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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

FEATURES

Inter-Agency Committee on Diversity and Inclusion created via executive order

An executive order intends to create an inter-agency committee on diversity and inclusion, as well as establish the Diversity and Inclusion Program (DIP) that will consolidate efforts and implement laws “towards the identification and adoption of best practices in the promotion of diversity and inclusion.”

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Photo by daniel james from Unsplash.com

President Rodrigo Roa Duterte is flexing his supposed anti-discrimination cred with the signing of Executive Order (EO) 100, which focuses on minority sectors, including members of the LGBTQIA community, Indigenous Peoples, youth and persons with disability (PWDs).

The EO – titled “Institutionalizing the diversity and inclusion program, creating an inter-agency committee on diversity and inclusion (IACDI), and for other purposes – intends to create the aforementioned IACDI, as well as establish the Diversity and Inclusion Program (DIP) that will consolidate efforts and implement laws “towards the identification and adoption of best practices in the promotion of diversity and inclusion.”

The order was signed on December 17, prior to Duterte meeting with a politicized organization composed of LGBTQIA Filipinos that eye to win seat in Congress in the next elections via the country’s partylist system; but was only released to the media on December 19.

The to-be-established IACDI will be composed of: Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD), Department of Budget Management (DBM), Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE), Department of Justice (DOJ), Department of Education (DepEd), Department of Health (DOH), Philippine Commission on Women (PCW), Commission on Higher Education (CHED), Presidential Commission for the Urban Poor (PCUP), National Commission on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP), National Council on Disability Affairs (NCDA), and National Youth Commission (NYC).

Worth noting: No LGBTQIA representation is specifically mentioned/included in the committee.

The committee is expected to work with “relevant stakeholders, advocacy groups and NGOs” to develop a DIP; dictate the direction of the DIP; “encourage” local government units to issue ordinances promoting diversity and inclusion; and recommend possible legislation to address gaps in existing laws.

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Meanwhile, the to-be-established DIP is supposed to “consolidate efforts and implement existing laws, rules and issuances against the discrimination of persons on the basis of age, disability, national or ethnic origin, language, religious affiliation or belief, political affiliation or belief, health status, physical features, or sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, towards the identification and adoption of best practices in the promotion of diversity and inclusion.”

For trans activist Naomi Fontanos, who helms GANDA Filipinas, there are provisions in the EO that are problematic.

“(It) looks good on paper but has problematic provisions,” Fontanos said.

For example, “the composition of the IACDI excludes key government agencies like the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and Civil Service Commission (CSC). Instead they have consultative status. This is surprising since based on RA No. 9710 or the Magna Carta of Women (MCW), the CHR is the Gender and Development (GAD) Ombud.”

Fontanos noted that with “funding for the implementation of EO No. 100, s. 2019 will either be from sources identified by the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) or through Gender and Development (GAD) funds, why then does the GAD Ombud only have consultative status?”

Also excluded from the IACDI is the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos, “which is unfortunate since the EO seeks to prohibit discrimination based on religious affiliation or belief,” Fontanos said.

Fontanos similarly questioned the chairmanship of the IACDI by the DILG.

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“The DILG’s main function is to ensure peace and order, public safety, and building the capacity of local governments for basic services delivery. Implementing a nationwide DIP better fits the mandate of the DSWD, which is to empower disadvantaged sectors in our country. The DSWD is only the committee’s Vice Chair.”

For Fontanos, “also most telling is that the committee is tasked to consult relevant stakeholders and NGOs to develop the DIP. Given that EO No. 100, s. 2019 was signed during the oath-taking of officers of LGBT Pilipinas Party-List at Malacañang Palace, will they be the default ‘stakeholder’ to be consulted on LGBT issues? If they are running for a congressional seat in 2022, won’t that give them undue advantage given that they will be working with LGUs through the chairmanship of the DILG?”

Following the release of the EO, future steps to be taken have yet to be announced.

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Province of Capiz holds first Pride parade

The city of Roxas in the Province of Capiz held its first LGBTQIA Pride parade, a “historic event that was organized for and by the LGBTQIA people of Capiz.”

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All photos courtesy of Charmel Delfin Ignacio Catalan

Pride in Capiz.

