CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY – We’ve all heard how the spread of HIV in the Philippines has been focused on key affected populations (formerly called the “most at-risk populations”), particularly men who have sex with men (MSM), including gay and bi men (with transgender women, who were assigned male at birth, often included in the stats).
In May, for instance, the Department of Health (DOH) registered in its Philippine HIV/AIDS Registry 748 new HIV cases in the Philippines – a figure that is 51% higher than the 495 cases registered in 2014. Seven hundred and twenty-eight (728) of the 748 people living with HIV (PLHIVs) were infected through sexual contact, and – THIS IS WORTH HIGHLIGHTING TO STRESS A POINT – 86% of them are MSM.
In the past, I have repeatedly asked people working in the HIV community about the over-emphasis/repeated mention of MSM as the population most affected by HIV in the Philippines. Specifically, I ask whether there are just more MSM getting tested compared to the general population, so that more MSM are testing positive.
My line of questioning (and thinking, for that matter) is said to be unnecessary because of the available – I was repeatedly told – data, data, data… “And numbers,” it was stressed to me, “do not lie.”
Mainly, I was told, the trend of the HIV infection in the Philippines has been following the international trend, wherein MSM (and gay men, in particular) are the most affected people.
In fact, historically speaking, when the first cases of AIDS was reported, it wasn’t even known as such – it was, instead, referred to as the “gay related immune deficiency (GRID)”, and is therefore a “gay disease”. Repositioning the epidemic as “everyone’s disease” was also partly a political calculation – that is, by making it everyone’s issues, everyone becomes a stakeholder, not just a largely hated group of people (i.e. the gays).
Also in fact (at least in the US, according to the Center for Disease Control), even if MSM (including gay and bi men) only represent approximately 2% of the population, they accounted for 81% of HIV diagnoses in 2013.
The Philippines, I was told, is starting to reflect this – even if, in the past, the main mode of transmission in the Philippines was through heterosexual sex (that is, men who have sex with women).
And now, having spoken with people OUTSIDE Metro Manila who also work in curbing the spread of HIV (to emphasize: grassroots workers, not the bosses), I am having not necessarily doubts about the stats that we have, but whether it tells the full picture.
Yes, I know that HIV affects many, MANY MSM – there is no denying this. You just have to go to a treatment hub to see that most of the PLHIVs accessing services are… MSM. So yes, I also know that special attention needs to be given to MSM whose behaviors put them at higher risk for HIV infection.
But – and here’s the important point raised to me by not only one HIV grassroots activist – apparently, in providing HIV testing in targeted places at least in some areas in Mindanao, they’ve been told to “focus only on MSM”.
As such, “we only really test MSM,” flatly stated one community worker who asked to remain anonymous, else risk losing his job.
No, there’s no “written” policy that he can show. But, as he said, “we don’t need written policies to follow sugo sa taas (orders from above/the top).”
The unwritten policies to focus only on MSM allegedly came from: 1) some international donor agencies, 2) Metro Manila-based organizations that implement the projects funded by the international donors; and 3) heads of local organizations tapped by the Metro Manila-based organizations to head in the implementation of the projects outside of Metro Manila.
And so “when we do outreach activities, we only target MSM and transwomen – not those who were assigned female at birth, even if their behaviors may put them at risk for HIV infection,” the community worker said. To be more specific, and allegedly as their boss emphasized, “mga bayot ra (just the gays).”
And so here – for me – lies a big, BIG problem (which stresses my earlier line of questioning about more MSM getting tested compared to the general population). While data may show that, yes, MSM are INDEED greatly affected by HIV, what we have may not necessarily be showing the full picture.
The first time she heard of this practice, Fritzie Estoque, chairperson of the Misamis Oriental/Cagayan de Oro AIDS Network (MOCAN), expressed her dismay because for her, “one’s sexuality should have nothing to do with access to services,” she said to Outrage Magazine. For her, “angayan unta mag-focus on behavior (the focus should be on behavior). If your behaviors put you at risk for HIV infection, then you should be able to get access to HIV testing – bayot man ka, laki man ka, baye man ka (whether you’re gay, a straight man, a straight woman).”
Earlier, during the 1st HIV Summit in southern Philippines, I asked Dr. Josephine Villafuerte, Davao City Health Officer, if – again – the reported trend of more MSM getting infected with HIV in Davao City is but a reflection of more MSM getting tested. She said no; and that what is happening in Davao City is instead only a reflection of the national trend. The youngest documented HIV case in the city, by the way, involves a 13-year-old GIRL (who got infected from sexual contact).
So forgive me for my misgivings (even as I, again, stress that I believe that MSM are definitely at higher risk for HIV infection).
Because for me, for as long as a practice like this – i.e. the editing out of non-MSM in HIV testing – actually happens, then what data we have may not be telling the full story/showing the full picture.
For Estoque, this is also limiting because “we’d fail to properly capture the changing populations affected by HIV,” she said. In the Philippines, in particular, it wasn’t always MSM who were most at risk; and it will definitely not always be MSM who will always be most at risk.
We have to be TRUTHFULLY inclusive.
Because if we’re not, then we’re failing non-MSM who are also in need of the services.
And we’re failing MSM people whose (long) association with HIV has long painted them as irresponsible sexually promiscuous people.
We say this is everyone’s issue? Then stop editing out people just as in need of accessing HIV-related services…
*OUTRAGE MAGAZINE IS CURRENTLY REACHING OUT TO PEOPLE AND ORGANIZATIONS MENTIONED BY THE INTERVIEWEE TO ASK FOR THEIR SIDE ABOUT THIS ISSUE. THEIR POSITIONS WILL BE UPLOADED AS SOON AS THESE ARE PROVIDED TO OUTRAGE MAGAZINE
3 HIV-related questions (plus sub-questions) to ask re the PhilHealth scam
Every PLHIV is allocated P30,000 per year. As of April 2019, 37,091 PLHIVs are on treatment. Multiply that by P30,000 per person (per OHAT Package/coverage), and the amount involved here is P1,112,730,000. Too much money involved for us not to ask how the money is getting spent.
