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Will you open up?

Michael David C. Tan chats with gay men in open relationships, asking them if it’s something others (in monogamous relationships) should try. After all, as one of these MSM said to him, opening a relationship is the “archetypal apple of Eden – taking a bite when no one’s looking. And that’s when we are most free.”

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That they were “quite new to the arrangement” was the so-so disclaimer given me when I interviewed Andy* and Alex* in December 2012. Sometime in mid-November 2012, after three years of being together, they decided to open their relationship by advertising their search for third wheels in PlanetRomeo.com. “Since ‘yung relationship namin ng partner ko, eh, umabot na ng three years, we decided na to take it to the next level pa, particularly in terms of our sex life. Sa tagal na ng pinagsamahan namin, eh, proven na ‘yung trust and understanding namin sa isa’t-isa, kaya pareho kami nag-agree to take the challenge kung baga; another adventure siya sa buhay namin, para naman my kakaibang experience din kami na di namin malilimutan,” Andy said.

Alex emphasizes the three years that they have been together, too, as these supposedly provided them enough time to “build our trust with each other (to a high, high level). So having an open relationship is just another level of challenge to us, and it is something which we wanted and we believe that we can go along with. It’s just like another level of adventure.”

For Alex, who believes that men are “naturally malibog (promiscuous)”, “ang tukso eh nandiyan palagi sa paligid natin, kahit saan ka pumunta, kahit ano ginagawa mo at kahit sino kasama mo. Lagi ‘yang nandyan,” Instead of running away from it, though, their arrangement allows them to give in to the temptations.

So that Andy, yet again, stressed that as long as the partners trust each other, then there shouldn’t be an issue. “You should be building your trust to each other where there will be no jealousy. Everything should be detail to your partner even the most stupid part. You should handle your ego when your partner tells you that he has a huge crush with someone else, as long as he promise that it’s only you he wanted to be with forever. Put your trust to each other’s promises then you’re ready to take your relationship to the next level.

Alex emphasizes the three years that they have been together, too, as these supposedly provided them enough time to “build our trust with each other (to a high, high level). So having an open relationship is just another level of challenge to us, and it is something which we wanted and we believe that we can go along with. It’s just like another level of adventure.”

My conversations with Andy and Alex – and then Jerry and Bruno, and other couples who agreed to “chat but not interviewed”; as well as third wheel theinfidel – highlighted an arrangement that may be fast becoming common among MSM relationships even if it is not as widely discussed. We’re talking about – yes! – open relationships, of course.

DEFINING ‘RELATIONSHIP’

In Do open relationships work? in Psychology Today, Hara Estroff Marano expressed pessimism on the workability of open relationships. Mainly, for her, this is because “sooner or later someone will start forming an outside attachment that will threaten the (relationship), or one partner will tire of hearing of the other’s experiences. There’s no question that monogamy is honored as much in the breach as in the observance. But that’s no reason to toss it out the window.”

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Continuing the not-so-rosy way of looking at this arrangement, Marano added:

“If you are so creative, why don’t you put that energy into the existing relationship and use the trust between you as a springboard for endless inner and outer exploration and excitement? Of course, it takes guts; it’s much easier to look outside for excitement than to find the source within.”

But not everyone sees this as all bad.

Writing How to Have an Open Relationship in AlterNet.org, Jen Angel claimed that what define open relationships are the rules.
“Being ‘open’ is not like being single. When you’re single you can choose to sleep with or flirt with whomever you want. In an open relationship, you have boundaries and agreements established with your partners, and your choices also should reflect their needs and desires.” Because of this, “it certainly is possible to ‘cheat’ in an open relationship – by going back on an agreement or lying.”

Changes in attitudes is what Angel said are needed for open relationships to work.

“Being in open relationships takes a lot of emotional energy. But the self-awareness I bring to each relationship makes me feel authentic. Open relationships are not more politically correct or ‘hip’. They’re about choosing what’s important to you and working to live, love, process, argue, and be upset in healthy ways that make you feel empowered. Such choices make any relationship – whether open or monogamous – honest and meaningful.”

With this, Alex agrees.

