” (i.e. not crossdressing) gave Greg a sense of “normalcy – hindi ako naiiba sa mga tao (I don’t differ from others).”

His very reason for avoiding to be identified as an outsider of the mainstream, however, made Greg help in the treatment of the other HGG inhabitants as the “others”, the outsiders in heteronormative discourses. “Matanda na kasi tayo, dapat behave na (We’re already old, we should behave now),” he said. “Nakakahiya kasi (maging) matandang baklang ang arte-arte (It’s embarrassing being a flamboyant old gay man).”

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Financial capability is, of course, also an issue in pushing the otherness of mature-aged gay men.

Mother Leony, a resident of HGG, used to be a sex worker when he was younger. Now in his 80s, he has largely been dependent on HGG (e.g. for accommodation and food) and distant family members (who send him his daily allowances). Only recently, he underwent a hernia operation, one of the many he had had in the past years.

This time, “dinala ako sa ospital, sa Tondo Medical Center (I was taken to a hospital, at the Tondo Medical Center),” he recalled. “‘Yung ospital ni Madame Imelda (To the hospital of Imelda Marcos).” His visit was actually only made possible after “tinawagan ko na lahat (I called everyone) – Mayor (Pasay City’s Antonino Calixto), mga konsehal, at kung sinu-sino pa. Kung wala akong contacts, ewan saan ako pupulutin (I called everyone – the Pasay City mayor, councilors and whoever I could call. If I didn’t have contacts, I don’t know where that would have left me)”.

Mother Leony could easily recall how, while in the hospital, many were asking him how he could have afforded having his own room, while others had to share not just rooms, but even beds due to the lack of available facilities for “people like us – mga walang pera (people who do not have resources),” he said, laughing. “Hindi nila alam nangolekta na ako (ng kabayaran) sa lahat ng nagawa ko (They don’t know I collected the returns of all the favors I did).”

While he could not recall how much he had to pay to Tondo Medical Center [“Alam mo na, matanda na ako, sira na memories ko (You know I’m already old, my memory isn’t what it used to be)], in an earlier surgery, when his eyes had to be fixed, Mother Leony remembered having to pay PhP 25,000.00 for a two-night stay at the Manila Sanitarium Hospital in Pasay City, the health facility closest to HGG. “Kuwarto pa lang ‘yan (That’s just for the room),” he said. “Saan naman tayo kukuha ng ganoong pera, di ba (Where could I get an amount like that)?”

Basically, “kung wala akong pera, dedma sila (If I don’t have money, I am ignored),” Mother Leony summarily said.

Numerous studies have already stressed how poverty is linked with access to healthcare, thus to good health. In 2005, for example, the WHO estimated that, annually, 25 million households (more than 100 million people) are forced into poverty by illness and the difficulty to pay for healthcare. This development – “referred to as the income erosion effect of ill health for poor households” by Tagoe (2010) – was noted in the bottom 15% to 20% of the population of Bangladesh (Sen, 2003), with the risks that poor households face posing greatest threat to their lives and livelihoods (Krishna, 2004; Noponen & Kantor, 2004).

SEX WITH THE INVISIBLE MEN

A common notion about the mature-aged population is their supposed asexuality or at least have inactive sexual live, with the belief persisting despite survey results that show the opposite (Cahill et al., 2000). In the popular imagination, sex among people aged over sixty-five is largely considered as unappealing, and is even unlikely. This is a misconception, since, contrary to the prevailing stereotype, mature-aged people actually want to, and are still able to, have an active, satisfying sex life (National Institutes of Health, 1981; Reinisch & Beasley, 1990; Wooten-Bielski, 1999).

There is a need to to put a spotlight on the frequent forwarding of “pejorative stereotypes” about older gay men and lesbians, including living lives of rejection, shame, loneliness, isolation, poor psychological adjustment, and sexual predation on younger men. There is this “stereotype of the lonely homosexual or the bitter old queen, images that as a gay man, (we may be) all too familiar with although (we) have no sense of how these stereotypes came to be.”

According to Grossman (1995), while it is true that HIV and AIDS may sometimes be misdiagnosed in older people because “many of its symptoms mimic other illnesses that affect older people”, mature-aged gay men are particularly at risk to be infected with HIV due to various reasons, including societal beliefs, myths, and stereotypes emanating from ageism, homophobia, denial of risk, alcohol and other substance use, and anonymous sexual encounters. The risk of HIV transmission among mature-aged gay men (and among MSM, in general) has been noted to have been exacerbated during intercourse, too, due to the normal aging changes (Moore & Amburgey, 2000), including the thinning of the epithelial structure of the anal area, a physiological changes “allow for more microscopic tearing during sexual penetration and therefore, provide a direct route for HIV transmission” (Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention, 2006).