Here are the facts:
- As early as last year, two former employees of WellMed Dialysis Center already reported that it has been forging signatures of patients who have long died to file claims from the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth) from 2016-2018.
- Typical in the Philippines (e.g. think of Napoles, PDAF, fertilizer scandal, et cetera), this was soon “forgotten” (or at least not as widely covered anymore particularly by mainstream media, so not gaining traction with the public). That is, until June, when the Philippine Daily Inquirer detailed the scam (again) via an investigative report.
- Still in June, President Rodrigo Duterte said he would “reorganize” PhilHealth after the agency lost some P154 billion to “ghost” patients and deliveries.
- WellMed Dialysis Center’s accreditation was (finally) withdrawn in June. But in a privilege speech, Sen. Panfilo Lacson alleged that PhilHealth continued to pay WellMed Dialysis Center even after its accreditation was suspended because of its involvement in a scam.
- A hearing was started by the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee (chaired by Richard Gordon) to look at the allegations of corruption in the Department of Health (DoH), and – yes – PhilHealth.
Now why is this issue important to PLHIVs and those in the HIV advocacy in the Philippines?
Aside from the fact that there may be LGBTQIA Filipinos who may also be needing dialysis, the money that actually pays for the “free” treatment and antiretroviral medicines of Filipinos living with HIV come from PhilHealth.
No, darling, you don’t get “free” meds; a PLHIV is expected to enroll in PhilHealth before he/she can access the treatment. Meaning, YOU are paying for your treatment via your P2,400 (if voluntary) PhilHealth contribution. Anyone who tells you the meds are “free” is hiding the truth from you, or is outright lying to you.
And so the talk about stealing P154 billion should be an issue to PLHIVs and those serving them; particularly since it is not rare to encounter service providers who say that they can only offer shitty (and often lacking) TCS (treatment, care and support) services because there’s no money available (DUH!).
Every PLHIV is allocated P30,000 per year. As of April 2019, 37,091 PLHIVs are on treatment. Multiply that by P30,000 per person (per OHAT Package/coverage), and the amount involved here is P1,112,730,000.
Now off my head, here are a few questions that should also be asked as we tackle the PhilHealth scam (and questions that particularly touch on HIV in the Philippines).
1. Does PhilHealth monitor the use of the OHAT package, or they solely rely on reports that can – apparently, as the case of WellMed Dialysis Center highlighted – be faked/made up? Can individuals access the individual reports filed for them (on the use of their OHAT package)? If there’s none, why not? If these can be accessed, are there mechanisms to question the same?
These questions have to do with whether a PLHIV actually uses his/her allocation.
The Outpatient HIV/AIDS Treatment (OHAT) Package covers: drugs and medications; laboratory examinations based on the specific treatment guideline including Cluster of Differentiation 4 (CD4) level determination test, viral load (if warranted), and test for monitoring anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs toxicity; and professional fees of providers.
But in 2015, when interviewed by Outrage Magazine, PhilHealth’s Medical Specialist III and Millennium Development Goals Benefit Products Team Head Dr. Mary Antoinette Remonte said that “it has come to our attention that some treatment hubs charge for some laboratory tests, even after the release of the OHAT Package circular.” And so while the circular may specifically mention covered items, the same circular should not be taken too literally.
For instance, VL is not included in the circular, but if a PLHIV needs “viral load, if it’s really needed, they can still charge it on the OHAT package. Any laboratory tests related to ART treatment, they can use the OHAT Package for it.” For Remonte, “even if viral load testing was not written in the first circular, it was already included in the coverage.”
2. The baseline tests are still not specified in the circular/OHAT Package. This is why many PLHIVs are lost to TCS – i.e. they are told to pay for their own tests (e.g. chest X-ray, CBC) before they can get their hands on the life-saving meds (the ARVs). Why is this idiotically still not included in the OHAT Package, and even knowing that (many) PLHIVs won’t end up consuming the P30,000 allocated them anyway?
3. Do they also withdraw the accreditation of treatment hubs/clinics/satellite clinics that claim the P30,000 even if they did not actually use the entire amount for the use of the PLHIV? Has there ever been a service provider that lost its accreditation because of non-delivery of services?
We have spoken with PLHIVs who were told to get lab tests outside of their treatment hubs (e.g. chest X-ray, VL, CD4 count); they were told to pay for the same. No, they may NOT use their OHAT Package for the same, a handful of them were told. They have to shell out their OWN money.
The thing is, if these are already supposedly covered by PhilHealth, why the additional expenses? Who then benefits from the OHAT Package? The service providers not offering the services and yet getting the money? Isn’t this theft? And if one thinks so, what are the mechanisms for complaining? Are there any at all?
Let’s be blunt here: If these are not answered, here’s another avenue where profiteering is happening via PhilHealth, and at the expense of PLHIVs.
To end, let me state this to stress this: Every PLHIV is allocated P30,000 per year. As of April 2019, 37,091 PLHIVs are on treatment. Multiply that by P30,000 per person (per OHAT Package/coverage), and the amount involved here is P1,112,730,000.
Too much money involved and yet service providers still often saying “there’s no money” to help PLHIVs…
5 Ways to #ResistTogether after #Pride
Be constantly reminded that #Pride is never (just) about partying. It’s about the ongoing struggle for the human rights of LGBTQIA people (no mater what sector they may be part of).