“There are ‘rules’ we decided on,” he said, enumerating: 1) the practice of safer sex all the time when they have sex with each other, or when they have sex with others; 2) never to do it alone – “kelangan kung makikipag-sex kami sa iba, dapat lagi kami magkasama, kasi ayaw namin mag-worry ang isa’t-isa not only in sex but in the well-being ng partner namin”; and 3) keeping the communication lines open, “dapat alam nung isa kung sino ‘yung guy, kung malinis ba siya or okay ba sa kanya, tapos siympre kung ano ang pinag-usapan nila para di ka naman ma-out of place”.

The importance of open communications was similarly stressed by Jerry*, Bruno’s* partner. Jerry, 28, met Bruno, 34, in September 2010 in Abu Dhabi. That time, Jerry was in a failing relationship and decided to move one; he was at that time hired by the company where Bruno worked.

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“He started being sweet to me, until we decided to date, and finally be together on November 20, 2010. We love each other very much, as if we’ve known each other for a long time,” Jerry said.

And then Jerry got a job offer in Afghanistan in July 2011. Bruno, on the other hand, was offered a position in a family business in October 2012, so he returned to Philippines.

Not incidentally, “the day we entered our relationship, we talked about having an open relationship,” Jerry said. Then: “Actually, even when we were still dating, we discussed this already. Due to my past experiences, I know that most people, including myself, are looking for someone else once in a while to fulfill their fantasies.”

Not incidentally, “the day we entered our relationship, we talked about having an open relationship,” Jerry said. Then: “Actually, even when we were still dating, we discussed this already. Due to my past experiences, I know that most people, including myself, are looking for someone else once in a while to fulfill their fantasies.”

As such, it is talks like this that created trust, said Jerry, since “you can tell him everything – your wishes, your desires… The best thing being in this kind of relationship is, we never had a fight because of sex or meeting others. In the first place we let each other know if we have plans on meeting someone. We are so honest to each other.”

For Jerry and Bruno, the rules include: 1) Use of condom when having sex with others (no condom if only between the two of them); 2) Both can have sex with other partners, with the other not necessarily needed to be present; 3) Kissing is ok; and 4) No strings attached during sex.

FACING CHALLENGES

Opening a relationship does have challenges, nonetheless.

Alex said that that jealousies could occur, like when one of them would have a crush on a sex partner. “Basta ang importante eh naipapakita niya sa iyo kung sino ang kausap niya at kung magkaroon ng crush ang isa sa amin,” he nonetheless said. “‘Yan ang basic.”

For Andy, a challenge is not disclosing everything. “It’s funny to think that, even if we are supposed to have an open communication, we tend to forget some details. Sometimes we forgot to tell each other what we did because most of the time we really don’t care about it,” he said. This could be problematic if the agreement is to share ALL the details. However, “because for us sex is just a piece of bubblegum; which after being chewed, will just be thrown out, this is no big deal. And sex is not a big deal to us.”

Jerry, therefore, harps on the “trust” the partners have for each other. “Sometimes some people try to ruin our relationship, but I still believe what my partner says and not the others. So what we have works.”

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THE THIRD WHEEL

theinfidel started becoming a third wheel to many (aside from the non-couple organized group sex he had) “back in college – that was 2005. I expected just one guy to be in this meeting place, only to find out that he has a partner. So we did it threeway.” He admitted feeling “uncomfortable at first, but I knew they wanted it, and I was starting to enjoy it, so what the heck!”

In such arrangements, what for him was the appeal? “When they all go down at you. Body worship. Sex is basically powertripping at times.”

theinfidel added: “In group sex, the body emerges as the main pleasure maker, pleasure recipient and pleasure giver. The dichotomy of the body and the heart becomes clearer. Attachments aren’t required. I love that. There’s a clear delineation between what is romantic and what is purely libido. Basically, it’s the feeling that nobody gives a damn about who you are and where you’re from – you’re in. Sex should be in a way democratic.”

Jerry and Bruno look forward to “having our own house where we can live together, and maybe even get married,” Jerry said. As for closing the relationship, “eventually, when we got older, we can decide to stop having sex with others. Time is too early to decide, though.”

