Suspension of Disbelief

Archive for December 2013

2013 LGBT Pride March: counting winnings and losses

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VERA Files and Yahoo Philippines | 10 December 2013

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Text and photos by Patrick King Pascual, VERA Files

Just as loud as the colors of the banners they waved, were their impassioned chants of “Walang masama, walang masama, walang masama sa pagiging bakla! (There is nothing wrong with being gay!)”

The 2013 Metro Manila Pride Celebration, held in Malate last December 7, attended by about a thousand showed that they gay community in the Philippines has come a long way in their struggle for the most basic in a democracy: equality.

“It’s important for the LGBT community to celebrate Pride, because this is an event that highlights the successes and the challenges the community has achieved in the past year,” Michael David Tan, founder of Outrage Magazine, the only LGBT magazine in the Philippines and Bahaghari Center for LGBT Research, Education and Advocacy.

LGBT stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender.

With the theme, “Strength in Colors”, Tan said this year’s Pride March “is a reminder to everyone that we have achieved a lot to enjoy equal rights, at the same time, it’s still a reminder for the entire community, that there is still a lot to be done.”

The Pride March started in the United States 44 years ago in the United States to commemorate the spontaneous protest on June 28, 1969 over the police raid of Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village in New York.

The organisers said the Pride March would be an annual reminder for the gay community “to be more relevant, reach a greater number of people, and encompass the ideas and ideals of the larger struggle” for their fundamental human rights.

In the Philippines, the first Pride Parade was held on June 26, 1994 initiated by Rev. Fr. Richard Mickley, an American pastor of the Metropolitan Community Church with the support of PROGAY Philippines.

It was also the first Pride March in Asia.

At last Saturday’s parade, Mickley basked:“We have no reason to not celebrate our being equal – as what Nelson Mandela said- with everyone else, when everyone else try to tell us that we don’t belong in the society.”

Naomi Fontanos, executive director of Gender and Development Advocates (GANDA) Filipinas, one of the co-organizers of Metro Manila Pride March 2013, said, “We have an evolving movement. Every year we have successes and at the same time losses. The yearly Pride is our chance to highlight those successes and to take stack of our losses.”

They count in their favor the growing number of LGBTs in public office. At the recent barangay elections, Jhana dela Cruz, a transgender, was elected barangay captain of Iba in Hagonoy, Bulacan.

They also count as achievement the passage of anti-discrimination ordinances in the cities of Angeles, Bacolod, Cebu, Davao and Quezon. An anti-discrimination bill has been filed again in Congress. Government has improved its efforts to fight HIV and AIDS.

Christian-LGBTs

Christian LGBTs

There were more than 50 organizations who attended last Saturday’s celebration. Each of the organizations highlighted their specific cause. Akbayan Party-list, for instance, is pushing for the Anti-Discrimination Bill. During the parade, the members were chanting chanting, “Walang masama sa pagiging bakla, Anti-Discrimination Bill ipasa na! Now na!

The Filipino Freethinkers on the other hand, carried placards with a sign “We March for Those who Can’t…” showing the flags of the countries who do not the support the LGBT community like Brunei, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Malaysia, Uganda.

Cultural activist Carlos Celdran said it was just fitting to have the gay parade back in Manila. “The LGBT community has always been a part of Malate and the downtown Manila atmosphere so we hope to have them come back and celebrate their identity here year after year. I’m not here to judge other local governments but all I can say is, in the city of Manila, we are very queer friendly.”

 

 

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)

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What Pride means

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Outrage Magazine | 06 December 2013

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Strength-in-Colors

What are we really celebrating during Pride?

I was talking to a clan member a few days ago, during the World AIDS Day 2013 observance; and I asked him what he was doing there.  “Hindi ko alam, sumama lang ako kasi may nag-aya. Ang sabi nila event daw ito ng mga may AIDS,” he said.

And then we got to talking about Pride, and I asked him if he’s joining the Pride event the following weekend, he was just as vehement. “Of course! We’re going to attend the street party. Hindi na kamisasama sa parade kasi sayang saoras at nakakapagod lang, puro kabaklaan lang naman ‘yun,” he said, somewhat dismissively.

I was astounded by his ill-educated answers.

Because, apparently, for some, Pride celebration is but a good excuse for them to get drunk or to find their next best hookup. As this guy stressed, Pride celebration is all about meeting new guys while dancing the night away with your friends.

And I worry: Is it only while doing these that we feel proud of ourselves?

He isn’t alone in having this way of thinking. In fact, many LGBTs of the younger generation share the sentiment.

But, really, are they to be solely blamed?

I’d argue that this way of seeing is because of a combination of factors, not helped by the wrong that the public is getting and that the LGBT community itself has been sending out.

