Thursday, June 22, 2017

The History of LGBTQ+ Visibility in the Philippines

By Carlos Diego A. Rozul

This month of June marks a significant event within the LGBTQ+ community around the world. It was in June 1969 when the Stonewall Riot in Manhattan, New York ultimately turned the tides in the Gay Liberation Movement in the United States, which is why the world celebrates LGBT Pride in the month of June [1].

Filipino LGBT youth today may not be aware of the history of a community where they belong. Within the Philippines' conservative culture, the community’s roots have long been ignored by many. As such, let us take a quick look at the history of the LGBT movement in the Philippines, from its indigenous conceptualization to today’s advocacy for the anti-discrimination bill.

The first account of women and gender crossing men playing major roles in the Philippine society was the Babaylan, a priestess who was a bounty of knowledge and spirituality. The babaylan even had the power to take charge of the barangay (community) in the absence of the datu (community leader). There were some babaylan who were male called asog, who were free to have homosexual relations without societal judgement. The asog were not cross dressers, however. They were gender crossers as they were granted the same spiritual recognition as the female babaylan. The asog lead the revolts against the oppression of the Spanish colonial period with various incantations to boost the revolt’s strength.[2] [3] [4]

During the 300 year Spanish colonization of the Philippines, a change in ideology was imminent. From the indigenous matriarchy, the Spanish introduced the patriarchy and the machismo concept which made gender crossing a ridiculed practice. It was not long until even effeminate men were also looked down upon, developing regional vernacular for what the Tagalog call bakla (gay man, also meant confused and cowardly). The American colonization period further reinforced of Western conceptualizations of gender and sexuality, cementing it in formal education.[4]

Well after the Second World War, gay rights activist Justo Justo established the Home of the Golden Gays in 1975. Originally intended to serve as a home for elderly gay men who have been kicked out by their families, mostly due to their lack of financial contribution. It has grown into a loving community composed of vibrant and unique individuals. Unfortunately, the death of Justo in 2012 led to the closing of the home. [5]

The women’s movement in the 1980s was a highlight in the struggle of the lesbian community to be visible in the public. The lesbian community has felt invisible and ignored in the past few decades. With lesbian concerns being subsumed under women’s and feminist studies which was previously heterosexual in nature, and under the gay movement which previously prominently conceptualized lesbian women as female version of homosexual men. As such the lesbian community wanted their voices to be heard in the fight against the dictatorship. Eventually, the underground women’s organization MAKIBAKA released a position paper including sexual orientation issues in the movement. Later in the 1990s the issue of gender and sexuality became a major concern in the women’s movement, leading to the formation of The Lesbian Collective, LESBOND, the media advocacy group Can’t Live in the Closet, and the first National Lesbian Rights Conference.[6]

One of the more memorable moments in the history of the LGBT movement in the Philippines was the first LGBT Pride March on June 26, 1994 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Stonewall Riot. The march was not only the first gay pride march in the Philippines, but in Asia. This event was organized by the Progressive Organization of Gays in the Philippines (PROGAY Philippines) and  the Metropolitan Community Church (MCC) Manila. The march was small in number, with 60 participants in fact. As they marched from EDSA at Quezon Avenue to Quezon Memorial Circle in Quezon City, it was the first time for the public to see members of the LGBT community speak out for equality at such a scale.[7]

More recently, the Psychological Association of the Philippines (PAP) released the LGBT Non-discrimination Policy Resolution in October 2011. This was in response to overwhelming letters, calls, and ethics complaints against a certified psychologist who recommended conversion therapy for children who come out as gay or lesbian to achieve a “happy family life”. This policy statement affirmed the inherent dignity and equality of LGBT individuals as well as the right to not be discriminated against based on their sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. This resolution also reinforced the American Psychiatric Association’s position in 1973 viewing same-gender sexual orientations as healthy, non-disordered variant of human sexuality, love, and relationships. The resolution was later translated to Tagalog in November, 2014.[8]

Today, we enjoy the benefits of what our past brothers and sisters have done for the future of LGBTQ+ visibility and rights. However, there is still much to do to achieve equality. Currently, there are are no comprehensive anti-discrimination law in the Philippines. Some existing Philippine laws are sometimes used to extort LGBT members while some out right limit gender expression and ignore gender identity in work environments.[9] Fortunately on June 30, 2016 the first transgender representative in the congress, Geraldine B. Roman submitted House Bill 267, otherwise known as the Anti-SOGI Discrimination Act, and is currently up for approval.[10] Beyond laws and policies, the ordinary members of the LGBTQ+ community play a significant role in this vision of equality - to remain visible and fight the stigma.

