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7 B.S. (or at least half-truths) you hear about HIV in the Philippines

For Michael David C. Tan, “a big part of why the Philippines’ HIV situation doesn’t seem to be getting better is because of the continuing use of ‘lies’ (okay, fine, let’s just call them half-truths!) in dealing with HIV.” As such, it’s time to debunk long-held beliefs that aren’t helping deal with this issue.

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PHOTO TAKEN DURING AN OUTREACH PROGRAM TO PLHIV OF THE PROJECT RED RIBBON

In 1998, when Shola Luna started her antiretroviral therapy (ART), she had to take 30 tablets in the morning and another 30 tablets at night. It can be said that things are not as “bad” as they were in the early days of HIV. Nowadays, when compared to the early plight of the likes of Shola, many Filipinos living with HIV (for instance) need only take one antiretroviral (ARV) tablet a day.

But this is not to say that everything is now rosy, considering that: the country registers approximately 31 new HIV cases EVERY DAY; less than half of PLHIVs in the Philippines access ART (in June 2017, that’s 21,035 of the 45,023 total reported cases); and those getting infected with HIV are getting younger (again in June, half of 1,013 cases reported were from the 25-34 year age group while 32% were youth aged 15-24 years).

I advance the position that a big part of why the Philippines’ HIV situation doesn’t seem to be getting better is because of the continuing use of “lies” (okay, fine, let’s just call them half-truths!) in dealing with HIV.

1. There’s a law that protects persons living with HIV

Yes, we have RA 8504, which – aside from mandating efforts to stop the spread of HIV in the Philippines – actually offers SOME (that’s in CAPS for emphasis) protection against discrimination of PLHIVs.
BUT (again in CAPS, for emphasis) the law itself is FLAWED, not to mention that having this law doesn’t mean it is actually being properly implemented.

Issues with it being flawed include: not allowing minors to get tested for HIV sans parental/guardian’s consent, even if the age of those getting infected in the Philippines are getting younger; only medical professionals who disclose one’s HIV status is punishable; lack of PLHIV representation in the national body (that’s the Philippine National AIDS Council) that is also supposed to look after their issues; and lack of clarity re bodies responsible re implementation (or non-implementation) of the law’s mandates (for instance, insurance companies still discriminate sans sanctions).

Issues with implementation are numerous, including: abundance of agencies that mandate HIV testing even if this is against the law – e.g. some are government offices and employment companies; absence of bodies PLHIVs can actually approach if/when violations happen; non-formation of Local AIDS Councils in local government units (with the devolving of healthcare to local governments); and so on…
So consider having a law as a good thing; but that it’s largely toothless makes it… largely inadequate.

HIV stigma and discrimination and official indifference?

2. Social media caused the surge of HIV

Eric Tayag of the Department of Health was one of the earliest to stress that easy access to social media networks (online and app-based, like Grindr, PlanetRomeo, Blued and even the likes of Facebook and Twitter) helped cause the surge of HIV infections in the country.

I’d say this is true… BUT only to the extent that technology made hooking up easier (and with more sexual partners, one’s risk of exposing oneself to STIs increases).

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I contend, nonetheless, that this is also a questionable blanket statement because even if you are not into monogamy but practice safer sex, your risk of getting infected may be lower than someone who is in a monogamous relationship but: A) does not know his/her HIV status; B) have had unsafe sex prior to the relationship he/she has now; or – if one is HIV+ – C) has issues with his/her meds so his/her VL is in doubt.

In the end, educating people on how to stay negative (or if positive, how they won’t infect others) is the BETTER approach, instead of the admittedly catchier extensive claim of the Internet as (solely) blame-worthy for the spread of HIV.

3. Most affected by HIV are men who have sex with men (MSM)

Many people will not necessarily agree with me here; and they have every right opposing me. After all, data shows that the population most affected by HIV in the Philippines involves MSM. For instance, in June 2017, of the 1,013 Filipinos who were newly infected with HIV, most (93%) were male.

