By Dominic I. Sanchez

ZAMBOANGA CITY, March 15 (PIA) – Lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgenders (LGBTs) have now become more open about their sexuality as society has been more receptive compared to some 5-10 years ago.

Edwin Abu, an educator and president of Mariposa de Zamboanga, a local LGBT organization said that in the past years, LGBTs particularly gay men are heavily stereotyped and “confined in a box.”

“Five to 10 years ago if you are gay, you can only work in a beauty parlor,” shared Abu.

Engr. Ryan Despalo, also a member of Mariposa agreed. “People were very close-minded before.”

Both said that much has changed in recent times.

“Many LGBTs today are successful professionals. We can be nurses, doctors, engineers, youth leaders, you name it,” Abu said.  

However, given these positive developments, the stigma against gays is still there.

“There are still some who look at us negatively,” Abu said.

“I observe that many people have a negative first impression with me, but that impression changes when they get to know me and what I do,” Despalo said. Aside from being an engineer, Despalo is highly engaged in community work and anti-HIV-AIDS advocacy together with Despalo and Arman Mitra, a local youth leader.

“We want to show everyone that we are not just confined in beauty parlors. Of course, we still do beautiful things, but on a wider perspective. We have a social responsibility to the communities, and we share with them information that can help them in their lives, not only to LGBTs, but to the general public,” Abu explained.

Mariposa de Zamboanga has been working with the City Health Office in promoting awareness about HIV-AIDS, and more importantly, how it can be prevented.

Statistics from the Department of Health (DOH) show that the gay community has a high incidence of HIV infection.

“But we want to reiterate that males having sex with males or MSMs are not all generally gays. There are bisexuals who are not open about their sexuality, and there are those who engage in ‘transactional’ sex, who get paid,” Abu said. “MSM is a behavior, regardless of your sexual identity.”

“The best way to avoid infection is abstinence, this is what we always say to other LGBTs. You just have to be faithful, and be very careful,” Abu said. (ALT/DIS/PIA9-Zamboanga City)