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Keeping it real…

Michael David C. Tan writes that, really, advocacy efforts are only valid if the people they claim to benefit actually: 1) know about them, and 2) actually benefit from them in practical terms. “Because in the end, if the disconnect between the grand moves and the practical is not bridged, then we have a big, BIG problem,” he says.

Keep it real

“Sorry,” she said to me, “but what does HRC stand for?”

I was in Brooklyn when the top human rights body of the United Nations (UN), the Human Rights Council (that’s the HRC), approved the resolution condemning discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI). For a few days since I was informed that a vote on the resolution tabled by Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Uruguay just this September was going to be eviscerated by opposing States, I – with other Filipino LGBTQIA activists (in the Philippines and abroad) – tried to find ways to make sure that the Philippine Mission in Geneva voted “yes” to an un-amended resolution. Proposed approaches varied, from cornering PNoy – who was in New York at that time – to openly ask him why our country should NOT fence-sit on a resolution dealing about OUR human rights (“Hold a placard or something while he eats in some fancy restaurant!” a lesbian activist said half seriously); to coming up with a strongly worded critique on the government’s tendency to abstain when voting on important resolutions comes.

And then finally – when the crucial vote happened, and so many LGBTQIA activists celebrated as the HRC will now conduct periodic intervention that could lead to a more institutionalized process to check SOGI-related discrimination and violence – the lesbian asked me what “HRC”, as an acronym, stands for.

In between defining “HRC” and explaining the relevance of the resolution to her, I was struck yet again with a realization. I have long realized this, but I keep being reminded of it. That is, so-called advocacy efforts are only valid if the people they claim to benefit actually: 1) know about them, to begin with; and 2) actually benefit from them (and in practical ways, too).

Back in the Philippines, Cebu City’s anti-discrimination ordinance (ADO) – which was initially lauded for aiming to “turn the Queen City of the South into a place with a policy to promote equality and to effectively eliminate all forms of discrimination that violate and offend the guarantee of equal protection of human rights” – was lambasted for its non-implementation. Davao City similarly has an ADO, but stories reach us of discrimination happening, too.

It was also in Davao City where I met Tricia Cabrera, an HIV-positive transwoman who was told by her doctor to stop taking hormones as it supposedly did not go well with her antiretroviral medicines. And this is even if “there is no official contraindication between HIV medications and hormone therapy”. As one of the international doctors I met in Brooklyn said, “We follow international standards (when we give trans PLHIVs) hormones with their ARVs” – though the memo (in a manner of speaking) about the “international standards” did not seem to reach those in affected communities in the Philippines.

Now still in New York City, I am constantly reminded by the seeming disconnect – instead of the connections – of the global practices with local moves.

For instance, we talk of changing the language when dealing with HIV – i.e. removing the “/” from the usual “HIV/AIDS” because the two are not inter-changeable. And yet, even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sticks to the “HIV/AIDS” use.

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It’s in the “practical” that we seem to be losing out.

The practicality of the interchangeability was highlighted to me by a Brooklynite person who has been living with HIV for over a decade now, who simply stated: “For us, there’s no money in HIV; in AIDS, there is.” This is because New York City provides assistance to people with AIDS or clinical smptomatic HIV illness, BUT NOT to all people living with (PLHIV). And so, if someone “only has HIV, they lose out on the support that could help them.” This Brooklynite in fact knows of PLHIV who “take all steps to become unhealthy, so that they either lower their CD4 count or get opportunistic infections, which would then qualify them into the program.”

I asked him about the, well, more global move to stop using the “/”, and he said that aside from “never having heard of that”, he sees it as “largely impractical as we need the support, and the ‘/’ allows that.”

I have also chatted with LGBTQIA people who lead formal/informal groups/organizations, and none of them knew of, say, the Yogyakarta Principles, WPATH Standards of Care for Gender Identity Disorders, and HRC’s Resolution 17/9 of 2011.

The conversations I had were sobering. Just as that question about HRC was yet again a wake-up call.

Because if the grand efforts of so-called global LGBTQIA leaders are not reaching the very people whose lives they are supposed to touch, then there’s a problem.

Because in the end, if the disconnect between the grand moves (e.g. HRC’s SOGI resolution) and the practical is not bridged, then we have a big, BIG problem.

We have to keep it real.

And the only way for this to happen is if the ideologies become practicable.

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