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Filipino ecumenical youth leaders gather to tackle gender justice, HIV

Youth leaders from Christian organizations, academe, government and nongovernment sectors converged to discuss national flashpoints in gender and sexuality, as well as HIV.

CEBU CITY – Youth leaders from Christian organizations, academe, government and nongovernment sectors converged for the “Young People at the Center: An Ecumenical Youth Consultation on HIV, Human Sexuality and Gender Justice Advocacy” to discuss national flashpoints in gender and sexuality, as well as HIV.

“As human beings, we are created as sexual beings,” said Dr. Ronald Lalthanmawia in introducing human sexuality and the phrase “sex, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression” (SSOGIE). He noted, among others, that homosexuality and transgender identities are no longer considered diseases in the medical field.

“The rights of gender minorities are human rights,” said Vaughn Alviar, chairperson of Kalipunan ng Kristiyanong Kapataan sa Pilipinas or Philippine Ecumenical Youth Council (KKKP), which organized the event with the Christian Conference of Asia – Action Together to Combat HIV and AIDS in Asia (CCA-ATCHAA) and National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP).

Discussing the realities of LGBTQIA Filipinos, he cited research revealing that they usually experience harassment and mocking at work; that the Philippines has the highest number of documented transphobic killings in Southeast Asia; and that only 11.2% of Filipinos reside in areas protected against discrimination.

“Gender issues are also an issue of class,” said UMC Pastor Hazel Joyce Salatan and NCCP representative during the forum, “Church and the challenge of sexuality.” “Until there is class, so too will sectors continue to be exploited – indigenous peoples, LGBTIQ+, people with disability, people living with HIV, even youth, children and women.”

She added that “in all these issues, it is not enough to stand in the middle. We know this from Jesus … who suffered death on the Cross as a capital punishment for siding with the downtrodden individuals whose only help was in the Lord”.

Citing preliminary findings from a research on queer faith, Ateneo De Manila University Development Studies researcher Robbin Dagle said: “Homonegativity is present across all denominations, from affirming to rejecting… Is there hope? Most young people who participated so far say there is: when the older generations pass on.”

He believes people should establish brave — not just safe — spaces.

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“In safe spaces, we tend to not speak our minds, thinking we might offend people. We must create spaces where everybody is brave enough to express their beliefs without being judged, so that we can talk about them,” Dagle said.

HIV similarly took centerstage during the gathering.

“The epidemic of the human immunodeficiency syndrome and the culture that has made it so formidable make this consultation a timely meeting of leaders from across the country,” said Alviar, a member of Iglesia Filipina Independiente. “Government data reveals that, from 1 in 2008, the number of people diagnosed with HIV every day climbed to 36 in 2019. We now have the fastest-growing HIV epidemic in Asia-Pacific. We must address HIV as a public health concern, but many turn moralistic about it and wrap it in superstition, misinformation and stigma. This can be rooted in the combination of conservatism and patriarchy; sexuality is a taboo and gender minorities are second-class citizens.”

Churches must embrace people living with HIV and gender minorities as “the least,” noted Iglesia Evangelica Metodista En Las Islas Filipinas youth president Jon Dave Angeles, reflecting on the passage on the Judgment of the Nations from the Gospel according to Matthew. “We are sheep and goats who will be judged not simply according to ministries like singing, dancing or administering inside the church but more so on how we treat the least.”

“The picture of Christ separating the sheep from the goats ought to get under our skin and compel us to consider the direction of our lives,” added Blessy Grace de Leon of the United Methodist Church. “We are ‘bound in the bundle of the living under the care of the Lord your God’ (1 Samuel 25:29), and we cannot ignore the plight of human beings suffering hunger, thirst, nakedness, homelessness, sickness or imprisonment.”

Jon Neil Perfecio of HIV testing facility and treatment hub Balay Malingkawasnon (BM) explained the Philippine HIV situation, including how even health practitioners are not capacitated to handle cases properly.

“To us, the 36 new people that test positive for HIV every day are our victory as advocates, because we are making it possible for more people to know their HIV status,” he said. “Unfortunately, we are running out of antiretroviral medications, that’s not fake news. Governmental budget cuts for the health sector will also affect HIV services.”

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