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Combinations of the risk factors when mature-aged gay men engage in sexual acts therefore become problematic. The HGG interviewees, for example, openly discuss having anal sex without the use of condoms, “basta bata ang ka-sex para siguradong malinis (as long as you do it with a young man to be sure he’s clean),” Mother Leony said. He added that, “of course, huwag magpaputok sa loob (as long as he doesn’t orgasm/cum inside you).”

That proper information do not reach them, even if they are still actively engaging in sexual activities, make their every sexual encounter a gamble in getting infected or, hopefully, not.

IN NEED OF ATTENTION

Cortes, Mendoza and Tan’s research noted steps needed to be taken to include the mature-aged MSM into mainstream GLBTQIA discussions. Also, “while the mature-aged gay men of HGG have individual stories to tell, their narratives are actually intertwined to show patterns that may then be used for the drawing of inferences on how their community works”.

The authors’ recommendations include: further researches to “gather even more information – be it through qualitative or quantitative approaches – on a population that is often neglected”; broadening of existing HIV and AIDS programs for prevention and sexual health education to also target the mature-aged gay men population because they are also at risk given that they also practice MSM behavior; the need to inform government policy makers of the specific needs of mature-aged gay men, since existing laws “fail to consider the variations of the experiences of the sub-populations within the generalized mature-aged population”; and the need to “indiginize” the solutions provided to this population.

FORMING COMMUNITY

A key point of the study is the importance of the community among GLBTQIAs – including the mature-aged MSM. And “emphasizing on the community is important since, in the case of mature-aged gay men, for example, where they are will affect how they will define their identity, thus its expression”. According to Grossman, D’Augelli and Hershberger,

“Gays have been known to create ‘alternative’ families due to the failings of hetero-dictated norms of family formations – i.e. friends and the support they provide serve a unique function in mitigating the effects of stigmatization.” (Grossman, D’Augelli, & Hershberger, 2000)

For Weston (1991), “community” in the context of gay and lesbian lives is “as multifaceted in meaning as it is ubiquitous.” He, therefore, proposes for it to be considered sans territorial bounds, but as “a category implicated in the ways lesbians and gay men have developed collective identities, organized urban space, and conceptualized their significant relationships” (p. 124).

This is how, borrowing Weston’s (1991) words, “chosen families” are formed – with the shared identities coming together. Dorrell (1991) referred to this as the family “of comradery and caring.”

What exists at the core of this community is friendship. As Manasse and Swallow stressed:

“The way a lot of gay men and lesbians come out in the world is very alienating. For many of us, building families of linkage and connection is very healing. It’s important for us to feel that love and connection because it’s the antithesis of the alienation of homophobia. It’s important for us to say, ‘This is the innermost circle’” (Manasse & Swallow, 1995, p. 153).

And so it is that it remains worth highlighting how the GLBTQIA community truly needs to embrace all its members, even those already in their golden years…

The full research – Ginintuang Agora: The Community and Sexual Life Stories of Mature-Aged Gay Men of the Home for the Golden Gays – may be requested from Raine Nuyles Cortes, John Ryan Nual Mendoza and Michael David dela Cruz Tan.

