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AKLAN, Philippines – Aklanon volunteer youth and civic groups celebrated the vibrant and culturally rich Ati-atihan Festival, shining a spotlight on the LGBTQIA+ community in Kalibo town, Aklan province on Tuesday, January 16.
Local drag queens brought their inner divas to the stage and showcased unique styles and personalities, capturing the hearts of the audience at the “Ati Pride,” a drag brunch hosted by Jaycees International (JCI)-Aklan Kalantiao. The full proceeds of the event are intended to benefit the Ati indigenous community in Aklan.
Organizer Paul Robert Saladar said they aimed to rally and bring more allies to the LGBTQIA+ movement.
“Most of the members of JCI are straight. But this event taught us that we are all part of their movement. We wanted to… spark something for their endeavors,” Saladar said.
Michelle Villanueva, one of the drag artists, said the Ati Pride helped the community understand LGBTQIA+ more.
“Masaya ang puso ko na mayroon tayong ganito sa Aklan. Taos puso naming nire-render ang talent namin sa inyo. Kami-kami pa rin ang magkakasama, ang tanging nagbabago ay ang entablado,” she said.
(I am happy that we have this kind of event. We render our talent to you with sincerity. We are still together; only the stage changes.)
Organizers also opened the runway ball and dance battle for on-the-spot contestants, and those from various LGBTQIA+ organizations in the province joined them.
Free HIV tests
Meanwhile, volunteers from the American International Health Alliance (AIHA) and the Provincial Health Office (PHO) offered free Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) testing during the event.
Webster Sasis, PHO health program officer, said the number of HIV cases in Aklan as of September 2023 has reached 559, and 49 of those infected died due to the disease.
Sasis said, “17 of 49 deaths only happened in 2023.”
Based on their records, there were 40 HIV cases involving males who had engaged in same-sex from January to July 2023, with the highest number in the age group of 15 to 34 years old.
Sasis said stigma and discrimination persist as barriers to accessing HIV testing services in public hospitals and clinics.
“I encourage you to get tested, too. Being aware of your HIV status provides you with the essential information to maintain good health,” she added. – Rappler.com
Jed Nykolle Harme is an Aries Rufo Journalism fellow.