The city of Roxas in the Province of Capiz held its first LGBTQIA Pride parade, a “historic event that was organized for and by the LGBTQIA people of Capiz,” said Charmel Delfin Ignacio Catalan, who helmed the organizing of the event via Queens of all Queens and LGBT Community Capiz.

The local LGBTQIA community is not exactly completely “invisible”, admitted Catalan, having participated in the city’s/province’s past gatherings – e.g. last August 12, 2019, when a contingent joined the parade for the International Youth Day. But this Pride is “important – particularly as it is being held as the world observes World AIDS Day – because it highlights what’s solely relevant to our community.”

As is common with non-commercialized Pride events, “the main problem (we encountered) was financial,” Catalan said. This is because “we only relied on donations of generous individuals (to be able to hold this event).” But since “it had the backing of the community… we were able to push through.”

With Catalan in organizing the Pride parade were Atty. Felizardo Demayuga Jr. and Sandro Borce.

For Catalan: “I believe we still need Pride in this day and age to celebrate the unique individuality of the members of the LGBTQIA Community, and – of course – to continue the advocacy of equal rights and mutual respect and the causes that we are fighting for.”

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Roxas City, in particular, still records LGBTQIA-related hate crimes. In a 2015 interview with Outrage Magazine, Catalan recalled the bashing of a trans woman na napag-tripan (because some people just felt like it); sex work-related ill-treatment; and even killings.

This is why Catalan said she hopes for (particularly local) LGBTQIA people to attend the gathering as a show of strength that “we’re in this together.”

Catalan, nonetheless, recognizes that many non-LGBTQIA people still detest/discriminate LGBTQIA people. And so to them she said: “To all our bashers/haters, please take note that we have no ill feelings towards you; we love you and you are always in our prayers. Please take note that sticks and stones may break our bones but you won’t see us fall.”

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‘We need inclusive responses to HIV’ – Bahaghari Center

For Ms Disney Aguila, board member of Bahaghari Center, “it needs to be emphasized that HIV can only truly be dealt with if everyone is on board.”

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In early 2019, Jay (not his real name), a Deaf gay man who lives outside Metro Manila, was encouraged by his friends who knew community-based HIV screening (CBS) to get himself tested. It was, he recalled, “the first time someone offered me this service; so I caved in.”

Jay was reactive; and “my world crumbled,” he said.

Though his friends tried to comfort him, telling him that knowing his status is good, “since at least now I can take steps to get treatment and live a normal, healthy life,” Jay wasn’t assuaged. His friends had to eventually go back to Metro Manila, and he worried that he would be left on his own to “find ways to access treatment.” And the same issue that did not make testing accessible for him – i.e. him being Deaf – is now the same issue he believed would hinder him from getting treatment, care and support (TCS).

Jay’s case, said Ms Disney Aguila, board member of the Bahaghari Center for SOGIE Research, Education and Advocacy Inc. (Bahaghari Center), highlights how “numerous sectors continue to be ignored in HIV-related responses.”

Aguila, the concurrent head of the Pinoy Deaf Rainbow, the pioneering organization for Deaf LGBTQIA Filipinos, added that “it needs to be emphasized – particularly today as #WAD2019 – that HIV can only truly be dealt with if everyone is on board.”

WORSENING HIV SITUATION

As reported by the HIV/AIDS & ART Registry of the Philippines (HARP) of the Department of Health (DOH), the Philippines has 35 new HIV cases every day. The figure has been consistently growing – from only one case every day in 2008, seven cases per day in 2011, 16 cases per day in 2014, and 32 cases per day in 2018.

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In July, when HARP released its (delayed) latest figures, there were 1,111 newly confirmed HIV-positive individuals; this was 29% higher compared with the diagnosed cases (859) in the same period last year.

Perhaps what is worth noting, said Aguila, is the “absence in current responses of minority sectors” – e.g. when even data does not segregate people from minority sectors, thus the forced invisibility that used to also affect transgender people who were once lumped under the MSM (men who have sex with men) umbrella term.

For Aguila, this is “detrimental to the overall response re HIV because specific needs are not answered.”

DEAF IN FOCUS

In 2012, Bahaghari Center conducted “Talk to the Hand”, the first-of-its-kind study that looked at the knowledge, attitudes and related practices (KAP) of Deaf LGBT Filipinos on HIV and AIDS. The study had numerous disturbing findings.