SELECT REFERENCES

Bayliss, K. (2000). Social work values, anti-discriminatory practice and working with older lesbian service users. Social Work Education, 19, 45-53.
Cahill, S., South, K., & Spade, J. (2000). Outing Age: Public Policy Issues Affecting Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Elders. Policy Institute of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Foundation.
Heaphy, B., Yip, A.K.T. and Thompson, D. (2004). Ageing in a non-heterosexual context. Ageing and Society, 24, 881-902.
Hiyasaki, E. (2007). For Gays, A Generation Gap Grows, L.A. TIMES, May 18, 2007. Retrieved on January 22, 2011 from http://articles.latimes.com/2007/may/18/nation/na-gays18.
Hostetler, A. J. (2004). Old, Gay, and Alone? The Ecology of Well-Being Among Middle-Aged and Older Single Gay Men. In G. Herdt and B. de Vries – Eds., Gay and Lesbian Aging: Research and Future Directions. New York: Springer.
Kertzner, R.M. (2006). Beyond Coming Out: Gay Men, HIV and Age. Focus, 21(10). San Francisco: UCSF AIDS Health Project.
Knauer, N.J. (2009). LGBT Elder Law: Toward Equity in Aging. Harvard Journal of Law & Gender, Vol. 32.
Krishna A. (2004). Escaping poverty and becoming poor: who gains, who loses, and why? World Development, 32, 121-136.
National Institutes of Health. (1981). Age Page: Sexuality in Later Life (DHHS publication 19a5-461-308/200007). Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office.
Noponen, H., & Kantor, P. (2004). Crises, setbacks and chronic problems: The determinants of economic stress events among poor households in India. Journal of International Development, 16, 529-545.
Price, E. (2008). Pride or prejudice? Gay men, lesbians and dementia. British Journal of Social Work, 38(7), 1137-1352.
Russel, G.M. & Bohan, J.S. (2005). The Gay Generation Gap: Communicating Across the LGBT Generational Divide. Policy Journal of the Institute for Gay and Lesbian Strategic Studies. Retrieved on A1pril 2, 2011 from http://www.iglss.org/media/files/Angles-81.pdf.
Sen, B. (2003). Drivers of escape and descent: changing household fortunes in rural Bangladesh. World Development, 31, 513-534.
Wahler, J., & Gabbay, S. G. (1997). Gay male aging: A review of the literature. Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services, 6(3), 1–20.
Whitford, G.S. (1997). Realities and hopes for older gay males. Journal of Gay and Lesbian Social Services, 6, 79-95.
Wooten-Bielski, K. (1999). HIV and AIDS in older adults. Geriatric Nursing, 20 (5), 268-272.

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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What it’s like to be trans in Taiwan

Tamsin Wu visits gay-friendly Taiwan, where she meets Abbygail Wu, founder of Intersex, Transgender and Transsexual People Care Association (ISTSCare), who said that the country is still failing its LGBTQ citizens, and particularly lags in promoting trans rights.

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Photo detail by Thomas Tucker from Unsplash.com

Taiwan may be the most gay-friendly country in Asia, but according to Abbygail Wu, founder of Intersex, Transgender and Transsexual People Care Association (ISTSCare), the country still receives a “failing mark” when it comes to LGBTQ equality. Transgender people, in particular, usually bear the brunt of sex-based discrimination.

ISTSCare has a one-woman 24/7 hotline service. Abby has dealt with calls concerning struggles related to suicide attempts, job insecurity or homelessness, and even domestic violence. To provide support and assistance to hotline callers, ISTSCare also partners with NGOs and other LGBTQ-related organizations.

Aside from the hotline service, the organization does its advocacy work through protests, by maintaining an online presence, as well as directly communicating with political figures and trans-friendly journalists to rouse awareness and discussion on transgender and intersex issues.

ISTSCare in Taiwan

In 2014, four years after the first official notice regarding gender reassignment procedures in Taiwan was issued, the Ministry of Interior (MOI), with the support of the Ministry of Health and Welfare (MOHW), announced the easement of legal requirements on changing gender identity. MOI promised that it would immediately work on letting transgender citizens change their gender marker without having to go through rigorous psychiatric assessments, sex reassignment surgery (SRS) and parental approval. However, MOI backtracked since then.

“MOI, which is handling the national ID cards, they said there are still a lot of research to do about the gender issue and they try to get some professional opinions, but MOHW already said this is not a medical issue, it’s an internal affair issue. So MOI, they’re just under the pressure and paused a lot of meetings… and now the issue is still under research for four years,” Abby lamented. “We’re the first Asian country to pass the bill but it’s not implemented.”

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Despite MOHW already stating that medical professionals should not have a say when it comes to determining one’s gender identification, transgender citizens are still presently forced to consider SRS. Besides that, they are also required to seek the expensive involvement of psychiatrists and, outrageously, the consent of their parents. Otherwise, their gender identity cannot be legally recognized.

Abby clarified that not all transgender people want the help of doctors to validate their gender identity. Hence, SRS is especially discriminatory towards transgender citizens who do not wish to undergo surgery. “What is gender? Is it just based on our anatomy? Or is it in our behavior? In our mind? Or in the way we dress?… There are a lot of factors that influence what gender one identify as, but society focus on the least publicly visible aspect – our sex organ.”

Abby continued, “There are risks to surgery and that is one of the reasons why not all transgenders want to go through it. And also, they may question themselves, ‘Do I really want to have surgery or is it just for the sake of getting this ID?’”

