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Op-Ed

HIV is not inability

There are two possible conclusions that can be drawn based on legal and medical parlance, to wit: (1) HIV and AIDS as a physical impairment, and (2) HIV and AIDS as a psychosocial disability.

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Disability is not inability.”

Councilor Raissa Laurel Subijano of San Juan City once said this; she is a graduate of Law, elected into office, and then became a person with disability after the 2010 Bar exam bombing outside DLSU-Taft.

I intend to permeate wisdom from the lack or absence of knowledge of some individuals regarding disability, or it could possibly rectify the societies ignorance from the DISABILITY.

At the end of this entry, there are two possible conclusions based on legal and medical parlance, to wit: (1) HIV and AIDS as a physical impairment, and (2) HIV and AIDS as a psychosocial disability.

The discussion on PLHIVs as PWDs must clearly establish a parameter that nobody is allowed to neither look nor equate disability to INABILITY, INCOMPETENCE, and HELPLESSNESS. Persons with disability are not less than anyone; they are your fair equals.

Under Art. 5 of the Convention on the Rights of PWD, states that: “State parties recognize that all persons are equal before and under the law and are entitled without any discrimination.”

 In our Jurisdiction, Sec. 2(b) of R.A. 7277 or The Magna Carta for the Disabled persons, states that: “Disabled persons have the same rights as other people to take their proper place in society. They should be able to live freely and as independently as possible. xxx Disabled persons’ rights must never be perceived as welfare services by the Government.

It is a form of discrimination when someone says: “Instead of issuing PWD ID for PLHIV we look for ways to empower them.” It is as if having a PWD ID is not empowering. It is as if being PWD is disempowering. Discrimination of any kind based on disability is prohibited under existing laws.

Under Art. 2 of the Convention on the Rights of PWD, It is considered as a DISCRIMINATION ON THE BASIS OF DISABILITYwhen any distinction on the basis of disability which has the purpose or effect of impairing or nullifying the recognition, xxx on an equal basis with others.

If you’re adamant in your principle that PLHIVs should not be considered PWDs because they are abled; It is as if PLHIVs being considered as PWDs is degrading or an insult to ones ability. Sorry to burst your bubble, that’s not a principle at all; but a form of DISCRIMINATION, much less, IGNORANCE.  Even persons with disability are still considered competent, capable, and productive, as they are other-abled.

There have been several opinions made on the link between disability and HIV; but none of those that disprove the link was intellectually substantiated. Most of the statements made were ranging from dense to shallow premises with no arguments at all. The most that they were able to come up with is the fact that not any existing law expressly mentions HIV and AIDS as a disability. In the same manner, that no existing law expressly LIMITS disability on visual, physical, nor mental impairment to the EXCLUSION of those not mentioned or HIV and AIDS Per se.

I) HIV AND AIDS as a Physical Impairment

Under Sec. 4(c), R.A. 7277 or the Magna Carta for PWD (as amended by R.A. 9442), Disability is defined as Physical Impairment that substantially limits one or more psychological, physiological or anatomical function of an individual. In the definition, Physical would mean anything relating to the body. Physical impairment necessarily follows that it is includes impairment in cells’ function.

Under Sec. 3 (n) of R.A. 1166 or the Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy Act, it defines HIV as a: “virus, which infects cells of human immune system, and destroys and impairs the cells.” Thus, a person infected with HIV has a physical impairment through infection of HIV. Unless, it is cured, the virus is a continuous threat.  The HIV and AIDS Policy Act recognizes that there’s no cure that can eliminate HIV from our system but what the antiretroviral drugs does is it only stops or suppresses viral replication, thereby slowing down the progression of infection.

While it is true that Anti-retroviral Therapy (ART) suppresses the virus; PLHIVs are vulnerable as compared to other individuals considering our condition being immune-compromised. PLHIVs regardless of medication are still at a higher risk of suffering from HIV-related medical conditions; because, our cells’ functions are impaired.

PLHIV also experience disability related to HIV. As it progresses, HIV disease can result in mental and physical conditions that impair ability. In addition, highly active antiretroviral therapy and other treatments, while saving and prolonging lives of PLHIV, can also cause side effects that can be disabling. [Elliot, R. (2009), Journal of the International AIDS Society.]

This is the other half of the truth, which some “advocates” fail to appreciate. Which leads me to this question: “Who do they really advocate?” Perhaps, it’s time that we also reflect upon the term that has long been abused – ADVOCATE. As I mentioned in my previous article: “Recognition: tug of war in HIV advocacy” (2017):

Advocacy is not just about claiming to be an advocate. Advocacy is equivalent to progressive action rather than passive inaction. It can neither be said that a positive diagnosis for HIV/AIDS is an express ticket nor license to the advocacy. One becomes an advocate when he truly understands the cause by exemplifying affirmative actions engaged in the cause; which should preferably be multiple, continuous, and instantaneous; rather than single, isolated, and orchestrated. This is how we become advocates.

