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Fr. Richard Mickley, OSAe, Ph.D.: The Messenger

In 1995, Fr. Richard Mickley retired from MCC because of church age rules. But his advocacy didn’t stop, as he “set up the Order of St. Aelred to carry on sex positive ministry in the battle against moral slavery and FOR human rights, FOR freedom of conscience, FOR responsible religious freedom.”

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PHOTO BY JED YUMANG, COURTESY OF BAHAGHARI CENTER

“For many years I was in a Roman Catholic order and they decided they knew something I did not know so long ago and so far away.  They told me if I went out of the order and found a ‘nice woman,’ ‘it’ would all go away.  I thought ‘it’ was that terrible thing that troubled my life: masturbation.  Well, I was an obedient Roman Catholic, and I went out and did find a most wonderful and beautiful woman who became the best mother in the world to our precious gifts from God.  But ‘it’ did not go away, and I found out ‘it’ was not masturbation and ‘it’ was with me to stay,” recalls Fr. Richard Mickley, OSAe, Ph.D., Abbot of the Order of Saint Aelred.  “In 1971, I met members of the Gay Liberation Movement (GLM) in Detroit, where the movement had spread from New York after the Stonewall riots in June 1969.  I joined the left-leaning GLM, I began to burn with zeal for the cause that I was so closely identified with internally, what I gradually had to recognize as my same-sex attraction.”

Mickley’s spirituality didn’t become a casualty of his coming-out, however. Still in 1971, he joined “a group that was planning a ‘gay church’ in Detroit. We listened to a tape-recorded speech by Rev. Troy Perry. I knew then I could reconcile the psychological reality that was me, with the spiritual reality that was me. I could be a ‘gay Christian,’ and I became a minister in Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) Detroit.”

Mickley adds: “And that has been the path the Lord has led me forward on. For the past 37 years, I have been advocating the rights of GLBTQIA people to ‘liberation’ from societal restrictions on our human rights and liberation from (read: breaking the shackles of) moral slavery.”

And that, too, has been how Mickley has been making an impact to the Filipino GLBTQIAs.

THE CALLING

Along the way, Mickley recalls numerous challenges, foremost of which “was the bitterly sad separation from the ones I loved most in this world, and their incomparable mother. And that brought me to psychological counseling, which led me eventually to acquiring masters and doctors degrees in psychology for my own understanding and coping, and for training to help others in similar circumstances,” he says.

But Mickley is the first to say that “the challenges cannot be dismissed in a few words or paragraphs.”

In establishing a “gay church,” for example, poverty was, and still remains a big challenge. “There were only a few large and financially stable GLBTQIA congregations in the world. Where I was called to work in the ministry, the congregations were small and struggling, but sincere in their hunger for reconciling their spirituality and their sexuality,” he says.

Mickley once worked as an assistant pastor of an MCC church in Chicago full time at a half time salary; worked as a janitor prior to prison ministry work in Phoenix; director of publications while teaching in the denomination secretary, supplementing his salary by serving as a waiter; and pastor in Auckland, New Zealand, “where I asked for nothing more than a bowl of soup and a bed. Before long they were able to pay a salary and provide a nice house, and I even had a car. But I also had, by then, a strong and reliable staff, a priest who had been a missionary for 14 years, two very competent and spiritual deacons, and a responsible board of directors.”

And then came the “challenging call to the Philippines.”

“When is MCC going to come to our country?”

“I have been rejected by my church. There is nobody in this whole country who is sticking up for us gay and lesbian Christians.”

These were what Mickley heard from a Filipino gay Christian who wrote to him, and since “my church in Auckland was (already) growing and well-staffed, that letter from Manila was indeed a challenge to my complacency,” he says.

For the GLBTQIA community to be fully accepted, “we need confidence, cooperation, and perseverance in facing prejudice, discrimination, and all forms of homophobia,” Fr. Richard Mickley says.

Mickley borrowed “enough money to check out the challenge,” flying into the country in May 1991, “not knowing even one person here. I had a couple of phone numbers, and the address of the letter-writer. They call it networking, but I saw the hand of God just keeping on opening doors that led from one person to another.”

On June 26, 1991, the first Pride Mass was celebrated in the Philippines, at the high altar of the Cathedral of the Holy Child, with 50 people in attendance. “I gave the first Troy Perry-type pride sermon. A few days later 40 some people gathered for my despedida (farewell party). They signed a petition for me to come back. They promised me food and a place to sleep. I accepted, went back to New Zealand, turned the pastoral responsibilities over to competent members of my staff, gave up my house, salary, car, and came to Manila September 7, 1991 to face the challenge.”