What’s happening right now in the Philippines, when celebrating Pride, is limited. At times, many see it as just a political rally, with banners plastered on stage and paraphernalia given away, many of them donning the faces and names in bold letters of the politicians who supposedly helped make the celebration possible. There are times, too, when it is but an observance of something different… like the World AIDS Day, often followed by a street concert that attracts more heterosexuals than LGBTs. At those times, the supposed message of Pride is clouded.

This year’s Pride celebration was actually almost cancelled because of the mishandling of the preparations. The Quezon City Pride Council (QCPC), which became active this year with different efforts in the community, eyed to hold the supposed Pride for 2013. QCPC, by the way, depends on the local government unit of Quezon City.

With only 15 days left before the scheduled Pride March (on the first Saturday of December), QCPC announced through its Facebook page that the QC government is canceling all celebrations in the city, including the Pride March to andre-align its budget allocation and manpower to help the victims of Typhoon Yolanda.”

For me, there is nothing wrong with helping our brothers and sisters who were devastated by the killer typhoon; in fact, it’s very humane to “re-align the budget allocation’” to help them. But what’s really wrong in this picture is QCPC’s (and the QC government’s) overlooking of the importance of celebrating Pride.

What does Pride celebration really mean?

It’s supposed to be a celebration of what the community has achieved so far, a culmination of the efforts of the LGBT movement.

There are only few victories in one’s lifetime and I think it’s just right to – at times – just stand still, look at the big picture, and see how far we’ve gone. As has been noted, this year, there are more LGBTs in the politics, the anti-discrimination ordinance was approved in some cities, an anti-discrimination bill was filed again in Congress, and there are more unified and tangible efforts to fight HIV and AIDS.

These need to be highlighted.

The celebration doesn’t have to be extravagant. What the community needs is just a moment and a decent space to gather together and celebrate the victories it has achieved so far.

Many actually praised Quezon City when QCPC was formed, supposedly to help uplift the status of its LGBT members. But as QCPC just folded, we – from the LGBT community – should be asking if it has really done enough to be worthy of the praises.

Fortunately, the annual Pride celebration is still pushing through on December 7, this time, with the community itself coming together to make things happen.  And so the impossible became possible.

Pride is a time for us to take stock; but it’s also the start of a new beginning – until that time when our trans brothers and sisters are not judged according to social constructs that limit their gender identity and expression; until that time when you can introduce your significant other to your officemates as your husband or wife and not just as a “friend”; until that time when your sexual orientation is not going to be the basis of whether you will be promoted or not in your workplace; and until that time when you can honestly say to yourself “I’m proud of who I am.”

 

 

(Outrage Magazine remains the only publication for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in the Philippines.)

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Project Red Ribbon: Responding to a growing need

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Outrage Magazine | 04 December 2013

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Project Red Ribbon logoIt started as a blog in 2011. with the author calling the Website Living with HIV in the Philippines.  And its first article, I Have AIDS!, told the story of Pozzie Pinoy, the HIV-positive advocate behind the blog, where he narrated how he overcame this ordeal when he was diagnosed with bilateral pneumonia and was tested HIV-positive.

And so this also served as the foreword of the Website, a precursor of what the readers should expect in its posts.

“The intention of the blog is to give information about HIV and AIDS in the Philippines. It aims to provide information about the importance of prevention, early detection through HIV testing, and treatment of HIV and opportunistic infections. It provides a venue for social interactions and discussions about the disease,” Pozzie Pinoy said.

In its two years run, Living with HIV in the Philippines has served as a go-to of some sort for many, responding to questions and inquiries from its readers with the help of Dr. Rosanna Ditangco of the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM).

The blog now also serves as a channel in promoting current events and trainings for the benefit of the general population.

Eventually, Pozzie Pinoy also started The Love Fund, an attempt to provide indigent people living with HIV (PLHIV) with medical assistance for laboratory tests and treatment.

Eventually, too, with the continuing success of Living with HIV in the PhilippinesPozzie Pinoystarted other efforts for the benefit of PLHIV – particularly, Project Red Ribbon.

“The blog became an area for us to answer questions, but we felt the need to establish other programs that can help and support PLHIV. And since there’s no care management program in the Philippines, we established the Red Ribbon,” Pozzie Pinoy explained.

Project Red Ribbon is a care management program that links advocacy groups with individuals to assist them to obtain discreet HIV testing, while also conducting awareness programs, and most importantly, provide care and support for PLHIV.

“What we do in Red Ribbon is we deal with PLHIV directly. We have support groups, we have outreach programs, online support group talks where PLHIVs gather to share their stories and their journey with each other,” Pozzie Pinoy said.

