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Janfred Palikpikan: Challenging HIV stigma in faith communities

The life of Janfred Palikpikan changed when he learned about his HIV status. Now as an advocate for the rights of PLHIVs, he believes in the need for a paradigm shift in Biblical teachings that continues to malign and intently condemn homosexuals as immoral perverts, and abomination. “I would like to challenge the ministers of God. To take a second, third, fourth look again at the Holy Scriptures and make a paradigm shift on what they have been lecturing from the start of their ministries,” says Janfred.

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This is part of “More than a Number”, which Outrage Magazine launched on March 1, 2013 to give a human face to those infected and affected by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS) in the Philippines, what it considers as “an attempt to tell the stories of those whose lives have been touched by HIV and AIDS”. More information about (or – for that matter – to be included in) “More than a Number”, email editor@outragemag.com, or call (+63) 9287854244 and (+63) 9157972229.

Janfred Palikpikan learned about his HIV status after a failed local medical examination as he was slated to travel for overseas employment in Singapore through one of POEA’s accredited list of recruitment agencies. He Googled the overseas job vacancy through workabroad.ph, and part of the requirement before the job offer is given was to undergo a medical exam through its partner clinic.

“We paid for our medical exam. I think it was P2,500. I could recall it was my second time to apply in the same recruitment agency kasi nag-fail ako sa (because I failed in the) first application screening after I intentionally held on to my beard or goatee, and the client didn’t like that. It took me another month to try (to have a second chance),” Janfred recalled.

After a month lapsed, he applied again to the same agency, knowing fully well how to groom himself this time. The initial screening and interview went well this time, and after two days he was asked to report for endorsement to medical exam.

Ang sabi sa amin ng agency was, if all goes well, mabilis papasok ‘yung result ng medical exam. After 24 hours, kapag walang sabit, aawardan ka na ng clean bill of health and contract in two weeks’ time. Kaso we were also warned that maraming sumasabit sa (Our agency said that if all goes well, the medical results would be quickly retrieved. After 24 hours if there are no problems, a clean bill of health is given, and a contract is awarded in two weeks. But we were also warned that many encounter problems in their) medical exam based on their past experiences. I didn’t actually know what that meant, pero it just came to me as something passé,” said Janfred.

Janfred had to apply because he was getting a little desperate from his regular high-paying call center day job in the Philippines. His job grade hasn’t increased from his current employer that time for the last three consecutive years, and the wonderful success stories he heard of people making it to the “great metropolis SG or Dubai were all so good to be true they seemed so enticing enough I couldn’t bear (working here) any longer.”

“I had to apply, I wanted to go out of my comfort zone and take the risk. The heck, anyway, as I was already able to save a certain amount that could serve as buffer for my expenses while and if I get there (in Singapore). And so I went through the medical process after I successfully passed the initial screening and client interview the second time around,” said Janfred.

As soon as Janfred and other applicants went to the clinic a few blocks away from the agency along P.Faura St., they were briefed for a few minutes how the process and what the 5ml blood extraction was all about. It just all came to him as SOP. However, after my medical exam, he was informed by the agency to report to the clinic ASAP as there was a “minor problem”. This made him shrug in fear.

But at that time, he thought that “baka may kulang lang silang di nagawa sa akin since ang bilis lang namin i-process na parang mass laborers going to war (Maybe they wanted to do more tests to me since everything felt rushed, and it seemed like we were being processed as mass laborers going to war).”

As soon as he reached the clinic, it took around 10-20 minutes before he was approached by a skinny lady who then asked him to follow her to a small isolated room. The room looked like a small storage area for excess office supplies, but there was an office table and three vacant chairs where she gestured for him to seat. Janfred sat across her as she sat behind the table. She then started probing him questions about his lifestyle and behavior that made him feel a bit uncomfortable.

“Why are we having this conversation?” asked Janfred.

And then she told him that his blood had reacted to HIV antibodies through the ELISA screening method they normally use, and that it was foolproof.

“Sir, if you have antibodies for HIV, then you’re HIV positive,” said the skinny lady.

He was asked to submit again another extraction of the same amount of blood, so they can ascertain after two weeks his HIV status. This time the test was for free. The skinny lady told him that they will send his blood to San Lazaro’s STD/AIDS Cooperative Central Laboratory (SACCL) clinic, which is where blood samples that test positive are sent for confirmatory testing.

Janfred willingly complied. The skinny lady was nice enough to say that if there was anything that she can do to comfort him, he can just call her.

FACING THE STATUS

“I really couldn’t wait that long, so I went to San Lazaro and after less than two weeks. And I was confirmed HIV+. I remember that day – February 11, 2008 – was the day I tested positive, the eve of my birthday (February 12). On February 21, I received my confirmation letter at SACCL,” remembered Janfred.

