Make Your Voice Count

Taking it forward - PLHIV and LGBTIQ communities lead the COVID-19 response in South Korea: Sung-Uk So (So-Ju), South Korea

By Tharindi Devasurendra – Monday, December 17, 2020

The world is now being swept by waves of fear and unrest as the global pandemic continues to take the world by storm. As countries try to articulate their life around the virus safely, many underprivileged and marginalized communities continue to be left behind. In these trying times, many activists have stepped up in their advocacy and activism to help and uphold human rights in the response to COVID-19. Sung-Uk So (So-ju), who is deeply involved in LGBTIQ activism in his country South Korea, is one of these activists working tirelessly through the upheavals of the pandemic. So-ju works for an organization called CommunityR, a nest where young People Living with HIV (PLHIV) share their worries and hurts and support each other. CommunityR strives to promote the human rights of those living with HIV and those belonging to the LGBTIQ sector.

In his home country of South Korea, So-ju shares that the spread of COVID-19 has been deeply associated with and blamed on the LGBTIQ community. Take for instance an outbreak that occurred at a night club in Itaewon, Seoul in early May. Following the outbreak, South Korea has experienced a marked increase in online threats and discrimination against LGBTIQ people, especially gay men. In light of this, HIV and AIDS human rights groups and sexual minority human rights groups in South Korea gathered to form the QUEER Action Against COVID-19. So-ju and his organization were one of many who stepped up to battle this hate from the public.

Moreover, as COVID-19 was particularly fatal to people and communities with social disadvantages (in economic, social, and cultural aspects), human rights groups, including Youth PLHIV Community of Korea ‘R’, formed the Network of Human Rights Groups to Respond to COVID-19 which produced guidelines on how human rights principles should be observed in society and distributed these as books. Furthermore, The Network of Human Rights Groups to Response to COVID19, which includes CommunityR, also produced information needed by PLHIV to prevent COVID-19, which was shared with the community.

The Youth PL Community R also constantly share information and resources on HIV & AIDS in Korean

- 🧐HIV/AIDS 제대로 '알'자!!🤓 놀랍지 않으세요? HIV감염인들에게도 출산,육아같은 불가능해보였던 일들이 가능해졌습니다. 지난 온라인 서울퀴어문화축제 알X행성인에이즈팀 부스에서 진행한 퀴즈의 결과를 바탕으로 차례차례 정확하고 올바른 정보를 공유드릴게요!! 😍

Posted by Youth PL Community R - 알 on Sunday, December 13, 2020

As a result of the negative association of COVID-19 with LGBTIQ people, discrimination in health services towards the community increased as reported by the Network of Human Rights Groups to respond to COVID-19. The backlash exacerbated the already existing stigma and discrimination that LGBTIQ people face today.

So-ju and his team are currently collecting and analyzing data on discrimination in healthcare settings to provide recommendations on how to ensure access to quality HIV services for all. Moreover, an investigation team has been created to strengthen access to differentiated services for transgender people including hormone therapy, mental healthcare, and health services to treat and alleviate body dismorphia. “Healthcare settings should be stigma-free environments that ensure people living with HIV and key populations stay healthy. Anti-discrimination protection has to be strengthened in the workplace and in healthcare settings as well as more training for healthcare providers need to be provided,” says So-ju.

The organization also advocates for the U=U Campaign as a Prevention Access Campaign to end the dual epidemics of HIV and HIV-related stigma for vulnerable populations

Movement restrictions are also making it twice as difficult to reach out to LGBTIQ people with HIV prevention strategies. As a large portion of So-ju’s work included face-to-face contact with people before the COVID-19 outbreak, he was able to articulate and adjust to the current situation by using online platforms. In the case of Itaewon, the gay community was reached through dating apps and were provided information on HIV modes of transmission and other resources, healthcare facilities, and awareness about COVID-19 prevention. Other related initiatives are also being organized by individuals and organizations under the broader network called the Rainbow Movement Against Sexual Minority Discrimination.

The continuous efforts that have been put into preventing hate speech and scapegoating in the media and raising awareness on COVID-19 have contributed to relieve emotional stress and anxiety among LGBTIQ people. These community-led efforts that included tackling stigma and discrminiation also prevented further hate stories from the media.

In such divisive times, So-ju and his team along with many other partners have stood in solidarity of organizations for sexual minorities and PLHIV. They were able to mobilize financial sponsorships, cooperation with local governments, and donations from the public to reduce the socio-economic impact of COVID-19.