A few days into July, after the June Pride month, I was chatting with someone from Grindr; he boasted that he was at the “essence of pride: the Pride parade” (his words, not mine). The chat revolved around shaming, particularly of other LGBTQIA people; that now that the one-day celebration is over, things (including his way of “booking”) are “just back to normal.”
See… right after the “very proud” placement of the #ResistTogether hashtag in his pick-up account (particularly while he was in Marikina City), it has been refreshed, reverting back to claiming “NO chubs; NO oldies; NO femmes. Don’t dare me, I have unliblock.”
This got me thinking about this “brand” of exclusivist #Pride; and how we should instead be making (and continuing to make) it inclusive…
And so – off my head – here are five ways to #ResistTogether after the #Pride parade…
1. Stop the shaming from within the LGBTQIA community.
Change should start from within our community; and this can happen if our community members become more aware that – frequently – hatred starts from within.
Stop shaming the “oldies”; we’d all grow old.
Stop shaming the “chubs”; ALL bodies are beautiful.
Stop hating on the femmes; every gender expression is VALID.
Stop discriminating against sex workers; there is no shame in trying to make a living.
Our community is minority, as it is. Stop creating more minorities from within our community with your biases.
2. Donate… not just because you want merchs.
I get this concept of “what’s in it for me?”. This is the “driver” of so many of our actions – e.g. if companies give money to “support” Pride, they expect to get media mileage from it; and if we give money to “make Pride happen”, we may as well have that sticker (or whatever) to prove that… yes, we gave money.
But helping should be done not because of any return; it should be done because it’s the right thing to do.
And so if/when someone asked you to donate (however small the amount may be) to help establish an actual home for senior LGBTQIA Filipinos, give.
If someone asked you to chip in (no matter how small the amount you can give) to help pay for the PhilHealth of a person living with HIV, give.
And if someone asked you to donate (whatever amount) to help finance the picket line of LGBTQIA workers who were illegally dismissed from their jobs after they (rightfully) asked to be made regular employees, give.
LGBTQIA-related issues happen EVERY DAY of the year, not just in June. So if you’re willing to cough up cash to look glamorous/fab ONLY in June, you should also be willing to do so the rest of the year…
3. Be the voice of other minorities.
This shouldn’t be a divisive issue, but it is becoming that – i.e. the supposed “hijacking of commies of Pride month” by highlighting other issues that those who complain say have nothing to do with the LGBTQIA community.
These issues include: contractualization, wage hike, extra-judicial killings, war on drugs, and so on.
Here’s the BASIC thing though: LGBTQIA people do not live in a vacuum. Some of us are contractual workers (e.g. LGBTQIA people working for – say – Zagu, or Jollibbee, or the baggers in department stores). Many of us LGBTQIA people do not get the wages we deserve (e.g. LGBTQIA people who are also nurses and teachers). There are LGBTQIA people also killed because they were allegedly involved in the drug trade; and this is even if the claim may be true or not.
We say that LGBTQIA people are EVERYWHERE. Well, WE ARE; including among other minority sectors.
So that we can’t separate THEIR issues from OUR issues.
4. Be seen the rest of the year.
You, like many others, helped create the noise for LGBTQIA issues during Pride month. That’s all good (and thank you, truly, for this). But please, please don’t disappear after June (or worse, don’t be the source of discrimination after June – as noted in #1).
If you can’t be bothered leaving your desk, that’s your call; but continue making noise for the LGBTQIA community.
But if/when you are able to/you are keen to, join the ongoing struggle for our total liberation – e.g. join the call for rally for the anti-discrimination bill, attend gatherings pushing for marriage equality, attend events of LGBTQIA-related NGOs (including HIV-related events), physically support LGBTQIA-related shows/productions/et cetera.
Just BE SEEN BEYOND JUNE; it matters a lot.
5. Go back to the streets… and not just to party.
So you had fun attending the parade; perhaps even more so when you attended the after-parade party/ies. That’s all good. Not one to miss out on fun, I am one with you here…
BUT be reminded that #Pride is never (just) about partying. It’s about the ongoing struggle for the human rights of LGBTQIA people (no mater what sector they may be part of).
After almost 20 (THAT’S 20!) years, the anti-discrimination bill is still languishing in Congress.
Over 80% of the new HIV cases in the Philippines affect members of the LGBTQIA community (particularly gay, bi and trans people).
Schools (including State-owned/run) still discriminate against LGBTQIA students; a handful of them barring LGBTQIA students from enroling/attending classes because of some bloody haircut or because of what they are wearing.
Because of their HIV status, people living with HIV (many of them LGBTQIA) are: still fired from work; kicked out of their homes; or not given access to life-saving HIV medicines.
LGBTQIA informal settlers – along with hetero-identifying informal settlers – are kicked out of their homes.
LGBTQIA contractual workers are still not regularized.
So – let’s state this – IF THERE IS A CALL TO RALLY FOR OUR RIGHTS, not just a call to parade and party, TAKE HEED. If 70,000+++ people can gather to parade and party, surely the same number (if not more) should also be able to gather when a call is made for us to rise again together to push for equality.
Yes, we have taken progressive steps (corporations are even considering how to profit off us now); but so much still needs to be done. And – to stress- we need to always show our force; to always take to the streets to highlight our issues.
So party on, yes; but never stop fighting as one. This is how we continue to truly #ResistTogether.
6 Reasons why your ‘pride’ isn’t (necessarily) every LGBTQIA person’s Pride…
Michael David Tan: “We may need budget to pay for the expenses incurred to hold pride-related events; but if we need approximately P1 million to hold a half-day event, and then disappear the entire year (seemingly forgetting the struggles still experienced by members of the LGBTQIA community after claiming we ‘represent’ them), then that’s NOT what pride is supposed to be.”
“Make pride happen. Give money.”