In past experiences, the rules he noted to exits in such arrangements are easy to remember. “Basically bed roles. Who’s top, who’s bottom. Who’s the psycho bitch. Who I shouldn’t touch. That’s all.”

theinfidel is a top, but he keeps an open mind. “Limitation is basically relative from one encounter to another.”

And no, finding couples to have sex with is not that hard, he said. “Should I begin counting? Because I can’t keep track of everybody who’s into it.”

TAKING A BITE

theinfidel acknowledges that reactions against open relationships – or wanton sex, for that matter – is “a culture thing,” he said. But “you just need to let your grandma watch Shortbus six times a day for a year, and she won’t give a damn after. Also, sex is a private thing, I don’t think cultural issues invade as much. It’s the archetypal apple of Eden, taking a bite when no one’s looking. And that’s when we are most free.”

If people have something negative to say about their arrangement, Alex said that “they should just shut their mouths. Kung pag-iisipan man kami ng masama, probleman nila ‘yun. We don’t mind. After all, kami naman ang nasa sitwasyon eh, hindi naman sila, so wala sila pakialam sa trip namin. Kami naman ang nagmamahalan eh, at kami naman ang may gusto nito. And most of all, wala naman kaming tinatapakan na ibang tao… kung gusto nila, try na lang din nila. Experience din ‘yan.”

As for Andy, those who look bad on those in open relationships “just don’t know how to have someone who they could trust deeply,” he said. Their reactions could therefore be borne out of jealousy. And while “having an open relationship is not necessarily recommended, make it an option.”

Jerry and Bruno look forward to “having our own house where we can live together, and maybe even get married,” Jerry said. As for closing the relationship, “eventually, when we got older, we can decide to stop having sex with others. Time is too early to decide, though.”

And yes, Jerry considers opening relationships as something worth considering.

“For me, I want to recommend this to others if they want to have a long lasting relationship. As I said before, most people are insatiable especially with regards to sex. So being honest and open, means you have nothing to worry about your partner. No suspicions, no lies, no jealousies,” he said. “And isn’t that what kind of relationship we all want to have?”

*NAMES CHANGED AS REQUESTED BY THE INTERVIEWEES TO PROTECT THEIR PRIVACY

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).

#KaraniwangLGBT

Paolo, naked

Paolo Dumlao, a pansexual Filipino performance artist, uses his naked body as a canvas, believing that art can help the people – both the artist and those who see the artworks. “It makes people think, ask… and feel,” he said, all relevant because “we’re not robots; we’re humans.”

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Four years ago, Paolo Dumlao, a pansexual Filipino, did his first performance art “as mema lang (out of whim),” he said. At that time, he just wanted to “tick off something from my bucket list.” But he fell in love with the form, and so stayed with it.

Here’s the thing: In his performances, Paolo is always without clothes since he is a nude artist.

There is reason behind this, he said. “It’s not because it’s something different, or because it’s something new since it’s been done before… but because for me, the feeling (when one is nude) is very vulnerable, and I think it’s my most vulnerable form, and I want to be in that state when I perform so I can emphasize with people.”

To be clear, Paolo is not a performing artist; instead, he is a performance artist.

Performance art is different from performing arts. With the latter, “you are portraying a character that is not you. So you’re using your body as a canvas to create another character. When it comes to performance art, you yourself are the character, and the message you relay is different outside of the text,” he said. “At least that’s what I am doing.”

Paolo noted that there are people who see performances of nude artists as sexual, and he said that this is not necessarily true.

On the one hand, just because one is naked doesn’t mean the piece is sexual, as “it could be pure, it could be wholesome (even if the performer is not clothed). And I am able to show these (through my performances), and that (things aren’t) just black and white.”

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And so, it is worth stressing, “it is not pornography; I am not selling my body, I am just using my body as canvas for my art.”

Paolo said that malice needs to be removed when viewing particularly his performances – i.e. “We don’t give malice when seeing a naked child, so why give malice when seeing a naked adult?” This is particularly true when “they’re not doing anything malicious or anything sexual.”