In solidarity with the rest of the queer Korean community, several organizations regularly come together to advocate for equality and non-discimination legilstation for LGBTIQ communities in Korea

Working through the pandemic has become a very reflective time for everyone. So-ju mentions that one specific and significant realization was the importance of opportunities to meet each other safely and equally without discrimination. This becomes more important to address as the impact of the pandemic on the LGBTIQ community intensifies. To make sure that no communities are being left behind, he explains that it is important to constantly visualize the separate existences of people and the issues they face.

Lastly on the recurring term ‘new normal’, So-ju mentions, “I don’t think this is the new normal. Many difficulties and inequalities have been highlighted and revealed through this pandemic. Alternatives and activities to resist and resolve these difficulties and inequalities should be a stepping stone for the new normal.”

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Board Member

Jan is passionate about seeing through the potential contributions of psychological sciences and human rights advocacy in LGBT people’s lives. He is currently Program Associate of ASEAN SOGIE Caucus and is a member of the LGBT Psychology Special Interest Group of the Psychological Association of the Philippines. He has written for various platforms and publications on a diverse range of topics from gender and sexuality to human rights experiences in different contexts. Jan’s desire is to engage in productive and meaningful work that bridges scholarship with practice rooted in people’s real experiences.


Graphic Designer

Currently, Nico is a college student studying in the Philippines and is simultaneously working for Youth Voices Count as one of the graphic designers for the organization. He lists producing the brand logo and look of HRPlus Asia as one of his significant achievements. His interests in literature and creating films have also honed and continued to improve his skills in graphic designing.


Social Media Officer

Jan Ella is currently taking up her undergraduate studies at the University of the Philippines Visayas and has been a consistent academic awardee since 2019. She is involved in various organizations such as the Catalyst UPV as the Volunteer Director in 2021, former Publications Committee Head for UP Lipad and former member of Iloilo Pride Team.


Project Finance Officer

Je-ann is the current Project Finance Officer under the Finance Department. She graduated from the University of San Agustin with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration major
in Marketing Management.

Her involvement in her University’s Little Theater organization led her to find an interest in theater, films and the arts. Aside from theater arts, she also partakes in the company’s production work including stage management and most notably, heading the organization’s marketing team.


Accounting Associate

Marion graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science in Accounting Technology which has made her suitable for being the Accounting Associate of Youth Voices Count. She lists watching movies as one of her hobbies that helps her wind down during her leisure time.


Legal Counsel

She is a graduate of AB Political Science from West Visayas State University (WVSU), in Iloilo City. In her days in college, she was the founding Prime Minister of WVSU Debate Circle, the ROTC Corps Commander and later a Volunteer Instructor in the Air Force Reserve Command. When she ran for the first time in their University Student Council, she was elected number one councilor. Her interest in leadership grew when she joined the 10th National Youth Parliament, organized by the National Youth Commission in 2014, where she later on became the Regional Convener for Western Visayas.

She then pursued her studies to take up law in San Beda University in Mendiola, Manila. As a law student, she was still active in student organizations: She joined moot court competitions, she served as layout artist in 2 of San Beda Law’s Official Publications: The Barrister and San Beda Law Journal. In her last year in law school, she was the President of San Beda Law Human Rights Advocate (HRA), where she was later conferred Leadership Award by the Association of Law Students of the Philippines (ALSP) and her organization, HRA was awarded top advocacy organization.

She passed the 2019 Bar Examinations and became a full-fledged lawyer by 2020.

She worked as Associate of Javier Santiago Torres & Panghulan Law Offices. She now runs her own RLB Law Office as a solo practitioner and serves as Notary Public for and in Quezon City. She serves as legal consultant to MSMEs and Non-profit organizations. At present, she is the Vice President for Communications of the National Society of Parliamentarians, Inc., the Chief Legislative Staff of Councilor Quin Cruz of Pasig City Council and part-time law instructor in Malayan Colleges Laguna – a Mapua School. Interestingly, she is the creator and blogger of The Young Lawyer PH. Recently, she served as Resident Parliamentarian during the Bangsamoro Youth Parliament held last Nov. 7-11, 2022 at Cotabato City.

A lawyer by profession and an artist by heart.


Admin Officer

An advocate at heart, Louela is a part of several youth-led organizations in the Philippines with various advocacies ranging from climate justice, environmental protection, gender equality, human rights, SRHR, mental health prioritization, youth empowerment and HIV/AIDS awareness. She is currently the Interim Chairperson of Iloilo Pride Team after serving the organization for 4 years as the Admin Officer, Executive Secretary at Proyekto Philippines, Member of Team Dugong Bughaw, and more.

She graduated as Summa Cum Laude at West Visayas State University majoring in English Language Studies and is currently taking up her Masters in English Language Studies at the same institution. During her stay at the university, she served as the Vice Chairperson at the University Student Council and Federated Student Council where she organized programs and initiatives that advocated for student involvement in societal causes and being the voice of the students that lobbies their concerns to the administration.

