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Our Brave New World (First of a Five-part Series)

Sass Rogando Sasot feels blessed to “have become part of the birth of the transgender rights movement in the Philippines”, a movement started in the first decade of the 21st century. And since during those ten years, she has witnessed “frightening and endearing events”, she now shares these via Outrage Magazine.

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A Brief History of the Birth of the Transgender Movement in the Philippines

For the memory of Ms Tonette Lopez, a dear friend, a Cebuana transwoman, and the first transgender rights activist in the Philippines. I wish that you had seen the birth of the dream that we both once shared to each other while we both walked in the streets of Cebu City one evening in 2003. May your spirit guide the growth of this movement. My warmest gratitude to Aleksi Gumela, Malu Marin and Ging Cristobal, who encouraged me in 2001, to start a trans organization in the Philippines; to JR, the first love of my life, for supporting my passion about transgender rights when I was still in high school; and to the great love of my life, Aernout Schram de Jong, thank you for being beside me, holding my hand, come calm, come storm, making me feel and experience the lighter and positive side of life!

Part 1 – Our Brave New World
Part 2 – Confronting Sexual Violence
Part 3 – Challenging Discrimination in Establishments
Part 4 – Speaking Out Against Discrimination Based on Gender Expression
Part 5 – The Rise of the Power Transpinays

This week is the 10th year of the pivotal moment when I had reached the point of conviction to dedicate my life towards the advancement of the rights of transgender people. I was 18 years old at that time and nursing myself out of depression. Patrick Califia’s book Sex Changes: The Politics of Transgenderism served as my companion in that black period.

When someone approaches me and asks me whether it is important for them to engage in this activism, I might be tempted to just say yes. But my thoughtful side would say, “Well, you don’t have to. Life’s is too short and it’s good, just enjoy it anyway you can, fully, wholeheartedly.” I just don’t believe that someone should do something because somebody else said it’s important. One must be internally convinced that doing something like this is indeed important. To do something with all your heart, strength, and passion begins with “I will and want do it” and not with “They want me to do it”.

Engaging in this activism is a commitment. Just like any commitment, it is replete with challenges and frustration. The road to happiness is not always a smooth one. In the course of your activism, you’ll find out that you might not be able to live in the changed world you are helping to craft. So a degree of selflessness is necessary. From time to time, you’ll hit the great wall of apathy. That will be the moment your commitment would be greatly put to a test. There will be people who will hate your guts. You’ll also absorb so much pain from the suffering of other people; and there’ll be times when you might no longer distinguish which is your pain and their pain. And there’s also a danger of falling into the traps of arrogant self-righteousness whenever you encounter those who inflict pain and suffering on others.

Yet despite the challenges and frustration, it is worth it. The depth of your commitment deepens your character. You will learn the invaluable lesson that when you want to widen the space of change around you, you should first widen the space of change within you. And the best thing of all is experiencing the humbling joy of seeing the faces of people lighting up with hope whenever your courage touches them. Seeing those faces is the “Thank You!” that you’re waiting for, the best “Thank You!” you’ll ever have, and the “Thank You!” that makes your submission to your commitment beautiful.

I feel blessed to have become part of the birth of the transgender rights movement in the Philippines. The movement started in the first decade of the 21st century. During those ten years, I have witnessed frightening and endearing events. And I want to share them with you.

Because of my limited resources, space, and scope of my memory, I know that I have left out a lot of events that should be here. I pray that one day life would bless me – or someone else – the opportunity to write more comprehensively about this, hopefully in a book format. Nonetheless, despite of my shortcomings, I hope these events may serve as a source of inspiration for those who would want to engage in this activism, just like how they have inspired me. But besides being sources of inspiration, some of them are pressing reminders of how much work is still needed to done.

The Jonathan Agudaña Case: The first ever known trans human rights complaint in the Philippines

The Jonathan Agudaña Case is the first ever known case involving a trans person filed in the Philippine Commission on Human Rights.

Sometime in 2000, a human rights complaint was filed by the Gay Movement for Human Rights in the Philippines (GAHUM-Philippines) on behalf of Jonathan Agudaña who was barred on two separate occasions from entering a dance club in Cebu City for wearing women’s clothes and sandals. The complaint claimed that Jonathan Agudaña was discriminated because of her “sexual orientation”. The dance club defended itself by saying that they don’t discriminate against gays. They even said that they have lots of gay patrons. They just don’t allow cross-dressing in their bar. The case was dismissed on the 11th of January 2001.

