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NorMAA: Safe space for PLHIVs in Northern Mindanao

When Northern Mindanao Advocates Society (NorMA) was formed by people living with HIV (PLHIV) in Cagayan de Oro City, it aimed to provide for the care and support of PLHIV community members, especially the newly diagnosed. Its efforts continue to broaden, as it envisions a society where PLHIVs in Mindanao love and accept themselves and become productive and responsible members of the society.

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NORMA1

NORMA2Northern Mindanao Aids Advocates Society (NorMAA) was formed on January 17, 2014 by people living with HIV (PLHIV) in Cagayan de Oro City through the guidance and help of Lerio Chua and Mike Mahinay of ALAGAD MINDANAO.

NorMAA was formed because of the need for care and support for the PLHIV community in the city, especially those who have been newly diagnosed.

Grey Thomas Hu, NORMAA’s founder, admitted that forming the group was a challenge.

“It was a dream for me to have a care and support base for the community – at least for the past months since my HIV diagnosis. And so I sought help from Pagbantog Kagayan, ALAGAD MINDANAO and various advocates,” Grey recalled. Having formed the organization, “now are have 30 members, and challenges are getting heavier.”

These remain manageable, however, “since I can see the commitment of these individuals involved in NorMA. We have goals, and we will strive to continue working to attain them. We will do our baby steps by strengthening our goals and staying committed to our vision.”

As an organization composed completely of PLHIVs, NorMa envisions a society where PLHIVs in Mindanao love and accept themselves and are productive and responsible members of the society. To achieve this, NorMA provides a program for care and support among PLHIVs and their affected families in Mindanao.

The specific objectives that NorMa set are: To decrease discrimination against PLHIV from Heath care providers, family and community; To decrease HIV-related stigma from the local media, workplaces, school, church and government agencies; To increase level of awareness on HIV among the people of Mindanao; To create a safe space and wellness program for PLHIV and their affected families; To increase funding support for PLHIVs from LGUs and other sources ; and To increase number of trained human resources to deal with PLHIV and their affected families.

READ:  2014 AIDS Manila Manifesto

Since it was established as a group, NorMa has actively provided care and support to its growing membership.

“So far we do our anonymous meetings, Yoga and Zumba classes, and – soon – we will interject other wellness activities like acupuncture to help better the immune system of PLHIVs.  These aside from being a care and support provider.  We are a home for our blood sisters and brothers who need help,” Grey said.

NorMa is now preparing for the 2014 World AIDS Day with Hulagway Dos, a photoshoot for a cause ; The Project Oxygen 2.0, an art installation; and other outreach activities and trainings for PLHIVs, in partnership with ALAGAD MINDANAO.

For one to join and be a part of the group, she/he must be a confirmed PLHIV and ALAGAD MINDANAO will do a screening together with the NorMAA Executive Committee.

“We encourage PLHIV of Northern Mindanao to join us. We will have a long journey together in this new home, in the care of NorMAA,” Grey ended.

A registered nurse, John Ryan (or call him "Rye") Mendoza hails from Cagayan de Oro City in Mindanao (where, no, it isn't always as "bloody", as the mainstream media claims it to be, he noted). He first moved to Metro Manila in 2010 (supposedly just to finish a health social science degree), but fell in love not necessarily with the (err, smoggy) place, but it's hustle and bustle. He now divides his time in Mindanao (where he still serves under-represented Indigenous Peoples), and elsewhere (Metro Manila included) to help push for equal rights for LGBT Filipinos. And, yes, he parties, too (see, activists need not be boring! - Ed).

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Diwata ng Muntinlupa: Celebrating LGBTQIA Pride in the Emerald City of the Philippines

Introducing one of the oldest LGBTQIA organizations in the Philippines, Diwata ng Muntinlupa, which was established in 1977 to advocate for LGBTQIA human rights while offering the members companionship and peer support.

