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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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Virginia

Va. Senate subcommittee tables anti-transgender student athlete bill

Virginia Beach Republican introduced SB 766

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transgender, Gender Conference East, trans, transgender flag, gay news, Washington Blade
(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia Senate subcommittee on Thursday tabled a bill that would have banned transgender students from joining school sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

Senate Bill 766, which state Sen. Jennifer Kiggans (R-Virginia Beach) introduced on earlier this month, would have required “each elementary or secondary school or a private school that competes in sponsored athletic events against such public schools to designate athletic teams, whether a school athletic team or an intramural team sponsored by such school, based on biological sex as follows: (i) ‘males,’ ‘men,’ or ‘boys’; (ii) ‘females,’ ‘women,’ or ‘girls’; or (iii) ‘coed’ or ‘mixed.’”

“SB 766 (trans sports ban) was passed by indefinitely (it died!) after a long line of speakers testified against it, affirming trans students’ rights to participate in sports just like their cisgender peers,” tweeted the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia after the vote. “Trans students belong in sports. Period.”

Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin during his campaign said he does not support allowing trans children to play on sports teams that are consistent with their gender identity.

The General Assembly’s 2022 legislative session began on Jan. 12 with Republicans in control of the House of Delegates. Democrats still control the Senate by a 21-19 margin.

A bill that would have eliminated the requirement that school districts implement the Virginia Department of Education’s trans and non-binary student guidelines died in a Senate subcommittee on Thursday. The Senate General Laws and Technology on Thursday also tabled a religious freedom measure that would have undermined Virginia’s LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination law.

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Maryland

Hyattsville mayor dies by suicide

Kevin Ward and husband adopted son in D.C. in 2012

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Hyattsville Mayor Kevin Ward (Photo courtesy of the city of Hyattsville)

The city of Hyattsville released a statement on Wednesday afternoon announcing that their city’s openly gay Mayor Kevin Ward had died one day earlier by an apparent suicide.

“The city of Hyattsville reports with great sadness that our beloved Mayor Kevin Ward passed away yesterday, Jan. 25, from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound,” the statement says.

“Mayor Ward was a valued and trusted leader and a fierce advocate for all the people of Hyattsville,” the statement continues. “We are heartbroken at this loss and extend our deepest sympathy to the mayor’s family,” it says.

“No further information is available at this time,” the statement adds. “Details about services and remembrances will be shared when they are available.”

The Washington Post reported that U.S. Park Police disclosed that Ward was found deceased in Fort Marcy Park in McLean, Va., with a “self-inflicted gunshot wound.”

Ward, 44, became acting mayor of Hyattsville on Jan. 1, 2021, following the resignation of former Mayor Candace Hollingsworth. He was next in line to become mayor under the city’s political system in his then-position as president of the Hyattsville City Council.

He won election to complete the remainder of Hollingsworth’s term through 2023 in a May 11, 2021, special election, receiving 57.8 percent of the vote in a three candidate race, according to the Hyattsville election board. His closest opponent, Joseph Solomon, received 31.7 percent of the vote.

Nearby fellow gay mayors — Patrick Wojahn of College Park and Jeffrey Slavin of Somerset — said they got to know Ward through Maryland political circles and thought very highly of him.

“He was insightful, smart and dedicated,” Wojahn said. “He always seemed very confident and together as a person. And he had a great sense of humor.”

Slavin said he shared that remembrance of Ward, adding that he found Ward to be a “very nice person” dedicated to the people he served both as mayor and during his two terms on the Hyattsville City Council.

“There was noting in his public life that would have predicted this,” said Slavin in referring to Ward’s sudden passing.

The Washington Blade first reported on Ward in 2012 in a feature story on Ward and his then-domestic partner Chad Copeland when the two attended a ceremony at the D.C. Superior Court to complete the process of adopting their then-5-year-old son Norman. Ward and Copeland were among several gay couples who had their adoption papers signed by a judge at the ceremony.