Commenting on this decision on 29 July 2001, the Regional Director of the Commission on Human Rights in Cebu (where the case has been filed), Attorney Alejandro Alonzo, was quoted in newspapers saying: “They [gays] should wear proper attire, and I don’t think [Club Royale’s policy is] a violation because customers should follow the house rules. There should be appropriate attire because they are governed by dress code.” He added: “If you’re a man, you should wear the apparel of a man or vice versa. Unless the court will grant the change of status to a particular gay just like what happened in Metro Manila.”

Notwithstanding the decision of the Commission and the fact that it was wrongly claimed that Jonathan Agudaña was discriminated because of her sexual orientation, this case brought to light that gender expression is a human rights issue.

The Marriage of Esperanza Martinez-Widener

This is a story of the obstacles people who are truly and deeply in love are willing to go through in order to fight for their love and their right to be together.

Prior to 2007, there had been a number of successful court petitions for a legal change of sex in the Philippines (All of the cases involved post-op transsexual women). One of them was the petition of Esperanza Martinez. On the 7th of July 2001, Esperanza married her long-time American boyfriend, Jacob Allen Widener, in a civil wedding in Manila.

The case was highly celebrated. This prompted Congressman Ruffy Biazon to file a bill in Congress to limit marriage between “naturally born male and naturally born female”. The bill contained highly questionable definitions of male and female. Moreover, in the bill’s introduction, Mr Biazon unapologetically compared marrying a transsexual woman to a buying a fake signature shirt. Thanks to the efforts of LGBT activists, the bill didn’t pass in Congress.

The challenge to the Widener’s didn’t end there. When Jacob filed a petition for immigration visa for Esperanza, the Nebraska Service Center of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services denied the petition, citing the Defense of Marriage Act definition of marriage.

The Service Center said that although “some states and countries have enacted laws that permit a person who has undergone sex change surgery to legally change the person’s sex from one to the other, but that [US] Congress has not addressed the issue… without legislation from Congress, it lacked a legal basis on which to recognize a change of sex so that a marriage between two persons born of the same sex could be recognized for immigration purposes.” Hence, the Service Center concluded that the marriage between Esperanza and Jacob was “invalid for immigration purposes.”

The case was appealed to the Executive Office for Immigration Review of the U.S. Department of Justice. On the 21st of September 2004, the Board of Immigration Appeals overturned the decision of the Nebraska Service Center. It honoured the Philippine certificate of marriage which reflected an opposite-sex marriage.

The Birth of Transgender-led Support & Advocacy Groups in the Philippines: STRAP and C.O.L.O.R.S.

STRAP was founded in December 2002 by four transpinays (Filipino transsexual women), in Seattle’s Best Coffee Shop in a mall in Metro Manila. It was formed to address the need for an organization that would address the issues, needs, and concerns of transsexual/transgender Filipinos and to raise public awareness on issues of gender identity and expression, as well as to promote a compassionate understanding of transsexualism. During that time, STRAP was known as the “Society of Trans & Gender Rights Advocates of the Philippines”. STRAP was the first transgender support and rights advocacy group in the Philippines at that time.

It became active for a few years but became dormant because of lack of membership and its founders became more focused on the demands of their personal lives. In early 2005, two of its founders, Veronica and Sass, were featured by ICON LGBT Magazine after its editor received a complaint from a subscriber about the magazine’s silence on transgender issues. The subscriber turned out to be Dee, another founder of STRAP. The exposure the feature article gave to STRAP resulted to inquiries about how to join the organization. This led to the revival of STRAP on 20 May 2005. Two significant changes happened at that time: first, the founders thought it was best and less taxing if the group would focus on transsexual women; and second, it changed the name of the organization to “Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines.”

STRAP mixes the format of being a support group and an activist organization, and have had three Chairwomen already. It has now grown from having an initial four members to almost a hundred members.

If Manila has STRAP, Cebu City, another major city in the Philippines, has COLORS. In 2006, the Coalition for the Liberation of the Reassigned Sex or COLORS was originally conceptualized as a campus-based organization in Cebu City. However, COLORS was not recognized as a registered school organization. Four years later, COLORS was formalized and the first election was held.

COLORS aims to establish a united, strong, and empowered transgender community that nurtures to their well-being and welfare and rebuild a discrimination-free and equal society.
COLORS and STRAP are both transgender women groups. Up to this time, there is no known transgender men groups in the Philippines. I hope that in the next decade we will witness the emergence of these groups and that our Filipino transmen brothers will join us in our quest to having a Philippine society that upholds, protects, and advances the rights of transgender Filipinos.