On the other hand, Paolo said with emphasis, even if the piece is also sexual, it’s not like there’s something wrong with that. “We’re all different; sensuality is different for everyone, just as sexuality is different for everyone. You can be modest and that empowers you, and that’s fine. You could be very, very promiscuous and very sexual, and that empowers you, and that’s fine, too. As long as you’re responsible with yourself, you’re responsible when dealing with other people, and you know for a fact you’re not stepping on other people’s toes.”

Though Paolo has been inspired by various artists, his main inspiration are the people he deals with while performing. “My interaction creates an experience for me, and from that experience, I get inspired to make more art,” he said.

Paolo said he gets two reactions when he performs. For one, there are people who get “the vulnerability,” he said. And, secondly, “there are times when (people) get intimidated.” But with performance art, “your art is effective when you get a reaction, once it creates discourse.” And so for Paolo, the piece still works “even if only one person gets it.”

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There are members of his family who disapprove of what he does, though Paolo said this is largely due to security/safety issues – e.g. he could get harassed, or he could be accused of harassing and could get in trouble for this. But Paolo said that he is actually cautious when planning performances, making sure that – yes – he does so in a safe space where he won’t be harassed, and only in contexts where he won’t knowingly end up harassing people.

For those who oversimplify what he’s doing as “just getting naked”, Paolo said performing is actually very draining, not just mentally but also physically. Which is why “I look after my body,” he said, “because I use my body as my canvas and I need to take care of it. I always make sure I am ready for it; it’s strenuous.”

If there’s one lesson his performances taught him, it’s that “we share similar stories,” Paolo said. “We share similar pain, we share similar happiness or success… The levels may be different on how we deal with these, but they’re similar.”

And after his performances, if there is one thing he wants those who see him to take away from seeing him, it’s the ability to “ask questions,” Paolo said. “Never be afraid to ask questions. It’s a start of being curious, of interacting with other people. So if possible, ask all the questions you can ask. It’s a way to grow as a person.”

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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.

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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.

TAINTED ‘SUCCESS’

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.

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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.

DOH’s CLAIM

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.”

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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.

WHAT NOW?

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.”

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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 dohnaspcphiv@gmail.com. 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.”

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PSA tackles in Filipino Sign Language what happens after rapid HIV test

What happens after you get tested for HIV? Particularly to “help simplify the HIV discussion for the Deaf community in the Philippines,” a public service announcement was released on getting tested for HIV in the Philippines, and what happens after one gets tested.

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One of the biggest confusions re HIV testing in the Philippines is answering the question on “what happens after one gets tested for HIV,” said Disney Aguila, board member of Bahaghari Center for SOGIE Research, Education and Advocacy, Inc. (Bahaghari Center) and concurrent president of Pinoy Deaf Rainbow (PDR).

The confusion is not helped by numerous factors – e.g.: various testing facilities are, in a way, “autonomous”, so there are varying practices; and information about post-testing remains limited.

No matter the reason/s for the confusion, “the effect is the same: it discourages many people from getting HIV testing and/or screening,” Aguila said.

To demystify particularly rapid HIV screening to “help simplify the HIV discussion for the Deaf community in the Philippines,” a public service announcement (PSA) was released on getting tested for HIV in the Philippines, and what happens after one gets tested.

The PSA is the third in a series of PSAs produced as part of a Bahaghari Center project backed by a collaboration between Youth LEAD and Y-PEER (Asia Pacific Center), which eyed to address Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) needs of Young Key Populations (YKPs) in Asia and the Pacific.

PSA on HIV basics released in Filipino Sign Language

Particularly pertaining rapid HIV test, “we want to educate particularly Deaf Filipinos about post-testing – that, if you are non-reactive, there are steps you can do to stay non-reactive; and if you’re positive, help is available to help you access treatment, care and support (including getting antiretroviral medicines) so you can live a long, healthy life.”

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PSA on getting tested for HIV released in Filipino Sign Language

Aguila stressed that knowing one’s HIV status is important to protect oneself and others around him/her.

If one is HIV-positive, then he/she can start taking antiretroviral medicine (ARV) that will prevent the HIV (virus) from replicating and thereby help him/her stay healthy and live longer/normal lives.