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Photo by Luwela A. Rodrigo

ARTICLE FILED WITH ZOE DENYS GULLON

In 1998, a member of the LGBTQIA community in Muntinlupa City was murdered inside his salon two days before a show he was part of was to take place. The murder made the news (particularly locally), but what may not have been widely circulated was that the murdered person was (then) the sitting president of Diwata ng Muntinlupa, one of the oldest LGBTQIA organizations in the Philippines, having been established in 1977.

“It was rough for us,” recalled Glenn Ricaroz, the current president of Diwata ng Muntinlupa. And yet, the organization’s members went on with holding the already-scheduled show “and brought happiness to the people even when happiness was nowhere near our hearts because of what happened.”

That macabre occurrence highlighted for the members of Diwata ng Muntinlupa why the organization exists in the first place – i.e. advocating for LGBTQIA human rights so that nothing like that could ever happen to LGBTQIA people ever again, but (while doing the advocating) also offering each other companionship and peer support.

As the first LGBTQIA organization in Muntinlupa City, Diwata ng Muntinlupa’s formation was backed by former city mayor Atty. Maximino A. Argana. And in 42 years, it has been “steadfast in its intention to connect, support and represent (the LGBTQIA people) in the eight barangays (villages) in Muntinlupa City.”

Annually, the members support each other in highlighting their “connection” through an already regularized performance for the feast of the Sto. Niño (Child Jesus); a way of showcasing LGBTQIA representation through a religious event. During this event, Diwata ng Muntinlupa becomes “a showcase of talents,” said Ricaroz.

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Muntinlupa City (or at least as reported to the leadership of Diwata ng Muntinlupa) is “largely LGBTQIA-friendly,” Ricaroz said. But this does not weaken “our support for the passage of an anti-discrimination law.”

Obviously, as in any law, the implementation could become an issue, but Ricaroz said that the very act of having an anti-discrimination law that will protect the human rights of LGBTQIA people will validate their very being.

For example, “sa pulis (in the police station), when you report (there), ang treatment naman sa iyo is not bading or tomboy (you are not recognized as gay or lesbian/based on your SOGIE). You are just considered as man or a woman. So what will appear in the records/blotter is ‘pinatay ng lalaki yung kapwa niya lalaki (a man killed another man),” Ricaroz said. This erases not just the identity of LGBTQIA people, but could also inadvertently affect reporting on crimes committed against people because of their SOGIE.

After 42 years, the longevity of the group may be attributed to its ‘survivalist’ attitude. “Kahit sino naupo, nandyan kami (It doesn’t matter who is in power in the local government, we’re still here),” Ricaroz said. This is also a source of pride considering how local organizations are almost always formed and then dismantled only to serve the political dreams/intentions of politicians; they are – therefore – often at the whim of these same politicians. But “(for us), no matter who sits in the local government, Diwata is and will always be there.”

READ:  HIV-positive man from Britain becomes world's second AIDS cure hope

But – perhaps surprising considering the organization’s age; though perhaps unsurprising due to its very nature as a community-based organization – Diwata ng Muntinlupa also continues to face financial issues.

For instance, there are times, said Ricaroz, when “we struggle to keep (the annual show for the Sto. Niño going).” But benefactors almost always step up – e.g. founding member Mama Blanca, the local government, and community members. And “we are always overwhelmed with the support we get. This is why we still keep going.”

Diwata ng Muntinlupa continues to eye growth – e.g. the founding members total less than 20, but regular members now number over 120 people, not including allied LGBTQIA organizations/groups in Muntinlupa City. Meanwhile, there is broadening of efforts being made. After 42 years, it is finally getting itself registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). And aside from the annual show for the Sto. Niño, it is looking into organizing sports events for the LGBTQIA people in their communities, start HIV advocacy efforts HIV; and develop a livelihood and entrepreneurial project for the LGBTQIA community through educational scholarships and TESDA.

