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White House to unveil report on int’l LGBT efforts

U.S. agencies at work six months after Clinton’s high-profile speech



The Obama administration is preparing to unveil a report summarizing the progress U.S. agencies have made in combating LGBT human rights abuses overseas, according to the White House.

“The reports were submitted by agencies as required by the president’s memorandum, and we will issue a summary in the near future,” Caitlin Hayden, spokesperson for the White House National Security Staff, told the Washington Blade.

On Dec. 6, the same day that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave a high-profile speech in Geneva, Switzerland, saying LGBT people across the world “have an ally in the United States of America,” President Obama issued a memorandum calling on all U.S. agencies doing work overseas to step up efforts promoting international LGBT rights. Six months later, has the U.S. government heeded the call for more action?

All agencies working in foreign countries had to prepare a report within 180 days of the date of the memorandum — and each year afterward — on their progress toward advancing these goals. The agencies were directed to submit their reports to the State Department, which in turn was directed to compile the reports to transmit to the White House.

The memorandum was issued on Dec. 6, which means that agencies would have had to submit their reports by June 6 to meet the deadline of 180 days.

Daniel Baer, who’s gay and the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights & Labor, confirmed in a Blade interview that the State Department submitted its contribution, but deferred to the White House about the status of the compiled reports.

Baer said his department’s submission was a “highlights reel” of recent work on LGBT human rights — such as U.S. embassies’ work in holding events, reaching out to LGBT communities advocating to foreign governments — which when all tied up will “show a picture of increasingly across the board engagement on these issues.”

“Advocating for the human rights of LGBT people is becoming part of the daily work of our embassies and officials here in Washington and is very much a central part of overall human rights policy,” Baer said.

On Tuesday, the U.S. embassy in Kenya hosted a Pride event in which MaqC Eric Gitau, general manager of the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya gave remarks. Another Pride celebration took place earlier this month at the U.S. embassy in Tokyo. Also this month, the U.S. embassy in Albania hosted a regional LGBT conference.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

For the domestic audience, Clinton issued a video in honor of June as Pride month, saying in her remarks, “United States embassies and missions throughout the world are working to defend the rights of LGBT people of all races, religions, and nationalities as part of our comprehensive human rights policy and as a priority of our foreign policy.”

Baer declined to comment on the content of the reports other agencies have submitted. According to the memorandum, among them are the Departments of State, Treasury, Defense, Justice, Agriculture, Commerce, Health & Human Services and Homeland Security as well as the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Millennium Challenge Corp., the Export-Import Bank and the U.S. Trade Representative.

Mark Bromley, chair of the Council for Global Equality, said he looks forward to reviewing the reports to evaluate the progress U.S. agencies have made on the policy announced last year.

“But clearly the State Department has taken this effort very seriously,” Bromley said. “The number of embassies around the world that have hosted Pride festivities or sponsored conferences or discussions with local LGBT communities during Pride month this June is an example of that.  The effort now is to be sure that the goodwill of our embassies abroad is used as productively as possible to provide a venue and support for local LGBT voices and does not drown them out or overpower them.”

The White House prepares to unveil the compiled report as the issue of international LGBT rights continue to make headlines in the United States and draw the attention of public officials.

  • In a letter dated June 26, 84 members of Congress — led by gay Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) — wrote to Clinton urging the State Department to press the Honduran government to investigate and resolve reports of continued violence against LGBT people in the country. In particular, lawmakers asked about the case of Walter Trochez, a prominent LGBT activist, and opponent of the 2009 coup, who was murdered in a drive-by shooting.
  • In an earlier letter dated June 21, 50 members of Congress — led by Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) — wrote to Hungary’s Prime Minister Victor Orban in objection to anti-Semitic and homophobic positions supported by the far-right political party, Jobbik. According to the letter, the party introduced a bill calling for the imprisonment of those who “promote” homosexuality and the ouster of Robert Alfoldi, the director of the National Theater, based on his presumed homosexuality. Lawmakers called on Hungary’s leaders to take a firm stand against these positions.
  • Last week, Uganda reportedly banned 38 non-governmental organizations that it accused of promoting homosexuality and recruiting children into becoming gay.
  • An anti-homosexuality bill that would institute the death penalty homosexual acts is also set to move through the Uganda legislature. Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokesperson, reiterated the Obama administration’s opposition to the bill last week, saying, “We are resolutely opposed to the bill. We think it’s inconsistent with Uganda’s international human rights obligations, and this just sets a bad, bad precedent in the neighborhood.”

One of the initiatives announced by Clinton during her Geneva speech last year was a Global Equality Fund geared toward supporting the work of organizations on LGBT issues around the world. The secretary announced the United States had contributed $3 million to the fund. Baer said the money is still in the process of being allocated.

“We trying to make sure that we’re focusing on ways to get resources and support and expertise to those small NGOs wherever they are in these smaller capitals around the world,” Baer said. “We’ve actually engaged our embassies to help us identify opportunities to do small grants programs.”