And if one is HIV-negative, then he/she can take steps to stay negative (for example, by practicing safer sexual practices).

“It starts with getting oneself tested,” Aguila said, “which is why we encourage people to get tested.”

Most hospitals and clinics can give HIV testing.

Social hygiene clinics (SHC) located in select barangays can also give HIV testing and/or HIV screening.

Various non-government organizations also offer HIV testing and/or screening.

There are also people who are certified to give rapid HIV test.

A series of community-based HIV testing trainings are given to select members of the Deaf community in Metro Manila/Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao is to “empower members of the Deaf community to be more proactive in dealing with HIV by allowing the Deaf to help the Deaf.” These trainings are provided by The Red Ribbon Project, Inc.

Other supporters of the project include: Outrage Magazine, Fringe Publishing, Pinoy Deaf Rainbow, TransDeaf Philippines, Deaf Dykes United and Pinoy Deaf Queer.

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PSA on getting tested for HIV released in Filipino Sign Language

To demystify particularly rapid HIV testing/screening to “help simplify the HIV discussion for the Deaf community in the Philippines,” a public service announcement (PSA) was released on the getting tested for HIV in the Philippines.

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Getting tested for HIV is – as it is – already challenging for Hearing people, but “it can be argued that this is doubly difficult for Deaf people,” said Disney Aguila, board member of Bahaghari Center for SOGIE Research, Education and Advocacy, Inc. (Bahaghari Center) and concurrent president of Pinoy Deaf Rainbow (PDR). This is because “aside from dealing with the ‘usual’ issues related to getting tested for HIV that are encountered by Hearing people (including dealing with stigma and discrimination), we also have to contend with language barrier.”

Eyeing to demystify particularly rapid HIV testing/screening to “help simplify the HIV discussion for the Deaf community in the Philippines,” a public service announcement (PSA) was released on the getting tested for HIV in the Philippines.

The PSA is actually one in three PSAs produced as part of a Bahaghari Center project backed by a collaboration between Youth LEAD and Y-PEER (Asia Pacific Center), which eyed to address Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) needs of Young Key Populations (YKPs) in Asia and the Pacific.

PSA on HIV basics released in Filipino Sign Language

Particularly pertaining rapid HIV test, “we want to educate people that all it takes is a prick, and a person can already find out his/her HIV status… in less than 20 minutes,” Aguila said.

Knowing one’s HIV status is important, Aguila added, as a means to: protect oneself and others around him/her.

If one is HIV-positive, then he/she can start taking antiretroviral medicine (ARV) that will prevent the HIV (virus) from replicating and thereby help him/her stay healthy and live longer/normal lives.

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And if one is HIV-negative, then he/she can take steps to stay negative (for example, by practicing safer sexual practices).

“But it all starts with getting oneself tested,” Aguila said, “which is why we encourage people to get tested.”

If these are more accessible, most hospitals and clinics can give HIV testing.

Social hygiene clinics (SHC) located in select barangays can also give HIV testing and/or HIV screening.

Various non-government organizations also offer HIV testing and/or screening.

There are also people who are certified to give rapid HIV test.

A series of community-based HIV testing trainings are given to select members of the Deaf community in Metro Manila/Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao is to “empower members of the Deaf community to be more proactive in dealing with HIV by allowing the Deaf to help the Deaf.” These trainings are provided by The Red Ribbon Project, Inc.

Other supporters of the project include: Outrage Magazine, Fringe Publishing, Pinoy Deaf Rainbow, TransDeaf Philippines, Deaf Dykes United and Pinoy Deaf Queer.

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PSA on HIV basics released in Filipino Sign Language

HIV 101 in Filipino Sign Language (FSL).

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To “help simplify the HIV discussion for the Deaf community in the Philippines,” a public service announcement (PSA) was released on the “HIV basics,” according to Disney Aguila, board member of Bahaghari Center for SOGIE Research, Education and Advocacy, Inc. (Bahaghari Center) and concurrent president of Pinoy Deaf Rainbow (PDR).

