LGBT + Pride Month of June

LODESTAR - Danton Remoto - The Philippine Star

June is the Pride Month for the LGBT + (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders + intersex and queer), which began in the West in 1969. One night, still grieving from the death of gay icon Judy Garland, a group of gay men were drinking at Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York, when the members of the New York Police Department came. There was no riot to break, so why did swoop down amidst the grieving horde?

They were asked to leave Stonewall Inn but – lo and behold – instead of being the usual meek and mild people they used to be, the gays put up a fight. They resisted being thrown out of the inn, pushed the cops, threw punches and hand bags, why, some even their stilettoes, and drive the cops out of the inn. And thus began the first gay liberation moment, later a movement, in modern world history.

And since the Philippines is usually 20 years behind the West in terms of cultural movements, the LGBT moments in the country came only in the 1980s. In 1990, I just came back from my MPhil in Publishing Studies at the University of Stirling, thanks to a British Council Fellowship. I feel in immediately with two groups: one was The Library Foundation, which started at the now-iconic The Library bar of Andrew de Real. We held Healthy Interaction Values (HIV) workshops and formed groups that discussed topics from coming out to sexuality.

The other group was Katlo, Incorporated, which aimed to raise awareness on sexual orientation issues, held Male & Gay talks with guests like Dr. Margie Holmes, and published a newsletter called K. I was also a volunteer for Remedios AIDS Foundation in Malate, where we gave stickers and pamphlets and brochures about HIV-AIDS. I experienced being shooed out of business establishments then, because the owners said that only “gays and bisexuals” could acquire HIV (human immune-deficiency virus), which leads to AIDS (acute immune deficiency syndrome).

Only later, when AIDS advocacy became a cause celebre, and big-name stars like Vilma Santos made a film like The Dolzura Cortez Story, did people become aware that getting HIV does not depend on one’s sexual orientation and gender identity. One gets the HIV because of one’s sexual practices, no matter your sexual orientation and gender identity. Vilma Santos played the role of a woman who acquired AIDS. Years later, we would become aware of seafarers getting HIV, since the first thing that some Filipino seafarers do upon landfall is to go and get a sexual partner for the night in terms of casual and paid sex. I’ve talked to some of them and they said that they could not resist the sight of blonde and blue-eyed Latinas or Russians, tall and fair-skinned, and high-bridged of nose – and condoms be damned. So when our Pinoys come home and have sex with their girlfriends or wives, the virus transfers exponentially. Thus, while the rest of the world is seeing a fall in their rates of HIV infection, Bangladesh and the Philippines are seeing their rates of infection shoot through the roof. Current estimates show that we have a five percent prevalence rate of HIV in the country – one of the highest in the world.

And now comes through my email this inane draft Ordinance No. 0-064 from the City of Dagupan, “Establishing a recognition system to organizations and individuals who support free HIV-AIDS screening and providing assistance for People Living with HIV.” It begins on a good note and perhaps with even the noblest of intentions, with its objective that seeks to “protect the rights of individuals with HIV; to avoid discrimination, in all its forms and subtleties, against individuals with HIV or persons perceived with or suspected of having HIV shall be considered inimical to individual and national interest; and to provide basic health and social services.”

So far, so good. And then comes its wham-bang ‘Definition of Terms.” It defines lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders and conflates them with HIV, AIDS, HIV-positive, HIV testing, and HIV transmission. Councilors Jose Netu Tamayo and Dennis Canto proposed the ordinance.

If our good councilors only read more carefully the AIDS Registry of the Department of Health that they cited,  the Registry said that aside from men who have sex with men (MSM), the other infected individuals include heterosexuals, specifically overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), sex workers of all genders, and people who use infected needles. Nowhere in the AIDS Registry was it mentioned that only LGBTs acquire AIDS.

So where did these two gentlemen get their hoary idea that HIV = LGBT+?

Therefore, I advise them to revise their ordinance so that it does not conflate LGBTs with HIV. Come on, gentlemen, this is already 2018. I am sure you have bright researchers in your group who can revise this ordinance. This is the kind of logical fallacy that gives local governance a really bad name.

Speaking of bad names, let me caution the Department of the Interior and Local Government as well as the Department of Social Welfare and Development that Ladlad Party-list, of which I am founding chairman, has not authorized anyone to give seminars and workshops on social orientation and gender identity (SOGI). One such group is giving allegedly shoddy seminars and workshops and it is not authorized by the party to do so. Even if they blather to high heavens that they belong to another group with another logo and have SEC registration, they have used the name of Ladlad as the mother organization. It is the same with Biinibining Pilipinas Universe, which is the Philippine group authorized by Miss Universe Inc., to hold the annual beauty search.

Therefore, be warned and beware, caveat emptor: I miss those days almost 30 years ago when LGBT advocacy was the pure and unsullied cause it used to be, without the dross of commercialism that its uneducated hawkers have turned it to be.

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