Mickley has never looked back since, having faced “17 years of wonderful challenges in the Philippines,” so that he now proudly calls himself a Filipino (“Filipino na ako,” he says).

THROUGH THE YEARS

“I am forever grateful that in the face of many obstacles and challenges, God made it possible for MCC Philippines to come into being in 1991, and bring the message of God’s unconditional love to GLBTQIA people from that day until this day,” Mickley says.

Among the promising moves he notes are the “telling of the story of God’s love in Quezon City for well over two years now” of Rev. C. J. Agbayani and faithful friends; and the “learning to hold their heads high, throw off the shackles of moral slavery, and accept God’s wonderful friendship” of “more and more gays and lesbians.”

“One person told me: ‘That’s the kind of God I come to MCC Quezon City to praise and worship. Our God is not always saying, ‘no masturbation, no condoms, no sex.’ Our God is reaching out to us with open arms, ‘Come to me, all, and I will give you rest,’” Mickley says.

It can be said that Mickley has been witness to gay history – having been involved in the longest Pride March in history from Tucson to Phoenix, the huge marches in Los Angeles, and more in Auckland; and having seen the spread of HIV and/or AIDS even before HIV was named (by the time he finished his doctoral studies and was able to work as a clinical psychologist, “AIDS was widespread and my friends were dying left and right, as many was 50 of them before they ever knew what was causing AIDS, since HIV was not discovered until 1983. Friends and strangers alike needed care, bedside care, down to earth basic bathing, cleaning, and care,” he recalled.

A big source of pride, however, is “being part of the first Gay and Lesbian Pride March in Asia. I had set up the first openly gay and lesbian Christian activist group in the Philippines in 1991, and Pro Gay Philippines became the first openly activist organization for gay and lesbian rights in 1992. Oscar Atadero, a board member of MCC and an officer of Pro Gay Philippines, and I, pastor of MCC, talked in early 1994 about the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York. He obtained the approval of Pro Gay to sponsor a Pride March in Quezon City on June 26, 1994, and I obtained the approval of the Board of Directors of MCC Manila to co-sponsor the march which turned out to be not only the first in the Philippines, but the first in Asia,” Mickley says.

In 1995, Mickley retired from MCC because of church age rules. But his advocacy didn’t stop, as he “set up the Order of St. Aelred to carry on sex positive ministry in the battle against moral slavery and FOR human rights, FOR freedom of conscience, FOR responsible religious freedom. I did not want to set up a ‘parish’ to compete with MCC, but a religious organization to contribute to the continuation of the work of ‘liberation’ I had started,” he says. “People have told me that there was no one openly speaking out for the rights of gay and lesbian people before I came here. I wanted to continue the work.”

MOVING FORWARD

“From my perspective, religious prejudice is the root of all the homophobia we face. From it flows the legal and societal discrimination,” says Mickley, who, after hearing Hugh Heffner remark on television that “he would be happy to be remembered as the one who brought sexuality out of the closet, that got me to thinking – I think I would be content to be remembered for bringing sex-positive theology out of the closet.”

For Mickley, this means “that I don’t claim to have invented sex-positive theology. There are many, many renowned theologians who have written well on the subject. My work was to synthesize them, and perhaps put their thinking in everyday language. What I have done is to write about it, speak about it, and promote it. So, in a summary, ever so short, I’ll just point out that the tone is set by the starting points, the mindsets or frameworks from which sex-negative pronouncements are made, and from which sex-positive thinking blossoms.”

“From my perspective, religious prejudice is the root of all the homophobia we face. From it flows the legal and societal discrimination,” says Fr. Richard Mickley, who, after hearing Hugh Heffner remark on television that “he would be happy to be remembered as the one who brought sexuality out of the closet, that got me to thinking – I think I would be content to be remembered for bringing sex-positive theology out of the closet.”

The starting mindset for sex-positive theology can be summarized in the teaching of theologian Father Norman Pittenger, who says that all sex is GOOD if it is not harmful or forceful. Meanwhile, the mindset of St. Augustine sets the pattern for sex-negative theology, since, for him, all sex was BAD except for married couples, once a year, under the blankets, with the clothes on; get in their fast and make the baby, and get out fast, and don’t enjoy it.

“The Vatican, under the last two popes, has insisted that the dignity of the person is basic to all questions of morality. To me it is clear that the human dignity of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual and intersex human person takes precedence over rules, rules, rules that rob them of the dignity and privileges of being human. Examples are ample of sex negative rules: no masturbation; no condoms; no sex except for married heterosexual couples (for making babies); no sex ever, in any way, in the whole lifetime of those who have same sex attraction. The point that I have tried to get across is that human sexuality is not about no, no, no, don’t, don’t, don’t. It’s a beautiful gift from an all-loving Inventor-God which is best used to express adult human love. The dignity of the Giver and receiver of this wonderful gift surely merits that sexuality that is not harmful or forceful is yes, yes, yes, thank you, thank you,” Mickley says.