The inclusion of gender identity in the Anti-Discrimination Bill and its Almost Victory

When it was first filed during the 12th Congress in 2001 by then Akbayan Party List Representative Etta Rosales (who is now the Chair of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights), the Anti-Discrimination Bill (House Bill 2784) only sought to address discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Several activists, including myself, pointed out the need to include “gender identity” in the language of the bill. The bill was revised, and I was present during the brainstorming of its revision in the office of Amnesty International-Philippines in May 2002. The revised bill (HB 6416) was re-filed in 2003. It was renamed as “The Act Prohibiting Discrimination on the Basis of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Providing Penalties Thereof.”

It was referred to the House Committee on Civil, Political and Human Rights. During the public hearing of the bill, several groups were invited to give their views about HB 6416. The military and the Catholic Church were the vocal opponents of the bill. But surprisingly, Iglesia ni Cristo (INC) supported the bill. INC didn’t attend the public hearing but sent a communique saying that though they don’t approve of homosexuality they nevertheless support their human rights. In December 2003, the bill was approved by the Committee for second reading.

In legislative processes, 2nd Reading is the toughest stage. It’s there where debates for and against are held, as well as amendments are suggested. You may expect that HB 6416 provoked strong opposition. The opposite happened. However strong the Catholic Church position was, no one stood to bark their dogma. You read it right – NO ONE. Because there were no objections, the Speaker of the House Representative Gonzales motioned for the approval of the bill. The bill was unanimously approved in less than 30 minutes – this is not an exaggeration.

After six days, the 3rd Reading of the bill took place. Just like the 2nd reading no one objected. Again, you read it right: The 118 Congressmen present during the 3rd Reading voted UNANIMOUSLY for the bill.

After the 3rd Reading, the bill was supposed to undergo the same process in the senate. However it didn’t make it because the 2004 National Election happened. The bill just landed on the accomplishment report of the 12th Congress of the Philippines.

The 12th Congress approval of the Anti-Discrimination Bill didn’t carry over the 13th Congress. It was re-filed by Rep. Rosales as House Bill 634, and had its first reading on 28 July 2004. A month after, Senator Bong Revilla filed a similar bill in the senate, the Senate Bill 1738 or the Anti-Gender Discrimination Act. It had its first reading on 21 September 2004.

Thirteen proved to be unlucky for the Anti-Discrimination Bill. It was blocked twice by the Chairman of the House Committee on Civil, Political, and Human Rights, Representative Bienvenido Abante. He blocked the 2nd Reading both on October 13 and November 14, 2006. And on November 20, 2006, he delivered the highly polemic speech that was never heard in the 12th Congress. Now the dogma was barked. His cheerleaders were various religious groups who were all fearing that the approval of this bill might be the Pandora’s Box of Same-Sex Marriage.

“God created only two genders – male and female. And both in the Bible and the Q’uran, homosexuality and lesbianism are sins and abominations unto Almighty God,” was Mr Abante’s message. Aroused by this statement, Mr Abante’s cheerleaders orgasmically clapped in the House gallery.

In his answers to his interpolators, Mr Abante raised several times that “there is no general and widespread discrimination in private companies and corporations because the Constitution already prohibits discrimination so there is no need for the proposed law anymore.” He even claimed that he has an “effeminate” legislative staff whom “he loves and never discriminated”.
Several groups cried foul. The most prominent ones are the Lesbian and Gay Legislative Advocacy Network Philippines (LAGABLAB), Ang Ladlad Party List, Amnesty International-Philippines, and the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP).

The passage of the Anti-Discrimination Bill had once again became the theme of the Pride March. In 10 December 2006, several groups marched calling for the immediate passage of the bill. LAGABLAB called for the resignation of Rep. Abante.

We are now waiting for the re-filing of this bill. However, I reckon that the language of the bill should be revised and aligned to the language of the Yogyakarta Principles, specially the definition of sexual orientation and gender identity.

OTHER ARTICLES IN THE SERIES:
Part 1 – Our Brave New World
Part 2 – Confronting Sexual Violence

Part 3 – Challenging Discrimination in Establishments
Part 4 – Speaking Out Against Discrimination Based on Gender Expression
Part 5 – The Rise of the Power Transpinays