That – in not so many words – is what LGBTQIA “pride” has become. And here, we don’t have to look (only) at Western versions of what Pride has become; we just have to consider Metro Manila’s.
Now, now, now, before you hate-click; before you fume with anger for being “attacked”; before you start complaining that those who are complaining “just don’t get it; they’re just getting old”; before you start unfriending those who do not belong in your echo chamber/s, hear some of the counter-arguments why YOUR ‘pride’ (or your concept of it) is no longer every LGBTQIA person’s Pride…
1. When pride organizers party with non-supporters (or even abusers) of members of the LGBTQIA community, or those that are in it just to profit off us because… money and/or fame and/or convenience and/or they’re all in the same “in” group/social circle.
In the Philippines, that LGBTQIA national “conference” that was really just a political tool of a former presidentiable comes to mind. But so is that blind support of pride organizers of this venue in Cubao, where many members of the LGBTQIA community alleged that they were harassed and molested. And so are companies/people who only surface supposedly for us only once a year, but are nowhere to be seen the rest of the year…
This approach has turned this “pride” into a hobnobbing event, helmed by those who have access to powers-that-be (e.g. media, donors, advertisers, et cetera)…
2. When your pride “leaders” claim to represent you, but are not accountable to you.
If, in the past (such as in the case of Task Force Pride in the Philippines), it was the community that decided who would helm Pride, the model has now changed to NGOism with an eye on earning (seemingly without even intending to effect REAL changes anymore since – as noted already – those who turn up for pride do not turn up to push for the passage of the anti-discrimination bill anyway).
I challenge you to listen and hear speakers talk about Lumads/Indigenous Peoples, Muslims, PWDs, seniors, and so on… Great crowd-rousers and sources of newsbytes when delivering speeches, actually; but that’s all they have become. Aside from the so-called (once-a-year) visibility, what has this version of “pride” done (in practical sense) to these communities being mentioned?
3. When it’s now all about merchs; all of them using nice-sounding hashtags claiming we’re supposedly all in this together.
Did you know that, for 2019, “the total we need to mount the March and Festival is PHP990,050”?
Not surprisingly, we have this in this year’s organizer’s fundraising site: “Donate ₱5000.00 Or More” and get “I Made Pride Happen Sticker, Resist Together Sticker, I Made Pride Happen Pin, I Made Pride Happen Tote Bag, Resist Together Cap and I Made Pride Happen Shirt.”
When you can’t even donate P50 to help the Home for the Golden Gays establish a REAL, physical space for senior members of the LGBTQIA community; or won’t even give P100 to help feed LGBTQIA workers who are holding rallies after they were dismissed from work; or can’t even give a peso even as your token help to Lumad LGBTQIA people who – like other Indigenous Peoples – are fighting to keep their ancestral domains. You have to ask if “pride” – for you – is really just an excuse to party, instead of fighting for the human rights of everyone under the rainbow…
4. When “pride” is a “by-invite” only gathering…
It’s a free event, you say. And in a way it is. But NOT EVERYONE has access to it, or is even made to access it.
In a past pride event in the City of Manila (years and years ago), the attendees were told to leave the venue (where the program was held), only to be allowed back in the same (now gated) venue, though this time with payment already…
Recently, there was an ad from a restaurant that said that it is hosting a “pride” party, so “buy tickets now”…
And don’t get me started with “after parade events” – e.g. in Western countries, accessible only after you pay moolah; and here, via by-invite only parties for the organizers who (apparently) still have spare money to spend to party, party, party…
Also, in modern “pride” events, note who gets to decide who helms “pride”. It’s people belonging to the same close-knit circle (i.e. the “echo chamber), easily disposing those who “don’t think like them”. In this sense, “pride” isn’t exactly inclusive…
At least according to some LGBTQIA people I spoke with, one of the biggest “fears” of some LGBTQIA people who (also) supported Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency if they choose to attend “pride” was their “othering” by the organizers who support the opposition. This is why they choose NOT to go to “pride” anymore; when they are not even given opportunity to air their side, while the “leaders” take every opportunity to tell them (self-righteously) that only they are always right and should be allowed to stay in power…
In this sense, “pride” is also a “tool” to segregate “them” versus “us”, even if we supposedly belong to the same LGBTQIA community…
Similarly, check the data mining happening so that the organizers can use your info to: A) get money off you, or B) “sell” the same to get money off you…
5. When we are blindsided by the glam and forget we’re being used.
Bench has been criticized for not supporting Ang Ladlad in the past; and yet is (for lack of better word) milking the rainbow to sell goods now. But Bench isn’t alone here, there are so many companies that slap the rainbow on their goods to make LGBTQIA people buy their goods, but don’t do shit to help: their LGBTQIA people staff, and the LGBTQIA community as a whole.
Start asking: Where is the money you are spending (supposedly for “pride”) going?
Check, too, the number of brands suddenly using the rainbow to promote themselves. But just how many actually give money back to the LGBTQIA community particularly in the Philippines (and I’m not just talking sponsoring the one-day parade)?
Still on a related note, we also have supporters who – again, let’s be blunt here – should also be asked the hard question, e.g. Catriona Gray is definitely fabulous for supporting us (she deserves the love she’s getting), but premised on her push/support for @sanmiglight, and this alcoholic brand’s silence re alcoholism (that affects the LGBTQIA community), shouldn’t we also be asking the link between the two? No, you don’t have to not support one just because you oppose the other; you just have to START ASKING THE HARD QUESTIONS…
6. When the concept of “pride” is packed just in June, with the people behind it disappearing the entire year, as if the LGBTQIA community’s issues ceased to exist after the throwing of the glitter bombs via the parade and festivities.