Abby standing beside the transgender pride flag.
Photo credit: Ketty W. Chen

“One day before the presidential election, I went to the DPP (Democratic Progressive Party) headquarters to talk with the Department of Woman. I told them, ‘tomorrow is already the day for voting, are you going on stage and advocate for transgender rights? This has been neglected for the past 3-4 years. Then they just told me, ‘this requires social consensus’… I went out of that meeting deeply upset,” Abby shared.

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With lack of funding, community support and societal understanding of trans issues, how could transgender rights obtain social consensus when this feat requires acceptance and approval from the status quo in order for the relevant social change to take effect? Why should the rights and well-being of a minority group fall in the hands of the majority? Currently, both the public and the government possess inadequate knowledge in dealing with transgender issues, which exacerbates the struggles transgender citizens face.

Prejudice against transgender folks can also be felt within LGBTQ communities. On one hand, some non-transgender members of the LGBTQ community question the gender identity of trans people. On the other hand, there is also internalized transphobia.

“A lot of transgender are more binary [in the way they see gender]. They think a man should act and look a certain way and that a woman should act and look a certain way… ISTSCare does not condone this kind of thinking,” Abby said.

Trans activist Abbygail Wu and her partner in a protest for their marriage right.
Photo credit: Ketty W. Chen

When asked why ISTSCare is run by only three people (including Abby and her partner), she shared that many transgender citizens in Taiwan find it difficult to prioritize doing advocacy work because their life situation is oftentimes mentally and emotionally taxing. On top of having to deal with an unsupportive family, they often face discrimination in the job market. Hence, there’s a high level of difficulty for them to get a good job, gain professional working experience and make a decent living, let alone have the financial resources to go through SRS. As of now, they’re in this loop of societal discrimination and economic vulnerability with no recourse.

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Another reason for the lack of transgender-focused activists in Taiwan is attributed to the problem of privilege. Abby adds that well-off transgender citizens tend to be exclusive in their social group. Post-surgery and after assimilating in heteronormative society, they also tend to ignore the struggles faced by less fortunate transgender citizens. They would rather not get associated for fear of being found out and face discrimination. Albeit joining Pride Parades, they are at other times nowhere to be found when it comes to advocating for transgender rights.

Abby clarified that not all transgender people want the help of doctors to validate their gender identity.
Photo credit: Abbygail Wu

Abby said that ISTSCare’s main goal right now is to push for a non-discriminatory, comprehensive gender identity law in Taiwan.

“We hope to be like Argentina. Just file [required] papers to the courthouse and they will assign the legal gender change. No need to go through any kind of medical process.”

Having a well thought out gender identity law may not help solve all transgender issues and alleviate them from all of their struggles. However, getting the said law done and implemented right would be one significant progress for the recognition of the human rights and dignity of, not only transgender citizens, but also intersex and non-binary people.

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Chance of HIV-positive person with undetectable viral load transmitting the virus to a sex partner is scientifically zero

The PARTNER 2 study found no transmissions between gay couples where the HIV-positive partner had a viral load under 200 copies/ml – even though there were nearly 77,000 acts of condomless sex between them.

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Confirmed and needs to be stressed: The chance of any HIV-positive person with an undetectable viral load transmitting the virus to a sexual partner is scientifically equivalent to zero.

This is according to researchers who released at #AIDS2018 the final results from the PARTNER study. Results originally announced in 2014 from the first phase, PARTNER 1, already indicated that “Undetectable equals Untransmittable” (U=U). But while the first study was lauded in tackling vaginal sex, the statistical certainty of the result did not convince everyone, particularly in the case of gay men, or those who engage in anal sex.

But now, PARTNER 2, the second phase, only recruited gay couples. The PARTNER study recruited HIV serodifferent couples (one partner positive, one negative) at 75 clinical sites in 14 European countries. They tested the HIV-negative partners every six to 12 months for HIV, and tested viral load in the HIV-positive partners. Both partners also completed behavioral surveys. In cases of HIV infection in the negative partners, their HIV was genetically analyzed to see if it came from their regular partner.

And the results indicate “a precise rate of within-couple transmission of zero” for gay men as well as for heterosexuals.

The study found no transmissions between gay couples where the HIV-positive partner had a viral load under 200 copies/ml – even though there were nearly 77,000 acts of condomless sex between them.

