In 2017, Rommel (not his real name; for privacy) created a Twitter account. As an HIV advocate, he noted that there are a lot of HIV-positive people there. “They ask: Ano ang gagawin namin (What do we do) after we test HIV-positive?” Rommel said. And so “I reached out to them.”
Initial “successes” included “getting some people tested for HIV, giving counseling to those who tested positive (but didn’t know who to turn to; specifically those with ‘alter’ accounts), and linking HIV-positive people to treatment, care and support.”
“Sadly,” Rommel said, “there were (also) a lot who were lost to follow up.”
It is this – the unanswered needs of those in the HIV community – and how social networking sites – in this case, Twitter in particular – can help deal with these needs that triggered Rommel to form Courage Pilipinas in June 2018.
For those not in the know, Twitter is a free service that allows users to post messages of 280 (or fewer) characters. These posts can contain text, photos and videos.
It is reported that one out of three adolescents aged 13-17 use Twitter, making it one of the most popular in the world; closely following the likes of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.
Twitter is also used by professionals (including politicians like US Pres. Donald Trump, whose “official” positions are incoherently posted on the site).
Twitter, of course, is now also recognized as relevant in advocacy efforts, including in the promotion of HIV-related advocacy. Various studies have – in fact – been done about this.
In 2015, for instance, Tamara Taggart, Mary Elisabeth Grewe, Donaldson F. Conserve, PhD, Catherine Gliwa, and Malika Roman Isler, PhD conducted a comprehensive systematic review of the current published literature on the design, users, benefits, and limitations of using social media to communicate about HIV prevention and treatment.
In “Social Media and HIV: A Systematic Review of Uses of Social Media in HIV Communication”, the authors recognized that “social media, including mobile technologies and social networking sites, are being used increasingly as part of HIV prevention and treatment efforts. As an important avenue for communication about HIV, social media use may continue to increase and become more widespread.”
The researchers used a systematic approach to survey all literature published before February 2014 using seven electronic databases and a manual search. The inclusion criteria were: (1) primary focus on communication/interaction about HIV/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), (2) discusses the use of social media to facilitate communication, (3) communication on the social media platform is between individuals or a group of individuals rather than the use of preset, automated responses from a platform, (4) published before February 19, 2014, and (5) all study designs.
The search identified 35 original research studies. Thirty studies had low or unclear risk of at least one of the bias items in the methodological quality assessment. Among the eight social media platform types described, short message service text messaging was most commonly used. These platforms served multiple purposes, including disseminating health information, conducting health promotion, sharing experiences, providing social support, and promoting medication adherence.
Social media users were also diverse in geographic location and race/ethnicity, with the studies commonly reported users aged 18-40 years and users with lower income.
An interesting research finding: Although most studies did not specify whether use was anonymous, studies reported the importance of anonymity in social media use to communicate about HIV largely due to the stigma associated with HIV.”
WIDE-REACHING ANONYMITY IN FOCUS
According to Ron* (not his real name; for privacy), who is helping out in running Courage Pilipinas, and particularly basing on his personal experience, “a lot of HIV-positive Filipinos seem to be using Twitter,” he said. “This may be because “it’s easier to express yourself there without exposing yourself.”
Ron’s HIV-related advocacy also started in Twitter. After testing HIV-positive, his alter account became – largely – anti-government, particularly “after I saw the government’s failure to deal with PLHIV issues.” This led to him meeting other PLHIVs’ at first “just eight of us, which grew to 12, and then to 35. Eventually, (we became an informal group) of 150 members.”
In his observation, it is in Twitter where a lot of PLHIVs get courage to reach out to others; “they find a voice there somehow,” Ron said. “It has become some sort of safe space.”
JUST A START
Both Rommel and Ron admit that tapping PLHIVs in Twitter (and other social networking sites) is just a start. “Napapanahon lang (It’s just timely, that’s all),” Ron said.
