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D.C. prepares to host Int’l AIDS Conference

Event expected to draw more than 30,000 to city from July 22-27



Gay News, Washington Blade, HIV/AIDS

Julie Scofield, executive director of the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors (Blade photo by Michael Key)

The International AIDS Conference is expected to draw more than 30,000 people from around the world to D.C. July 22-27.

Former President Bill Clinton, former first lady Laura Bush, Bill Gates of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator Eric Goosby, “The View” co-host Whoopi Goldberg and singer Elton John are among those who are scheduled to speak at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. The White House has yet to confirm whether President Obama will attend; California Rep. Barbara Lee and Michel Sidibé, executive director of UNAIDS, are among those who are scheduled to speak at the opening session on July 22. The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington is also slated to perform.

“We are gathering at a defining moment in the AIDS epidemic where the science tells us we can turn the tide on HIV,” said Dr. Elly Katabira, president of the International AIDS Society who serves as the conference’s international chair, and Dr. Diane Havlir of the University of California-San Francisco, who is the U.S. co-chair of AIDS 2012, in a statement that officially welcomed delegates to the nation’s capital. “Scientific advances are also propelling towards the efforts to find a cure and vaccine for HIV. AIDS 2012 will unite science, community and leadership from around the globe to develop strategies and mobilize support for translating new evidence into meaningful action that reflects HIV’s complex web of social, human rights and political issues.”

The conference — the theme of which is “Turning the Tide Together” — will feature a number of workshops and other events that will specifically discuss the epidemic’s impact among men who have sex with men and other LGBT communities. These will include networking spaces in the Global Village that will allow LGBT people and MSM to share strategies to more effectively respond to HIV and advocate on behalf of those living with the virus. “The Lancet” will also present a symposium on the epidemic’s impact among MSM on July 24.

Debbie McMillan of Transgender Health Empowerment will be among the panelists on a July 26 plenary that will examine the virus’ effects on at-risk populations. A symposium on the same day will discuss the future of HIV prevention and related health and human rights issues among gay, transgender and MSM communities.

The Blade is also an official media sponsor of the conference and will host a photo exhibit chronicling AIDS in Washington in the Global Village, which is open to the public.

A call to action

The International AIDS Society and the University of California-San Francisco on Tuesday unveiled a nine-point plan designed to further combat the global epidemic.

The “Washington, D.C., Declaration” specifically calls for an end to stigma, discrimination and human rights abuses against people with the virus and those who remain at-risk for HIV. It backs what it describes as evidence-based prevention, treatment and care that respects the human rights of “those at greatest risk and in greatest need.” The declaration further stresses the need for accelerated research on new HIV prevention initiatives, treatments and a vaccine.

UNAIDS noted in its 2010 report that an estimated 33.3 million people around the world live with HIV. The agency further reported that the number of new infections has fallen 19 percent since 1999. UNAIDS also found that 5.2 million of the estimated 15 million people with the virus in developing countries who need antiretroviral treatment receive it.

“In a scenario unthinkable just a few years ago, we now have the knowledge to begin to end AIDS in our lifetimes,” said Katabira, professor of medicine at Uganda’s Makerere University. “Yet, at this moment of extraordinary scientific progress and potential, the global response to AIDS faces crippling financial challenges that threaten past success and future progress. Through this declaration, we stand together to call on world leaders across all sectors to provide increased resources, visionary leadership and a full-fledged commitment to seize the opportunity before us.”

This year marks the first time since 1990 that the International AIDS Conference has taken place in the United States—President Obama in 2009 completed the process that lifted the ban on people with HIV from entering the country. City officials and HIV/AIDS service providers alike plan to use the biennial gathering to highlight local efforts to combat the epidemic.

D.C. Officials, HIV/AIDS groups seek presence at conference

The Department of Health’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, Sexually Transmitted Disease and Tuberculosis Administration will present 15 scientific abstracts on the epidemic during the 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. Mayor Vincent Gray is among those who will speak at a Memorial AIDS Quilt ceremony on July 22.

“It’s appropriate that AIDS 2012 is taking place in the District, its first return to the U.S. in 22 years, as the District has in so many ways been the face of our nation’s epidemic,” said D.C. Council member David Catania (I-At Large.) “From years of an inadequate and failed response to now, an increasingly effective and aggressive one, the District embodies the varied and diverse experience our nation has endured with the deadly disease. AIDS2012 will be a fantastic opportunity for the District to showcase its innovative prevention and treatment programs for the best and brightest in the field. The District stands as an example of what can occur when data-driven, evidence-based policies are put in place.”