Jennifer Laude was murdered in October (2014). Not even two weeks later, Mary Joy Añonuevo was stabbed at least 33 times all over her body at her bar in Lucena City (also in October 2014). Bunny Cadag claimed Jollibee discriminated against them in August (2017). Claire Balabbo was dismissed – along with 96 contractual employees – by Tanduay Distillers Inc. in Cabuyao, Laguna in May (2015). And Dats Ventura has been fighting for the rights of Indigenous Peoples, including LGBTQIA Lumads, every day of the year…
The push – and even celebration of – Pride should be done EVERY DAY.
Because the issues involving members of our community still remain after we’re bombarded by glamorous – and well-funded – “pride” events/happenings. Worse, these issues seemingly remain untouched/unsolved EVEN WITH the “pride” events.
Let me say that every time someone says, “Make Pride happen. Give money.”, they’re really just asking you to fund them/their lifestyles.
Because Pride WILL happen with or without the cash (and the selling out because of it); that’s how the riot in Stonewall Inn started in 1969.
In 2014, during WorldPride in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, Angie Umbac – former executive director of Rainbow Rights Project, Inc. – was asked about the “struggle” between “pride as a struggle” and “pride as a commercial celebration.”
She said that Pride is always a struggle between the political and the cultural. For many, when they start, it’s always just political; but then, eventually, sponsors come in and at times dictate Pride’s direction.
But “this is how I see it: Pride belongs to everyone… But if you have a cultural pride without the background of why we are having pride, then we would lose the message. Keep it balanced – stay corporate because you need the funds, but remember that in the beginning it was political, and it was political for a reason.”
Nowadays, we may need budget to pay for the expenses incurred to hold pride-related events; but if we need approximately P1 million to hold a half-day event, and then disappear the entire year (seemingly forgetting the struggles still experienced by members of the LGBTQIA community after claiming we “represent” them), then that’s NOT what pride is supposed to be…
5 Things businesses can do to (truly) impact the LGBTQIA community
Already, numerous companies have been releasing Pride-related merchandise, out to get the pink currency by blinding members of the LGBTQIA community with glitters. But profiting from members of the LGBTQIA community may earn you some cash in the short term; but pinkwashing isn’t gonna help you in the long run.
Western-dictated LGBTQIA “Pride” is about to happen anytime now, with June fast approaching. This is supposed to be the one month in a year when everything LGBTQIA is to be “celebrated”, to be “showcased”. Why? Because – historically – it’s the same month when the Stonewall Inn riots happened in New York in the US, when members of the LGBTQIA community raged against the police because of abuses committed against them.
And so, not surprisingly, already, numerous companies have been releasing Pride-related merchandise, out to get the pink currency by blinding members of the LGBTQIA community with glitters. If you can afford to, head to the US in June, and walk in any – as in ANY – shopping area to understand this point. From Converse to Dr. Martens to Adidas to Starbucks to phone carriers to… just about everything, there’s something rainbow-colored being sold, supposedly in support of Pride.
Now, now, don’t get me wrong: The “presence” is noteworthy because everything LGBTQIA is (finally) going mainstream. I’m all for that.
But this mainstreaming is also problematic because it actually highlights so many of what’s wrong in society as a whole, and the LGBTQIA community in particular – e.g. how businesses are profiting from the LGBTQIA community without helping its members; and how many LGBTQIA people choose to look the other way just to… get their hands on those new pair of shoes with rainbow stripes, or those shirts with rainbow printing, or that P200 cup coffee in a plastic cup with rainbow design…
The “selling” of LGBTQIA “Pride” has been noted before, and the trend continues even now – e.g. Converse, which has “rainbow sneakers”, won’t even donate any proceeds to actual LGBTQIA causes; and locally, Bench has joined the bandwagon even if (back when the rainbow wasn’t so hip) it did not even support Ang Ladlad, and it can even be argued that it even created a fake “controversy” by using the LGBTQIA community to get media mileage.
In a gist: Many brand’s supposedly pro-LGBTQIA move is performative in the name of making a profit.
Talking to those under the rainbow (for instance, Pride organizers that spend half a million pesos for a half-day parade; but won’t even give a few hundred or thousand pesos to help feed LGBTQIA workers who are holding rallies after they were removed from work by multinational companies) is for another day; though for now, here are five things that businesses can do to (truly) impact the LGBTQIA community…
Put your wallet where your mouth is.
You say you support the rights of LGBTQIA workers who were kicked out of their jobs because of who they are? Then help fund them when they hold rallies against those who fired them.
You say you’re an HIV “advocate”? Sponsor one or two or three persons living with HIV by paying their PhilHealth (amounting to P2,400 per person per year).
You say you’re concerned about your LGBTQIA workers? Give them the same benefits being given to heterosexual people (e.g. those who can legally marry).
You say you’re concerned about senior LGBTQIA people? Help fund the establishment of an actual – physical – home for them.
You say you worry about the mental health of LGBTQIA people (including those working for you) because they continue to experience discrimination? Spend on mental health care.
You say you worry about LGBTQIA youth not being able to access education because of who they are/who they love? Offer a scholarship program to them.
And if you have supposedly LGBTQIA-related for-profit event, DONATE even a portion of your profit to LGBTQIA-related causes.
The harsh truth is: Talk is cheap; but your donation can save lives.
2. Choose where your money goes.
Related to #1, CHOOSE WELL.
There are too many “glittery” LGBTQIA or related organizations; but peel that glitter away, they’re nothing there but empty shells. There are way too many LGBTQIA or related organizations that we often hear of/about, but are actually infamous (in the LGBTQIA community itself) because they’re in the “advocacy” just to profit from it.
Know the opportunists.
Now, how to do this?
They disappear after Pride. LGBTQIA organizations that surface ONLY once a year are just as bad as the private companies that only surface at the same time; they’re really just there to make money.