Mickley adds: “In short, I think I can say (a la hugh Heffner) that I am thankful I had an opportunity over the last 17 years in our country (and 37 years in all) to help bring sex-positive theology out of the closet.”

FIGHTING SPIRIT

For the GLBTQIA community to be fully accepted, “we need confidence, cooperation, and perseverance in facing prejudice, discrimination, and all forms of homophobia,” Mickley says.

These are needed because of the “sheer uphill battle to stand up to discrimination effectively. But how can we? How can we fight the power of the Catholic bishops, who, when Rep. Bellaflor Angara-Castillo, for example, introduced a gay and lesbian rights bill into the House of Representatives, collected tens of thousands of signatures at Sunday Mass opposing the bill. How can we effectively fight a Protestant bishop, who, through parliamentary maneuvers, blocked the House of Representatives from passing an anti discrimination bill, introduced by the intrepid Rep. Etta Rosales, which has languished in limbo for a decade because of various hijackings in the House and Senate? How can we? What can we do in a society where we are overpowered by the influence of the Catholic bishops on the lawmakers?”

But Mickley is optimistic, inspired by the “undaunted fighting spirit of so very many leaders in the fight. It’s a danger to mention any names in the fear that haste will cause the omission some of our very wonderful, and dear, dear activist friends – people like Danton Remoto, Anne Lim, Oscar Atadero, Ging Cristobal, Angie Umbac, Germaine Leonin, Jonas Bagas, Sass, Neil Garcia, Clara Rita Padilla, Mick Tan, all those who have headed and worked so hard in Task Force Pride over the years, such as Paulo Fontanos and Bruce Amoroto, and so many others this year,” he says.

Even as he continues with his work, though, Mickley is looking forward to “a graceful exit when I am approaching 99, knowing that the work is in good hands,” he smiles, asking for “God’s blessings (for the) fruits of the labors of (advocates to) bring a better world for GLBTQIA people in our country.”

#KaraniwangLGBT

Pride beyond the sash and the crown

“Beauty can influence people,” Miss International Queen 2015 Trixie Maristela said, somewhat succinctly, but also realistically. “But education is power.”

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All photos courtesy of Ms Trixie Maristela

The arguments against and for beauty pageants continue to rage on. On the one hand, there are those who would (rightfully) argue that pageants disempower particularly candidates (and even the viewers) through their objectification as they try to emulate an established “set” of often Western-defined notion of what’s beautiful. But on the other hand, there are those who would defend the “power” (over their bodies, personhood, et cetera) that the contestants choose to wield by joining these pageants.

And even while the discourse continues, Miss International Queen 2015 Trixie Maristela sees joining a pageant, and eventually winning a title as a means to push an advocacy. 

In her case in particular, it is to highlight the relevance of education to empower the members of the LGBT community. “Beauty can influence people,” Maristela said, somewhat succinctly, but also realistically. “But education is power.”

MAKING A NAME

Maristela was a regular beauconera (beauty pageant contestant) prior to joining Miss International Queen in Pattaya City, Thailand. She won, for instance, the (erroneously named) Miss Gay Manila also in 2015, and “Eat Bulaga’s” Super Sireyna Philippines beauty pageant in 2014.

But when she became the second transpinay to win Miss International Queen (after Kevin Balot), “members of the LGBT community from different parts of the world took notice,” she said.

With that attention also came an awakening… that she can do so much more for the community.

“It fueled me to work harder and show everyone how great we can be if we will not be limited and if we will be allowed to be who and what we want to be in life,” Maristela said.   

THOSE WHO CAN, TEACH

Maristela believes in the value of education.

“(Education) gives you a voice that actually matter,” she said. “People will listen (when you’re learned). And I guess that is what the transgender community needs – so that everyone, especially non-LGBT people, will lend their ears and listen to our stories.”

Maristela is currently finishing her Master’s Degree in Professional Accounting in Australia; afterwards, she plans to do more volunteer works for LGBT Filipinos.

It can be argued that while education is integral, accessing it can be a challenge. The Human Rights Watch, for instance, stated that LGBT students across the country experience bullying and discrimination in schools because of their sexual orientation and gender identity. This – along with lack of economic capacity, among other reasons – forces many LGBT youth to discontinue or take their education for granted.

