Bench Ortiz, a fitness coach, became an HIV advocate in his running for Mr. Gay World Philippines 2016, where he placed first runner-up. Working in the fitness industry, he has heard a lot of stories from clients who have HIV. He thought he needed to help them to the most of his capability. Furthermore, he also had some coworkers die of HIV-related complications. This sparked his interest in joining the HIV advocacy.
What is the biggest challenge in ending HIV?
“I think we still lack awareness. We need to educate the general population about HIV, so people would know that it’s okay [to be HIV positive] and teach them that they can still live the life that they want.”
Bench cites that many Filipinos are still plagued by myths and misconceptions about HIV and AIDS. These carry over to further stigmatize people living with HIV (PLHIV) as well as those simply getting tested for HIV. Bench feels this is especially relevant for those who have been diagnosed to be HIV positive, as they are amongst the most affected in the general population. Today, different HIV advocacy groups continue to show and provide support for PLHIVs.
What is the strongest weapon we have to combat the HIV Crisis in the Philippines?
“I think our best weapon is social media because everybody can pull out their phone and check their social media. So I think it’s our best way to teach everybody about our advocacy.”
Bench emphasizes the need for HIV advocates to continuously reach out and educate the public about HIV and AIDS. Alongside the correct information, HIV advocacy groups have worked on innovative and engaging social media campaigns in their numerous events that uphold the importance of routinely getting tested for HIV, and empowering and non-stigmatizing dialogue.
“Love is connected to acceptance. If we accept people and we are accepted by people surrounding us, especially when it comes to people living with HIV, I think that’s the connection in terms of HIV awareness.”
Bench is excited for the Love Gala as it celebrates one of his passions in life: HIV awareness.
On December 1, we celebrate World AIDS Day in a special way. At the Love Gala in the BGC Arts Center, we can band together in support of ending the HIV and AIDS crisis of the Philippines with part of the proceeds going towards awareness efforts for the cause.
Attendees can expect to join a gathering of exceptional social advocates, influential people, game changers, artists, high fashion designers, and celebrities led by Miss Universe 2015 and UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador for Asia and the Pacific, Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach. Asia's Songbird Regine Velasquez-Alacasid will be performing live together with a star-studded lineup including Morissette Amon, Wency Cornejo, Radha, Audie Gemora, Shiela Valderrama, Phi Palmos, Nicole Asensio, Polly Cabrera, and other surprise guests.