Images by Juan Pablo Diaz


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Batch Marcelino, LoveYourself's 17th batch of volunteers, joins the fight against HIV

By Mark Angello Ganon

June 17, 2017 – 46 new recruits joined LoveYourself’s growing number of volunteers. Held at the People’s Hall of SM Aura Premier, the orientation, headed by LoveU (LoveYourself’s Corporate University) Administrator John Cedric Santiago, welcomed the new volunteers as they embraced the organization’s HIV awareness and prevention advocacy.
Batch Marcelino orientation at the People’s Hall of SM Aura Premier

The Origins

Similar to this year’s batch Guinto, the batch name "Marcelino" is also a tribute to a former location of a LoveYourself clinic.

The first clinic, LoveYourself Hub, was originally located at Leon Guinto St. in Manila. HIV testing and counselling was held at the hub from July 2012 until its transfer to 1936-B San Marcelino Street near the corner of Quirino Avenue in Manila. Citing accessibility as the main concern for the relocation, LoveYourself Hub resumed its operations on January 3, 2015.

Facade of the second LoveYourself Hub at Marcelino St., Manila, now used as commercial/residential space

The logo for Batch Marcelino is a spinoff of the acclaimed Windows of New York Project, which is a weekly illustrated atlas of striking windows along the streets of the Big Apple. Conceptualized as a tribute to the second hub, Mark Long, the artist behind the logo, took into account the ancestral vibe the place exuded. The logo shows a three-unit building with a red, white, and green motif. The middle unit was the second clinic of LoveYourself.

Batch Marcelino logo conceptualized by Mark Long and Geno Maglinao
Operations at the LoveYourself Hub at Marcelino St. lasted only until December 2015. Frequent flooding at the hub instigated the transfer to a new venue at Taft Avenue, which is known up to this date as LoveYourself Uni.

Strength in Numbers

With the addition of Batch Marcelino, LoveYourself has now more than 800 volunteers. With its partnership with Test MNL, Pilipinas Shell Foundation, ISEAN HIVOS, RITM-DOH, and the Taguig City Government, LoveYourself continues to be a champion for HIV awareness and prevention amidst increase in the number of new cases. It continues to be a rallying point for the advocacy, where volunteers, new and old alike, strive to serve their best in its two HIV testing clinics (LoveYourself Anglo at Shaw and LoveYourself Uni at Taft), engage in its various committees, and support its future projects and endeavors (like PrEP, for example).

As LoveYourself welcomes Batch Marcelino, Vinn Pagtakhan, the organization’s founder, is reminded of the journey, a few years ago, in finding a safe space for everyone, a place where we can be ourselves and where we feel safe and free from judgment and discrimination. Marcelino reminds him of an urban imagery of a little warrior: young, charming, strong, and very enthusiastic. And as new LoveYourself volunteers, he welcomes Batch Marcelino as our “youngest warriors in creating positive ripples of change for our community, and empowering that same community in developing a high sense of self-worth."

Photos courtesy of Leo Pura and Mark Long

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

STATUS -- Yes, I am Positive

By Carlos Diego A. Rozul

Everyone has talked about a particular status in his or her life, be it their relationship status, their financial status, and heck people talk about their problems on their Facebook status all the time! But one thing that’s rarely talked about is one’s HIV status. Despite its relevance today it is still greatly stigmatized and has been thought of as taboo by many. This monthly column aims to help facilitate discussion on issues surrounding HIV testing and living with HIV.

Three months after your last unprotected sexual encounter, you may decide to get tested for HIV as part of your routine. While waiting for the results, you feel anxious and uneasy. When the findings are given, your counselor communicates to you that they come out reactive. While others may feel overwhelmed with emotion, you may feel like time has stopped with a rush of numbness. A lot of questions may rush into your mind, and you may wonder how you would talk to someone about your status.

Who should I tell in the first place?

The decision to start the conversation about your status with someone is ultimately yours to make. Others may feel confident enough to tell a majority of people in their life, while some may struggle to tell even one. Some newly diagnosed people living with HIV (PLHIV) may still be in denial or fear that disclosing their serostatus would lead to automatic rejection, discrimination, and false accusations of promiscuity and infidelity [1, 2]. Either way, the number of people who know about your status should not be the basis of a good social support network. A good criterion to go by would be to share your new positive status with people whom you think are capable of understanding and caring about you and your situation[3]. This may mean an informed and open-minded family member, your romantic partner, or a close friend.