To start, majority of the respondents (33 or 54.1%) were within the 19-24 age range at the time of the study, followed by those who are over 25 (21 or 34.3%). Most of them (53 of 61 Deaf respondents) had sex before they reached 18. Many (36.1%) of them also had numerous sexual partners, with some respondents having as many as 20 sex partners in a month.
Only 21 (34.4%) use condoms, and – worryingly – even among those who used condoms, 12 (19.7%) had condom breakage during sex because of improper use.

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Perhaps the unsafe sexual practice should not be surprising, considering that not even half (29, 47.5%) of the respondents heard of HIV and AIDS, with even less that number (23, 37.7%) knowing someone who died of HIV or AIDS-related complications. And with not even half of the total respondents (29) familiar with HIV and AIDS, not surprisingly, only 19 (31.1%) considered HIV and AIDS as serious, with more of them considering HIV and AIDS as not serious (20, 32.8%) or maybe serious (22, 36.1%).

The study also noted that the level of general knowledge about HIV and AIDS is low, with 40 (65.6%) of them falling in this category. Only about 1/5 of them (12, 19.7%) had high level of knowledge about HIV and AIDS. Even fewer (9, 14.8%) may be classified as having moderate knowledge level.

For the Deaf community, at least, accessing testing and – if one tested HIV positive – the TCS is challenging because “we’d need Filipino Sign Language (FSL) interpreters who can help make sure we’re getting the right information/treatment/et cetera, Aguila said. And in the Philippines, the numbers of service providers who know FSL remain very limited.

Already there are Deaf Filipinos trained to conduct CBS particularly for other Deaf Filipinos – here in “Stop HIV Together“, a photo campaign stressing the need for inclusion.

INCLUDING OTHER MINORITIES

Aguila stressed that forced invisibility, obviously, does not only affect the minority Deaf community as far as HIV-related responses are concerned – e.g. “other persons with disability continue not to have HIV-related interventions,” she said.

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For Aguila: “To truly stop HIV and AIDS, we need to be inclusive.”

Back in the city south of Metro Manila, Jay was forwarded to a counselor who knows FSL so that he can be supported in accessing TCS. Even that was “problematic,” said Jay, because “I was ‘forced’ to come out to someone I didn’t necessarily want to disclose my status only because I had no choice.”

For him, this highlights “how we just have to make do with what’s there; and there really isn’t much that’s there to begin with.”

He feels “lighter” now, however, having started his antiretroviral treatment (ART). But he knows he’s one of the “lucky people with contacts”; and that “not every one has access to the same support I had… and that’s something we need to deal with.”

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‘Ang laban ng LGBT ay laban ng mamamayan’

As Baguio City holds its 13th #Pride March, there is emphasis on the de-commercialization of Pride to ficus on issues affecting all minority sectors including the #LGBT community. As stressed by Nico Ponce of Bahaghari-UP Baguio, hopefully other sectors join the fight for human rights for all because “ang laban ng LGBT ay laban ng buong mamamayan.”

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All photos by Michael David dela Cruz Tan

The struggle of the LGBTQIA community is the struggle of the people/nation.

So said Nico Ponce, chairperson of the UP-Baguio University Student Council and of Bahaghari-UP Baguio, which helmed Amianan Pride Council (APC), the organizer of the 13th Pride March in Baguio City.

This is why, Ponce added, at least particularly for Pride in Baguio City, there was an intent to veer away from commercializing Pride, to instead focus on the issues of all LGBTQIA people no matter the sector they belong to. There was also an emphasis on intersectionality – i.e. that other minority sectors have a stake in the fight for equal treatment of LGBTQIA people, also a minority sector.

“We are against the commercialization of Pride,” Ponce said, “since naniniwala tayo na ang historic roots of Pride ay… sang protest (we believe in the historic roots of Pride as a protest).” And so, to maintain the militant nature of Pride, we “make calls that… are comprehensive; and that affect not just LGBTQIA people but all Filipinos.”

The position, of course, is relevant considering the seeming (if not eventual) move towards commercialization of Pride events – e.g. cash-dependent Metro Manila’s Pride parade was able to gather over 50,000 participants in this year’s party/gathering; though the same number won’t surface to push for the anti-discrimination bill (ADB) that has been pending in Congress for 19 years now.

