Yes, I'm gay. I probably was since the day I was born. On my 21st birthday, I sort of had my debut. I came out to my parents. A little drama from mom, and some indifference from dad. An above-average coming out. Almost perfect.

Nine years later, two weeks before my 30th birthday, I found out... I'M HIV POSITIVE.

And so my story begins... I'm BACK IN THE CLOSET.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Propping Up Positivism

I received notice from a fellow Yoga for Lifer and advocate about a meeting for which Positivism needed to be represented. Typically, it would be my boss who would be the rightful representative. But as he was overseas on vacation at the time, there seemed to be no other choice. I had no other choice but to go.

So I remember, it was a Tuesday. I took the afternoon off from work to attend the meeting. Call time was actually at 11:00 am, but I asked if I could drop in by 2:00 pm. I planned on leaving work at lunchtime, and just needed time to get to Quezon City where the meeting had been set. Luckily, they allowed my tardiness. Otherwise, I would’ve had to pass on the meeting.

I was quite nervous. I knew Positivism isn’t exactly an institution in the established HIV advocacy realm just yet. So in as much as I was told that I was there just to observe, I was expecting that I would need to give at least a backgrounder on Positivism. Yikes. It’s me again faced with public speaking. Good luck to me. But I did what I could to prepare for that possibility.

Getting there about half an hour earlier than my foreseen tardiness, I walked in and signed the attendance sheet by the door. I was pleased to see a familiar name on the list, and scanned the room to search for the face that went with it. I saw a hand wave me over, as our Yoga for Life yogi babe offered me the seat beside her. Whew… big relief to have her there.

The meeting was actually vision meeting among advocates in Metro Manila. A joint project of USAID (United States Agency for International Development), UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS), FHI (Family Health International), and APCOM (Asia Pacific Coalition on Male Sexual Health), it brought together representatives of groups and projects in Metro Manila working against HIV among MSMs, or men who have sex with men.

Manila was just one of six Asian cities being surveyed, a “City Scan” as they called it, for innovative and scalable responses against HIV among MSMs. The other 5 cities include Bangkok in Thailand, Chengdu in China, Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, Rangoon in Burma and Jakarta in Indonesia. They would be doing their own “City Scans”.

In that room that afternoon, I was in formidable company. There were representatives from the National AIDS and STI Prevention and Control Program (NASPCP) of the Department of Health (DOH), Philippine National AIDS Council (PNAC), the AIDS Society of the Philippines (ASP), Health Action Information Network (HAIN), TLF Sexuality, Health and Rights Educators Collective (TLF Share), Action for Health Initiatives (ACHIEVE), The Rainbow Rights Project, Metropolitan Community Church Quezon City (MCCQC) and Pinoy Plus or PAFPI - sorry, I confuse the two - and some other groups.

A number of groups were given time to discuss efforts they had in support of the HIV advocacy.

ASP discussed their proposed online campaign of HIV awareness among MSMs backed by financial support from the Global Fund. They would get chatting with people on some of the gay hookup sites based on certain keywords on their profile, which included BB or bareback, PNP or party-n-play, and orgy or group sex. I giggled on the side wondering if they’d chance upon my own profiles on those sites. Boy, would they be surprised at how aware I am about HIV.

ACHIEVE had a campaign bringing together the Philippine National Police, the Quezon City STD/AIDS Council, and SAMACKA, which was a union of spas, massage parlors, clubs and KTV bars. Through this collaboration, they were to encourage the at-risk group of sex workers to practice safer sex and observe better health protocols, hinged on Quezon City‘s ordinance 1053 on sexual health response. Now this one was cool.

MCCQC and Rainbow Rights Project were two groups I don’t think I’d ever heard of before. MCCQC is apparently a religious group, while Rainbow Rights Project is a sort of law firm of sorts, both of which support the LGBT sector. It was good to know that there was such a thing.

Before moving on to the next part of the agenda, as expected, they gave a little bit of time for Positivism to introduce itself. Yikes. So I gave what I had, assisted by the internet access they had at the venue. Now I need to point out again that Positivism is not a presence in that circle of advocacy just yet. So unexpectedly, but thankfully, the idea of Positivism was taken in by the group with no negativity. No concerns, no violent reactions. Whew.

So at this point, I was still in shock to be in the midst of the group. And for Positivism, Yoga for Life, and Take the Test - three efforts that I was lucky enough to be a part of - to be considered among the innovative responses against HIV, was phenomenal.

So it came time for them to move on to putting together a contingent of advocates who would be sent to the big event in Hong Kong - the coming together of all the scans of innovative practices in the six cities represented in the study.

The Philippine contingent would have 9 slots available. Representatives from government were to be given three slots, representing NASPCP, QCSAC and PNAC. The rest would be split among the five identified fields of attack. “Strategic Information” would be represented by HAIN, “supportive interventions” by TLF Share, “Enabling Environments” by ACHIEVE, “Treatment, Care and Support” by the positive community, either Pinoy Plus or PAFPI, and “Prevention” by ASP.

Hmmm, that left one slot. I felt safe, since Positivism wasn’t represented or barely heard of in the group until that day, which was the last meeting. Plus Positivism isn’t exactly an effort targeted specifically towards MSMs. But of course, things don’t ever go as expected.

Positivism got in. They chose to give us another slot under the “Prevention” cluster, partially in consideration that it was an effort spearheaded by someone from the private sector. I was in disbelief. Too bad my yogi babe was no longer there to slap me silly that it was really happening.

Within the week, I needed to meet up again with the Philippine consultant of the program to give him everything he needed to know about Positivism so he could put us into his report. Again, I was the default since my boss was still out of town. That was again another moment of awkward speaking for me, which was thankfully helped out by a relaxed atmosphere in a casual venue.

It was a long, but less structured interview. But for me it was really an impromptu thing. It was good to hear feedback too from the consultant about Positivism. He found it remarkable how we are able to work without funding, relying only on collaborations in terms of efforts and services we would need. And hearing how existing advocacies could benefit from the tone Positivism takes in its messages and information was huge.

And in the weeks that followed, we then needed to figure out who would represent Positivism in Hong Kong. My boss was considering shouldering his own expenses just so we’d both be there. Actually, it would really just be either him or me.

But things can and will go wrong. Upon checking, I realized my passport needed renewal. I tried getting an appointment with the DFA for that, but the earliest slot available would fall on the exact week of the Hong Kong event. Funny, huh? Oi. Either fortunately or unfortunately, my boss would have to go to Hong Kong for Positivism. It’s fine with me. But it would’ve really been a great opportunity, too.

So there. Baby steps and all, Positivism now officially has its foot in the HIV advocacy door. Not that we’d stop doing what we do otherwise, but still way cool. The perfect way to wrap up another year of Positivism.


Ming Meows said...

nang dahil lang sa passport? sayang naman. and it's interesting to know that your office works without funding.

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