Janfred had to collect himself after the news. He remembered his knees were literally shaking the moment he walked and left the partner clinic until the confirmation. In the weeks after that, he went to St. Luke’s in E. Rodriguez for another opinion, but the physician couldn’t do anything.

“The more than one week of waiting for confirmation was the most gruesome thing anyone could experience. It’s like a death sentence one couldn’t bear. In that more than a week of waiting, I became bedridden,” said Janfred.

He had to file for emergency sick leaves, and he also remembered his sudden depression became obvious during dinner on his birthday. All the food he ate was tasteless. During family times, he barely smiled and just went to bed for days. His parents knew something was incredibly wrong.

Janfred’s mind was racing all the time, as his thought seemed to jumble. “This is it….finally. I had a explanations why I was having sores in my mouth, some even as many as four at the same time, and the sores just wouldn’t disappear (my excuse back then was it was viral/airborne). Finally, that explained why I would get so skinny easily without skipping any meal or while even staying focused in gym for even three to four times a week. Finally, that explained why I would get migraines so bad and uncommon for young people such as me. Finally, that explained why I would get tired easily, never realizing that my normal routine would just require I travel short distances from work, to gym, to home daily. Finally, that explained why my libido and urges drastically dropped from the usual because my body was mustering all the energy left for me to walk, work out, and work… Finally, my double life caught up with me. It was payback time. I knew something was wrong, but I was in denial that it’s AIDS,” he remembered thinking.

Janfred eventually disclosed his status to close friends.

“Only to those who are civilized, educated, matured and knowledgeable people. I will still not confess publicly as the stigma is prevalent socially and societally,” said Janfred.

RISK FACTORS

Janfred first heard of HIV when he was in high school, and the thought of that touching his own life never crossed his mind.

“I was living a devout rightful, so-so Christian life,” said Janfred.

This was, at least, the reputation he had.

Reality was farther from that, though.

Janfred can identify some of the factors that may have got him infected with the virus.

“I was engaging in risky sexual anonymous activities/encounters with people I didn’t know – ni pangalan di ko alam (even the names evaded me). My sexcapades included those in Manila’s old slum theatres along Sta.Cruz; though I only engaged in fellatio. I had sex in male bath houses, and I remember I had two exclusive memberships back then; though I remember never getting bottomed. I have been active in Guys4men.com (now PlanetRomeo.com), and I even posted my mobile number publicly in static channels in Cable TVs during the wee hours in the morning. I would bravely cruise on my own in the U-belt area at 12:00 midnight untuil 4:00 AM. I was always successful sneaking out quietly while they were all asleep (at home). I remember attending from one to three orgies, with more than three participants; as well as asking sexual favors along our street from passers-by,” said Janfred.

FUTURE PLANS

Janfred had to re-examine his options in the short, medium and long term goal. His graveyard shift at work didn’t help his condition.

“I knew I had to go (leave work) ASAP, but I still stayed with my employer for more than a year. The materialistic goals had to go. No more dream house. No more dream car. No more abroad plans (for now). I had to lessen expensive impulsive buying,” he said.

Upon diagnosis, “I had a CD4 count of 404, but when I left my employer, it was down to 234 only. My plan was go back to school and get a masters degree because I got stagnant in the BPO for seven years,” said Janfred.

HIV humbled Janfred at a time when he thought he felt invincible. At a time when he should be concerned of wealth accumulation rather than compromised health.

“There are always two sides of a coin. I can never plot the same objective I originally conceived before my HIV diagnosis. When you are HIV+, you need to look at what options you have and I was able to reposition myself. Even now I continue to do so. I didn’t lose any friends. But I had to scale down on irrelevant activities I deem as tiresome and strenuous. Hence, I had to let go of activities with colleagues. I lost prospective partners but it’s because it was my choice not to engage in the same activities again. I fear they might get stigmatized if I tell them. I am single as the task of looking after myself now is more important. With family, I became closer to mom and sisters,” said Janfred.

MEDICAL & SOCIAL SUPPORT

Janfred always got his support from siblings and his mother who helped him even until now, particularly when he had to undergo his ARV trial period.

“What I would do to give my mom a comfortable life,” he sighed. “Right now she continues to be our breadwinner until I dont know when. She’s quite exhausted and reaching retirement. We neither have a house, a car, or a (place our own in some) province,” said Janfred.

Janfred is already taking the ARV medicines. He underwent his trial period on April 20, 2010 because his CD4 went down. Now it still fluctuates depending on his exposure to stress from his current employment.

With his medicines, the problems he had been encountering are – for him – touch on his appearance. “Good thing I didn’t develop any severe side effects, particularly on my skin. The only problem I observe is an abnormal bulge on my belly, which I am currently burning through workouts and cardio exercises. I also noticed my thighs got thinner so I made some research and found out (the medicines I am taking) could make one’s extremities smaller and belly bigger. Even my family noticed it too,” said Janfred.

