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When hookup apps can save lives

Technology has been blamed as expediter of the spread of HIV particularly among the young in the Philippines. But what is not as discussed is how the same tool can actually be used to curb the increase in HIV infection.

IMAGE BY EDAR FROM PIXABAY.COM

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The first time Quezon City-based 22-year-old Xander* “met” a person openly living with HIV was through a gay geosocial networking app. “He ‘advertised’ in his profile that he lives with HIV,” Xander recalled, adding that “this surprised me because he didn’t hide his HIV status, as I expected people living with HIV (PLHIV) would.”

After a chat, it was this HIV-positive person who encouraged Xander to also get himself tested. “Not that I may have HIV,” Xander said sheepishly, “but as he said, ‘Wouldn’t you rather know?’”

As it turned out, that person Xander was chatting with was also a peer educator, who encourages other men who have sex with men (MSM) to get themselves tested for HIV. That same person eventually accompanied Xander to a nearby social hygiene clinic (SHC), “providing not just information about HIV, but – I suppose – a hand I knew I’d need whatever the test result may be,” Xander said.

Xander’s experience – i.e. “Chatting to pick up, getting laid… and getting tested for HIV,” he laughed – highlights the continuing evolution of the use of gay geosocial networking apps. And this is even if the latter (that is, with it serving as a tool for change) often overshadowed by the former (i.e. hooking up).

“HIV largely affects the gay and bi community, and I believe gay and bi men in the Philippines could immensely benefit from education and other necessary interventions to curb the rise of the epidemic,” Evan Tan said. And here, “a platform like Blued can be used as an effective tool.”
PHOTO BY PORAPAK APICHODILOK FROM PEXELS.COM

WORSENING SITUATION

In June 2017, the Department of Health’s (DOH) HIV/AIDS & ART Registry of the Philippines (HARP) reported 1,013 new HIV cases in the country, bringing the total reported cases from January 1984 (when the first HIV case was reported) until June 2017 to 45,023. Also in June, most (93%) of the newly infected were male. The median age was 27 years old (age range: one to 73 years). And half of the cases were from the 25-34 year age group while 32% were youth aged 15-24 years.

The number of people getting infected with HIV in the Philippines continues to grow. If, in 2008, the country only had one case reported to HARP every day, it now has 30 new HIV infections every day.

It therefore comes as no surprise that on August 1, the Department of Health (DOH) held a press conference to announce the undesirable news that the Philippines now has the “fastest growing” HIV epidemic in Asia Pacific. Citing data from the UNAIDS Report on global HIV epidemic, Health Secretary Paulyn Ubial said that new HIV cases among Filipinos more than doubled from 4,300 in 2010 to 10,500 in 2016, so that the Philippines “has become one of eight countries that account for more than 85% of new HIV infections in the region.”

Most of these new infections occur in 117 “high burden areas”, including the National Capital Region (NCR), Rizal, Cavite, Laguna, Batangas, Bulacan, Cebu, Davao, Tagum, Cagayan de Oro, Iligan, Zamboanga, General Santos City, Koronadal, Butuan, Iloilo, Bacolod, Puerto Princesa, Tacloban, Naga, Lucena, Angeles, Mabalacat, Tarlac, San Fernando, Cabanatuan, Olongapo, and Baguio.

And most of these new infections involve the young, particularly men who have sex with men (MSM), who start engaging in risky sexual behaviors at a tender age, with the first sexual encounter happening at 16 years old.

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The trickier part comes with the finger pointing on who (or what) to blame.

And here, a big chunk of the supposed culpability is pointed to access to Internet and social media, as well as use of new information technologies, often cited as among the most flagrant factors facilitating early sexual engagement among young people. This point has been stressed by, among others, the Commission on Population’s regional studies conducted through the University of the Philippines Population Institute (UPPI) and Demographic Research and Development Foundation (DRDF), using the data from the 2013 Young Adult Fertility and Sexuality (YAFS 4).

But with the talk about – or even blaming of – technology as expediter of the spread of HIV particularly among the young in the Philippines, what is not as discussed is how the same tool can actually be used to curb the increase in HIV infection.

