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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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McAuliffe: School boards should make ‘own decisions’ on trans students policy

Former Va. governor debated Republican challenger on Thursday

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Terry McAuliffe, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Lee Whitman)

Terry McAuliffe on Thursday hotly debated Republican challenger Glenn Youngkin at the Appalachian School of Law in southwestern Virginia on a variety of issues that include vaccine mandates, economic development, abortion access and policing. The former Virginia governor’s support for a law that protects transgender students, however, seemed less clear.

When the moderator asked if local school boards should be allowed to reject Virginia Department of Education “model policies” developed as part of a state law passed last year to protect trans and non-binary students from discrimination, McAuliffe said school boards “should be making their own decisions.”

This soft support for the law that Gov. Ralph Northam signed is in contrast to the Human Rights Campaign’s endorsement this week for his work as governor that includes signing an executive order prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ state employees and vetoing anti-LGBTQ bills.  

HRC called out Youngkin, a former business executive and vocal Trump supporter, for “anti-LGBTQ and transphobic language” during his campaign. (HRC in 2019 named the Carlyle Group, the private equity company that Youngkin previously ran, as a “Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality” in its annual Corporate Equality Index.)

Younkin has supported Tanner Cross, a Loudoun County elementary school teacher who was suspended in June after he spoke against the Virginia Department of Education policy known as Policy 8040. The Virginia Supreme Court last month supported Cross’ reinstatement on First Amendment grounds.

“As governor, I will stand up for teachers like Tanner Cross,” the Republican candidate tweeted.

Youngkin also told Fox News the school board was trying to “cancel” Cross “simply for expressing his views that are in the best interests of the children and expressing his faith.”

But state Del. Danica Roem (D-Prince William County), one of the bill’s co-sponsors, told the Washington Blade in an earlier interview that the 2020 law passed with bipartisan support and most school boards are acting in accordance with the nondiscrimination law.

“Loudoun is catching headlines, but look at all of the other school districts who have adopted this without controversy,” said Roem, who in 2018 became the first openly trans person seated in a state legislature in the U.S. “They are acting in compliance with Department of Education best practices for how to humanely treat transgender kids in schools.”

McAuliffe, after stating that decisions regarding implementing trans student protections should be left to local school boards, said he hated seeing all of the “divisiveness” and “children being demonized.” He then pivoted to his talking points about increasing both teacher pay and broadband access for students.

Early in-person voting in Virginia is underway and lasts until Oct. 30. Election day is Nov. 2.

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Black gay man hopes to ‘shatter lavender ceiling’ in Annapolis

Keanuú Smith-Brown is running to unseat Ward 3 incumbent

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Keanuú Smith-Brown (Photo by David Hartcorn)

Keanuú Smith-Brown, who is affectionately called KSB by his friends, is running to unseat incumbent Annapolis Alderwoman Rhonda Pindell Charles (D-Ward 3) and become the first out LGBTQ elected official in the city.

“Keanuú is on-track to shatter a lavender ceiling in Annapolis, becoming the first out LGBTQ person ever elected in the city,” Victory Fund Vice President of Communications Elliot Imse told the Washington Blade.

Smith-Brown, a 26-year-old substitute teacher, announced in February that he was challenging Pindell Charles, who has represented his ward since 2013. They will face off in a Democratic primary on Sept. 21, then the winner advances to the general election on Nov. 2.

The Annapolis native is the eldest of six siblings, raised by a single mother and a first-generation college graduate who describes himself as a proud Black gay man. His opponent, also a Democrat, stated on an Annapolis Pride survey that she supports the LGBTQ community, just “not overtly.”

“But his candidacy is about more than just making history,” Imse said. “When in office, Keanuú will ensure the interests of the LGBTQ community are considered in every policy discussion and every piece of legislation that comes before the council.”

Smith-Brown told the Blade he is running to represent “those who have been left out,” emphasizing that “there is an urgent need for change in our ward.”

The Annapolis native first came out as gay while still a senior in high school, the same year Pindell Charles was first elected as his Ward 3 representative.

“I grew up surrounded by drug addiction and witnessed domestic violence both in my family and in my community,” he told the Blade, sharing he was raised by a single mom while his father was incarcerated during most of his life.

He still lives in the home in which he grew up, and within five minutes of his partner’s house “if you’re driving fast.”

After graduating from the University of Baltimore in 2017 with a bachelor’s degree in government and public policy, Smith-Brown began working with legislators and advocating for LGBTQ bills in Maryland.

As president of the District 30 Democratic Club, Smith-Brown advocated for House Bill 1147 and its companion Senate Bill 401, which were both similar to neighboring D.C.’s requirement for single-occupancy bathrooms to be marked gender-neutral.

Both bills died in committee during the General Assembly’s pandemic-shortened session in 2020, but Smith-Brown’s advocacy continued.

He marched during the Black Lives Matter protests following the murder of George Floyd by then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, and he continued to be a public advocate for LGBTQ rights and visibility as a member of Annapolis Pride.

“I have led and joined LGBTQ+ marches, rallies and events, even hosting a campaign ‘Love with Pride and Unity’ Drag Brunch,” Smith-Brown wrote in response to Annapolis Pride’s first LGBTQ-issues survey. “I helped organize for Maryland’s Health Care Decisions Act which would extend the rights of partners when making medical or funeral decisions.”

Pindell Charles, by contrast, in her survey response stated she did not consider her advocacy for the LGBTQ community to be “overt.”