“There is still no equity,” said transgender activist Ms Santy Layno, which makes hosting Pride still relevant.

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“We still march,” added Rev. Pastor Myke Sotero of MCC-MB, “because even if people say that LGBTQIA people are already tolerated in the Philippines, we continue to suffer discrimination… with our transgender siblings still killed/murdered. We still need to march for Pride… as a form of protest.”

‘We (still) need Pride because of the apparent need of the LGBTQIA community (for acceptance) in all sectors of society,” Ponce added.

Baguio City already has an anti-discrimination ordinance, passed in April 2017, that wants to ensure that “every person… be given equal access to opportunities in all fields of human endeavor and to equitable sharing of social and economic benefits for them to freely exercise the rights to which they are rightfully entitled, free from any prejudice and discrimination.”

But the city also has anti-LGBTQIA history. For instance, in 2011, eight pairs of LGBTQIA people had commitment ceremony there, under MCC-MB. Oppositions were raised by the Catholic Church and a group of pastors from Baguio and Benguet. Bishop Carlito Cenzon of the Baguio-Benguet Vicariate of the Roman Catholic Church, for one, stated that “these unions are an anomaly.”

In the end, said Sotero, Pride is a way to inform society “that we’re here, we’re not going anywhere, so society should accept LGBTQIA people.”

“To people who ridicule/mock us, we’re open to discussions,” said Ponce. “Hindi sila kaaway… kaya sana makiisa kayo dahil ang laban ng LGBTQIA ay laban ng buong mamamayan (We are not enemies… so we hope you join the struggle because the fight for equality of LGBTQIA people is similar to the fight for social justice of the entire nation).” – WITH ALBERT TAN MAGALLANES, JR.

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Baguio marks 13th LGBTQIA Pride

The “City of Pines” marked its 13th LGBTQIA Pride March, themed “Diverse but equal” to stress that “despite diversity, everyone remains inherently equally human.” According to Rev. Pastor Myke Sotero of MCC-MB, Pride is a way to inform society “that we’re here, we’re not going anywhere, so society should accept LGBTQIA people.”

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ALL PHOTOS BY MICHAEL DAVID dela Cruz TAN

Equally diverse; equally human.

The “City of Pines” marked its 13th LGBTQIA Pride March, themed “Diverse but equal” to stress that “despite diversity, everyone remains inherently equally human.”

According to Rev. Pastor Myke Sotero, who helms Metropolitan Community Church-Metro Baguio (MCC-MB), which is part of the Amianan Pride Council (APC), the organizer of the annual event, even now that LGBTQIA issues (continue to) gain traction in mainstream awareness, holding a Pride event remains relevant because “kahit na sinasabi nating tolerated na ang mga LGBTQIA dito sa Pilipinas (even if it is said that LGBTQIA people are already tolerated in the Philippines), we continue to suffer discrimination.”

Sotero noted that, in fact, “patuloy pa din ang pagpatay sa mga kapatid natin na transgender (our transgender siblings are still being murdered/killed).”

Only in September, for instance, the lifeless body of Jessa Remiendo was found on the shore of Patar in Bolinao, Pangasinan – only approximately 94 kilometers away from Baguio City (just over two hours of road trip).

A few weeks before the gruesome murder, LGBTQIA people have been highlighting the need to pass an anti-discrimination law in the Philippines, particularly since the bill that eyes to protect the human rights of sexual minorities have been pending in Congress for 19 years now.

Kailangan pa ring ipagpatuloy ang pagmamartsa sa Pride bilang sang protesta (Marching for Pride is still needed as a form of protest),” Sotero said.

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Sotero added that Pride is also a way to inform society “na andito kami, hindi kami aalis, at dapat i-accept ang mga LGBTQIA people (we’re here, we’re not going anywhere, so society should accept LGBTQIA people).”

Baguio City actually already has an anti-discrimination ordinance, passed in April 2017, and notes that “discrimination is a crucial and serious issue” and it wants to ensure that “every person… be given equal access to opportunities in all fields of human endeavor and to equitable sharing of social and economic benefits for them to freely exercise the rights to which they are rightfully entitled, free from any prejudice and discrimination.”