Still, some projects have already received funding. Baer said the Global Equality Fund helped finance a project working with local groups in a region of four or five countries helping to train participants in documenting incidents of abuse and violence and give them technical assistance to store and share that information securely. According to Bear, the multi-year contribution was between $300,000 and $500,000, but he didn’t want to disclose more details because he doesn’t want to expose the project to additional scrutiny.

Prior to the establishment of the fund, Baer said the State Department established another partnership with an LGBT organization in Mongolia where the U.S. embassy issued a small grant under $30,000. The Mongolia-based group designed a public advocacy campaign meant to be a tolerance promotion campaign using TV and radio.

Additionally, Baer said the State Department is looking for private organizations and foreign countries to contribute more resources to the fund, but declined to identify any particular organization or country because nothing has yet been made final.

“I’m not worried that we’re going to run out of money and there won’t be any resources to dedicate to this; I think there’s an institutional commitment,” Baer said. “But I think the fund also serves obviously a public purpose in highlighting that commitment and also giving us a chance to partner with particularly other governments that are interested in not only making a resource contribution, but a symbolic contribution to demonstrate a shared commitment to this area.”

At the same time, USAID was set this month to announce the creation of an LGBT Global Partnership. According to a notice, the initiative was set to advance LGBT equality by providing “a greater voice in civil society and political processes, increased access to services including police and justice systems and improved economic security.” USAID didn’t respond to multiple requests to provide more information about the initiative.


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Over 100 LGBTQ-themed books in a Florida school district labeled with advisory warning

They warn: “this book has been identified by some community members as unsuitable for students.”



Advisory Notice (via Twitter)

A southwest Florida district put parental “advisory notice” on over 100 books, many of which are race or LGBTQ-themed. 

A great number of books in Collier County Public Schools, either digital or physical, now have warning labels writing “Advisory notice to parents,” according to an NBC report,

The label, tweeted by nonprofit free-speech-promoting group PEN American, states, “This Advisory Notice shall serve to inform you that this book has been identified by some community members as unsuitable for students. This book will also be identified in the Destiny system with the same notation. The decision as to whether this book is suitable or unsuitable shall be the decision of the parent(s) who has the right to oversee his/her child’s education consistent with state law.” 

Stephana Ferrell, co-founder of the Florida Freedom to Read Project, which means to fight book banning, told NBC that she had a call from Elizabeth Alves, the associate superintendent of teaching and learning for Collier County Public Schools. In the call, Alves told her that the district added the labels starting in February. 

These measures, which Alves described as a “compromise,” happened after the district’s legal representative talked with the Florida Citizens Alliance, a conservative group which initiated a “Porn in Schools Report” project last year. The report included a list of books that “promote gender self-identification and same-sex marriage” as well as titles that include “indecent and offensive material,” as the group explained. 

Chad Oliver, the Collier County Public Schools spokesperson, on the other hand offered a different story. 

Oliver sent an email to NBC News and said, “Based upon advice from the General Counsel, we placed advisory notices on books about which parents and community members had expressed concern and in accordance with the recently passed Parents’ Bill of Rights Law (HB 241).” 

The law referred by Oliver is also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

According to PEN America, there are 110 labeled books in total, and the list greatly overlaps with the one Florida Citizens Alliance inquired about with Collier County Public Schools. 

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Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney introduces bill to make monkeypox testing free

Health insurers would be required to cover costs



Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney has introduced legislation to make monkeypox testing free to the public. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), amid the ongoing monkeypox affecting gay and bisexual men, has introduced legislation in the U.S. House seeking to make testing for disease free to the public.

Maloney, one of seven openly gay members of Congress and chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement the measure, called the No Cost for Monkeypox Testing Act, would testing amid the monkeypox outbreak would be accessible to all.

“It is critical that we eliminate cost as a barrier to testing for monkeypox to ensure we can identify cases and prevent further spread,” Maloney said. “This legislation takes the lessons we learned from past public health emergencies and protects those at risk of contracting monkeypox by making tests accessible to everyone.”

The legislation would require private health insurers as well as Medicare and Medicaid to cover the costs of monkeypox testing at no expense to the patients, either through deductibles, co-payments, and co-insurance.

The bill introduction comes the week after the Biden administration declared the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency and the same it has issued new guidance to enhance to the accessing of existing vaccines doses amid criticism federal officials were too slow in distributing shots.

The Washington Blade has placed a request in with the Centers for Disease Control seeking comment on the legislation. Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra said Tuesday the federal government has the capacity to conduct an estimated 80,000 tests each week.

Maloney has been representing New York’s 18th congressional district, but after redistricting is now seeking re-election in the 17th district. Amid controversy over a potential showdown between Maloney and Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), who’s Black, another openly gay member of Congress and the current representative of that district, Jones has since opted to run for re-election in the New York’s 10th congressional district. Maloney is now running unopposed in the 17th.