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IT’S BUT A TOOL

Putting the blame on technology may not be surprising, even if very simplistic. After all, it may help facilitate having multiple sexual partners and other high risk behaviors, but it is not necessarily the catalyst for these behaviors.

Overseas, various studies have already looked at the effectiveness of dating and hookup apps and sites in distributing HIV prevention information to gay, bi and MSM. And – surprise! – the apps have been found effective.
PHOTO BY JESHOOTS FROM PIXABAY.COM

According to Evan Tan, country marketing manager for the Philippines of Blued, apps are among those that are dissed as “just for picking up”. But he thinks that this very notion needs to be reconsidered, with these technological innovations deserving a better look.

A study that looked at the acceptability of smartphone application-based HIV prevention among young MSM noted that over 90% of 12-29 year olds are online and utilize the Internet as a primary source of information gathering, communication, and social networking. More specifically, young MSM have been found to heavily use Internet search engines, gay-friendly chat rooms, and pornography websites for information on sex behavior, sexuality, and sexual health.

“We know very well that technology can do so much more,” Tan said, adding that in Blued’s case, for example, “we stay true to our mission of building a better community by spearheading (CSR) efforts.”

In the Philippines, for instance, Blued works with The LoveYourself Inc. (TLY), a non-government organization promoting HIV awareness and testing. Tan himself personally spoke with TLY’s head, Vinn Pagtakhan, to help the NGO set up a Blued profile. And now – with the help of TLY’s head of community relations Paul Junio, the NGO has a team of counselors who provided answers to HIV-related queries gathered from TLY’s official Blued profile (TLY’s official Blued account: LoveYourselfPH).

“HIV largely affects the gay and bi community, and… I believe gay and bi men in the Philippines could immensely benefit from education and other necessary interventions to curb the rise of the epidemic,” Tan said. And here, “a platform like Blued can be used as an effective tool.”

EFFECTIVE APPARATUSES

Overseas, various studies have already looked at the effectiveness of dating and hookup apps and sites in distributing HIV prevention information to gay, bi and MSM.

Putting the blame on technology may not be surprising, even if very simplistic. After all, it may help facilitate having multiple sexual partners and other high risk behaviors, but it is not necessarily the catalyst for these behaviors.
PHOTO BY EDAR FROM PIXABAY.COM

In 2016, for instance, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) examined paid ad analytics from gay-specific dating and entertainment apps (including Scruff and GAY FM), and it found that users on these apps were twice as likely to click on HIV prevention ads than they were on general apps (0.30% versus 0.15%).

READ:  Asian MSM, transgenders not accessing HIV testing - APCOM

A study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases supports CDC’s findings, claiming that over 63% of participants exposed to HIV prevention information through online dating sites reported getting tested 12 months later. In comparison, only 42% of participants who did not receive similar intervention messaging reported getting tested.

Sexual Health also published a study that found dating apps for gay men effective in giving give out HIV self-test kits to men at risk of HIV infection, thereby reducing the spread of HIV. In this study, the link of the service provider that advertised in a gay app received 4,389 unique hits in four weeks, with 333 HIV test kit requested.

Similar scientific studies continue to be deficient in the Philippines, though anecdotes abound particularly from service providers on how tech has helped make their jobs better.

Ronnel*, 32, Xander’s peer counselor, has accounts in “more apps than I can count,” he smiled. In his profile in these apps, “I provide information about HIV and AIDS, and how those who want to know their status can get tested for free. It’s very straightforward… I suppose no different from the candid approach to finding partners nowadays.”

Although Ronnel also goes to various locations (for instance, bars or “eye balls” of “clans”), he claimed getting most of his clients mainly through these apps. “Perhaps the anonymity (also) helps,” he said, though mostly “these MSM are part of hard-to-reach populations whose major mode of joining the PLU community (“People like us”, a colloquial term used by MSM to refer to themselves – Ed) is through these apps.” And so for Ronnel, “yes, nakakatulong talaga ang apps (the apps truly help).”

APPS BEYOND PICKING UP

This successful use of app in dealing with HIV also motivated Blued’s efforts in other countries.