But the city also has anti-LGBTQIA history – e.g. in 2011, when eight pairs of LGBTQIA people had commitment ceremony there, under MCC-MB, there were oppositions from the Catholic Church and a group of pastors from Baguio and Benguet.

In reaction, Bishop Carlito Cenzon of the Baguio-Benguet Vicariate of the Roman Catholic Church stated at that time that “these unions are an anomaly.” Meanwhile, the Guiding Light Christian Church maintained that “marriage should be between a man and woman only”.

And so for Det Neri, chairperson of Bahaghari-Metro Manila, a multisectoral militant and nationalist LGBTQIA organization based in Metro Manila (and whose arm in UP Baguio healed this year’s gathering), even now, LGBTQIA people are still mocked and “ginagawang katatawanan (made fun of).” And so celebrating Pride is “mahalaga para hindi tayo nawawala sa kasaysayan, hindi tayo mawawala doon sa hinaharap (we aren’t erased in our history, and we aren’t neglected as we head into the future).”

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Neri added that Pride’s essence remains militant, and should remain as such. – WITH ALBERT TAN MAGALLANES, JR.

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Dumaguete City passes SOGIE equality ordinance

In a victory for members of the LGBTQIA community in the City of Dumaguete, an ordinance was passed in the City Council to ensure non-discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE).

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For Pride.

In a victory for members of the LGBTQIA community in the City of Dumaguete, an ordinance was passed in the City Council to ensure non-discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE).

Dumaguete is a 3rd class city in the province of Negros Oriental. According to the 2015 census, it has a population of 131,377 people.

It is the capital and most populous city of the province of Negros Oriental, it has a population of 131,377 people, according to the 2015 census.

Authored by Councilor Rosel Margarette Q. Erames with co-authors Councilors Lei Marie Danielle Tolentino, Bernice Ann Elmaco, Edgar Lentorio Jr., Lilani Ramon and Nelson Patrimonio, the anti-discrimination ordinance (ADO) penalizes actual or perceived SOGIE-based discrimination in the workplace, school and other similar acts that undermines and harms the rights of the LGBTQIA people.

City passes own SOGIE protection In a significant victory for members of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender and…

Posted by HEADZ UP NegOr on Sunday, October 27, 2019

Under the ordinance among the prohibited acts include:

  • Actual or perceived SOGIE-related discrimination from employment, training, promotion, remuneration;
  • Delaying, refusing or failing to accept a person’s application for admission as a student;
  • Expelling or any penalty on the basis of SOGIE;
  • Harassment and intimidation committed by teachers, administrators and fellow students;
  • Refusing to provide goods or service, or imposing onerous terms and conditions as a prerequisite for such;
  • Denying access to health services and facilities;
  • Refusing or failing to allow LGBTQIA to avail of services or accommodations;
  • Denying application for licenses, clearances, certifications or other documents;
  • Vilifying, mocking, slandering or ridiculing LGBTQIA people through words, action and in writing; and
  • Executing any activity in public which incites hatred towards or serious contempt for or severe ridicule of LGBTQ and other analogous acts.
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The bill didn’t have smooth sailing before it passed. For instance, the Diocesan Commission on the Laity (whose members consist of 42 Parish Pastoral Councils from the different parishes of the Diocese of Dumaguete, covering the provinces of Negros Oriental and Siquijor, with the exception of the municipalities of La Libertad and Vallehermoso, and the cities of Guihulngan and Canlaon), as well as the Diocesan Organization of Renewal Movements & Communities (composed of 14 organizations) expressed their opposition of the ADO.

When the passage of the ADO also made the news, a handful of locals expressed their disapproval, stating – among others – that LGBTQIA people do not face discrimination in Dumaguete (thereby contradicting their own statement), prioritizing other issues of the city, and that protecting the human rights of LGBTQIA people is against the will of God.

But now with the ADO, first time violators will be made to attend a gender sensitivity training. Second time offenders may be jailed for not less than 60 days but not more than one year, or be fined with not less than P2,000 but not more than P 5, 000 (or both at the discretion of the court).

With the ADO, SOGIE-related concerns will be incorporated in the functions of existing Barangay Violence Against Women and Children (VAW) Desk, which will document and report cases of discrimination against LGBTQIA persons.

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