They’re almost always JUST online or in mainstream media, boasting about this or that, all talk but you never see them do actual LGBTQIA-related work. They co-opt other people’s struggles (e.g. they’d say they represent minorities in the LGBTQIA community), and then they won’t let members of these minority sectors speak for themselves (for instance, LGBTQIA people who are also persons with disability/PWD, seniors, members of the Lumad communities, Muslims, informal working sector, informal settlers and those living with HIV). These people will claim to represent all, so “give us money”, but they do not know shit about these people they claim to represent. So please, STOP funding these people.
You only see them in parties/social gatherings; never where the action happens (e.g. picket lines of workers, including members of the LGBTQIA community, removed by multinational corporations; rallies for the anti-discrimination bill; visits in HIV treatment hubs; et cetera).
Their bosses “beg” you to “sponsor” their international trips. By itself this is “common practice” by NGOs and CBOs with non-existent funds; but when this is all they do, then you need to reconsider the support given to them.
Do your research. Not everyone “popular”, even members of the LGBTQIA community, have the community’s concern in their minds. Stop yourself from getting used and abused to profit off the misery of others.
3. We understand profit; but don’t stop there. Develop pro-LGBTQIA policies.
According to Stonewall in the UK, 19% of LGBT workers experienced verbal bullying from their colleagues, customers or service users because of their sexual orientation. Unfortunately, 13% say that they would not feel confident in reporting homophobic bullying in their workplace.
This no-so-welcoming environment is not good for LGBTQIA employees; and – to over-simplify – if your employees aren’t happy while working for you, their performance is bound to suffer, and this means a loss for your company.
So start creating those LGBTQIA-affirming policies.
Give diversity and inclusion trainings to all your employees (including those holding high positions) for them to understand sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE).
Include people’s SOGIEs in the existing employee’s manual/handbook – e.g. allow trans women to use women’s CR/loo/toilet; punish those who discriminate; et cetera.
Offer the same benefits to the partners of LGBTQIA people (even if they are not legally married because the country still does not allow this).
Allow LGBTQIA employees to organize.
By making pro-LGBTQIA part of running your business, your impact will be there longer.
4. Hire LGBTQIA people, including in leadership positions.
In 2017, fastfood giant Jollibee Foods Corporation (JFC) apologized to genderqueer Bunny Cadag who alleged experiencing discrimination, following the PR tempest their story made since it was first shared online.
Cadag was interviewed for a job as a transcriber by people from the Human Capitol Development (HCD) at JFC’s main office in Ortigas. That first day of evaluation passed without incident. However, when Cadag returned another day to continue the training session, a certain Louie Angsico, said to be one of the contact persons of HCD, spoke with Cadag over the phone to tell them that JFC is not yet “welcoming to the idea” of having a transgender person working for the company. Angsioco allegedly added that JFC is a Roman Catholic company.
While JFC eventually apologized, the perception (particularly for members of the LGBTQIA community) continues to exist that Jollibee… discriminates.
Beyond the “image” angle, though, get this: Research from UCLA found that nearly all (92%) of companies with anti-discrimination policies credit the policies with having a positive impact on annual sales. Executives also said that these policies lead to better recruitment and retention of top talent.
The Center for Talent Innovation’s report, “Out in the World: Securing LGBT Rights in the Global Marketplace”, also found that 71% of LGBTQIA respondents and 82% of allies are more likely to purchase from a company that supports LGBTQIA equality.
So yes, having more LGBTQIA employees can positively impact the bottom line.
5. Don’t just show up once a year.
Companies that are ONLY seen once a year, attending corporate Pride parade, are actually seen as opportunists, using the LGBTQIA community only to get media mileage. And when NOT backed by the aforementioned points (e.g. creating LGBTQIA welcoming workplaces), this is actually what it really is.
So while joining the party is fun (and let me say this, those who can should do this), LGBTQIA-related efforts should NOT stop there.
In the end, profiting from members of the LGBTQIA community may earn you some cash in the short term; but pinkwashing isn’t gonna help you in the long run. Look at how Israel’s pro-LGBTQIA efforts are now seen as nothing but part of a “nation-branding program” to use the LGBTQIA community as cover for its abuses against Palestine. Or how Mar Roxas will always be marked by his flip-flopping on LGBTQIA issues. Or how there will now always be people who will see Bench as an opportunist by “selling” the rainbow, when it failed to support the LGBTQIA community when it mattered (i.e. while an LGBTQIA political party eyed a seat in Congress).
So do something good. Expect a return if you must; but ACTUALLY do something. It’s actually easy, and the benefits for any brand longer-lasting…
5 Things funders/donor agencies can do to ACTUALLY help the LGBTQIA community
When their LGBTQIA-related projects are funded, it is okay for organizations to (also) please the funders. But… shouldn’t the beneficiaries be the main focus since these efforts were made to benefit the people more?
In December 2018, while trying to persuade the “mother” of an organization for senior LGBTQIA people in Pasay City to apply for funding for their project/s, I was asked: “Where do they send the money if we don’t even have a bank account?”
In January 2019, while trying to encourage a Deaf trans community leader of an LGBTQIA group in Davao City to get grants to finance their efforts, I was asked: “Will they give us money if we’re not even registered with SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission)?”
And in February 2019, while reprimanding a Deaf friend, who also heads a pioneering Deaf LGBTQIA organization (based in Mandaluyong City) in the Philippines for getting used by Hearing organizations that avail of her services (without payment), thereby using her affiliation, I was bluntly told: “This is arguably the only way for us to ‘participate’ in ongoing efforts; we tried applying for funds before, but were told we’re too small, we don’t have the skills, we can’t even do accounting, and so on…”
These are – of course – only some of the more recent somewhat-similar assertions I continue to come across when chatting with grassroots LGBTQIA leaders in the Philippines. This inability to get funds NOT because they can’t do the job (or are not doing the work already), but because they’re not paper-pushers, they don’t know the “right people” (and so don’t know whose asses to kiss), they haven’t been provided training, and so on…
And in all these instances, the analogy that ALWAYS comes to my mind is that issue encountered by fresh graduates when they apply for a job – i.e. companies want people with experience, so they won’t hire fresh graduates, though – if they don’t get hired, how can the fresh graduates then get this so-called experience? The fault isn’t with the applicant but the employer.
