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Liberace biopic premieres this weekend

Michael Douglas, Matt Damon have garnered film considerable buzz

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Matt Damon, Michael Douglas, Liberace, HBO, Gay News, Washington Blade
Matt Damon, Michael Douglas, HBO, Liberace, Gay News, Washington Blade

Michael Douglas and Matt Damon star as Liberace and his younger lover in a new HBO film premiering this weekend. (Photo courtesy HBO)

LOS ANGELES — “Behind the Candelabra,” a new film chronicling the relationship between iconic entertainer Liberace and his lover Scott Thorson premieres Sunday on HBO.

Liberace was 40 years older than Thorson when they began their five-year relationship in 1977. Michael Douglas portrays Liberace and Matt Damon plays Thorson. The film has generated considerable buzz and media attention over the past few weeks. Director Steven Soderbergh has said he couldn’t find a major American studio willing to take on the project.

“There was a sense,” Soderbergh told NPR, “that the movie wouldn’t have any appeal outside of a gay audience, and that that audience wouldn’t be big enough to return the investment. And so we just couldn’t get anybody to do it.”

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The White House

Francisco Ruiz appointed director of White House Office of National AIDS Policy

Former CDC official is first Latino to run office

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Francisco Ruiz, director of the Office of National AIDS Policy. (Photo public domain)

Francisco Ruiz’s appointment as the director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy has elicited widespread acknowledgment across various sectors.

Ruiz, a distinguished figure in public health with a history of collaboration and strategic partnerships, assumes the role as the first-ever Latino to serve as ONAP’s director, underscoring a commitment to diversity and inclusivity in addressing public health challenges.

In response to his appointment, Domestic Policy Advisor Neera Tanden underscored the Biden-Harris administration’s steadfast commitment to ending the HIV epidemic and enhancing the quality of life for people living with HIV. Ruiz himself acknowledged this sentiment, emphasizing that accelerating efforts to combat the HIV epidemic and improve the well-being of those affected remain a paramount public health priority for the White House.

Previously serving at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Ruiz played a pivotal role in advancing national HIV prevention campaigns, particularly contributing to the goals of the Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. Initiative. His experience in fostering strategic partnerships and ensuring sensitive prevention messaging has been noted as instrumental in reaching diverse communities across the country and in U.S. territories.

Ruiz in his new role will be tasked with accelerating efforts to end the HIV epidemic and improve the quality of life for people living with HIV. 

Guillermo Chacón, president of the Latino Commission on AIDS and founder of the Hispanic Health Network, expressed confidence in Ruiz’s ability to advance the national strategy to end the HIV epidemic.

“Mr. Ruiz is a respected public health leader and a fitting choice to ensure that the Biden-Harris administration meets the goal of ending the HIV epidemic in the United States and U.S. Territories,” said Chacón.

“Francisco Ruiz’s appointment signifies a renewed focus on addressing health disparities and promoting health equity, particularly for historically marginalized and underserved communities,” he added. “As a person living with HIV and the son of Mexican immigrants, Ruiz brings personal insight and professional expertise to his new role, ensuring that strategies to combat HIV/AIDS are scientifically grounded and connected with the experiences of those most affected.”

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Federal Government

FDA plans to lift ban on gay, bisexual sperm donors

Ban has been in place since 2005

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(Los Angeles Blade graphic)

The Food and Drug Administration is planning to lift its ban on sperm donations from men who have sex with men, according to a report in the Wall Street JournalThe report also says the FDA would simultaneously lift the ban on donations of other tissues and organs from gay and bisexual men.

The Wall Street Journal report suggests that the FDA could put out a draft of the new policy for public comment by the summer, with a final rule in place by the end of 2024 or early 2025.

Reached for comment, a spokesperson for the FDA would not confirm the Wall Street Journal story, but acknowledged that, “the FDA routinely reviews approaches regarding donor screening and testing for donors of human cells, tissues and cellular and tissue-based products (HCT/Ps) to determine what changes, if any, are appropriate based on technological and evolving scientific knowledge.” 

The FDA imposed the sperm donation ban on men who have sex with men in 2005, as part of an expansion on existing prohibitions on blood donations from gay and bisexual men which were meant to mitigate the risk that HIV could be spread through donations.

The policies stemmed from an erroneous belief that gay men were more likely to carry HIV, regardless of their individual behaviors and risk factors.

Last year, the FDA finally ended the ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men, which had been in place since the early days of the AIDS crisis. The FDA now requires that blood donors are screened based on individual behaviors in a gender-neutral manner, in addition to the donations themselves being tested for HIV and other blood-borne illnesses.

Alice Ruby, executive director of the Sperm Bank of California in Berkeley, says the lifting of the blood ban should provide a template for ending the sperm ban.

“I’m hoping it’s similar to the blood donation screening, where it’s based on behaviour, rather than being part of a population,” she says. “We test donors repeatedly for HIV as required by the FDA.”

The Sperm Bank of California has served many lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and Ruby says that she’s often told her clients would like a queer donor, to ensure that the biological father won’t be someone who disapproves of queer families. The ban removes that choice from would-be mothers.

The Sperm Bank of California has been opposed to the gay sperm donation ban since the policy was first proposed 20 years ago and has advocated in tandem with the National Center for Lesbian Rights for the policy to be scrapped.

“People are pretty unaware that the ban exists. I think there’s a lot of gay men who would be happy to contribute in this way, especially since a large number of people using sperm donation are LGBT couples and single people,” Ruby says.

Sperm banks across the country have been experiencing shortages of donor sperm, especially from donors of color. Opening the donor pool to gay and bi men could help ease the shortage. Ruby has told the Blade that the Sperm Bank of California has had to turn away gay and bi donors every week, up to 400 men in a single year.

When the FDA releases its draft policy around sperm donation, there will be a public comment period before the regulation is made final. Ruby says anyone interested opening up sperm donation to gay and bisexual men should submit a comment to support the change.

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State Department

Russian activist meets with US global LGBTQ, intersex rights envoy

Aleksander Voronov visited the State Department last week

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Aleksandr Voronov from Coming Out, a Russian LGBTQ rights group based in St. Petersburg, met with Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights abroad, at the State Department last week. (Photo courtesy of Stern's X account)

A Russian activist last week met with the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ and intersex rights at the State Department.

Jessica Stern on March 29 posted to her X account a picture of Aleksandr Voronov of Coming Out, an LGBTQ advocacy group that was previously based in St. Petersburg.

“I was honored to host Coming Out activist Aleksandr Voronov at the State Department,” said Stern. “Russia’s transgender ban and designation of the so-called ‘LGBT movement’ as extremist undermines the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all Russians. We stand with all LGBTQI+ persons.”

Voronov told the Washington Blade he “gave her an update on the situation with LGBTQ rights in Russia.” Voronov said Stern “was very supportive and unbelievably kind.”

The Kremlin over the last decade has cracked down on LGBTQ rights.

The Russian Supreme Court last November ruled the “international LGBT movement” is an extremist organization and banned it. The Moscow Times on March 31 reported authorities in Orenburg, a city near the country’s border with Kazakhstan that is roughly 900 miles south-southeast of Moscow, arrested a gay bar’s owner and charged him with “extremism.”

Voronov fled Russia and now lives in Lithuania. 

“Most of the organizations and public activists, such as me and the organization I lead, were forced to leave the country, but continue working ‘in exile,'” Voronov told the Blade. “Most openly queer-places were closed during last months; but there are still lots of activists, organizations and of course ordinary LGBTQ individuals in Russia who are still there, and will be staying there. And we try to support them as much as we can.”

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