Since 2001, as she was about to turn 19, Sass has dedicated herself to the LGBT Rights movement in the Philippines, most specifically to issues of gender identity and freedom of gender expression. James Green, an international transgender rights activist, served as her mentor via email. She started giving discussions on transgender rights and issues in Luneta Park in Manila. In December 2002, she co-founded the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP). In 2003 & 2004, together with Drs Sam Winter and Mark King of the University of Hong Kong, she did the first comprehensive study on transgender women in the Philippines. The study has been published in the International Journal of Transgenderism. In 2009, she was one of the LGBT activists invited to speak in a historic United Nations General Assembly side-event at the United Nations Headquarters in New York. In 2013, she received the ECHO Award, given annually to excellent and promising migrant students in the Netherlands. In 2014, she received the Harry Benjamin Distinguished Education and Advocacy Award from the World Profession Association for Transgender Health. A nomadic spirit, Sass loves to write, walk, read, cycle, and cook. Together with the love of her life, Sass is currently based in The Hague, The Netherlands. She graduated with a Combined major in World Politics & Global Justice, minor in International Development (Magna cum Laude) at Leiden University College, which bestowed her the 2014 Global Citizenship Award. She is a contributing writer on TG issues for the mag, through The Activist. Sass.Rogando.Sasot@outragemag.com

Editor's Picks

Covid-19 and the freelancer’s dilemma

The Philippines is home to a “vibrant gig economy”, with an estimated 1.5 million freelancers in the country. But Covid-19 responses actually do not include them, so what happens to them now?

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Kate is a visual artist. She resigned from her day job to pursue her passion two years ago. Painting and creating origami, her income mainly came from the sales of her artworks; supplemented by home-based art classes to elementary and high school students.  

Nicole is a freelance makeup artist. Her clients varied from celebrities to socialites to brides and debutantes… and everything in between. Nicole used to earn a minimum of P3,000 per client, with the amount increasing depending on the type of service being offered.

Lumina is a drag artist, a common face in dance clubs and in events. Aside from her “talent fee”, she also used to get “tips” from customers.

But when the Covid-19 related Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) took effect in Luzon starting last March 17, their capacity to earn a living was also put on hold. And people like them – a.k.a. “freelancers” – are many.

In May 2019, PayPal (the payment system company) reported that the Philippines is home to a “vibrant gig economy”, with an estimated 1.5 million freelancers in the country. In fact, this is a segment that is fast becoming an influential part of the Filipino workforce and a key engine driving the growth of the country’s economy.

The terms used to refer to them may vary – e.g. In October 2019, the Philippine Statistics Authority reported that of the 73,528,000 population in the Philippines, ages 15 years and over, 95.5% are employed. And 25% of them are “self-employed workers”. Freelancers also fall under PSA’s categorization.

And ECQ has been devastating to these Filipinos.

“The current lockdown left us, freelance workers, in a complete halt — events and shows were cancelled. It technically made us jobless since we do not have the option of working from home,” Lumina said.

Like Lumina, Kate said freelancer workers are “so tied to the situation.”

“Even if I want to sell my work or earn a living, I cannot do anything right now,” Kate added.

Painting and creating origami, Kate’s income mainly came from the sales of her artworks; supplemented by home-based art classes to elementary and high school students. Everything was affected by Covid-19.
Photo by Fallon Michael from Unsplash.com

What gov’t support?

There are supposed to be government support for workers affected by the ECQ.

In a statement released last March 17, for instance, the Department of Labor and Employment stated that they “may be able to address the pressing needs of the rest of the affected workers in the quarantined areas.” 

DOLE developed the following mitigating measures: “Covid-19 Adjustment Measures Program” (CAMP), “Tulong Panghanapbuhay sa Ating Disadvantaged/Displaced Workers” (TUPAD), and “DOLE-AKAP for OFWs”.  

CAMP will serve “affected workers regardless of status (i.e. permanent, probationary, or contractual), those employed in private establishments whose operations are affected due to the Covid-19 pandemic.” TUPAD “aims to contribute to poverty reduction and inclusive growth.” The program is “a community based (municipality/barangay) package of assistance that provides temporary wage employment.” And the DOLE-AKAP specifically caters to overseas Filipino workers who have been displaced due to the imposition of lockdown or community quarantine, or have been infected with the disease.   

DOLE reiterated that the only qualified beneficiaries are the underemployed, self-employed and displaced marginalized workers. To help these people, “employment” is offered – i.e. the nature of work shall be the disinfection or sanitation of their houses and its immediate vicinity, and the duration will be limited to 10 days. The person will be receiving 100% of the prevailing highest minimum wage in the region.

Pre-Covid-19, Nicole could earn from P3,000 per client; nowadays, she relies solely on what her barangay provides: relief goods and minimal ayuda.

Another government body eyeing to supposedly help is the Social Security System (SSS), where employees of small businesses may apply to be considered for the Small Business Wage Subsidy (SBWS) Program. 

To add, the government agency is also geared up to pay some 30,000 to 60,000 workers projected to be unemployed due to possible layoffs or closures of Covid-19 affected private companies.