The PSA is actually one in three PSAs, all of them forming part of a Bahaghari Center project backed by a collaboration between Youth LEAD and Y-PEER (Asia Pacific Center), which eyed to address Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR)needs of Young Key Populations (YKPs) In Asia and the Pacific.

There will also be accompanying trainings for Deaf community members to know about rapid HIV testing, so that “Deaf Filipinos can start HIV testing among themselves.”

Aguila said that often, when discussing SHRH, differently-abled people – such as the members of the Deaf community – are often not included in discussions. “And so even if we’re just as affected by this global social issue, solutions to deal with them often remain hard to reach for us,” she said. From this perspective, “efforts that empower our community members are good should be done; and they should be done fast.”

IN THE PHILIPPINES

In 2012, Michael David C. Tan – publishing editor of Outrage Magazine, the only LGBTQI publication in the Philippines, and head of Bahaghari Center – conducted “Talk to the Hand”, the first-of-its-kind study that looked at the knowledge, attitudes and related practices 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, the legal age of consent in the Philippines. Many (36.1%) of them also had numerous sexual partners, with some respondents having as many as 20 sex partners in a month.

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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.

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%) consider 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.

But this issue is not limited ONLY to the LGBTQIA members of the Deaf community. This issue also affects the SRHR of the Deaf community, as a whole.

For the World Health Organization (WHO), health is a “state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Specific to reproductive health, WHO stresses that it “implies that people are able to have a responsible, satisfying and safer sex life and that they have the capability to reproduce and the freedom to decide if, when and how often to do so.”

It is nonetheless unfortunate that various studies – including Tan’s – highlight how the Deaf community continues to be left behind because they are not able to access safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of fertility regulation/s of their choice.

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For instance, a study carried out by Deafax (EARS Campaign, 2012) revealed “higher than average levels of STIs, pregnancy and inappropriate behavior within the Deaf community.” This study specifically showed that: 35% of Deaf people did not receive any sex education at school; 65% said that sex education was inaccessible; and 36% learned through direct sexual experience.”

Dealing with SRHR vis-à-vis HIV is obviously just as tricky in the Philippines.

From January 1984 to July 2018, sexual contact among men who have sex with men (MSM) was the predominant (84%, 44,929) mode of transmission among males. Just as that moniker suggests, many of these MSM are not necessarily gay/homosexual, but also engage in sex with opposite sex partners.

This is connected to the population of those most vulnerable to risks associated with sexual activity getting younger, including HIV. But while this has been noted in the Hearing population, the Deaf community is largely ignored, with no existing data on HIV prevalence among them.

In fact, also from January 1984 to July 2018, 16,074 (28%) of the reported cases were 15-24 years old; and broken down, 1,813 were infected through male-female sex, 9,031 from male-male sex, and 4,662 from sex with both males and females.

This means that so long as the HIV infection rate among MSM increases, so do the risk for infection among women.

As it is, the number of diagnosed HIV infections among females in the Philippines has already increased. Females diagnosed with HIV from January to July 2018 (362) was almost three times the number of diagnosed cases compared to the same period of 2013 (126). Ninety-three percent (3,426) of all female cases were in the reproductive age group (15-49 years old) at the time of diagnosis.

With the dearth – if not complete absence – of information for the Deaf community in the Philippines about HIV, Deaf Filipinos (irrespective of their SOGIE) continue not to be informed of and have access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of birth control; as well as appropriate health care services of sexual, reproductive medicine and implementation of health education program.

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To highlight, as the case is in the Philippines: Even with glaring worrying data, there continue to be no specific program to give the Deaf population access to HIV-related efforts in the Philippines.

The law, for instance, mandates that people who get tested should receive counselling; and yet not one HIV counsellor knows of Filipino Sign Language (FSL).

And for Deaf Filipinos who were able to get tested for HIV and tested HIV-positive, accessing medical services is also problematic because of the lack of interpreters, particularly those familiar with HIV and those who can actually provide HIV testing.

INCLUDING THE DEAF IN THE CONVERSATION

The PSA discusses HIV basics – from what HIV is, how one may get infected with it, and misconceptions surrounding HIV.

