That, sans any argument, was what started it all.
The fame, that is, of Brian Shane Gorrell.
In 2007 (March 4, to be exact), the Australian landscape designer started a blog, The Talented Mr. DJ Montano (delfindjmontano.blogspot.com from blogger.com), which spilled the beans – so to speak – on everything about the socialites and social climbers of Metro Manila, from Celine Lopez to Tim Yap to, yes, Delfin DJ Montano, whose relationship with Gorrell served as the impetus to the whole story.
“I started my incredible blogging journey under the most dire of circumstances, when my Filipino ex-lover Delfin DJ Montano fraudulently obtained my life savings (of $70,000), leaving me with nothing (as he) eventually fled the Philippines for San Francisco in disgrace,” Gorrell states in his site, adding, nonetheless, that while Montano allegedly stole everything from him, he didn’t take from Gorrell “my ability to write and warn others through my blogging campaign for the truth.”
And so an advocate was born.
MAKING OF AN ADVOCATE
Allegedly, Montano swindled Gorrell of his life savings totaling $70,000 – supposedly sent to Montano as a silent investor for two investments, a failed restaurant (to be called Bonza) in Makati City, as well as a tour booking company in Boracay Island in Malay, Aklan. After discovering that his contributions were used to pay up Montano’s personal debt, the ensuing confrontation of Gorrell of Montano led to the now infamous Gucci Gang controversy.
There was, to begin with, the initial charging of Gorrell of assault, said to be “through the help of Montano’s (well-connected) friends,” as now states Wikipedia.org (which, interestingly, has an entry of the controversy). Seemingly as if to show Gorrell their power over everything in the Philippines (And, seemingly, how everything in this country can be bought – Ed), the then ruffled socialites/social climbers were allegedly able to have the Australian kept in custody for a while, even if, in the end, the case was just dismissed.
Then there was the storytelling of everything about the, yes, socialites and social climbers of Metro Manila – from infidelity to pervasive drug use to… everything; among the juiciest, of course, was the alleged pervasive drug use (and see how they remain untouched by the law enforcers of the Philippines) in home parties, in clubs, in… everywhere.
Then there were the eventual media coverage – gossip blog ChikaTime.com, of course, first carried the story (in February 2007); ABS-CBN News Channel, through Korina Today (of broadcaster Korina Sanchez), interviewed Montano and his family; and ABS-CBN’s Media in Focus tackled Gorrell’s blog, among others.
And then there were the, well, repercussions – e.g. in March 2008, Gorrell stated in his site that officials from the Philippine Consulate in Sydney, Australia, as well as the Australian Federal Police took him in for questioning; and the correspondences between the parties involved [Lopez’s lawyer supposedly wrote Gorrell that “she is no longer in communication with Montano, and, in as much as she wants to help (him) with (his) problem with the latter, (she) does not have the capacity to assist (him) as she was not privy to the transaction which only (him) and Montano can properly resolve”].
No matter the stance taken regarding the issue, though (i.e. for or against Gorrell), what cannot be denied about the hullabaloo is its popularity. When Technograph (technogra.ph), reviewed the site in 2007, it begrudgingly admitted (the site is not for Gorrell, who was seen to use technology to blackmail or at least arm-twist people) that the blog has attracted a total of 200,000 (then, for the first two months of the blog’s existence in 2007), “making it one of the most popular Filipino-related Web sites.”
Wikipedia.org is more generous, pegging the visits of the blog to have reached 270,000, amounting to 36,600 visits a day, with each lasting an average of 52 minutes – at least for the first 10 days of the blog’s online existence. The site adds how the blog has been visited over two million times as of end-June 2007.
To date, it counts approximately 30 million hits.
As for Gorrell: “Well over 30 million people have read my blog now, and it has broken every blogging record in the Philippines, including unique hits and page reads. No other blog has even come close to these incredible numbers, which I’m very proud of.”
It is this number that is now Gorrell’s intended market as the blog diversified.
While “I’ve (slain) my enemies and destroyed their theories” through the blog that “is my healer, and ultimately brought me to this wonderful place where I find myself today,” Gorrell’s “fight for justice” continues as he now recognizes “the responsibilities of being a blogger-advocate. I know myself to be the voice for many people. People who may never be heard, or have their passions acknowledged without a conduit like a blog,” he says.
Gorrell is, by the way, HIV positive – a fact he never hid in his blog, and, for that matter, in his life (even Montano, while they were lovers, knew of Gorrell’s seropositive status, Gorrell stresses).
Thus, while “mindful of others (particularly when traveling abroad), taking into consideration that they may have a lack of knowledge and understanding of the HIV virus, I had no problems whatsoever when I lived in the Philippines. I have never had a problem with my HIV while travelling anywhere in the world.”