There are also some who have been working for the longest time in the advocacy, thanks to you and your efforts for our community; but are you really for us or against us? With your indulgence, how does an act of going against a privilege for the PLHIVs be beneficial for the Community? Perhaps, its time that you retract from self-infested principles at the expense of a larger population, that further over boards existing laws. The laws may not speak well of your belief, but these are the laws, it applies to all with no exception, let the welfare of the people be the supreme law of the (Salus populi est suprema lex.)

II) HIV and AIDS as a PSYCHOSOCIAL DISABILITY

At present, PLHIVs are being ISSUED PWD ID on the basis of Psychosocial Disability. Under the Implementing Rules and Regulations of R.A. 7277, the term Psychosocial is defined as inter-relationship of the psychological aspects pertaining to the thoughts, feelings, reactions, and behavior of a person with social aspects pertaining to the situation circumstances, events, relationships, other people which influence or affect the person sometimes to the point of causing distress. The HIV and AIDS Policy Act of the Philippines recognize discrimination against PLHIVs, a discrimination that causes Psychosocial Disability.

The UNAIDS made a statement in United Nations Commission on Human Rights: Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, “HIV/AIDS and DISABILITY” (48 Session, August 1996):

The disabilities consequences of asymptomatic HIV is that often people living with HIV, as well as those suspected of being HIV Positive, are very often discriminated against because they are wrongly perceived as being unable to perform; they are wrongly perceived as being a threat to public health… Thus, if they are not actually disabled by HIV-related conditions, they are often disabled by the discriminatory treatment they perceived because of their HIV status… Definitions of disability should move beyond functional limitations to cover medical conditions such as HIV/AIDS.”

In our Jurisdiction, there are no Jurisprudence that may clearly include HIV and AIDS as a form of disability; but there are already existing laws, as such, outside our Jurisdiction. In Australia, The Commonwealth Disability Act of 1992 defines disability as: “broad language referring to disease or illness, such as the following: the presence in the body of organisms causing disease or illness; or the presence in the body of organisms capable of causing disease or illness.” The same definition is also applied in the countries: New Zealand and South Africa.

While the aforementioned law, of Australia, has no applicability in our Jurisdiction. American Jurisprudence may guide us, as the Americans influenced most of our penal laws. Our Revised Penal Code alone was legislated at the time when our country was a colony of America. The Magna Carta for PWD is both a social legislation and penal legislation by virtue of its penal clause; therefore, we can use as a guide the AMERICAN DISABILITY ACT ratified by the U.S. Congress in 1990, which was subsequently interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1998, Bragdon v. Abbott, that settled affirmatively the legal challenges whether or not HIV should, in and of itself, be considered a disability if the person remains symptom-free and otherwise unimpaired.

The US case involving Ms. Abott clearly establishes a rule that HIV should be considered as a disability for purposes of the American Disability Act in relation to the Convention on the Rights of PWD.

The American Disability Act of the United States of America and the Magna Carta for Person with Disability draws it life from the same accepted general principle of international law, that is, the – Convention on the Rights of the Persons with Disability. I couldn’t see any reason why the same logic shouldn’t be applied in our Jurisdiction, if our law is anchored on the same International Law as that of the American Disability Act.

Now, it can be settled that infection from HIV and AIDS can be disabling but does not necessarily result to inability, regardless being called a person with disability; otherwise, such thought rightly falls under “Discrimination on the basis of disability.”

The application for issuance of an identification card as a person with disability is a matter of choice, which needs to be respected, when exercised or not. A PLHIV who secures a PWD ID should not be ridiculed as less than anyone. This exercise of privilege made by PLHIVs must not be seen as disempowering, as such, mentality is not only a reflection of legal impertinence but also an absence of intelligence.

Principles that deflect from those of PLHIVs, as persons with Disability articulated in a sophisticated language, do not merit any rebuttals from those who advocate PLHIVs as PWD. But don’t force the law to lean in your favor if it apparently does not support your principles, much less – ignorance.

When someone can come up with an argument, better than: “HIV and AIDS is not enumerated under the Magna Carta for PWD as a disability” feel free to send me a message. Otherwise; I’ll leave you with these: the law clearly implies consistent with the words expressly used that PLHIVs have physical disability on the basis of impaired cells, and PLHIVs are psychosocially disabled for being constantly exposed in a possible discriminatory act based on HIV status.

If there is one rule of construction for statutes and other documents, it is that you must not imply anything in them, which is inconsistent with the words expressly used. (Re: a Rebior [No. 335 of 1947][1948] 2 All E.R. 533, per Lord Green M.R.)