This is why for Maristela, despite the obstacles that you may encounter when it comes to education, finding a way to gain access to it is important. “Education, regardless what academic degree you (end up taking), can help you be more in life,” she said.

LENDING A HAND

Getting educated may also be informal – e.g. Maristela, for one, believes that learning can happen from “idea sharing”, so that she hopes she can also “coach young transwomen on how to empower themselves, be respect(ed), and be able to speak up so that their voices will be heard,” she said.

This is particularly important for her because the Philippines “continues to lag behind our neighbors like Taiwan and Australia, which are more progressive in terms of gender-related topics.” Maristela noted that to date, the Philippine government does not even provide any form recognition, much more protection of the rights of LGBT Filipinos.

And because there is still a lack of tangible support for Filipino LGBTs, Maristela believes that Pride ought to be taught, and this Pride “can be as basic as having the dignity and self-esteem whenever we go outside – knowing that we are productive beings and we contribute something to the society.”

So Maristela wants particularly the younger LGBT Filipinos to “keep your head up high and never be ashamed of who you are. Now is the high time to forge unity among our ranks. Show love and understanding, even to those who don’t understand us. Never let anyone bring you down. We are strong and resilient; and yet patient. We are all loved.”

And again, Maristela may be speaking as a beauty queen, but one who is aware that Pride can be taught by moving beyond the stereotypical beaucon narratives.

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Celebrities who are helping the LGBT cause

Here are some of these celebrities and athletes who are openly supporting the LGBT community.

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With social media being as widespread as it is, we all have a platform we can utilize to encourage social change and show our opinions and beliefs. Some celebrities are taking it upon themselves to use their platform to bring LGBT causes to the mainstream and help spread awareness.

Here are some of these celebrities and athletes who are openly supporting the LGBT community.

Kevin Durant 

Kevin Durant is known for being the NBA all-star that single handedly brings strong NBA betting odds to his team, the Brooklyn Nets, according to the main licensed US betting platforms. Outside of being an NBA superstar, he’s also well known for his philanthropic and his campaigns for social justice.

His outspoken efforts promoting BLM, and donations to causes that support this movement, as well as his positive support for LBGT, have brought Durant into the spotlight for reasons other than basketball in recent years. 

While these issues have become important topics in our personal lives, for some, like Durant, the issue is just as prevalent in his professional life. When the Golden State Warriors openly gay president, Rick Welts, announced he was marching in a NYC pride parade, Durant was the first person on Twitter to congratulate him and voice his support. 

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle 

The pro-LGBT movement certainly has one strong and famous ally in Prince Harry. Since Prince Harry married Meghan Markle in 2018, he has become a much more outspoken public figure on a variety of issues. 

In the same year as his marriage, both Prince Harry and Meghan attended the Commonwealth Youth Forum, where they spoke with numerous activists about the importance of paving the way to LGBT acceptance. Meghan has even made numerous Twitter posts on occasions like pride month. In 2019, she tweeted “We stand with you and support you, because it’s very simple: love is love.” Some media outlets have even gone as far as to call Prince Harry and Meghan the most “pro-gay royal couple” of all time. 

Lady Gaga

Of course, all members of the LGBT community can say right away that Lady Gaga has been a tremendous supporter who has done a lot with her platform to raise awareness and spread acceptance. She has done numerous public appearances and speeches in support of LGBT and has also done a lot in her professional career as well. Lady Gaga has numerous songs that are centered around the LGBT community and themes like acceptance for everyone regardless of race or sexual orientation often run through her music. She has also been commended for her use of “drag queen” costumes and culture in mainstream media.  

Justin Trudeau 

When it comes to LGBT friendly politicians, Justin Trudeau has set a new standard over his years as Canada’s Prime Minister. From the beginning, he has always remained very vocal and supported the LGBT community, going as far as to raise the pride flag at Parliament Hill in Ottawa. He has also been commended for his support of the ban on controversial “gay conversion” therapy techniques. This legislation was reintroduced in October of this year, and there have been other measures introduced that will help curb the LGBT discrimination on social media that is sadly all too common in today’s world. Trudeau is a regular figure at pride parades and is certainly doing his part across the country to gain support for the LGBT community. 

Ariana Grande 

While there are many pop stars and musicians that can be considered an ally of the LGBT movement, Ariana Grande is one name that certainly comes up a lot. Since her major breakthrough around 2013, she has been a vocal and positive supporter in her career and online, where she stands up against cyber bullying. 

