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JM Cobarrubias: Making milestones

Meet Jesus Manuel (JM) Espiritu Cobarrubias Jr., who believes that “if individually, we erase stereotypes and misconceptions on GLBTQI’s in our own environments. Ipakita natin sa nga ka-opisina natin, sa mga kapitbahay natin, kasabay natin sa simbahan, sa gym, sa kung saan man, na ang GLBTQIA ay parte ng kanilang buhay na di nila dapat pandirihan, na tayo ay minamahal. At tayo ay nagmamahal at nakakatulong sa pamilya, komunidad at bansa.”

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While working in the office of the late former senator Raul S. Roco, a workmate, upon knowing of my homosexuality, commented how I just haven’t met the “right one” – a woman – for me. “When you do, you’ll realize you don’t really want to be one (a woman); that you’re really a man, a real man, made for a woman,” was how she put it. “God will provide, you’ll see.”

Her way of looking was flawed. In so many ways.

But I was forgiving – had to be forgiving.

This is a woman who believes the funniest person in the planet is Joey de Leon (“She-Man is the funniest. Ever,” she once said); whose major source of “celebrity stories,” as she put it, is Tita Swarding (“She knows the latest gossips”); whose concept of homosexuals is largely shaped by those she saw (and still sees) in TV and films, among other media – Herbert Baustista as Jill (opposite Sharon Cuneta as Jack in Jack & Jill, based on Mars Ravelo’s characters created in 1935), who decided to be straightened out, after all; and Dolphy as Pacifica Falayfay, among others.

Media Awareness Network (media-awareness.ca) cites media educators Larry Gross and George Gerbner, who argue that “the media participate in the ‘symbolic annihilation’ of gays and lesbians by negatively stereotyping them (often consigning them to the margins of entertainment media, playing either ‘colourful’ and ‘flamboyant’ characters or dangerous psychopaths), by rarely portraying them realistically, or by not portraying them at all.” This may be because “the commercial structure of the mass media limits the opportunity for representing diverse characters. Too often networks and film companies shy away from portraying gays and lesbians for fear of alienating or offending advertisers, investors, and audiences.”

Inarguably, the bottom line (read: profitability of businesses) drives the decision – a move that does disservice to the GLBTQIA community, only less worse than, say, the acceptance of the GLBTQIAs, themselves, in playing the roles given them.

Enter Jesus Manuel (JM) Espiritu Cobarrubias Jr., and, alas, there’s proof that the times, they are, as Bob Dylan once said, a-changin’.

BIG STEPS

After finishing a Bachelor of Science Development Communication (Major in Community Broadcasting) at the University of the Philippines Los Banos, College in the province of Laguna, where he co-founded the UP Alliance of Devcom Students, Cobbarubias first worked as a call center agent for All Asia Customer Services Inc. in the Light Industry and Science Park from 2000 to 2001 (by then, he already had work experiences as a service crew in Jollibee from 1996 to 1997; and as service crew of ACA Video in 1999).

“I wanted a better job than answering calls every day – I graduated from UP, and I had pride in my self that I can do something,” Cobbarubias says. “So, kahit wala ako kaalam-alam sa mga pasikot-sikot sa Maynila (even if I didn’t know Metro Manila that well), I made a decision to resign from the call center, leave all of my friends and officemates (who all cheered for me by the way), and take my chances.”

At that time, he was thinking that, “salary wise, pareho lang din makukuha ko (I’ll just get the same amount); and the Producer (who is now my best friend) was willing to help me around. May support system ako, kumbaga.”

Looking at finding a job in the corporate world (“I wanted to work in the corporate world, to wear long sleeve polo shirts and neck tie and just look slick,” he says), Cobbarubias ended up working for Probe “by a twist of fate.” In 2001, while working as a call center agent in Cabuyao, Laguna, one of his office mates (a high school classmate) introduced him and some friends to a segment producer from Probe Productions. “That producer (who happens to be my best friend now) asked us if we wanted to apply in Probe – they had an urgent hiring (then) for a PA (production assistant), since, apparently, one of the PA’s resigned. We said, ‘Yes, we want to try.’ So our producer friend convinced his boss (Nessa Valdellon, now the VP for public affairs of GMA 7) to extend the application. So, me and my other officemate (a girl) took a leave from work (we were supported by our supervisor – who also was our friend) to go to the interview. After we were both interviewed, we left the office and went home,” Cobbarubias recalls. Eventually, “I got a call. I got it.”

JM Cobbarubias is hoping that “sana dumami pa ang mga GLBTQIAs na lalantad para matulungan ang ibang tao na ma-realize na hindi lahat ng GLBTQIA ay ‘yung klase ng tao na nakikita nila sa TV or sa pelikula o sa mga indie films na walang saysay (hopefully the number of GLBTQIAs who will come out will increase to help people realize that not all GLBTQIAs are similar to those they see on TV or films or indie films who can be useless).”

