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Pappas ‘steps down’ as head of DC AIDS office

Move comes 2 days before new health director set to take office

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Gregory Pappas, D.C. Department of Health, World AIDS Day, Washington Blade, gay news

‘It has been a great honor to serve the District of Columbia,’ Gregory Pappas said in a statement. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Gay physician and AIDS specialist Gregory Pappas released a statement Tuesday night saying he was “stepping down” as head of the D.C. Department of Health’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD and Tuberculosis Administration (HAHSTA).

Pappas sent the statement to the Blade, which he said he prepared with the help of his attorney, hours after DOH Interim Director Shaun Snyder announced Pappas’s abrupt departure in an email sent to DOH employees

The announcement came two days before Dr. Joxel Garcia, Mayor Vincent Gray’s nominee to become the new DOH director, is scheduled to take office as acting director on Aug. 1. The City Council was expected to vote on whether to confirm Garcia’s nomination in September when the Council returns from its summer recess.

“The purpose of this email is to inform you of a change in the management of the HIV, AIDS Hepatitis, STD, and TB Administration,” Snyder said in his email, a copy of which was obtained by the Washington Blade.

“Today is Dr. Gregory Pappas’s last day with the Department of Health and I would like to take this opportunity to thank him for his service,” Snyder said without giving a reason for Pappas’s departure.

Snyder then announced in his email to surprised employees that gay DOH official Michael Kharfen would replace Pappas as the HAHSTA director effective immediately.

“As many of you know, Mr. Kharfen currently serves as the Bureau Chief of Partnerships, Capacity Building & Community Outreach and has recently stepped up to serve as the Interim Bureau Chief of STD and TB Control,” Snyder said in his email.

“He is a committed public health official and I know he will provide solid leadership during this transition period,” he said. “Mr. Kharfen’s efforts, along with those of the dedicated HAHSTA team, will ensure that we promote the highest quality services for our client and patients.”

In an email sent to the Blade, Snyder added, “We do not anticipate any impact on services as a result of the transition.”

Pappas, reached by phone Tuesday night, declined to comment on his unexpected departure as HAHSTA director, saying he preferred to discuss the matter in his written statement.

Two sources from community-based AIDS organizations that are familiar with HAHSTA and who spoke on condition that they not be identified, told the Blade Pappas made informal arrangements to meet with representatives of the groups over the next few weeks and made no mention that he would be leaving HAHSTA. The two sources believe Pappas was dismissed.

“It has been a great honor to serve the District of Columbia,” he said in his statement. “During my time at HAHSTA I had the once in a life time opportunity to represent the city at the 2012 International AIDS Society Meeting,” which was held in D.C.

He discusses in the statement what he believes were his accomplishments in helping advance the city’s fight against AIDS, including the reduction of new AIDS diagnoses by 50 percent over the past five years.

“For public heath, team work is essential,” his statement says. “In stepping down I welcome the new director of the Department of Health, Dr. Joxel Garcia, who will assemble his own team. I wish him well in taking D.C. to the next level of excellence and recognition. I look forward to being able to spend more time with my family.”

Earlier in the day on Tuesday, DOH spokesperson Najma Roberts told the Blade she couldn’t say why Pappas left his job without any advance notice or who made the decision to replace him if his departure was involuntary.

“It’s really a personnel matter and I really don’t have the exact details,” she said. “But Michael Kharfen will be the interim director as of today. DOH is moving forward and we’re really excited about having him on board.”

Kharfen is a familiar figure to local AIDS activists, who have had dealings with him in his various roles at the DOH and HAHSTA for close to 10 years.

“It’s been a somewhat eventful day,” he said in a brief telephone interview on Tuesday.

Asked if he knew the reason for Pappas’s sudden departure, Kharfen said, “I don’t really know about that. I just know that I’ve been asked to step in in the interim. I’m looking forward to continuing the work with the management team here, and with the support and confidence of the director’s office and the administration to keep our focus on our work around reducing HIV, STDs, hepatitis and TB.”

Mayor Gray named Pappas as head of HAHSTA in February 2011. Pappas held a wide range of AIDS and public health-related positions over the 25 years prior to his joining HAHSTA, including a post as adviser to U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher during the Clinton administration. He also served as medical adviser in a consulting capacity for the now defunct National Association of People With AIDS.

Whitman-Walker Health executive director Donald Blanchon said he looks forward to working with Kharfen in his new role as interim HAHSTA director.

