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Lesbian in an Arab world

In the Middle East, homosexuality is a taboo subject, and members of the LGBT community endure hardships on a daily basis. So, why would an American lesbian want to move there, living and working in a Muslim society? That’s exactly what Chivvis Moore did, and after 16 years in the region, she’s sharing her story in her book, “First Tie Your Camel, Then Trust in God”. She now chats and shares snippets from her book with Outrage Magazine.

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“My life felt better balanced than it had before. And yet—I was a lesbian,” writes Chivvis Moore. “I had to decide what to do with that aspect of myself during the year I was in Egypt and later, when I lived in countries even more homophobic than my own.”

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Outrage Magazine: Describe your experience living in an Arab country without understanding a word of the language. How were you able to become a part of the foreign culture and lifestyle?

Chivvis Moore: The morning I stepped off the boat and onto the North African shore, my first impression was of sun so stark that I squinted in the brilliance reflected off buildings of bright white stone. The second impression, just as strong, was of people’s kindness.

On a sun-drenched Alexandria street whirling with glittering vehicles that caught and recast the light as the cars spun by, a white-uniformed policeman waved white-gloved hands in a high-walled booth inside a circle of traffic. Wading toward him through the swath of cars, I took out the miniature phrase book Jean had given me, circled the sentence “Where is the railroad station?” and reached up to hand him the book. He took it in one hand and read, but as he lifted his other arm to gesture, pages fluttered out of the paper binding and scattered down into his little booth. Traffic handled itself as he vanished to pick them up, then pointed me in the right direction.

A few blocks on, a young man guided me to a bus, amid the whirl of honking cars, bright light, the smell of dust and, most remarkable, everywhere more people than I had ever seen together at one time. I was passed, hand to hand, bus to train, all the way from Alexandria to Ramses Station in Cairo.

High on a pedestrian walkway near the train station, I must have looked as lost as I felt, for a man stopped and spoke to me. After politely asking in English if he could help me, and learning where I was from, he asked, “Do you know Ralph Nader?”

“I’ve certainly heard of him,” I said, whereupon he introduced himself as one of Ralph Nader’s Lebanese cousins, then escorted me the short distance to the Everest Hotel, which I had been looking for, and which, it turned out, he owned.

The next morning, stepping out into the busy Cairo street, I could not identify the proper bus to take. Which number should I try to read—the one on the front of the bus? the one on the back? the one on the side of the bus nearest the front, or the one on the side of the bus by the rear door? All the numbers were different and all, naturally, in Arabic. What had I expected? I burst into tears.

Instantly, I found myself surrounded by a little crowd— merely to window-shop in Cairo can result in a pileup of people equal to the size of a respectable demonstration in a medium-size US city—none of whose members spoke English. One woman pointed at her own cheeks and shook her head: I must not cry! From this little crisis I was extracted by the sympathetic Coptic owner of a coffin shop who sat me down among the coffins and gave me soda in a green bottle. Someone else hopped on a bus with me, accompanied me to downtown Cairo, and delivered me safely at the hostel I had marked on my map.

By the end of that first day in Cairo, I was hot, exhausted, and overwhelmed. I had never seen a city so enormous or so packed with people. Cairo’s sounds were deafening to someone who had been living in the suburban United States: hawkers cried their wares, music competed in tone and rhythm as it blasted from various speakers, and cars honked, as if compulsively, with each of the minute shifts in speed and direction drivers made constantly to avoid smashing into other cars. I was hungry and had no idea what I might eat. I settled on a piece of bread and a hard-boiled egg bought from two sellers in the street. I was delighted to have arrived, but where was I? I dropped onto my bunk in the women’s dormitory and did what I usually did when the world was too much: I slept.

The next morning, when I when I set out to take a bus on my own, yet another of Egypt’s seemingly endless supply of helpful young men accompanied me until I found myself aground amid the traffic spinning in an impressive Parisian-type roundabout. There I was offered differing (and sometimes contradictory) sets of directions by numerous people— men, women, and children—to whom I showed the scrap of paper on which Halim had written his family’s address in both English and Arabic. Each person peered at the writing and, either unsure of the address or unable to read, carried the little paper over to someone else to study. Each person who could read the paper and who presumably had some knowledge of the neighborhood would then lead me hither and thither with such goodwill that the experience was a happy one, although I ended up several times on wrong streets, and on the correct street at last, still had difficulty finding Building #2.

From that time on, stepping into any street in Egypt felt like lowering myself into a rushing river. If I allowed myself to float amiably where the stream led, I would be safe, entertained, and supported. At first, I received so much help that I began, ungraciously, to wonder if, when I did know my way around, I would ever have a moment to myself as I walked the streets. But I found, when I learned which bus to take, which road the right one, that all my helpers melted away. It seemed Egyptians were far more sensitive to a stranger’s needs and states of mind than I, certainly, had ever been to those of a stranger in my own country.

With Egyptians who had received formal education, I was able to speak French—in my case, a fortunate memory from high school, for them, a holdover from the days of the brief French occupation of Egypt. A few spoke English. In the carpentry shop, though, and on the street, gesture and a lot of guessing were the principal tools we all relied on to make our meanings known. There was not a day that year in Cairo that I was not warmed and lightened by the expressions in people’s eyes—the middle-aged woman, dressed all in black, who sat on the sidewalk and from whom I bought the English-language newspaper each morning, the tea seller who greeted me with his gentle smile when I passed his shop each day. Countless and precious, such moments kept occurring, day after day.

That was language. But as for my acceptance into Egyptian culture and daily life, for this, I owe a debt I can never repay – to Halim, the young Egyptian I met in Berkeley, who gave me his family’s address in Cairo, and later walked with me throughout the city, day after day, offering me priceless insight into Egyptian culture and Islam; to Halim’s family, who welcomed me, urging me to “come visit every day”; to Hassan Fathy, who greeted this stranger who walk unannounced into his home one day and made her welcome ever after; and to the master carpenter, M’alim Hassan, who took me into his shop and adopted me as his daughter in the neighborhood of Islamic Cairo and in his home. Without these people, my experience in Egypt that year would have been as outsider, as tourist, and I would be the poorer.

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Outrage Magazine: How were you able to live in a world that largely shunned your sexuality?