LIFE LESSONS

“Working in mainstream media, with no experience (even as an intern), I faced a lot of challenges. You would not believe this, but when I started in Probe, I did not even know how to turn on a PC (personal computer, since we didn’t have computer at home, and I did not really learn from our computer science course in UP),” Cobbarubias says. But since he was hired in March 2001, an election period, “I had to adjust quickly, be a news person” – something not that easy since, at that time, Cobbarubias was impressionable (“Another adjustment for me was on being starstruck – seeing Cheche Lazaro for the first time was like a vision, as she was among the first TV personalities that I got to see in the flesh. And then I remember my first field production assignment, to shoot a video of Richard Gomez in his campaign (he run under a party list in 2001) – I had to have the confidence to talk to him and introduce myself and my crew; I mean, Richard was my childhood fantasy!”).

Eventually, after working as a talent production staff for Probe from 2001 to 2004 (among others, he worked as PA, and then producer/reporter of i-Witness from 2001 to 2003; and as assistant field producer and reporter/producer of The Probe Team Documentaries from 2001 to 2004), Cobbarubias also worked as a talent production staff of GMA Network Inc. from 2004 to 2007.

“What I learned from Probe is to multitask. I started as a PA, but PAs in Probe are not just alalays (assistants). They research, they book interviews, write ex-deal letters, write scripts for spiels, edit segments, and sometimes even do camera-work,” he says, adding with a smile: “I was the best in hidden camera before.” And then in GMA, “I learned to be more flexible and more exposed. Probe was just a little company that held its office in a quiet village. GMA is a major network, so andami nang tao na makakasalamuha (I mingle with a lot of people).”

Cobbarubias’ other positions include serving as host/producer of OUT! (2004), associate producer of Jessica Soho reports (2004 to 2005), producer of Pinoy Abroad (2005), executive producer of Balik-Bayan (2005 to 2007), executive producer of Hot Seat (2007), edit supervisor of Howie Severino’s team in i-Witness (2007), guest host and producer of 100% Pinoy (2007), and edit supervisor of Proudly Filipina (2008).

Still other positions include serving as assistant program manager of QTV News and Public Affairs and GMA Network Inc. (2007 to 2008), and handling of such programs as QTV’s Rx Men, May Trabaho Ka!, and Hired.

For his efforts, Cobbarubias has been given a Certificate of Creative Excellence by the US International Film and Video Festival in 2007 (as executive producer of Balik-Bayan), and the Gold Camera Award by the US International Film and Video Awards in 2008 (as edit supervisor of Proudly Filipina), among others.

Cobbarubias currently serves as the program manager of QTV Public Affairs.

Broadcast media, says Cobbarubias, can be disappointing. “Since we aim for fairness, we can’t let our own personal biases affect our stories – we can’t air a segment that is not complete with all the research, data, statements, et cetera.
So sometimes, even if may alam ka na totoo, di mo pwede gamitin ang trabaho mo (you may know some truths, but you can’t use it at work) to expose it, unless you can present hard proofs,” he says.

And then there’s the fact that “TV is still a business. We can not produce shows if walang kita ang (there’s no profit for the) network. We depend on media buyers, on commercials. Like what happened to OUT!, the first gay and lesbian magazine show in the Philippines, (which) only lasted for three months or 13 episodes because we could not sustain it. Wala kasi (There were not any) commercials, so even if it rated high and was really good to watch, it had to end,” Cobbarubias says.

But Cobbarubias believes that the media can help promote GLBTQIA advocacies. “By making sure that every time we come out with stories that are related to GLBTQIAs, the stories or reports would be balanced, based on facts, and politically-correct in presentation. This way, media helps cure misconceptions and stereotypes on GLBTQIAs,” he says.

CELEBRATING DIFFERENCE

Looking back, Cobbarubias recalls realizing being different when he was five years old. “I remember feeling attraction towards this other kid who rides the same school bus (with me),” he says. “That felt really weird. Imagine, may crush ako na boy (I had a crush on a boy)?” Since he was “in denial,” though, he gave more attention to his girl crushes. “I felt it was wrong to feel that way towards other boys,” Cobbarubias adds.

When he turned 18, Cobbarubias fell in love with a guy, and “I made a decision: Tinanggap ko na, na ako ay isang bakla (I accepted that I am gay). But although, I accepted myself already, I still did not want to tell everyone, (just my closest friends).”

JM Cobarrubias aims to help effect changes. “I want to make a difference. If I can be the first openly-gay Philippine president, why not?!” he says with a smile.

When he was 24, though, he was asked to audition for OUT! (“When the original host resigned from the show after his family asked him to”), so “I prayed and looked for signs if it was time. I consulted close friends, some of whom discouraged me from coming out – they said masisira ang (I will ruin my) on-cam career as I was a reporter/producer in Probe that time. But that offer came at a time I wanted to change things. I was tired of hiding. I was so tired of being a topic of conversations. I was tired of feeling insulted when someone calls me bakla (gay). So I took the chance. I auditioned, and auditioning to the show already meant admitting I was gay. So merely stepping into GMA that day, was already a milestone. Ibang joy ang naramdaman ko (I felt a different kind of happiness/joy),” Cobbarubias says.