I am Posit Bo, I was diagnosed with AIDS and Major Depressive Disorder, which qualifies me as a person with psychosocial and mental disability, respectively. I am a person with disability; but I am not less than anyone because I am your worthy equal despite my disability. You are not to judge me based on my disability or exercise of a privilege granted by law, as I am not to judge you based on your refusal to acknowledge your disability or exercise of privilege. Let us embrace diversity without hatred but instead with respect.

Posit Bo was "reborn" on the 9th of February 2015, when - after he was diagnosed to be HIV-positive - he said that "a new life and a new persona was created." But Posit Bo remains positive (pun intended) about his condition, which he now employs in his advocacy to educate, inspire, and motivate persons regardless of their status. "I am here to share not the virus but my story and wisdom about my condition," Posit Bo says. "I am HIV-positive, but I am still loved, hence, I won't quit but will continue living the life I want."

Lifestyle & Culture

To come out or not to come out? That is the question

For a “conservative culture” like in the Philippines, where the influence of religion and the opinion of the elders are greatly valued, should the idea of coming out be on the table whenever possible?

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Gone are the days when hiding or staying inside the closet is the “ideal thing to do” — or is it?

Many members of the LGBT community are saying that coming out and being proud of one’s true self may be the best way to fully enjoy everything. There are others who are claiming that it can even help transform one’s life.

But for a “conservative culture” like in the Philippines, where the influence of religion and the opinion of the elders are greatly valued, should the idea of coming out be on the table whenever possible?

ONLINE DISCUSSIONS

On Facebook, discussions about this topic had attracted many users – where people from different walks of life share their reactions and thoughts about it.

One person said that the process of coming out is lifelong.

Another user posted a message saying that there is no right time or right way to do it.

And there were those who asked why some people express hate towards someone who chooses to stay in the closet.

MEDIA PORTRAYALS

At least in the recent months, the issue of coming out had also been one of the subjects of some of the non-fiction stories in the Philippine media.

For instance, on iWant’s “Beauty Queens” the topic was discussed in almost all six episodes.

Rica, the youngest child of Dahlia, came out as a transgender woman. It blindsided the entire family. Dahlia disowned her daughter after leaning it. While the oldest sibling, for the longest time, refused to call her “Rica”.

The plot thickened when it was revealed that Dahlia was in a relationship with another woman. And that she was just waiting for the right time to tell it to her family.

Isa lang ibig sabihin nito, Mommy (This only means one thing, Mommy): You have been a practicing lesbian. But you rejected me when I came out. How could you?” Rica asked her mother.

In the Pinoy BL (boys love) web series “Gameboys”, the topic of coming out was also tackled in some episodes.

Cairo, one of the main characters, was partly blamed by his brother London for the health condition of their father.

Dahil sa selfishness mo, nandito tayo sa ganitong sitwasyon. Hindi ko nga alam kung ano ang pumasok sa isip mo at ginawa mo ‘yun (Because of your selfishness, we are in this situation. I do not know what you were thinking when you did that),” London said.

Alam ko naman na kasalanan ko ito lahat. Araw-araw ko sinisisi ang sarili ko. Ako nga, ako nga ang may kasalanan. Hindi ko dapat ginawa ‘yun eh. Sana ako na lang. Alam ko, mali nga ako, kuya. Kuya alam ko mali ako, pero hindi ko ginusto ‘yung kay Papa. Hindi ko ginusto na magkasakit siya (I know that everything was my fault. I blame myself everyday. It was me, it was my fault. I should not have done that. I wish it was me. I know that what I did was wrong, but I did not want that to happen to Papa. I did not want him to get sick),” Cairo responded.

The story took a turn when he had a conversation with his mother after his father passed.

“Ma, I am sorry,” Cairo said.

“Why are you apologizing?” his mom asked.

“I am sorry I am gay,” Cairo answered.

“Cairo, do not be sorry. You do not need to apologize for being who you are. Kung dapat may mag-sorry dito, ako ‘yun. Anak, walang mali sa iyo. Ako ‘yung nagkulang (If there is anyone who needs to say sorry, it should be me. There is nothing wrong with you, son. I was the one who had shortcomings). I knew all along. I did not make an effort to gain your trust para maramdaman mo na puwede ka magsabi sa akin (I did not make an effort to gain your trust so you can feel that you can tell me), his mom said.

Coming out is one of the biggest and most important decisions any person will make. Finding the right moment can be as crucial as the decision itself.

READING THROUGH

Studies show that there are benefits in revealing one’s identity, including feeling good by the person coming out (i.e. he/she will experience less anger, less depression, and higher self-esteem).

