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From the Editor

Time to douse ‘seminar activism’

Yes, seminars are essential in LGBTQIA and HIV advocacy. But for some, it’s the be-all/end-all of all efforts, giving rise to ‘seminar activists’ who only surface to attend seminars and do nothing else. It’s time to tackle this.

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels.com

“Hayaan mo na. Di naman yan pera ng gobyerno. Kaya dapat ubusin.”
“Let it be. They don’t use government money anyway. So spend everything.”

That, in a gist, was what Dee (not her real name) – who has been in HIV advocacy “more years than you can count” – stated when we discussed the too-many seminars/workshops/conferences/fora/et cetera supposedly to benefit LGBTQIA and HIV community leaders. She is – in her words – a “staunch supporter of gatherings”, not necessarily because these “deliver but they’re supposed to deliver”, but because “may pera naman (there’s money anyway). So use the money.”

If you’re in developmental work – including in LGBTQIA and HIV advocacy – you’d be overly familiar with these seminars, as they’re almost always given to inform us of something, or train us to become good at something, or to gather us so the organizers could mine our data related to our work in communities, et cetera.

This is a common ‘project’ because of various reasons – e.g. truth be told, in various instances they DO work (for instance, in spreading information to a large number of people in one go); they’re easy to report on (for instance, when quantifying the number of participants/immediate beneficiaries, you can just do a headcount, easy); line items in the budgeting are easier to monitor in a way; et cetera.

In the past, I’ve had opportunities to talk to representatives of foreign funders that actually preferred (more and more) seminars over the delivery of actual services in grassroots communities. So yeah… this is almost always a go-to project, particularly when there’s a lot of money to still spend (usually before the end of financial cycles). As Dee in HIV advocacy said: “May pera. Gamitin (There’s money. Use it).”

Harsh observable truths:

  1. Some of these seminars go on for months, even years, as “continuous” efforts. The beneficiaries (the “favored” participants), thereby, only end up mingling with one another, and NOT to share what’s supposed to have been learned in these gatherings to those at the grassroots.
  2. Some of these seminars are quite upmarket – e.g. done overseas, or in 4- to 5-star hotels in Metro Manila, et cetera. Activists tend to say there’s no money in fighting for human rights, but then we see this…
  3. These aren’t “inclusive”; instead, organizers gatekeep, and tend to only invite those in their immediate circles (yeah, echo chamber is real) – e.g. recently, there was a “gathering” to “train media”, and yet only mainstream media (and those aligned with the political leaning of the organizer) was invited.
  4. Following through is hardly ever done (if at all) – e.g. for those who were chosen to attend these gatherings, how did what they learn benefit their communities? Were they also funded so they could hold their own seminars at the grassroots/in their communities? Et cetera.
  5. These gatherings tend to happen in “centers”, so yeah, those at the grassroots continue to be ignored by donors/funders in knowledge generation and sharing, et cetera.

I’ve attended (even organized) such gatherings, and what’s noticeable for me is the absence of efforts related to carrying out of recommendations raised in these gatherings. Instead… eventually, others just “repeat” some version of the prior gatherings, so that budgets are spent on redundant efforts.

Contradict me all you want, but note that all these have already been extensively tackled in past gatherings, and yet:

  • Until now, PWDs are still not given their own funds to run their own HIV-related projects;
  • Trans-led organizations still have to kowtow to non-trans organizations that “control”/oversee funds for trans people;
  • Seniors are still neglected in LGBTQIA and HIV efforts;
  • Treatment hubs still do not provide the mandated services to people living with HIV;
  • Et cetera.

It can’t be stressed enough, yet again, that too many seminars already raised these, as well as approaches to deal with them. But instead of allocating funds to deal with them already, even more seminars are just done… to surface/bring up these same issues over and over and over again.

So the next time somebody tells you there’s no money in advocacy, tell them they’re spewing BS (bull shit, to be blunt). Because in truth, these seminars show that there’s LOTS of money… just not properly allocated (some hotels in QC are profiting from these gatherings big time, LOL). Because there are those like Dee, who see whatever budget is there as theirs to spend to hobnob and social climb.

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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. He grew up in Mindanao (particularly Kidapawan and Cotabato City), but he "really came out in Sydney" so that "I sort of know what it's like to be gay in a developing, and a developed world". 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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