Connect with us

National

U.S. officials dispute media reports on Uganda anti-gay bill

Embassy says legislation not yet out of committee

Published

on

Department of State, gay news, Washington Blade

U.S. officials offered a different account about the status of a draconian anti-gay bill in Uganda on Tuesday, saying the legislation had yet to move out of committee and disputing earlier media reports and State Department comments by sayingย the panel is incapable of removing the infamous death penalty provision from the legislation.

In an email to the Washington Blade on Tuesday,ย an informed source at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala said the bill is still in committee. That contradicts media reports on the bill โ€” which imposes a penalty of life in prison for homosexual acts โ€” that indicated theย Legal & Parliamentary Affairs Committee hadย reported out the bill last week.

Additionally, the embassy source, who asked not to be named, said that the committee can only compile a report on the bill for recommendations to the bill, and can’t make changes to it. That means the panel can’t take out the death penalty provision for “aggravated homosexuality,” which media sources reported was removed.

Anย earlier version of the bill defined “aggravated homosexuality”ย as someone with HIV engaging in homosexual acts, having homosexual sex with a minor or the repeated offense of homosexuality.

Nicole Thompson, a State Department spokesperson, affirmed on Tuesday when speaking with the Washington Blade over the phone that the legislation had yet to pass in committee.

“As with all domestic legislation, it’s up to the Ugandan Parliament to determine whether or not to move forward with a bill,” Thompson said. “The bill is currently in committee and has not yet reached the full parliament for consideration.”

On Monday, Victoria Nuland, a State Department spokesperson, affirmed media reports that the bill had passed committee, saying during a daily press briefing, “Our understanding is that a version of the bill has now passed the committee in Uganda.โ€ Thompson on Tuesday said Nuland may have misspoke when making those comments.

Thompson referred questions about whether the committee has authority to make changes to the legislation or take out the death penalty provision to the Uganda government. Additionally, she said she couldn’t answerย questions about expectations for the timing of when the bill might pass out of committee and be taken up by the full parliament.

Advocates have said the vote could happen as soon as this week, but are hoping action is delayed beyond Dec. 14, when the legislative session ends.

Additionally, Thompson articulated previously stated concerns that the United States has with the legislation.

“The United States shares the concerns of several members of Uganda’s civil society and the Ugandan government’s own human rights commission, which determined the anti-homosexuality bill violates both Uganda’s constitution and its obligations under international law,” Thompson said. “Beyond that, we have serious concerns about the negative impact of the bill on public health interests in Uganda, including our concerns that it would undercut Uganda’s ability to fight HIV/AIDS infection and the spread of HIV/AIDS.”

Thompson added, “We just note that as President Obama said in reference to the same anti-homosexuality bill in his comments during the National Prayer Breakfast, it is unconscionable to target gays and lesbians for who they are.”

Following talks that Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson had with high-profile leaders over the weekend in Uganda, Thompson said diplomatic outreach to the Ugandan government continues,ย although she wasn’t immediately sure whether these talks involve Carson or other diplomats.

“Even if Assistant Secretary Carson hasn’t spoken with them beyond that โ€” I think right now he’s in the Democratic Republic of Congo โ€” our diplomatic offices, they’re on the ground in Uganda,” Thompson said. “Even though I’m not there, I can pretty assuredly say that this is an issue of ongoing and continual dialogue between our government … and the government of Uganda.”

Thompson declined to comment on the response that Ugandan officials offered to U.S. officials, saying, “We generally don’t provide a play-by-play on our diplomatic exchanges, so I can’t tell you exactly what the Ugandans said to him. But this is an issue that is of great concern, of course, to the U.S. government because that doesn’t embody the principles that we extol across the globe, and they don’t live up to the universally accepted standards for human rights.”

In 2009, the Washington Blade reportedย that Carson met with President Yoweri Museveni about the bill and later had conversations about it on the phone. On both occasions, the State Department said at the time Museveni had pledged to block the bill from becoming law and would veto it if it came to his desk.

UPDATE: During the State Department daily briefing on Tuesday, Nuland corrected herself by saying the anti-gay bill hasn’t yet passed out of committee, adding she believes Museveni “took onboard” the potential negative impact of the bill during his talks with Carson.

The transcript of that portion of the briefing follows:

QUESTION: Do you have anything to add to what โ€“ the Uganda answer you gave yesterday? Has there been any more contact, do you know, between โ€“ since Ambassador โ€“ since Assistant Secretary Carson was there on this โ€“ the anti-homosexuality law?

MS. NULAND: Just a little bit more on Assistant Secretary Carsonโ€™s conversation: He did talk to parliamentary leaders and to President Museveni very directly about our concerns, the concerns of the international community. Our understanding is that President Museveni certainly took onboard the fact that this could have a serious impact on the way Uganda is perceived, the way Uganda is supported in the international community. There are many hoops for this thing to go through, as you know. I think yesterday we said that the bill had passed the parliamentary committee. My understanding is thatโ€™s incorrect. It hasnโ€™t even gotten to that stage. So we just need to continue to highlight the issues.

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Florida

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

They warn: โ€œthis book has been identified by some community members as unsuitable for students.โ€

Published

on

Advisory Notice (via Twitter)

A southwest Florida district put parental โ€œadvisory noticeโ€ on over 100 books, many of which are race or LGBTQ-themed.ย 

A great number of books in Collier County Public Schools, either digital or physical, now have warning labels writing โ€œAdvisory notice to parents,โ€ according to an NBC report,

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

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

These measures, which Alves described as a โ€œcompromise,โ€ happened after the districtโ€™s legal representative talked with the Florida Citizens Alliance, a conservative group which initiated a โ€œPorn in Schools Reportโ€ project last year. The report included a list of books that โ€œpromote gender self-identification and same-sex marriageโ€ as well as titles that include โ€œindecent and offensive material,โ€ as the group explained. 

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

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

The law referred by Oliver is also known as the โ€œDonโ€™t Say Gayโ€ law.

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

Continue Reading

National

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

Health insurers would be required to cover costs

Published

on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue Reading

National

Biden administration shifts monkeypox vaccine approach amid shortage

Health experts sees new guidance as mixed bag

Published

on

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @washblade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular

[class^="wpforms-"]
[class^="wpforms-"]