Some arts-focused institutions like the Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) also developed their own “disaster-triggered funding mechanism” to help address the “lack of support from the government.” In FDCP’s case, the program aims to help displaced freelance audio-visual workers—from talents, to production staff and technical crew members.

But note how all efforts are mum on freelance workers.

For drag performer Lumina, Covid-19 “technically made us jobless since we do not have the option of working from home.”

Making ends meet

And so many are left to do something they never did – i.e. rely on others just to survice.

In the case of Nicole, she relies solely on what her barangay provides: relief goods and minimal ayuda

Sobrang hirap ng sitwasyon ngayon. Hindi ko alam kung saan ako kukuha ng panggastos. ‘Yung ipon ko paubos na, tapos kailangan ko pa magbayad ng renta sa bahay at ibang bills (The situation now is very hard. I don’t know where to get money to spend. My savings are almost gone, and yet I still have to pay for my rent and the bills),” she said.

Lumina, for her part, is “lucky” because she still lives with her family, and “they have been providing for my basic needs since the lockdown started.”

Her luck isn’t necessarily shared by many – e.g. Human Rights Watch earlier reported that “added family stresses related to the Covid-19 crisis – including job loss, isolation, excessive confinement, and anxieties over health and finances – heighten the risk of violence in the home… The United Nations secretary-general has reported a ‘horrifying‘ global surge in domestic-based violence linked to Covid-19, and calls to helplines in some countries have reportedly doubled.”

To add: “In a household of six members, I think the goods that we are receiving from the government is not enough,” Lumina said, hoping that “every freelance worker also receive benefits from the government that would in a way cover the earnings that we lost.”

Bleak future?

In 2017, when PayPal conducted a survey of over 500 freelancers in the Philippines, the results showed that the country had a “very optimistic freelancer market”, with 86% of freelancers claiming they anticipate future growth in their businesses. In fact, at that time, 23% of the respondents said their business is growing steadily, while 46% said their business is stable.

But Covid-19 turned everything upside-down for many.

There are rays of hope.

Toptal survey, for instance, pointed out that 90% of companies depend on freelancers to augment their professional workforce, and – get this – 76% of surveyed executives intend to increase use of independent professionals to provide expertise either to supplement full-time talent or to access skills and experiences they lack in their workforce. 

This may be particularly true to those whose works do not involve face-to-face engagement (e.g. graphics design, BPOs).

And so for the likes of Kate, Nicole and Lumina — and many other freelance workers for that matter, whose works rely on being with people — the way to get through now is to just to make do with what they can grasp on… while hoping for a better future, where reliance (including in a non-responsive government) is not in the picture… 

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Health & Wellness

The mental cost of Covid-19 lockdown

As the country copes with the “new normal”, the issue of mental health continues to be in the back burner. “Priorities” now continue to focus on: controlling the spread of Covid-19, and mitigating its impact on the economy. This is even if experts warn that the crisis could have a “profound” and “pervasive impact” on global mental health now and in the future.

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“Three of my closest friends committed suicide last week,” John Albert shared in a post. “I could not believe the news when I heard it. I saw them before the lockdown; everything seemed fine.”

I chatted with John Albert, and in a short online conversation, he said that one of these friends was a lesbian. Her body was reportedly found by a barangay tanod who was patrolling their area. When they checked the phone beside her, there were 30 missed calls and 57 unread notifications. According to John Albert, the last message his friend sent was to her brother: “Ang hirap pala ng ganito, nag-iisa ka lang at wala kang makausap. Nalulungkot ako pero wala akong choice. Sana matapos na itong lockdown.”

But John Albert’s lesbian friend isn’t the only such case – at least it seems – of members of the LGBTQIA community dealing with the mental strife brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Tere, a transgender woman who started her transition this January, lives in a small apartment and is used to doing things on her own, in her own way. But it changed on March 17, when Pres. Rodrigo Roa Duterte enforced the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon, which halted just about everything.

Most people were forced to adjust to what is only available. And in Tere’s case, this meant “temporarily” moving back to her parents’ house. And there, she does not exactly feel fully welcomed.

“For some reason, my father always scolds me. He wants me to do this and that, always asking me questions about my decision to transition and what will happen to my future,” shared Tere, who lamented that all her movements are being monitored so she cannot do her usually routine. “It had already come to a point that I just stay in my room the whole day and cry. I started questioning myself, too.”    

It is worth stressing that for those dealing with mental health issues, know that there are ways to lessen the stress and burden on the mind.
Photo by Alan Cabello from Pexels.com

FOCUS ON MENTAL STATE

“The new normal” – as people are now referring to the time of Covid-19 – is also testing how strong one’s coping mechanism is, particularly with the need to socially isolate that could trigger loneliness, which the American Psychological Association says increases the risk of premature mortality

After all, two of the major factors that may contribute to a person’s mental health is the sudden change in physical and social environments. And so: What if you are someone who is struggling to manage how you think, feel and behave given the current controlled environment?