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Biden administration shifts monkeypox vaccine approach amid shortage

Health experts sees new guidance as mixed bag



The Biden administration has changed its guidance on monkeypox vaccines to enhance availability amid the shortage.

The Biden administration, amid criticism it was slow to act on the monkeypox outbreak and still not meeting the demand for vaccines as the number of cases continues to grow, has announced a shift in guidance for implementation of the shot in an effort to enhance availability.

As the estimated number of monkeypox cases in the United States reaches 8,900, top health officials announced the new move on Tuesday as part of a decision by Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra to issue a determination under Section 564 of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to justify emergency use authorization of vaccines. The announcement follows up on the Biden administration’s announcement last week declaring the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency.

Becerra said in a conference call with reporters the 564 determination and change in approach to vaccines would “boost and strengthen” the Biden administration’s response to monkeypox, which has overwhelmingly affected gay and bisexual men, and “safely accelerates and multiplies our supply of effective vaccines by up to fivefold.”

“Today’s action also reaffirms HHS and this administration’s commitment to using all available resources and capabilities to end the monkeypox outbreak and provide the best possible care to those suffering from the virus,” Becerra added.

The new vaccine approach, which may may be considered minor to non-medical observers, would change injections of the JYNNEOS vaccine from the subcutaneous route (delivery of the vaccine under the fat layer underneath the skin) to the intradermal route (delivery of the vaccine into the layer of skin just underneath the top layer). In theory, that would allow for greater accessibility of monkeypox vaccines as it increases the number of doses from each vial of vaccine.

The change was made amid criticism the Biden administration failed to meet the demand for vaccines during the outbreak and geographic inequity as certain metropolitan areas of the country have more access to vaccines than other places.

As The New York Times reported last week, the Biden administration has faced criticism for not moving quickly enough in acquiring and distributing vaccines, including bulk stocks already owned by the U.S. government manufactured in Denmark by Bavaria Nordic now being given to other clients.

“The government is now distributing about 1.1 million doses, less than a third of the 3.5 million that health officials now estimate are needed to fight the outbreak,” the Times reported. “It does not expect the next delivery, of half a million doses, until October. Most of the other 5.5 million doses the United States has ordered are not scheduled to be delivered until next year, according to the federal health agency.”

Biden officials, nonetheless, touted the numbers of vaccines and tests in response to monkeypox as a positive, acknowledging the 1.1 million vaccines being made available as well as delivery of more than 620,000 of those doses, deployment more than 15,000 courses of the monkeypox treatment and increasing the country’s capacity to administer tests on a weekly basis to around 80,000. Meanwhile, officials also promoted the change in approach in vaccines as means to allow greater accessibility to the shots.

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, promoted during the conference call the use of intradermal injections and said they’re “often used for TB skin tests and have been used for other types of vaccines.”

Although Walensky conceded some health care providers “may not be as familiar with intradermal administration” as they are with subcutaneous injection, she said CDC would make additional guidance materials available, including a clinician alert message to the Association of State & Territorial Health Officials, outreach to key clinician partners and an education resource video. The change in guidance, Walensky said, is for vaccine implementation in adults, but children — where single digit monkeypox cases have been reported — would continue to receive vaccination in the traditional subcutaneous approach.

But health experts aren’t responding with overwhelming praise to the decision to change the guidance on vaccine implementation from subcutaneous injections to intradermal injections, expressing concerns the new approach may be insufficient.

Jennifer Kates, director of global health & HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, was among those saying the change in guidance on vaccine approach was a mixed bag and told the Blade more data is needed to evaluate the effectiveness.

“As we saw with COVID, using these authorities in the context of public health emergencies is an important strategy,” Kates said. “In this case, this step will significantly expand access to vaccines for those most at risk. However, there remain questions about the effectiveness of this approach — real world studies are needed — and challenges to translating vaccines into vaccinations.”

Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation & Research (CBER) at the Food & Drug Administration, was asked during the conference call with reporters to respond to concerns the change in guidance was insufficient and downplayed the novelty of implementing the vaccines through the intradermal route as “not at all new.”

“In fact, the reason why the Bavaria part of this equation comes from the fact that in Germany, this vaccine was given intradermally originally, in an effort to replicate the original version of the smallpox vaccine,” Marks said. “It’s been given to thousands of people intradermally, so this isn’t the first time it’s been done.”

Walkensky said the intradermal vaccine approach has been implemented amid policies among localities to implement a one-dose approach to the JYNNEOS vaccine through the subcutaneous route. (The D.C. government is one of the jurisdictions that had enacted a one-dose approach amid a vaccine shortage.) There is not data, Walkensky said, to support that approach and “in fact, if anything, there are data saying that that is not protective enough.”

“So by using this alternative strategy of intradermal dosing, not only do we have more doses, but we actually allow people to get two doses in a way that shows immunologic response that’s superimposable from the subcutaneous dosing,” Walkensky said. “So we have more doses, and in fact, we have the ability to doubly vaccinate people so that they get the protection that they need.”

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