PARTNER is not the only study about viral load and infectiousness. Last year, the Opposites Attract study also found no transmissions in nearly 17,000 acts of condomless anal sex between serodifferent gay male partners. This means that no transmission has been seen in about 126,000 occasions of sex, if this study is combined with PARTNER 1 and 2.

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While this is good news overall in the fight against HIV, related issues continue to plague HIV-related efforts, particularly in countries like the Philippines.

Why aren’t we talking about ‘undetectable = untransmittable’ in the Philippines?

For instance, aside from the overall silence on U=U (undetectable = untransmittable), use of anti-retroviral therapy (ART) continue to be low. As of May 2016, when the country already had 34,158 total reported cases of HIV infection, Filipinos living with HIV who are on anti-retroviral therapy (i.e. those who are taking meds) only numbered 14,356.

The antiretroviral medicines in use in the Philippines also continue to be limited, with some already phased out in developed countries.

All the same, this is considered a significant stride, with science unequivocally backing the scientific view helmed in 2008 by Dr. Pietro Vernazza who spearheaded the scientific view that viral suppression means HIV cannot be passed via a statement in the Bulletin of Swiss Medicine.

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‘God loves LGBTQIA people; so do we.’

A Christian church wants members of the LGBTQIA community to know that “they are loved by God.” Val Paminiano, pastor of the Freedom in Christ Ministries, says that “we would like to apologize on behalf of the mainstream churches that condemn the LGBTQIA community. Sorry for hurting you; (and) even for using the Bible to hurt you.”

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God’s love is for all.

“(We want the members of the LGBTQIA community to know that) they are loved by God,” said Val Paminiano, pastor of the Freedom in Christ Ministries, which has been making its presence known particularly in LGBTQIA Pride events to highlight its Christian anti-anti-LGBTQIA position.

Approximately 80% of Filipinos are Roman Catholic, and the church’s teachings continue to dominate public life in the Philippines. As it stands, church’s teachings re LGBTQIA people still often revolve around the “hate the sin, love the sinner” statement, so that LGBTQIA people are tolerated so long as they do not express their being LGBTQIA.

This “hate the sin, love the sinner” stance seems to be reflected in dominant perspectives re LGBTQIA people in the Philippines.

In 2013, for instance, in a survey titled “The Global Divide on Homosexuality” conducted by the US-based Pew Research Center, 73% of adult Filipinos agreed with the statement that “homosexuality should be accepted by society”. The percentage of Filipinos who said society should not accept gays fell from 33% in 2002 to 26% that year.

But more recently, in June 2018, a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey showed that a big percentage of Filipinos still oppose civil unions. When 1,200 respondents across the country were asked whether or not they agree with the statement “there should be a law that will allow the civil union of two men or two women”, at least 61% of the respondents said they would oppose a bill that would legalize this in the country. Among them, 44% said they strongly disagree, while 17% said they somewhat disagree. Meanwhile, 22% said they would support it, while 16% said they were still “undecided”.

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For Paminiano, “we would like to apologize on behalf of the mainstream churches that condemn the LGBTQIA community. Sorry for hurting you; (and) even for using the Bible to hurt you.”

Churches continue to be lambasted for not changing with time – perhaps most obvious in the treatment of LGBT people of those with faith. But the number of denominations openly discussing – and even coming up with statements of support of – LGBTQIA issues is increasing.

Finding room for #queerinfaith

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All hail the beauty queen

A glimpse into the life of a trans woman beauty pageant enthusiast, Ms Mandy Madrigal of Transpinay of Antipolo Organization.

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This is part of #KaraniwangLGBT, which Outrage Magazine officially launched on July 26, 2015 to offer vignettes of LGBT people/living, particularly in the Philippines, to give so-called “everyday people” – in this case, the common LGBT people – that chance to share their stories.
As Outrage Magazine editor Michael David C. Tan says: “All our stories are valid – not just the stories of the ‘big shots’. And it’s high time we start telling all our stories.”

“I feel accepted.”

That, said Mandy Madrigal, is the main appeal of joining beauty pageants.

“I feel so loved when I join pageants. Especially when people clap for us, cheer for us. And when you win… it (just) feels different.”

FINDING ACCEPTANCE

Assigned male at birth, Mandy was in primary school when her father asked her if “I was a boy or a girl”. That question scared her, she admitted, because – as the only boy among six kids – she thought she did not really have “any choice”. “So I answered my father, ‘I am a boy’.”