On the website for his mayoral election campaign last year Ward said he and his family made Hyattsville their home in 2014 after he and his husband adopted their two sons.

“I am a pretty straightforward person,” he said in message to voters on his campaign website. “I believe in listening more than talking. But when I talk, I am not one to mince words or tell people what they want to hear,” he said. “I believe in doing the work. I believe that if I can help someone, then I can change her or his life,” he continued.

“This is why I dedicated my career to providing the best technology to education and to human services, to help as many people as I can,” he said.  

Ward was referring to his career in the field of educational and human services technology.

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District of Columbia

ANC supports license for Capitol Hill LGBTQ bar

Lesbian owners back ‘settlement agreement’ with restrictions on hours

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AYA, gay news, Washington Blade
Rachel Pike and Jo McDaniel are the bar industry veterans behind As You Are Bar. (Photo courtesy Pike and McDaniel)

The Capitol Hill Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B voted unanimously on Tuesday night to support a liquor license for the LGBTQ-owned As You Are Bar, which plans to open in a two-story building at 500 8th St., S.E. in a commercial section of Capitol Hill known as Barracks Row.

The ANC’s decision to support the license took place at a virtual meeting attended by nearby residents and supporters of the bar after its owners, lesbian activists Jo McDaniel and Rachel Pike, agreed to the terms of an ANC settlement agreement that calls for restrictions in the hours the bar can offer dancing, entertainment, and music from a DJ.

The agreement means the ANC will not file a protest against the license before the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Board, a development that would have delayed a decision on the license by the ABC Board by as much as seven months. A protest by the ANC could have cost the bar thousands of dollars in legal fees to contest the protest by providing legal arguments seeking the approval of the license.

The ABC Board makes the final decision on whether to approve all liquor licenses in the city.

McDaniel and Pike have said they plan to operate an upstairs dance bar during evening hours and a café on the first floor during the day as well as in the evenings that will be an inclusive space that “welcomes anyone of any walk of life that will support, love, and celebrate the mission of queer culture.”

The two, who are business and life partners, say As You Are Bar will welcome people of all ages, genders, sexual orientations and gender identities as well as drinkers and non-drinkers as customers.

They have also told the ANC and nearby residents they have taken steps to soundproof the building, which they are renting, to ensure their plans to operate a dance bar with music from a DJ on the second floor will not disturb nearby residents.

Under terms of the settlement agreement, which was posted on the ANC’s website prior to the start of the meeting, the bar’s operating hours will be from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 12 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. Under D.C. law, bars are allowed to remain open for the sale of alcoholic beverages until 2 a.m. during weekdays and 3 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

The Settlement Agreement further calls for As You Are Bar to restrict the hours of consumption of alcohol from 12 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 12 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. It calls for allowing live entertainment and dancing (indoors only) from 12 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and from 12 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.

However, the agreement says DJ and amplified music will not be permitted after 8 p.m. on weekdays.

 McDaniel told the Blade that at the request of As You Are Bar’s attorney Richard Bianco, the ANC agreed to modify that restriction at the Tuesday night meeting to allow the bar to play “conversational” background music after 8 p.m. until closing time on weekdays.

 Among other things, the agreement requires the bar comply with a noise mitigation provision to “ensure that sound, noise, and vibrations are not audible or felt beyond the curb or any other premises at any time.” It also calls on the bar to provide an “appropriate number of staff” to monitor patrons as they leave the bar through the 8th Street entrance to “prevent loud voices and littering.”

Under rules established by the ABC Board and the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration or ABRA, if a settlement agreement is reached between an applicant for a liquor license and the ANC, a protest against the license by groups of five or more citizens is not allowed. Protests could still be filed by community-based civic groups and residents of an “abutting” house or residential facility.

In the case of As You Are Bar, no citizens group has emerged to oppose the license. There is just one abutting townhouse on E Street whose owner has expressed general support for the settlement agreement, according to McDaniel. But the resident has indicated she will not rule out a possible protest until Feb. 7, which is the deadline for filing a protest under ABRA’s rules.

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