amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research

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TLF Sexuality, Health and Rights Educators Collective (Makati, Philippines)

Forging stronger leadership on HIV and AIDS among MSM and transgender people

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Strategies

  • Building a national movement by strengthening grassroots capacity
  • Expanding reach by advocating with local policy makers

Working in the Philippines—a country with low HIV prevalence and no legal prohibitions on same-sex behavior—the TLF-SHARE Collective has been able to establish effective, nationally recognized programs among MSM and transgender populations to advance human rights and support HIV and AIDS prevention, care, and support. The group’s experience as an advocate of MSM and HIV and AIDS issues dates back to 1991, when some of its members began a pioneering AIDS prevention project in Manila. Today, TLF-SHARE sits on the country’s National AIDS Council and plays a significant role in the national response to HIV and AIDS.


Philippines

Representatives from community-based MSM organizations attended a training workshop to strengthen their advocacy skills. (Photo: TLF-SHARE) 

 In 2009, however, TLF-SHARE took its work in a new direction, initiating a pilot training program to build a stronger grassroots movement. TLF-SHARE began sharing what it had learned over the years with three smaller, less established, community-based MSM organizations in different areas of the Philippines. “Originally our program was focused just on training local peer educators, but now our process is more about building these groups to be local players,” said Anastacio Montero-Marasigan, TLF-SHARE’s director. “The idea is that TLF-SHARE will not be the only organization working on HIV/AIDS and human rights in this country. It’s our vision to make sure these organizations are trained to be key leaders in the Philippines.”

TLF-SHARE had already worked closely with the groups on their education and empowerment programs. The goal at this point involved intensive capacity building, providing the groups with training in project management, governance, and professional development. But “the key interest of the program is to ensure that the organizations have the capacity to engage local government,” said Mr. Montero-Marasigan. Guided by project mentors—MSM activists who have remained closely connected with each group—other seminars were offered on local governance and advocacy. Each group developed the ability to analyze governance issues and identify key actions that could help address local situations. By the end of TLF-SHARE’s training, each group had identified an advocacy agenda and determined strategies to achieve their goals.

 “Some of these local governments would be easy to work with if you can find allies in the health department or office of the mayor, but doing that can also be a challenge,” explained Mr. Montero-Marasigan. “They don’t recognize that AIDS is a problem, and they are even less aware of MSM and transgender communities. So this is the key information that a CBO has to make the government understand better. The short of it is that local government is one key challenge in AIDS prevention.”

Originally our program was focused just on training local peer educators, but now our process is more about building these groups to be local players.  

The upshot of these trainings has been a newly active political and advocacy role at the local level for the CBOs. Taking a more public position, they advocated during recent elections on behalf of candidates who supported more aggressive government action on HIV, and pushed for the development of viable and effective STI and HIV programs that would include MSM and transgender people. Increasingly they are being recognized by local authorities as lead groups in HIV and AIDS prevention.

The success of TLF-SHARE’s pilot program can be gauged in part by the fact that UNDP is supporting an expansion of the trainings with six new groups in four additional cities. But the staff at TLF-SHARE knows that progress comes slowly. “To develop community organizations in resource-challenged settings is a long-term process,” said Mr. Montero-Marasigan. “It’s important to realize that we will encounter many problems, but we should keep in mind that there’s a larger vision and purpose to the partnership.”