At this point, there’s the acknowledgement that the Covid-19 pandemic not only attacks the body’s immune system, but also wreaks havoc on the mental state of people. 

A recent chat with Filipino persons living with HIV (PLHIV), for instance, showed that aside from the paranoia about the disease (e.g. how it spreads, the constant danger of being in close contact with someone who has it), the battle with one’s self can just be as difficult.

Sadly, there are no available outlets to release these anxieties, just the confines of your home/room/house. And for many, this is proving to be very difficult.

Perhaps even more so for LGBTQIA people going through additional difficulties because of their sexual orientation, gender identity and/or gender expression.

LOOKING FOR A WAY OUT

John Albert’s lesbian friend’s demise highlights how bad things can turn out.

And suicide isn’t “rare” in the Philippines – even if still not as widely discussed. In 2016, the World Bank reported that the Philippines’ suicide rate was 3.20 per 100,000 inhabitants. The rate has actually been growing since 2000.  

And as the country slowly copes with the “new normal”, the issue of mental health continues to be in the back burner. “Priorities” now continue to focus on: controlling the spread of Covid-19, and mitigating its impact on the economy. 

In a paper published in Lancet Psychiatry, scientists already stressed the need to also prioritize mental health, since a crisis could have “profound” and “pervasive impact” on global mental health now and in the future.

The World Health Organization (WHO), itself, acknowledged that “as the coronavirus pandemic rapidly sweeps across the world, it is inducing a considerable degree of fear, worry and concern in the population at large and among certain groups in particular…”

WHO stressed that: “In public mental health terms, the main psychological impact to date is elevated rates of stress or anxiety. But as new measures and impacts are introduced – especially quarantine and its effects on many people’s usual activities, routines or livelihoods – levels of loneliness, depression, harmful alcohol and drug use, and self-harm or suicidal behavior are also expected to rise.”

But there are steps that can be taken.

US-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) added practical ways to cope with stress:

  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
  • Take care of your body.
    • Take deep breaths, stretch, or meditate.
    • Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
    • Exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep.
    • Avoid alcohol and drugs.
  • Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
  • Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.

It is worth stressing that for those dealing with mental health issues, know that there are ways to lessen the stress and burden on the mind. And perhaps apt to stress is the need to help each other. Just as Cebu City-based transgender woman Magdalena Robinson, CEO of the Cebu United Rainbow LGBTIQ+ Sector Inc., said, this is the right time to “fix each other’s crown.”

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Op-Ed

Covid-19 for people living with HIV

With persons living with HIV voicing their concerns regarding COVID-19, especially if their immunocompromised status makes them more vulnerable to the coronavirus, the AIDS Society of the Philippines provides the following advice for prevention.

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By AIDS Society of the Philippines

How can Persons Living with HIV protect themselves from COVID-19?

Recently, persons living with HIV have been voicing their concerns regarding COVID-19, especially if their immunocompromised status makes them more vulnerable to the coronavirus. The AIDS Society of the Philippines acknowledges and empathizes with the key affected population, and provides the following advice for prevention.

Adhere to ARV regimen

Continue to faithfully take your anti-retrovirals (ARVs) and ensure you have enough supply of ARVs. Reach out to your treatment hub, primary care facility, or community-based organization so they can help expedite your ARV refill despite the community quarantine in NCR. Call them to set an appointment before you visit.

Maintain a strong immune system

Continue to maintain a strong immune system with proper diet and enough sleep. Currently, there is no COVID-19 data specifically about persons who are immunocompromised. However, Dr. John Brooks from the HIV/AIDS Division of the CDC said publicly that, most likely, the risk for severe illness will be greater for persons at lower CD4 cell counts and those who aren’t virally suppressed.

Follow general precautions vs. COVID-19

Continue to follow DOH and WHO advice in COVID-19 prevention. This includes frequent handwashing, practicing cough hygiene, avoid touching the mouth, eyes, and nose, social distancing (maintain 3 feet distance), working from home, going out as little as possible, and seeking medical care when you have fever, cough, or difficulty breathing.

If you have been exposed to a Person Under Investigation or Person Under Monitoring (PUI and PUM) for COVID-19, contact your treatment hub or primary care facility to request for advice. Home quarantine will likely be required, even without symptoms. If symptoms appear, visit your nearest government hospital for triaging and indicate the presence of co-morbidities.