They recognize the numerous issues plaguing the HIV community in the Philippines – e.g. wrong priorities of the Department of Health (and the government, in general, when it comes to health); shortage of no supplies of antiretroviral medicines; profiteering of non-government organizations; et cetera.
“So we eventually want to (be relevant as a pro-active organization that’s not only available in the virtual world),” Rommel said.
All the same, particularly since PLHIV-led efforts particularly count in dealing with issues that PLHIVs themselves face, “every effort – no matter how small – counts,” Rommel said.
“More than just talk, we act,” Ron said. “And that’s always a good first step.”
To Join Courage Pilipinas or for more information, contact 0917 315 5863; or connect via Twitter account Courage.Pilipinas (@CouragePilipin1).
Balangaw: Gathering the LGBTQI people of Puerto Princesa, Palawan
Like other LGBTQI organizations, Balangaw shares the same vision and mission to spread equality and be united. But, this time around, “we want for those in Palawan to do it for themselves,” said Evo Joel Contrivida.
In June 2018, local LGBTQI people from Puerto Princesa in Palawan saw the need to “formally organize to be able to speak with one voice on many issues affecting us, including discrimination that LGBTQI people experience locally,” said Evo Joel Contrivida.
And so – with the help of the city government of Puerto Princesa, Pilipinas Shell Foundation and NGO Project H4 – the Balangaw LGBTQ+ Association of Puerto Princesa was established.
Balangaw is a Cuyonon word for rainbow, the universal sign of the LGBTQI community in the world.
From the get-go, Contrivida said, they knew it was going to be challenging. Surprisingly, the initial challenge came from the LGBTQI community itself – i.e. “It was, at first, difficult getting the approval/support of the members of the LGBTQI community,” he said, adding that “particularly the local lesbians, which are not as open as their gay counterparts, had to be convinced to join the group, and be part of this history-making in Palawan.”
Contrivida is now a member of the Board Of Directors of the association, overseeing its corporate affairs.
Other officers include: Geofred Gabo (Nay Favz), president; Rodelo Coneles, VP for internal affairs; Rica Belleza, VP for external affairs; Roland Joseph Palanca, secretary; Marlon San Juan, treasurer; and Jester Roque, auditor.
As of the last general assembly, Balangaw has 207 registered members.
When he took the top post of the association, Gabo noted that there actually already exists an organization for senior LGBTQI people in Palawan, and that its members are known for being united. It is this that he wants for Balangaw to replicate; even while building on this by providing more opportunities to the LGBTQI people of the city.
Contrivida said that, like other LGBTQI organizations, “we share the same vision and mission to spread equality and be united.” But, he stressed, this time around, “we want for those in Palawan to do it for themselves.”
And this, in the end, is what Contrivida wants LGBTQI people in Palawan to recognize: That there’s a group composed of and for them to help them dictate their community’s future.
For those interested to know more about Balangaw, contact Evo Joel Contrivida at +63 917 554 6533 or email@example.com.
Revisiting the ‘alternative family with a cause’, Cavite Smart Guys Global
When Cavite Smart Guys Global was established as a “clan” in 2006, it only had 13 members. But even then, said Jhasper Pattinson Zaragosa, it always had lofty dreams to do “charitable efforts to promote goodwill.”
When Cavite Smart Guys was established as a clan (an informal organization for men who have sex with men, whose members mainly communicated with the use of tech, from mobile phones to the Internet) in 2006, it only had 13 members. But even then, said Jhasper Pattinson Zaragosa, CSG head of marketing, ads and multimedia arts, it had lofty dreams. Specifically, it eyed to do “charitable efforts to promote goodwill.”
“In (CSG), we keep on giving emphasis to the core value of sharing through charity works and other socio-activities,” added one of the clan’s heads, Micollo Zaragosa. So that “every events, we would always (give a) portion to a certain charity.”
CSG later evolved into a “global community” – that is, the membership expanded to include those not just from Cavite. The name changed, though it still gave tribute to its origin: Cavite Smart Guys Global (CSGG).