VULNERABILITIES FROM THE CHURCH

Janfred believes that what drove him to be vulnerable to HIV is how society as a whole looks at homosexuals as people who are condemned, sinful and unnatural.

“My culture – including my family, which is very patriarchal (Oh yes, I have a father but he always looks down on gays and fags and makes fun of them on TV, makes slur comments even now!) – gave me reasons to believe while I grew up that I wasn’t appreciated for what I am. My father imposes a tyranical hold on the household while maintaining a sense of proximal abandonment (he’s near yet so far); we didn’t connect at all,” said Janfred.

This is something that Janfred said he noticed with fellow PLHIVs: the absence of a father; the lack of a much more loving father figure.

Not having a loving father is supposed to be “remedied” by a loving church.

“I read a passage somewhere in the bible that says (I forgot the verse though) ‘If you have an earthly father who forsakes you, you have a Father in heaven.’ And of course where does one learn their doctrines and mores? From the church,” said Janfred.

However, Janfred said that the various church denominations maligns and uses passages in the Bible to intently condemn homosexuals and lesbians as immoral perverts, and abomination.

“So here we are, at one side we have an absence of love and respect from our earthly biological father; and on the other, a church that has taught us that our Father in heaven is not inclusive (of us). To whom should we go then? If this kind of mentality has been planted in our minds and way of thinking, then we have been pushed to do activities underground including sex. In the words of Dr. Erlinda Senturias, (we go) ‘KKK’, which means, kataas-taasan, kadilim-diliman, kasulok-sulukan (on high areas, in dark places, and in narrow paths),” said Janfred.

Janfred believes that is the reason why there is now a spike in HIV cases reported in the Philippines alone. The source of the problem is moral in nature, and mores affect how people behave as a society. People have been led to believe that being gay is a bad thing, which is not.

And while priests and pastors continue to verbally condemn gays as people receiving zero-redemption, “this is in contrast to how I see myself. I see myself as someone who is full of love ,and that I just want to share my love to someone I fancy – though I haven’t found him yet. Now I’m looking for someone like me, an HIV+ too, so that we can look at each other’s back with support,” said Janfred.

Janfred adds that the Bible talks about love as the most important element that sums up everything in the Bible in one word. He is guided by this question he so loves that he adopted from the Rev. Phumzile Mabizela, Executive Director of INERELA, who said: “About your gender, are you sure it’s the real voice of God you are hearing and not from what the church has taught you about Him?”

“I would like to challenge the ministers of God. To take a second, third, fourth look again at the Holy Scriptures and make a paradigm shift on what they have been lecturing from the start of their ministries,” said Janfred.

Janfred added that knowledge of the Bible has brought this country in a pandemic stage on HIV, and that people should embrace the sexual orientation and gender identity of LGBT people since acceptance could help remedy the issue at hand.

“‘Let it go’ is what I would like to say to the aggressors. Stop the stigma, shame, denial, discrimination, inaction, and misaction!” Janfred ended.

Connect with Janfred at janfred_palikpikan@yahoo.com.

Red Trese is a Certified Associate Acupuncturist of the Philippine Institute of Traditional and Alternative Health Care who is obsessed with discovering alternative and complementary therapies to boost his CD4 count. As a servant-friend at The Well, an LGBT wellness center based in Metro Manila, he sits among other people living with HIV (PLHIV) to laugh, cry, and just talk about anything about living with the virus. Here he writes his journey on the challenges and on how to do everything right as a PLHIV in the Philippines. Email Red Trese at thelgbtwell@gmail.com.

#KaraniwangLGBT

Pride beyond the sash and the crown

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

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All photos courtesy of Ms Trixie Maristela

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

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

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

MAKING A NAME

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

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

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

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

THOSE WHO CAN, TEACH

Maristela believes in the value of education.

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

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

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

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

LENDING A HAND

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

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

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

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

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

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Lifestyle & Culture

Celebrities who are helping the LGBT cause

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

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

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

Kevin Durant 

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

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

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

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle 

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

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

Lady Gaga

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

Justin Trudeau 

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

Ariana Grande 

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

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

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NEWSMAKERS

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

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

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Screenshot of the Twitter account of Elliot Page

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

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

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

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

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

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People You Should Know

Living with HIV in Digos City

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

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

BI AWAKENING

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

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

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

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

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

FINDING OUT ABOUT HIS HIV STATUS

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

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

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

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

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

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

EVERYONE CAN BE INFECTED

Even before then, Charles actually worked in HIV advocacy.

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

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

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

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

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

BEING OPEN ABOUT LIVING WITH HIV

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

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

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

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

HIV-RELATED ISSUES IN DAVAO DEL SUR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EMPOWERING THE HIV COMMUNITY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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People You Should Know

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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NEWSMAKERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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