BUT for those willing to hear me out, my position is largely based on anecdotes we’ve encountered while interviewing (and even attending training) for articles developed for Outrage Magazine.

For instance, I have spoken with HIV counselors in Cagayan de Oro City and in Davao City who alleged that they were blatantly told by agencies implementing HIV-related programs in their localities to “only test MSM.” I personally attended a government-sanctioned training (to give community-based HIV testing) where the participants were told to “only use the rapid test kit to MSM, and NOT women (even if these women wanted to get tested)”. We also heard of populations (e.g. women in prison) who want to get tested, but aren’t tested.

So YES, existing figures show that MSM “drive” the spread of HIV in the Philippines. But I’d argue that THIS DOES NOT SHOW THE WHOLE PICTURE.

On this, note that we refer to the key affected population as “men who have sex with men”. Meaning, these are men who are not necessarily gay or bi, but are hetero-identifying men who just happen to have (had) sex with other men (e.g. DOTA boys, sex workers, masseurs who give extra service). Any other time, they will (also) have sex with women (they’re hetero, after all). So that if they have HIV, they may also infect these women they have sex with. Now, if we don’t test women (particularly those who want to get tested), our efforts are lacking…

4. Antiretroviral medicine is free

You’d often hear NGO workers, and EVEN GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS claim that Filipinos should get tested to know their HIV status because – if they turn out to be positive – meds are given out for free anyway.

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Let’s call this a B.S.

Because the general rule is for a PLHIV to pay PhilHealth (if voluntary, this totals to P2,400 per year) first before he/she can get the ART. Specifically, in the Philippines, the treatment, care and support received by most people living with HIV (PLHIVs) are covered by the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation’s (PhilHealth) Outpatient HIV/AIDS Treatment (OHAT) Package. To those who are enrolled in PhilHealth, P30,000 is allocated per PLHIV per year, or P7,500 every quarter.

There are “exceptions” – e.g. for some, their fees are paid by local governments (say the mayor), NGOs, faith-based organizations, et cetera. But again, as a general rule, payment happened before the service (including the meds) is accessed. Meaning, you have to first cough up the money to access the life-saving meds (and HIV-related services).

This is important to point out here because:

A) Telling people outright that the meds are ALL FREE is a lie; and

B) Many PLHIVs consider themselves “lucky” for being “served” by treatment hubs, when the fact of the matter is that they paid for that “service” and therefore have every right to complain if that same service sucks.

5. PrEP is now available in the Philippines

Here, it’s a yes and no.

YES because it is being piloted, with a very select few chosen for the pilot.

So NO, too, because IT STILL ISN’T AVAILABLE FOR EVERYONE WHO WANTS/NEEDS IT (e.g. opposite sex couple who want to get pregnant, and those in serodifferent relationships). So if you’re a fisherman or a farmer somewhere in Visayas or Mindanao (and yes, there have been reported cases of HIV infection in these populations!), PrEP isn’t available for you (though for that matter, so is ARV).

What’s ironically funny for me is this: PrEP was already proven to be effective, so why the continuing delay in just rolling it out in the Philippines?

As a side note here: Do you know that even post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is still not (widely) available in the Philippines?

6. There’s no money for HIV

A common message we hear in HIV advocacy is that there’s not enough money to deal with a burgeoning problem.

I say: Yeah, right!

When we have NGO workers who: A) get to travel the world (for leisure at that!) using (most of) the money supposed to benefit people living with HIV; B) can afford to buy high-end gadgets (e.g. Apple Watch, think of the latest iPhone units, including iPhone X) and luxury goods (e.g. LV, Coach, et cetera) from a “low” salary; C) can afford to pay for cosmetic surgery from the same “low” salary; D) can buy properties (e.g. car/s and condos); and E) have “meetings” in – say – Boracay (and then present the same as an “achievement” to donor agencies), then we know THERE IS MONEY if not FOR, then at least IN HIV.

The emphasis, therefore, is NOT on whether there is money; but on WHERE THE MONEY GOES.
Of course, it’s easy to blame the government’s continuing seeming non-focus on HIV (e.g. remember those ARV procurement issues that happened because of non-payment of taxes?).