Chivvis Moore: From a world of lesbian feminist tradeswomen in the San Francisco Bay Area, I was plunged into a world of men as well as women, during that first year in Egypt. I found much to appreciate and admire. I was surprised to feel this way in the Middle East, where most women have less freedom than women in the West. I was privileged to be treated as that anomaly, an “American woman,” not subject to the rules Egyptian women were, and I was astonished by the ease with which this treatment was given. At work there was none of the condescension, barbed putdowns, or even open hostility I had experienced in the company of many male carpenters in America. No one tried to humiliate me or scare me off the job, the way one carpenter had, by chasing me with a forklift, and another by jumping on the scaffolding that supported us, trying to make me fall, when I worked in the carpenters’ union in Oakland, California. No one asked me why I wasn’t home with my husband and children or claimed that men would fall and injure themselves because of the distraction of my female presence on the job. My life felt better balanced than it had before.

And yet—I was a lesbian. I had to decide what to do with that aspect of myself during the year I was in Egypt and later, when I lived in countries even more homophobic than my own.

Among lesbian feminists in the San Francisco Bay Area, it had by then become a matter of both pride and honor to refuse to hide your sexual orientation. Lesbians and gay men were standing up to denigration and abuse. To some of my friends in California, not to do so was not only unhelpful but also cowardly. No doubt some of them would have felt the same way in countries other than their own.

But I did not. My identity as a lesbian is only one part of who I am, and I felt strongly that I was in Egypt to learn, not to try to change another culture. Equally important, though hardly commendable, I was afraid that the Egyptians who cared about me would be appalled and reject me if they knew I was a lesbian. When attractions arose, as they did from time to time in later years in other Arab countries, I let them go. Halim knew; and in later years I told friends in Palestine who had lived for a time in the US and who I guessed would be more accepting. Mostly, though, my silence limited my friendships. It did not feel good not to be completely honest about who I was.

Many years later, in Syria, and then in the West Bank, in Occupied Palestine, I also said nothing about my sexuality. Shortly after I arrived in Damascus, in 1992, I learned that a young man had been made to leave the country because authorities learned he was gay. At that time, I decided that, if challenged, I would not deny that I was a lesbian, and that if I were required to leave that country or any other because I was a lesbian, I would not feel guilty or ashamed. I would not return to the feelings I had felt so many years as a teenager and a young adult, before I was able to embrace my lesbian identity.

Shortly after I arrived in the West Bank and began teaching at Birzeit University, a colleague, one of just a couple of Americans on the staff, told me one day without preface that a foreign teacher had been fired from the university some years earlier for being gay. I took the information as it was intended – as a warning – although the teacher, who later became a friend, said nothing about her thoughts on my being a lesbian.

It was clear, though, that in any Arab country, any relationship I might initiate with an Arab woman would put that woman at risk in her own society. I had no intention of entering in any such relationship. Having had chronic fatigue for years, I found that no hardship; I wouldn’t have had the energy for an intimate relationship even had I been living in the United States. As the years went by, I did tell several women colleagues at the university that I was a lesbian, but I told these women because they had spent time in the United States, and I judged that they would not be horrified at my news. At least I thought it was news; one friend asked me at one point why I thought people did not know I was a lesbian. It had not occurred to me; perhaps it was generally known.

I do remember at a party early in my time at the university a woman colleague saying that, unlike most Arabs, she didn’t like the music of the famous Egyptian singer Umm Kalthoum.

“I hear she was a lesbian,” another woman commented, whereupon the first speaker said, to my surprise,

“Oh, well then, that makes me like her after all.”

I have always wondered if the comment were directed toward me, to let me know I was welcome, no matter what my sexuality. I may never know. Or I may learn, after this book becomes available in the West Bank, what people really thought of me all along.

So the question ‘How was I able to live in a world that largely shunned my sexuality?” is not one I can really answer. The world did not know of my sexuality, as far as I know. Certainly I was not comfortable knowing that there were lesbians – and gay men – who had to hide their sexuality from their families and from society as a whole. In 2007, I attended the first public conference put on by the Palestinian lesbian organization “Aswat,” meaning “voices,” founded by Rauda Marcos in 2003. Significantly, the conference was held in Haifa, inside Israel, and not in the West Bank or Gaza. Since then, as far as I know, the organization has continued to function openly in Israel, but not in Palestine.

Outrage Magazine: How would you describe the role of women in the Arab and Muslim culture and religion?

Chivvis Moore: We talked, of course, about the role of women. Heba brought up.

On my second day in Cairo in 1978, I met a woman named Nahid. In striking contrast to the Western image of the helpless, unthinking, beaten-down Arab woman, Nahid was a natural homegrown feminist, the first of the many women I met during my years in the Arab world whom I respected and admired for the strength, inner fortitude, and self-esteem that I came to see as characteristic of Arab women.

In Egypt in 1978, as in many Arab countries today, most women had harder lives than women in the USA. They were poorer, had less opportunity for education, and did more physical work, without the aid of washing machines and dryers, gas stoves, and dishwashers. Fewer families have cars than families in the US; shopping is more difficult, traffic and stores more congested, most buildings have no lifts. . . . The Arab women I met in Syria, Egypt and Palestine, in 1978-79 and later, in 1991-2008, confronted the whole array of challenges that all women, except the wealthy, have to face—having to work outside the home and yet do all the work inside the home as well.

“The life of a woman in Egypt is dûr [hard],” Nahid said that first day I met her.

But from Nahid and the other women I met, I got the distinct impression they valued and respected themselves more than I or many women in my own society did. With freedoms more limited than those of women in the USA, Arab women, it seemed to me, nevertheless carried their heads more proudly, seemed surer of themselves, and appeared more comfortable in their own bodies. I wondered if we in the USA had to a greater extent internalized our oppression than women who in fact had far less freedom of choice than we.

What of the separation of the sexes we hear about in the Arab Muslim world? The first day I went home for lunch with M’alim Hassan, the carpenter for whom I was working in 1970s Egypt, he and I were served by a woman who vanished into another part of the house. But I heard voices, and I sensed a lively, self-contained women’s world existing somewhere in another part of the house – a world I was not allowed to see.

On a second visit, I felt as if I had passed a test, even though again we ate alone, because I was introduced to M’alim Hassan’s wife, a lovely, imposing woman. Her gray hair was pinned to the top of her head, and she wore no head covering, since no unrelated male was present. She was tall and carried herself with grace and authority; and from the gentle deference with which her son and husband treated her, I gathered she was both respected and much loved. She spoke little to me on that visit, or any other time I saw her, but her manner was not unfriendly; rather, she seemed self-contained, “intact,” the way M’alim Hassan wanted me to be. The only other woman I saw that day was a young woman I glimpsed in another room, who was taking keen and vocal interest in the Zamalek soccer game showing on TV.

Had I proved myself worthy of being seen by the women of the house? Apparently so, for one afternoon soon afterward, I was invited to leave the dining room at M’alim Hassan’s home, and enter the kitchen at the end of the hall.

