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AIDS experts express hope at ‘Return to Lisner’

Whitman-Walker commemorates D.C.’s first AIDS forum 29 years ago

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Return to Lisner, gay news, Washington Blade

A panel of experts discussed the state of the AIDS epidemic Tuesday night at Lisner Auditorium, the same place where D.C.’s first AIDS forum was held 29 years earlier. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A panel of experts in the fields of AIDS-related medicine, research, public policy, and education discussed the state of the AIDS epidemic Tuesday night at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium, the same place where D.C.’s first AIDS forum was held 29 years earlier.

Tuesday’s forum followed an impassioned keynote address by Jeanne White-Ginder, mother of Ryan White, the Indiana teenager who was diagnosed with AIDS in 1984 at the age of 14. White, a hemophiliac who contracted the virus from contaminated blood products, became an internationally recognized advocate for AIDS research and education before he died in 1990.

D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who served as president of the Whitman-Walker Clinic at the time of the first AIDS forum at Lisner Auditorium in 1983, shared his recollection of the earlier forum at Tuesday’s event.

“When we came here to Lisner with nearly every seat filled on April 4, 1983, there was one thing that was certain,” he said. “And that was that something potentially devastating was about to happen. And we had to arm ourselves. We had to get ready.”

Graham noted that the 1983 forum was held at a time when little was known about the cause of AIDS and how it was transmitted. Although there were just a handful of reported cases in D.C., the city’s politically influential gay community was aware of the growing number of cases in New York, San Francisco, and other large U.S. cities, where otherwise healthy gay men were dying within months of being diagnosed with the disease.

“At a time when there was no Twitter, no Facebook, no Internet, no websites, 1,100 persons showed up on that night to find out what this was all about,” Graham said. “We believed then as we do now that if we could muster the will to marshal the resources we could stop AIDS dead in its tracks and we could care for those in dire need.”

The auditorium was about two-thirds full at Tuesday night’s forum.

Activists looking back at the early years of AIDS have often referred to that period as the “dark days,” when friends and loved ones died in increasing numbers.

With that as a backdrop, the panelists at Tuesday’s forum, while saying much still remains to be done, pointed to the dramatic scientific advances in the ensuring 29 years that have transformed an HIV infection from a near-certain death sentence to a chronic but manageable condition in which a person with HIV can live a normal lifespan.

“I think hope shines bright,” said Jose Zuniga, president of the International Association of Physicians in AIDS Care.

“We have saved millions of lives through the provision of antiretroviral therapies,” Zuniga told the forum.

“This hope also serves to shine a light on the inequalities, the inequities, all the horrible – the racism, sexism, homophobia, trans phobia that are all barriers to our achieving the goals we have in mind,” said Zuniga. “Having said all of that, I remain highly hopeful and optimistic.”

Robert Redfield, chief of Infectious Diseases and director of HIV programs at the University of Maryland, said he was hopeful that further advances in antiretroviral drugs will lead to a “functional cure” of HIV infection before the end of this decade.

Redfield said researchers define a functional cure as the ability of an as yet to be developed drug or drug combination to permanently suppress the viral load in a person with HIV to a point where it is undetectable and the person no longer needs to take anti-retroviral drugs.

Currently, people with HIV whose viral level is undetectable through the use of existing antiretroviral drugs experience a relapse, with the virus reemerging in large numbers after the person stops taking the prescribed regimen of the drugs.

According to Redfield, researchers are getting closer to developing improved drugs that can seek out and destroy the ‘hidden’ forms of HIV that remain dormant in patients taking the current drug regimens but that reemerge if the patient stops taking the drugs.

In addition to Zuniga and Redfield, the other panelists included A. Cornelius Baker, former Whitman-Walker Clinic executive director and senior communications adviser and project director for a D.C.-based international consulting organization that addresses AIDS issues; Regan Hofmann, editor of POZ magazine; JoAnne Keatley, director of the Center of Excellence for Transgender Health at the University of California-San Francisco; and Adam Tenner, executive director of Metro Teen AIDS.

The panel was moderated by NBC Channel 4 News correspondent Tom Sherwood.

Baker and Hofmann each said they expected to die within a few years after their HIV diagnosis in the 1980s but now are confident that the effective drug therapies will enable them to advance to old age. Baker said he was pleased to celebrate his 50th birthday recently.

Hofmann, who follows the latest scientific developments on AIDS in her role as editor of POZ magazine, joked that her birthdays recently have taken on a new meaning.

“I’ve always been grateful to have my birthdays,” she said. “But now I’m officially old enough to lie about my age as a woman.”

