Free To Be U brings HIV awareness and support at this year’s Pride PH Festival

Every person deserves to live a life where they are free to be themselves. This Pride Month, the Free To Be U campaign made its way to this year’s Pride Festival in the Philippines “Love Laban 2 Everyone” through a booth dedicated to HIV awareness. The event was held at Quezon City Memorial Circle last June 22, 2024, Saturday.

Free To Be U is an initiative brought together by Maintaining Epidemic Control (EpiC Philippines), a project supported by the President of the United States’ Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) implemented by FHI360. Its Pride booth aimed to destigmatize HIV and encourage HIV prevention, testing, and treatment through, an online appointment booking system that makes these services safer and more accessible. Pride marchers and attendees were invited to learn more about HIV through booth games, take home resources and HIV awareness materials like flyers, and book their ​health ​appointments through a provided QR code.

“Hindi ko alam na ganun pala, na sobrang daming mali sa alam ng tao tungkol sa HIV,” said a festival goer after playing the booth’s trivia game on HIV myths. “Kailangan talaga magkaroon ng awareness tungkol sa HIV para ma-realize ng ibang tao na pwede naman palang mamuhay ng normal kahit may HIV ka.”

(“I didn’t know it was like that that there is so much misinformation about HIV. There really needs to be better awareness about HIV so that people can realize that it’s still possible to live a normal life even with HIV.”)

The booth was manned by Free to Be U!’s “Free to Be Youth” volunteers—the next generation of queer leaders and allies who work together to find solutions and tackle the HIV epidemic in the Philippines​ particularly for young people​. The youth leaders also participated in the Pride march.

“The rising number of HIV cases among youth aged 15-24 years old is very alarming. There needs to be representation of these young people not just in raising awareness, but even in the management of the overall HIV response in the Philippines,” said Ed Bagasol, Community Engagement Officer of EpiC Philippines and the current project lead for the “Free to Be Youth” ​program​​   .​ “We have so many youth leaders who are competent enough to engage in political discussions where they can influence programs and policies that could change the game in responding to the epidemic.”

“HIV in the Philippines is a pressing issue that affects a significant portion of our young and queer population,” said Teresita Bagasao, EpiC Philippines’ Project Director. “The good news is HIV information and services can easily be made accessible to young people through social media campaigns like Free to Be U as well as online ​service booking platforms like​.”

“Advancements in medical technology allow for this, and we as a society owe it to our young people, especially those living with HIV, to make it available to them so that they can be free to be themselves and lead happy and healthy lives,” Bagasao added.

“Love Laban 2 Everyone” marks the third Pride PH Festival in Quezon City and is the largest Pride celebration in Asia. According to the Quezon City local government, this year’s event drew in over 200,000 visitors, including LGBTQIA+ and youth organizations, local government partners, advocates and volunteers, as well as members of the queer community both here and abroad.

The festival highlighted the Pride Expo, which featured booths of partner organizations, sponsors, and LGBTQIA+-run businesses for attendees to engage with, and the Pride March, which this year included two routes that converged into one, symbolizing the community coming together and uniting in the spirit of diversity and equality.