Compared to other organizations that have efforts for PLHIV, Project Red Ribbon “focuses solely on supporting PLHIV.” Notably, “99% of our managers are PLHIVs, so we know our concerns, we know our needs, we know our problems. We can support other PLHIVs properly,” Pozzie Pinoy stressed.

Project Red Ribbon also organizes: monthly outreach programs – where they visit different treatment hubs to educate new PLHIVs and give inspirational advice; monthly support group gathering; sportsfest; and outings, among others.

And as Pozzie Pinoy said many times over on his Website and during his talks: “No PLHIV is alone with his or her struggle with HIV! We are all in this together!”

For more information, visit http://pozziepinoy.blogspot.com/ or email Pozzie Pinoy at pozziepinoy@yahoo.com.

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(Outrage Magazine remains the only publication for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in the Philippines.)

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Should PLHIV come out?

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Outrage Magazine | 03 December 2013

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UP-Diliman observes World AIDS Day 2013

UP-Diliman observes World AIDS Day 2013

The figures continue to be disturbing.

As of October this year, the Department of Health (DOH) recorded a total number 4,072 HIV reported cases – 3,874 of which are males and 198 are female, and a total of 272 AIDS cases. It was also reported by DOH that 94% of the recorded HIV cases this year were infected through sexual contact, 6% through needle sharing among injecting drug users, and less than 1% through mother to child transmission. Reflecting the global trend wherein the increasing number of HIV cases is most predominant among men who have sex with other men (MSM), it was also noted by DOH that 86% of the recorded HIV cases in October were MSM.

The efforts to deal with the concerns continue to grow.

Over the years, there have been countless discussions and programs conducted by different institutions, organizations and even schools about HIV and AIDS. There have also been several events held to remind everyone of the importance of education and awareness of the disease.

However, everything seems to result to nothing, as the continuous rise in the numbers of those who are getting infected is showing us.

And now – interestingly – a new call is already being made.  During the celebration of World AIDS Day (WAD) observance at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City last December 1, the message pushed was loud and clear: “People living with HIV (PLHIV) should come out so that people will know that there is nothing wrong with being HIV positive.”

And some PLHIV heed the call.

“We are not celebrating WAD to be stigmatized and be discriminated against.  What we are trying to aim is to let other people know that HIV should not be feared,” Artemus Rojado, an HIV-positive advocate, said.  “Sometimes, PLHIV are more productive than ‘ordinary’ people. We want to bridge the gap between the people who are ill-educated about the disease and the situation of PLHIV.”

But this call may be easier said than done, considering the ongoing challenges faced by PLHIV in the Philippines.

For one, the government response continues to be weak, with public agencies failing to respond to the needs of PLHIV the way they should be doing.  Until now, the access to antiretrovirals remain dependent on the support that the country is getting from the Global Fund, and the only support PLHIV are getting from the government is through PhilHealth’s special benefit package, which, as lamented by many, “is sufficient in answering only some of the needs of PLHIV.” And then – while consultations and some preventive treatments for possible opportunistic infections are being offered for free in treatment hubs – full coverage to combat opportunistic infections is still not included.

It was noted by the UP-Diliman WAD event head, Pozzie Pinoy, that PLHIV should not wait for the government to take any effort if they want something to change. “As long as we know how to tap the government, the services we’re getting from the government will be sufficient. But we still need full backup and full support when it comes to handling opportunistic infections and other services PLHIV may need,” he said.

And so – again – the call to action for PLHIV to come out and share their stories and their journeys with other people.

“You need to come out, we need our voices to be heard. We know the problems, we know all the concerns, all we have to do is to come out and share our journey with other people so other people will know that HIV is a reality, and it really exists in the country, and that PLHIV are the same as everybody else,” Pozzie Pinoy stressed.

There are a lot of advocacy groups who are pushing for equal rights, “but nobody is coming out, so there’s no real face of HIV in the Philippines,” Pozzie Pinoy continued.  

And so we ask: Is “coming out” really the answer PLHIV should be looking for?

After all, will the mainstream community just blindly accept PLHIV when they come out?

Will the church, companies, schools, and other private hospitals welcome PLHIV with open arms after they come out?

Most importantly, will the government finally listen to the needs of PLHIV if they’re already out?

 

 

(Outrage Magazine remains the only publication for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in the Philippines.)

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Aljur Abrenica supports PLHIV

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Outrage Magazine | 02 December 2013

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The need to stand up against discrimination faced by people living with HIV is something everyone should do.

So says Filipino celebrity Aljur Abrenica in an exclusive interview with Outrage Magazine, as he also stressed that ”we can help other Filipinos to take care of themselves,” he said in the vernacular.