Keatley said that while advances in drug therapies have yielded great benefits for most people with HIV, many general practice doctors and infectious disease specialists are not trained to address the special needs of transgender women with HIV.

“My problem with the current strategies is that while we’re putting a lot of hope and effort on new medical technologies I don’t feel we’re doing enough to reach out and engage with transgender populations and keep them in care,” she said. “I don’t think we’ve made enough investment and training of providers to be able to care for transgender bodies.”

Tenner, whose organization provides AIDS education for LGBT youth, said that while he, too, is optimistic that an end to AIDS is a possibility in the not too distant future he’s also troubled over shortcomings in government programs aimed at AIDS education and treatment.

“I’m angry that not every young person gets HIV education or bullying education,” he told the forum. “We could get every young person high quality AIDS education but we are not getting that.”

Baker pointed to recently released findings of a National Institutes of Health study of HIV prevalence in black men who have sex with men in six large U.S. cities, including D.C. He noted that existing LGBT and AIDS organizations don’t appear to be addressing issues faced by this particular population.

The study found high levels of HIV infection, incarceration, unemployment and other social problems in black gay men to the same extent found in heterosexual black men.

In summing up the panelists’ views, Sherwood said each appeared to be highly optimistic while expressing reservations or concern over certain aspects of the response to AIDS.

“We all have hope with an asterisk,” he said.

Jeanne White-Ginder (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

White-Ginder told of how her son met a man undergoing tests for AIDS-related symptoms at New York City’s Roosevelt Memorial Hospital, where her son went for an experimental treatment a few years after his AIDS diagnosis in Indiana. At the time, most of the hospital’s AIDS patients were gay men.

“Ryan was sitting in the lab getting his lab work done and a gentleman came up to him and said, ‘Oh my gosh, you’re Ryan White, aren’t you?’” White-Ginder said. “And Ryan went, ‘Yes.’ He said they found 12 tumors in me. He said I haven’t been diagnosed with AIDS yet but they’re pretty sure that’s what I have. He said I want to thank you for all you’ve done for us people with AIDS.”

White-Ginder continued: “The gentleman turned away and Ryan looked at me and said, ‘You know mom I’m the only one who really knows what he’s talking about.’ He said, ‘We’re both fighting the same disease.’ We never took it to represent one cause or another. We wanted to represent everybody with this disease…So that is why I’m here with you today,” she said.

Before the panel discussion began, White-Ginder introduced a music video about her son produced by Michael Jackson, who released his song “Gone Too Soon” as part of the video. Jackson made the video shortly after Ryan White’s death in 1990.

She noted that both Jackson and singer Elton John befriended her son in the years after his diagnosis in a showing of solidarity to join Ryan White in the fight against AIDS discrimination. The two singers attended Ryan White’s funeral.

The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington also performed at the forum prior to the start of the panel discussion.

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Md. biotech company’s HIV cure project clears first hurdle

‘We all have something to be excited about’

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HIV cure, gay news, Washington Blade
‘We all have something to be excited about,’ said AGT CEO Jeff Galvin.

American Gene Technologies, the Rockville, Md., biotech company, has announced that the first patient to receive its genetically engineered treatment therapy aimed at curing people of HIV/AIDS encountered no adverse side effects from the treatment.

In an Aug. 2 statement, AGT said that based on the data obtained from Patient One in its Phase 1 human trial of its HIV treatment called AGT103-T, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Data and Safety Monitoring Board voted unanimously to allow AGT to continue its HIV cure program without modification.

“The AGT103-T pipeline is a therapy for treating HIV disease,” the company’s statement says. “The therapy is designed to induce durable viral suppression by delivering therapeutic genes to the recipient’s immune cells,” it says. “The resulting immune cells are expected to survive attack by HIV and durably suppress the virus at undetectable levels without the need for antiretroviral treatment.”

The thumbs up decision by the Data and Safety Monitoring Board allows the company to continue its clinical trial with more participants to further confirm the HIV treatment’s safety outcome. The next phase in the trials will be to determine the treatment’s effectiveness in fully protecting the human body from HIV.

“We have six more patients,” said AGT CEO Jeff Galvin in referring to the patients who will be tested for possible adverse side effects in the coming weeks. Galvin spoke at a July 29 gathering to celebrate the success of Patient One at AGT’s headquarters offices in Rockville.

“If this works, they will be permanently immune from HIV,” he said. “Just think what this can do with the epidemic. We all have something to be excited about,” he told the gathering of about 100 people.