“In general, research shows that coming out is a good thing. Decades of studies have found that openness allows gay people to develop an authentic sense of themselves and to cultivate a positive minority sexual identity,” said Richard Ryan, co-author of one such study.

It is also believed that when a person comes out, it will allow him/her to develop as a whole individual, have greater empowerment, and makes it easier to develop a positive self-image.

Another study also noted that when a person accepts his/her true self, it will not only bring happiness but can also be good for the health. 

“Coming out might only be beneficial for health when there are tolerant policies that facilitate the disclosure process,” said Robert-Paul Juster, author of yet another study.

While there are countless positive effects of coming out, there are also some disadvantages when someone decides to leave the closet – to a name a few: bullying, harassment, rejection from society, and violence.

In a 2018 survey by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), 65% of the 7,233 15-year-old respondents said that they were bullied at least a few times a month.

In a school setting, it is a known fact that someone who demonstrates a “different” behavior may be susceptible to bullying. 

Coming out is one of the biggest and most important decisions any person will make. Finding the right moment can be as crucial as the decision itself.

DECIDING TO COME OUT

According to The Cass Theory by Vivian Cass, there are six stages that a person will go through when he/she decides to come out.

Stage 1 – Identity Confusion: This is where you begin to ask yourself if you identify differently than what you were assigned at birth.

Stage 2 – Identity Comparison: You start accepting the possibility that you may have a different gender identity and face social isolation that come with it.

Stage 3 – Identity Tolerance: Your acceptance of your new gender identity increases and you begin to tolerate it.

Stage 4 – Identity Acceptance: At this point, you have resolved most of the questions concerning your gender identity and have accepted it.

Stage 5 – Identity Pride: By this stage, you begin to feel proud of being part of the community.

Stage 6 – Identity Synthesis: Finally, you start integrating your gender identity in all aspects of yourself and life.

And in the end, this is what coming out is: A long — and sometimes endless — journey to finding oneself.

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Op-Ed

5 Ways to empower kids to end bullying

For members of Gen Z, bullying was a top concern, with 86% of respondents saying that not being bullied is a daily priority and 30% saying that out of 20-plus societal issues, bullying is the problem they most want solved globally.

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From the classroom to the internet, bullying can lead to children developing a poor self-image or lead to bullying others. In fact, members of Generation Z believe bullying is the biggest issue facing their generation, according to a survey of American youth ages 6-17, commissioned by the Boy Scouts of America*.

The interesting thing, though, as stressed by this study: 84% of those surveyed said they want to be a part of the solution. In fact, the survey similarly found:

  • 97% said being kind to others is important.
  • 79% said improving their community is important.
  • 50% said the reason they focus on some of these issues because their parents are passionate about them.
  • Bullying was a top concern among respondents, with 86% of respondents saying that not being bullied is a daily priority and 30% saying that out of 20-plus societal issues, bullying is the problem they most want solved globally.
  • Other top concerns respondents want to help solve are hunger (28%) and care for elders (27%) at the local level; animal rights (28%) and recycling (28%) at the national level; and poverty (28%) and human rights (26%) at the global level.

Now how to help kids learn how to overcome, avoid and break down the cycle of bullying:

Promote more time unplugged and outdoors. 

It is important for parents to promote healthy, face-to-face social interactions. Outdoor activities allow children to work together, solve problems and bond in a way that typically can’t be achieved through a screen. They also give children a break from the cyber-world, where bullying is often prevalent.

Encourage kindness. 

Ninety-seven percent of Gen Z members surveyed said being kind is important. Encourage kids to act on that feeling and remind them that it doesn’t take any extra energy to be kind. Serve as a role model by making kindness a foundation in your family.

Educate and equip. 

Parents should educate their children about why bullying is never OK, equip them with the knowledge they’ll need to recognize it and encourage them to report and safely respond to all forms of bullying they observe.

Use the buddy system. 

In scouting, the buddy system pairs kids together to help ensure the well-being of one another. This approach is used for practical and safety reasons that can also be applied to everyday life. A pair or group of kids are less likely to get bullied, and buddies can be supportive by being an upstander.

Explore differences. 

As a family, look for ways to get involved in activities that include families from different backgrounds and cultures. Introducing kids to ideas and lifestyles different from their own can be an enlightening experience, and that knowledge can help break down some of the barriers that contribute to bullying, such as fear and misunderstanding.

*Yes, yes, the Boy Scouts of America (and scouting as a whole, for that matter) continues to have issue particularly with openly accepting LGBTQIA people – i.e. it is a “bully” itself. But… here’s hoping it learns its own advise.

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Love Affairs

Acceptance and love as sources of Pride

For many LGBTQIA people, self-acceptance is difficult to achieve, even if it is generally accepted that only when one lives one’s own truth can he/she/they know true self-acceptance and the joy that comes with it. Lucky for Ahds who met Anna who loves him, even as they get the support of accepting families.

