I was first diagnosed with HIV last August 2013 and have been undergoing treatment for almost nine months. I had sex once without using protection and that one instance completely changed my life. I was shocked when I found out – in complete denial, then suicidal. I could not imagine how my friends would react if they knew. But amidst all the fear and pain, the question that immediately came to my mind was: “My family? Do I need to tell them?”
In the end, the first person I told was my mother. I still remember her reaction: she was devastated. During my “confession”, many questions were asked – how, when and where had I acquired HIV? I said I’d got it by having sex with my boyfriend without protection, and then I gave her some basic information about HIV to help her understand.
Stigma and discrimination
Despite all the uncertainties, I have not lost hope. I am a man who has sex with men. I have the same sexual rights as everyone else to live free from coercion, discrimination, and violence related to my sexual orientation. I have the right to pursue a safe, satisfying, and pleasurable sex life, and to have the highest attainable standard of health. But it isn’t easy to claim these rights. I have friends who are in the same situation as me, but they are scared to come out about their condition because of the stigma and discrimination directed against people living with HIV.
Many people here think that HIV is an airborne virus. This makes them scared of interacting with people living with HIV. We need to change these misconceptions through comprehensive sexuality education, which in turn, would help decrease rising rates of HIV in the Philippines, particularly among young people.
An advocate for change
My experience has inspired me to be an advocate and peer educator to raise awareness on the issue, especially among those who are vulnerable. So, I decided to take a Bachelor’s Degree in Secondary Education, because being a teacher gives me a way to champion adolescent sexual and reproductive health and rights, and improve HIV-AIDS awareness.
Being a member of Amnesty Philippines and campaigning for sexual and reproductive rights with fellow youth activists in the country continues to motivate me. We campaign for LGBT rights, for better access to reproductive health services and for better HIV/AIDS awareness. Recently, I attended Amnesty’s global training of trainers on sexual and reproductive rights, where I learned skills I can apply to my HIV and AIDS advocacy work. Next year, Amnesty Philippines youth activists are leading an exciting campaign on the implementation of the Philippines’ 2014 Reproductive Health Law, which gives universal access to contraception, sexuality education and maternal health care. I’m really looking forward to being a part of that.
Living with HIV has been an emotional rollercoaster for me. I went through many stages – anger, depression – before I completely accepted myself as a person living with HIV. I still get depressed, but I know I have to keep my mood up so that my blood count stays healthy.
My friends from Amnesty and the Family Planning Organization of the Philippines continue to support me all the way. I’m lucky to have a lot of people with me, holding my hand and helping me stand strong.
Marvin Ted Membreve is an Amnesty International sexual and reproductive rights activist and LGBT advocate in the Philippines. He is also a peer educator for the Family Planning Organization of the Philippines, Inc.
The stigma associated with HIV/AIDS happens everywhere. It’s one of the many issues we are tackling through My Body My Rights, Amnesty’s global campaign on sexual and reproductive rights. Right now, in South Africa, pregnant and new mothers living in poverty and with HIV face huge obstacles to getting health care. Find out how you can help remove those barriers.