Whitman-Walker Health will hold a forum on the state of the epidemic at the Lisner Auditorium, where the city’s first AIDS forum took place in 1983, on July 24. Metro Teen AIDS and Us Helping Us have also scheduled a series of events to coincide with the conference. Organizers have also organized tours of Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive, Food and Friends, La Clinica del Pueblo and other D.C. HIV/AIDS service organizations for delegates.

“We are pleased and honored to have the International AIDS Conference come to D.C.,” Dr. Ray Martins, chief medical officer at Whitman-Walker, told the Blade. “The conference gives the world a chance to learn more about the state of HIV/AIDS in the District of Columbia, but also the breadth of the response to the epidemic locally. It will allow us to highlight the tremendous efforts made by outreach workers and volunteers as well as health care providers and our elected officials.”

A number of gatherings, panels and other events will also take place throughout the city in the days leading up to the conference. These include the Gay Men’s Health Summit at George Washington University and the Global Forum on MSM and HIV on July 21, a panel on stigma in transgender and other HIV-vulnerable communities at the Human Rights Campaign on July 21 and Youth Force’s annual conference at Gallaudet University in Northeast Washington from July 17-19 and the International Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV/AIDS’ conference at Howard University from July 17-19.

“It’s really an incredible event, so I’m glad it’s coming back here,” Ron Simmons, president of Us Helping Us, told the Blade. “With the eyes of the world focused on you, this is the time to take advantage of it.”

Calls to bolster response to domestic epidemic

HIV/AIDS activists also plan to use the conference to urge lawmakers in this country and around the world to reaffirm their commitment to ending the epidemic.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, journalist Tavis Smiley and former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young are among those scheduled to speak at the “Keep the Promise” March that will wind its way from the Washington Monument to the intersections of 3rd Street, N.W., and Constitution and Pennsylvania Avenues, N.W., on July 22. Members of the We Can End AIDS coalition told the Blade earlier this month that they plan to hold a five-point march on July 24 that organizers said could end in acts of non-violent civil disobedience.

Policy makers also plan to urge Congress to adequately fund policies they say effectively combat the domestic epidemic.

“When people think of AIDS today, most probably don’t realize that AIDS is still really in a crisis mode in our country,” said Carl Schmid, deputy executive director at the AIDS Institute, during a press conference at the National Press Club in D.C. on Tuesday. He noted that 20 percent of the 1.2 million Americans with HIV today do not know their status. Schmid also pointed to roughly 50,000 new diagnoses each year. “Many, including our youth, have become complacent. With nearly 40 percent of new infections occurring in those under age 29 and with more HIV in our country than ever before, it is imperative that we raise our country’s consciousness.”

President Obama in 2010 unveiled a National HIV/AIDS Strategy that seeks to reduce rates of HIV and HIV-related health disparities and increase access to care for people with the virus.

Under the White House’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2013, funding for HIV prevention programs would increase by $40 million. The president also seeks a $75 million increase in funding for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program under the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Response Emergency Act.

Julie Scofield, executive director of the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors, applauded the Obama administration for what she described during the National Press Club press conference as its ongoing commitment to fight the domestic epidemic. She stressed, however, that federal funding has not kept pace with the needs of those with HIV.

“It has always been important to acknowledge from the very beginning of this fight that the goals of the strategy cannot be achieved without significant increases in funding for critical domestic HIV/AIDS discretionary programs,” said Scofield.



Asian American and LGBTQ: A Heritage of Pride

May is Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Heritage Month



Glenn D. Magpantay (Photo courtesy of Glenn D. Magpantay)

Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (APIs) are the nation’s fastest growing racial minority group by 2040, one in 10 Americans will be of Asian ancestry. And, while many Americans think that anti-Asian hate and racism towards Asian Americans has disappeared, the community disagrees.

The Asian American Foundation which found that Asian Americans are continually subjected to hate, violence, and discrimination, baldly reveals that disparity. 

  • 33 percent of Americans think hate towards Asian Americans has increased in the past year, compared to 61 percent of Asian Americans themselves.
  • In the past year, 32 percent of Asian Americans across the country reported being called a racial slur; 29 percent said they were verbally harassed or verbally abused.
  • Southeast Asian Americans report even higher incidences of being subject to racial slurs (40 percent), verbal harassment or abuse (38 percent), and threats of physical assault (22 percent).
  • Many Asian Americans live in a state of fear and anxiety with 41 percent of Asian American/ Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (AANHPI) believing they will likely be the victims of a physical attack due to their race, ethnicity, or religion. These numbers are disturbing.  