There, sure enough, were the women and girls of the house, washing up after our lunch and preparing more food—and they were doing much of it on the floor, on a portion slightly raised from the rest. Food was cooked on a two-burner stove set on a table. Dishes were washed by one woman squatting on the floor of a little shower stall. Another rinsed, rising and bending with each dish, and a third stood outside the shower staff and placed the wet dishes on the rack. A low table was brought out at which Madame and at least four other women ate, sitting on the floor. I learned that the name of the young woman who had let us in the door the first time I came was Tahani. When everyone had finished eating, she washed the floor clean and dried it all, even the water sitting along the low part, near the wall.

And what of the issue of veiling, which in recent decades has galvanized many Westerners, including governments and non-Muslim feminist writers, many of whom assume the custom is not only a patriarchal imposition but also indicative of a regrettable lack of self-esteem in women who elect to cover their heads?

In the United States, showing more skin is considered modern, and therefore preferable; many American women wear high-heeled shoes, low cut dresses and short skirts. Long dresses and veils worn by Muslim women are considered traditional, backward, repressive. Why is that?

Certainly, women in some Arab Muslim countries are required to veil, either by their families or by society, and it’s hard to imagine at least some women not finding the all-enveloping outer garment, the burka, cumbersome and unwelcome.

But when I lived in Arab countries, I knew Muslim women who had taken up wearing the veil, although not required to wear it, in order to indicate their difference from western ways. Others said they veiled to shield themselves from unwelcome advances from men on the street. Still others covered themselves because they believed that God required of both men and women a certain modesty in dress, as set forth in the Qur’an.

Most who make judgments about Arab women’s lack of freedom blame it on Islam.

But they don’t know anything about the religion. They have neither studied it nor lived in Muslim countries.

For one thing, the critics are equating Islam with the violent and repressive rhetoric and practices of the Taliban in Afghanistan, or of ISIS in Iraq and Syria. But most Muslims want as little to do with the values of ISIS or the Taliban as you or I. Why is Islam held responsible for the injustices in Muslim societies in ways Christianity is not held responsible for the evils in our own? The Qur’an is open to as many interpretations as the Torah and the Christian Bible.

Second, even when people complain about customs that are common to a number of Arab countries, such as the lesser percentage of women in public positions of responsibility, they do not understand that it is not Islam that decrees and perpetuates such inequality, but the men who have always had the power in those societies to make the laws and to justify them by means of their own interpretation of texts formulated centuries ago. Islam is a peaceful, tolerant religion, and in the time of the Prophet Muhammad, many of its tenets were progressive in their treatment of men and women, of all human beings. But, just as the founders of the US decreed a Black man to be worth less than a white man and ruled women unfit to vote, the men who ruled Arab countries kept rights for themselves. Nor do critics of Muslim societies ever note that the country we destroyed in our two Gulf Wars boasted the most educated and privileged women of any in the Arab world.

Third, as a number of Arab Muslim women scholars have made clear, there are women activists in every Arab country working to change laws so in keeping with alternative interpretations of the ancient texts and working in myriad ways for women’s right to choose the life they want to lead. There is not a country on the planet where women are not themselves working to change the practices that hurt them – early marriage, “honor killings,” clitoridectomy, trafficking of women and children, and conditions that make prostitution the only viable way of providing for themselves and their children. Arab and Muslim women are working to change their societies just as American feminists are working to change ours. 

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Outrage Magazine: Why is it important to learn about other cultures?

Chivvis Moore: The short answer to that question is that the more we learn about cultures other than our own, the kinder we will be.

Most significantly, the more we understand, the less likely we will be to arm and prepare for and conduct war. The less likely to think of war as a business like any other.

What resources we could free! How peaceful the world that would result! We could finally go about being creative in ways that would bring health and happiness to humankind. No more refugees. No longer the Mediterranean a sea of death.

Before and during and since the most intensive US war in Afghanistan, it was repeatedly written in the media that Afghan women are badly treated in Islam. It was said that the US was making war to “save Afghan women.” After we made war on Iraq, and admitted that ours were the only weapons of mass destruction around, we said we were bringing democracy to Iraq.

But how could war make life better – or more equal, or more democratic — for anyone who suffers it? We who have not suffered war in modern times need to learn, not only about other cultures, but also about the effects of war on the human beings whose countries we are today attacking.

Where there is understanding there is compassion, and respect. It seems to me that could make all the difference.

Chivvis Moore is the author of First Tie Your Camel, Then Trust in God. She lived in the Middle East for 17 years, working in Egypt, Syria, and Israel, before teaching at Birzeit University in the West Bank. Before her journey to the Arab World, Moore earned a BA from Harvard University and worked as a journalist with The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky, and the Daily Review in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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Enter the alter world

Welcome to the alter world, where people tweet and retweet their or other people’s sexual engagements. Though often maligned, it actually also highlights formation of friendships, info sharing, emotional support, and even provision of a ‘safe space’ for those who wish to express their sexuality.

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Some time back, Kurt (a.k.a. @MoanerBottom) opened a Twitter account as a form of revenge. “I found out that my ex had an ‘alter’ account and he was fooling around with different people,” he recalled. And so “I wanted to prove to him that I can also do the same thing.”

Little did Kurt know at that time that he would become a mainstay in the alter world/community. A few months since opening his own alter account, he garnered over 130,000 followers, all of them craving – and even waiting – for what he would post, usually dominated by sexual encounters (“kalat videos,” he calls them) with mostly students, including a basketball varsitarian “who likes to penetrate deeply”, a Blue Eagle who allowed for his orgasm to be videoed, a Tamaraw who also allowed himself to be videoed as he orgasmed, and bending for a Red Lion.

“I must admit that I am a shy person in real life,” Kurt said. But “here in Twitter, it is like I have less shame and more courage to do kalat (contextually: shameless) posts and videos.”

Kurt is, obviously, only one of the people – not just Filipinos – with alter accounts, which many like him, say is similar to a “pseudonym — like Batman to Bruce Wayne, or Superman to Clark Kent; where people can have a separate account from their primary accounts, usually used to express themselves more ‘wildly’ yet more ‘discreetly’/anonymously.”

And so welcome to the alter world, where people tweet and retweet their or other people’s sexual “collaborations”, hookups, fetishes, fantasies and social engagements, with the audiences often never really knowing the content generators/producers/distributors.

Getting noticed

That the alter world is often dominated by sexual content is a given.

Onin (a.k.a. @Onin_NuezPH), for example, sees his alter account “as an avenue for me to express myself and my sexuality. I am able to let everyone know within the community about my sexual desires without the fear of being judged.”

