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Pappas: D.C. making progress in fight against HIV

2.7 percent of Washingtonians were living with disease in 2010.

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Gay News, Washington Blade, HIV/AIDS

Dr. Gregory Pappas (Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The head of D.C.’s response to HIV/AIDS stressed on Monday that the city continues to make progress in its fight against the epidemic.

“We’re catching people earlier in the disease,” noted Dr. Gregory Pappas, director of the Department of Health’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, Sexually Transmitted Disease and Tuberculosis Administration. “It used to be everybody who was tested pretty much had AIDS or was very close to having AIDS. Now, we’re finding people earlier in the disease.”

Pappas spoke to the Blade less than a week after DOH released its annual epidemiology report that showed new diagnoses of HIV in D.C. continue to drop, even though the percentage of the population living with HIV remains more than two times higher than the World Health Organization’s definition of a generalized epidemic.

A total of 14,465 people — or 2.7 percent — of Washingtonians were living with the virus at the end of 2010. The report further noted that African Americans remain disproportionately impacted by the epidemic with 4.3 percent of black D.C. residents living with HIV. 6.3 percent of black D.C. men had the virus, compared with 2.4 percent of whites and three percent of Latinos. DOH further noted that black women accounted for 92.4 percent of D.C. women with HIV.

The report further indicates that the number of new HIV diagnoses among black Washingtonians between 2006 and 2010 decreased 24 percent, compared to a 36 percent decrease among white D.C. residents during the same period.

Same-sex and heterosexual sexual contact remain the two leading modes of HIV transmission in the city. Slightly more than 77 percent of white D.C. residents and 55.5 percent of Latino Washingtonians who tested positive between 2006 and 2010 contracted the virus through men who have sex with men, compared to only 30.7 percent of black D.C. residents. Nearly 39 percent of black Washingtonians who tested positive during this period contracted the virus through heterosexual sexual contact.

DOH further noted that it distributed more than five million male and female condoms in 2011, and has tripled the number of publicly supported HIV tests from 2007. The city recommends that Washingtonians get tested at least once a year – and MSM have an HIV test every six months. Pappas said that one-third of D.C. residents get tested annually.

“We’re a national leader on that, but it’s way off from where we need to be,” he said.

D.C. Council member David Catania [I-At Large] introduced a bill last fall that would require doctors and other health care providers to attend HIV/AIDS workshops as part of their ongoing education requirements. Lawmakers subsequently approved the measure.

“We’re using that as a way to try and promote doctors to offer the test,” said Pappas.

In addition to increased testing, the DOH report further noted that roughly 89 percent of the 4,879 people who tested positive for the virus in D.C. between 2005 and 2009 were connected to HIV-specific care by the end of 2010. “We do well with connecting to care,” said Pappas, stressing the need for improved coordination between publicly funded clinics and HIV/AIDS community service providers. “The big problem is people don’t stay in care. And that’s where we’re falling down.”

Pappas credited the city’s needle exchange program for a 72 percent drop in HIV rates among intravenous drug users between 2007 and 2010—the city disposed of more than 340,000 syringes through its needle exchange program last year, which is an increase of 3,000 from 2010.Mortality rates for Washingtonians with HIV also fell by almost 50 percent from 2006 to 2010.

Pappas noted that half of those with HIV who die each year succumb to an unrelated illness, while the remaining 50 percent of people with the virus in D.C. die from HIV-related causes. He said liver failure associated with Hepatitis C has become one of the leading causes of death among people with HIV.

“It’s about 75 people annually, but that’s still too high in the District of Columbia,” said Pappas, referring to the city’s overall HIV mortality rate. “We can get to near zero deaths. We’ve gotten to zero new infections among kids, we can get to zero deaths or very near.”

Pappas further stressed that these HIV-related deaths once again highlight what he describes as the need for people with the virus to stay in treatment and continue to take their medication. “At this point since there’s no one in the District of Columbia that’s totally virally resistant now, right now all those people should be able to live,” he said.

D.C. preps for AIDS conference

The city continues to make final preparations for the International AIDS Conference that will kick off at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on July 22.

HAHSTA will present 15 scientific abstracts during the five-day conference. The D.C. Center for AIDS Research, the body that coordinates HIV/AIDS-specific research in Washington, will highlight city-based research in a Global Village session that will be free and open to the public.

Mayor Vincent Gray and Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley wrote a letter to President Obama earlier this year in support of a more regional-based strategy that Pappas said would allow neighboring jurisdictions to more effectively coordinate their responses to HIV/AIDS.