I serve as the only Asian American Pacific Islander member on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. And, I am the first and only queer AAPI on the U.S. commission. I am deeply honored to both serve my country and represent my Asian Americans and Pacific Islander community.    

Last year, the commission investigated the Federal Response to Anti-Asian Racism in the United States. With congressional authorization, the report documented the experiences of AANHPIs in the U.S. since the dubbing of COVID-19 as the “China Virus” infecting people with the “Kung Flu” by government leadership. Words matter, as this report shows.

This report has a deep personal connection for me. I am the survivor of a hate crime of 25 years ago for being gay, and the victim of a hate crime for being Asian 25 months ago 

The Stop AAPI Hate Coalition reported that bias incidents against individuals who are Asian and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer (LGBTQ) were most prominent between 2019 and 2022, highlighting the intersectional nature of these incidents. For example, two transgender Asian women stated: 

“I was with my new boyfriend at a restaurant. When we walked in the server started calling me names … a b—h, ch—k, tra—i.e. … He said I have a big fat p—s, and told me to go back to China. Then my boyfriend proceeded to walk in the restaurant and when I took a step forward, the server hit me, so I left.” 

“Left a restaurant with friends in the Asian district of town. A man began to follow me calling out ‘Hey you f—got c—k!’ and ‘Come here you virus!’ I began to walk fast towards a crowd until he stopped following me.”

To address these and other equally appalling experiences, I helped shepherd the bipartisan Commission on Civil Rights recommendations to the president, Congress, and the nation that: 

  • Prosecutors and law enforcement should vigorously investigate and prosecute hate crimes and harassment against Asian Americans, as well as Asian Americans who are LGBTQ.
  • First responders should be trained to understand what exactly constitutes a hate crime in their jurisdiction, including the protections of LGBTQ people.
  • Federal, state, and local law enforcement and victim services should identify deficiencies in their programs for individuals with limited English proficiency

Greater language access will make an enormous impact for the Asian American community as one in five Asian individuals speak a language other than English at home. A third (34 percent) is limited English proficient. The most frequently spoken languages are Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Thai, Khmer, Bengali, Gujarati, Hindi, and Punjabi.   

For me, this report comes full circle. Since 1988, I’ve lobbied for passage of LGBTQ-inclusive federal and state laws to prevent hate crimes. Since 2001, I’ve supported South Asian and Muslim victims of post 9/11 violence. In response to the shootings at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Fla, in 2016; Atlanta Spa in Georgia in 2021; and Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colo., in 2022, I‘ve trained over 3,000 lawyers, law students, and community leaders on hate crimes law.  

And yet, our work is not yet done. 

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month. June is LGBTQ Pride Month. Despite these challenges, we are resilient. Let us join together in celebrating our Heritage of Pride 

Glenn D. Magpantay, Esq., is a long-time civil rights attorney, professor of law and Asian American Studies, and LGBTQ rights activist. Glenn is a founder and former Executive Director of the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance (NQAPIA). He is principal at Magpantay & Associates: A nonprofit consulting and legal services firm. In 2023, the U.S. Senate (majority) appointed Glenn to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights to advise Congress and the White House on the enforcement of civil rights laws and development of national civil rights policy. 

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CDC issues warning on new ‘deadlier strain’ of mpox

WHO says epidemic is escalating in Congo



JYNNEOS mpox vaccine (Photo courtesy of the CDC)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a health advisory regarding a deadlier strain of the Mpox virus outbreak which is currently impacting the Democratic Republic of Congo.

According to the CDC, since January 2023, DRC has reported more than 19,000 suspect mpox cases and more than 900 deaths. The CDC stated that the overall risk to the U.S. posed by the clade I mpox outbreak is low.

The risk to gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men who have more than one sexual partner and people who have sex with men, regardless of gender, is assessed as low to moderate the agency stated.

While no cases of that subtype have been identified outside sub-Saharan Africa so far, the World Health Organization said earlier this week that the escalating epidemic in Congo nevertheless poses a global threat, just as infections in Nigeria set off the 2022 outbreak according to a WHO spokesperson.

The spokesperson also noted that as Pride Month and events happen globally, there is more need for greater caution and people to take steps at prevention including being vaccinated.

