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Cotabato City’s LGBT community gathers for LGBT 101/HIV 101 discussion

Members of the LGBT community in Cotabato City gathered for the first time to discuss LGBT 101 and HIV 101. According to local LGBT leader Jim C. Ofonda: “This is important because the LGBT community in Cotabato City should also be aware of issues concerning them, particularly as this could help them uphold the dignity of the community’s members.”

Members of the LGBT community in Cotabato City gathered for the first time to discuss LGBT 101 and HIV 101.

A partnership of Diosa ng Cotabato (the city’s only LGBT organization) and Synergy Review Center with Outrage Magazine, the only exclusively LGBT publication in the Philippines, the event allowed “for information about the plight of LGBT people in the Philippines and the steps that can be done about their issues to be widely circulated,” said Michael David dela Cruz Tan, publishing editor of Outrage Magazine.

Tan noted, for instance, that “the two first cases of Filipinos with HIV to go public (Dolzura Cortez and Sarah Jane Salazar) touched Cotabato, but the city does not even have a hub.” This has already “inadvertently affected members of the LGBT community, including gay and bi men, who do not have access not only to getting tested for HIV, but also getting treatment if they tested positive.”

In Mindanao, Davao City (some five to seven hours away by bus from Cotabato City) and Cagayan de Oro City (up to 10 hours away by bus from Davao City) have treatment hubs, “though even there, the services continue to be lacking – e.g. no viral load test is offered,” said Tan.

For Tan, “this is just one of the issues in dire need of attention. But it highlights that this neglect of LGBT community members in many places in Mindanao, such as Cotabato City, is not only unforgivable, but should also be remedied.”

The gathering actually formed part of Pink Ink, which Outrage Magazine first launched in 2012 to help promote LGBT sensitivity.

According to Jim C. Ofonda, who owns Synergy Review Center and is an officer of Diosa ng Cotabato, a gathering like this is “important because the LGBT community in Cotabato City should also be aware of issues concerning them, particularly as this could help them uphold the dignity of the community’s members. This is the first step to empowering us – cultivating awareness among us; and hopefully, we will be able to cultivate respect among us and eventually the society we belong to.”

The gathering was similarly backed by Elden Lopena Top Touch Salon and Events Portal Event Management & Coordination in Cotabato City; and Rainbow Rights Project Inc. and US Embassy in Manila.

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ALL PHOTOS COURTESY OF JIM C. OFONDA
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