“We want to keep the legacy of Diwata ng Muntinlupa going,” Ricaroz said, hoping that – in the end – the organization becomes like the very people its members hold in esteem, inspiring others to be moved into action for LGBTQIA advocacy.

PHOTO COURTESY OF DIWATA NG MUNTINLUPA
PHOTO COURTESY OF DIWATA NG MUNTINLUPA

For LGBTQIA Filipinos in Muntinlupa City who may want to join Diwata ng Muntinlupa, visit and coordinate with the officers via the organization’s Facebook account.

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Courage Pilipinas: PLHIVs looking out after each other

The unanswered needs of those in the HIV community, and how social networking sites – in this case, Twitter in particular – can help deal with these needs that triggered the formation of Courage Pilipinas in June 2018.

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Photo by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay.com

In 2017, Rommel (not his real name; for privacy) created a Twitter account. As an HIV advocate, he noted that there are a lot of HIV-positive people there. “They ask: Ano ang gagawin namin (What do we do) after we test HIV-positive?” Rommel said. And so “I reached out to them.”

Initial “successes” included “getting some people tested for HIV, giving counseling to those who tested positive (but didn’t know who to turn to; specifically those with ‘alter’ accounts), and linking HIV-positive people to treatment, care and support.”

“Sadly,” Rommel said, “there were (also) a lot who were lost to follow up.”

It is this – the unanswered needs of those in the HIV community – and how social networking sites – in this case, Twitter in particular – can help deal with these needs that triggered Rommel to form Courage Pilipinas in June 2018.

Twitter, of course, is now also recognized as relevant in advocacy efforts, including in the promotion of HIV-related advocacy.
Image used for illustration purpose only; photo by Kevin Bhagat from Unsplash.com

TAPPING TECH

For those not in the know, Twitter is a free service that allows users to post messages of 280 (or fewer) characters. These posts can contain text, photos and videos.

It is reported that one out of three adolescents aged 13-17 use Twitter, making it one of the most popular in the world; closely following the likes of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.

READ:  PLHIV into PnP

Twitter is also used by professionals (including politicians like US Pres. Donald Trump, whose “official” positions are incoherently posted on the site).

Twitter, of course, is now also recognized as relevant in advocacy efforts, including in the promotion of HIV-related advocacy. Various studies have – in fact – been done about this.

When hookup apps can save lives

In 2015, for instance, Tamara Taggart, Mary Elisabeth Grewe, Donaldson F. Conserve, PhD, Catherine Gliwa, and Malika Roman Isler, PhD conducted a comprehensive systematic review of the current published literature on the design, users, benefits, and limitations of using social media to communicate about HIV prevention and treatment.

In Social Media and HIV: A Systematic Review of Uses of Social Media in HIV Communication, the authors recognized that “social media, including mobile technologies and social networking sites, are being used increasingly as part of HIV prevention and treatment efforts. As an important avenue for communication about HIV, social media use may continue to increase and become more widespread.”

The researchers used a systematic approach to survey all literature published before February 2014 using seven electronic databases and a manual search. The inclusion criteria were: (1) primary focus on communication/interaction about HIV/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS), (2) discusses the use of social media to facilitate communication, (3) communication on the social media platform is between individuals or a group of individuals rather than the use of preset, automated responses from a platform, (4) published before February 19, 2014, and (5) all study designs.

READ:  2014 AIDS Manila Manifesto

The search identified 35 original research studies. Thirty studies had low or unclear risk of at least one of the bias items in the methodological quality assessment. Among the eight social media platform types described, short message service text messaging was most commonly used. These platforms served multiple purposes, including disseminating health information, conducting health promotion, sharing experiences, providing social support, and promoting medication adherence.

Social media users were also diverse in geographic location and race/ethnicity, with the studies commonly reported users aged 18-40 years and users with lower income.

An interesting research finding: Although most studies did not specify whether use was anonymous, studies reported the importance of anonymity in social media use to communicate about HIV largely due to the stigma associated with HIV.”

