No longer just for gay trysts…
Geosocial networking apps get criticized as just good for picking up. But research from Blued showed that more users actually create profile to “make or find friends to form a community”, topping looking for BF or even – get this! – looking for a sex partner. For media educator and advocacy filmmaker Libay Linsangan Cantor: “The basic human need to connect, plus the easier access to technology, is the winning combo here… Development is always a good thing if it serves some basic human purpose.”
Aaron Bonette was around 15 or 16 years old when he first created an account in Guys4Men.com, a now-defunct gay-centric social networking site. At that time he was still based in Lucena City, some 152 kilometers south of Metro Manila, where he lived with his mother and a younger sister. “I was still unsure, perhaps even confused about my sexuality then,” Aaron recalled. “At that time, I really had no one to talk to about what I was going through.”
Aaron remembers sneaking out to go to a computer shop “just to open this gay-centric social networking site,” he said. And even when already online, “I was somewhat paranoid, chatting only after making sure no one around me saw the site I logged into.”
But once logged in, Aaron said it was like entering a “completely different world, where there were other people like me with whom I could confidently speak with with discretion.”
Now 23 years old and based in Makati City, Aaron said that in hindsight, “I guess that gay ‘space’, even if online, helped me discover myself.” In fact, since those days of sneaking out, he was able to form close friendships with some people from various gay-centric social networking sites (and nowadays, geosocial networking applications/apps). “I’ve come to realize that we can make these sites as spaces where we can be free, enjoy a sense of belongingness, and look for someone to share and enjoy that sense of freedom.”
And in the current analysis of gay-centric social networking sites/geosocial networking applications (apps), this value is often relegated – if mentioned at all – to the more generally accepted raison d’être of accessing them just to find sexual partners.
TRUTH IN THE STEREOTYPE
There’s no going around the fact that the impetus of gay-centric social networking sites like the aforementioned Guys4Men.com and its ilk Adam4Adam and ManHunt, and their more current iterations, the geosocial networking applications (apps) like Grindr, Jack’d, Scruff, Tinder and Hornet was to primarily connect users to enjoy the proverbial “joys of the flesh”.
Speaking to Outrage Magazine from Roxas City in the Province of Capiz in Eastern Visayas, 29-year-old Simplicio Vito Jr. bluntly said that “I created accounts (in the apps) to get fucking buddies,” he laughed. “I may be wrong here, but isn’t that why most join these sites to begin with?”
Simplicio isn’t alone with this line of thinking.
In Las Piñas City, 30-year-old Ayem Tan said that “to be completely honest, I created accounts (when I was 23) so that I could meet other gay guys for sex.”
When they created accounts in these apps, both Simplicio and Ayem weren’t out yet and were therefore largely unfamiliar with the gay scenes where they were based, much more how to navigate the gay scene.
“I didn’t even know where gay guys hang out, or – even if I knew – how to make ‘awra (approach them)’, so picking up online was a no-brainer for me,” said Ayem who, when he started using the apps, only just broke up with a girlfriend.
This does not come as a surprise to Evan Tan, country marketing manager for the Philippines of Blued. “We don’t discount the fact that (gay) apps do help people look for sex,” he said.
But this is not all there is to it, said Tan. “What we can say though is that, from what we’ve seen, there’s (a sizable number of people who) put primary importance in looking for friends, a community they can belong to, or a romantic partner,” Tan said.
NOT CAST IN STONE
Tan ought to know what he’s talking about.
When Blued conducted a research of its users, the main reason cited by those surveyed on why they created a Blued profile to begin with was to “make or find friends to form a community” (13,204 respondents). Looking for BF as a reason only came second (11,092 respondents), while – get this! – looking for a sex partner came in last among the options, with only 6,094 respondents claiming this as a reason for creating a Blued account.
Community formation as a priority may be said to be not surprising since – still in Blued’s study – a big percentage of those surveyed were still not out. Specifically, only 37.4% were out to close friends, and less than 10% (or 9.7%) claimed that their family knows of their sexual orientation/gender identity.
According to Libay Linsangan Cantor, media educator and advocacy filmmaker, the evolution of forming groups/finding friends, with a growing number of LGBT people now doing this online, is not surprising.
