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Because Undetectable = Untransmittable

That an HIV-infected person with potent antiretroviral treatment (ART) is not sexually infectious (that is, he/she does not transmit the virus via sexual contacts) is already scientifically proven. But in the Philippines, no HIV-servicing body has yet to openly and officially back U=U. For Bruce Richman, in a resource-lacking setting like the Philippines, “this is a platform for expanded access to HIV treatment (since) reducing HIV stigma will encourage both testing and treatment.”

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In 2012, when 38-year-old Dave* was just diagnosed to be HIV-positive and his CD4 count was less than 10, he was a “regular” of a treatment hub in Metro Manila, be it because “I’d have fever for days, or I’d have rashes all over my body, or whatever,” he recalled. It was during one of his visits to the hospital when the supervising nurse supposedly told him that “ngayong may HIV ka na, huwag na mag-sex ha. Dadami lang kayo (now that you are HIV-positive, stop having sex. If you do so you’ll just help increase the number of HIV cases like yours).”

This of course highlights the discrimination experienced by PLHIVs from medical practitioners themselves. But this particular emphasis on sex/not having sex to stop the spread of HIV also puts a spotlight on the lack of knowledge even among those who are supposed to know better to be able to properly deliver much-needed services (e.g. in this case, there are safer sexual practices available, after all).

And perhaps when particularly considered in a newer context (say, 2017), the ignorance becomes even more apparent since it is now scientifically proven that people living with HIV who are undetectable cannot transmit the virus to their negative partners.

INTRODUCING U=U

In 2008, Pietro Vernazza, M.D. released a statement (“Advice Manual: Doing without condoms during potent ART”, which was approved by the Executive Board of Swiss Aids Federation) in the Bulletin of Swiss Medicine that claimed that “an HIV-infected person with potent antiretroviral treatment (ART) is not sexually infectious (that is, he/she does not transmit the virus via sexual contacts).”

There were parameters set for the claim, i.e.:

  1. As long as the therapy is practiced consistently and monitored regularly by the treating physician;
  2. The viral load on ART has been below the limit of detection for at least six months; and
  3. No infections with other STI are present.

Viral load, which is the level of HIV in a PLHIV’S blood, shows how active HIV is in one’s system. Usually (though not always), if the viral load is high, the CD4 (or T cells, which help activate immune response) count is low, so that the body’s response to the virus is compromised. A low or undetectable viral load indicates that the immune system is actively working to help keep HIV in check.

ART is medication that helps to keep under control the viral load in the body. The viral load is considered undetectable if test shows lower than 40 to 75 HIV virus particles in a milliliter of the blood. If the viral load is considered undetectable, it means the ART medication is working.

Vernazza’s claim – eventually dubbed as the Swiss Statement – that “under (the above) circumstances, potent ART therefore definitely prevents HIV transmission as safely as condoms” did not sit well with many, including public health and professional organizations (e.g. the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC), which questioned Vernazza re his data, and even more pointedly, what he was thinking when he made the supposedly premature claim that was “getting ahead of science”.

Vernazza was, nonetheless, resolute about the message, largely derived from his work with HIV-positive straight people on treatment who wanted to have children with their HIV-negative partners. Condomless sex obviously happened between the serodifferent couples, but of 8,000 patients, not a single report of HIV transmission happened to a partner. This therefore became an ethical dilemma for a clinician like Vernazza since they are supposed to present all equally valid options available and let the patients decide for themselves.

Particularly eight years years later, in 2016, Vernazza was vindicated when studies validated the undetectable=untransmittable (U=U) message – i.e. HPTN 052 and the PARTNER study. But more than the vindication, this also helped evolve the messaging re HIV.

Bruce Richman of the Prevention Access Campaign was able to gather signatures of health experts from all over the world for a consensus statement about U=U; but he reported having a challenging time coaxing US HIV organizations to adopt language that removes the stigma of infectiousness from people who are undetectable.

STAY UNDETECTABLE=STAY UNINFECTIOUS

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The concept is not completely new, since treatment as prevention (TasP) has long been advocated to curb the spread of HIV. But there is now newer and strengthened push for this with the U=U message.

There’s the PARTNER study, which involved 1,166 serodifferent couples at 75 clinical sites in 14 European countries. To be included in the study, one partner had to be HIV-positive and have an undetectable viral load on ART, and the couple did not always use condoms when they had sex. Between September 2010 and May 2014, 1,000 positive/negative couples had 58,000 acts of penetrative sex without condoms. The study reported that not a single infection happened between the couples.

It is worth noting that 11 people involved in the study became HIV positive. However – and this is noteworthy – none of these infections were phylogenetically linked transmissions; meaning, they got infected not from their HIV-positive partners but from others.

The PARTNER study is particularly important because it included both gay and straight couples.

The PARTNER study is being continued, with PARTNER 2 expected to continue until 2019.