Several of Ariana Grande’s songs have lyrics that promote awareness and encourage her audience to think deeper about these issues, like the tracks “Break Your Heart Right Back”, and “Break Free.” In 2016, she teamed up with the popular cosmetics line MAC to release her line of GLAM lipsticks. These were sold to benefit the MAC AIDS Fund, which donates profits to various HIV/AIDS research organizations. Grande has been a fervent supporter of the LGBT community for her entire career and will stay that way. 

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NEWSMAKERS

Oscar nominee and ‘Umbrella Academy’ star Elliot Page announces he is transgender

Actor Elliot Page, one of the stars of “Umbrella Academy”, posted a public letter on Twitter and Instagram to announce that he is transgender.

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Screenshot of the Twitter account of Elliot Page

Actor Elliot Page, one of the stars of “Umbrella Academy”, posted a public letter on Twitter and Instagram to announce that he is transgender.

Previously known as Ellen Page, Elliot received an Oscar nomination for his performance in the 2007 film Juno.

“I want to share with you that I am trans, my pronouns are he/they and my name is Elliot. I feel lucky to be writing this. To be here. To have arrived in this place in my life… I can’t begin to express how remarkable it feels to finally love who I am enough to pursue my authentic self,” Elliot wrote. “I’ve been endlessly inspired by so many in the trans community. Thank you for your courage, your generosity and ceaselessly working to make this world a more inclusive and compassionate place.”

But Elliot also asked “for patience. My joy is real, but it is also fragile.” This is because he also fears of transphobic sentiments arising. “I am also scared,” Elliot acknowledged. “The discrimination towards trans people is rife, insidious and cruel, resulting in horrific consequences.”

“To all trans people who deal with harassment, self-loathing, abuse and the threat of violence every day: I see you,” Elliott also wrote. “I love you and I will do everything I can to change this world for the better.”

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People You Should Know

Living with HIV in Digos City

Meet Robin Charles O. Ramos, a person living with HIV in Digos City in Davao del Sur. There are numerous challenges there – e.g. they still have to go to Davao City for their laboratory tests, and get monthly supplies of life-saving ARVs. But they are starting to organize so PLHIVs can help each other.

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“We cannot deny the fact that there are people who will really discriminate us (people living with HIV),” said Robin Charles O. Ramos, who is based in Digos City in Davao del Sur in Mindanao, southern Philippines. “(But) think twice… before you discriminate because (everyone can be infected with) HIV.”

BI AWAKENING

Charles, 33, used to be only attracted to girls. But when he was nine years old, “I (was also) attracted to boys. I realized that I am attracted to both sexes.”

Charles’ family teased him for this. But he added that it’s not like they can prevent him from being bisexual; this “runs in the family,” he said, with other family members also LGBTQIA.

“It was somewhat difficult for me to come out,” he said. This is because he lives in a “relatively small community (where people know me).”

Digos, a 2nd class city and the capital of the province of Davao del Sur, has a population of only 169,393 people (in 2015).

But Charles eventually told others, realizing the relevance of being true/honest to oneself. “I know it (may not be easy) but… the community will (eventually) understand who and what we are.”

FINDING OUT ABOUT HIS HIV STATUS

On November 30, 2017, Charles found out he has HIV.

Prior to the diagnosis, he recalled having bad health – e.g. his cough wouldn’t go away, he had lymph nodes in his throat, he easily got tired/stressed out, and he had recurring fever. He self-medicated, “taking paracetamol” and antibiotics.

“I lost a lot of weight,” Charles recalled, “from 56 kilograms to 48 kilograms.”

At that point, his mother told him: “It’s time to rush to the hospital.”

The attending physician had Charles undergo more tests… including HIV antibody test.

The person who gave him the news about his HIV status was “actually a friend of mine.” In fact, he pre-empted the counselor from telling him the result; “I told her myself, ‘It’s positive, right?’.”

EVERYONE CAN BE INFECTED

Even before then, Charles actually worked in HIV advocacy.

So the person who gave him the news about his HIV status was “actually a friend of mine.” In fact, he pre-empted the counselor from telling him the result; “I told her myself, ‘It’s positive, right?’.”

That was also “mind conditioning” for him, he said. “I conditioned my mind that I’m positive already… it’s a way of acceptance of the matter.”

Right there and then, Charles opted to tell family members. And they had one question for him: Why him, considering he’s in HIV advocacy, and should know better?

“Anyone can be infected,” Charles said to them.

“Think twice… before you discriminate because (everyone be infected with) HIV.”

BEING OPEN ABOUT LIVING WITH HIV

If there’s one thing Charles said that’s good about being out, it’s being able to get external help as needed.

“I lose nothing by coming out,” he said. And for him, “PLHIVs need to come out… as a strategy for us to eradicate stigma and discrimination.”

At this stage in his life, “I don’t care if they talk about me. This is already here. Just accept it.”