No longer just for gay trysts…

WIDE-REACHING ANONYMITY IN FOCUS

According to Ron* (not his real name; for privacy), who is helping out in running Courage Pilipinas, and particularly basing on his personal experience, “a lot of HIV-positive Filipinos seem to be using Twitter,” he said. “This may be because “it’s easier to express yourself there without exposing yourself.”

Ron’s HIV-related advocacy also started in Twitter. After testing HIV-positive, his alter account became – largely – anti-government, particularly “after I saw the government’s failure to deal with PLHIV issues.” This led to him meeting other PLHIVs’ at first “just eight of us, which grew to 12, and then to 35. Eventually, (we became an informal group) of 150 members.”

READ:  Ladlad: Nine years of fighting for LGBT rights

In his observation, it is in Twitter where a lot of PLHIVs get courage to reach out to others; “they find a voice there somehow,” Ron said. “It has become some sort of safe space.”

According to the people behind Courage Pilipinas, “a lot of HIV-positive Filipinos seem to be using Twitter… This may be because it’s easier to express yourself there without exposing yourself.”
Photo by Gilles Lambert from Unsplash.com

JUST A START

Both Rommel and Ron admit that tapping PLHIVs in Twitter (and other social networking sites) is just a start. “Napapanahon lang (It’s just timely, that’s all),” Ron said.

They recognize the numerous issues plaguing the HIV community in the Philippines – e.g. wrong priorities of the Department of Health (and the government, in general, when it comes to health); shortage of no supplies of antiretroviral medicines; profiteering of non-government organizations; et cetera.

“So we eventually want to (be relevant as a pro-active organization that’s not only available in the virtual world),” Rommel said.

All the same, particularly since PLHIV-led efforts particularly count in dealing with issues that PLHIVs themselves face, “every effort – no matter how small – counts,” Rommel said.

“More than just talk, we act,” Ron said. “And that’s always a good first step.”

To Join Courage Pilipinas or for more information, contact 0917 315 5863; or connect via Twitter account Courage.Pilipinas (@CouragePilipin1).

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Balangaw: Gathering the LGBTQI people of Puerto Princesa, Palawan

Like other LGBTQI organizations, Balangaw shares the same vision and mission to spread equality and be united. But, this time around, “we want for those in Palawan to do it for themselves,” said Evo Joel Contrivida.

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In June 2018, local LGBTQI people from Puerto Princesa in Palawan saw the need to “formally organize to be able to speak with one voice on many issues affecting us, including discrimination that LGBTQI people experience locally,” said Evo Joel Contrivida.

And so – with the help of the city government of Puerto Princesa, Pilipinas Shell Foundation and NGO Project H4 – the Balangaw LGBTQ+ Association of Puerto Princesa was established.

Balangaw is a Cuyonon word for rainbow, the universal sign of the LGBTQI community in the world.

From the get-go, Contrivida said, they knew it was going to be challenging. Surprisingly, the initial challenge came from the LGBTQI community itself – i.e. “It was, at first, difficult getting the approval/support of the members of the LGBTQI community,” he said, adding that “particularly the local lesbians, which are not as open as their gay counterparts, had to be convinced to join the group, and be part of this history-making in Palawan.”

Contrivida is now a member of the Board Of Directors of the association, overseeing its corporate affairs.
Other officers include: Geofred Gabo (Nay Favz), president; Rodelo Coneles, VP for internal affairs; Rica Belleza, VP for external affairs; Roland Joseph Palanca, secretary; Marlon San Juan, treasurer; and Jester Roque, auditor.

As of the last general assembly, Balangaw has 207 registered members.

When he took the top post of the association, Gabo noted that there actually already exists an organization for senior LGBTQI people in Palawan, and that its members are known for being united. It is this that he wants for Balangaw to replicate; even while building on this by providing more opportunities to the LGBTQI people of the city.