“Keep your fingers crossed. Let’s all keep hoping and praying,” Galvin said. “We will know by the middle of next year,” he said, referring to when the human trials will likely determine whether the AGT103-T treatment, which has successfully stopped HIV from infecting human cells in laboratory experiments, will work just as effectively on people with HIV.

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92% of LGBTQ+ adults have received at least one dose for COVID-19

59% of LGBTQ+ respondents reported Covid-19 made them feel socially isolated, & 50% reported that it impacted their mental health.

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Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

NEW YORK – A summary of data collected as part of the annual LGBTQ+ Community Survey by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation in partnership and supported by The Rockefeller Foundation in New York City, found that the vast majority – 92% – of LGBTQ+ adults surveyed in the United States had received at least one vaccination for Covid-19.

Although vaccination rates vary somewhat within the LGBTQ+ community, the rates across race and ethnicity, gender identity and sexual orientation, and age are well above the rates for various general adult populations where the data are available:

  • By race and ethnicity, 90% of Latinx respondents, 85% of Black respondents, 96% of Asian or Pacific Islander respondents, and 85% of Native American/Alaskan and Middle Eastern/North African LGBTQ+ adults, among other race identities have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.
  • By gender identity and sexual orientation, 92% of cisgender lesbian and bi+ women, 93% of cisgender gay and bi+ men, and 92% of transgender and non-binary people have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.
  • By age, 91% of LGBTQ+ respondents aged 18-34, 92% of LGBTQ+ respondents aged 35-5, and 94% of LGBTQ+ respondents aged 55 and older have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine

While vaccination rates are high, Covid-19 took a toll on well-being among respondents. The survey finds that 59% of LGBTQ+ respondents reported that Covid-19 made them feel socially isolated, and 50% of respondents reported that it impacted their mental health.

“Increasing vaccination rates among communities of color is a major focus for us, and working with the Human Rights Campaign Foundation gives us the opportunity to better understand the impact of Covid-19 on LGBTQ communities of color. We look forward to continuing our support and outreach.” said Otis Rolley, Senior Vice President of Equity and Economic Opportunity at The Rockefeller Foundation.

Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles

The data finds the Covid-19 pandemic led to social and financial loss, especially among LGBTQ+ people of color:

  • 21% of LGBTQ+ adults surveyed reported that a close family member or friend has died from Covid-19
  • LGBTQ+ people of color surveyed reported higher levels of loss due to Covid-19 compared to white LGBTQ+ people:
    • 30% of Latinx LGBTQ+ respondents
    • 28% of Black LGBTQ+ respondents
    • 25% of Native American/Alaskan and Middle Eastern/North African LGBTQ+ respondents, among other race identities
    • 18% of Asian/Pacific Islander LGBTQ+ respondents
    • 17% of white LGBTQ+ respondents
  • 36% of LGBTQ+ respondents reported that a close friend or family member has become very sick from Covid-19
  • 24% of LGBTQ+ respondents reported that Covid-19 has negatively impacted their financial well-being
  • LGBTQ+ people of color surveyed are more likely than white LGBTQ+ people to have experienced a negative financial impact during the pandemic:
    • 33% of Native American/Alaskan and Middle Eastern/North African LGBTQ+ adults, among other race identities
    • 26% of Asian/Pacific Islander LGBTQ+ adults
    • 26% of Latinx LGBTQ+ adults
    • 25% of Black LGBTQ+ adults
    • 22% of white LGBTQ+ adults

“There are many reasons why LGBTQ+ vaccination rates may be higher than the general population, including higher percentages of the LGBTQ+ community being liberal, living in blue states, and living in urban areas,” said CMI Senior Director of Research, David Paisley. “While participants had strong education levels, those with no more than a high school diploma still had an 87% vaccination rate. We also see that Covid isolation significantly impacted LGBTQ+ people, which may have motivated quick vaccination to reenter the community.”

The new data build on the HRC Foundation’s previously released reports, including the most recent report, “Covid-19 and the LGBTQ Community: Vaccinations and the Economic Toll of the Pandemic,” which was released as a part of the HRC Foundation’s vaccine public education campaign: “For Ourselves, For Each Other: Getting to the Other Side of the Pandemic.” The HRC Foundation has also partnered with the Black Trans Advocacy Coalition on a resource, “Finding Financial Stability During Turbulent Times,” with steps and advice for those who may be struggling to make ends meet during these difficult times. Read more about the HRC Foundation’s efforts during Covid-19 here.