Charles is also a teacher, and he opted to tell his supervisors and peers about his medical condition. This honesty paid off since “they support me.” His workmates always remind him to “not be stressed” and “have time to rest”.

HIV-RELATED ISSUES IN DAVAO DEL SUR

HIV screening and/or testing is, at least, accessible to the people of Digos City, said Charles. The social hygiene clinic (SHC) of the local government unit (LGU), for one, offers this; and “every time we conduct (gatherings) about HIV, there is HIV testing (given).”

It is the access to life-saving medicines (the antiretroviral treatment, or ARV) that is problematic.

“Here in Digos City, ARV is not yet available,” Charles said.

And so PLHIVs from there have to go to the Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC) in Davao City, which is 62.5 kilometers away (or approximately an hour of commute).

If there’s one thing Charles said that’s good about being out, it’s being able to get external help as needed.

Many of the PLHIVs from Digos City go to SPMC together, renting a van to take them to and from Davao City for their regular tests and ARV supplies.

A related issue: PLHIVs have to go every month because they are only given a month’s supply because of procurement issues. The usual practice is to give PLHIVs supply for three months. And – even if the Department of Health denies that there are issues concerning ARV supplies – at least the Digos City experience highlights the continuing difficulty with accessing life-saving medicines.

The dream for PLHIVs like Charles is for a refilling station to be established in Digos City to serve not only those living there, but also the nearby localities of Kidapawan City, Davao Occidental, et cetera.

EMPOWERING THE HIV COMMUNITY

Charles recognizes that many try to help PLHIVs, but he also thinks that empowering PLHIVs to help each other is essential.

“We have formally created a group: Bagani Southern Davao,” he said. The name was derived from the word “Bagani”, the peacekeeping force of the Manobo tribes and other indigenous groups in Mindanao. Akin to the word, “we’re warriors; we’re fighting against this illness.”

There are currently 20 active members; though, of course, not all PLHIVs in the area are members.

The dream for PLHIVs like Charles is for a refilling station to be established in Digos City to serve not only those living there, but also the nearby localities of Kidapawan City, Davao Occidental, et cetera.

To other PLHIVs in the area, Charles said he recognizes that it may take time before they can decide if they’d come out. “I respect (this) decision… But coming out as PLHIV is a way of educating people that they shouldn’t fear us, and that (having HIV) isn’t the end of our lives or the end of anything.”

As PLHIVs, he said, “we have more to offer, more to do” particularly in educating people.

And to non-PLHIVs or those who do not know their HIV status: “Know your status. Get tested. And stop discriminating people. It’s not like we wanted this to happen to us. But this is already here. We just need your support, and the respect that we want because we’re still human beings.”

“I lose nothing by coming out,” he said. And for him, “PLHIVs need to come out… as a strategy for us to eradicate stigma and discrimination.”

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People You Should Know

L.A. musician and author Ross Victory gets candid about blackness, masculinity and bi-sexual heroes

Author and musician Ross Victory uses his story to entertain readers while pulling back the curtain of the under-, mis- and total lack of representation of bisexuality—black bisexuality—in social discourse. Without a community to fall back on to process pain and trauma, holding intersectional identities can create tension stemming from not being seen, heard, or believed.

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Paulo Freire said, “The oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors.” 

How often do our storylines, the narratives that make our life experiences unique, get lost in broader social discourse? How often does the oppression we encounter on our path compete with the oppression experienced right next to us? 

We need not look very far for the proof of patriarchal, misogynistic, racist, homophobic structures that provoke nationwide protests in America. #BlackLivesMatter, #Loveislove, #MeToo are cultural moments that reveal the United States’ ache for progress, and the public’s willingness to create new systems that support and uplift disadvantaged groups. 

Societal progress is slow. All too often, an experiencer’s oppression requires evidence to be accepted as valid. As a black or indigenous person of color, as a woman, as a bisexual in a straight/gay binary, or as a part of any disadvantaged group, each generation strives to do better than the last.

  • In 2020, George Floyd and BLM protests have pushed forward laws to prevent police brutality. 
  • In 2020, The Supreme Court has upheld the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission protections that prevent employers from firing individuals based on their sexual orientation and transgender status.

Author and musician Ross Victory uses his story to entertain readers while pulling back the curtain of the under-, mis- and total lack of representation of bisexuality—black bisexuality—in social discourse. Without a community to fall back on to process pain and trauma, holding intersectional identities can create tension stemming from not being seen, heard, or believed.

Panorama: The Missing Chapter tells the story of two men of color, both bisexual, who bond together to escape familial dysfunction. The book observes race, masculinity, and orientation by taking readers on a fast-paced, cerebral journey through South Korean temples and Brazilian cartels. 