An in the case of NGOs and CBOs, the fault – and let’s be blunt here – is on the funder/donor agency because of existing notions and practices that really should be overhauled.
Now how to overhaul these notions? Here are practical tips…
1. Stop funding ONLY big NGOs (and often only those with personal connections to people working for you).
The REAL work is NOT DONE by many of these; instead, they’re merely middlemen that profit from the actual work of grassroots organizations that these bigger organizations “fund” to do the hard work for them.
Fund the actual workers, not just the paper-pushers.
2. Related to #1, fund the smaller organizations.
For instance, note how – in support of LGBTQIA efforts in, say, Africa or Asia – many American-based NGOs get the money, instead of the ACTUAL African and Asian NGOs. They bring “attention” to the LGBTQIA-related issues in these areas, sure; but too much money is wasted on PR, instead of the actual efforts to help those affected by anti-LGBTQIA efforts in these areas.
I have heard numerous excuses about the non-preference for smaller NGOs, e.g.:
But the smaller organizations aren’t familiar with accounting system/s, you say. I said: Then train them. Or just provide the funding so they can get the training themselves.
But the smaller organizations aren’t legal entities yet, you add. Then fund them so they can afford to legally register.
In a gist: Not funding smaller organizations end up promoting an erroneous “for profit” approach of so many bigger NGOs that, as mentioned, reap the benefits from the work of those at the grassroots.
3. Go beyond the reports.
Yes, yes, yes – reports are great and all. But if this is the ONLY (or even MAJOR) indicator of success, then there really is a need to reconsider why we’re in advocacy at all.
In New York in 2014, I once spoke with a worker in a funding agency who boasted to me that “we fund a faith-based effort in the Philippines”. When the name of the church that was given money was mentioned (along with its now-former-leader), I told this person that the same was kicked out of the church because of allegations that involved – among others – financial matters. This is, I added, common knowledge; it’s all over the Internet.
“No, you ARE mistaken,” she said to me, succinctly. “We must not be referring to the same person.”
“No, I’m not mistaken.”
“But the reports we received are… good.”
“Have you ever visited the Philippines? Or spoke to other Filipinos aside from this one person, particularly the beneficiaries?”
She looked at me like I was crazy: “We do NOT do that,” she said. “We rely on the reports given to us; we trust these.”
“Your loss,” I said, “though a bigger loss for the community that’s supposed to benefit from the already-extremely-limited funds.”
I never heard from her EVER again.
4. Reach across (more) aisles.
Dealing with people we’re comfy with is great; but if funds are given to the same people over and over and over again, this creates a “hierarchy” in service provision. This is why there’s the so-called “Bangkok Mafia” in Thailand (a group of people said to know the ‘who’s who’ as far as donors are concerned, and so have somewhat-exclusive access to them). Now, whether this is true or not is up for debate; but that this perception exists at all ought to be a source of worry. Because more than anything, it gives that impression of an “in” crowd, the “chosen ones”, the “gatekeepers”, with the rest basically dependent on their mercy…
5. Revisit indicators (of success or failure).
Yes, popularizing a hashtag created for an event is good and well, but this form of (support to) “keyboard activism” should be limited.
Interviewing a Maranao transwoman (who originally came from Marawi) in Iligan City, I was once told: “We don’t even have electricity; yet you expect us to be active online.”
In the end, pleasing the funders is all good (this comes with the territory); but shouldn’t efforts be made to benefit the people more?
Worsening #ARVshortage in the Phl?
On Jan. 9, the Philippines gained a new HIV and AIDS law that is supposed to better the lives of Filipinos living with HIV. But many in the HIV community mark this day with distress, largely because of the worsening ARV shortage.
In September 2018, Xander (not his real name; anonymity requested), a Filipino living with HIV, claimed that he was told by the person working in the pharmacy of his hub to “consume already-expired medicines (the three-in-one tablet of Lamivudine/Tenofovir/Efavirenz)”, and that “it is “still good for three months after the expiration date.”
Since dealing with ARV-related issue is not new to him (it happened to him in the last quarter of 2013), he complained and was given newer meds. Noticeably, “those who didn’t complain – like I did – ended up using the expired meds,” he said.
Xander can only recall how he earlier lamented – again in 2013 – that the ARV shortage will happen again, particularly considering the continuing denial of the Department of Health (DOH) about this issue.
The 9th of January is supposed to be a happy day particularly for Filipinos living with HIV and their advocates. On that day, the newly-signed Republic Act 11166 or the Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy Act was released after it was signed into law by Pres. Rodrigo Roa Duterte. By replacing the 20-year-old Republic Act 8504 or the Philippine National AIDS and Control Act of 1998, this new law is supposed to boost the government’s response to HIV and AIDS by making health services for HIV and AIDS more accessible to Filipinos.
But many in the HIV community mark this day with distress, largely because of the worsening ARV shortage, which is not helped by the denial of the issue by various heads of offices – including government officials, as well as those helming treatment hubs/facilities and even select non-government organizations (NGOs).
In an unsigned statement (as if so that no one can be “chased” to be held accountable for the same statement), the DOH seemed to belittle the issue by outright claiming that there’s an ‘alleged’ shortage of ARVs; even as it also stated that they take the issue of HIV infection in the country seriously. Part of this is to take “great steps to ensure that access for HIV treatments are available for those who are diagnosed with HIV.”