Multiple studies[4,5,6,7] have shown that the establishment of a supportive social network is an important factor towards the compliance to treatment and mental health of a person living with HIV (PLHIV). A good supportive network can provide both informational and emotional support which are important especially in the first few months of diagnosis. This network can also serve as partners in the journey of accepting one’s self and maintaining a positive self-concept. Formal organizations that serve as support groups may be an interesting option to consider, as you can meet fellow PLHIVs who can serve as a reminder that you are not alone.

You may also consider talking to your current and/or past sexual partners if you are unsure of how you were able to contract HIV. The person who may have given you the virus may not be aware of their own status, and may not be getting the proper care and treatment for their condition. Likewise, your current partner should know about the unforeseen risk you two have taken in your most recent sexual encounter. Currently, there are no laws in the Philippines regarding mandatory disclosure of HIV status with potential partners, unlike the United States. However, in the interest of reducing your partner’s risk of HIV infection, it may be also helpful to talk about pre-exposure prophylaxis.

How do I approach the situation?

After deciding on whom you want to tell, you may wonder how you would even go about telling them. Similar to the previous question, how you start the discussion about your status is up to you. There is no specific way to best facilitate the conversation for everyone as your relationship with one person is different from another [7]. An important thing to note is to recognize that it is normal for you to feel nervous about the situation. Take your time to prepare what you want to say. Part of the discussion about your status may be educating the person about HIV.This may include explaining what your status means, modes of transmission, mechanics of transmission, and/or debunking certain misconceptions.

You may ask someone for a casual cup of coffee, dinner, or even just a walk. Make your environment as comfortable as possible, not only for you, but for the person you’re telling as well.

How do I face unfavorable reactions?

It can feel heartbreaking to tell someone something personal and feel rejected because of it. You may have considered this person to be someone that you trust, but upon telling them, it’s as if you just told a closed-minded stranger.

This may be a big fear for most people disclosing their status to significant people in their lives; however, it is important to remember that while they may not be ready to accept you as you have presented yourself, that you are still worthy. It may all be overwhelming as you are also just starting to come into terms with the news that you have received. In this moment in time, you will need people who support you, and for now you do not need people who will put you off your path towards accepting and empowering yourself. Getting support should be your primary goal when coming out to someone as a PLHIV.

LoveYourself offers free and confidential HIV testing, pre and post test counseling, and treatment for all regardless of sex, age, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression. Moreover, LoveYourself Anglo offers life coaching services for newly diagnosed PLHIV clients enrolled in its treatment program to guide them in their journey towards acceptance of self and proper health management.


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Prism: A Colorful Life in Motion set on June 18, 2017

By Brethren Nge and Jean Natividad

It doesn't matter if you're blue, red, green, pink, yellow or any color, shade and hues you might think of. Let's celebrate Pride Month 2017, with colorful lives in unity amidst diversity this June 18, 2017 at the Cinematheque Centre Manila located in 855 Kalaw Ave., Ermita, Manila as we present: “Prism: A Colorful Life in Motion”.

The “Prism” will showcase a variety of colorful short films and artistic performances that are quite timely, relevant and full of life's lessons. A showcase that surely pictures the diversity of colorful lives of individuals and of society. From retracing the footsteps of the past to reclaiming precious memories to the reaping the fruits of a firestarter. More than just a film viewing experience, it is an art festival that will promote intellectual discussion and rejoice in the community.

Writer and Director: Petersen Vargas
Cast: Earl Policarpio, Ross Pesigan

Lisyun Qng Geografia tells the story of Tib who, before leaving Pampanga for good, chances upon an old map that triggers him to retrace the places that are special to him and his high school best friend, Tric.

The short film was a part of the Cinemalaya Philippine Independent Film Festival 2015 Shorts B Program. It also won Best Director at the 1st Singkuwento International Film Festival Manila and 1st Prize - Short Feature Category at the 26th Gawad CCP Para sa Alternatibong Pelikula at Video.

Writer and Director:  Max Canlas
Cast: Mimi Juareza, Kheoee Pesigan, Marian P. Roque

In Akalingwan Nang Rosa, a 50-year-old transgender woman forgets she had sexual reassignment surgery upon emerging from coma. Her 7-year-old daughter helps her recollect her memories.

Max Canlas is a University of the Philippines Diliman film student and a LoveYourself counselor. The film is his thesis.

