'Human Soul' exhibit goes to Cebu City

Ms. Bemz Benedito, the chairperson of LADLAD Party List, gives a voice to the transgender experience in the Philippines

June 5, 2011, Cebu City – “Human Soul”, a multi-media exhibit on gays and transgender Filipinos, will be launched today in Cebu City. It aims to raise the awareness and consciousness of the community on the discrimination of gay and transgender Filipinos.

An initiative of Health Action Information Network (HAIN) and The Library Foundation (TLF) Share Collective Inc., the exhibit is supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The multi-media exhibit showcases the works of journalist Sebastien Farcis and photographer Romain Rivierre, both French citizens. The launch will be held at the Cebu City Hall Lobby and will be open for public viewing until June 10. It will then move to the Alliance Francaise de Cebu at QC Pavilion along Gorordo Avenue from June 13-18.

The exhibit features seven transgender individuals, one gay man, and four people living with HIV who share their feelings, journey, experiences, fears and hopes through stories they themselves told. Their stories will give us an insight on how we can help address the issue of stigma and discrimination.

Initially, the creators of this exhibit intended to feature the Philippines as a country that is friendly and sensitive to lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender (LGBT). “Our first angle actually was about the Philippines being a safe and friendly environment for gays and lesbians, but when we conducted our interviews, we were surprised by how gays are still being maligned for being different and being denied opportunities,” Farcis said. This situation and continued apathy to fight the discrimination makes it more difficult for people living with HIV.

Mr. Renaud Meyer, the UNDP Country Director, said that “homophobia is considered one of the main obstacles in implementing HIV prevention strategies. At least 5-10% of HIV infections worldwide are estimated to occur through sex between men. In the Philippines, four out of sixreported cases of HIV each day are through same-sex transmission. Yet men who have sex with men continue to face discrimination from health-care workers, other service providers, employers and the police. Discrimination leads men who have sex with men from top avoid disclosing their sexual orientation, or reporting for HIV services. It is therefore is important that people become aware on the stigma thrown against homosexuals.”

Mr. Jerson See, the president of Cebu Plus Association Inc., an organization providing treatment, care and support to people living with HIV, said that “no one has the guts to put a face on HIV and AIDS here in Cebu because of stigma and discrimination.” Furthermore, he said that “it is the mentality of other people here that unless you see a person living with HIV and AIDS, you don’t believe that it exists.” Dr. Ilya Tac-an of the Cebu City Social Hygiene Clinic, said that for April 2011 alone, “Cebu City has a reported 29 persons living with HIV and 11of them are men having sex with men.” Current data in the Philippines show an increasing trend of HIV transmission among men having sex with men.

The exhibit was first launched in Manila at the House of Representatives in Quezon City on the eve of the International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO). On May 17, 1990, the World Health Organization (WHO) had officially removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders. This landmark decision is considered by many LGBT people as a historic step toward considering freedom of sexual orientation and sexual identity as a fundamental basic human right.

Currently, the Provincial Board of Cebu is debating an Anti-Discrimination Ordinance that prohibits employers from imposing a criterion for hiring, promotion or dismissal on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity of workers. Efforts are still ongoing to lobby for an Anti-Discrimination Ordinance in Cebu City.

CebuPlus is the local organizer of the Human Soul Exhibit. Other local Organizations involved include Bisdak Pride, Cebu City Multisectoral AIDS Council, C.O.L.O.R.S., LADLAD Party List, SEMGAB, and the Tonette Lopez Project. The exhibit will also go to Davao City, where a local ordinance criminalizing discrimination against LGBTs has already been filed. The traveling exhibit will also be held in schools and places hospitable to the LGBT community. It is part of the Government of the Philippines and the UNDP’s three-year Programme “Promoting Leadership and Mitigating the Negative Impacts of HIV and AIDS on Human Development” funded by the UNDP Philippines, UNDP Asia Pacific Regional Center, UNAIDS and the Australian government.

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