But Mandy’s father asked her the same question again; and this time, “I said, yes, I am gay.”

No, Mandy is NOT gay; she is a transpinay, and a straight one at that. But the misconceptions about the binary remains – i.e. in this case, she is associated with being gay mainly because she did not identify with the sex assigned her at birth.

In a way, Mandy said she’s lucky because “I believe he (my father) accepted (me) with his whole heart.”

The rest of her family did, too.

Though – speaking realistically – Mandy said this may be abetted by her “contributions” to the family. “Hindi naman aka basta naging bakla lang (I’m not a ’typical’ gay person),” she said, “na naglalandi lang o sumasali lang ng pageant (who just flirts, or just joins beauty pageants). Instead, Mandy provides financial support to her family by – among others – selling RTW clothes and beauty products. In fact, some of her winnings also go to the family’s coffers. By helping provide them with what they need, “it’s easy for them to accept me as a transgender woman.”

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Growing up, Mandy realized that while “makakapagsinungaling ka sa ibang tao, pero sarili mo, hindi mo maloloko. Kaya mas magandang tanggapin mo ang sarili mo para matanggap ka ng ibang tao (you may be able to lie to others about who you really are, but you can’t lie to yourself. So it’s better to accept your true self so that others will be able to accept you too).”

Mandy was “introduced” to beauty pageants when she was 13 or 14. At that time, a friend asked her to join a pageant; and “I won first runner up.” She never looked backed since, even – at one time – earning as much as P20,000 after winning a title. Like many regular beauconeras (beauty pageant participants), she also heads to distant provinces to compete, largely because – according to her – prizes in provincial competitions tend to be higher. The prize money earned helps one buy more paraphernalia for the next pageants, and – in Mandy’s case – also helps support her family.

Generally speaking, Mandy Madrigal said that “ang tunay na queen ay may malaking puso (a real queen has a big heart).”

FORMING A FAMILY

Beauty pageants are competitions, yes; but for Mandy, pageants also allow the candidates to form bonds as they get close to each other. Pageants, she said, can be a way “na maging close kami, magkaroon ng magagandang bonding… at magkakilala kami (for us to be close, to bond and get to know the others better).”

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Pageants can be costly, Mandy admitted – for instance, “you have to invest,” she said, adding that a candidate needs to be able to provide for herself (instead of just always renting) costumes, swimsuits, casual wear, gowns, and so on.

In a way, therefore, having people who believe in you helps. In Mandy’s case, for instance, a lot of people helped (by providing necessities she needs) because “naniniwala sila na I am a queen inside and out,” she smiled.

But this support can also rack the nerves, particularly when people expect one to win (particularly because of the support given).

One will not always win, of course; and this doesn’t always give one good feelings. In 2017, for instance, Mandy joined Queen of Antipolo, and – after failing to win a crown – she said many people told her she should have won the title, or at least placed among the runners-up. “naguluhan ang utak ko (That confused me),” she said. “‘Bakit ako ang gusto ninyong manalo?’ But that’s when I realized na marami ako na-i-inspire na tao dahil marami nagtitiwala sa akin (I ask, ‘Why do you want me to win?’ But that’s when I realized that I inspire a lot of people, which is why they count on me).”

This gives her confidence; enough to deal with the nervousness that will also allow her to just enjoy any pageant she joins.

A TIME TO SHINE

Mandy believes pageants can help LGBTQI people by providing them a platform to showcase to non-LGBTQI people why “hindi tayo dapat husgahan (we should not be judged).”

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Generally speaking, Mandy said that “ang tunay na queen ay may malaking puso (a real queen has a big heart).”

And she knows that not every pageant is good for every contestant. There will be pageants where you will be crowned the queen, she said, just as there will be pageants where you will lose. But over and above the winning and losing, note “what’s most important: that there’s a lot of people who supported you in a (certain) pageant.”

At the end of the day, “sa lahat ng patimpalak, pagkatandaan natin na merong nananalo at may natatalo. Depende na lang yan sa araw mo. Kung ikaw ay nakatadhanang manalo ay mananalo ka; kung nakatadhanang matalo ay matatalo ka talaga. Yun lang yun. Isipin mo na lang na meron pang araw na darating na mas maganda para sa iyo (in all competitions, remember that there will always be a winner and a loser. It all depends on your luck for the day. If you are fated to win, you will win; if you are fated to lose, you will lose. That’s that. But still remember – even when you lose – that there will always come a day that will be great for you).”

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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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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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