The Rockefeller Foundation is supporting the Human Rights Campaign Foundation on a number of Covid-19-related projects to support research and community education to reach LGBTQ communities of color during this crisis through The Rockefeller Foundation’s Equity-First Vaccination Initiative. Learn more here.

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Cornell University study on impact of discrimination on LGBTQ of color

Around 25% of LGBTQ youth have attempted suicide, but the rates are starkly higher for LGBTQ youth of color than their white counterparts

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McGraw Tower, Cornell University (Photo Credit: Cornell University)

ITHACA, NY. – Cornell University’s What We Know Project in conjunction with a coalition of leading LGBTQ rights groups last month published a comprehensive curation of data on studies that chart the intersection of anti-LGBTQ and racial discrimination.

The findings found that discrimination inflicts profoundly greater harm on LGBTQ people of color in a wide range of areas, including grossly disproportionate rates of: experiencing discrimination over  the past year, poorer mental and physical health, greater economic insecurity, and attempts to die by suicide.

 In addition, LGBTQ people of color are more likely than white LGBTQ people to live in states without protections  against discrimination and that state anti-LGBTQ laws harm LGBTQ people. 

“This research brief makes clear the tangible harms that discrimination inflicts on LGBTQ people of color,  and the urgent need for public policy that reflects what the research tells us about how we can reduce those  harms,” said Dr. Nathaniel Frank, the study’s author.

Highlights of the research brief’s findings include

LGBTQ people are more likely than non-LGBTQ people to be people of color, and Black LGBTQ  Americans are disproportionately likely to live in states without protections against discrimination. For  example, 42% of LGBT people are people of color compared to 32% of non-LGBT people and the majority of  Black LGBT Americans live in the South (51.4%, more than twice the share of any other region), where most  states lack anti-discrimination protections. 

LGBTQ people of color face higher odds of discrimination than both non-LGBTQ individuals and LGBTQ  white people. For example, LGBTQ people of color are more than twice as likely to experience anti-LGBTQ  discrimination (slurs or other verbal abuse) when applying for jobs than white LGBTQ individuals (32% vs.  13%). LGBTQ people of color are more than twice as likely as white LGBTQ people to experience anti-LGBTQ  discrimination when interacting with the police (24% vs. 11%). 

Black LGBT Americans are more likely to experience economic insecurity than Black non-LGBT Americans.  For example, the majority of Black LGBT people (56%) live in low-income households (below 200% of the  federal poverty level) compared to 49% of Black non-LGBT Americans, and Black LGBT adults are also more  likely to experience food insecurity than Black non-LGBT adults (37% compared to 27%). 

Hundreds of studies conclude that experiencing anti-LGBTQ discrimination increases the risks of poor  mental and physical health, including depression, anxiety, suicidality, PTSD, substance use, and  psychological distress. 

LGBTQ people of color face disproportionate odds of suicidality, which is linked to discrimination. For  example, while 12% of white LGBTQ youth attempted suicide, the rate is 31% for LGBTQ Native/Indigenous  youth, 21% for LGBTQ Black youth, and 18% of LGBTQ Latinx youth.  

While supportive laws, family, and peers lower the risk of poor health outcomes for LGBTQ people of  color, anti-LGBTQ state laws inflict tangible harm on sexual minority populations. For example, states  with “denial of service” laws that give license to discriminate against LGBT residents between 2014 and  2016 were linked with a 46% increase in LGBT mental distress. Black LGBTQ youth who reported high levels  of support from at least one person, or who had access to an LGBTQ-affirming space, reported attempting  suicide at lower rates than those who lacked such support (16% vs. 24%). 

Supportive laws, family, and peers lower the risk of poor health outcomes  for LGBTQ people of color. 

• Suicide attempts by LGBT youth dropped by 7 percent in states that legalized same-sex marriage.22 

• The corollary is that anti-LGBTQ state laws inflict tangible harm on sexual minority populations. States with “denial of service” laws that give license to discriminate against LGBT residents were linked with a 46% increase in LGBT mental distress.23 

• Black LGBTQ youth who reported high levels of support from at least one person, or who had access to an LGBTQ-affirming space, reported attempting suicide at lower rates than those who lacked such support (16% vs. 24%). Those with high levels of family support had rates of past-year attempted suicide nearly one third as high as those who lacked such support (22% vs. 8%).24 

• Protective measures that have been found to help reduce anxiety, depression, and suicidality among LGBTQ youth include: Establishing inclusive practices and anti-discrimination policies; peer, community, and family support, including dedicated school groups; access to affirmative mental health and social services; societal confrontation of attitudes and norms that exacerbate minority stress; and practitioner training and interventions designed to disrupt negative coping responses and build resilience.