In 2013, Cantor conducted a study on online homosocialization in the Philippines. In this study, she found that the middle to lower classes created groups online that were eventually appropriated offline; some of these online groups are the so-called “clans”, which are informal groups of LGBT people whose initial – if not main – mode of contact/staying together is with the use of tech.
“These online platforms served as the entry points of the queer doors one would want to enter, and queers had the luxury to choose which doors they want to enter, to have those connections they seek,” Cantor said.
For Cantor, “the basic human need to connect, plus the easier access to technology, is the winning combo here… Development is always a good thing if it serves some basic human purpose. If it lessens the queer depression and suicide rates, then yes, it’s good. Not all humans are designed the same way, so if this tech thing helps some people cope with life better, then that will always be a good thing.”
In a way, however, Blued is helped by its being different particularly when compared with other LGBT-targeting apps.
“Unlike other apps that were developed in countries that were friendlier towards members of the LGBT community, Blued originated from China, which is less open to gay men,” Tan said. “These gay men sought other people who shared the same experiences as they did, and Blued became the channel where they can discuss their shared experiences. This may have set the purpose for the app itself as it expanded to other places: more than sex, which is not bad, this is a place to meet friends and form relationships.”
Blued was launched in 2012 by Geng Le (a.k.a. Ma Baoli), a married former police officer in northern China. For 12 years, he secretly managed Danlan.org, a website for gay people. But his superiors discovered the website also in 2012, and Geng Le lost his family and job. It was this that drove him to create Blued
Many gay men – arguably particularly those who are exposed to Western (e.g. American) media – are familiar with Grindr, another geo-based dating app, which was established in 2009. The popular app counted four million users in 192 countries in 2012, growing to 10 million in 2016. As per Grindr data, it now has 2.4 million active users every day.
Surprisingly, Grindr’s numbers are not even half Blued’s, which now counts 27 million users (majority of them still in its country of origin, China), making it the largest gay social network in the world. Every day, Blued sees active use from 11 million pax.
Again, this popularity may illustrate how an app can become a safe space. After all, if a gay American opts not to use Grindr, he can always go to a gay bar, which is something not afforded other people in other contexts (for instance in far-flung areas in China, or even in the likes of Lucena City or Roxas City).
In the Philippines, Blued has about half a million users, with most between 19-32 years old. A big bulk of the current members come from Quezon City, San Juan City, Makati City, Banugao, Bacoor and Bacolod.
Not surprisingly, even Grindr has been evolving – if not the approach, then at least its market base. In a survey involving 2,500 users, almost half (or 47%) said they formed close friendships through the app, perhaps also showing that not everyone is just searching for ‘Mr. Right Now’.
Cantor said that “we have to remember that LGBT people redefined the definition of the ‘closet’ since not all queer lives can be displayed outside confidently, for oppressive and marginalized reasons we already know. Online life became like one important and highly significant window from where closeted queers can still see and connect with the outside world while ‘comfortably’ ensconced in their closets. This lessens many negative things that closeted queers previously handled alone and in the proverbial dark: isolation, self-doubt/hate/loathing/denial, depression, and even suicidal thoughts,” she said. “The online world lets us see that there are so many of us out there pala, like we are not alone in feeling the things we feel which society deem as ‘abnormal’ or ‘being deviant’, et cetera. That there are people like us out there who successfully navigate this judgmental world, whether their victories are small or huge, that’s such an important thing to see, witness, and realize. In a way, online connections have empowered queer people to reach out to others and connect in small ways or big ways.”
For Cantor, people gravitating towards friendships formed online is “but the next natural progression of being human, even if it feels artificial sometimes because technology use is involved. But remove tech and you still get that fundamental need of humans to connect. So this is why I believe we shouldn’t demonize this new way of ‘making friends’.”
INTENT (AND CONTENT) VARIATION
This is also why the drive for Blued, said Tan, goes beyond just helping people pick up, but to “help people find friends and a community.” With this intent, the app is therefore atypical when compared to other similar apps.
“Blued actually allows you to add friends, join groups, and even broadcast your hobbies and interests to other people,” Tan said. “We encourage people to keep it wholesome, because ultimately, they can always go to other apps if they’re just solely looking for sex. We want Blued to be more than just that. We want it to be a safe space where people can be who they are, without fear of judgment or discrimination.”
Blued features include: verification to guarantee that people have been manually authenticated as genuine profiles by Blued’s moderation team; ability to go live within a community of peers and to show what life is like around them; feeds to allow users to scroll through a stream of photos or videos posted by guys they have chosen to follow; grid that displays nearby profiles by distance, and users can either follow those profiles or engage in one-to-one conversations; and – obviously – the groups that allow the online homosocialization to develop/happen.
For Tan, the approach makes Blued more similar to Facebook than other hook-up apps.
No matter the form, Cantor said that online platforms are where people search for like-minded individuals first, then they bring the interaction offline via EBs (eyeball, usually one-on-one meetings) and meet-ups (for groups). “Early chatrooms like FLO (Filipino Lesbians Online) inside Gay.com’s women chatrooms pioneered this, followed by Friendster, and then later Facebook and Twitter. Now, there are the apps,” she said. “That basic need to connect — for friendship or love – never changes, even if media platforms for doing that changes in leaps and bounds.”
Twenty-three-year-old Aaron recognizes that “there may be differences in the approaches with making friends online/virtually versus making friends in the physical world. However, these differences eventually disappear once we get to know people – meet them to have drinks, catch up for coffee, watch flicks, and so on. By then, the only thing that will matter is having met someone who you can truly call as a friend, regardless if you first met him virtually or in the physical world.”
Las Piñas City-based Ayem agrees, considering that “since coming out gay after breaking up with my long-term girlfriend, I found most of my gay and bi friends from virtual communities,” he said. “Finding one good friend from (these apps) is good enough as it has a snowball effect; just find one and he can introduce you to his other friends. And before you know it, you find yourself a new tropa/barkada.”
Admittedly, there continue to be challenges. Simplicio from Roxas City, for one, said that meeting someone from online can be impersonal. “At times,” he said, “it’s like you’re talking to a robot. You cannot necessarily feel the sincerity of the person, and sometimes you can’t even understand each other.”
Then there are the “fakers”, Ayem said. “The person you might be talking to will be using a different picture or super filtered picture. They could pretend to be somebody they’re not.”
But “as it is in the physical world, you really just have to get to know people better,” Ayem said. And with this way of looking, “the onus is on you to take caution.”
For Cantor, “we still need to touch and kiss each other, right? And hello, sex! So no, these online worlds are just there for us to ‘shop around’ the market. And when we’ve picked our choices, we bring the online choice to the offline world, where the next level of exploration and interaction happens. This may seem very transactional, but isn’t that what love and friendship’s about, too?”
Cantor also recommends cautiousness. “Just don’t easily invest emotionally on every Tomasa, Darya or Henrietta who smiles at you, pokes you endlessly, winks, sends love-likes, whatever. The one thing that differentiates online interactions from offline is that you don’t easily see or feel the other person’s response, or responses can be faked. Anonymity is also a crucial hurdle here, since it’s also fairly easy for someone to pose as another person, or to hide one’s real persona, from the person they’re talking to,” she said. “Folks, common sense should still prevail, even online — especially online!”
“There’s a lot of BFF success stories out there that started virtually,” Aaron said. “I think you just have to have an open mind. And – perhaps just as important – recognize that there are those who, like me when I was still new to all these, have no other means of being with people like us but through these. Because yes, (the much maligned gay pick-up apps) can be more than just for gay trysts.”
Gay under COVID-19 monitoring
Stephen Christian Quilacio from Cagayan de Oro City is a gay person under COVID-19 monitoring. This means that sans testing, he had to isolate for 21 days. He is still anxious, but he says: “You just have to cooperate and follow protocols.”
Last Monday, after a 15-day quarantine from his travel from Cebu City, Stephen Christian Quilacio from Cagayan de Oro City “noticed I have most of the COVID-19 symptoms,” he said. He has on-off fever from the night of Monday until the next day, shortness of breath but no cough, and muscle pain. And so on Tuesday, “I decided to go to the hospital.”
During the triage/screening process, he recalled being asked questions; and eventually, “most of the symptoms for COVID-19 were found on me.”
And so, sans COVID-19 testing because of continuing issues for the same (e.g. procurement issues of the Department of Health/DOH, and – basically – not prioritizing mass testing right now even if VIP testing has been repeatedly reported), the doctor informed Stephen “that I am considered PUM: person under monitoring. I have to (isolate myself) for 21 days.”
While under quarantine, Stephen spends his days… admittedly lazily. Her reads, connects with friends on social media, sleep and eat (“My parents and my cousins just deliver food”).
If he needs to go out at all (e.g. shower), the family members go inside their separate rooms.
“We also make sure that we sanitize everything,” Stephen said.
Looking back, even if this happened only a few days ago, “when I had fever, I got scared,” Stephen said. “I panicked because I have a history of asthma and tuberculosis, and I’m also immunocompromised. I really have to be very careful (in heeding) what the doctor is telling me.”
COVID-19 still has no cure. Stephen is taking, among others, antibiotics (for seven days).
“After the medication, I will be staying in isolation until the end of the quarantine period,” he said.
Even now, “no one told me yet what I need to do after the quarantine,” Stephen said. But he hopes that the enhanced community quarantine, as a whole, will soon end; and when it does, that “everything will be okay.”
Now, “my advise to people is: If you think you have the symptoms for COVID-19, you really have to get yourself checked,” Stephen said.
The contact details of the appropriate health facilities vary per locality, obviously; but these should be “on social media or you can ask your family members,” Stephen said.
And when visiting health professionals, “you have to be very honest, especially if you have travel history. That’s very important because you don’t know if you’ve been exposed while at the airport or while traveling.”
As an additional tip, Stephen said people should “be vigilant with what’s happening in your barangay.” In his case, “our barangay is in the top three places with COVID-19 cases here. This is also why I got scared.”
And due to the much-criticized response of the DOH, Stephen said people are really not left with a lot of choice but “to cooperate; and just follow protocols.”
LGBTQIA people may designate partners as beneficiaries in insurance plans – Insurance Commission
The partners of LGBTQIA people may be designated as the beneficiaries of insurance plans, according to the Insurance Commission.
The partners of LGBTQIA people may be designated as the beneficiaries of insurance plans, according to the Insurance Commission (IC).
As first reported by PhilStar.com, IC stated that it “affirms (the) position that the insured who secures a life insurance policy on his or her own life may designate any individual as beneficiary.”
IC’s clarification/position came after Prof. E. (Leo) Battad, program director of the UP College of Law Gender Law and Policy Program, sought guidelines from the IC on the right of the insured to designate a beneficiary, particularly the rights of members of the LGBTQIA community to designate their domestic partners as beneficiaries of their life insurance.
In the legal opinion issued to the University of the Philippines College of Law, Gender Law and Policy Program, IC commissioner Dennis Funa said that “an individual who has secured a life insurance policy on his or her own life may designate any person as beneficiary provided that such designation does not fall under the enumerations provided by Article 739 of the Civil Code, without prejudice to the application of Section 12 of the Amended Insurance Code.”
Exceptions contained in Article 2012 in relation to Article 739 of the Civil Code apply.
In Article 739, the following donations shall be void:
- Those made between persons who were guilty of adultery or concubinage at the time of donation;
- Those made between persons found guilty of the same criminal offense
- Those made to a public officer or his wife, descendants and ascendants, by reason of his office.
Funa was also quoted as saying that members of the LGBTQIA community “may present the legal opinion “if an insurance agent would have an adverse view.”
Inter-Agency Committee on Diversity and Inclusion created via executive order
An executive order intends to create an inter-agency committee on diversity and inclusion, as well as establish the Diversity and Inclusion Program (DIP) that will consolidate efforts and implement laws “towards the identification and adoption of best practices in the promotion of diversity and inclusion.”
President Rodrigo Roa Duterte is flexing his supposed anti-discrimination cred with the signing of Executive Order (EO) 100, which focuses on minority sectors, including members of the LGBTQIA community, Indigenous Peoples, youth and persons with disability (PWDs).
The EO – titled “Institutionalizing the diversity and inclusion program, creating an inter-agency committee on diversity and inclusion (IACDI), and for other purposes – intends to create the aforementioned IACDI, as well as establish the Diversity and Inclusion Program (DIP) that will consolidate efforts and implement laws “towards the identification and adoption of best practices in the promotion of diversity and inclusion.”
The order was signed on December 17, prior to Duterte meeting with a politicized organization composed of LGBTQIA Filipinos that eye to win seat in Congress in the next elections via the country’s partylist system; but was only released to the media on December 19.
The to-be-established IACDI will be composed of: Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Department of Budget Management (DBM), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Education (DepEd), Department of Health (DOH), Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), Commission on Higher Education (CHED), Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor (PCUP), National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), National Council on Disability Affairs (NCDA), and National Youth Commission (NYC).
Worth noting: No LGBTQIA representation is specifically mentioned/included in the committee.
The committee is expected to work with “relevant stakeholders, advocacy groups and NGOs” to develop a DIP; dictate the direction of the DIP; “encourage” local government units to issue ordinances promoting diversity and inclusion; and recommend possible legislation to address gaps in existing laws.
Meanwhile, the to-be-established DIP is supposed to “consolidate efforts and implement existing laws, rules and issuances against the discrimination of persons on the basis of age, disability, national or ethnic origin, language, religious affiliation or belief, political affiliation or belief, health status, physical features, or sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, towards the identification and adoption of best practices in the promotion of diversity and inclusion.”
For trans activist Naomi Fontanos, who helms GANDA Filipinas, there are provisions in the EO that are problematic.
“(It) looks good on paper but has problematic provisions,” Fontanos said.
For example, “the composition of the IACDI excludes key government agencies like the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and Civil Service Commission (CSC). Instead they have consultative status. This is surprising since based on RA No. 9710 or the Magna Carta of Women (MCW), the CHR is the Gender and Development (GAD) Ombud.”
Fontanos noted that with “funding for the implementation of EO No. 100, s. 2019 will either be from sources identified by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) or through Gender and Development (GAD) funds, why then does the GAD Ombud only have consultative status?”
Also excluded from the IACDI is the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos, “which is unfortunate since the EO seeks to prohibit discrimination based on religious affiliation or belief,” Fontanos said.
Fontanos similarly questioned the chairmanship of the IACDI by the DILG.
“The DILG’s main function is to ensure peace and order, public safety, and building the capacity of local governments for basic services delivery. Implementing a nationwide DIP better fits the mandate of the DSWD, which is to empower disadvantaged sectors in our country. The DSWD is only the committee’s Vice Chair.”
For Fontanos, “also most telling is that the committee is tasked to consult relevant stakeholders and NGOs to develop the DIP. Given that EO No. 100, s. 2019 was signed during the oath-taking of officers of LGBT Pilipinas Party-List at Malacañang Palace, will they be the default ‘stakeholder’ to be consulted on LGBT issues? If they are running for a congressional seat in 2022, won’t that give them undue advantage given that they will be working with LGUs through the chairmanship of the DILG?”
Following the release of the EO, future steps to be taken have yet to be announced.
Province of Capiz holds first Pride parade
The city of Roxas in the Province of Capiz held its first LGBTQIA Pride parade, a “historic event that was organized for and by the LGBTQIA people of Capiz.”
Pride in Capiz.
The city of Roxas in the Province of Capiz held its first LGBTQIA Pride parade, a “historic event that was organized for and by the LGBTQIA people of Capiz,” said Charmel Delfin Ignacio Catalan, who helmed the organizing of the event via Queens of all Queens and LGBT Community Capiz.
The local LGBTQIA community is not exactly completely “invisible”, admitted Catalan, having participated in the city’s/province’s past gatherings – e.g. last August 12, 2019, when a contingent joined the parade for the International Youth Day. But this Pride is “important – particularly as it is being held as the world observes World AIDS Day – because it highlights what’s solely relevant to our community.”
As is common with non-commercialized Pride events, “the main problem (we encountered) was financial,” Catalan said. This is because “we only relied on donations of generous individuals (to be able to hold this event).” But since “it had the backing of the community… we were able to push through.”
With Catalan in organizing the Pride parade were Atty. Felizardo Demayuga Jr. and Sandro Borce.
For Catalan: “I believe we still need Pride in this day and age to celebrate the unique individuality of the members of the LGBTQIA Community, and – of course – to continue the advocacy of equal rights and mutual respect and the causes that we are fighting for.”
Roxas City, in particular, still records LGBTQIA-related hate crimes. In a 2015 interview with Outrage Magazine, Catalan recalled the bashing of a trans woman na napag-tripan (because some people just felt like it); sex work-related ill-treatment; and even killings.
This is why Catalan said she hopes for (particularly local) LGBTQIA people to attend the gathering as a show of strength that “we’re in this together.”
Catalan, nonetheless, recognizes that many non-LGBTQIA people still detest/discriminate LGBTQIA people. And so to them she said: “To all our bashers/haters, please take note that we have no ill feelings towards you; we love you and you are always in our prayers. Please take note that sticks and stones may break our bones but you won’t see us fall.”
‘We need inclusive responses to HIV’ – Bahaghari Center
For Ms Disney Aguila, board member of Bahaghari Center, “it needs to be emphasized that HIV can only truly be dealt with if everyone is on board.”
In early 2019, Jay (not his real name), a Deaf gay man who lives outside Metro Manila, was encouraged by his friends who knew community-based HIV screening (CBS) to get himself tested. It was, he recalled, “the first time someone offered me this service; so I caved in.”
Jay was reactive; and “my world crumbled,” he said.
Though his friends tried to comfort him, telling him that knowing his status is good, “since at least now I can take steps to get treatment and live a normal, healthy life,” Jay wasn’t assuaged. His friends had to eventually go back to Metro Manila, and he worried that he would be left on his own to “find ways to access treatment.” And the same issue that did not make testing accessible for him – i.e. him being Deaf – is now the same issue he believed would hinder him from getting treatment, care and support (TCS).
Jay’s case, said Ms Disney Aguila, board member of the Bahaghari Center for SOGIE Research, Education and Advocacy Inc. (Bahaghari Center), highlights how “numerous sectors continue to be ignored in HIV-related responses.”
Aguila, the concurrent head of the Pinoy Deaf Rainbow, the pioneering organization for Deaf LGBTQIA Filipinos, added that “it needs to be emphasized – particularly today as #WAD2019 – that HIV can only truly be dealt with if everyone is on board.”
WORSENING HIV SITUATION
As reported by the HIV/AIDS & ART Registry of the Philippines (HARP) of the Department of Health (DOH), the Philippines has 35 new HIV cases every day. The figure has been consistently growing – from only one case every day in 2008, seven cases per day in 2011, 16 cases per day in 2014, and 32 cases per day in 2018.
In July, when HARP released its (delayed) latest figures, there were 1,111 newly confirmed HIV-positive individuals; this was 29% higher compared with the diagnosed cases (859) in the same period last year.
Perhaps what is worth noting, said Aguila, is the “absence in current responses of minority sectors” – e.g. when even data does not segregate people from minority sectors, thus the forced invisibility that used to also affect transgender people who were once lumped under the MSM (men who have sex with men) umbrella term.
For Aguila, this is “detrimental to the overall response re HIV because specific needs are not answered.”
DEAF IN FOCUS
In 2012, Bahaghari Center conducted “Talk to the Hand”, the first-of-its-kind study that looked at the knowledge, attitudes and related practices (KAP) of Deaf LGBT Filipinos on HIV and AIDS. The study had numerous disturbing findings.
To start, majority of the respondents (33 or 54.1%) were within the 19-24 age range at the time of the study, followed by those who are over 25 (21 or 34.3%). Most of them (53 of 61 Deaf respondents) had sex before they reached 18. Many (36.1%) of them also had numerous sexual partners, with some respondents having as many as 20 sex partners in a month.
Only 21 (34.4%) use condoms, and – worryingly – even among those who used condoms, 12 (19.7%) had condom breakage during sex because of improper use.
Perhaps the unsafe sexual practice should not be surprising, considering that not even half (29, 47.5%) of the respondents heard of HIV and AIDS, with even less that number (23, 37.7%) knowing someone who died of HIV or AIDS-related complications. And with not even half of the total respondents (29) familiar with HIV and AIDS, not surprisingly, only 19 (31.1%) considered HIV and AIDS as serious, with more of them considering HIV and AIDS as not serious (20, 32.8%) or maybe serious (22, 36.1%).
The study also noted that the level of general knowledge about HIV and AIDS is low, with 40 (65.6%) of them falling in this category. Only about 1/5 of them (12, 19.7%) had high level of knowledge about HIV and AIDS. Even fewer (9, 14.8%) may be classified as having moderate knowledge level.
For the Deaf community, at least, accessing testing and – if one tested HIV positive – the TCS is challenging because “we’d need Filipino Sign Language (FSL) interpreters who can help make sure we’re getting the right information/treatment/et cetera, Aguila said. And in the Philippines, the numbers of service providers who know FSL remain very limited.
Already there are Deaf Filipinos trained to conduct CBS particularly for other Deaf Filipinos – here in “Stop HIV Together“, a photo campaign stressing the need for inclusion.
INCLUDING OTHER MINORITIES
Aguila stressed that forced invisibility, obviously, does not only affect the minority Deaf community as far as HIV-related responses are concerned – e.g. “other persons with disability continue not to have HIV-related interventions,” she said.
For Aguila: “To truly stop HIV and AIDS, we need to be inclusive.”
Back in the city south of Metro Manila, Jay was forwarded to a counselor who knows FSL so that he can be supported in accessing TCS. Even that was “problematic,” said Jay, because “I was ‘forced’ to come out to someone I didn’t necessarily want to disclose my status only because I had no choice.”
For him, this highlights “how we just have to make do with what’s there; and there really isn’t much that’s there to begin with.”
He feels “lighter” now, however, having started his antiretroviral treatment (ART). But he knows he’s one of the “lucky people with contacts”; and that “not every one has access to the same support I had… and that’s something we need to deal with.”
‘Ang laban ng LGBT ay laban ng mamamayan’
As Baguio City holds its 13th #Pride March, there is emphasis on the de-commercialization of Pride to ficus on issues affecting all minority sectors including the #LGBT community. As stressed by Nico Ponce of Bahaghari-UP Baguio, hopefully other sectors join the fight for human rights for all because “ang laban ng LGBT ay laban ng buong mamamayan.”
The struggle of the LGBTQIA community is the struggle of the people/nation.
So said Nico Ponce, chairperson of the UP-Baguio University Student Council and of Bahaghari-UP Baguio, which helmed Amianan Pride Council (APC), the organizer of the 13th Pride March in Baguio City.
This is why, Ponce added, at least particularly for Pride in Baguio City, there was an intent to veer away from commercializing Pride, to instead focus on the issues of all LGBTQIA people no matter the sector they belong to. There was also an emphasis on intersectionality – i.e. that other minority sectors have a stake in the fight for equal treatment of LGBTQIA people, also a minority sector.
“We are against the commercialization of Pride,” Ponce said, “since naniniwala tayo na ang historic roots of Pride ay… sang protest (we believe in the historic roots of Pride as a protest).” And so, to maintain the militant nature of Pride, we “make calls that… are comprehensive; and that affect not just LGBTQIA people but all Filipinos.”
The position, of course, is relevant considering the seeming (if not eventual) move towards commercialization of Pride events – e.g. cash-dependent Metro Manila’s Pride parade was able to gather over 50,000 participants in this year’s party/gathering; though the same number won’t surface to push for the anti-discrimination bill (ADB) that has been pending in Congress for 19 years now.
“There is still no equity,” said transgender activist Ms Santy Layno, which makes hosting Pride still relevant.
“We still march,” added Rev. Pastor Myke Sotero of MCC-MB, “because even if people say that LGBTQIA people are already tolerated in the Philippines, we continue to suffer discrimination… with our transgender siblings still killed/murdered. We still need to march for Pride… as a form of protest.”
‘We (still) need Pride because of the apparent need of the LGBTQIA community (for acceptance) in all sectors of society,” Ponce added.
Baguio City already has an anti-discrimination ordinance, passed in April 2017, that wants to ensure that “every person… be given equal access to opportunities in all fields of human endeavor and to equitable sharing of social and economic benefits for them to freely exercise the rights to which they are rightfully entitled, free from any prejudice and discrimination.”
But the city also has anti-LGBTQIA history. For instance, in 2011, eight pairs of LGBTQIA people had commitment ceremony there, under MCC-MB. Oppositions were raised by the Catholic Church and a group of pastors from Baguio and Benguet. Bishop Carlito Cenzon of the Baguio-Benguet Vicariate of the Roman Catholic Church, for one, stated that “these unions are an anomaly.”
In the end, said Sotero, Pride is a way to inform society “that we’re here, we’re not going anywhere, so society should accept LGBTQIA people.”
“To people who ridicule/mock us, we’re open to discussions,” said Ponce. “Hindi sila kaaway… kaya sana makiisa kayo dahil ang laban ng LGBTQIA ay laban ng buong mamamayan (We are not enemies… so we hope you join the struggle because the fight for equality of LGBTQIA people is similar to the fight for social justice of the entire nation).” – WITH ALBERT TAN MAGALLANES, JR.
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