Looking back, it was actually “a friend who is an alter too introduced me in this alter community,” Onin said.

One of the early instances Onin trended was when some of his nude photos circulated on Twitter. Many got curious, asking the person who previously reacted or shared the photos if there were more.

It whetted Onin’s interest; and so he started posting more photos and short videos. His followers quickly increased, reaching more than 145,000.

Taking pride that he is one of the more talked about alters out there, Onin has produced content that may seem trivial… but these have been keeping the alter community and lurkers interested, from balancing a shampoo bottle on top of his erect penis, sharing a photo of his endowment while asking his followers if they want to kneel in front him, a comparison of the length of a deodorant spray with his penis, wearing a see-through underwear, and teasing his latest sexual collaboration.

Standing out

Standing out in a platform where hundreds (even thousands) of alters saturate news feeds is a challenge. After all, it is not an easy feat to attract someone’s attention — what more to make them like, share, or follow an account.

For FUCKER Daddy (a.k.a. @ako_daddy), therefore, it all comes down to the type of content being posted, not just being well-endowed, willing to perform bareback sex, or how often the face is shown.

A licensed professional who has a son, FUCKER Daddy started as a “lurker’ (i.e. one who lurks, or just consumes content/views profiles) on Twitter. At that time, he wrote “my real-life sex stories, hoping it will pick up from there,” he recalled. “Unfortunately, alter peeps seem to be more into live action.”

And so FUCKER Daddy met someone from Telegram, without realizing that the person was “sort of (a) big (personality) on Twitter.” This guy discretely took a short clip of their sexual encounter, and then posted it on his alter account. “It was hit. (And) the rest is history.”

By August 2019, FUCKER Daddy said his inbox started receiving direct messages from different users – e.g. asking for more, congratulating him, wanting to collaborate, and so on.

He actually now has several sex videos in his cam. But he still doesn’t make recording the primary thing when engaging in sex “as my goal is to have hookups; videos are only secondary.”

Besides, he said that “I do not want to spoil the moment for sex and think only of it as merely for Twitter.”

But every time FUCKER Daddy posts a video, he said his over 95,000 followers respond to them “with enthusiasm, getting more curious and intrigued.”

Making a living

The concept of alter, however, isn’t set in stone.

For one, there are actually alter accounts whose owners prefer to use their real names and show their faces (like Onin), mixing their personal and private lives along the way. Following the Batman/Bruce Wayne and Superman/Clark Kent analogy, there are also people who follow the Tony Stark/Iron Man mantra, i.e. openly announcing that they are one and the same.

Secondly, monetizing is actually possible.

Also, one may be part of the alter community without knowing it – i.e. one engages in alter activities without recognizing it as such.

The likes of John (a.k.a. @johnnephelim on Twitter and Instagram), who has over 130,000 followers, comes to mind, using Twitter as a platform “to promote a job.”

“I do not even know that I am involved in the world of alter,” John said, adding that he did not even know what the term meant until it was presented to him. Instead, his account is used to “promote my RentMen and OnlyFans accounts”, just as he also promotes his availability for “personal appointment to people.”

John actually used to work as a brand ambassador, but because of this change in his work, he “can no longer work (in) that (field) because I am doing porn.”

He admitted that “this type of thing is double-edged.” On the one hand, “you can earn a great amount of money,” he said, “but there will be sacrifices.”

He noted, for instance, that the perception of people about me changed; most people judge you right away because of what you do, and not because of who you are as a person.”

But he ignores the naysayers; “I do not mind because this job gives more than what I expected!”

Like John, Onin also promotes his JustFor.Fans (JFF) account on Twitter to respond to the requests of his followers.

“They (my followers) want to see me in action and they are willing to subscribe too,” Onin said, with his exclusive content including: he and his partner having sex, and collaborations with other alters. “You will not earn that much, but pretty enough to compensate for the contents that we are posting.”

Not all alters think alike, obviously. FUCKER Daddy, for instance, won’t monetize his content, saying: “I value sex as it was created. I never sell any (videos) because I think it is something that is worth free. I simply treated it as making memories while those (who) watch put up the numbers.”

Behind the handles

The world of alter has actually already caught the attention of researchers.

For instance, in a study by Samuel Piamonte of the Philippine Council for Health Research and Development, Mark Quintos of De La Salle University Manila, and Minami Iwayama of Polytechnic University of the Philippines, it was found that the alter community may seem overtly sexual, but there is more to it than that.
“The sexual aspect of alter is the core of alter, but it has been enriched by more complex social benefits to users such as including formation of new friendships, sharing of information and advocacies, reciprocations of emotional support, and provision of a ‘safe space’ for those who wish to express their sexuality but find that doing so outside of the alter community could be met with stigma from their peers and family.”

Kurt sees his alter account as an avenue for him to tap his inner self and show the Twitter universe his kalat. Onin uses his alter account to broadcast his sexual side (together with his partner). And FUCKER Daddy uses his alter account as “a constant source of info, hookups, convo… and to learn social demographics as well.”

The evolution, indeed, continues.

Hate from within the community

Yes, yes, yes… with increasing numbers of followers, multiple likes and shares, and the creation of alter “celebrities”, this has not been spared from criticisms.

And sadly, said Kurt, at least in the Philippine setting, the prejudice against alters comes from within the community. “Kapuwa LGBT ang nagsisiraan at nagpapataasan sa isa’t-isa,” he said. “I know… that I cannot please everyone (but) for me it is okay, as long as I know that I am not doing anything wrong.”

Perhaps a “surprise” is the audience’s inability to “appreciate” the free content given them, with Kurt noting that there are times when “they are also pissed off with the things I post.”

This seems to contradict the findings of Piamonte, Quintos and Iwayama, since – here – the alter community can become a fearful place, too.

John, like Kurt, noted how people resort to demeaning others when they do not fit preconceived notions. But he just laughs this off, saying: “Do not hate me because I look good and make money (from) it. Life is too short to be a bitter person. If you do not like what we do, then shut the fuck up.”

The Pandora’s box, so to speak has been opened; and lessons learned along the way can just “make you stronger and bring out the best in you,” said Onin, who like many alters, “just focus on my goals.” And it is exactly because of the existence of this interchange – the content creation, and the love-hate reaction to what’s created – that alter is not going to disappear anytime soon (or at all).

Details and photos of sexual encounters were lifted from the Twitter accounts of the interviewees.

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Anti-discrimination ordinance passes final reading in Zamboanga City; awaits mayor’s signature

Zamboanga joins the growing number of local government units that now has an anti-discrimination ordinance.

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The rainbow rises in Zamboanga City.