In July 2022, she was awarded by JCI Regatta as one of the Top Outstanding Students in Iloilo and a Top Circle Awardee which is the most prestigious recognition given by the award-giving body.


Project Officer

Ronan passed the Philippines nursing licensure exam in 2022 immediately after graduating his Bachelor of Science degree in Nursing from the University of San Agustin. While juggling his academics, he was elected governor of his college’s student council (Nursing Student Council) in 2021 and board member in 2019 where he was awarded the leadership award and Agustino para sa Tao award due to his excellence in service. He is also a certified Safety Officer (SO1) after completing his training.

He is currently a dialysis nurse in training. He handles the Intersex projects of YVC.


Marshall Islands
He/Him, They/Them
Project Officer for IGNITE! Empowerment Grants Program

Having done some activism for the Marshall Islands both locally and regionally with climate change, youth empowerment, LGBTQI rights, and nuclear injustice, Nenol takes pride in being an advocate for the causes he is passionate in, being a part of Youth Voices Count and taking a step in amplifying young LGBTQI+ voices. This also inspired him to co-found the first Marshallese LGBTQI Youth Support called Brighten the Rainbow. He is featured in “We Have a Dream” which is a collection of stories from young leaders around the world.


Sri Lanka
Project Manager

Tharindi is currently a feminist activist and researcher based in Sri Lanka, and has worked with the Youth Advocacy Network Sri Lanka (YANSL). They are a trainer on advocating for comprehensive sexuality education and providing knowledge on sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) where they actively advocate for safe abortion and bodily autonomy for women.

One of Tharindi’s brainchild initiatives is an Instagram page which mainly focuses on the process of reaching out to queer women in Sri Lanka, a platform that helps in providing them visibility and strategy direction on programming through social media and other means.

They have completed their Bachelors (BA Honors) in English and Linguistics at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Sri Lanka.


Finance Manager

Johnmel M. Estimar is the founder and senior adviser of La Villa Pride, a grassroots-level organization for LGBTQI in Villa, Iloilo. They are also a member of the Iloilo Pride team, a Community Based Screening motivator for HIV and an LGBTQI Rights Activist. Miles, as they like to be called, graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration at John B. Lacson Foundation Maritime University-Molo, Inc. They also hold an Associate Degree in Cruise Ship Management in the same University.

They have ample experience in clerk and accounting work for nine years from their previous employer, they are currently employed with Youth Voices Count as Finance Manager since 2019.


He/Him, They/Them
Deputy Executive Director

Mx. Toni graduated with a bachelor’s degree of secondary education majoring in English at the Capiz State University back in 2021. Aside from this, they sought out other educational opportunities such as Advocacy and Project Management at the Women Deliver Digital University (2015), International Women’s Health and Human Rights at Stanford University (2014), and Global Health and Humanitarianism at the University of Manchester (2013).

An advocate of many causes, they are members of the Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative, and Y-PEER Pilipinas, founder of the Y-Cap for SRHR, founder of United Colours of CapSU, and Alumnus of Women Deliver Young Leaders Program. Back in 2018, they were awarded as the SDG 5 Youth Champion due to the amiable service they have rendered for gender equality.


Executive Director

A learner for life and a seeker of knowledge, Justin graduated his Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Political Science at West Visayas State University, Philippines and took on a Master’s of Arts in Human Rights and Democratisation (International Program) at the Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies at Mahidol University, Thailand under the APMA / European Union Scholarship. At present, Justin is pursuing a Juris Doctor (JD) degree (Law Degree) from the College of Law, University of San Agustin, Philippines.

Justin entered Youth Voices Count, Inc. in 2018 while studying in Thailand. He later took on the role of Executive Director beginning 2019 and successfully set up the legal registration of the organization in the Philippines under the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Since then, he has been leading the organization in various programs and projects centered around LGBTIQ children, adolescents, and youth. Outside Youth Voices Count, Inc., Justin is active in other initiatives in the field of research and law. He was a law student fellow of the Legal Education Advancement Program (LEAP) of the Legal Education Board and the UP Law Center in 2022.

As an aspiring lawyer, he hopes to one day be instrumental in providing legal support for marginalized populations. Justin has also published reports, journal articles, commentaries, and book articles in the fields of law, HIV/AIDS, LGBTIQ, and Human Rights.

In 2018, he was awarded the Young Achiever HERO Award by APCOM Foundation during the HERO Awards reception at the Royal British Embassy in Thailand for his outstanding work on equality and human rights. He is one of the Youth Council members of the Global Fund, an international financing and partnership organization that aims to “attract, leverage and invest additional resources to end the epidemics of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria”, and a Board Member of the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia Committee.