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Is reconciliation possible for minority journalist convention?

After black journalist group quits coalition, and gay journalist group joins, accusations of homophobia may mar chances of true ‘unity.’



Unity 2012, NLGJA, Matthew Mullins, gay news, Washington Blade

The National Gay and Lesbian Journalists Association contended with much controversy in its first year participating in the quadrennial minority journalist convention, UNITY. (Photo by Matthew Mullins)

Though the largest regular gathering of journalists in the nation included LGBT members for the first time, the coalition for minority journalists known as UNITY may be heading toward demise.

As first reported by the Maynard Institute, UNITY executive director Onica Makwakwa says the conference attracted 2,000 attendees this year, far below the 7,550 journalists who saw then Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama address the Chicago gathering. According to the Maynard Institute, Unity attracted 2,385 attendees. Much of that decline can be attributed to the absence of founding organization, the National Association of Black Journalists, which pulled out of the coalition after 18 years in 2011 citing disputes over the division of finances, and held its own New Orleans conference attracting 2,386 in June.

Though NLGJA was only invited to the coalition after the NABJ departure, a ‘black vs. gay’ narrative has been explored in some of the most recent coverage of the split. After NLGJA was invited into UNITY late last year, the organization successfully lobbied the coalition to change its name from UNITY: Journalists of Color, Inc. to solely UNITY Journalists, generating criticism from some NABJ members, including the organization’s president Gregory Lee, according to the Village Voice.

According to the Voice, NABJ has long been accused of opposing NLGJA’s membership in the coalition, which has been voted on several times by the UNITY board over the past decade and a half. However, Lee flatly denies the accusation of homophobia driving the split — citing his group’s LGBT task force, a first among minority journalist groups — and tells the Voice’s Steven Thrasher that after being forced to lay off staff, the coalition’s largest member — contributing more than half of the attendees in 2008 — was opposed to the financial split that saw NABJ receive a mere 35 percent return on profits.

However, Lee accuses NLGJA of lacking diversity in its leadership, which NLGJA leaders claim is a driving factor behind the organization’s desire to be part of the UNITY coalition. Attract black, Hispanic, Asian and Native American LGBT journalists to the organization, as well as share in the common experience of being part of an underrepresented community in the newsroom, can benefit all attendees of the quadrennial conference, according to NLGJA members.

“I know the perception among some folks of color is that NLGJA is an organization run by a bunch of white guys,” Michelle Johnson of Boston University, and a member of both NABJ and NLGJA told the New York Times. “There are white guys that are in the organization who have also faced discrimination in the newsroom.”

Ken Miguel — segment producer at ABC affiliate KGO-TV in San Francisco and a National Board member of NLGJA — could not speak to the Blade officially for the Board, but said personally he was disappointed with what he perceived as a missed opportunity for the National Association of Black Journalists to meet and get to know LGBT journalists at the Unity Conference.

“If they wanted to show this was not about homophobia and race then they should have made an effort to be at [the NLGJA] events, and to get face time, and to shake hands with NLGJA journalists and let us know this is not about us,” Miguel said, saying that while Lee, and many other NABJ leaders were in attendance August 1 – 4 in Las Vegas, he felt they stayed away from LGBT-related panels and events. “I was on some panels where it was absolutely fantastic where [Native American Journalist Association] and [Asian American Journalist Association] and [National Association of Hispanic Journalists] members who were not gay were asking the right questions about what should they be covering.”

In the conference’s opening session hosted by CNN Worldwide executive vice president and managing editor, Mark Whittaker, ESPN writer and NABJ, NLGJA member LZ Granderson continued to take NABJ to task regarding its reluctance to rejoin the UNITY coalition following the name change.

“Homophobia has played a role in this tension, race has certainly played a role in this tension, money has played a role in this tension,” Granderson said. “And ALL of those things need to be talked about and hashed and on the table, not just the ones that are P.C.”

“You want to talk historically is there homophobia within [NABJ]? Yes,” KGO-TV’s Miguel told the Blade. “But do you want to say NABJ was the only group that voted that way? I know people who were members of the board then who told me, when we were discussing whether or not we should join Unity, that they were not the only ones that voted that way.”

Other longstanding members of NLGJA that attended the conference were skeptical about the need for the LGBT journalist group to continue to partner with UNITY.

