The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) joins the observance of International AIDS Candlelighting Memorial (IACM) and International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHOT) on May 17 and calls all to prayer to remember those who have died of AIDS and to stop homophobia and transphobia.
Citing the HIV/AIDS & ART Registry of the Department of Health that reports the combined statistics of homosexual and bisexual contact comprise 68% of the modes of HIV transmission among children and adolescents from January 1984 to March 2015, in a statement the NCCP said that “this unfortunately has reinforced the misconception among Filipinos that HIV and AIDS are diseases only of gays, bisexuals, transgender people, and other males who have sex with males.”
“At NCCP, we clarify this misconception by recognizing that HIV risk is about risky behaviors and environments and not about people’s sexual orientation or gender identity and expression. The prevailing culture of homophobia and transphobia creates a risky environment that increases vulnerabilty to HIV,” said Rev. Rex Reyes Jr., general secretary of the NCCP.
The NCCP admits faith expressions have contributed to the spread of HIV and of AIDS by their approach to gender, sex and sexuality.
“This contributed to homophobia and transphobia leading to the marginalization and ‘othering’ of LGBT people. The result is the stigma and discrimination of LGBT people that in turn force them to live double lives and nurture chronically negative self-images. This negative self-image leads to risky behaviour with fatal results. This marginalization creates a disabling environment that affects gravely the LGBT’s uptake of services associated with HIV and to have the right to lead productive and healthy lives,” said Reyes.
The NCCP also celebrates the 1990 decision of the World Health Organization to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder, as well as the efforts of mental health organizations in the country to remove the stigma of mental illness which has long been associated with diverse sexualities and to promote the well-being of LGBT people since then.
Protestant churches in the country have also started to tackle LGBT issues.
“Among our churches we give thanks for the loving ministry extended by the Salvation Army. We also celebrate the milestone action of the United Church of Church in the Philippines, which – on its 10th Quadrennial Assembly in 2014 – unanimously approved Let Grace Be Total, a policy on lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people. We note too with constructive pride the efforts of the United Methodist Church to encourage open discussions of LGBT issues in their congregations,” said Reyes.
Under the #PreventionNOTCondemnation campaign, the NCCP commits to providing a space for clergy , church workers, and lay people to challenge harmful gender norms to reverse the negative impact on LGBTs. They will continue to empower LGBT in our churches and communities in making informed decisions about HIV. Their churches will also ensure to make all relevant facts available to develop their confidence to make or negotiate healthy choices.
The NCCP recognizes the need to look into their faith traditions and ideologies.
“We also discern the need to reclaim and reinterpret our traditions and rituals, scriptures and practices, to liberate our faith from the shackles of ideologies of exclusion such as patriarchy, homophobia, and transphobia. We commit to conduct deeper consultations and education on gender, sex, and sexuality within our churches,” said Reyes.
Through the years, the NCCP recognizes that important lessons have been drawn to curb the rise of HIV transmission and AIDS-related deaths in the country.
“We resolve to work tirelessly for communities of compassion, justice, inclusivity and acceptance where the divine gift of sexuality will be celebrated in all diverse manifestations of affirmative love. We are motivated by the command of Jesus: ‘Love one another’,” Reyes ended.