The DOH statement added:
“As of October 2018, we have enrolled 32,224 persons living with HIV for treatment with ARV such as Nevirapine, Lamivudine/Tenofovir. The DOH has been providing free ARV to Filipinos living with HIV through our HIV treatment hubs.
“Based on our records, there are 3,200 registered PLHIV who are on Nevirapine and 1,791 PLHIV on Lamivudine/Tenofovir, as of December last year.
That just about half of the total PLHIVs in the Philippines use ARVs is worth noting, even if it’s another issue altogether.
But the mention of these two meds/cocktails is important because the complaints reaching – among others – Outrage Magazine, Bahaghari Center for SOGIE Research, Education and Advocacy, Inc. (Bahaghari Center) other and HIV-related community-based organizations/non-government organizations particularly currently mention these.
In Quezon City, for instance, at least eight PLHIVs alleged that they have been given incomplete medications – i.e. they were supplied with either Lamivudine/Tenofovir or Lamivudine/Zidovudine, but they have not been receiving Nevirapine because this is not available. These people are, therefore, taking incomplete meds.
Pinoy Plus’s hotline, PRC, has received similar allegations of non-delivery of Nevirapine.
In Cavite (Imus, Bacoor and Dasmariñas), at least three clients surfaced to allege about the same issue. PLHIVs are now “borrowing” each others’ Nevirapine supply just so they don’t miss their required dosage because their hub does not have supplies from the DOH.
There are similar allegations in Cagayan de Oro City, Davao City and Zamboanga City.
And in Alabang, the pharmacy of a treatment hub even posted on January 8, 2019 an announcement that “due to the shortage and delay of the deliveries at DOH, only one bottle will be dispensed of the following medicines: Nevirapine (200mg tablet); Lamivudine (150mg)/Zidovudine (300mg tablet); and Lamivudine (300mg)/Tenofovir (300mg tablet).” The same hub is telling its clients to “wait for further announcement on stock availability.”
Note that the RITM-AIDS Research Group’s pharmacy is putting the blame on the DOH.
The same DOH statement stressed that “the latest data, as of January 4, confirms that Nevirapine has already been delivered to the 16 treatment hubs to meet the requirements for February-April 2019. For Lamivudine/Tenofovir, a month’s supply has also been delivered to Regions X, VI and I. The rest of the regions will expect deliveries within this week.”
Noticeably, the DOH statement responds to issues only this January, even if this concern has been circulating in the PLHIV community since 2018, and only peaked now.
There are fewer ARV refills now. If, in the past, the usual practice is for hubs to give PLHIVs three bottles of ARV to last them for three months, a growing number are now complaining about the supply being cut to one month in numerous hubs – e.g. there’s that post in RITM’s pharmacy. Some allege that they are even supplied ARVs just for a week or even just for three days.
Due to the ARV shortage that the DOH is not outright confronting, expired medicines are allegedly being given to PLHIVs – as in the case of Xander.
Also due to the ARV shortage, the medication of a number of PLHIVs are allegedly being changed not because it’s medically sound, but because their usual medicines are not readily available. In Mandaluyong City, there are PLHIVs who claimed to have been told to use Lamivudine/Tenofovir/Efavirenz because it’s the only available ARV. If they refuse to do so, then they will have to stop taking their usual medications until such time when the delivery of supplies are normalized again.
To allow the DOH to respond to these claims, Outrage Magazine repeatedly reached out to the government body. Upon calling the media relations unit (at +63 2 651-7800 loc. 1126), we were turned over to the office of Dr. Gerard Belimac (+63 2 651-7800 locs. 2355, 2352, 2354). Five attempts were made to speak with Belimac or any other authority in his office, but he has been unavailable at those five times; and even after leaving requests for a statement from him on the ARV shortage, as of press time, the publication has not heard back.
As this is a continuing story, coordination will continue to – eventually hopefully – extensively hear from the DOH on this issue.
The DOH statement also stated that it is “working closely with our suppliers to ensure that there are no gaps in our supply chain. In fact, we are waiting for deliveries of an additional 12,375 bottles of Nevirapine good for another three months and 7,024 bottles of Lamivudine/Tenofovir good for another two months.”
The DOH also claimed that it is continuing to explore “for more partners in providing excellent support for Filipinos living with HIV-AIDS and in ending the deadly disease.”
As if wanting to pacify the complaining PLHIVs, the DOH statement transferred to responsibility to “HIV doctors to explore possible options”, or visit Facebook page (PLHIV Response Center) or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Note the use of a gmail account for a body with millions in budget.
No investigations on where the errors in the supply chain is happening so that these can be fixed is forthcoming. No one being held accountable here.
THE NEED TO GO BEYOND LIP SERVICE
Incidentally, Article V, Sec. 33 of the newly signed HIV law states: “The DOH shall establish a program that will provide free and accessible ART and medication for opportunistic infections to all PLHIVs who are enrolled in the program… A manual of procedures for management of PLHIV shall be developed by the DOH.”
The IRR is not even there yet, but this mandate to provide life-saving meds is now already cast in doubt.
Xander – who only had a refill of his ARVs – said that many like him who posted about this issue online were told to stop doing so “because we are supposedly creating panic among PLHIVs.”
He now says that people who cover up this issue are “as worse as those paid to work on this issue. Because if you go to the HIV community, we’ve long lived with worrying that our meds may not be given us at any moment. If some people think complaining about this is wrong, then they shouldn’t be in HIV advocacy, but work as PR people of those failing to do their jobs.”
In the end, “this needs to be resolved fast. Enough with discussing semantics on what we’re having is a shortage or a stockout; the fact remains that there are PLHIVs not getting their supplies. Lives are at stake. So supply the ARVs; now.”