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In 2015, Ada (or Ahds, as his friends and close relatives call him), was working in Toronto when he met Anna, the best friend of a cousin.

It “completely changed my life,” he beamed.

Ahds recalled that there were people who doubted their relationship.

During their first year together, he admitted that they experienced difficulties in terms of finances (and adjustments to being together). But Ahds said that even though things were a bit tough, it was okay because at least they had each other.

“May mga kaibigan kami na nagsasabi na hindi kami magtatagal, na maghihiwalay din kami (There were some friends who said that we would not last, that we would just part ways),” he said.

But they gave being together a try, eventually proving the the naysayers wrong.

LOVE CELEBRATED

On June 18, 2016 Ahds and Anna got married.

“Nag-decide kami na magpakasal kasi gusto ko ma-experience kung ano ang pakiramdam ng kinakasal, at gusto ko rin may kasama ako sa buhay habang tumatanda ako (We decided to get married because I wanted to experience how it feels like. I also want to have someone in my life while growing old),” Ahds said.

When they celebrated their wedding anniversary this year, Ahds said in a Facebook post: “The secret of a happy marriage is finding the right person. You know it is right if you love to be with that person all the time.”

“Basta anniversary namin, nagse-celebrate kami kahit kami lang dalawa. Mababaw lang ang kaligayahan namin. At bawal sa amin ang mga nega, ang gusto naming pareho masaya lang kami (Whenever we celebrate our anniversary, it is okay even if it is just the two of us. We find happiness in simple things. And we do not like negative things, we just both want to be happy),” he said.

Ahds added: “Tsaka masaya kami dahil tanggap kami ng family namin pareho (Further, we are happy because our families accepts us).”

FAMILY ACCEPTANCE

But for as long as he can remember, his family was always supportive of him and his decisions – at least as long as he doesn’t put himself in harm’s way.

“When I was three years old, lalaki na ako (I already identified as a boy). I still remember when I was in elementary, I was already attracted to girls. Masaya ako kapag nakikita ko ang crush ko na malaki ang tanda sa akin (I was happy when I saw my crush, who was older than me).”

He can actually still remember how things were when he was young.

Noong bata ako, naaalala ko kung paano ako tinanggap na walang pag-aalinlangan ng tatay ko. Madalas niya ako dinadalhan ng bola ng ping pong. Tanggap ako ng pamilya ko kung ano talaga ako (When I was young, I remember how I was accepted without reservations by my father. He also liked to give me ping pong balls to play with. My family accepted me for who I am),” Ahds shared.

He was able to grow up “normally”, in a sense that his family supported whatever he wanted to do, as long as it would not harm him.

“When I was growing up, naririnig ko palagi na sinasabi sa akin na ‘Tomboy ‘yan’, siguro dahil na rin sa kilos at pananamit ko. Minsan, masakit sa pandinig (I always heard people call me ‘lesbian’, perhaps because of how I acted and the way I dressed. Sometimes, it pained me),” Ahds continued.

But it was not something he dwelled on. He knew that the people who mattered most in his life – his family – did not have a problem with who he really was and accepted him regardless of what other people said.

And that type of love has helped Ahds reach for his dreams, while providing for his family.

Ahds left to work overseas (for 22 years now); first heading to UAE in 1998 when Mt. Pinatubo erupted. After several years, he found his way to Canada… and Anna’s arms.

ACCEPTING AND LOVING

For many LGBTQIA people, self-acceptance is difficult to achieve, even if it is generally accepted that only when one lives one’s own truth can he/she/they know true self-acceptance and the joy that comes with it.

Equally important is acceptance [NOT mere tolerance] within the family – e.g. a study on LGBT youth acceptance and rejection revealed that it directly affects identity development, behaviors, physical and mental health. Those who experience rejection may experience serious consequences on physical and mental health.

And here, Ahds said he’s somewhat luckier, finding both acceptance and love, now his two sources of Pride.

Ahds believes that, yes, things will get better… eventually.

But while the road there may prove challenging, it starts with self-acceptance at least.

“Huwag kayo mahihiya na ipaalam sa madla kung sino kayo at kung ano ang totoong nararamdaman ninyo. Lalo na sa sarili mo, ilabas mo kung ano ka talaga. At para sa pagmamahal naman, para makamtam ang tunay na kaligayahan, dapat walang lihiman (Do not be afraid to let other people know who you are and what you really feel. Especially to yourself, show what you really are. And when it comes to love, for you to achieve real happiness, there should be no secrets),” Ahds said.

And who knows – like Ahds – this could also help others be led to having Pride.