Director: Jill Singson Urdaneta
Writer and producer: Blue Umali
Cast: Angelina Kanapi, Kiko Matos, Toni Co

Marga is a firestarter, political puppeteer, and morality spin doctor. For three decades she has masterminded tumultuous events that rocked the nation. But the fires she has started are growing, the people she had puppeted are now out to get her, and her life is spinning out of control. Can she still mastermind her way out of the mess she has created?

The short film is a collaboration between budding director and LoveYourself supporter Jill Singson Urdaneta and LoveYourself volunteer Blue Umali.

“Prism: A Colorful Life in Motion” is an LGBT Pride Event hosted by LoveYourself in collaboration with ISEAN-Hivos Program, TestMNL, Philippine NGO Council on Population, Health, and Welfare Inc., Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, PUSHPh, Pilipinas Shell Foundation, Cinematheque Centre Manila, and Film Development Council of the Philippines.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Let’s TestMNL! - LoveYourself and TestMNL join forces against HIV

By Mark Angello Ganon

Let’s TESTMNL! is LoveYourself and TestMNL’s fast, easy and anonymous HIV testing event held on May 28, 2017 at Victoria Court in Malate, Manila. The whole-day venture, which started at 10:00 AM, catered to a total of 333 clients until its cutoff at 7:00 PM.


Embracing inspiration from the Elton John AIDS Foundation in creating an AIDS-free future, Let’s TESTMNL! created an avenue for individuals of all sexes to have themselves tested. The event was held in conjunction with LoveYourself’s goal to ward off stigma in HIV screening and testing. Eliminating the need to provide personal information was a key point in the large turnout of clients. And on top of the anonymity, accurate results were delivered within 15 minutes from the time of extraction.

Owing to the success of its predecessors, LoveYourself Incognito in May 2015 and LoveYourself Incognito 2.0 in the latter part of 2016, Let’s TestMNL!, broke past records when it catered to 333 clients. The first off-site testing, LoveYourself Incognito, was able to accommodate 310 clients, while LoveYourself Incognito 2.0 tested an estimated 230 clients. The impressive turnout of this year’s anonymous testing can be attributed to effective advertising on social media, with 40% of those who pre-registered coming from Facebook advertisements alone.

The event was organized with a flock of 114 volunteers. Program officers of TestMNL coordinated with LoveYourself in upholding the goal to provide strict confidentiality through a speedy screening procedure.

The Communications Committee harnessed the power of social media. Majority of the sign-ups came from links through Facebook, Twitter, Grindr, Hornet, and Instagram. Interviews and advertisements via radio (Jam 88.3) and television (Lionheart TV and CNN PH) also boosted registration.

The Logistics Committee took charge of the venue, promotional tools before and during the event, refreshments for the volunteers, and procurement of the materials needed. The Registration Committee, on the other hand, were ready for the influx of clients.

Upholding strict confidentiality, clients were not required to give any personal information. They were only given a UIC (Unique Identifier Code) and a client number, and then were assisted by the Traffic Committee. The HIV Quick Facts Team oriented the clients briefly on what the TestMNL campaign is all about and what processes they were to undergo.

Volunteers took turns in delivering HIV 101 in a fun and informative yet concise manner. Volunteer counselors conducted the Community-Based Screening using the 3rd-generation rapid immunochromatography kit to determine the presence of HIV antibodies in each client, and counseling was not compromised under the mentoring of the Head Counselors. In 15-20 minutes, results were read by the counselors to their respective clients. The results were then sent to the laboratory for verification.

The Laboratory Team served as the quality control arm in providing professionally verified results. For non-reactive results, the clients were referred to the Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) Committee for a quick survey to serve as a tool for improving future HIV testing events of the organization. For reactive results, blood extraction was done for Plasma Agglutination Test and baseline CD4 count. The reactive clients were referred to the Life Coach Team for guidance on the treatment process.

Smiles and thank you’s are the volunteers' payment for their tireless efforts geared toward HIV awareness and prevention. With the conclusion of Let’s TestMNL, the public is once again reminded of the importance of loving one’s self. Correct knowledge on HIV, its transmission and its prevention, safe sexual practices, and timely testing and treatment, collectively called the Triangle of Self-Care, are our weapons in our battle to create an HIV-free future. As TestMNL’s meaty and controversial catchphrase goes, let’s “SUCK. F*#K. TEST. REPEAT.”

Photos courtesy of L.A. Lomarda and Iosif Cade