The conversation surrounding HIV will never be over. Even in the (hopefully not far-off) future when a cure for the virus exists, HIV and AIDS will always be remembered as a dark and trying time for the LGBTQ community and other pockets of the global population.
In the Philippines, HIV cases have been on the rise for the past decade, but a new publication has made it its mission to educate Filipinos about the virus and curb its spread by spreading information and sex-positivity. The premiere issue of GLU was distributed this week to HIV testing clinics across the country's capital of Manila and is a free bilingual source to raise awareness about the virus and other realities facing the local queer community. Publisher Paolo Lorenzana spoke with Out about the landmark publication and the void it fills.
OUT: What is the history of GLU? Where did the idea for something like this come from and how did it come together?
Paolo Lorenzana: It was time for a magazine that really stood for solidarity in our local queer community. Whatever journey you're on as a gay man, whether you're out and proud, discreet, someone who's HIV-positive, or someone who's on PrEP, there should be a safe, tangible space for you to tell your story.
We've been publishing TEAM, a magazine for gay Filipino men, since 2015 and used that to show the heights a homosexual could reach in society as a response to mass media's frequent depiction of gays as comedic caricatures. GLU (Gays Like Us) strives to be more open and accessible. The "us" isn't meant to otherize, but to engage and listen openly to whomever is telling their story. Rather than immediately dismiss someone whose characteristics are viewed as negative, whether because they're femme or closeted, we invite you to get to know them better and gain appreciation for who they are.
What is the mission of GLU?
We want to make the conversation about gay sex casual and celebratory. We encourage people to be open to various truths when it comes to sex, including one's HIV status. This is why we teamed up with LoveYourself, an organization that's been very active in HIV awareness, counseling, and testing. GLU is available for free across numerous LoveYourself branches across Metro Manila.
Disco Pop Artist RV Mendoza for GLU
What were some of the obstacles GLU faced getting off the ground?
Some of GLU's challenges were challenges that the entire industry faces. In the past two years we've seen so many prominent lifestyle publications fold. Advertising money has been funneled into brands' digital initiatives and we've had to pinpoint the type of content readers want to see and that online engagement advertisers are looking for.
We're passionate about sex positivity and kicking various types of shaming to the curb with a drag queen's heel. Blued, a gay social app out of China, has been especially helpful in this regard - they bankrolled our web shows and the printing costs of GLU.
The features inside the magazine also posed their own challenges. One beautiful editorial, shot by photographer Regine David, captures a real-life couple having sex to ejaculation. Translated from Filipino, the piece is entitled "Just For Us" as a sort of wink shared between the lovers as a reassurance that what they have is so special it's worth sharing. And that's what I see gay sex as. I belive we should be at a point where we celebrate it. I was afraid people would misinterpret the shoot as gratuitous porn, but I think that as long as we can appreciate the truth of an act many gay men enjoy, we can more easily talk about other truths associated with it.
Why do you think a magazine like this is important in Manila and the Philippines?
While HIV cases reported worldwide have gone down, there's been an alarming increase in new HIV cases in the Philippines. The last report I read noted a 3,147% increase since 2007. Local organizations that spread awareness like LoveYourself and The Red Whistle have launched campaigns that have made information and testing available across the country, but it's not enough. Various avenues have to be exhausted, and talking about HIV needs to continue so that people see the virus as a preventable, survivable reality.
While GLU isn't dedicated solely to producing information about HIV, it's certainly not shy about talking about real sexual experiences, including stories by and about people living with HIV. In our first issue we try to make this more relatable through a comic following an HIV-positive guy who's anxious about revealing his status. We also spoke with a man whose sex life has evolved since the advent of PrEP. Hopefully, the more diverse and thoughtful we are when approaching sex will make our readers that much less hesitant about doing the same.
What has GLU's reception been like?
Here in the Philippines Gay Twitter includes this phenomenon called the Alter Community where men conceal their identities and freely post videos of themselves embracing their sexuality, or as a kind of way to hook up. Some Alter guys with big followings came across the magazine when getting tested and have commended it for offering an "open-minded" outlet in the media. Art and design folks have commented on the magazine's refreshing straightforwardness, and people who condemned TEAM as myopic and focused on middle class experiences have been pleasantly surprised by the accessibility of GLU.
What's next for GLU?
We're looking for more opportunities to get the community to come together and there'll be a lot of that during Pride month. I grew up frustrated by the lack of Filipino role models who were out and proud, so this June we're working on an event where LGBT bigwigs mentor queer youth through a series of talks that discuss harnessing the power of Pride.