“In the end, it seemed like being part of the Unity convention was more about what was good for NLGJA as an organization and less about its members,” lamented former NLGJA conference co-chair Fred Kuhr, who now edits the LGBT media trade publication, Press Pass Q, and says that the lack of programming integration between the four associations was disappointing.

The UNITY board was not the only entity to face pressures over inclusion in its name at this year’s conference. During a Thursday members meeting, several NLGJA members expressed disappointment the organization’s name excludes bisexual and trans members. Outgoing board president, David Steinberg and NLGJA executive director Michael Tune both assured the members gathered that concerns would be taken seriously and that the organization would consider evaluating the problem. This reporter was one of the members present who spoke out in favor of a name change during that discussion.

During that meeting, NLGJA members were also introduced to the organization’s new board President, Washington D.C. native, Michael Triplett, who is an assistant managing editor at Bloomberg-BNA and has served long on the board. Triplett said few words as he was recovering from laryngitis, but expressed a desire for members to come to him with ideas and concerns.

Though LGBT attendees of the conference disagreed over future participation, most agreed that the conference was an overall positive experience.

“Its no secret that I was the voice of doubt [on the Board] that this was going to work,” said Miguel. “do I think that it’s been beneficial for the organization? Yes, my eyes have been opened. I hope that the other minority journalists that did attend, their eyes were opened too, and I get a sense that that was the case.”

Both NABJ’s Lee and former NABJ President and co-founder of UNITY Will Sutton expressed hope that a reconciliation could occur between the group and UNITY, a sentiment echoed throughout the weekend by leaders from NAJA, NAHJ and AAJA, the other three founding members of the coalition. However, Lee implied that a condition of rejoining would be for members to vote on NLGJA’s continued participation in UNITY, despite the organization’s full participation this year.

“Since NABJ chose to pull out of UNITY, why is it even making a stink and making statements about UNITY now?” Kuhr — who has attended all but one NLGJA national conference since 1994 — told the Blade. “If they want to work to make UNITY better, then rejoin. If not, then stop making trouble from the sidelines. This kind of political back-and-forth is not helpful to UNITY and its other member organizations. If this squabbling can’t be tamped down, then it’s one more reason for NLGJA not to remain in UNITY.”

Phil Reese is a member of the National Lesbian and Gay Journalist Association and a member of the local D.C. chapter board.

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Art used to spotlight people of color lost to AIDS in the South

National AIDS Memorial, Southern AIDS Coalition created Change the Pattern exhibit



The National AIDS Memorial and Southern AIDS Coalition have announced a new initiative to raise awareness about the impact of HIV/AIDS among communities of color in the South. (Photo courtesy of the National AIDS Memorial)

The National AIDS Memorial has joined forces with the Southern AIDS Coalition to stage a series of art exhibitions and educational forums to honor Black and Brown people in the South who have been lost to HIV/AIDS.

The initiative, titled Change the Pattern, began in Jackson, Miss., on Wednesday with curated quilt exhibitions, displays, educational forums, advocacy, storytelling and quilt-making, according to a press release from the National AIDS Memorial. A $2.4 million grant from the biopharmaceutical company Gilead Sciences, Inc., funded Change the Pattern.

More than 500 hand-stitched quilt panels from the area were featured in what the National AIDS Memorial says is “the largest display of the AIDS Memorial Quilt ever” in Mississippi.

“By creating an empowering message and safe spaces for conversation, we can uplift, inspire and make progress toward ending the HIV epidemic, challenge cultural stigmas and continue the legacy of advocacy that the quilt represents,” said National AIDS Memorial CEO John Cunningham in the release. 

Change the Pattern was announced in honor of Southern HIV/AIDS Awareness Day during the Southern AIDS Coalition’s annual Saving Ourselves Symposium that took place in August. 

The conference, which was heavily attended by LGBTQ activists from the South, featured 100 quilt panels, and attendees participated in quilt-making workshops to make new quilt panels representing their loved ones.

Interested LGBTQ advocacy organizations in the South were invited to apply for funding to support local quilt-making workshops in their communities so as to ensure that the legacies of Black and Brown people are captured through newly-sewn panels on the quilt through the Memorial’s Call My Name program, according to the National AIDS Memorial press release. 

The application process opened on Sept. 15 with up to 35 eligible organizations receiving as much as $5,000 to support hosting local workshops. 

