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.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

You and the Youth

Last March 12th was unlike any Saturday. While there was a Yoga for Life session, I was excused because I was to be one of YFL’s representatives to a major major activity of another of the HIV NGOs. Youth AIDS Filipinas Alliance or YAFA was launching its latest awareness campaign. Entitled the I Am Positive campaign, it was brilliant because the heavens know the thought of such a concept had crossed my mind already before. And to see it, albeit not my own doing, made me think, “Damn, brilliant!”

So Saturday morning, I was on my way to Manila Grand Opera Hotel, the venue of the event. I had it all planned out, having searched for its exact location, mapping my route, plotting my schedule. But I needed to make drastic changes to my travel at the last minute, as non-operational LRT stations botched my plans. Ergo, I was late. Well, not so bad, just about 10 minutes. So I guess you can say I was fashionably late.

Getting there, I saw some familiar faces. A long-time-no-see pozzie friend, Juan dela Cruz, greeted me as I entered. Saw a number of YAFA peeps, who I’d gotten acquainted with as fellow Yoga for Lifers. A number of other people I knew from other NGOs and government agencies. Even the UNICEF lady who E and I worked with for the Power Of You campaign in Subic and Cebu was there.

Checking out the programme, a number of other familiar faces would be there. Performing would be Nyoy Volante and my ever favorite Kung-Ako-Na-Lang-Sana girl, Bituin Escalante. Whoa. Not bad. Not bad at all.

I knew Congressman Revilla was to be guest of honor. I had been jokingly wondering which Revilla it was. I swear, I didn’t know. Tina Revilla? Not exactly the politician type. Bong Revilla? Isn’t he a senator now? Jolo Revilla? He’s too busy with showbiz. I jokingly wondered if it was Lani Mercado-Revilla. Sure enough, it was. She never struck me as a Revilla, because she was always known as Lani Mercado.

I didn’t know that she was into HIV issues. I was told she was an advocate, rightfully so since she is mother to confirmedly sexually active kids. If we recall, her son Jolo sired a son with the daughter of Rosanna Roces, out of wedlock and at such a young age. And then her other child, a daughter, was pregnant at age 16. Hmm. Sounded good, if only she wasn’t feeling important enough to be more than an hour late for the event. Oh well. Might be Noynoy’s fault for banning the indiscriminate use of sirens.

So anyways, the event began late still without Ms. Revilla, with speeches from the head of YAFA, and representatives of UNICEF and UNFPA going ahead. I think the most common thing about all the speeches were the reason behind the campaign. Statistics saying the Philippines is one of only seven countries with an alarming rise in HIV cases were cited as reasons. I don’t know. For me, the rising rates still just say that more people are having the guts to get tested, which isn’t exactly a bad thing.

Up next, another huge part of the event, was the launch of YAFA’s Youth Ambassadors. Consisting of individuals in their 20s and below, this was a group that would be roaming the Philippines to spread education and awareness on HIV issues to their fellow youths.

A hefty group of seventeen, it was astoundingly a mixed group. Genders? Males and females. Sexual orientations? Straight, gay and bi. Regions? Metro Manila, Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. At-risk groups? MSM (men who have sex with men), IDU (injecting drug users) and F/MSW (sex workers). HIV statuses? Positive and negative. Just really all sorts were represented in the 17 individuals. I guess the only common thing was that they were all youths. Precisely, Youth Ambassadors.

Finally, the time came for Congresswoman Revilla to take the podium. She started off well, citing the reason for her concern, and using her own kids as examples. But then her speech took a turn… for the worse. As she bombarded us with statistics and research, I noticed she began delving into data about condoms being ineffective, condoms having holes bigger than the HIV virus, and condoms encouraging promiscuity. I needed to refresh myself, what event was this again?

In a while, she made it clear. She was against the Reproductive Health Bill, and was going the path of promoting an Abstinence-Only campaign. So what in hell’s name was she doing here? I have no idea.

Seriously, Ms. Revilla? Are you not aware that at least two of your own children have taken the risk? Have you even had them tested for HIV? Don’t tell me that a condom appeared in their dreams and persuaded them to have sex? Oi, you’ve been starring in too many fictional stories… or maybe had too many doses of anesthetics.

At the end of her speech, I did not clap. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one who reacted violently. I know at least one other person wanted to speak to her before she left. But she didn’t accept the confrontation, asking the person to e-mail his thoughts to her. Yes, she left the event right after lunch, missing out on the open forum. I smelled the fear. Anywho, as the good congresswoman fled, so did the antagonism.

So instead, the concerns with her speech were flung at the Youth Ambassadors at the open forum, to which they answered that they would still be promoting all forms of awareness and education on prevention measures, condoms and all. That was good to hear.

While sadly not all of the seventeen Youth Ambassadors were there, it was a good representation. There was a performer, a pharmacist, a nurse, and a med student among the eight who were there.

I guess my biggest concern with the Youth Ambassadors would be how committed and capable they are to live the I Am Positive campaign. I do know one Ambassador chose against joining the press conference/open forum because he wasn’t ready for or into that sort of thing. He was also concerned about his fellow Ambassadors who were disclosing their HIV statuses. Hmm. What’s an ambassador supposed to do again?

And the two of them there who disclosed their HIV positive statuses seemed they were still dealing with a lot of their own personal issues. It seemed that getting onto the advocacy bandwagon was their way of coping. Now I’m not saying that it’s illegal to be all emo and teary about being HIV positive, but then I wished they came across as more prepared and ready, and committed to saying with conviction “I AM POSITIVE” in all senses of the statement.

I regret that no one thought this up back when I was still classified as “youth”. Hehehe. Sans the Revilla incident, I can say the event was a success. This was, after all, just the beginning of the campaign. The real work comes as they face their peers around the country, and only then can we judge the success of the campaign, if indeed they spark a new generation of advocates in the Youth Ambassadors and the people they will reach. Congratulations YAFA!

You can learn more about YAFA and the Youth Ambassadors on their website and you can also find them on Facebook.

1 comment:

Ming Meows said...

sana di na lang sya (Lani) dumating. Sana si Cong. Edcel Lagman na lang, yung sponsor ng RH Bill.