In China, Blued closely partnered with UNAIDS, WHO, the Chinese Association of AIDS/STD, and the Chinese Preventive Medicine Association to deliver health information, promote HIV testing, and carry out HIV-related care programs through Blued. It also has live broadcasts on HIV and AIDS prevention through the Blued Live feature, with each Blued live broadcasting program reaching over 5,000 online audiences. It similarly utilized the platform to be an online HIV testing reservation system. In 2016, 22,857 people received intervention, 6,362 got tested (of which, 30% have never been tested before), and 311 were diagnosed to be HIV-positive and who were able to get access to life-saving HIV medication.

Already, Blued has collaborated with NGOs, universities and international agencies to conduct more than 40 online surveys to explore the changing trends of high risk behaviors over time. Nearly 30 papers and reports have been published from these collaborations.

In China, “our long-term goal in the country is to establish an app-based platform for comprehensive HIV and AIDS prevention programs at national level, and to form national technical guideline by implementing scientific researches,” Tan said.

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Outside China, Blued also collaborated with organizations in Vietnam, including with the ICS Center in Ho Chi Minh and ISEE in Hanoi. Meanwhile, in Thailand, Blued is working with APCOM, a coalition of non-profits and various organizations in the Asia and the Pacific, to create HIV awareness campaigns for the gay community. APCOM is behind TESTBKK, an HIV testing campaign that was adopted in the Philippines also by TLY.

Beyond HIV-related efforts, Blued supports LGBT-related endeavors. In Vietnam, for instance, it is a major supporter of the upcoming Vietpride 2017, which will be held this 22nd to 24th of September.

“We continue to look for more ways to strengthen our existing initiatives,” Tan said. “We believe that LGBT empowerment and the HIV advocacy are causes that are very important to champion for us, especially as members of our community are highly affected by HIV and LGBT stigma and discrimination.”

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MORE THAN JUST A MEAT MARKET

Tan said that the impetus for the establishment of Blued is helping define its current direction.

Blued was launched in 2012 by Geng Le (a.k.a. Ma Baoli), a married former police officer in northern China. He secretly managed Danlan.org, a website for gay people, for 12 years. But his superiors eventually discovered the website, leading to Geng Le losing not only his job but also his family. It was this that drove him to create Blued

Blued now counts 27 million users (majority of them in its country of origin, China), making it the largest gay social network in the world. Every day, Blued sees active use from 11 million pax.

In the Philippines, Blued has about half a million users, with most between 19-32 years old. A big bulk of the current members come from Quezon City, San Juan City, Makati City, Banugao, Bacoor and Bacolod.

“Blued’s existence has been pivotal in shattering barriers for the gay community in China. Our vision to create a more inclusive community has led us to other spaces where we can offer our help,” Tan said. This is why “we are working with various organizations (to benefit) the gay and bi community. The seed to help was there from the very start, and not just grafted into our other efforts as an afterthought.”

Barriers continue to exist not just for gay and bi men, as well as other MSM (and even the other members of the LGBT community. In fact, over 70 countries still have laws that make same-sex relations a punishable offense.

For being LGBT, you can be sent to jail for 14 years or more in 66 countries (including Chad and India); and at least in 12 countries (including Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Iraq, Mauritania, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen), one can be punished by death for homosexual acts. A hundred countries (including Australia, Indonesia, Northern Cyprus and Russia) legalized homosexual acts; but other anti-LGBT restrictions continue to exist (e.g. ban on adoption and same-sex marriage/civil union).

For Tan, technology should be seen as a tool that can link instead of divide.

With the talk about – or even blaming of – technology as expediter of the spread of HIV particularly among the young in the Philippines, what is not as discussed is how the same tool can actually be used to curb the increase in HIV infection.
PHOTO BY RELEXAHOTELS FROM PIXABAY.COM

And at least in the case of 22-year-old Quezon City native Xander, this proved to be the case.

His (latest) HIV test was non-reactive; but he was encouraged by the peer counselor to get himself tested again at least after three months, “just to be sure,” Xander said.

He stays in touch with that same counselor, “not just if I need information – such as where to get (free) condoms and lube, or about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) – but also to recommend friends who want to get tested.” In this sense, Xander said that he’s glad “na gumagamit ako ng (that I use) apps in the first place,” he said. “Sabi nga (As they say): ‘Technology can be your friend, not an enemy’.”