“The jurisdictions are working well together well on HIV/AIDS, but we still got a long ways to go,” he said, pointing to a lack of regional data. “I can tell you about D.C. in great detail, but when we’re talking about what’s going on around us, it’s a more difficult picture. We’ve got to look at that.”

Pappas also cited a hypothetical case of a Prince George’s County resident who may live across the street from a D.C. clinic that can have difficulties using their Maryland Medicaid to pay for HIV-related services in Washington as an example of the need for a more regional approach to fighting the epidemic. He also pointed to an estimate that treatment for a person with HIV costs $400,000 over the course of their lifetime—and the epidemic adds $1 million to D.C.’s long-term health care expenditures each day.

“Investment now will save huge amounts of money in the future,” said Pappas, referring to regional investment to combat HIV. “We can do better with the dollars we have if we coordinated better.”

 

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Delaware

McBride clears Dem field, poised to become first trans member of Congress

Primary opponent drops out of Delaware race

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Sarah McBride (Washington Blade file photo by Daniel Truitt)

Delaware State Sen. Sarah McBride has become the Democratic frontrunner for Congress after her primary opponent dropped out of the race. This sets up McBride to possibly become the first transgender member of Congress if elected in November. 

Eugene Young announced on Wednesday he suspended his campaign for Delaware’s At-Large congressional district, leaving McBride as the only Democratic candidate running for the seat. Young’s announcement leaves Republican challenger Donyale Hall as McBride’s only obstacle to the House of Representatives.

As the new Democratic frontrunner, McBride is slated to win the strongly Democratic state’s sole House seat, which is currently held by Democrat Lisa Blunt Rochester. Blunt Rochester is leaving the House to run for Thomas Carper’s seat in the Senate who will be retiring at the end of the year. 

According to McBride’s campaign, she has raised more than $2 million and does not appear to be slowing down. Not only could McBride become the historic first trans member of Congress, but her campaign has raised record-breaking amounts — more than any candidate for an open congressional seat in state history.

McBride currently holds a seat in the First State Senate District of Delaware and has used that momentum to mobilize her supporters.

LPAC, an organization that works to get LGBTQ+ women and nonbinary candidates elected to public office, has endorsed McBride’s run for Congress as well as her past campaigns. LPAC’s Executive Director Janelle Perez released a statement regarding McBride’s path to the House.

“LPAC is thrilled that Sarah McBride has cleared the Democratic field and is on a clear path to making history in November as the first out trans person ever elected to the U.S. Congress,” Perez wrote in her statement. “This did not happen by accident: Sarah has actively cleared the field by building an undeniably formidable campaign, connecting deeply with voters and out-raising every candidate in the field by a longshot.”

Other candidates have until July 8 to enter the race, although that is unlikely given McBride’s fundraising advantage and growing momentum. 

“It is no surprise to me that Sarah has reached this point — she is a compassionate leader who truly cares for her community and has a tangible impact on everyone around her,” Perez added. “This is a groundbreaking moment for LGBTQ+ representation in our country and I know that Sarah McBride will make an incredible member of Congress.”

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Delaware

Delaware’s Sussex Pride launches free statewide HIV, STI testing

Special program honors National HIV Testing Day on June 27

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Each year on June 27, people across the United States are encouraged to get tested for HIV. This year for Delawareans, it’s easier than ever.

Sussex Pride has partnered with STDCheck to offer free HIV and syphilis testing everywhere in Delaware. There are more than 20 locations across the state, making it simple to find a testing center.  

David Mariner, executive director of Sussex Pride, told the Blade, “We are thrilled with this new partnership with STDcheck. The ultimate goal is to empower individuals with knowledge about their HIV status, provide necessary support, and facilitate early intervention to improve health outcomes in our state.”

Finding a testing center, getting tested, and getting results is simple. Start by finding a lab near you using this link (https://www.stdcheck.com/std-test-center.php). Then call STDcheck at 800-456-2323 and request a free Sussex Pride HIV and/or syphilis test. Make sure to mention Sussex Pride in the call to get the test for free. Then schedule a time and get tested. 

“If you are HIV positive, the sooner you know, the better,” Mariner added. “Early and sustained treatment can help you live a long and healthy life. It can also help protect others.”

This special program is in honor of National HIV Testing Day, created in 1995 to highlight the lifesaving impact of HIV testing. HIV has historically had a disproportionate effect on the LGBTQ community. According to the CDC, 70% of all new cases of HIV in 2021 were among gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men.