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Op-Ed

‘Let us reclaim our crown, or what that represents, our right to be recognized as women’

STRAP: “Everyone’s opinion matters but if that was done without grounding yourself in the intersectional narratives and the lifelong struggles that speaks of our personhood, that you are contributing to the exacerbation of our problem.”

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Statement of The Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (which was established in 2002), in reaction to the stance of Kevin Balot, Miss International Queen in 2012, who reiterated her segregationist perspective, saying that when transgender women ask to join beauty pageants traditionally only for those assigned female at birth, “hindi na siya equality eh, parang asking too much na (this is no longer about equality; it’s already asking too much).”

“If I can teach the world acceptance and love, I don’t need to win Miss Universe, I only need to be here.”

ANGELA PONCE
Miss Universe Spain 2018

Angela Ponce’s mere presence in the presentation of candidates for the 2018 Miss Universe was already enough to spark debate not only within pageant circles but within the greater society. But to many other Filipina transwomen, 2018 was doubly special not only because Catriona won Miss Universe but because some of us were also rooting for Angela to win. 

Angela is the first out transwoman to compete in the Miss Universe pageant and the first from Spain, a Catholic nation which colonized many countries including the Philippines; and with colonization and the Christianization came the enforcement of gender binary and restrictive ideas on gender and sexuality as well as the erasure of gender transcending pre-colonial identities such as the Babaylanes, the Asogs, the Bayoguins among other names use in pre-colonial Philippines. 

So with Angela winning Miss Universo Spain and officially representing her country in the 2018 Miss Universe, it becomes such a reflective and introspective moment for many Filipino queers who are within themselves trying to make sense of decolonization. 

Angela failed to snag the crown or at least a spot in the finals; however, an unprecedented special walk and segment became the most touching moment for many if not cathartic for some. Angela’s powerful last line that “…she does not need to be Miss Universe, she only needs to be here” was enough to break the hearts of many transwomen who for many decades have been fighting for recognition and inclusion in all spaces, including pageantry. 

That moment in Miss Universe and the 2012 case of Miss Canada finalist Jenna Talackova were very important moments wherein transwomen or transpinays as we call ourselves, needed to heed others for recognition and acceptance of our self-determined gender identities. 

If you come to think of it, Jenna and Angela among some other transwomen over the years, needed to explain fervently why we are women too, and why we need to be recognized and allowed to participate in events for women. The immutability of our birth registration and sex assignment and the absence of gender recognition deprived us of many opportunities, including scholarships, jobs, career advancements, proper media representation and inclusion, travel, marriage, adoption among so many others. 

It is already a long process of discrimination and even violence that we experience everyday growing up as trans in our society. From the catcalls, to the heckling, dead naming to the occasional brutality that usually leads to murder such as that of Jennifer Laude who had to be a poster child of transphobia and transmisogyny. Incidentally Jennifer was nicknamed “Ganda” for she was indeed beautiful, yet vilified and mutilated not only by her American murderer but our fellow Filipinos who seemingly enjoyed dead-naming and misgendering her in social media platforms. 

Jennifer’s case is still connected to Angela’s, because this proves, it is not only in pageantry do we experience exclusion and discrimination, we experience it everywhere else.

How many times have transpinays shared experiences of being humiliated in immigration counters around the world for the mismatch of their gender presentation and passports? Many of them detained and deported and other undocumented cases of violence in the process of proving their humanity not just womanhood. How many times have transpeople been rejected from jobs especially those not identifiable with being queer ( e.g. beauty salons, fashion design, cultural dancer, etc.) just because their gender presentations are viewed as unprofessional or unacceptable in work spaces? How many countless times, other than that of Gretchen Diez’s case, wherein transpinays were not allowed to use the female toilets and changing rooms because they are not considered to be “real women”? 

In the plight for gender recognition, transpeople are viewed as fake versions or impostors of the gender they are identifying as. 

Take note that the issues of transpinays don’t end in the recognition of gender but looking at other areas of life, oppression takes shape in the form of color, race, socio economic class, level of education, religion, etc

Well, not only transpinays experience discrimination in those areas, everyone does, maybe implicitly. But transpinays go through more because we must first be accepted as women, beautiful or not. Now imagine if you are a transpinay, from the province, with dark skin, poor, did not finish high school, Christian, could not speak in English. I bet her life is going to be tremendously difficult. 

Having said all of these, we want to educate everyone especially our fellow transpinays, that the inclusion of transwomen in pageants and the recognition of their gender identities is a simple step towards equality, diversity and inclusion, it is not in any way asking for “too much”. For maybe we are asking something “little”, just allow us to be here for our battle for that crown is still uncertain. But at least we are battling for it just like other women, for we are women too. 

We have the right to self-determination and self- identification. It is nice to have a pageant of our own as they say, but we created those since other pageants are not allowing us to join for we are not women. 

