A different way of coming out: Young fashion designer comes out as HIV positive

Fresh from pulling out design samples at a posh retail store in upscale Makati district, a promising fashion designer is coming out. And by coming out, we don't mean his sexual preference.

“I’m Ryan. I’m HIV positive and I love myself,” declared the 26-year-old person living with HIV (PLHIV) in a cheerful tone.

In a video produced by Love Yourself, a Manila-based organization focusing on HIV education and prevention, Ryan came forward not to brave ridicules but to deliver his advocacy: to increase voice against the virus.

While he joins the rest of 11,702 Filipinos living with HIV since the first reported case in 1984 until 2012, the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde’s School of Design and Arts graduate dreams of an inclusive society where everyone can live free from prejudice and misinformation.

As recent cases show that HIV becomes widespread among younger victims, the Philippines becomes one of the only 7 remaining countries where HIV has increased by over 25%, according to UNAIDS’ 2010 Global AIDS Report.

The day he knew he’s positive

When he was about to graduate, the young Fashion Design scholar from the town of Silago in Southern Leyte thought of pursuing another talent he discovered from his internships locally and in the South East Asian region.

“In 2008, I was required to undergo a medical exam upon my enrollment… I was quite confident (of the result) when I took the medical exam. When I returned to the clinic after two days, the doctor said, "Ryan, don't be shocked... You're HIV positive,” he related.

Out of fear that he’d discover something scary out of his normal life, Ryan ignored the result and went on with what he likes most—designing—here and in the Middle East where he had a short stint as fashion designer at Chantella Haute Couture in Al Ain, a sub-city in Dubai, upon recommendation of renowned Manila and Los Angeles-based Filipino designer Rocky Gathercole.

He was however eventually forced to leave because of United Arab Emirates’ existing policy on HIV.

Four years later, Ryan met Love Yourself.

“Last year I met Ryan, who came to me seeking for help because two of his friends just passed away mysteriously, one after the other,” Chris Lagman, Ryan’s counselor, narrated.

 Growing hope towards HIV-free country      

Ryan is just one of the PLHIVs whom Love Yourself supports—from counseling to treatment. He’s now taking free ARV (anti-retroviral drugs) medication after the organization guided him through seeking treatment from the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM).

“I hope that one day, society will become more forgiving. That they will finally accept our condition so we can all live in peace,” he said in Filipino. The promising young designer also feels closer to God now: “Everytime I feel alone, nagdadasal ako. ‘God, sana hindi pa dito matapos ang lahat. Kasi marami pa kong gustong maabot, marami pa kong gustong matututunan, marami akong gustong matulungan.’”

For Chris, a brave soul like Ryan gives Love Yourself more reason to continue doing 100% volunteerism, all for the advocacy that drives the vulnerable LGBT (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender) community towards HIV-free society. “If even only one, after watching Ryan tell his story, is inspired to appreciate life a bit more, then Ryan's story would have truly become a story of victory,” Chris said.

While its first testing hub in Malate was proven a success story after reaching thousands of MSMs (men having sex with other men) over the past year alone (30% of reported HIV cases in the Philippines last year came from this tiny clinic), the organization is ramping up its efforts to handle the exponential increase in clients.

In close partnership with RITM (Department of Health’s medical research arm), the non-government organization is on its way to building the Love Yourself Anglo, its second testing facility located on Shaw Boulevard. The group has been holding various efforts to raise $35,000 to help realize the said community center. http://go.loveyourself.ph/anglo

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