A “trademark”, if you will, is the consistent use of the surname “Zaragosa” by its members, mainly because CSGG was – to start – founded by Marcus Zaragosa with his friends. In a way, this is akin to LGBTQIA “families” involved in the “ball culture” in the US. There, competitors compete – e.g. voguing – while carrying the banner of “houses”. In the case of clans, no competition per se happens; but the same concept of belonging is applied by carrying a common house/family name.
With the help of the likes of Facebook, CSGG was able to grow its (online) membership to over 37,000, easily making it Cavite’s largest MSM group.
And among clans, it has been recognized as – among others – the #1 provincial clan; one of the top five ‘bi’ groups in the Philippines; and more recently, as a “Bi-Rainbow Community Diamond Awardee (Mega Manila)”.
But according to Micollo Zaragosa, even with their successes, there remain challenges for the clan. For instance, “a challenge we are facing right now is how (to) retain our members, and for them to be engaged in (online and actual) activities.” This challenge, however, helped “make us to become innovative,” he added, so that “we keep on providing new and innovative activities and events that most members haven’t heard/seen before. We want to keep them curious and hyped about the events and activities we are offering, so that they always join.”
Looking forward, Jhasper Pattinson Zaragosa said that the group has numerous plans – e.g. be SEC registered, start including lesbians into the clan, and further strengthen the clan’s presence (on- and offline). But in the end, the intention is always to “be relevant to its members, even as we eye to be relevant to the community.”
For more information about Cavite Smart Guys Global, visit HERE.
Transman United Iloilo: Lending a hand to our trans and non-binary brothers in Panay
On September 17, 2017, Transman United Iloilo (TUI) was established to allow trans and non-binary brothers in that area to be able to offer support to each other.
In the third quarter of 2017, two trans men from Iloilo – Lee Co and PJ – saw the need to “encourage the trans man community to come together within Panay, especially in Iloilo.” Because even then, “(our) trans and non-binary brothers (did not have means to) exchange their experiences as well offer support to others,” recalled Lee Co.
And so on September 17, 2017, they established Transman United Iloilo (TUI) to be – exactly – this channel to allow trans and non-binary brothers in that area to be able to offer support to each other.
Lee Co said that nowadays, particularly for those in non-metropolitan areas, major challenges continue to abound for trans and non-binary people.
In TUI’s experience, in particular, “we still have issues with getting adequate medical care despite multiple health issues, from depression to high rates of suicidal as well as searching for trans-friendly doctors.”
Currently, TUI is connected with one doctor “who agreed to help fellow trans brothers and non-binary people when it comes to hormone replacement therapy (HRT),” Lee Co said. This “helps us out (a lot).”
The group is still very new, but it aims to be the best in what it does – i.e. “To assist our fellow trans and non-binary brothers within Panay island and guide them properly.”
And here, Lee Co said, “everyone is welcome… if they want to learn what being trans and/or non-binary is.”
For more information, head to Transman United Iloilo’s Facebook page.
San Julian PRIDE: Aiming for equality in rural areas
In 2017, a group of LGBTQI community members noted that the one existing LGBTQI organization in San Julian in Eastern Samar was – to be blunt – “dead” because of its inactivity. And so San Julian PRIDE was established to give the LGBTQI community here a presence that can actually be seen and felt.
On December 23, 2017, a group of LGBTQI community members noted that the one existing LGBTQI organization in San Julian in Eastern Samar was – to be blunt – “dead” because of its inactivity. And so – because “the prolonged inactivity meant that the community was unserved” – Roel Andag founded San Julian PRIDE.
“We are still without legal protection,” Roel said to Outrage Magazine, so that “not surprisingly, LGBTQI people remain marginalized and prone to discrimination, which adversely impact (our) health, career, livelihood, education and life as a whole. It is also sad to note that Pride-related developments remain Metro Manila-centric, and this is even if rural LGBTQI people face more acute economic and sociocultural vulnerabilities.”
Aside from Roel, also involved in the organization’s establishment were: Wilmar Operario, Judy Operario, Francis Cabrales and Jill Jargue.