READ:  How each one is a cure

Contrivida said that, like other LGBTQI organizations, “we share the same vision and mission to spread equality and be united.” But, he stressed, this time around, “we want for those in Palawan to do it for themselves.”

And this, in the end, is what Contrivida wants LGBTQI people in Palawan to recognize: That there’s a group composed of and for them to help them dictate their community’s future.

For those interested to know more about Balangaw, contact Evo Joel Contrivida at +63 917 554 6533 or evojoel46@gmail.com.

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Revisiting the ‘alternative family with a cause’, Cavite Smart Guys Global

When Cavite Smart Guys Global was established as a “clan” in 2006, it only had 13 members. But even then, said Jhasper Pattinson Zaragosa, it always had lofty dreams to do “charitable efforts to promote goodwill.”

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Growing strong.

When Cavite Smart Guys was established as a clan (an informal organization for men who have sex with men, whose members mainly communicated with the use of tech, from mobile phones to the Internet) in 2006, it only had 13 members. But even then, said Jhasper Pattinson Zaragosa, CSG head of marketing, ads and multimedia arts, it had lofty dreams. Specifically, it eyed to do “charitable efforts to promote goodwill.”

“In (CSG), we keep on giving emphasis to the core value of sharing through charity works and other socio-activities,” added one of the clan’s heads, Micollo Zaragosa. So that “every events, we would always (give a) portion to a certain charity.”

CSG later evolved into a “global community” – that is, the membership expanded to include those not just from Cavite. The name changed, though it still gave tribute to its origin: Cavite Smart Guys Global (CSGG).

A “trademark”, if you will, is the consistent use of the surname “Zaragosa” by its members, mainly because CSGG was – to start – founded by Marcus Zaragosa with his friends. In a way, this is akin to LGBTQIA “families” involved in the “ball culture” in the US. There, competitors compete – e.g. voguing – while carrying the banner of “houses”. In the case of clans, no competition per se happens; but the same concept of belonging is applied by carrying a common house/family name.

With the help of the likes of Facebook, CSGG was able to grow its (online) membership to over 37,000, easily making it Cavite’s largest MSM group.

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And among clans, it has been recognized as – among others – the #1 provincial clan; one of the top five ‘bi’ groups in the Philippines; and more recently, as a “Bi-Rainbow Community Diamond Awardee (Mega Manila)”.

But according to Micollo Zaragosa, even with their successes, there remain challenges for the clan. For instance, “a challenge we are facing right now is how (to) retain our members, and for them to be engaged in (online and actual) activities.” This challenge, however, helped “make us to become innovative,” he added, so that “we keep on providing new and innovative activities and events that most members haven’t heard/seen before. We want to keep them curious and hyped about the events and activities we are offering, so that they always join.”

Looking forward, Jhasper Pattinson Zaragosa said that the group has numerous plans – e.g. be SEC registered, start including lesbians into the clan, and further strengthen the clan’s presence (on- and offline). But in the end, the intention is always to “be relevant to its members, even as we eye to be relevant to the community.”

For more information about Cavite Smart Guys Global, visit HERE.

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Transman United Iloilo: Lending a hand to our trans and non-binary brothers in Panay

On September 17, 2017, Transman United Iloilo (TUI) was established to allow trans and non-binary brothers in that area to be able to offer support to each other.

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In the third quarter of 2017, two trans men from Iloilo – Lee Co and PJ – saw the need to “encourage the trans man community to come together within Panay, especially in Iloilo.” Because even then, “(our) trans and non-binary brothers (did not have means to) exchange their experiences as well offer support to others,” recalled Lee Co.

And so on September 17, 2017, they established Transman United Iloilo (TUI) to be – exactly – this channel to allow trans and non-binary brothers in that area to be able to offer support to each other.

Lee Co said that nowadays, particularly for those in non-metropolitan areas, major challenges continue to abound for trans and non-binary people.

In TUI’s experience, in particular, “we still have issues with getting adequate medical care despite multiple health issues, from depression to high rates of suicidal as well as searching for trans-friendly doctors.”