The CDC advises that while there are no changes to the overall risk assessment, people in the U.S. who have already had mpox or are fully vaccinated should be protected against the type of mpox spreading in DRC. Casual contact, such as might occur during travel, is not likely to cause the disease to spread. The best protection against mpox is two doses of the JYNNEOS vaccine.

The CDC also noted the risk might change as more information becomes available, or if cases appear outside DRC or other African countries where clade I exists naturally.

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Journalists are not the enemy

Wednesday marks five years since Blade reporter detained in Cuba



The Hungarian Parliament in Budapest, Hungary, on April 4, 2024. Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and his government over the last decade has cracked down on the country's independent media. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Wednesday marked five years since the Cuban government detained me at Havana’s José Marti International Airport.

I had tried to enter the country in order to continue the Washington Blade’s coverage of LGBTQ and intersex Cubans. I found myself instead unable to leave the customs hall until an airport employee escorted me onto an American Airlines flight back to Miami.

This unfortunate encounter with the Cuban regime made national news. The State Department also noted it in its 2020 human rights report.

Press freedom and a journalist’s ability to do their job without persecution have always been important to me. They became even more personal to me on May 8, 2019, when the Cuban government for whatever reason decided not to allow me into the country.  

Washington Blade International News Editor Michael K. Lavers after the Cuban government detained him at Havana’s José Marti International Airport on May 8, 2019. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

‘A free press matters now more than ever’

Journalists in the U.S. and around the world on May 3 marked World Press Freedom Day.

Reporters without Borders in its 2024 World Press Freedom Index notes that in Cuba “arrests, arbitrary detentions, threats of imprisonment, persecution and harassment, illegal raids on homes, confiscation, and destruction of equipment — all this awaits journalists who do not toe the Cuban Communist Party line.” 

“The authorities also control foreign journalists’ coverage by granting accreditation selectively, and by expelling those considered ‘too negative’ about the government,” adds Reporters without Borders.

Cuba is certainly not the only country in which journalists face persecution or even death while doing their jobs.

• Reporters without Borders notes “more than 100 Palestinian reporters have been killed by the Israel Defense Forces, including at least 22 in the course of their work” in the Gaza Strip since Hamas launched its surprise attack against Israel on Oct. 7, 2023. Media groups have also criticized the Israeli government’s decision earlier this month to close Al Jazeera’s offices in the country.

• Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, Washington Post contributor and Russian opposition figure Vladimir Kara-Murza and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s Alsu Kurmasheva remain in Russian custody. Austin Tice, a freelance journalist who contributes to the Post, was kidnapped in Syria in August 2012.

• Reporters without Borders indicates nearly 150 journalists have been murdered in Mexico since 2000, and 28 others have disappeared.

The Nahal Oz border crossing between Israel and the Gaza Strip on Nov. 21, 2016. Reporters without Borders notes the Israel Defense Forces have killed more than 100 Palestinian reporters in the enclave since Hamas launched its surprise attack against Israel on Oct. 7, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Secretary of State Antony Blinken in his World Press Freedom Day notes more journalists were killed in 2023 “than in any year in recent memory.”

“Authoritarian governments and non-state actors continue to use disinformation and propaganda to undermine social discourse and impede journalists’ efforts to inform the public, hold governments accountable, and bring the truth to light,” he said. “Governments that fear truthful reporting have proved willing to target individual journalists, including through the misuse of commercial spyware and other surveillance technologies.”

U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power, who is a former journalist, in her World Press Freedom Day statement noted journalists “are more essential than ever to safeguarding democratic values.” 

“From those employed by international media organizations to those working for local newspapers, courageous journalists all over the world help shine a light on corruption, encourage civic engagement, and hold governments accountable,” she said.

President Joe Biden echoed these points when he spoke at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner here in D.C. on April. 27.

“There are some who call you the ‘enemy of the people,'” he said. “That’s wrong, and it’s dangerous. You literally risk your lives doing your job.”

I wrote in last year’s World Press Freedom Day op-ed that the “rhetoric — ‘fake news’ and journalists are the ‘enemy of the people’ — that the previous president and his followers continue to use in order to advance an agenda based on transphobia, homophobia, misogyny, islamophobia, and white supremacy has placed American journalists at increased risk.” I also wrote the “current reality in which we media professionals are working should not be the case in a country that has enshrined a free press in its constitution.”

“A free press matters now more than ever,” I concluded.

That sentiment is even more important today.

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