Keep in touch with friends and family

Continue to take care of your mental health by reaching out and staying in touch with friends, family members, and support groups remotely or through the Internet. Social distancing doesn’t mean social isolation. But advise family and friends that due to your status, you have to limit your exposure to others. Finally, encourage other PLHIV and fellow Filipinos.

We stand with you in this difficult time. Stay strong—we will get through this together.

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Lifestyle & Culture

It’s 2020, time to teach teens ‘safe’ sexting

This is not about encouraging sexting behaviors, any more than sex education is about encouraging teens to have sex. It simply recognizes the reality that young people are sexually curious, and some will experiment with various behaviors with or without informed guidance, and sexting is no exception.

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Preaching sexual abstinence to youth was popular for a number of decades, but research repeatedly found that such educational messages fell short in their intended goals. Simply telling youth not to have sex failed to delay the initiation of sex, prevent pregnancies, or stop the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases. Since the advent of photo- and video-sharing via phones, children have received similar fear-based messages to discourage sexting – the sending or receiving of sexually explicit or sexually suggestive images (photos or video) usually via mobile devices. Unfortunately, messages of sexting abstinence don’t seem to be reducing the prevalence of adolescents sharing nudes.

Consequently, in a new paper published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, researchers from Florida Atlantic University and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, say that it is time to teach youth “safe” sexting.

“The truth is that adolescents have always experimented with their sexuality, and some are now doing so via sexting,” said Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D., co-author and a professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice within FAU’s College for Design and Social Inquiry, and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center. “We need to move beyond abstinence-only, fear-based sexting education or, worse yet, no education at all. Instead, we should give students the knowledge they need to make informed decisions when being intimate with others, something even they acknowledge is needed.”

Hinduja and co-author Justin Patchin, Ph.D., a professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, acknowledge that although participating in sexting is never 100 percent “safe” (just like engaging in sex), empowering youth with strategies to reduce possible resultant harm seems prudent.

Hinduja and Patchin collected (unpublished) data in April 2019 from a national sample of nearly 5,000 youth between the ages of 12 and 17, and found that 14 percent had sent and 23 percent had received sexually explicit images. These figures represent an increase of 13 percent for sending and 22 percent for receiving from what they previously found in 2016.

The authors do want youth to understand that those who sext open themselves up to possible significant and long-term consequences, such as humiliation, extortion, victimization, school sanction, reputational damage, and even criminal charges. But they also want youth who are going to do it anyway to exercise wisdom and discretion to prevent avoidable fallout.

“This is not about encouraging sexting behaviors, any more than sex education is about encouraging teens to have sex,” said Hinduja. “It simply recognizes the reality that young people are sexually curious, and some will experiment with various behaviors with or without informed guidance, and sexting is no exception.”

Simply telling youth not to have sex failed to delay the initiation of sex, prevent pregnancies, or stop the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases.
Photo by Jack Sharp from Unsplash.com

Hinduja and Patchin provide suggested themes encapsulated in 10 specific, actionable messages that adults can share with adolescents in certain formal or informal contexts after weighing their developmental and sexual maturity.

  1. If someone sends you a sext, do not send it to — or show — anyone else. This could be considered nonconsensual sharing of pornography, and there are laws prohibiting it and which outline serious penalties (especially if the image portrays a minor).
  2. If you send someone a sext, make sure you know and fully trust them. “Catfishing”– where someone sets up a fictitious profile or pretends to be someone else to lure you into a fraudulent romantic relationship (and, often, to send sexts) — happens more often than you think. You can, of course, never really know if they will share it with others or post it online, but do not send photos or video to people you do not know well.
  3. Do not send images to someone who you are not certain would like to see it (make sure you receive textual consent that they are interested). Sending unsolicited explicit images to others could also lead to criminal charges.
  4. Consider boudoir pictures. Boudoir is a genre of photography that involves suggestion rather than explicitness. Instead of nudes, send photos that strategically cover the most private of private parts. They can still be intimate and flirty but lack the obvious nudity that could get you in trouble.
  5. Never include your face. Of course, this is so that images are not immediately identifiable as yours but also because certain social media sites have sophisticated facial recognition algorithms that automatically tag you in any pictures you would want to stay private.
  6. Make sure the images do not include tattoos, birthmarks, scars, or other features that could connect them to you. In addition, remove all jewelry before sharing. Also, consider your surroundings. Bedroom pictures could, for example, include wall art or furniture that others recognize.
  7. Turn your device’s location services off for all of your social media apps, make sure your photos are not automatically tagged with your location or username, and delete any meta-data digitally attached to the image.
  8. If you are being pressured or threatened to send nude photos, collect evidence when possible. Having digital evidence (such as screenshots of text messages) of any maliciousness or threats of sextortion will help law enforcement in their investigation and prosecution (if necessary) and social media sites in their flagging and deletion of accounts.
  9. Use apps that provide the capability for sent images to be automatically and securely deleted after a certain amount of time. You can never guarantee that a screenshot was not taken, nor that another device was not used to capture the image without you being notified, but using specialized apps can decrease the chance of distribution.
  10. Be sure to promptly delete any explicit photos or videos from your device. This applies to images you take of yourself and images received from someone else. Having images stored on your device increases the likelihood that someone — a parent, the police, a hacker — will find them. Possessing nude images of minors may have criminal implications. In 2015, for example, a North Carolina teen was charged with possessing child pornography, although the image on his phone was of himself.