“My support for the LGBTQ+ community, and even other communities, usually revolves around me working with persons individually, which I prefer,” she wrote. “One-on-one, rather than as a group, or public displays.”

FreeState Justice, Maryland’s statewide LGBTQ rights organization supports public advocacy.

“It’s extremely important for LGBTQ community members to participate in civic engagement — especially as elected officials,” Executive Director Jeremy LaMaster told the Blade in an email.

FreeState Justice has encouraged LGBTQ Marylanders to speak out at public hearings in support of legislation such as the state’s “panic defense” ban, waiving the publication of name change petitions and the establishment of a state commission on LGBTQ affairs. All of these measures passed during the 2021 legislative session.

“There is such immense power for our community that can be built at the grassroots level. From leading neighborhood associations to sitting on city councils, or representing the community in the General Assembly,” said Smith-Brown. “As the world changes, so do the ways in which issues disproportionately or uniquely impact the LGBTQ community, especially for our youth, elders, trans and Black siblings.”

Pindell Charles, who did not respond to the Blade’s requests for comment prior to publication, is a retired Baltimore City prosecutor and chairs the Annapolis City Council’s Public Safety Standing Committee.

During her time in public service, her advocacy included a variety of “groups and communities considered to be ‘underrepresented,’” according to her Annapolis Pride survey response.

Smith-Brown said Ward 3 deserves better.

“She is saying this is in a position of power, that she’s not willing to get out of her comfort zone,” he told the Blade. “You may not be okay with seeing two men or two women together, but when you don’t allow yourself in your position to be inclusive of all people you are now failing in your position.”

“If someone said that about the Black community, it would not be taken in the same way,” he added. “Admit that you don’t need to be here in this way. We can all do our best to do better.”

The Capital Gazette in February reported Pindell Charles intends to run for a third term and welcomes Smith-Brown’s challenge.

“We need to win this,” Smith-Brown said, encouraging LGBTQ and all voters to get out and vote. “My being at that seat at the table means that we are all in that seat. What is it they say? If I eat, we eat. That is the impact on our future, and I’m in it to win it.”

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LGBTQ Democrats briefed on D.C. ranked choice voting bill

Council may already have enough votes to pass it

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Stein Club, gay news, Washington Blade
Jatarius Frazier of the Capital Stonewall Democrats was among officials briefed on the ranked choice voting bill. (Photo courtesy D.C. Government)

Members of D.C.’s Capital Stonewall Democrats, the city’s largest local LGBTQ political group, received a briefing Monday night from the chief of staff for D.C. Council member Christina Henderson (I-At Large) on a bill she introduced in July calling for a “ranked choice” voting system for D.C. elections.

The bill, called the Voter Ownership, Integrity, Choice, and Equity (VOICE) Amendment Act of 2021, calls for D.C. to join about 50 other jurisdictions across the country, including New York City and San Francisco, in giving voters the option of ranking up to five candidates for a particular office in the order of their preference.

Under the ranked choice voting system, if a candidate receives more than 50 percent of the “first choice” votes, the candidate is declared the winner. But if no candidate receives greater than 50 percent of the first-choice votes in a race where there are three or more candidates, the system provides an instant runoff.

“The candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and voters who picked that candidate will have their votes count for their next choice,” according to a statement released by Henderson at the time she introduced the legislation. “This process continues in rounds until there’s a majority winner,” the statement says.

T.J. Maloney, Henderson’s chief of staff, told Capital Stonewall Democrats members during a virtual Zoom meeting that studies of the ranked choice voting system in jurisdictions where it has been adopted show that overall voter turnout has increased and, following a voter education process, voters appear to adjust and support the system.

Six other D.C. Council members joined Henderson in co-introducing the VOICE ranked choice voting bill, indicating it may already have a seven-vote majority in its favor on the 13-member Council. However, Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) does not support the current version of the bill, according to spokesperson Lindsay Walton.

Councilmember Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), the chair of the Council’s Judiciary Committee where the bill was sent and one of the bill’s co-introducers, has scheduled a public hearing on the bill for on Nov. 18. The hearing, which will be virtual, will be broadcast live on the Council’s website.

Last week, the D.C. Democratic State Committee, which is the governing body of the D.C. Democratic Party and of which the Capital Stonewall Democrats is an affiliated member, voted to oppose the VOICE Act legislation. Some of its members said they believe a ranked choice voting system would be beneficial to the city’s smaller political party candidates, including Republicans and Statehood Green Party candidates, and would place Democratic Party candidates at a disadvantage.

Gay Democratic activist John Fanning, who was an unsuccessful candidate for the Ward 2 D.C. Council seat in the 2020 D.C. Democratic primary, said he favors a simple runoff election system over a ranked choice voting system in cases where multiple candidates run, and none receive at least 50 percent of the vote.

Among the ranked choice bill’s supporters is gay Democratic activist Austin Naughton, who serves as chair of the Ward 2 Democratic Committee. Naughton told the Washington Blade he is not an expert on the ranked choice voting system but his initial research into the system leads him to believe the system has the potential for providing a greater electoral voice for minority communities, including possibly the LGBTQ community and LGBTQ candidates who run for public office.

Capital Stonewall Democrats President Jatarious Frazier said the group was in the process of learning more about the ranked file voting system. No one raised the issue of the group taking a position on the legislation at Monday night’s meeting.

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