The 1st class highly urbanized city in the Zamboanga Peninsula of the Philippines, Zamboanga, joins the growing number of local government units (LGUs) that now has an anti-discrimination ordinance (ADO).

As helmed by Hon. Lilibeth Macrohon Nuño, the ADO passed the third and final reading at the Sangguniang Panglunsod of the City of Zamboanga on October 6.

The ADO is actually not only specific to sexual orientation and gender identity and expression. Instead, it is a more comprehensive ADO that also prohibits discrimination based on race, color, civil and social status, language, religion, national or social origin, culture and ethnicity, property, birth or age, disability and health status, creed and ideological beliefs, and physical appearance.

The ADO now goes to the desk of Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar for signing.

As the sixth most populous and third largest city by land area in the Philippines, Zamboanga has a population of 861,799 people (as of 2015). The ADO was pushed by local LGBTQIA organization, Mujer-LGBT Organization Inc.

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Proposed ‘comprehensive anti-discrimination bill’ called oxymoronic, removes need to protect LGBTQIA Filipinos

A proposed “Comprehensive (sic) Anti-Discrimination Act” is being considered in the House of Representatives (HOR), though the bill eliminates LGBTQIA people among those in need of protection. According to Rep. Geraldine Roman, by eliminating SOGIE in the CADB, it contradicts the very claim that it’s CADB. “By eliminating us, you are discriminating against us.”

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A not-so-comprehensive anti-discrimination bill after all.

A proposed “Comprehensive (sic) Anti-Discrimination Act” is being considered in the House of Representatives (HOR), though the bill eliminates LGBTQIA people among those in need of protection.

In a virtual meeting of the technical working group of the Committee on Human Rights of HOR, Rep. Jesus Suntay presented “An act prohibiting discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, race, religion or belief, sex, gender, language, disability, HIV status, educational attainment and other forms of discrimination”.

“If you eliminate SOGIE, you can’t call it ‘Comprehensive ADB’. It’s an oxymoron.”

Rep. Geraldine Roman

Another proposed bill, the SOGIE Equality Bill, is getting criticized because it is supposed to be limited to a specific class of people – i.e. LGBTQIA people. And so there is a proposal for it to be included, instead, in the more and supposedly comprehensive anti-discrimination bill (CADB).

According to Rep. Bienvenido Abante Jr., himself a pastor cum politician: “We are trying to avoid approving any bill that would be classified as class legislation… This is why it is CADB.”

Abante – nonetheless – believes in the inclusion of sexual orientation in the CADB, just not gender identity and expression.

However, the move to exclude “discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression” from the CADB is a win for anti-LGBTQIA people by eliminating SOGIE Equality Bill and then excluding LGBTQIA people from the CADB.

According to Rep. Geraldine Roman, the first transgender congressperson in the Philippines: “If you eliminate SOGIE, you can’t call it ‘Comprehensive ADB’. It’s an oxymoron.”

The proposed bill also removes SOGIE in Sec. 2: Declaration of Policy, and in the definition of terms.

Defending the erasure of SOGIE in the bill he presented, Suntay said that there are already 15 SOGIE-related bills filed with the Committee on Women. For him, if SOGIE is also included in the CADB, it “may be deemed also as SOGIE Equality Bill.”

But Roman does not agree with this.

That argument, she said, “is totally irrelevant… By eliminating SOGIE (in the CADB), it contradicts the very claim that it’s CADB. By eliminating us, you are discriminating against us.”

Roman added: “We have to be brave enough and recognize that there is discrimination happening against people like me who has a gender identity that is considered as different from what’s considered as conventional.”

Suntay noted that an anti-discrimination bill has been passed since the 13th Congress; and he hopes to eventually “steer this to success”, apparently even with LGBTQIA exclusion.

WRITE TO, OR CONTACT THE OFFICE OF REP. JESUS SUNTAY. INFORM HIM OF THE NEED TO KEEP SOGIE IN THE COMPREHENSIVE ANTI-DISCRIMINATION BILL.
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Those opposing SOGIE Equality Bill claim to be ‘pro-human rights’… but not for LGBTQIA people

Parties opposing the passage of the SOGIE Equality Bill frame themselves – and their arguments – as “for equality” and “for human rights for all”, but stress all the same that they do not support granting LGBTQIA people human rights.

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Different parties opposing the passage of the SOGIE Equality Bill frame themselves – and their arguments – as “for equality” and “for human rights for all”, but stress all the same that they do not support granting LGBTQIA people human rights because any anti-discrimination law will grant LGBTQIA people “special rights”.

This – along with the imposition of religious beliefs – was repeatedly stressed during the August 28 virtual hearing on the SOGIE Equality Bill of the Committee on Women & Gender Equality of the House of Representatives.

Rep. Benny Abante of Manila’s 6th district, for one, stated that “the LGBTI are human beings like all of us… I might not agree with their lifestyle (sic), but I will defend their rights to express themselves.”

But while he stated that “nobody in this country is a second-class citizen,” he reiterated his “refusal to be included as a co-author (of the SOGIE Equality Bill) does not speak of opposition” to it. Instead, it is to uphold what’s in the bible.

Abante also misgendered Rep. Geraldine Roman of Bataan’s First District, referring to the first transgender woman to win a seat in Congress as “congressman” and using the male pronoun “him”. Roman is a co-chair of the Committee on Women & Gender Equality.

Abante’s position was similar to many others who spoke at the virtual hearing.

Stanley Clyde Flores of Jesus is Lord (JIL) religious group stated: “Hindi kami bulag sa katotohanan na maraming miyembro (ng LGBTQIA community) ang nakakaranas ng diskriminasyon.” But JIL does not support the SOGIE Equality Bill because “it rids others of their rights.”

In fact, JIL believes that “God gave gender”, and the fringe religious group believes that members of the LGBTQIA community who want to “welcome God and change their gender” should do so.

JIL’s anti-LGBTQIA position was established by its founder turned politician, Rep. Eddie Villanueva, his position itself a slight on the concept of the separation of Church and State.

Presbyterian Sec. Gen. Nelson Dangan similarly stated the church’s supposed support for non-discrimination. But Dangan stressed that the anti-discrimination bill “supports approval of homosexual behavior”, assaults the truth of Biblical sexuality, does not focus on procreation as human’s key reason for existence, and is “anti-God because God opposes homosexuality.”

Dangan also refuted the existence of intersex people because the word does not exist in his bible.

“Philippines will be like Sodom and Gomorrah if we pass (this bill),” he said, also insinuating that Covid-19 is a wrath of God and that passing a law for the human rights of LGBTQIA people will further anger this God. “We respect all people created by God… but we oppose this bill… because we violate the will of God and invite the wrath of God.”