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Literary Pieces

Posteng Bato

Elmo Ellezo writes about the apathy of those who have more in life, even if – by choosing to lend a hand – they can help effect changes in other people’s lives.

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Ni Elmo Ellezo

May mga taong umangat lang sa buhay,
parang naging katulad ng bahay na bato ang puso.
Kasing tigas at wala ng pakiramdam sa iba.

Parang bato,
posteng bato na naghihiwalay sa kanilang sa sarili
sa reyalidad ng malawak na mundo.
Bingi sa mga ingay sa labas.
Binulag ng mga bakod at posteng bato,
ayaw tumanaw sa kabilang bahagi ng mundo.

Gwardyado, akala moy kaaway ang mundo,
Ayaw makibahagi oh umambag sa mga walang laman ang kaldero
Ayaw makipagkapwa tao.
Naka-kandado pati ang kanilang mga puso.

Tanging paraan na silay mamulat ay delubyo.
Kapag tinumbahan na ng mga posteng bato.
Kapag binaha na katulad ng mga nakatira sa estero.
Kapag nagutom, namatayan na katulad ng mga ordinaryong tao.

Anong klaseng mundo ang nililikha nitong mga posteng bato.
Mga kaaway ang mahihirap at walang tiwala sa kapwa tao.
Makasariling pag uugali at walang pakialam sa mundo.

Sana maibalik ang aking pagkabata.
Walang mga poste at bakod na naghihiwalay sa sinasabi kong kapwa.
Kung saan ang daigdig ay pinagsasaluhan ng lahat.
May pagkakaugnay ugnay, tiwala at pakikipag kapwa.

Munti kong panalangin ay mawasak ang mga posteng bato.
Mga posteng batong isinasara ng bakal at mga kandado.
Mga posteng batong nagpapamanhid sa kalagayan ng dumadaing na mundo.
Ang posteng batong naglilikha ng taong bato ang puso.

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Op-Ed

Being LGBTQ+ means nothing

Being unaware of and deviant from what that community is intentionally fighting for clearly does not make us a part of it. We have to realize that our identity does not really matter as much as what we actually say, do or stand for.

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon from Unsplash.com

We’ve heard it all before — a woman who still espouses misogyny, Filipinos who can be insulting towards their own skin color, a devout Christian who has little knowledge about the Bible and the history of Christianity, a gay person who is against the rights of other LGBTQ+ folks. These seemingly self-contradictories show that our identity is nothing but superficiality.

Our identity does not hold the substance of what we’re all about.

Having a certain identity does not follow that we know all there is to understand about it.

More importantly, it does not immediately give us the authority or credibility to speak on behalf of a larger group we supposedly belong to. Otherwise, we only cause much harm and misinformation.

What does a community mean? Fumbling through the dictionary, we would find similar definitions that basically sum up as “a group of people sharing a commonality of interests, attitudes, characteristics, values, goals – even history – and living in a particular location or within a greater area”. Applying this to the so-called LGBTQ+ community, since LGBTQ+ persons obviously do not live in the same quarters or have exactly the same lived experiences (hence the need for the acronym with a plus sign), we need to take only the spirit of the word — that is, a community is a social state of more than skin-deep commonality.

People who label themselves as LGBTQ’s do not see the whole picture if they go against equality and the principle that human rights must be bestowed to all regardless of gender, sexual orientation, race, nationality, physical appearance and so forth. Such people who proclaim they are “part of the LGBTQ+ community but…” are merely disruptive tumors. They are not part of the community but only a part of the problem, which is compounded by ignorance, indifference, hate and discrimination.

So before we open our mouths and ascribe to some sort of community or identity, let’s be truly certain first that we know what it’s all about. Being unaware of and deviant from what that community is intentionally fighting for clearly does not make us a part of it. We have to realize that our identity does not really matter as much as what we actually say, do or stand for.

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