From Jonas Bagas. Please take the time to read. This is important.
A growing HIV epidemic is threatening our community.
I do not intend to pit HIV against other equally legitimate LGBT issues, such as same sex marriage or CBCP’s bigotry. But the epidemic demands our urgent action and our immediate attention . We need to act because no one else will until we do; we need to care because our solidarity and compassion are most needed now.
HIV is largely a hidden epidemic, and its scope will remain invisible until people undergo voluntary HIV testing and counseling. But the numbers that we are seeing are enough to give us a picture of what’s happening: more and more Filipino gays, bisexuals, other males who have sex with males (MSM), and transgenders (TGs) are getting infected with HIV. The prevalence has already reached more than 2% for our community, according to a survey that was done early 2011, though it is much higher in NCR, Cebu and Davao. 205 out of the 268 new cases that were reported last December – the highest in history – were due to unprotected male-to-male sex. That’s 7 new HIV cases a day that could be attributed to unprotected male-to-male sex. One could crudely assume that at least 7 MSM and TGs get infected everyday. (Download the December 2011 HIV and AIDS Registry)
Cold facts, but it doesn’t become real until it becomes personal. 2011 for me started with a number of friends getting tested positive. 2012 began with a news that a friend died months earlier, the circumstances pointing to an illness that cannot be named. He was the sixth person that I know who died because of AIDS-related diseases last year, the third in his own barkada. His was yet another case of late diagnosis. Like his other friends, once he started getting sick he simply disappeared and hid in his province. Within the community you’d hear nervous murmurings of friends or friends of friends who succumbed to the illness, their deaths swallowed by stigma and silence.
Yet we know that this shouldn’t be the case. HIV is preventable. There is no cure, but it is not a death sentence. I know that some of us feel uncomfortable talking about it, afraid that this would further discrimination and stigma. But our community is already stigmatized, and silence would only fuel the fear that has made it easy for the epidemic to fester. Silence would neither cure the stigma nor stop the virus.
Our best defense against the epidemic is our own community. We are, in a sense, each other’s family. While the love of our own family is irreplaceable, when love or understanding is difficult to find in our own homes, we find comfort and joy in the company of gay, bisexual, and transgender friends, from people like us, from our lesbian friends, from wonderful women – and men- in our midst. We are fellow travelers, our kinship strengthened by the reality that the journeys that we take are oftentimes not understood by many.
We take pride in our own resilience and strength – how we’ve confronted bullying in schools by striving to excel, how we’ve used our wit and diversity for our unique creations. We are brothers and sisters in this regard. We are known to fight back, to keep our heads high even when we’re deeply wounded, even when we feel alone.
But now we need that strength to care for each other. We actually know how we can stop the virus. We know that most cases are due to unprotected sex, and thus we need to teach ourselves how to practice safer sex. We know that treatment can save lives, and therefore knowing your status is important before it’s too late. We know that when necessary – and it will reach that point – those who have tested positive should get into treatment and other services that they would need for their entire lifetime.
Fear, however, oftentimes trumps evidence. Fear has gripped the lives of those who suddenly found the virus in their midst – there are those who feel that they lost their lust for life after knowing their status, that dark denial of life. I can never approximate how hard and how life-changing it must be to be HIV positive, but I am constantly inspired by stories from poz friends who affirm that life goes on, that life actually gets better, and that there are ways to make it better.
There will always be those who’d peddle fear as the solution to HIV, and we must be one in rejecting their doctrine. They would blame us, point to our ‘lifestyle’, and deny our existence: they would claim that their religion of fear is the only way to stop HIV. But we know what works and what doesn’t, and fear would only create the climate that would make it easy for the epidemic to explode.
Fear undermines our capacity to fight back. It creates an illusion, a source of false comfort for some, that this is a battle between those who are positive and those who are negative when in truth this is between us and the epidemic. We are actually all living with HIV. The sooner we realize that, the sooner we’d discover that with our collective strength, with our imagination and vast capacity for laughter, we shall prevail.
PLUS: Scared to take the test? If it could be of any help--here's how I went through it.