A second PSA will be subsequently released, tackling HIV testing (particularly rapid HIV test); while a third PSA will discuss what happens after people get tested for HIV in the Philippine context.

Also, “because any PSA can only do so much to actually make people get themselves tested for HIV,” Aguila said, a series of trainings will be given to select members of the Deaf community in Metro Manila/Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. This is to “empower members of the Deaf community to be more proactive in dealing with HIV by allowing the Deaf to help the Deaf.”

These trainings will be provided by The Red Ribbon Project, Inc.

Other supporters of the project include: Outrage Magazine, Fringe Publishing, Pinoy Deaf Rainbow, TransDeaf Philippines, Deaf Dykes United and Pinoy Deaf Queer.

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Relevance of public & private sectors’ support highlighted in Quezon City’s 2018 Pride parade

Highlighting the importance of the participation of all stakeholders, not just the LGBTQIA community but also including the public and the private sectors, Quezon City in Metro Manila held one of the last Pride parades in the Philippines for 2018.

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Highlighting the importance of the participation of all stakeholders, not just the LGBTQIA community but also including the public (including government) and the private sectors, Quezon City in Metro Manila held one of the last Pride parades in the Philippines for 2018.

Hanz Defensor, who helms Quezon City Pride Council (QCPC), the organizer of the annual gathering, told Outrage Magazine in an exclusive interview that Quezon City is “quite fortunate” that it now has an anti-discrimination ordinance (ADO) that protects LGBTQIA people from discrimination.

Signed by mayor Herbert Bautista (whose term ends in May 2019), City Ordinance 2357-2014, otherwise known as The Quezon City Gender-Fair Ordinance, eyes to “to actively work for the elimination of all forms of discrimination that violate the equal protection clause of the Bill of Rights enshrined in the Constitution, existing laws, and The Yogyakarta Principles; and to value the dignity of every person, guarantee full respect for human rights and give the highest priority to measures that protect and enhance the right of all people; regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression (SOGIE).”

But Defensor said that, “admittedly, kulang pa rin (this is still lacking).” This is because – even if they already have the ADO and its implementing rules and regulations (IRR), the actual implementation continues to be challenging.

Quezon City, Defensor noted as an example, has “a lot of business establishments, and while they know that discriminating against LGBTQIA people in the city is prohibited by law, not all of them actually have a copy of the ADO and the IRR to know the small details.”

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As he encouraged particularly those affected by the ADO to “download (the same) from Quezon City’s official website”, he is also encouraging other local government units to already take steps to also protect their LGBTQIA constituents, perhaps learning from Quezon City’s example.

The same sentiment was expressed in a letter sent to QCPC by Pres. Rodrigo Duterte, who remarked that Quezon City’s ADO – which also mandates the annual holding of the Pride parade – “has become a source of inspiration for advocates of gay rights in the Philippines and the rest of the world” because “it has institutionalized the city’s progressive and inclusive policy that eliminates discrimination on the basis of SOGIE.”

Though criticized for pinkwashing, Duterte still expressed hope that Pride further strengthens “the solidarity of (the) community so you may inspire the entire nation with the diversity and dynamism of your talents and skills.”

To contextualize, past administrations did not openly support Pride-related events.

Also, even if Akbayan partylist – which is aligned with Liberal Party that helmed the country under Pres. Benigno Aquino III prior to Duterte’s term – has been sponsoring the anti-discrimination bill for almost 20 years now, it still fails to gain traction, including during Aquino’s administration when it was largely ignored.

As an FYI, Quezon City actually hosted the largely accepted first Pride March in Asia.

On June 26, 1994, ProGay Philippines and Metropolitan Community Church helmed a march in Quezon City. Dubbed as “Stonewall Manila” or as “Pride Revolution”, it was held in remembrance of the Stonewall Inn Riots and coincided with a bigger march against the imposition of the Value Added Tax (VAT).

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Defensor stressed the need to be pro-active when confronting LGBTQIA-related discrimination. While the ADO is there, he said that should LGBTQIA people from Quezon City experience discrimination, “seek help” and know that “QCPC is here, and the LGU will back you.”

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