Angela’s battle is every transwoman’s and transpinay’s for that matter. Just because some of you are content with joining “Miss Gay” or other exclusive pageants, do not forget that our battle for equality does not end with pageants, it is only beginning. It is a simple step of recognizing our rights to be women and a platform to educate society that gender is not between your legs, that your anatomy is not why you will wear that crown. 

It is even difficult to write a piece on pageantry and defending it while we are not even dissecting the issues of beauty and womanhood and how pageants are not exactly the end-all, be-all of being a woman. But for transpinays, it is a platform for recognition and inclusion. Don’t take away our sash.

As we continue to position ourselves everywhere in our society because we have as much right, we seek our fellow transpinays and the greater Philippine queer society to engage with us on discussions of our human rights issues. Everyone’s opinion matters but if that was done without grounding yourself in the intersectional narratives and the lifelong struggles that speaks of our personhood, that you are contributing to the exacerbation of our problem. 

We ask our fellow transpinays to listen to us if you don’t know much, now that is not asking for too much. Because honestly, transpinays have been here, even before Spain came. Now we want to reclaim our crown, or what that represents, our right to be recognized as women.

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Op-Ed

‘All women – cis or trans – ought to enjoy the same fundamental rights and opportunities’

“Denying trans people access to a single-sex space when they fully identify as the sex to which it is confined, risks perpetuating forms of oppression that we would never tolerate if they applied to other groups.”

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Reaction from Mujer LGBT+ Organization on the stance of Kevin Balot, Miss International Queen in 2012, who reiterated her segregationist perspective, saying that when transgender women ask to join beauty pageants traditionally only for those assigned female at birth, “hindi na siya equality eh, parang asking too much na (this is no longer about equality; it’s already asking too much).”

By Toni Gee Fernandez
President/Executive Director, Mujer LGBT+ Organization

Equality is defined as the state of being equal, especially in status, rights and opportunities. That means, one right and opportunity can both be exercised and enjoyed by two or more individuals. The same principle is true in the context of womanhood.

A woman, regardless if she is Cis* or Trans*, ought to enjoy the same fundamental rights and opportunities of another woman, too.

Treating trans people as individuals of the gender identity they claim to be is a sign of basic respect. A recognition of their authenticity. Denying trans people access to a single-sex space when they fully identify as the sex to which it is confined, risks perpetuating forms of oppression that we would never tolerate if they applied to other groups.

While their anatomy and surgical history may be relevant in the context of medical care, it is not supposed to be relevant in everyday life. At the same time, by breaking down sex into ambiguous components and arguing that trans women lack some of them, or have too many residual male components, we imply that trans women are not women, or not the right kind of women — which is utterly discriminatory and oppressive.

This is why Mujer LGBT Organization, Inc. denounces the segregationist remarks of Kevin Balot.

We have to realize that pageant contestants and pageant queens are more than their ravishing long gowns, two-piece suits and national costumes. More than anything else, they are their causes and the issues they want to shed light on.

Besides, a trans woman in a socially deemed single-sex competition like pageants – i.e. Miss Universe – allows a room for debunking myths, shattering stereotypes and educating the public, and therefore reforming an oppressive status quo one step at a time.

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Editor's Picks

Covid-19 and the freelancer’s dilemma

The Philippines is home to a “vibrant gig economy”, with an estimated 1.5 million freelancers in the country. But Covid-19 responses actually do not include them, so what happens to them now?

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Kate is a visual artist. She resigned from her day job to pursue her passion two years ago. Painting and creating origami, her income mainly came from the sales of her artworks; supplemented by home-based art classes to elementary and high school students.  

Nicole is a freelance makeup artist. Her clients varied from celebrities to socialites to brides and debutantes… and everything in between. Nicole used to earn a minimum of P3,000 per client, with the amount increasing depending on the type of service being offered.

Lumina is a drag artist, a common face in dance clubs and in events. Aside from her “talent fee”, she also used to get “tips” from customers.

But when the Covid-19 related Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) took effect in Luzon starting last March 17, their capacity to earn a living was also put on hold. And people like them – a.k.a. “freelancers” – are many.

In May 2019, PayPal (the payment system company) reported that the Philippines is home to a “vibrant gig economy”, with an estimated 1.5 million freelancers in the country. In fact, this is a segment that is fast becoming an influential part of the Filipino workforce and a key engine driving the growth of the country’s economy.

The terms used to refer to them may vary – e.g. In October 2019, the Philippine Statistics Authority reported that of the 73,528,000 population in the Philippines, ages 15 years and over, 95.5% are employed. And 25% of them are “self-employed workers”. Freelancers also fall under PSA’s categorization.

And ECQ has been devastating to these Filipinos.

“The current lockdown left us, freelance workers, in a complete halt — events and shows were cancelled. It technically made us jobless since we do not have the option of working from home,” Lumina said.

