Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Taking a stand on HIV/AIDS

In the hustle and bustle leading up to the 2009 Manila Pride March, I almost forgot that I along with two other members of the Executive Committee (ExeCom) of Task Force Pride (TFP) Philippines 2009 joined a World AIDS Day (WAD) campaign initiated by the writer and make-up artist, Anna Santos. Anna, who has taken up HIV/AIDS advocacy recently, attended the 9th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (ICAAP) in Bali, Indonesia in August.

It was in Bali that she thought up the idea of a "Dare to Bare" WAD campaign. The campaign was going to showcase photographs of various advocates wearing nothing but the iconic AIDS ribbon "to make a stand, and to hopefully change the way (people) look at HIV/AIDS" and would be carried by different publications including the Manila Times, Spot, Herword, WMN, UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA)and Cosmo magazine online near or around 1 December 2009.

Anna asked the TFP ExeCom to pose as a group for the shoot (see pic below). In the end (from L to R) only me, a lesbian rights advocate under the name Queer Silver and another trasnwoman made it. The write-up on TFP for this WAD campaign, is also published in the new issue of Outrage, the only online zine for TLBG Filipinos. You can see the article here.


My personal interest in joining this campaign has to do with my growing frustration with how transgender (TG) and HIV/AIDS is framed in the Philippines. For the most part, transgender people which includes men and women have been lumped with the Males who have Sex with other Males (MSM) category in HIV/AIDS work. I have always maintained that using this framework is problematic because:
1. it disrespects trans people's identity particularly transwomen's identity because they do not see themselves as men who have sex with other men;
2. it reduces people to their sexual behavior conflating it with sexual orientation and gender identity. These concepts are not equivalent with each other.
3. it invisibilizes the particular health care needs of transgender people like access to hormones, surgeries, medical professionals who are well-versed in trans issues, etc.

Although I personally welcome the new three-year UNDP program that will provide intervention packages to vulnerable and at-risk groups including MSM and TG, I feel that the intervention packages to these two highly different groups should be separate. I hope that the NGOs working with UNDP, UNAIDS, UNFPA and other agencies working towards the Millennium Development Goal 6 of combating malaria, HIV/AIDS and other diseases will do their best to consult existing trans organizations because we can provide insight on how HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and care intersect with and impact on our being transgender. For me, a comprehensive HIV/AIDS intervention program for the trans community is one that is cognizant of the health care needs of all transpeople not only of those who are doing sex work. Therefore, such a program should be created in collaboration with the people it aims to serve, transpeople themselves. Above all such a program should put a premium on respecting gender identity, something that is sorely missing in programs that are currently in place.


Monica Roberts said...

I have the same problem with that MSM designation as well.

PinayTG said...

Me too Monica. What I notice is that when the MSM framework is used transpeople take a backseat. So competent medical care or HIV/AIDS prevention response does not reach the trans community because the MSM framework subsumes transpeople and more often than not invisibilizes them altogether. It is really time to develop distinct and separate HIV/AIDS action frameworks for these two target communities.