GOD’S NAME IN VAIN?

Bishop Leo Alconga, the national president of the Philippines For Jesus Movement, similarly stated that they stand “against any form of discrimination”, but that God does not agree with this, quoting an antiquated Catholic perspective that homosexuality is “an act of great depravity”.

Alconga similarly linked the SOGIE Equality Bill with marriage equality, which is not at all part of the bill.

For Bro. Ramon Orosa of Philippines For Jesus Movement, one of the most notorious sins in the scripture is homosexuality and lesbianism. And for him, “the question is not whether they exist, but not giving in to them.” Using the punitive Old Testament God, he said that “God is not tolerant of any sin.”

Orosa also said that “this is being imposed on everybody else” and that “we will be discriminated upon if we disagree.”

For Iglesia ni Cristo’s Edwil Zabala, everyone is entitled to all human rights. But for him, SOGIE is “not a fundamental right” and does not even exist. Like the others, he said that laws should not be made to favor select/special beneficiaries.

HATE FROM GOV’T BODIES?

But church people were not the only parties opposing the SOGIE Equality Bill.

From the side of the government, for instance, Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) Usec. RJ Echiverri echoed the right-wing religious perspective. After claiming he, too, is against discrimination and the provision of equal opportunity for everybody, he questioned if the proposed law will give special rights to others.

Echiverri also had issues with trans women joining competitions for those assigned female at birth; as well as the “blurring of identities”.

Meanwhile, an Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) resource person stated that while AFP – as a government institution – does not discriminate, it also “does not support protection of special groups at the expense of others.”

HATE HIGHLIGHTS NEED FOR THE LAW

But other parties also expressed their support for the passage of a law that has been pending in Congress for 20 years now.

Philippine National Police (PNP) head of PNP Women and Children Protection Center (WCPC), Colonel Alessandro Abella, for instance said that they support upholding the rights of all people irrespective of SOGIESC. However, the PNP position that Abella read at the hearing, which is contrary to AFP’s, has yet to be officially vetted by his higher ups.

Still, he said, PNP is lobbying to rename WCPC to “Women, Children and Gender Rights Protection” as it’s more generic and will cover all forms of gender-based violence.

PNP’s recruitment process at present is already SOGIESC-sensitive, focusing on “merit and fitness”, he said, so “PNP supports this.”

Other government officials who also expressed support were Esmeralda Amora-Ladra from Commission on Elections; Sandy Montano of the Philippine Commission on Women; Elizabeth Angsioco of the Department of Social Welfare and Development; and Paul Moreno of the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.

For Prof. Evelyn “Leo” Batad of UP GLLP, this is a long overdue law that “recognizes the long-standing struggle of people due to their SOGIESC.”

The 1987 Philippine Constitution, in fact, stipulates the value the dignity of all human persons. But the country does not have executory laws for this; and so “a legislation providing for the protection of people with diverse SOGIESC is overdue.”

Batad added that “religion is not meant to support specific beliefs”, and that “morality referred to in law is public and secular, not religious.” The Supreme Court already stated that if the government relies on religious beliefs in the making of laws, then this will require conformity in particular religious programs and the concept of morality of those managing them. This – by itself – becomes an imposition, which violates the very concept of freedom of religious affiliation by making some more dominant than others.

“We cannot impose religious beliefs on others,” Batad said. “Religious belief is distinct from what is spiritual.”

LGBTQIA PEOPLE EXIST

Rep. Roman, for her part, said that “you cannot treat the Bible like a science book.” For instance, the intersex condition is a biological fact; so citing the bible to question the existence of intersex bible is erroneous.

“As St. Agustine said: If you want to convince other people, you cannot ignore empirical data,” she said.

Roman helped push the SOGIE Equality Bill’s passage in 2017, when the bill got the nod of 198 congresspeople, with none opposing it.

“Despite the promise of equality, vulnerable groups are still discriminated,” said Rainbow Rights Project Inc.’s Atty. Jazz Tamayo. “Must we undergo discrimination before we (are able to) access the law? The State needs to (deal with) this.”

For her part, Lagablab Network’s Atty. Claire de Leon said that “discrimination still persists”, with LGBTQIA students refused entry to schools, LGBTQIA people excluded from social support, and the prevalence of workplace discrimination due to people’s SOGIESC, among others. “LGBTQIA people remain vulnerable,” and this ought to push for the passage of the SOGIE Equality Bill that has been wallowing “for over 20 years now.”

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73% of Filipinos think ‘homosexuality should be accepted by society’

Among the countries surveyed in the whole of Asia (i.e. India, Indonesia, Japan, Philippines and South Korea), the Philippines had the highest number of respondents who said they were accepting of homosexuality.

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Constant rainbow support?

While people in the Asia-Pacific region continue to show little consensus on the subject, at least 73% of Filipinos surveyed say homosexuality should be accepted. This is the same figure as the one reported by a similar survey conducted in 2013, making the Philippines the only participant country that did not change its perception from 2013 to 2019.

This is according to a new Pew Research Center report conducted in 2019 involving 38,426 people in 34 countries. This is a follow-up study to the one made in 2013.

To ask them how they perceived homosexuality, the participants were asked: “Which one of these comes closer to your opinion? ‘Homosexuality should be accepted by society,’ or ‘Homosexuality should not be accepted by society.'”

People who said they don’t accept homosexuality was pegged at 24% (versus 26% in 2013).

Among the countries surveyed in the whole of Asia (i.e. India, Indonesia, Japan, Philippines and South Korea), the Philippines had the highest number of respondents who said they were accepting of homosexuality.

But countries in Asia-Pacific (and Oceania) showed extreme results – e.g. aside from the Philippines’ 73%, more than three-quarters of those surveyed in Australia (81%) say homosexuality should be accepted, but only 9% of Indonesians agree.

According to Pew Research Center, the survey shows that “while majorities in 16 of the 34 countries surveyed say homosexuality should be accepted by society, global divides remain.”

Mimicking the figures from APAC (and Oceania), other parts of the world also highlighted this global divide re homosexuality – e.g. 94% of those surveyed in Sweden say homosexuality should be accepted, but only 7% of people in Nigeria say the same.

Now, if it’s any consolation, across the 34 countries surveyed, a median of 52% agree that homosexuality should be accepted (versus 38% opposing it).