The same results from the PARTNER Study were reported in the HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN) 052 study, a Phase III, two-arm, randomized, controlled, multi-center trial to determine whether ART can prevent the sexual transmission of HIV-1 in HIV-1 serodiscordant couples. One thousand seven hundred and sixty-three (1,763) HIV serodiscordant couples at 13 sites in nine countries were enrolled in HPTN 052; one person is HIV-infected and the other is not.

In 2011, the study initially showed a 96% reduction of HIV transmission within the couples involved. The final results (reported in 2015) showed a sustained 93% reduction of HIV transmission within couples when the HIV-infected partner was taking ART as prescribed and viral load was suppressed.

The HPTN 052 study was, in fact, relevant in the recommendation of the World Health Organization (in 2013) that ART be offered to all PLHIVs who have uninfected partners to reduce HIV transmission.

U=U is now endorsed by numerous international organizations, including AIDES –France, AIDS Foundation of Chicago, Australian Federation of AIDS Organizations, British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS – Canada, Human Rights Campaign, National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD), National Black Justice Coalition, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, San Francisco AIDS Foundation,, and the Terrence Higgins Trust – United Kingdom.

Various experts responding to HIV also already came out to back U=U.

For instance, Dr. Carl Dieffenbach, director of the Division of AIDS of National Institutes of Health (NIH), stated in an earlier interview: “If you are durably virologically suppressed you will not transmit to your partner… I’ll say this again, for somebody who is in a discordant couple, if the person (with HIV) is virologically suppressed, ‘durably’ – there is no virus in their system, hasn’t been for several months – your chance of acquiring HIV from that person is zero. Let’s be clear about that: zero. If that person the next day stops therapy for two weeks and rebounds, your chance goes up. That’s why we talk about ‘durable’ viral suppression… You’re as durably virologically suppressed as good as your adherence.”

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Dr. Michael Brady, medical director of the Terrence Higgins Trust in London, England was quoted as saying that “we can now say with confidence that if you are taking HIV medication as prescribed, and have had an undetectable viral load for over six months, you cannot pass on HIV with or without a condom.”

Meanwhile, Dr. Myron Cohen, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases of the UNC School of Medicine; and principal investigator of HPTN 052 stated: “If people are taking their pills reliably and they’re taking them for some period of time, the probability of transmission in this study is actually zero… When you treat a person who is HIV infected you render them no longer contagious. Over a period of years that benefit is further realized… Sexual relationships can be much safer because [treatment] suppresses transmission. There is a societal benefit, a public health benefit, an altruistic benefit. ”

“We’ve also come across the shortsighted view that this information only improves the lives of people living HIV, when in fact this is a game changer for the epidemic because of its impact on HIV stigma, testing, treatment uptake and adherence, which will ultimately lead to more people knowing their status and getting to undetectable,” Bruce Richman said.

RESISTANCE TO THE MESSAGE

The benefits of U=U go beyond the medical – e.g. in helping serodifferent couples conceive. For instance, worth noting is how U=U can help deal with HIV criminalization, particularly since there are countries that still prosecute PLHIVs who do not disclose their HIV status to their sexual partners. The US, for instance, is infamous for sending to jail PLHIVs who spit, scratch or bite others sans disclosure of HIV status, and even if there were no known risks of transmission.

The Philippines’ own Republic Act No. 8504, or the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act of 1998, also makes it necessary to disclose one’s status – albeit (unlike in other countries) it is mum on the possible criminal liability of those who fail to disclose. Section 34 (under Article VI, which deals with confidentiality) mandates disclosure to sexual partners – i.e. “Any person with HIV is obliged to disclose his/her HIV status and health condition to his/her spouse or sexual partner at the earliest opportune time.”

But despite the pluses of U=U, not everyone is on board (perhaps as of yet) with its promotion.

Interestingly – and this is a major point worth stressing, too – many of those who express reluctance (if not blatant opposition) to U=U are HIV community advocates and organizations. In the US, for instance, Bruce Richman of the Prevention Access Campaign was able to gather signatures of health experts from all over the world for a consensus statement about U=U; but he reported having a challenging time coaxing US HIV organizations to adopt language that removes the stigma of infectiousness from people who are undetectable.

The Prevention Access Campaign stated that “the majority of PLHIV, medical providers and those potentially at risk of acquiring HIV are not aware of the extent to which successful treatment prevents HIV transmission… Much of the messaging about HIV transmission risk is based on outdated research and is influenced by agency or funding restraints and politics which perpetuate sex-negativity, HIV-related stigma and discrimination.”

“We had a difficult time in the beginning because NGOs are not always early adopters, and some have been driven by 35 years of fear of HIV and PLHIV. They may not be confident in the science and are understandably concerned about saying anything that will lead to more transmissions,” Richman said to Outrage Magazine.