“I live proud with my HIV. I rarely have real issues with my status expect for the ignorance that continues to exist all over the world with regards to the new HIV information and facts,” Gorrell says. “You must own your HIV and wear it like a badge of courage. We must not ever be afraid to be free and continue to grow and evolve with our HIV. It truly is a new life.”
In his own words, therefore, Gorrell has become a “very proud HIV-positive writer/blogger/advocate/activist and humanitarian.”
“I’m a deeply devoted vehicle for change. Being such a passionate communicator is easy and my objectives are lofty but achievable nonetheless. Assisting faithfully the HIV/AIDS advocacy community to help eliminate HIV/AIDS related stigma is a primary goal that is closest to my heart,” Gorrell says.
The advocacy has, nonetheless, spread to include “a wide range of issues. Nothing is off limits or out of bounds. I write free with no commercial ties or restraints, which gets me into some trouble at times,” Gorrell says, smiling. But “I always prevail.”
In hindsight, “I can say with 100% confidence (due to the fact that I was born into a very small homophobic ‘red neck’ infested northern Canadian trailer park town of Thunder Bay) that I’ve spent most of my life’s journey, in one way or another, fighting, battling and advocating against all forms of homophobia and sexually based discrimination. I’ve been beating my ‘I’m gay and fabulous’ drums since my early teens after I’d already endured so many years of torture and hate during my earliest days at school,” Gorrell says. “Having been on the receiving end of juvenile homophobia at such a young age prepared me for my life of advocacy and eventually sowed the seeds for the work I do.”
Gorrell adds: “As soon as I was old enough, I found myself rallying hard for more honest tolerance, unconditional understanding and complete compassion from all those around me not just for myself, but for my entire global GLBTQIA family. I craved early for a more altruistic acceptance toward any individuals who might find themselves positioned ‘outside’ of what society deemed to be ‘normal’.”
The “serious” advocacy, nonetheless, started in 2001, when Gorrell was diagnosed with HIV.
“I felt or rather I knew immediately, that I had a much bigger purpose in life, which was to help others who were perhaps not as equipped as I was when coming to terms with their own diagnosis and the stigma more often than not attached to it,” he says.
The notion of having a hard life, but still having it better than others has been, to Gorrell’s recollection, influenced by a fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Felix, “who was the first black person I’d ever seen in my life,” Gorrell recalls. “One day, only minutes before lunch bell, I said out loud – and obnoxiously I’m sure – for my classmates to hear, ‘I’m so starving.’ Upon hearing this, my teacher Mrs. Felix, in all her black African goddess glory, proceeded to approach my desk with a look of total and utter disgust (which I can still clearly see when I close my eyes) on her face. ‘Brian,’ she bellowed as she glared directly at me, ‘you are NOT starving young man, you are simply famished.’ I knew on that very day, because of this amazing special teacher, that I actually had it so much better than many other kids in the world.”
Gorrell remains a friend of Mrs. Felix, the person to teach him “the big difference between being starved as opposed to being famished – and there is a BIG difference,” he says.
Deciding to become an advocate has not been difficult.
“The decision to become a passionately driven full time HIV/AIDS advocate came very naturally to me, almost automatic, in fact,” Gorrell says, even if he laments that “the extreme exposure can be difficult at times due to the ‘sense’ of total loss of privacy, especially when I feel I’m sorely lacking it. I do feel over exposed at times and worry that people only perceive me as an HIV positive man due to my advocacy for change.”
The over exposure is needed, nonetheless, since even if “there is so much more to me than just my HIV status,” Gorrell says, “I continue to do battle against the old world stereotypes which are continually being perpetuated all around the globe (for people to realize the seropositive status is just an aspect of a seropositive individual).”
Gorrell is the first to admit his goals are lofty. “My objectives are so lofty because there is so much to be done. I need to help people come to terms with not only being HIV positive, but also how to move forward with the news,” he says, wanting to effect changes because “I dealt with it so well on my own; I’m a strong powerful guy when it comes to being honest about my HIV status.”
But the advocate believes “I’m already starting to achieve my main goals. Actually, I started to achieve them the very first day I began advocating against HIV related stigma. I feel my biggest achievement so far is having reached out and being accepted by the Philippines HIV advocacy community as well as other global advocates who write me asking me for help and my opinions. The thousands of e-mails I receive provide me with all the impetus I need to continue advocating and education people who need it.”
Gorrell adds: “I only want to help others now. I want HIV to be sexy. I want people to change their perception of it. And I am determined to do just that by showing people how healthy and happy I am every day. I want to smash those stereotypes into a million little pieces.”