Other findings include:

  • In 17 years, Pew Research Center found that many of the countries surveyed showed a double-digit increase in acceptance of homosexuality, such as in the cases of South Africa and South Korea.
  • Those in Western Europe and the Americas were found to be more accepting than those in Eastern Europe, Russia, Ukraine, the Middle East, and sub-Saharan Africa.
  • At least for a number of countries, more women than men support homosexuality.
  • Younger generations were found to be more accepting. In 22 of 34 countries surveyed, younger adults are significantly more likely than their older counterparts to say homosexuality should be accepted by society.
  • In most countries surveyed, those who have greater levels of education are more likely to say that homosexuality should be accepted in society than those who have less education.
  • Religion plays a role in the response of those surveyed (e.g. in some countries, those who are affiliated with a religious group tend to be less accepting of homosexuality than those who are unaffiliated). As per the research, in most cases, the affiliated comparison group is made up of Christians; and yet “even among Christians, Catholics are more likely to accept homosexuality than Protestants and evangelicals in many countries with enough adherents for analysis.”
  • Political ideology plays a role in acceptance of homosexuality (i.e. those on the political right are less accepting of homosexuality than those on the left).
  • Attitudes on this issue are strongly correlated with a country’s wealth (i.e. people in wealthier and more developed economies are more accepting of homosexuality than are those in less wealthy and developed economies) – e.g. in Israel, 52% of higher income earners say homosexuality is acceptable in society versus only three-in-ten of lower income earners.
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At what cost? HIV service disruptions at the time of Covid-19

One of the biggest casualties of Covid-19 may be the delivery of other services, such as HIV testing. In the Philippines, HIV prevention services were reduced by 20% to 30%, and HIV testing services reduced by 20% to 80%. And sans clear B&W guidelines, community-based service providers continue to be at a loss.

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Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Unsplash.com

Ashley Galvinez, board member of the Sta. Catalina Active LGBT Organization in Zamboanga in Mindanao, used to get screened for HIV every month (to every three months). “I’ve been doing this since I became sexually active,” she said to Outrage Magazine via video interview.

But then the world was struck by Covid-19, and the country was placed under lockdown. And this already-regular part of her health monitoring was stopped.

Kaya sa bahay na lang muna; tiis-ganda,” she said, adding that she was still scared she could get infected with HIV or get sexually-transmitted infections.

The fear of Galvinez isn’t unfounded.

This May, UNAIDS noted with the World Health Organization (WHO) “the need for urgent efforts to ensure the continuity of HIV prevention and treatment services in order to avert excess HIV-related deaths and to prevent increases in HIV incidence during the COVID-19 pandemic. It will be important for countries to prioritize shoring up supply chains and ensuring that people already on treatment are able to stay on treatment, including by adopting or reinforcing policies such as multimonth dispensing of antiretroviral therapy in order to reduce requirements to access health-care facilities for routine maintenance, reducing the burden on overwhelmed health-care systems.”

“Every death is a tragedy,” said Winifred Byanyima, executive director of UNAIDS. “We cannot sit by and allow hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young, to die needless deaths.”

This is in no way limited to the Philippines, too.

UNAIDS similarly noted that “if efforts are not made to mitigate and overcome interruptions in health services and supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic, a six-month disruption of antiretroviral therapy could lead to more than 500,000 extra deaths from AIDS-related illnesses, including from tuberculosis, in sub-Saharan Africa in 2020–2021.”

In 2018, approximately 470,000 people died of AIDS-related deaths in that region.

“The terrible prospect of half a million more people in Africa dying of AIDS-related illnesses is like stepping back into history,” Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director General was quoted as saying. “We must read this as a wake-up call to countries to identify ways to sustain all vital health services.”

To be specific, disrupted HIV-related services could include:

  • Difficulty in accessing antiretroviral medicines
  • Reduced quality clinical care owing to health facilities becoming overstretched
  • Suspension of viral load testing
  • Reduced adherence counseling and drug regimen switches
  • Interruption of condom availability
  • Suspension of HIV testing
Ashley Galvinez used to get screened for HIV every month (to every three months). Covid-19 stopped this.

ALSO IN NEED OF FOCUS

According to Ms Jaya L. Jaud, community HIV outreach worker for the Zamboanga City-based Mujer LGBTQ+ Org., HIV is also a pandemic, and this is something “na dapat ding tutukan.”

Jaud added that there is a need to face reality that HIV cases are increasing in the Philippines.

From October to December 2019, there were 3,029 newly confirmed HIV-positive individuals reported to the HIV/ AIDS & ART Registry of the Philippines (HARP). Sixteen percent (474) had clinical manifestations of advanced HIV infection at the time of testing.

By end-2019, the country was registering 35 new HIV infections per day, up from only one case per day in 2008, seven in 2011, and 16 in 2014.

EMPHASIS ON COVID-19

In Antipolo at the outskirts of Metro Manila, Darwin Tenoria, case manager at Antipolo Social Hygiene Clinic, said that they are already trying to return their HIV-related services to how they were before Covid-19.

“It doesn’t mean that our (HIV-related) services stopped,” he said, but these services were instead only modified. For instance, the actual HIV testing is the same (e.g. blood extraction, et cetera); but the pre- and post-test counseling were amended (via installation of dividers, practice of social distancing, as well as use of face shields and/or masks) so that the counselor and the client are protected.

But at least, Tenoria said, “we have some foot traffic.”

According to Ms Jaya L. Jaud, community HIV outreach worker for the Zamboanga City-based Mujer LGBTQ+ Org., HIV is also a pandemic, and this is something “na dapat ding tutukan.”

HALTED COMMUNITY-BASED SCREENING

Tenoria, at least, works in a health facility.

But – as far as HIV testing and/or screening is concerned – it is the community-based screening (CBS) that has been greatly affected, many actually stalled.

CBS is the HIV screening process done by the likes of Jaud, wherein a volunteer/screener goes to communities to offer HIV testing and screening. This is particularly beneficial to those who live far from a testing facility or those who may not have the time to visit a testing facility.

In idea, this seems like a good idea particularly at the time of Covid-19 because the lockdowns meant people have no means to access health facilities.

But according to Gregory Rugay from the CBS team of Northern Sanctuary MCC in Baguio City, “screening itself has totally stopped at the moment.”

Instead, the focus has been to link to treatment, care and support those who have tested reactive or positive before Covid-19 lockdowns.

“It is kind of tricky,” Rugay said, “because those who have been calling us, wanting to be tested right away, are people who have symptoms (akin to Covid-19) like fever, colds… and difficulty of breathing. With the pandemic going on, you are at a loss on how to treat this kind of issue because their symptoms can also point to (having) Covid-19.”

Darwin Tenoria, case manager at Antipolo Social Hygiene Clinic, said that they are already trying to return their HIV-related services to how they were before Covid-19.