“We are grateful for Dr. Pappas’ contributions in D.C.’s fight against HIV/AIDS, especially his work to prepare the HIV care community for health care reform,” Blanchon said in a statement to the Blade. “Yet we all know that this fight is bigger than any one individual or organization. Today there are nearly 15,000 D.C. residents who need ongoing health care and support in the face of HIV/AIDS. And, each year, another 800 individuals are newly diagnosed with HIV. That is why I am confident that the mayor will find a new leader who can continue the progress that our community has made over the past five years.”

Below is the full text of Dr. Gregory Pappas’s statement released on July 30:

“It has been a great honor to serve the District of Columbia. During my time at HAHSTA I had the once in a life time opportunity to represent the city at the 2012 International AIDS Society Meeting. Through that meeting I believe we were able to set the record straight that D.C. has one of the most successful and creative city programs fighting the virus.

“D.C. is turning the tide with new diagnoses of HIV being cut in half over the past five years. Disparities persist but they too are decreasing. Our success is due to a rapid scale up of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy with the excellent providers in the city and a supportive community.

“For public health, team work is essential. In stepping down I welcome the new Director of the Department of Health, Dr. Joxel Garcia, who will assemble his own team. I wish him well in taking D.C. to the next level of excellence and recognition. I look forward to being able to spend more time with my family.”

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Comings & Goings

Nathanson takes role at Outright Action

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Rikki Nathanson

The Comings & Goings column is about sharing the professional successes of our community. We want to recognize those landing new jobs, new clients for their business, joining boards of organizations and other achievements. Please share your successes with us at: [email protected] 

The Comings & Goings column also invites LGBTQ+ college students to share their successes with us. If you have been elected to a student government position, gotten an exciting internship, or are graduating and beginning your career with a great job, let us know so we can share your success. 

Congratulations to Rikki Nathanson on her new position as Senior Advisor – Global Trans Program with OutRight Action International in New York. Nathanson will be based in D.C.  

 “I am absolutely thrilled to be taking on this new role as Senior Advisor in OutRight’s Global Trans Program,” said Nathanson. “I have finally found the perfect fit for me: as a trans woman who has been fighting for equality not only for myself, but for others globally, this position is not only a job, it’s intrinsically part of who I am. So, what better way to live, nurture and grow myself.” 

Nathanson will be working closely with all program staff to ensure a cohesive and intentional approach to gender issues throughout OutRight’s programs, including its approach to gender ideology movements. She will lead new initiatives on gender advocacy and policy change, focused but not limited to legal gender recognition and anti-discrimination legislation and policies.

Prior to this Nathanson was director of housing programs at Casa Ruby in D.C. She has also held a number of other positions including: founder/executive director of Trans Research, Education, Advocacy & Training (TREAT), Zimbabwe; chairperson Southern Africa Trans Forum, SATF, Cape Town, South Africa; executive director, Ricochet Modeling Agency, Zimbabwe; and company secretary for Dunlop Zimbabwe Limited, Zimbabwe. 

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SMYAL Director Shakir to step down Dec. 31

Board to launch Executive Search beginning in January

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SMYAL Executive Director Sultan Shakir addresses the crowd at the 2021 Fall Brunch. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Sultan Shakir, who has served as executive director of D.C.’s LGBTQ youth advocacy organization SMYAL since August 2014, announced on Friday that he will be stepping down from his position effective Dec. 31.

In a Dec. 3 announcement, SMYAL said details of Shakir’s future career plans would be announced in the coming weeks.

“While we are sad to see Sultan leave, we wish him nothing but the same success in his new endeavor as he had at SMYAL,” said Rob Cogorno, SMYAL’s board chair. “His leadership and vision enabled SMYAL to expand greatly needed services to LGBTQ youth in the DC metro area throughout his tenure,” Cogorno said.

“I am immensely proud of the work we have been able to accomplish together in my time at SMYAL,” Shakir said in a statement released by SMYAL. “SMYAL has been an integral and vital resource in the DMV community for over 37 years, and while we have come a long way in combating homophobia, transphobia, racism, sexual health stigma, homelessness, violence against the LGBTQ community, and oppression, we have a long way to go,” he said.

“This work has never been about one person,” said Shakir. “SMYAL was founded by our community and we’re still around because of our community,” he said. “I leave knowing that the commitment and passion of the SMYAL Board, staff, volunteers, and youth leaders have created a solid foundation from which our work will continue to grow until LGBTQ youth no longer need us.”

