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Op-Ed

Pointing out homophobia

Outrage Magazine managing editor John Ryan Mendoza, who is also a community nurse, pens an open letter to Hon. Leah Primitiva G. Samaco-Paquiz, who delivered a speech that touched on media’s coverage of LGBTQ issues.

Photo from Ang Nars Partylist facebook page

HON. LEAH PRIMITIVA G. SAMACO-PAQUIZ
Representative, Ang Nars Partylist

Madam:

I was there at the launch of “Together Towards Ending Stigma, Shame, Denial, Discrimination, Inaction and Mis-action”, a resource book on HIV and AIDS of the HIV ministry of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines. I was sitting there in the pews among advocates and people living with HIV (PLHIV) when you were at the pulpit, sharing your response on this effort to address the HIV epidemic in the country.

You made it clear that as a representative of nurses and other health workers in the country that our health system must focus on prevention rather than the cure of diseases, just as you made the appeal for more health workers to be fielded in rural communities in the country to achieve this. I fully support you on this, as one of the still few community-based health workers who have defied the lure of overseas migration just to be able to continue providing primary health care in indigenous communities in Northern Mindanao.

You also commented on the key role of the media in the prevention of HIV. As a writer for Outrage Magazine, the only publication for the Filipino lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community in the Philippines, I couldn’t agree more.

But forgive me for digressing with you on one – for me, MAJOR – point.

You added that the media should be careful of the messages they send out. You particularly cited the media coverage on the homosexual relationship of a local famous singer. You said that have nothing against them, but that they shouldn’t flaunt it. You claimed that this would negatively affect the Filipino youth. You even asked us who were there if we agreed with you.

I believe that you were referring to the recent marriage proposal of singer Aiza Seguerra to her partner, Liza Diño. And as one of the out gay men in that gathering, I was restraining myself to vocally express my dissent then. I was, by the way, also not alone.

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To hear this speech in an event that calls that we all work together towards ending stigma, shame, denial, discrimination, inaction and mis-action is just one big irony. It may not have been your intention, but your message came across as blatantly homophobic.

As a community nurse, I have high respect for your advocacy and legislative work to bring health in the hands of the people. Yet as a gay man and as someone directly affected by HIV, I see that part of your speech as detrimental to the cause by contributing stigma, shame, denial and discrimination that continue to drive the epidemic underground among key affected populations (e.g. men who have sex with men, transgender people, people who inject drugs, and sex workers).

As health workers we strive to improve our practice with evidence. Studies have been done to establish that discrimination and homophobia fuel the HIV epidemic in gay and bisexual men.  For instance, in a seminal study, Ryan, Huebner, and Sanchez (2009) showed the powerful effects of homophobia perpetrated by family members. These researchers compared lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) young adults who were rejected with those who were supported by their families. Rejected LGB youth were 8.4 times more likely to have tried to commit suicide, 5.9 times more likely to report high levels of depression, 3.4 times more likely to use illegal drugs, and 3.4 times more likely to have risky sex.

I was overjoyed to be in that event to see how religious leaders are finally starting to realize how institutionalized stigma, prejudice and discrimination have discouraged substantial key affected populations from accessing HIV services. UCCP- Cosmopolitan Church recognizes that the church has been, for the most part, the main culprit in building up these walls among people. As beautiful as this ideal is, I am greatly aware there is much more to be done collectively to actualize this.

Nurses are at the front line of promoting health, preventing disease, and restoring wellness among the sick, especially among PLHIV. Homophobia or any other forms of stigma from health workers would just contribute to inaction and mis-action in dealing with HIV.

Rev. Dr. Jose Andres Sotto, senior pastor of the UCCP-Cosmopolitan Church shared this message clearly: “Entering a testing facility is not an option for the man who is agonizingly stared at while sitting in the lobby waiting for his test or overhearing his nurse tell another nurse that she suspect he’s gay and doesn’t want to test him. Nor is it an option for a sex worker to comes to church where she feels judged, condemned, and excluded by self-righteous people. “

Since 2007, Outrage Magazine has done its best to  mainstream Filipino LGBTQ issues by facilitating discussions between LGBTQ people and our non-LGBTQ counterparts. We acknowledge that limited awareness of our issues fosters homophobia, trans phobia, and discrimination. Feel free to browse our Website or contact us for any queries.

I continue to firmly believe and support your work in our united struggle to respect the rights of health workers and to achieve quality healthcare for all Filipinos. I just hope that this experience would be a beginning in sensitively and sincerely working together towards ending stigma, shame, denial, discrimination, inaction and mis-action in dealing with the country’s HIV epidemic.

Respectfully yours,

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JOHN RYAN N. MENDOZA, RN
Managing Editor, Outrage Magazine

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