San Julian is a rural, fifth class (i.e. very poor) agriculture-based municipality with 16 barangays (villages) located in one of the chronically poorest provinces of the Philippines. Poverty incidence here – already at 64.7% in 2009 – deteriorated further when Typhoon Haiyan hit the area in 2013.
“Predominantly Roman Catholic… the rural attitudes towards LGBTQI people here remain fraught with stigma, thereby resulting in extremely limited opportunities,” Roel said. “Organizing and mobilizing for equality will mean significant empowerment.”
San Julian PRIDE, in its own way, eyes to remedy this situation by giving the LGBTQI community from here a presence that can actually be seen and felt.
An interesting tidbit of info: San Julian actually has an anti-discrimination ordinance (ADO), which was passed in 2015, making it the first municipality in the Philippines to pass such legislation.
But this does not mean that the local LGBTQI community’s issues are already dealt with.
“Our tagline, ‘Rural and Equal’, captures our unique essence. The multiplicity of our challenges (rural poverty, geographical predisposition to frequent natural disasters, our being a discriminated minority in a rural milieu, and low health-seeking behavior in the face of the HIV epidemic) define the intersectionality of the identity that makes us unique,” Roel said.
To date, San Julian PRIDE has 40 active members.
Considering that the organization is relatively very new, plans are lofty, including:
- Lobbying for the formulation of the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of San Julian’s ADO, and popularizing its salient points;
- Raising awareness regarding sexuality- and gender-based bullying in schools;
- Building the capacity of LGBTQI people in universities and municipalities of Eastern Samar to organize themselves;
- Partnering with the treatment hubs in the province to implement the Department of Health’s HIV program; and
- Creating/supporting livelihood and skills enhancement opportunities for LGBTQI people in the province, and then involve the community in promoting LGBT rights and equality in our rural setting.
For Roel, “(let this serve as) our ad hoc platform for advocacy and serve as a safe space where members engage in discussions of topics of interest including human rights, HIV and SOGIE, among others.”
San Julian PRIDE is open for membership, though the focus is on gay men and transwomen from San Julian, Eastern Samar. For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/SanJulianPride/.
BU Magenta: Raising the rainbow Pride in Bicol
Sometime in 2013, students at the Bicol University’s College of Arts and Letters (BUCAL) formed Bicol University Moving Ahead Gender Equality, Empowering and Nurturing Talents (BU MAGENTA), which is now the only LGBTQI organization in the university that eyes to “help LGBTQI students be more than what society expects us to be.”
Sometime in 2013, students at the Bicol University’s College of Arts and Letters (BUCAL) encountered a flippant statement during the election of student leaders about “forming a partylist for LGBT students since most of the students who actively aspire to be leaders are LGBT anyway,” recalled Lester Dellosa.
So on March 13, 2013, Bicol University Moving Ahead Gender Equality, Empowering and Nurturing Talents (BU MAGENTA) was formed to “give flesh to that thought”. Behind the group were a faculty member of the English department, Ariel Guban, who is now its adviser; and LGBT students of the College of Industrial Technology (BU CIT) including Dean Babelonia (a.k.a. Beyonce) and Jerwin Macasinag (a.k.a. Chesa). Dellosa helms it.
As a startup organization, numerous challenges were encountered – e.g. “We didn’t even have an office,” Dellosa said. Though, to deal with this, “we find ways to hold meetings and events”, such as “meeting in boarding houses of the officers/members”. Obviously, there’s also the “lack of financial support so that the main source of our funds are from the members.” To deal with this, “we make sure we partner with different organizations out there to achieve the goals and objectives of our organization.” And then there’s the non-acceptance of some sectors in the university – e.g. a member of a religious student organization handed them pamphlets to inform them of the “errors” of being LGBT.
Dellosa noted, nonetheless, that the biggest challenge they have so far faced is the “seeming apathy of members of the LGBT community.” In BU Magenta’s case, “the passivity of the members can’t be stressed enough,” he said. Nonetheless, he looks at this as a challenge for the leaders “to make a way for them to participate more.”