Experiencing discrimination is associated with greater odds of harm to  psychological and economic well-being, which is reflected in data on  disparities for LGBTQ people of color. 

• Hundreds of studies conclude that experiencing anti-LGBTQ discrimination increases the risks of  poor mental and physical health, including depression, anxiety, suicidality, PTSD, substance use,  and psychological distress. 

• LGBT people of color have work-place experiences that are more negative than those of white  LGBT employees, reporting that their success and work-life balance are fostered less extensively,  they have less transparent evaluations, and they are respected less by supervisors. 

• Among LGBTQ people surveyed, 51% of Black respondents say discrimination harms their  ability to be hired, compared with 33% of white respondents; 41% say it has an impact on  their ability to retain employment, compared with 31% of white respondents; 77% of Black  respondents report that discrimination impacts their psychological well-being, a rate nearly 50%  higher than the total LGBTQ survey population. 

• While racial discrimination on its own is not associated with mental health disorders, the  combination of racial discrimination with gender and/or sexual orientation discrimination is  significantly associated with increased odds of a past-year mental health disorder.

LGBTQ people of color face disproportionate odds of suicidality, which is  linked to discrimination.  

• Around 25% of LGBTQ youth of all races have attempted suicide, but the rates are starkly  higher for LGBTQ youth of color than their white counterparts: While 12% of white LGBTQ  youth have attempted suicide, the rate is 31% for LGBTQ Native/Indigenous youth, 21% for  LGBTQ Black youth, and 18% for LGBTQ Latinx youth. 

• In a 95%-non-white LGBT sample, those who report experiencing anti-LGBT victimization (such  as bullying and harassment) are 2.5 times more likely to report a past-year suicide attempt  compared to those who do not report victimization. 

• Black LGBTQ youth who experience anti-LGBTQ discrimination face twice the rate of past year suicide attempts compared to youth who do not (27% vs. 12%). Black LGBTQ youth who  experience race-based discrimination also face higher odds of attempting suicide than those  who do not (20% vs. 14%).

• Black LGB adults are over 40% more likely to have made a serious suicide attempt in their  lifetime than white LGB adults. 

• Latinx and Native American/Pacific Islander LGBT youth are 50% more likely to attempt suicide  than white LGBT youth. Latinx LGBT girls are nearly twice as likely to attempt suicide than  white LGBT youth.

• LGBTQ students who experience discrimination “based on multiple social identities” report more  use of deliberate self-harm compared to LGBTQ students who experience racial discrimination  alone or who do not experience significant discrimination of any kind.

Reflecting on the study’s findings, key executives from participating LGBTQ Advocacy groups weighed in:

“These painful figures highlight an indisputable link between discrimination, economic security,   mental and physical health. People with multiple stigmatized, marginalized social and political identities, particularly Black LGBTQ+/Same Gender Loving people, bear a disproportionate amount  of the weight illustrated by the data in this study. Statutory equality for LGBTQ+ people nationwide is a necessary foundation to remove the gaps in existing civil rights laws if we are to ever live up to  our country’s founding promises of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all,”  said David Johns, Executive Director, National Black Justice Coalition.

The majority of Black LGBTQ people live in the South, with nearly half (44%) of all Black women couples raising children. Even today, most of these states still do not protect LGBTQ people from discrimination and have overtly discriminatory laws on their books. It is no wonder the disparities are so profound and it is a testament to the strength and resilience of our people that they are doing  as well as they are. For our community and for our children it’s time for federal action!” said Kierra Johnson, Executive Director, National LGBTQ Task Force.

“This important brief only further solidifies what we have known for a very long time—the combination of racism and anti-LGBTQ discrimination has serious and long-lasting effects for the health and well-being of LGBTQ people of color. This research highlights why federal non-discrimination protections are overdue and vital to protecting the most some of the most underrepresented and vulnerable members of our community. Federal anti-discrimination protections are absolutely necessary in protecting and supporting all LGBTQ people, and this is especially true for LGBTQ people of color,” said Imani Rupert-Gordon, Executive Director, National Center for Lesbian Rights.

“Study after study shows that nondiscrimination protections improve economic opportunities, public  safety, and physical and mental well-being of LGBTQ people. It is well past time for the essential protections available only in some of our states and cities to be extended to all LGBTQ Americans, especially LGBTQ people of color, who are disproportionately burdened by the lack of protections, ” said Kasey Suffredini, CEO and National Campaign Director, Freedom for All Americans.

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