The SMYAL statement says that under Shakir’s tenure, SMYAL, which stands for Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders, expanded its programs and services for LGBTQ youth. Among other things, in 2017 SMYAL opened its first of several housing facilities for homeless LGBTQ youth that include culturally competent case management, education and employment assistance.

“The Youth Housing Program now comprises five programmatic models that serve a combined 61 youth residents,” the statement says.

It points out that also under Shakir’s leadership, SMYAL expanded the age range of the youth its programs serve under a new Little SMYALs program, which welcomes LGBTQ youth ages 6-12. And earlier in 2021 under Shakir’s guidance, SMYAL began a new Clinical Services Department “which provides affirming and accessible mental health counseling,” the statement says.

“The SMYAL Board of Directors will officially launch an Executive Search beginning in January 2022 and expects to have named a new Executive Director by summer 2022,” the statement says. It says the board will soon name an interim executive director to work with SMYAL’s Deputy Executive Director, Jorge Membreno, and the organization’s leadership team to oversee the day-to-day activities until a new executive director is named.

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Rainbow History Project to honor LGBTQ ‘Pioneers’

Virtual celebration to take place on Dec. 9

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David Mariner, gay news, Washington Blade
David Mariner (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

D.C.’s Rainbow History Project says it will honor and recognize 12 individuals and one organization by designating them as Community Pioneers “for their diverse contributions to the Washington-area LGBTQ community” at a Dec. 9 virtual celebration.

“Rainbow History Project is an all-volunteer organization dedicated to collecting, preserving and sharing the LGBT history of metropolitan Washington, D.C.,” the group says in a statement announcing the event. “The Pioneers awards recognize diverse community leaders for their roles as organizational founders, innovators, advocates and volunteers,” the statement says.

“The Pioneers celebration will be held virtually and is designed with special features that reproduce the feeling of attending in-person, such as live streaming and video chatting with other attendees and Pioneers before and after the core awards programing,” according to the statement.

“Celebrating our Community Pioneers has been a cherished tradition since Rainbow History Project’s founding 21 years ago,” said Rob Berger, the organization’s chairperson. “It’s always an inspiring event, and we are happy that our virtual platform will still allow participants to meet and talk with the Pioneers,” Berger said in the statement.

The virtual event is free and open to the public, the statement says. Organizers released this link for those interested in attending, saying a short registration process may require registering in advance. 

Remo Conference

Following is the list of Community Pioneers scheduled to be honored at the Dec. 9 event as released by Rainbow History Project along with the project’s description of their backgrounds.

Arlington Gay and Lesbian Alliance, a local group that since its founding has addressed equal rights issues for LGBTQ Virginians from a state and local perspective.

– Eboné F. Bell, founder and editor-in-chief of Tagg Magazine and Tagg Communication LLC.

Bart Forbes, founding member of “Gay Fairfax,” a pioneering television newsmagazine program in Northern Virginia.

– Ellen Kahan, youth and family advocate, president of Rainbow Families, former director of the Lesbian Services Program at Whitman-Walker Health, and currently senior director of programs and partnerships at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

– Theodore Kirkland (deceased), a co-founder of D.C. Black Pride in 1991, member of the Gay Liberation Front and Skyline Faggots, active community health volunteer and advocate.

– Paul Marengo, community leader through LGBTQ organizations including Reel Affirmations, Cherry Fund, and Pride celebrations for youth, Latino, Black and Transgender communities.

– David Mariner, executive director of CAMP Rehoboth, and former executive director of the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community.

– Mark Meinke founder longtime chair, Rainbow History Project, and co-founder of Rainbow Heritage Network, a national organization for the recognition and preservation of sites, history and heritage associated with sexual and gender minorities.

– Michael “Micci” Sainte Andress, artist, health educator and advocate and an early leader in bringing African Americans into HIV/AIDS clinical trials.

– Boden Sandstrom, founder and owner of Woman Sound (later City Sound), the first all-woman sound company, which makes LGBTQ rights rallies and the women’s music scene possible.

Casse Culver (deceased), nationally acclaimed D.C. lesbian feminist singer-songwriter, and partner of Boden Sandstrom, whose followers said her love songs and feminist lyrics moved audiences from foot stomping to silent reflection.  

Alan Sharpe, playwright, director and co-founder of the African American Collective Theater in Washington, D.C., in 1976, which now focuses on LGBTQ life and culture in the Black community.

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