Victory both bites and soothes readers with memories that pop off the page like scenes from a film. Despite his hilarious descriptions and the irony he dresses as salaciousness and intellect, there are underlying expressions of resentment that grow as the book progresses.

Victory, the principal character, suggests that being black and visible as bi-sexual is not for the spiritually weak. 

Victory says, “Being black, you normalize being on high alert with police or employment interactions. Sometimes you catch a microaggression and have to decide if you have the energy to confront it or let it go. Then there are interactions where people say, “you’re different than other black people,” or “you’re incredibly articulate.” I was called the N-word once by someone on the street in LA, and even black people have described my blackness as “white-washed.” 

He continues, “Bisexuality, as an identifier, can be a double-edged sword. The mention of bisexuality can activate a damaging reflex from both straight and gay people of all races. You are immediately put on the defense. People instinctively have 21 questions and lose manners. I understand it’s not me, and it’s their idea of being bi, but those interactions make me feel that society needs to be categorized differently. There were black heroes to cling to, but no visibly bisexual heroes and surely no black bisexual heroes.”

Survey data from Stanford University and the Pew Research Center reports that “Bisexual adults are much less likely than gays and lesbians to be visible as bisexual to the important people in their lives.” Victory, and Alvi, a Brazilian immigrant, also bisexual, compare notes on the discrimination and stereotypes they’ve faced that may personalize Stanford’s research. 

“People under the bi umbrella (notably bisexuals and pansexuals) are the only segment of people whose attractions are multi-gendered,” Victory says. “That’s hard to understand if you believe your attractions to be singular…Naturally people who aren’t bi cannot fathom what that means. Some who do understand tend to uphold bi women as ‘more’ valid that bi men, both of us still subjected to patriarchy that reads: bi women are for men’s pleasure, and bi guys simply do not exist—if they do, it’s in proximity to gay men who were initially bi-curious. The double speak is wild.”

Both men, Victory, and Alvi, identified their bisexuality as virginal pre-teens without words to acknowledge how they felt. After years of trial and error, they learned that being open was not in their favor. Victory points to an African American religious and hyper-masculine Hip Hop culture that made his bisexuality hard to verbalize and accept. Alvi, despite being an immigrant of color, had a less challenging path.

Panorama gives readers an insight into the complex nature of the oppression that bi men face: the idea that they cannot commit, that their bisexuality is a choice or is preference-based, being hypersexualized by gay men, and being a topic of contention for straight women. “Between what I’ve experienced and also seen on YouTube, when you know you can “pass” as straight, why bother saying anything?! People want authenticity if it accounts for their biases. But I physically got to a place where I couldn’t erase myself anymore.”

“Bisexuality, as an identifier, can be a double-edged sword. The mention of bisexuality can activate a damaging reflex from both straight and gay people of all races… I understand it’s not me, and it’s their idea of being bi, but those interactions make me feel that society needs to be categorized differently. There were black heroes to cling to, but no visibly bisexual heroes and surely no black bisexual heroes.”

According to the Bisexual Resource Center (BRC), approximately 40% of bisexual people have considered or attempted suicide. The Human Rights Campaign has cited bi-erasure and biphobia as the leading causes. Heteronormativity is real, and straight people do not think about being straight, regardless of being sexually active. However, when someone who is not straight identifies themselves, they tend to be pegged as oversharing or sexualizing unnecessarily. 

At around nineteen years old, Victory writes that he began to experience heightened stress and mild depression. Victory links the period to the same time he discovered the word bisexual, began asserting it, then learned to suppress it.

Victory says, “There was a sense that being a man, a ‘real’ man, is based on how homophobic you can be. Don’t act feminine, bully feminine guys, don’t speak about same-sex attractions, don’t be sinful, and if you are doing some gay sh*t, definitely don’t speak about it. When you can pass as straight, you hear a lot of problematic stuff from men and women.”

Oppression is interlocked, but to be a healthy person, one need not split themselves into parts. Victory states that black people tend to support each other because we are all experiencing racist systems in this country. Men support each other based on cliques, ego-affirming activities, and female conquests. Bisexuals feel invisible because we chameleonize or get pigeonholed based on our partner’s sex. For example, I am the only visible bi person I know, but I am defaulted to straight.

