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From the Editor

Reconsidering ‘activism’, redefining ‘advocacy’…

After noting how LGBT activism is frequently hijacked by some “activists” not necessarily in the advocacy to serve, Michael David C. Tan has been called – at times – “bitchy and bitter”. But “for me, there’s more to this than envy; it’s the anger/exasperation that there are some people who profit from other people’s miseries,” he says.

Speaking with an acquaintance about the sadly seemingly continuing deteriorating plight of LGBT people in the Philippines, one Western-educated gay Filipino who claims to be a “staunch” LGBT “advocate” asked me: “When talking about LGBT issues, ano ang pinaghuhugutan mo ng galit mo, at bakit galit na galit ka (where do you draw your ire, and why are you so angry)?”

For an “advocate”, he seemed so… unaware.

About the absence of a law that will protect the human rights of LGBT people.
About SOGIE-related discrimination encountered by LGBT people in the workplace.
About transpeople who are barred from accessing services even in localities with anti-discrimination ordinances.
About the ARV shortage affecting MSM (including gay and bisexual men) who are HIV-positive.
About the forced invisibility of lesbian women in Muslim areas in southern Philippines.
About the horizontal discrimination encountered by less affluent LGBT people from well-off LGBT people.

However, for someone in the advocacy, he isn’t the first to be so… dense.

One time, a lesbian (who – while based overseas – helps “deal” with the worsening HIV situation in the Philippines) questioned me when I noted how many PLHIVs continue not to have access to treatment, care and support (TCS) in the Philippines – i.e. that many of those I encounter have problems accessing basic services for PLHIVs because, to begin with, they do not even have fare to go to treatment hubs.

Then there are numerous advocates who lobby for the passage of the 2013 version of the Anti-discrimination Bill, which – even if it specifically mentions people with disabilities (PWDs) in its title – does not even have a Filipino Sign Language (FSL) version. And so Deaf LGBT people – while supposedly “represented” because they are invited to the community gatherings to discuss the ADB anyway – do not even completely comprehend the bill.

And then there’s this HIV “advocate” who complains – on his Facebook wall, as if so the whole world may see how he has finally made it to the top – about how he is getting sick of staying in posh hotels while he is paid to give trainings. Around that time this “advocate” did his complaining, one PLHIV was kicked out of his house by an aunt who was told about her nephew’s HIV status; one PLHIV died because a hospital won’t release him to transfer to a treatment hub because, as was reported to us, “walang ambulansya (no ambulance was available); and some PLHIVs complained about the changing of their ARVs not for medically-sound reasons, but because no other meds are available.

Incidentally, as far as the use of ARVs in the Philippines, yet another well-traveled “advocate” told me that the Department of Health (DOH) “knows what it’s doing – I am sure it’s just complying with the WHO guidelines”. One can only assume that this “advocate” does not know that Stavudine is still distributed in treatment hubs in the Philippines years after its recommended phasing out.

In the early part of the 2000s, I first heard of the story of one “advocate” who misrepresented himself to be HIV-positive so he could travel overseas. Fast forward to 2014, and another misrepresentation of someone claiming to be HIV-positive did not only allow one person’s access to an international conference, but also a prime post in an international for-positive organization.

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There are also HIV “advocates” belonging to one NGO who criticized the members of a different community-based organization, saying that they wouldn’t want to be associated with them because “ang mga members ninyo, maiitim ang balat (your members are dark-skinned).” These “advocates” were actually referring to the darkening of the skin that many (impoverished) PLHIVs experience when they start taking ARVs, or meds for opportunistic infections (OIs).

In Quezon City, one religious order is known for allegedly providing HIV-related services (particularly, HIV testing). However, particularly for those who test HIV positive, this order allegedly tries to “convert” gay people, to make them move away from the “sinful gay lifestyle”. One “advocate” who repeatedly recommends this order was told of this; but she couldn’t care less. “Hayaan mo na sila (Just let them be),” she said.

In the not so distant past, of course, participants of the annual Pride March were forcibly ousted in a gated area at the corner of J. Nakpil and M. Orosa Street, only to be told to queue/line up at an entrance, this time with money in hand to pay for an entrance fee. I was one of those who asked the organizers (who proudly called – and now still call – themselves as LGBT “advocates”) of that year’s Pride celebration about the beneficiary/ies of the earnings (considering that Pride has always been free for all), and I was succinctly told: “This is a business move.”

And then there are those whose Facebook walls serve as “windows” to provide us of their concepts of “advocacy” and “activism”.
Photo-ops with key people.
Overflowing foods.
Selfies in key tourist spots.
Et cetera.
NOT, I should say, that there’s anything wrong with these.
But if the only outputs are these, then what are we really here for?

The Red Ribbon Project’s Pozzie Pinoy once told me: “We may not have the prestigious parties, and we may not have the funds… but in the end, as long as we’re delivering the services needed, we can live with ourselves.”

Yes, I have been told (without being subtle) that I’m a bitch.
And that people like me who complain are just bitter (envious), I was specifically told.
But for me, there’s more to this than envy; it’s the anger/exasperation that there are some people who profit from other people’s miseries.

I am angry from experiencing the harshness of being part of the LGBT community, yes.
But I am also angry because those who use our causes supposedly to advance us only end up advancing personal interests.

In the end, I supposed that one does not even have to be LGBT to be angry.
One just has to be human.
To know that inequality (in services, in representation, et cetera) should never be ignored; and that every time this is noticed, we should be raising our fists in anger.
Because only then will this advocacy really get somewhere.

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The founder of Outrage Magazine, Michael David dela Cruz Tan completed BA Communication Studies from University of Newcastle in NSW, Australia; and Master of Development Communication from the University of the Philippines-Open University. Conversant in Filipino Sign Language, Mick can: photograph, do artworks with mixed media, write (DUH!), shoot flicks, community organize, facilitate, lecture, and research (with pioneering studies under his belt). He authored "Being LGBT in Asia: Philippines Country Report", and "Red Lives" that creatively retells stories from the local HIV community. Among others, Mick received the Catholic Mass Media Awards in 2006 for Best Investigative Journalism, and Art that Matters - Literature from Amnesty Int'l Philippines in 2020. Cross his path is the dare (guarantee: It won't be boring).


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