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But I’d also argue that part of the problem are some donor agencies that partner only with “big” NGOs, and then solely base indicators of “success” on reports given to them, as if these can’t be (or aren’t) faked.

For instance, there are many (admittedly smaller) HIV-centric NGOs in the Philippines that DO NOT HAVE MONEY to implement their projects, and yet there are many (bigger) non-HIV NGOs that get funds to run HIV-specific projects. The main difference is the “established systems” (e.g. accounting) of the bigger NGOs. A common practice is, therefore, for the bigger NGOs to get the money, and then hire (and pay less) the smaller NGOs to implement the projects for them. In a way, they become the “middleman” who gets “cut” not necessarily because they know what they’re doing, but solely for holding the power of the purse…

If these donor agencies really wanna help, I’d say EMPOWER THE SMALLER NGOs/CBOs by giving them the money (including to train their people to become competitive with the bigger NGOs) and JUST GET RID OF THE (profiteering) “middlemen”…

Another senseless indicator of success, for me, is the “noise” made in social media. For instance, I’ve attended a presscon of a well-funded “effort” to encourage people to get tested for HIV by using celebrities. The budget went to these celebrities (some even had the gall to complain that they were getting “peanuts” from the project), the photographers/videographers, PR firm, et cetera. After the project (and the money was spent), actually counting people who got tested because of the effort was sidelined because, as was said, “that’s not an indicator for success”.

Again, to emphasize, there is money for HIV. It just isn’t necessarily getting spent where it ought to be.

7. The HIV “community” is unified – NOT!

When somebody from the HIV community claims to speak for the entire HIV community, he/she is bullshitting you. This includes “speaking on behalf of the HIV community in amending RA 8504”, or giving citations to very select people who are supposed to have helped HIV advocacy in the Philippines (and even if their roles in HIV advocacy are questionable).

Remember that study about thinking twice before talking about the “LGBT community”? Yes, there would be similarities in the experiences (e.g. the need for ARV). But the same principle holds true here – i.e. this community is so diverse that speaking for it AS A WHOLE is not only erroneous, but ill-advised.

The first step to doing something about anything is acknowledging the truths (and lies, for that matter) about it. And so for me, here are the BASIC truths/half-truths/lies we need to tackle when discussing HIV in the Philippines…

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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Relevance of public & private sectors’ support highlighted in Quezon City’s 2018 Pride parade

Highlighting the importance of the participation of all stakeholders, not just the LGBTQIA community but also including the public and the private sectors, Quezon City in Metro Manila held one of the last Pride parades in the Philippines for 2018.

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Highlighting the importance of the participation of all stakeholders, not just the LGBTQIA community but also including the public (including government) and the private sectors, Quezon City in Metro Manila held one of the last Pride parades in the Philippines for 2018.

Hanz Defensor, who helms Quezon City Pride Council (QCPC), the organizer of the annual gathering, told Outrage Magazine in an exclusive interview that Quezon City is “quite fortunate” that it now has an anti-discrimination ordinance (ADO) that protects LGBTQIA people from discrimination.

Signed by mayor Herbert Bautista (whose term ends in May 2019), City Ordinance 2357-2014, otherwise known as The Quezon City Gender-Fair Ordinance, eyes to “to actively work for the elimination of all forms of discrimination that violate the equal protection clause of the Bill of Rights enshrined in the Constitution, existing laws, and The Yogyakarta Principles; and to value the dignity of every person, guarantee full respect for human rights and give the highest priority to measures that protect and enhance the right of all people; regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE).”

But Defensor said that, “admittedly, kulang pa rin (this is still lacking).” This is because – even if they already have the ADO and its implementing rules and regulations (IRR), the actual implementation continues to be challenging.

Quezon City, Defensor noted as an example, has “a lot of business establishments, and while they know that discriminating against LGBTQIA people in the city is prohibited by law, not all of them actually have a copy of the ADO and the IRR to know the small details.”