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*NAMES CHANGED FOR THE INTERVIEWEES’ PRIVACY

MAIN IMAGE BY EDAR FROM PIXABAY.COM

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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Trans kagawad at the COVID-19 frontline

As a frontliner during the COVID-19 pandemic, trans barangay kagawad Kristine T. Ibardolaza of Antipolo City said that her work may be risky, but it’s gratifying because she is one of those who help the needy. Right now, she said, everyone’s fighting, but “this is the time when we should be united as one. We should have one goal. And that is to stop this pandemic.”

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“It’s very risky to be at the frontline because (in the case of COVID-19) we can’t see the enemy,” said Kristine T. Ibardolaza, a barangay kagawad of Barangay Mayamot in Antipolo City, one of the frontliners facing COVID-19 pandemic. “But as days (pass), I am able to say that it’s gratifying because you know you are one of those who help the needy.”

Kristine admitted that “you’re also only human so it gets hard. It’s physically draining, and a mental torture.” However, “we still trust that everything (happens for a reason).”

A barangay kagawad (in English, barangay councilor) is an elected government official, a member of the Sangguniang Barangay/Barangay Council of a particular barangay, the smallest administrative division in the Philippines. As local leaders, they are directly in touch with people at the grassroots/communities.

With the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) due to Covid-19, barangay officials were tasked by Pres. Rodrigo Duterte to helm the response to the COVOD-19 pandemic. And so “with our barangay captain… we pack food for our constituents, while monitoring how they are doing. We also give them hope that this, too, shall pass,” Kristine said.

Kristine admitted that “you’re also only human so it gets hard. It’s physically draining, and a mental torture.” However, “we still trust that everything (happens for a reason).”

The barangay – Mayamot – that Kristine serves is big. “It’s like a municipality,” she said, with “more or less 80,000 registered voters.” The number doesn’t include the other family members of these voters – e.g children.

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“As much as possible, we want to reach everyone/all families,” Kristine said. But “sorry to say we still haven’t done this… for instance in the food packs made. But at the moment, I think we’ve reached 70% of the families; going to 80%.”

Service delivery is also proving to be challenging.

“I’m not sure if some people think this is a joke; they act like there’s a fiesta. Lack of discipline is the number one challenge. If people follow social distancing, or stay home to save lives, then our job will be easier,” Kristine said.

Already, Kristine – with the other local officials – have been working round-the-clock.

After packing the goods during the day, for instance, and “with help from the sitio chairman, we decided to distribute goods at night, when more people are asleep and are indoors.” This is because when visits are done during the day, people tend to congregate; and this is to be avoided in the time of COVID-19.

“We thought a pandemic like this only happens in movies. It never occurred to me that at a time when I’m the elected barangay kagawad, I’d face a problem like this,” Kristine said.

Kristine said it’s also challenging being a public official because sometimes, “nakalimutan ko pala na may pamilya rin ako. At hindi kami exempted sa pandemic na ito (I forget I also have family. And we’re not exempted from the pandemic).”

To other LGBTQIA elected officials, Kristine said: “Let’s be brave. This isn’t a fight only of LGBTQIA people, but of the whole Philippines and the whole world.”

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She added that people should “never underestimate the power of prayers. If everyone prays, this will (soon) end.”

“Lack of discipline is the number one challenge. If people follow social distancing, or stay home to save lives, then our job will be easier,” Kristine said.

But Kristine said that bickering has to stop.

“Right now, everyone’s fighting; even within the LGBTQIA community. This is the time when we should be united as one. We should have one goal. And that is to stop this pandemic,” she said. “This is the time when we should be loving ourselves the most. This is the time when we should express our love to our loved ones. A simple smile for our frontliners. This could lift their spirits.”

And in the end, “everyone – no one is exempted – is experiencing difficulties. Hopefully, everyone is also eyeing a better future after this pandemic.”

As days pass, “I am able to say that (my work is) gratifying because you know you are one of those who help the needy.”

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Gay under COVID-19 monitoring

Stephen Christian Quilacio from Cagayan de Oro City is a gay person under COVID-19 monitoring. This means that sans testing, he had to isolate for 21 days. He is still anxious, but he says: “You just have to cooperate and follow protocols.”