This is the only way, said Dellosa, for “us to be able to help LGBT people to be more than what society expects us to be.”
BU Magenta is proud for being part of various activities both on-campus and off-campus that stress LGBT participation. For instance, “we partner for disaster risk reduction (DRR) efforts via repacking of goods for those affected, we promote HIV and AIDS awareness and so on,” Dellosa said. “In our organization, we don’t want to stagnate. We always push our members to create new and innovative ways instead of just redoing old concepts (of expressing being LGBT).”
Already there are plans to become bigger by “holding Pride events, and others that we can be proud of,” Dellosa said. “This is our way to showcase that we are here, and yes, we matter.”
To join BU Magenta, one has to be enrolled/have been enrolled in Bicol University. There is a membership fee of P50 per semester to become a member of BU Magenta. For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/BU.MAGENTA/.
Open Table MCC: Celebrating beautiful diversity
For those looking for “a progressive church that accepts and celebrates who you are, a community where you can be a part of, and where your talents and gifts are valued,” join Open Table MCC, a progressive Christian church that welcomes, affirms and celebrates all people and their beautiful diversity, including LGBTQIA persons and people living with HIV and AIDS.
In 2016, one of the first LGBTQI-centric faith-based organizations in the Philippines – the Metropolitan Community Church-Quezon City (MCCQC) – “closed” its doors. This “closing”, however, may actually also be considered as part of an evolution, with the people from MCCQC “who strongly believe and are passionately committed to community work, justice, and love as exemplified and taught by Jesus Christ” eventually established Open Table MCC as “a prayerful result of the congregation’s renewal and rediscovery of our Christian mission.”
According to Pastor Joseph San Jose, the current administrative pastor, “Open Table MCC is a progressive Christian church that welcomes, affirms and celebrates all people and their beautiful diversity, including LGBTQIA persons and people living with HIV and AIDS. It is a safe community of faith for people.”
As an “open” and “progressive” church, “we welcome all walks of life, color, Christian traditions, sexualities and gender identities. It is a place of healing and support, where each one is equipped and called to do God’s work of justice in the world.”
With Pastor Joseph are four officers of the Administrative Board of Officers (called LCAB), namely: Jack Nicklaus Quimpo, Sean Malang, Glenn Del Monte and Ivan Malapit. Choi Discipulo is the Ministry Leader for HIV/AIDS Program, Marco Puzon helms the Christian Education, Michael Mia works for Congregational Care, and Christopher Celeste is the Web developer.
Open Table MCC has three missions: 1) it is “committed to keep and maintain a safe space for all people, including LGBTQIA persons and people living with HIV and AIDS, to be who they are and celebrate their identities, sexualities and gifts; 2) to proclaim God’s radically inclusive love; and 3) and to “call people to participate in God’s greater work of justice and peace in the world.”
To help in its targeted endeavors, Open Table MCC has a congregational care ministry; a Christian education program (where “we hope to guide, equip and transform individuals towards a participative and collective ministry of justice work”); and – for PLHIVs – programs that involve pastoral visitation in hospitals and yes, provide HIV screening and awareness. Underneath all these is a leadership development program to equip and develop current and future lay and clergy leaders.
“There’s no easy road map to do all that,” Pastor Joseph admitted, “but we are intentional in keeping a welcoming and loving fellowship among members and guests. How can one actually do this in a roomful of divas and queens and all sorts of personalities should be a challenge; but with loving support comes accountability and through both formal and informal means, we would be able to be with each other through active service rooted in love.”
For those looking for “a progressive church that accepts and celebrates who you are, a community where you can be a part of, and where your talents and gifts are valued,” join Open Table MCC every Sunday at 4:00PM at Conference Room B, Cafe Oikoumene, National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), 879 Epifanio de los Santos Ave. (EDSA), Quezon City.
For more information, contact +639 17 829 0932, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.opentablemcc.ph or https://www.facebook.com/opentablemccph.