The first major Change the Pattern Quilt was founded 35 years ago as a visual representation of the need to end stigma and provide equitable resources to communities most impacted by HIV/AIDS, according to Southern AIDS Coalition Executive Director Dafina Ward.

“Change the Pattern is a call to action and change in the South,” said Ward. “Quilt-making has such a deep cultural connection in the Black community and in the South. The sharing and telling of these powerful stories through the quilt, coupled with advocacy and open dialogue, can help end HIV-related stigma and bring the stories of those we’ve lost to light.”

As the Change the Pattern initiative occurs, conversations about how to handle health epidemics within LGBTQ communities of color have become national topics, especially with the prevalence of monkeypox cases amongst Black gay men.

Despite earlier panic about the disease, the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention in a report released on Wednesday said that individuals who were vaccinated against the disease were less likely to be affected over the summer compared to those who weren’t. 

The effectiveness and duration of immunity after a single dose, however, is not known, and few individuals in the current outbreak have completed the recommended two-dose series, according to the report. 

The most recent CDC data reports that 25,509 monkeypox cases have thus far been confirmed in the U.S. Only one death has been reported.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Doctor, transgender spouse indicted for passing information to Russia

Jamie Lee Henry first active-duty Army officer to come out as trans



Jamie Lee Henry and their spouse Anna Gabrielian (Photos from social media)

A federal grand jury on Wednesday handed down an indictment of a Johns Hopkins anesthesiologist and her spouse, a doctor and major in the U.S. Army, with conspiracy and for the disclosure of individually identifiable health information related to their efforts to assist Russia in connection with the conflict in Ukraine.

The office of the U.S. Attorney for the District of Maryland in a press release stated Anna Gabrielian, 36, and her spouse, Jamie Lee Henry, 39, both of Rockville, Md., both of whom had secret clearances, were attempting to provide medical information about members of the military to the Russian government.

Gabrielian and Henry met with an individual they believed to be associated with the Russian government, but who was, in fact, an Federal Bureau of Investigation Undercover Agent.

Court documents indicate Gabrielian told the FBI agent posing as a Russian operative that she had previously reached out to the Russian Embassy by email and phone, offering Russia her and her spouses’ assistance.

According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, Gabrielian told the FBI agent that, although Henry knew of Gabrielian’s interaction with the Russian Embassy, she never mentioned Henry’s name to the Russian Embassy.

In the narrative released by the U.S. Attorney’s office, on Aug. 17, 2022, Gabrielian met with the FBI at a hotel in Baltimore. During that meeting, Gabrielian told the FBI she was motivated by patriotism toward Russia to provide any assistance she could to Russia, even if it meant being fired or going to jail. 

She proposed potential cover stories for her meeting with the “Russians” and stressed the need for “plausible deniability” in the event she was confronted by American authorities. Gabrielian also told the FBI that, as a military officer, Henry was currently a more important source for Russia than she was, because they had more helpful information, including how the U.S. military establishes an army hospital in war conditions and information about previous training provided by the U.S. military to Ukrainian military personnel. 

Henry identifies as a “transgender military physician” on their Twitter account.

Henry received public attention in 2015 after becoming the first known active-duty Army officer to come out as trans.

Henry was at one point a member of SPARTA, the nation’s largest nonprofit representing actively-serving trans U.S. servicemembers. A spokesperson for SPARTA, in an emailed statement commenting on the announcement of the arrest and indictment of Henry and their spouse told the Washington Blade:

“Transgender people are as diverse as the societies to which they belong. One’s gender identity neither increases nor decreases a propensity towards alleged criminal activity.”

As stated in the indictment, Gabrielian is an anesthesiologist and worked at Medical Institution 1 in Baltimore.  

Henry, a major in the U.S. Army who held a secret-level security clearance, is Gabrielian’s spouse and a doctor. During the time of the alleged conspiracy, Henry worked as a staff internist stationed at Fort Bragg, the home of the Army’s XVIII Airborne Corps, headquarters of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command and the Womack Army Medical Center.

Gabrielian was scheduled to have initial appearance at 11:30 a.m. on Thursday in U.S. District Court in Baltimore before U.S. Magistrate Judge Brendan A. Hurson. Henry is also expected to have an initial appearance today, although a time has not yet been set.