Currently, TUI is connected with one doctor “who agreed to help fellow trans brothers and non-binary people when it comes to hormone replacement therapy (HRT),” Lee Co said. This “helps us out (a lot).”

The group is still very new, but it aims to be the best in what it does – i.e. “To assist our fellow trans and non-binary brothers within Panay island and guide them properly.”

And here, Lee Co said, “everyone is welcome… if they want to learn what being trans and/or non-binary is.”

READ:  I wanted to die when I became HIV positive...

For more information, head to Transman United Iloilo’s Facebook page.

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San Julian PRIDE: Aiming for equality in rural areas

In 2017, a group of LGBTQI community members noted that the one existing LGBTQI organization in San Julian in Eastern Samar was – to be blunt – “dead” because of its inactivity. And so San Julian PRIDE was established to give the LGBTQI community here a presence that can actually be seen and felt.

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On December 23, 2017, a group of LGBTQI community members noted that the one existing LGBTQI organization in San Julian in Eastern Samar was – to be blunt – “dead” because of its inactivity. And so – because “the prolonged inactivity meant that the community was unserved” – Roel Andag founded San Julian PRIDE.

“We are still without legal protection,” Roel said to Outrage Magazine, so that “not surprisingly, LGBTQI people remain marginalized and prone to discrimination, which adversely impact (our) health, career, livelihood, education and life as a whole. It is also sad to note that Pride-related developments remain Metro Manila-centric, and this is even if rural LGBTQI people face more acute economic and sociocultural vulnerabilities.”

Aside from Roel, also involved in the organization’s establishment were: Wilmar Operario, Judy Operario, Francis Cabrales and Jill Jargue.

San Julian is a rural, fifth class (i.e. very poor) agriculture-based municipality with 16 barangays (villages) located in one of the chronically poorest provinces of the Philippines. Poverty incidence here – already at 64.7% in 2009 – deteriorated further when Typhoon Haiyan hit the area in 2013.

“Predominantly Roman Catholic… the rural attitudes towards LGBTQI people here remain fraught with stigma, thereby resulting in extremely limited opportunities,” Roel said. “Organizing and mobilizing for equality will mean significant empowerment.”

San Julian PRIDE, in its own way, eyes to remedy this situation by giving the LGBTQI community from here a presence that can actually be seen and felt.

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An interesting tidbit of info: San Julian actually has an anti-discrimination ordinance (ADO), which was passed in 2015, making it the first municipality in the Philippines to pass such legislation.

But this does not mean that the local LGBTQI community’s issues are already dealt with.

“Our tagline, ‘Rural and Equal’, captures our unique essence. The multiplicity of our challenges (rural poverty, geographical predisposition to frequent natural disasters, our being a discriminated minority in a rural milieu, and low health-seeking behavior in the face of the HIV epidemic) define the intersectionality of the identity that makes us unique,” Roel said.

To date, San Julian PRIDE has 40 active members.

Considering that the organization is relatively very new, plans are lofty, including:

  1. Lobbying for the formulation of the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) of San Julian’s ADO, and popularizing its salient points;
  2. Raising awareness regarding sexuality- and gender-based bullying in schools;
  3. Building the capacity of LGBTQI people in universities and municipalities of Eastern Samar to organize themselves;
  4. Partnering with the treatment hubs in the province to implement the Department of Health’s HIV program; and
  5. Creating/supporting livelihood and skills enhancement opportunities for LGBTQI people in the province, and then involve the community in promoting LGBT rights and equality in our rural setting.

For Roel, “(let this serve as) our ad hoc platform for advocacy and serve as a safe space where members engage in discussions of topics of interest including human rights, HIV and SOGIE, among others.”

READ:  How each one is a cure

San Julian PRIDE is open for membership, though the focus is on gay men and transwomen from San Julian, Eastern Samar. For more information, visit https://www.facebook.com/SanJulianPride/.

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