The CDC’s theme for this year’s HIV testing day is “Level up your self-love: check your status.” The theme emphasizes, “valuing yourself, showing yourself compassion and respect, and honoring your health needs with self-love,” and the best way to do that is to test.

For more information on Sussex Pride’s testing program visit sussexpride.org/posts/testing/ and for more information on HIV visit CDC.gov/hiv.

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District of Columbia

D.C. police chief, officers marched in Pride parade in uniform

Capital Pride cautious about whether MPD violated ‘no uniform’ policy

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D.C. Police Chief Pamela Smith marches in the Capital Pride Parade on Saturday, June 8. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C. Police Chief Pamela Smith led a contingent of D.C. police officers, including members of the department’s LGBT Liaison Unit, in the June 8 Capital Pride Parade with the chief and all the officers in uniform in what appeared to be a violation of a Capital Pride policy of not allowing law enforcement officers to participate in the parade in uniform.

The Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes most D.C. Pride events, including the parade, posted a statement on its website in June of 2020 announcing that a policy it adopted in 2018 that does not allow uniformed police officers to march in the parade remained in effect. The group told the Washington Blade this week in a statement that the no uniform policy remained in place for this year’s Pride parade.

In her own statement released on the day of the parade Chief Smith appeared to take exception to the no uniform policy without saying so directly.

“I am proud to march in today’s Capital Pride Parade in full uniform to support our LGBTQ+ colleagues and to further our commitment to creating inclusive and supportive environments,” the chief said. “MPD will continue to support, and ensure security, at Pride events and different community focused events year-round,” she said.

The chief’s statement, which was sent to the news media in a press release, added, “Having been selected as the department’s first Chief Equity Officer, and now as the Chief of Police, I’m committed to celebrating diverse identities. I will always stand up for diversity, equity and inclusion for our members and our community.”

In response to an inquiry from the Blade asking for confirmation of whether the “no uniform” policy was still in effect for the 2024 Pride parade, Capital Pride Alliance responded with a statement. 

“The Capital Pride Alliance policy concerning MPD remains in place,” the statement says. “If the group officially registers for the march, they must participate out of official uniform,” it says. 

“This year, the police did not register and as such were not an official parade contingent,” the statement continues. “The police chief walked the route with on-duty police officers, and being on-duty, officers are required to be in uniform.”

The statement adds, “We continue to have conversations with MPD, including the Chief of Police, about how we build a collaborative relationship with our community.”

D.C. police didn’t immediately respond to a Blade request for comment by Chief Smith or a spokesperson on the claim by Capital Pride officials that the police were not in an official contingent in this year’s parade.

Capital Pride officials did not respond to the Blade’s additional request this week for an explanation of why the no uniform policy was adopted and whether the policy is still needed.

In earlier statements posted on its website in past years, Capital Pride officials cited the Black Lives Matter movement and the police killing of Black Minneapolis resident George Floyd that triggered anti-police protests across the country as an issue that made some in the LGBTQ community and others participating in the Pride parade uncomfortable in the presence of uniformed police officers.

“Pride this year comes on the heels of a global pandemic and a nation confronting the murder of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers,” the group said in a June 3, 2020, statement. The Floyd case and the 2020 police shooting deaths of a Black woman in Louisville, Ky., and a Black transgender man in Tallahassee, Fla. “have created a nationwide uprising crying out for racial justice and the protection of Black life,” the statement said.

“As members of the Black and Brown communities have stood with the LGBTQ+ community, the Capital Pride Alliance stands in complete solidarity to unite against these disparities that impact communities of color,” the 2020 statement said. “We pledge that we will work together to find solutions and make positive changes that are so desperately needed to end inequity, injustice, and violence against people of color.”

Activists have acknowledged that the LGBTQ community nationwide has been divided over decisions to ban uniformed police participation in Pride parades in cities across the country, including New York and San Francisco.

A June 2019 nationwide poll of 801 LGBTQ people in the U.S. conducted by the polling firm Whitman Insight Strategies and BuzzFeed News found that 79 percent of LGBTQ adults said, “police should be welcome to join pride events,” with just 8 percent expressing opposition to police presence, according to BuzzFeed.

“People of color, who made up 21 percent of all survey respondents, support cops in pride events by 77 percent to 8 percent (15 percent say it makes no difference either way),” BuzzFeed reported in a June 24, 2019, article.

Earl Fowlkes, the founder and former CEO of the D.C.-based Center For Black Equity, which organizes D.C.’s annual Black Pride events, told the Blade that Black Pride has not adopted a policy of restricting uniformed police officers from participating in any of its events.

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