WANTED: COMMUNITY-BASED SERVICE PROVIDERS

Rugay’s fear has merit… even if, obviously, the services he used to be able to freely offer is still needed.

On May 18, UNAIDS stated that “the role of community-led organizations must be appropriately recognized and supported in the context of COVID-19. They must be factored into all aspects of planning, design and implementation of interventions to combat both COVID-19 and the efforts required to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on other health areas, including HIV and tuberculosis.”

And so UNAIDS recommended, among others:

  • Including community-led health care service providers into lists of essential service providers
  • Policies allowing community-led services to continue operating safely
  • Ensure that community-led organizations are provided with personal protective equipment and training to protect them and their clients in service delivery

LACK OF CLARITY?

In terms of CBS, “they do not have specific guidelines,” Tenoria said. “There’s no clear guideline on how to mobilize CBS.”

This is even if three months have passed since the Covid-19 lockdown has started.

Jaud agrees, saying that “there’s no protocol – e.g. in using personal protective equipment (PPE).” What happens now is – at least in her case – they rely on the practices of the city health office, as well as the practices of NGOs.

Still waxing positive, Jaud said that the Department of Health (DOH) may have not focused on this because – obviously – Covid-19 was the focus for a while, and because there may have been this assumption that because there are a lot of NGOs/CBOs in this field already, they may already know what to do.

In Baguio, Rugay himself was told by someone offering CBS that CBS is actually stalled.

He admitted, though, that he can’t imagine himself offering CBS now particularly if doing so would mean he would be exposing himself to Covid-19, and thereby exposing his loved ones to the same when he returns home.

Tenoria said that “perhaps we need (something written in black and white), on what will be the direction (under) the ‘new normal’.”

He admitted that there were shortcomings particularly when the country – and the world – was initially responding to Covid-19. “Medyo napag-iwanan talaga yung HIV program.”

But now, there ought to be guidelines (beyond the initial one developed by DOH, though that one only focused on accessing antiretroviral medicines). For Tenoria, clearer guidelines will also provide clarity to both service providers and those accessing the services particularly as these may align protocols.

HIV BOOM ABOUT TO HAPPEN?

As it is, all lung-related cases in Antipolo are now considered as suspected Covid-19 cases, said Tenoria.

This is worth noting because tuberculosis (TB), for instance, is an opportunistic infection (OI); and it occurs more often/more severe in people with weakened immune systems (like someone with HIV).

So even if a person with HIV who may not have Covid-19 may have lung-related issues, he/she is required to be isolated. This, then, leads to another (and related) issue: The limited capacity of health facilities in the Philippines.

Tenoria admitted as much, saying that looking for facilities for PLHIVs is harder because isolation rooms are being dedicated to Covid-19 patients.

Of course: Those who test reactive but who have no OIs are luckier, as they are automatically enrolled into the system so they can immediately access ARVs.

For Rugay, “at this moment, there’s nothing we can do for (PLHIVs whose detection is late).” But for him, what the HIV arm of DOH should do is “step up in preparing itself for (a possibility of a) barrage of late detections once they figure out how we do screenings again. Are they prepared/equipped to have all those patients come in?”

FROM THE D.O.H.

A June 10 letter signed by Usec. Dr. Myrna Cabotaje from Department of Health (DOH) to Outrage Magazine noted the impact of Covid-19 on HIV program implementation. Specifically: Prevention services were reduced by 20% to 30%; HIV testing services reduced by 20% to 80%; viral load testing reduced by 42%; and ARV refill services reduced by 5%.

These impacts were due to: geographic concerns, transportation issues and strict checkpoints.

As Tenoria already noted, a guideline was actually developed by DOH. But its main focus was on PLHIVs (particularly, access to ARVs by those already diagnosed to have HIV), and not on those who have yet to be tested.

But Cabotaje’s letter stated that data from HARP for January-March 2020 shows 552 new HIV cases. Meaning, according to HARP, “HIV testing, mostly facility-based, were still provided.”

For January-March 2020, 682 PLHIVs were also initiated on ART.

Asked about protocols re HIV testing, DOH stated that “at this point, HIV testing protocol based on current capacity of both the government and CBOs is centered on ether facility-based testing or community-based HIV screening. Our current HIV projects, e.g. Global Fund HIV grant, thru Save the Children, provided essential PPE to our field workers for them to continue performing their prevention and testing work.”

The likes of Jaud in Zamboanga and Rugay in Baguio are, obviously, not recipients of the aforementioned PPEs.

Moving forward, DOH is also looking at self-screening as an approach to HIV testing, although “the country is still currently testing this approach in a limited manner.”

No timelines were mentioned in the letter.

GOOD PRACTICES

Exactly because HIV-related efforts seemed to have relied on localized practices, some good practices have emerged.

In Naga City, for instance, Tenoria noted that HIV testing is offered with Covid-19 testing.

Still in Zamboanga, when goods are distributed, safer sex kits are included.

And still in Zamboanga, Jaud started tapping clients online; and this is even if this effort remains limiting because not everyone is active online.

“It’s difficult because gatherings of a big number of people are not allowed,” said Jaud. Her target population – i.e. transgender women in Zamboanga – frequently avail of HIV screening when they have gatherings. But now, “tapping social media has been helpful.”

Worth noting is how this immediately limits Jaud’s service delivery – i.e. because she know of the risks related to Covid-19, the clients she now serves are limited to people she knows/are friends with.

“It is kind of tricky,” Gregory Rugay said, “because those who have been calling us, wanting to be tested right away, are people who have symptoms (akin to Covid-19) like fever, colds… and difficulty of breathing.”

PROGRAMS STILL NEED TO CONTINUE

In the end, Tenoria said that people in power hopefully realize that there are still programs that need to be run. “Just as we say in HIV (advocacy), ‘No one should be left behind’.”

This is because sans the needed support, Rugay said people involved in CBS are limited. And so he urges those who want to get tested to, instead, go to health facilities, particularly if they may also have symptoms linked with Covid-19.

Konting pasensya lang sana,” he said, until “we have clear protocols and figure it out how to make it safe for everyone concerned.”

“We (still) encourage everyone to get tested for HIV,” Tenoria said. But those who want to get tested will have to coordinate first with health facilities to schedule testing. Still, this “should not be a hindrance for you to access services (even during this pandemic).”

For Jaud, “we have to capacitate outreach workers (like myself)”. This may be via supplying with gears (e.g. PPE), training, and – yet again – laying down of protocols to use.

Back in Zamboanga, Galvinez said that government offices should give attention to community-based health workers like Jaud, who’s also “a frontliner. They’re ready to help, and serve the community.”

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