On Becoming an Ally

By Andyleen Feje, HIV Response Analyst

May 17, 2023


More than three decades after the World Health Organization (WHO) declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder, persons of diverse sexual orientation, gender identities and expression (SOGIE) still face stigma and prejudice today. The stigma and prejudice have led to discrimination and exclusion that have adversely impacted the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex (LGBTQI) people and the communities they are part of. According to the Psychological Association of the Philippines (2020), these are often manifested through bullying and harassment especially among children and adolescents, misrepresentation of LGBTQI in the media, and denial of rights to economic opportunities and employment.


Barriers and Safeguards

Up to date, a total of 67 countries still criminalize same-sex relations; This renders millions of women-loving women, gay men, and bisexual people in fear of openly expressing their love and affection. Transgender individuals are at-risk of punishment and face unprecedented levels of violence in at least 14 countries just by expressing themselves. In 2019, the passing of the Republic Act No. 11313: An Act Defining Gender-Based Sexual Harassment in Streets, Public Spaces, Online, Workplaces, and Educational or Training Institutions, Providing Protective Measures and Prescribing Penalties Therefor marked a significant milestone in the gender equality advocacy. This national policy provides a safeguard against gender-based sexual harassment, which includes transphobic and homophobic harassment among the prohibited acts. The Safe Spaces Act along with the domestic policies like the Magna Carta of Women, the Anti-Child Abuse Law, and the Philippine HIV and AIDS Policy Act have been instrumental in responding to gendered gaps and concerns.


Persons of Diverse SOGIE and HIV

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has dedicated its efforts and resources to actions that reduce inequalities and social exclusion. The core goals of UNDP in its health response are i) the promotion of effective and inclusive governance for health and ii) the building of resilient and sustainable systems for health. In the Philippines, among these efforts are responses to HIV/AIDS concerns.  

UNDP, along with the UNAIDS and other agencies, is committed to ensuring the no one is left behind. Based on the HIV/AIDS & ART Registry of the Philippines (HARP) published by the Epidemiology Bureau of the Department of Health (DOH-EB) in November 2022, the number of HIV-positive reported cases in the country has reached a total of 108,428 since January 1984. Sexual contact especially among males who reported having sex with another male remains the largest mode of transmission (89% for January-November 2022). 


UNDP Initiatives

Currently, the UNDP has two (2) ongoing studies in regions 3 and IV-CALABARZON. First is the Regional Commitments and Policy Instrument (RCIP), which provides analysis of local government unit’s (LGU) policy information with other relevant data to inform national HIV responses and present recommendations for a more enabling legal and policy environments. Second is the Regional AIDS Spending Assessment (RASA) which provides an accounting and assessment of how LGUs’ finance, provide, and consume HIV-related programs and activities. 

These two (2) studies were also conducted in the National Capital Region (RASA). Results of the RCPI and RASA in NCR revealed that HIV key populations (viz., men who have sex with men, transgender women, people who inject/use drugs and people who engage in transactional sex) are consistently underfunded and the largest portion of the HIV budget is dedicated to the general population while some laws impeded the funding of key population (such as Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Drug Acts, which criminalizes a range of acts related to substance abuse, and which resulted to low proportion of HIV funds for interventions and programs that could address both HIV epidemic and substance abuse among persons who inject/use drug.) 

As a complementary effort, UNDP is also currently developing a Leadership and Governance that aims to contribute to strengthening HIV/AIDS response and mechanisms towards a more responsive programming, implementation, and funding among LGUs. Through this, UNDP has mapped LGBTQI and pro-LGBTQI groups as potential UNDP partners in advocating and funding gender-responsive HIV response. 

Finally, among the most significant initiatives of UNDP is the development and implementation of the Massive Open Online Course on HIV. The MOOC on HIV hopes to empower the LGUs by educating them to develop their own HIV local investment plans and draft HIV ordinances and contribute to the 95-95-95 global HIV target goals (i.e., 95% of all people living with HIV to know their HIV status, 95% of all people with diagnosed HIV infection to receive sustained antiretroviral therapy, and 95% of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy to have viral suppression by 2030). 

To date, the MOOC is institutionalized in the Local Government Academy’s (LGA) learning management platform, allowing all LGUs nationwide to access the modules. Also, an added value to the whole course is the integration of a module on “Becoming an LGBT Ally” which focuses on unlocking SOGIE concepts, understanding stigma and discrimination, discussing how to be allies, and suggesting best practices on how to be more gender-sensitive and LGBTQI-inclusive. As this is a stand-alone module, everyone who is interested can access this for free through the e-learning platform of Prevo Design x Innovation, the partner firm of UNDP in developing the MOOC. This module on Becoming an LGBT Ally also offers Filipino Sign Language translation in the video materials developed in partnership with De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde School of Deaf Education and Applied Studies.


What Lies Ahead

Notwithstanding the advances in the past years, UNDP understands that the LGBTQI community is still confronted by discrimination and even violence today. 

In the Philippines, the most recent case of Cindy Torres, a transwoman who was brutally murdered on August 4, 2021, is among the most publicized hate crimes against the LGBTQI Filipinos. There is still a lack of quantitative data, as well as a comprehensive legislation that will ensure protection the LGBTQI community in the Philippines. 

The SOGIE Bill has also not been passed into a law after almost two (2) decades. A lot of work awaits. 

Hence, UNDP Philippines calls for support of the civil society organizations, the private sector, and the national and local governments in collectively addressing these gaps. 

As today marks the 19th year of the celebration of the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, with the theme “Together Always: United in Diversity,” let us recommit in creating venues and safe spaces where the LGBTQI are heard, and where their issues and concerns are raised and addressed. 

Becoming an ally should be a bare minimum. Together let us multiply our efforts and initiatives and let them pave the way for a more inclusive and transformative social change. [E]


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