Even before getting the hosting job, Cobbarubias said he felt good, having been able to tell people upfront that “I’m gay. It was so liberating.”

Cobbarubias says his family knew he was gay all along. “They were just waiting for me to tell them. They told me that they could not accept that I am gay because they thought I, myself, did not want to be gay,” he says, adding that after coming out, “people loved me more. And respected me more.”

It is, therefore, “coming out on OUT!” that he considers as his biggest achievement. “The impact it made on my life and on other people is amazing. To this day, people still remember it. To this day, I get messages about it. I can’t remember how many gay men have told me that because of my coming out story in OUT! , they had the courage to come out, too.”

If there is one regret for Cobbarubias, it may be that “sana kumain ako nang maraming gulay noong bata pa ako, at sana naglaro ako ng basketball (I should have eaten more vegetable when I was younger, and played basketball). My frustration is my height. I want to be taller. I am just 5’7”,” he jokes.

Looking forward, Cobbarubias’ goal is “to make my family’s dreams come true. That’s my mission in life. I want to be able to make them live their dreams. That’s why I am working hard. I know that greater things are in store for me,” he says. “Siyempre, family muna, then community, then bansa na (Of course, family first, then community, then the country).”

He aims to help effect changes, nonetheless. “I want to make a difference. If I can be the first openly-gay Philippine president, why not?!” he says with a smile.

CHANGING PERCEPTIONS

“Right now, (the biggest challenge of the GLBTQIA community) is HIV and/or AIDS, which is fast spreading. The Pinoy gay community should do something about this. We should help prevent its spread and help the ones who have it to not feel discriminated but tulungan na gumaling (help in getting treatments),” Cobbarubias says, adding that some measures that may be helpful include information drives, free check-ups, and giving out of free condoms in places where gay sex is known to happen.

It makes him happy to note, though, that the Filipino GLBTQIA community is more open now. “When OUT! was still on air, it was so difficult for us to get case studies for our segments. Three years after, I did a report for the show 100% Pinoy, and, oh boy, iba na (things have changed). Masculine gay boys danced in front of our cameras – they all want to come out! (and) in my gym, there’s a transsexual who’s not being ridiculed at all (when she changes in the) locker, along with the (heterosexual) guys and straight-looking and acting gays – nobody is talking behind his back,” Cobbarubias says. These are “so cool!”

Cobbarubias believes members of the GLBTQIA community themselves need to take the lead in bettering their situations. “(It is disappointing) when gay people themselves contribute to the perpetuation of misconceptions on gays – take the indie films, puro sex ang tema. Hindi lang naman sex ang inaatupag ng mga bakla. ‘Yan ba ang gusto natin ipakita sa ibang tao? Kung gaano tayo ka-hayok sa sex (take indie films, which mainly deals with sex. Gays go not just deal with sex. So is that what we want to show other people? How sexually deprived we are)?”

The solution, he says, is “if individually, we erase stereotypes and misconceptions on GLBTQI’s in our own environments. Ipakita natin sa nga ka-opisina natin, sa mga kapitbahay natin, kasabay natin sa simbahan, sa gym, sa kung saan man, na ang GLBTQIA ay parte ng kanilang buhay na di nila dapat pandirihan, na tayo ay minamahal. At tayo ay nagmamahal at nakakatulong sa pamilya, komunidad at bansa (Let’s show our peers, our neighbors, fellow church-goers, gym mates, or wherever, that GLBTQIAs are part of their lives and is not source of revulsion; that we are to be loved. And we love, too, just as we help our families, or communities, and our country).”

Cobbarubias is hoping that “sana dumami pa ang mga GLBTQIAs na lalantad para matulungan ang ibang tao na ma-realize na hindi lahat ng GLBTQIA ay ‘yung klase ng tao na nakikita nila sa TV or sa pelikula o sa mga indie films na walang saysay (hopefully the number of GLBTQIAs who will come out will increase to help people realize that not all GLBTQIAs are similar to those they see on TV or films or indie films who can be useless),” he says.

And in that, with his coming out, Cobbarubias is walking his talk, changing representation – thus perceptions – in the media.

Now, if only we can increase the number of GLBTQIAs who will stop discriminating against themselves, thereby depriving themselves of the joys of being gay, as Cobbarubias puts it, then everything may just get better for GLBTQIAs.

The founder of Outrage Magazine, Michael David dela Cruz Tan is a graduate of Bachelor of Arts (Communication Studies) of the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia. Though he grew up in Mindanao (particularly Kidapawan and Cotabato City in Maguindanao), even attending Roman Catholic schools there, he "really, really came out in Sydney," he says, so that "I sort of know what it's like to be gay in a developing and a developed world". Mick can: photograph, do artworks with mixed media, write (DUH!), shoot flicks, community organize, facilitate, lecture, research (with pioneering studies under his belt)... this one's a multi-tasker, who is even conversant in Filipino Sign Language (FSL). Among others, Mick received the Catholic Mass Media Awards (CMMA) in 2006 for Best Investigative Journalism. Cross his path is the dare (read: It won't be boring).

#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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