Abrenica first came into Filipino consciousness in StartStruck, a talent competition, where he eventually bagged the title “Ultimate Male Survivor” in its fourth season. After winning the talent search competition, he rose to fame by playing several memorable drama and fantaserye roles.

For Abrenica, everyone “can be instruments in ensuring that the number of people who get infected with HIV is lessened.”

He similarly cautioned people to remain self-aware, as this could help lessen the risks of one getting infected with HIV.

Mag-ingat. Mag-ingat. Huwag masyadong padalos-dalos,” Abrenica said. “Mag-isip muna bago gumawa ng isang bagay.”

 

 

 

(Outrage Magazine remains the only publication for the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in the Philippines.)

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AIDS education should be beyond World AIDS Day

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VERA Files and Yahoo Philippines | 01 December 2013

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Red-RibbonThe first day of December is World AIDS Day.

People observe World AIDS Day remembering the people who have lost their lives because of HIV and AIDS. Remembering means learning about the virus and the disease.

HIV stands for the human immunodeficiency virus that infects human being and leads to problems with their immune system.

AIDS is Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome is a disease caused by HIV to the body’s immune system.

As of October this year, the Department of Health (DOH) has recorded a total number 4,072 HIV reported cases; 3,874 of which are males and 198 are female; and a total of 272 AIDS cases.

It was also reported by DOH that 94% of the recorded HIV cases this year were infected through sexual contact, 6% through needle sharing among injecting drug users and less than 1% through mother to child transmission.

The theme of the World AIDS Day celebration is (still) “Getting to Zero”. “We are expecting all the countries, especially the one with rising numbers of HIV cases, to adopt innovative preventive approaches, to conduct a more through services when it comes to assistance and healthcare, and to improve the status of human rights awareness to alleviate discrimination and stigma,” the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS, or UNAID stated in a press release.

“If you have stigma, then people wouldn’t talk about it. If you have stigma, it’s very difficult to give services because they’re afraid that they’re going to end up as the topic of gossips, so they’d rather hide instead of doing what they’re supposed to do,” Department of Health Assistant Secretary  Janette Garin on the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in the country.

Garin said there is still the misconception that only prostitutes are the most likely to get infected with HIV. “In reality, they’re even more protected than most people,” she said.

The Assistant Secretary expressed concern over the increasing number of men who have sex with other men referred to as MSMs infected with HIV. “A little on the drug users – those who are injecting drugs, but the increasing number of MSMs being infected is very significant. The homosexual population in our country are very productive,” she said.

Compared to other countries in Asia, the increasing number of HIV cases among MSMs in the Philippines are much higher; with only 19% in Malaysia, 15% in Sri Lanka and only 7% in Indonesia.

Garin said the Philippines is currently receiving support from the Global Fund (GF) to take care of the people with HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

Through the Global Fund,HIV and AIDS treatment hubs in our country are able to provide free consultations to doctors; free laboratory testing including the CD4 testing, a blood test that measures the number of CD4 cells in a person with HIV or AIDS and also an indicator of one’s health; free preventive treatments to possible opportunistic infections; and most importantly, free access to antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), a series of medicine that help control the continuous escalation of the HIV virus.

But the Global Fund is expected to end next year.

“The DOH already filed an appeal to the World Health Organization and we’re hoping that it will be granted and that the funding would still continue even beyond 2014,” Garin said adding that without GF the DOH budget “will really not be enough because antiretrovirals are really expensive.”

Garin said a person living with HIV or PLHIV can avail health benefit packages from PhilHealth apart from the benefits they can get from the Global Fund.

PhilHealth CEO and president Alexander Padilla said it’s mandatory in the Philippine law that everyone should be covered by PhilHealth. “Since PLHIVs are covered by PhilHealth, we have a special benefit package for them, part of the millennium development goal benefit packages. For the HIV disease, we have a P30,000 package for one year or P7,500 per quarter.”

“They can easily avail our benefits, all they have to do is to just follow the process of application and pay their contributions. If they’re also worried with issues of confidentiality, we are bound by the law to keep everything private,” Padilla explained.

Garin also added that the DOH is also looking at the possibilities of discussing the policies of  Health Maintenance Organizations (HMO) when it comes to their HIV-positive members, “It’s being debated with PhilHealth, just like in HMOs, when they find out that you’re HIV-positive, they’re going to remove your membership, which is not supposed to be the case.”

Republic Act 8504, also known as the Philippine AIDS Prevention and Control Act, protects PLHIVs against detrimental actions and situations from companies, the community and from other institutions.

The DOH and PhilHealth reminds everyone that “people should be aware of HIV and AIDS even beyond World AIDS Day,” and that “we owe it to ourselves and to the community to be properly educated about the disease.”

 

 

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)

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