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Last Monday, after a 15-day quarantine from his travel from Cebu City, Stephen Christian Quilacio from Cagayan de Oro City “noticed I have most of the COVID-19 symptoms,” he said. He has on-off fever from the night of Monday until the next day, shortness of breath but no cough, and muscle pain. And so on Tuesday, “I decided to go to the hospital.”

During the triage/screening process, he recalled being asked questions; and eventually, “most of the symptoms for COVID-19 were found on me.”

And so, sans COVID-19 testing because of continuing issues for the same (e.g. procurement issues of the Department of Health/DOH, and – basically – not prioritizing mass testing right now even if VIP testing has been repeatedly reported), the doctor informed Stephen “that I am considered PUM: person under monitoring. I have to (isolate myself) for 21 days.”

Looking back, even if this happened only a few days ago, “when I had fever, I got scared,” Stephen said.

While under quarantine, Stephen spends his days… admittedly lazily. Her reads, connects with friends on social media, sleep and eat (“My parents and my cousins just deliver food”).

If he needs to go out at all (e.g. shower), the family members go inside their separate rooms.

“We also make sure that we sanitize everything,” Stephen said.

Looking back, even if this happened only a few days ago, “when I had fever, I got scared,” Stephen said. “I panicked because I have a history of asthma and tuberculosis, and I’m also immunocompromised. I really have to be very careful (in heeding) what the doctor is telling me.”

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COVID-19 still has no cure. Stephen is taking, among others, antibiotics (for seven days).

“After the medication, I will be staying in isolation until the end of the quarantine period,” he said.

Even now, “no one told me yet what I need to do after the quarantine,” Stephen said. But he hopes that the enhanced community quarantine, as a whole, will soon end; and when it does, that “everything will be okay.”

While under quarantine, Stephen spends his days… admittedly lazily. Her reads, connects with friends on social media, sleep and eat (“My parents and my cousins just deliver food”).

Now, “my advise to people is: If you think you have the symptoms for COVID-19, you really have to get yourself checked,” Stephen said.

The contact details of the appropriate health facilities vary per locality, obviously; but these should be “on social media or you can ask your family members,” Stephen said.

And when visiting health professionals, “you have to be very honest, especially if you have travel history. That’s very important because you don’t know if you’ve been exposed while at the airport or while traveling.”

As an additional tip, Stephen said people should “be vigilant with what’s happening in your barangay.” In his case, “our barangay is in the top three places with COVID-19 cases here. This is also why I got scared.”

And due to the much-criticized response of the DOH, Stephen said people are really not left with a lot of choice but “to cooperate; and just follow protocols.”

Now, “my advise to people is: If you think you have the symptoms for COVID-19, you really have to get yourself checked,” Stephen said.

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LGBTQIA people may designate partners as beneficiaries in insurance plans – Insurance Commission

The partners of LGBTQIA people may be designated as the beneficiaries of insurance plans, according to the Insurance Commission.

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The partners of LGBTQIA people may be designated as the beneficiaries of insurance plans, according to the Insurance Commission (IC).

As first reported by PhilStar.com, IC stated that it “affirms (the) position that the insured who secures a life insurance policy on his or her own life may designate any individual as beneficiary.”

IC’s clarification/position came after Prof. E. (Leo) Battad, program director of the UP College of Law Gender Law and Policy Program, sought guidelines from the IC on the right of the insured to designate a beneficiary, particularly the rights of members of the LGBTQIA community to designate their domestic partners as beneficiaries of their life insurance.

In the legal opinion issued to the University of the Philippines College of Law, Gender Law and Policy Program, IC commissioner Dennis Funa said that “an individual who has secured a life insurance policy on his or her own life may designate any person as beneficiary provided that such designation does not fall under the enumerations provided by Article 739 of the Civil Code, without prejudice to the application of Section 12 of the Amended Insurance Code.”

Exceptions contained in Article 2012 in relation to Article 739 of the Civil Code apply.

In Article 739, the following donations shall be void:

  • Those made between persons who were guilty of adultery or concubinage at the time of donation;
  • Those made between persons found guilty of the same criminal offense
  • Those made to a public officer or his wife, descendants and ascendants, by reason of his office.
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Funa was also quoted as saying that members of the LGBTQIA community “may present the legal opinion “if an insurance agent would have an adverse view.”

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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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