There’s also the “longstanding history in the field of overprotecting people who do not have HIV at the expense of people with HIV’s basic human rights to accurate information about our social, sexual and reproductive health. We’ve also come across the shortsighted view that this information only improves the lives of people living HIV, when in fact this is a game changer for the epidemic because of its impact on HIV stigma, testing, treatment uptake and adherence, which will ultimately lead to more people knowing their status and getting to undetectable,” Richman added.

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There have been pluses, and “we’re happy to see momentum now. NGOs are beginning to catch on because leaders in the US, like NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygience, National Association of State and Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD), Housing Works, and San Francisco AIDS Foundation have made statements and updated their public information and social marketing campaigns. Just (a few weeks ago), Canada’s official source for HIV information, CATIE, endorsed U=U.”

In the Philippines, however, no HIV-servicing body has yet to openly and officially back U=U.

CHALLENGES IN PHL CONTEXT

Dr. Jose Narciso Melchor Sescon, who helms the AIDS Society of the Philippines (ASP), said that U=U may still be considered a “medyo (somewhat) sensitive issue in the Philippines.”

For one, this is the number of PLHIVs availing of ART continues to be low. In November 2016, for instance, the total number of Filipinos living with HIV was pegged at 38,872. But only 17,388 are on ART.

Secondly, “ARV adherence is (still) a major concern.” Among people working in the HIV advocacy, it is not uncommon hearing about PLHIVs who are “lost to follow-up”.

Thirdly, “we should also consider co-morbidities,” Sescon said. One may have undetectable viral load yet still engage in other unsafe sexual practices, such as having numerous sexual partners. “So I’d still offer using (other forms of) protection.”

And fourthly, Sescon expressed apprehension based on “real life” situations particularly “in a context like the Philippines.” While clinical trials may have yielded desirable results, “how much of these can be translated and put into reality or the true context of the Philippines?”

Sescon said that “even with scientific evidence showing non-transmission, it will still take time for this to sink in the minds among serodiscordant couples.”

The benefits of U=U go beyond the medical – e.g. in helping serodifferent couples conceive. For instance, worth noting is how U=U can help deal with HIV criminalization, particularly since there are countries that still prosecute PLHIVs who do not disclose their HIV status to their sexual partners.
IMAGE FROM PIXABAY.COM

The consensus statement from the Prevention Access Campaign admitted certain limitations – e.g. that many PLHIVs may not be in a position to reach an undetectable status because of factors limiting treatment access (including inadequate health systems, poverty, racism, denial, stigma, discrimination and criminalization); pre-existing ART treatment resulting in resistance or ART toxicities; and refusal to start treatment. All the same, it stressed that “understanding that successful ART prevents transmission can help reduce HIV-related stigma and encourage PLHIVs to initiate and adhere to a successful treatment regimen.”

But Richman believes that in a resource-lacking setting like the Philippines (where less than half of PLHIVs access ART), “this is a platform for expanded access to HIV treatment. The more PLHIV on treatment in the Philippines, the closer the country will get to ending the epidemic. Test and treat is the most effective method. Reducing HIV stigma will encourage both testing and treatment.”

BOLSTERING THE U=U CONVERSATION

And while the conversation on U=U continues, perhaps worth underscoring is the relevance of this on how PLHIVs view themselves.

Back in the treatment hub in Metro Manila where Filipino PLHIV Dave goes to (and where he is now “with CD4 count over 500 – way better than the nine when I started; and with undetectable viral load to boot,” he said), U=U has helped him see himself as “a human again.”

“I must admit that there were times in the past when I felt like the virus itself, as if just waiting to make others ‘sick’; and even internalized this oft-repeated notion that people like me are ‘dirty’,” Dave said. “Now I know that if we truly want to deal with stigma and discrimination – not just the health benefits – linked with HIV, we should start talking about U=U.”

*IN THE PHILIPPINES, WHEN A PERSON LIVING WITH HIV IS ENROLLED/REGISTERED INTO A TREATMENT HUB, HE/SHE IS ASKED TO PROVIDE: 1) YEAR OF ENROLLMENT; 2) INITIALS OF FIRST NAME, MIDDLE NAME AND SURNAME; AND 3) NICKNAME. THIS IS THE CODE NAME USED BY THE INTERVIEWEE.

The founder of Outrage Magazine, Michael David dela Cruz Tan is a graduate of Bachelor of Arts (Communication Studies) of the University of Newcastle in New South Wales, Australia. Though he grew up in Mindanao (particularly Kidapawan and Cotabato City in Maguindanao), even attending Roman Catholic schools there, he "really, really came out in Sydney," he says, so that "I sort of know what it's like to be gay in a developing and a developed world". Mick can: photograph, do artworks with mixed media, write (DUH!), shoot flicks, community organize, facilitate, lecture, research (with pioneering studies under his belt)... this one's a multi-tasker, who is even conversant in Filipino Sign Language (FSL). Among others, Mick received the Catholic Mass Media Awards (CMMA) in 2006 for Best Investigative Journalism. Cross his path is the dare (read: It won't be boring).

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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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