Full statement from SPARTA:

“SPARTA, a non-profit advocacy organization representing transgender Service members in the United States, is saddened to learn of the arrest and indictment of Jamie Lee Henry, an officer in the U.S. Army and a medical doctor.

SPARTA has long advocated for the inclusion and total equity for transgender persons throughout the United States uniformed services. Today, thousands are serving honorably and authentically at home stations worldwide.

The actions alleged in the indictment do not reflect Henry’s identity as transgender. Their alleged actions are those of an individual and should not be taken as a representation of transgender people broadly or transgender members of the military specifically.

All people in the United States are entitled to the same rights, including due process and the presumption of innocence in this case. SPARTA does not condone any actions alleged in the indictment and expects the process to play out fairly and equitably as it would for anyone accused of a crime.”

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The unvaccinated are 14 times more likely to contract monkeypox: health officials

Guidance updated to allow shots in places other than forearm



U.S. health officials are celebrating data finding the monkeypox contraction is lower among people who are vaccinated.

U.S. health officials are celebrating preliminary data on the vaccine used in the monkeypox outbreak, which has led them to conclude eligible persons who didn’t get a shot were 14 times more likely to become infected than those who are vaccinated.

The new data, as described by health officials on the White House monkeypox task force during a call with reporters on Wednesday, comes as the overall number of new cases of monkeypox is in sharp decline, although considerable racial disparities persist in the remaining cases as Black and Latino people are overrepresented in the numbers.

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, said during the conference call the preliminary data — collected from 32 states between July 2022 and September 2022 — provides an early shapshot of the effectiveness of the vaccine and cause for optimism on the path forward.

“These new data provide us with a level of cautious optimism that the vaccine is working as intended,” Walkensky said. “These early findings and similar results from studies and other countries suggest even one dose of the monkeypox vaccine offers at least some initial protection against infection.”

Walensky during the conference call admitted the data is incomplete in numerous ways. For example, the data is based on information on individuals who have obtained only the first shot as opposed to both shots in the two-shot vaccination process. (The data showing positive results from individuals who have only one shot contradicts previous warnings from the same U.S. health officials that one shot of the monkeypox vaccine was insufficient.)

The data also makes no distinction between individuals who have obtained a shot through subcutaneous injection, a more traditional approach to vaccine administration, as opposed to intradermal injection, which is a newer approach adopted in the U.S. guidance amid the early vaccine shortage. Skeptics of the new approach have said data is limited to support the idea the intradermal injection is effective, particularly among immunocompromised people with HIV who have been at higher risk of contracting monkeypox.

Not enumerated as part of the data were underlying numbers leading health officials to conclude the unvaccinated were 14 times more likely to contract monkeypox as opposed to those with a shot, as well as any limiting principle on the definition of eligible persons. Also unclear from the data is whether individual practices in sexual behavior had any role in the results.

Despite the positive data on the monkeypox vaccine based on one shot, U.S. health officials warned during the conference call the two-shot approach to vaccine administration is consistent with their guidance and more effective.

Demetre Daskalakis, the Biden administration’s face of LGBTQ outreach for monkeypox and deputy coordinator for the White House monkeypox task force, made the case that for individuals at risk obtaining a second dose is “really important.”

“So we see some response after the first [shot] in the laboratory, but the really high responses that we want to really get — that you know, level 10 forcefield as opposed to the level five forcefield — doesn’t happen until the second dose,” Daskalakis said. “So the important message is this just tells us to keep on trucking forward because we need that second dose at arms that people haven’t gotten the first should start their series of two vaccines.”

Also during the call, health officials said they would be expanding opportunities for vaccines as pre exposure prophylaxis, as opposed to practices in certain regions granting vaccines in their limited supply to individuals who meet certain criteria or have had risk of exposure.

The Centers of Disease Control & Prevention, officials said, is also updating its guidance to allow injection of the vaccines in places other than a patient’s arm.

Daskalakis said fear of stigma about getting a noticeable shot in the forearm after obtaining a monkeypox vaccine was a key part of the decision to issue the new guidance on implementation.

“Many jurisdictions and advocates have told us that some people declined vaccine to monkeypox because of the stigma associated with the visible but temporary mark often left on their forearm,” Daskalakis said. “New guidance from CDC allows people who don’t want to risk a visible mark on their forearm to offer a vaccine on their skin by their shoulder or their upper back. Those are areas more frequently covered by clothes.”

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