Gorrell is in a loving serodiscorant relationship now – i.e. he is HIV positive, his partner is seronegative. “Of course I am very concerned from time to time with regards to my relationship. My boyfriend is HIV negative so we face our own set of hurdles, which we jump over every single day,” he says. So “we have to work constantly on our relationship, which everyone has to do if you want it to last forever. You must find that special person who completes you and work constantly at it. I’m so proud of my relationship and I’m honoured to have a Filipino partner.”
Gorrell adds: “And you must practice VERY safe sex, which means blowjobs with condoms. I don’t ever want to give my boyfriend HIV so we are extremely careful and yet we still have an incredible AMAZING sex life. HIV does NOT stop you from having great sex. You must just be very mindful of your HIV negative partner.”
That Gorrell is in another relationship after the very public crash of his partnership with Montano is, well, refreshing.
“I believe in true love and everlasting love, and that would never change,” he says. “Love and stupidity got me into the mess I found myself in (in 2008). However, having said that, I would NEVER let another person stop me from achieving bliss in my life. I made a mistake and I learned a very valuable lesson – my mistake cost me $70,000, (but) I believe it to be the most important lesson I’ve learned in life so far, and I will never ignore my gut instincts again. The destructive man in question already took everything from me, and I was not about to let him stop me from moving on with another Filipino lover. My relationship with my current partner is the very thing that helped me recover and stand tall again. My beautiful relationship reminded me that not everyone is evil.”
Gorrell’s lover, Emmanuel, just moved to be with him in Canada, where he now works at an exclusive resort in British Columbia. The two plan to wed before the end of 2009.
“We’re so excited to start our new life together here. The best thing about being in a relationship is being loved so deeply. I need to be loved because I’m so insecure, generally, as a person. With a boyfriend, I feel wonderful and happy because I hate being alone. The relationship I am in now is full of life force and passion and I’ve never been happier in my life,” Gorrell says.
The GLBTQIA community, says Gorrell, still has much to achieve. “Until a transgendered person can walk into a restaurant in Greenbelt (at Ayala Center, Makati City) without being harassed or refused entry, there is still so much to be done. I feel the lack of concern for our transgendered brothers and sisters is both upsetting and shocking, (so much so that) we should boycott and march (against) the establishments that refuse to allow our GLBTQIA family through their doors simply because they are not dressed ‘normal,’” Gorrell says, adding that while the Philippines is very tolerant of homosexuals, “it is still a very homophobic country as long as (it is generally accepted that God is supposed to have said that) we are all going to hell.”
On being gay, “I’ve always been a fiercely open proud gay kid, teenager, and now adult. I grew up in an environment where you had to be loud in order to be heard, which suited me fine. I’ve never allowed society to squash my determination to live my life to its fullest potential with both dignity and purpose,” Gorrell says. “God made me gay so I am His glorious creation, born of His eye and His magnificent heart. It’s as simple as that. I’m living the life God wanted me to live – a life full of love, consideration, and deep compassion for others who may need some education, information, assistance, and, of course, comfort. I have a sense of duty to live the life God wanted me to live. A life to serve others the best way I know how. My challenge is to live God’s will, and to make Him proud of me.”
On his life thus far, Gorrell says he has no regrets. “I’ve absolutely no regrets. None whatsoever because every decision I ever made has brought me to this wonderful place where I find myself today. I’m thrilled with where I am in life, and immensely proud of my HIV advocacy work. I’m in love with the most incredible man and my friends and family love and support me. I lost my life savings to a man who swindled me and I never thought I would recover. But I have and I’m thrilled,” he says.
It is also good to note, he adds, of the “many positive things in our global GLBTQIA community, (e.g.) I’m deeply inspired by other HIV positive people who are not afraid to be open and free with their knowledge and journey; I am deeply inspired by unselfish people, who freely help others in desperate need of emotional support, tolerance, honesty, compassion and understanding; et cetera.”
For now, the focus continues to be on increasing awareness on HIV and/or AIDS – particularly in the Philippines. “My most immediate goal is simple. I want to be there for anyone who is having problems with their HIV status no matter where they live in the Philippines,” Gorrell says. “So much of my work happens behind the scenes, answering hundreds and hundreds of emails full of questions posed by others not as informed as I. Perhaps they are scared and in me they find a friend who they can trust.”
It is, Gorrell says, ignorance that continues to make people infected and/or affected by HIV and/or AIDS suffer. “HIV related stigma is killing people. Carriers are too afraid to tell other people they are HIV positive and this MUST stop. No shame. No shame. No shame,” Gorrell says, adding as a message to would-be advocates that “there is nothing more rewarding or fulfilling then helping others through advocacy. Information and education is the key. The more people we have out there in the advocacy community, the better. People thrive on the honesty of others so please share your experiences with those around you because you never know whom you could be helping.”
Brian Shane Gorrell is running the Anti Stigma Campaign. Visit him at: