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Op-Ed

Is the church’s attitude toward LGBT changeable?

On whether the pope’s hopeful attitude will ever reach the Philippines or not, Fr. Richard Mickley admits that “we still hear horror stories about sermons and put downs in both Catholic and Protestant churches.” However, he admitted that “there have been glimmers of light and hope over the years.”

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I have mostly stayed out of the discussion going around about the change of attitude (from the top, as it were) signaled by Pope Francis from Rome.

But Prof. Asuncion David Maramba is too full of insights to pass by.

“Why is the pope’s attitude significant to LGBT people in the Philippines?” a friend asked me the other other day. Remember the prevailing attitude of the past several century, one so often criticized by Rizal, was what brought me here in 1991. Michael Santos wrote a letter which came to my attention while I was pastor of MCC Auckland, New Zealand. “I have been kicked out of my church for being gay. When is somebody going to come to the Philippines and help gay and lesbian people who love the Lord?”

At the petition of 43 people, I came. The secrecy, the stigma, the total lack of media recognition (honorably) of gay and lesbian people; the lack of Internet, email, cell phones, Facebook, Twitter were huge obstacles. There were no organizations in the country “doing business” as openly gay and lesbian organizations (the term LGBT was not yet invented) but The Library Foundation (in the name of AIDS advocacy) was already doing a great job, as it has over the years.

I started to bring it all out of the closet. With the talents and work of Oscar Atadero, MCC and Progay were able pull off the first public Pride March in Asia in June 1994. The publicity really got the ball rolling, with the popular Mel and Jay Show and so many other opportunities to tell the world we are here; we are human; we deserve justice and equality. It did not happen overnight.

But many many gay and lesbian and transgender organizations sprung up, and they did the job. We now even have our own on-line news and information publication, Outrage Magazine.

So where does Pope Francis come in? Late. Prof. Maramba asks, “Will the pope’s rays of new attitude reach the Philippines?” You know, we still hear horror stories about sermons and put downs in both Catholic and Protestant churches.

It does not seem to be happening in the palaces and cathedrals of Cardinal Sin, Cardinal Rosales, and Cardinal Tagle. But there have been glimmers of light and hope over the years, I have received congratulatory letters from Catholic priests who have declared that gay and lesbian people do deserve to know God’s love.

The most recent example of an answer to Prof. Maramba’s question was experienced by me personally when I was nominated for the COSE award to the Sampung Ulirang Nakatatanda (10 Outstanding Elderly) of 2013. One of the judges was a Roman Catholic priest (also elderly) who made no secret that he was in favor of the award going to someone who had been working for the improved lives of LGBT people.

With that I will pass on to you the wisdom of Prof. Maramba. Please note in context these amazing words of the Jesuit who is Supreme Pontiff to more than a billion people.

“Human self-understanding changes in time and so also human consciousness deepens…. So we grow in the understanding of the truth. Exegetes and theologians help…. Other sciences and their development help…. There are ecclesiastical rules and precepts that were once effective, but now they have lost value or meaning. The view of the church’s teaching as a monolith to defend without nuance or different understandings is wrong…. Forms for expressing truth can be multiform and this is indeed necessary for the transmission of the Gospel in its timeless meaning.”

He also recalls Ignatius’ statement that “great principles must be embodied in the circumstances of place, time and people.”

Rev. Richard R. Mickley, CDOS, OSAe, Ph.D. is a Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of One Spirit, Philippines; and the Abbot of The Order of St. Aelred and St. Aelred Friendship Society. His snail mail is: 33-A Sta. Maria Street, Barrio Kapitolyo, 1603 Pasig City, Metro Manila. He may be reached at: (+63) 9209034909; or email: saintaelred@gmail.com.

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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Photo by Timothy Eberly from Unsplash.com

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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Health & Wellness

The mental cost of Covid-19 lockdown

As the country copes with the “new normal”, the issue of mental health continues to be in the back burner. “Priorities” now continue to focus on: controlling the spread of Covid-19, and mitigating its impact on the economy. This is even if experts warn that the crisis could have a “profound” and “pervasive impact” on global mental health now and in the future.

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Photo by Ian Panelo from Pexels.com

“Three of my closest friends committed suicide last week,” John Albert shared in a post. “I could not believe the news when I heard it. I saw them before the lockdown; everything seemed fine.”

I chatted with John Albert, and in a short online conversation, he said that one of these friends was a lesbian. Her body was reportedly found by a barangay tanod who was patrolling their area. When they checked the phone beside her, there were 30 missed calls and 57 unread notifications. According to John Albert, the last message his friend sent was to her brother: “Ang hirap pala ng ganito, nag-iisa ka lang at wala kang makausap. Nalulungkot ako pero wala akong choice. Sana matapos na itong lockdown.”

But John Albert’s lesbian friend isn’t the only such case – at least it seems – of members of the LGBTQIA community dealing with the mental strife brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tere, a transgender woman who started her transition this January, lives in a small apartment and is used to doing things on her own, in her own way. But it changed on March 17, when Pres. Rodrigo Roa Duterte enforced the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon, which halted just about everything.

Most people were forced to adjust to what is only available. And in Tere’s case, this meant “temporarily” moving back to her parents’ house. And there, she does not exactly feel fully welcomed.

“For some reason, my father always scolds me. He wants me to do this and that, always asking me questions about my decision to transition and what will happen to my future,” shared Tere, who lamented that all her movements are being monitored so she cannot do her usually routine. “It had already come to a point that I just stay in my room the whole day and cry. I started questioning myself, too.”    

It is worth stressing that for those dealing with mental health issues, know that there are ways to lessen the stress and burden on the mind.
Photo by Alan Cabello from Pexels.com

FOCUS ON MENTAL STATE

“The new normal” – as people are now referring to the time of Covid-19 – is also testing how strong one’s coping mechanism is, particularly with the need to socially isolate that could trigger loneliness, which the American Psychological Association says increases the risk of premature mortality

After all, two of the major factors that may contribute to a person’s mental health is the sudden change in physical and social environments. And so: What if you are someone who is struggling to manage how you think, feel and behave given the current controlled environment?

At this point, there’s the acknowledgement that the Covid-19 pandemic not only attacks the body’s immune system, but also wreaks havoc on the mental state of people. 

A recent chat with Filipino persons living with HIV (PLHIV), for instance, showed that aside from the paranoia about the disease (e.g. how it spreads, the constant danger of being in close contact with someone who has it), the battle with one’s self can just be as difficult.

Sadly, there are no available outlets to release these anxieties, just the confines of your home/room/house. And for many, this is proving to be very difficult.

Perhaps even more so for LGBTQIA people going through additional difficulties because of their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression.

LOOKING FOR A WAY OUT

John Albert’s lesbian friend’s demise highlights how bad things can turn out.

And suicide isn’t “rare” in the Philippines – even if still not as widely discussed. In 2016, the World Bank reported that the Philippines’ suicide rate was 3.20 per 100,000 inhabitants. The rate has actually been growing since 2000.  

And as the country slowly copes with the “new normal”, the issue of mental health continues to be in the back burner. “Priorities” now continue to focus on: controlling the spread of Covid-19, and mitigating its impact on the economy. 

In a paper published in Lancet Psychiatry, scientists already stressed the need to also prioritize mental health, since a crisis could have “profound” and “pervasive impact” on global mental health now and in the future.

The World Health Organization (WHO), itself, acknowledged that “as the coronavirus pandemic rapidly sweeps across the world, it is inducing a considerable degree of fear, worry and concern in the population at large and among certain groups in particular…”

WHO stressed that: “In public mental health terms, the main psychological impact to date is elevated rates of stress or anxiety. But as new measures and impacts are introduced – especially quarantine and its effects on many people’s usual activities, routines or livelihoods – levels of loneliness, depression, harmful alcohol and drug use, and self-harm or suicidal behavior are also expected to rise.”

But there are steps that can be taken.

US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) added practical ways to cope with stress:

  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
  • Take care of your body.
    • Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate.
    • Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
    • Exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep.
    • Avoid alcohol and drugs.
  • Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
  • Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.

It is worth stressing that for those dealing with mental health issues, know that there are ways to lessen the stress and burden on the mind. And perhaps apt to stress is the need to help each other. Just as Cebu City-based transgender woman Magdalena Robinson, CEO of the Cebu United Rainbow LGBTIQ+ Sector Inc., said, this is the right time to “fix each other’s crown.”

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