Victory suggests that we need more stories that show the scope of bisexuality. Bi virgins, bi people in same-sex relationships, bisexuals in different-sex relationships, poly bisexuals, elderly bisexuals, celibate bisexuals, and more to show people the range of experiences that have gone invisible for too long. Representation will help society to learn not to pre-judge by the person’s relationship status and feminine or masculine qualities, and to break bisexuals away from explicit and promiscuous connotations. According to GLAAD’s inclusion report of 2018 & 2019, Director of Entertainment Research, Megan Townsend, stated that “Television still has work to do when it comes to telling our [bi] stories. Bisexual+ women far outnumber bisexual+ men on every platform.”

Ross Victory suggests that we need more stories that show the scope of bisexuality: bi virgins, bi people in same-sex relationships, bisexuals in different-sex relationships, poly bisexuals, elderly bisexuals, celibate bisexuals, and more to show people the range of experiences that have gone invisible for too long.

Not all is bleak. Victory closes Panorama with relief for readers who may relate to his story or have been triggered to look at themselves. Victory concludes the book artfully and soulfully. He uses inclusive language and employs the “divine masculine” and “divine feminine” to make a case for personal liberation. He underscores the importance of grace between humans, even those who harm us, by encouraging readers to build bridges between thought islands and to be the change they seek.

He suggests that all intersections—racial, ethnic, religious, sexual, gender, ableism, wealth, etc. —exist to be connected by bridges. Victory says, “Real men are bridge builders. Yes, society gives us labels – straight, bi, gay, black, white, Asian, etc.; labels are realities and come with certain connotations. But could you imagine if we men prioritized a commitment to buildto build each other up no matter the labels we inherit? Can you imagine if we congregated around how to reduce anger and heart attacks? Can you imagine how healthy we would be and how safe women would feel interacting with us?” Paulo Freire warned that, yes, the oppressed become oppressors, but also that peace is found through dialogue and language.

Victory image and words remind us that alienation can be a bona fide lesson in self-love. After the back-to-back loss of his dad and brother, he understands that all he can do is build the best he can, and let the rest go.

The last two pages of Panorama include mental health resources and articles to support people with multi-gendered attractions, their families, and friends.

Head to https://rossvictory.com for more information.

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NEWSMAKERS

VP Robredo extolls LGBTQIA community’s spirit; recognizes a lot of work still needs to be done

Vice President Leni Robredo expressed her support to the LGBTQIA community, even as she acknowledged that a lot of work still needs to be done, including passing an anti-discrimination law that will protect the human rights of LGBTQIA Filipinos.

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Screencap from the Facebook-uploaded message of VP Leni Robredo to the LGBTQIA community

Vice President Leni Robredo expressed her support to the LGBTQIA community, even as she acknowledged that even as the LGBTQIA community marks June as Pride month, a lot of work still needs to be done, including passing an anti-discrimination law that will protect the human rights of LGBTQIA Filipinos.

In a messages posted on her Facebook page, Robredo noted the uncertain times. “many of the things we once cherished and held on to are now being questioned and challenged,” she said in mixed Filipino and English. “Sa kabila nito, marami pa ring bagay ang di nagbabago at nagpapatuloy: tulad ng ating laban para sa patas na karapatan, dignidad at kalayaan.

Robredo noted that “for many decades, the LGBTQIA+ community has been tirelessly fighting for equal rights and representation at the frontlines. It has provided a shelter to the oppressed, a voice to the marginalized, and a family to those who have been abandoned by their own communities. Ito ang dakilang ambag ng LGBTQIA+ community sa ating (b)ayan.

She added: “Sa bawat Pride March na inyong inoorganisa, isang teenager ang mas nagiging proud na yakapin kung sino siya. Sa bawat awareness campaign na inyong sinisimulan, isang komunidad ang mas nagiging bukas ang isipan. At sa bawat pagpiglas ninyo sa tangkang pag-agaw ng ating mga kalayaan, isang bayan ang mas natututong lumaban.

There are – nonetheless – members of the LGBTQIA community “who hold positions of power in our society”, such as lawyers, executives, doctors, educators, artists, policymakers and public servants. The VP hopes that they will “use your influence to change mindsets, promote acceptance, and push for reforms on the ground. Now more than ever, we need to set an example to the younger generation. Ipakita natin sa kanila, na wala silang dapat ipangamba at na malaya silang maging kung ano at sino sila,” Robredo said.

The VP similarly recognized that teaching people to open their minds may be challenging, but “huwag sana kayong panghinaan ng loob.”

She suggested doing small steps to push for Pride, including forming support groups; reaching out to the needy; and introducing concepts re SOGIESC to relatives who may not be well-versed on the same.

Darating din ang araw na babalikan natin ang lahat ng ito at sasabihing, everything was worth the effort. Everything was worth the sacrifice. Everything worth the fight. Push lang ng push, mga besh,” Robredo added.

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