Like Lumina, Kate said freelancer workers are “so tied to the situation.”

“Even if I want to sell my work or earn a living, I cannot do anything right now,” Kate added.

Painting and creating origami, Kate’s income mainly came from the sales of her artworks; supplemented by home-based art classes to elementary and high school students. Everything was affected by Covid-19.
Photo by Fallon Michael from Unsplash.com

What gov’t support?

There are supposed to be government support for workers affected by the ECQ.

In a statement released last March 17, for instance, the Department of Labor and Employment stated that they “may be able to address the pressing needs of the rest of the affected workers in the quarantined areas.” 

DOLE developed the following mitigating measures: “Covid-19 Adjustment Measures Program” (CAMP), “Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers” (TUPAD), and “DOLE-AKAP for OFWs”.  

CAMP will serve “affected workers regardless of status (i.e. permanent, probationary, or contractual), those employed in private establishments whose operations are affected due to the Covid-19 pandemic.” TUPAD “aims to contribute to poverty reduction and inclusive growth.” The program is “a community based (municipality/barangay) package of assistance that provides temporary wage employment.” And the DOLE-AKAP specifically caters to overseas Filipino workers who have been displaced due to the imposition of lockdown or community quarantine, or have been infected with the disease.   

DOLE reiterated that the only qualified beneficiaries are the underemployed, self-employed and displaced marginalized workers. To help these people, “employment” is offered – i.e. the nature of work shall be the disinfection or sanitation of their houses and its immediate vicinity, and the duration will be limited to 10 days. The person will be receiving 100% of the prevailing highest minimum wage in the region.

Pre-Covid-19, Nicole could earn from P3,000 per client; nowadays, she relies solely on what her barangay provides: relief goods and minimal ayuda.

Another government body eyeing to supposedly help is the Social Security System (SSS), where employees of small businesses may apply to be considered for the Small Business Wage Subsidy (SBWS) Program. 

To add, the government agency is also geared up to pay some 30,000 to 60,000 workers projected to be unemployed due to possible layoffs or closures of Covid-19 affected private companies.

Some arts-focused institutions like the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) also developed their own “disaster-triggered funding mechanism” to help address the “lack of support from the government.” In FDCP’s case, the program aims to help displaced freelance audio-visual workers—from talents, to production staff and technical crew members.

But note how all efforts are mum on freelance workers.

For drag performer Lumina, Covid-19 “technically made us jobless since we do not have the option of working from home.”

Making ends meet

And so many are left to do something they never did – i.e. rely on others just to survice.

In the case of Nicole, she relies solely on what her barangay provides: relief goods and minimal ayuda

Sobrang hirap ng sitwasyon ngayon. Hindi ko alam kung saan ako kukuha ng panggastos. ‘Yung ipon ko paubos na, tapos kailangan ko pa magbayad ng renta sa bahay at ibang bills (The situation now is very hard. I don’t know where to get money to spend. My savings are almost gone, and yet I still have to pay for my rent and the bills),” she said.

Lumina, for her part, is “lucky” because she still lives with her family, and “they have been providing for my basic needs since the lockdown started.”

Her luck isn’t necessarily shared by many – e.g. Human Rights Watch earlier reported that “added family stresses related to the Covid-19 crisis – including job loss, isolation, excessive confinement, and anxieties over health and finances – heighten the risk of violence in the home… The United Nations secretary-general has reported a ‘horrifying‘ global surge in domestic-based violence linked to Covid-19, and calls to helplines in some countries have reportedly doubled.”

To add: “In a household of six members, I think the goods that we are receiving from the government is not enough,” Lumina said, hoping that “every freelance worker also receive benefits from the government that would in a way cover the earnings that we lost.”

Bleak future?

In 2017, when PayPal conducted a survey of over 500 freelancers in the Philippines, the results showed that the country had a “very optimistic freelancer market”, with 86% of freelancers claiming they anticipate future growth in their businesses. In fact, at that time, 23% of the respondents said their business is growing steadily, while 46% said their business is stable.

But Covid-19 turned everything upside-down for many.

There are rays of hope.

Toptal survey, for instance, pointed out that 90% of companies depend on freelancers to augment their professional workforce, and – get this – 76% of surveyed executives intend to increase use of independent professionals to provide expertise either to supplement full-time talent or to access skills and experiences they lack in their workforce. 

This may be particularly true to those whose works do not involve face-to-face engagement (e.g. graphics design, BPOs).

And so for the likes of Kate, Nicole and Lumina — and many other freelance workers for that matter, whose works rely on being with people — the way to get through now is to just to make do with what they can grasp on… while trapped inside and hoping for a better future, where reliance (including in a non-responsive government) is not in the picture… 

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