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As he encouraged particularly those affected by the ADO to “download (the same) from Quezon City’s official website”, he is also encouraging other local government units to already take steps to also protect their LGBTQIA constituents, perhaps learning from Quezon City’s example.

The same sentiment was expressed in a letter sent to QCPC by Pres. Rodrigo Duterte, who remarked that Quezon City’s ADO – which also mandates the annual holding of the Pride parade – “has become a source of inspiration for advocates of gay rights in the Philippines and the rest of the world” because “it has institutionalized the city’s progressive and inclusive policy that eliminates discrimination on the basis of SOGIE.”

Though criticized for pinkwashing, Duterte still expressed hope that Pride further strengthens “the solidarity of (the) community so you may inspire the entire nation with the diversity and dynamism of your talents and skills.”

To contextualize, past administrations did not openly support Pride-related events.

Also, even if Akbayan partylist – which is aligned with Liberal Party that helmed the country under Pres. Benigno Aquino III prior to Duterte’s term – has been sponsoring the anti-discrimination bill for almost 20 years now, it still fails to gain traction, including during Aquino’s administration when it was largely ignored.

As an FYI, Quezon City actually hosted the largely accepted first Pride March in Asia.

On June 26, 1994, ProGay Philippines and Metropolitan Community Church helmed a march in Quezon City. Dubbed as “Stonewall Manila” or as “Pride Revolution”, it was held in remembrance of the Stonewall Inn Riots and coincided with a bigger march against the imposition of the Value Added Tax (VAT).

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Defensor stressed the need to be pro-active when confronting LGBTQIA-related discrimination. While the ADO is there, he said that should LGBTQIA people from Quezon City experience discrimination, “seek help” and know that “QCPC is here, and the LGU will back you.”

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3rd Iloilo LGBTQI gathering stresses that #PRIDEisProtest

Iloilo hosted its 3rd LGBTQI Pride parade, with the core message highlighting that Pride remains an act of protest.

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PHOTOS PROVIDED BY ‘HUMANS OF ILOILO’; CHANNEL BIBANCO; ALJHUR ALQUIZAR III

The city of Iloilo hosted the third iteration of its Pride parade, with the core message highlighting that Pride remains an act of protest. In a way, this is contrary to the current direction many Pride-related parades are taking – including in Metro Manila – where advocacy is getting trumped by commercialization/partying.

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

In a statement provided to Outrage Magazine, Carlo Gabriel Evidente of the Iloilo Pride Team said that the move to focus on #PRIDEisProtest is “in recognition of the legacy of the Stonewall Riots, and the continuing gender-based violence and discrimination experienced by persons of various SOGIEs all over the world.”

Irish Granada Inoceto, vice chairperson of Iloilo Pride Team, added: “Through this (gathering we hoped to) make all colors of gender visible and celebrated. This is our way of saying we are here and we are not going anywhere.”

Over 2,000 people joined this year’s gathering, the biggest for the three-year-old annual gathering.

Iloilo has actually been making rainbow waves lately.

In June, the city of Iloilo 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.

Iloilo City passes anti-discrimination ordinance on final reading

Following this, in August, Iloilo Mayor Jose S. Espinosa III declared the city as “LGBT-friendly”, with plan to establish an office that will develop programs and activities for the LGBT community.

Iloilo declared as ‘LGBT-friendly’ city; mayor eyes to establish office to handle LGBTQI-related efforts

For Inoceto, “as long as Pride remains inclusive of the issues of the most marginalized, when it continues to be a platform for the courage of those who stand for LGBT rights and human rights, Pride will never grow passé.”

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PHOTOS PROVIDED BY ‘HUMANS OF ILOILO’; CHANNEL BIBANCO; ALJHUR ALQUIZAR III

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Malabon passes anti-discrimination ordinance on the basis of SOGIE

Malabon City now has an anti-discrimination ordinance (ADO) that prohibits: 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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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.

READ:  My journey from ignorance to SOGIE enlightenment

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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