Fighting the stigma against LGBTs and HIV through art

Annika Herico, Pocholo Espina

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Fighting the stigma against LGBTs and HIV through art
The exhibit, hosted by LoveYourself, uses art as a positive campaign to fight the stigma on HIV/AIDS and uplift the morale of the LGBTQI community. It is open for public viewing until June 30, 2016 at Pineapple Lab

MANILA, Philippines — LoveYourself Inc, one of the country’s leading non-government organization on HIV awareness and testing, welcomed Pride Month 2016 by celebrating the artistic works of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI) artists from all over the country hoping to express themselves equally like the rest of society.

The event used art as a positive campaign to fight the stigma on HIV/AIDS and uplift the morale of the LGBTQI community. It was launched on the eve of Independence Day on Saturday, June 11, because, aside from kicking off Pride Month, organizers wanted to send a message of freedom for all Filipinos regardless of sexuality.

In the exhibit, two LGBTQI artists showed how their frustrations have become more than sources of inspiration. It became messages of freedom and platforms for raising HIV awareness

Liberty for the LGBTQI

Tokwa Peñaflorida, 26, moved from his usual works of dreamlike illustration of women to express his rebellion and fight against the stigma on the LGBT community.

“We (are perceived to) have the same profile of being a beautician, being hit on the head or the comic relief. But I want to show that we’re more than that. The only difference that sets us apart from the society is our sexual preference. And there’s nothing more,” Peñaflorida said in mix of Filipino and English.  

Despite the country’s tolerant image, discrimination against the LGBT community is common in the predominantly Catholic nation.

In a viral video interview by Bilang Pilipino, even then senatorial candidate Manny Pacquiao described couples in same-sex marriage as “people who are worse than animals.” Even President Benigno Aquino III questioned if same-sex marriage is “something that is desirable in an environment for a child?”

This view against the LGBTQI community is shared by 65% of Filipinos who found homosexuality “morally unacceptable,” according to a 2013 study conducted by Pew Research Center. 

This stigma against the LGBT community is what Peñaflorida is trying to fight. Before he became a freelance artist, Peñaflorida worked in the advertising industry. The demands of the job deprived him from creating his own art which drove him to quit his job in order to preserve the honesty and integrity in his work.

After 2 years, he ventured into art. Recently, he delved into the field of male erotica.   

One of his artworks zoomed in on the portrayal of the lives lived by gay men. Using graphite and acrylic on archival paper, he showed a masculine man, in his vulnerable state, doing everyday things.

Tokwa described these drawings as very raw and very real. In fact, this is exactly how Tokwa wants the LGBT community to be perceived. He reinforced the idea that the existence of LGBT is normal and that they live normal lives too.

EXPRESSION. Tokwa Peñaflorida shows one of his Cheap Motel Stories, 'Dear V.' Photo by Annika Herico/ Rappler

His vision for the LGBT community is simple: for them to be seen not only as capable and functioning people but more importantly, people who can rise above the stigma.

Using his art not only as an avenue for artistic impression, he also tackled under-represented subjects such as the male erotica.

Relating his own struggle as an artist in a structured work environment, Tokwa does not want tolerance but rather acceptance for the LGBT. He wanted to liberate himself and the community from the constraints of society.

Positive on being HIV positive

A representative of Niccolo Cosme, 36, Anthony Falcon emphasized how the former’s works are geared towards treating People Living with HIV (PLHIV) as normal people, who can function as normal members of society.

Incorporating blood from a PLHIV in his artwork, he hoped to convey the message that being tested positive does not reduce a person’s worth. 

In the first 3 months of 2016, DOH reported around 2,291 new HIV infections – 24% higher than the same period last year, and the trend is not slowing down.

According to experts, the problem with HIV/AIDS in the Philippines is that people don’t want to get tested. There are many factors that hinder people from doing so but according to the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies, the stigma attached to the disease is the biggest concern that hinders both diagnosis and treatment.

“These are photographs that are stained with HIV positive blood. You won’t be infected. The value of these pictures and artworks are still the same. He/ She will still be able to benefit society and serve a purpose whether he/she is positive or negative. He/She is still human, and is still there as a person, able to serve. You are still functional. You won’t contract the disease even if you hold it or hug it,” Falcon said.

POSITIVE. Niccolo’s Furorem with HIV positive blood. Photo by Annika Herico

Because he grew up gay in an intensely Catholic family, Cosme’s work has been centered on religious iconography.  

This brought his advocacy forward of treating PLHIV as normal people, who can still serve the community and belong.

Peñaflorida and Cosme were only two of the many artists featured during LoveYourself’s event, Pride Night: An Art and Dance Show Collaboration.

LoveYourself executive director Ronivin Pagtakhan emphasized that, “in defying these societal cancers, fresher interventions have to be devised, such as this art event, that will break into the consciousness of the people by integrating and contextualizing messages about our common aspirations to win the hearts of more people without being aggressive about it.

The exhibit is open for public viewing until June 30 at the Pineapple Lab, 6071 Palma St., Makati CIty. About 20% of the proceeds from the sale of the artworks will be used to fund LoveYourself’s activities to strengthen the cause on HIV awareness and testing. – 

Pocholo Espina is a BS Health Science student from the Ateneo de Manila University. Annika Herico is an AB Communication student from the same university. Both are Rappler interns.

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