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AIDS experts express hope at ‘Return to Lisner’

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



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.



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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