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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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District of Columbia

D.C. Council budget bill includes $8.5 million in LGBTQ provisions

Measure also changes Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs

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The D.C. Council approved Mayor Muriel Bowser’s budget proposal calling for $5.25 million in funding for World Pride 2025. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The D.C. Council on June 12 gave final approval for a $21 billion fiscal year 2025 budget for the District of Columbia that includes more than $8.5 million in funding for LGBTQ-related programs, including $5.25 million in support of the June 2025 World Pride celebration that D.C. will be hosting.

Also included in the budget is $1.7 million in funds for the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs, which includes an increase of $132,000 over the office’s funding for the current fiscal year, and a one-time funding of $1 million for the completion of the renovation of the D.C. Center for the LGBTQ Community’s new building in the city’s Shaw neighborhood.

The D.C. LGBTQ+ Budget Coalition earlier this year asked both the D.C. Council and Mayor Muriel Bowser to approve $1.5 million for the D.C. Center’s building renovation and an additional $300,000 in “recurring” funding for the LGBTQ Center in subsequent years “to support ongoing operational costs and programmatic initiatives.” In its final budget measure, the Council approved $1 million for the renovation work and did not approve the proposed $600,000 in annual operational funding for the center.

The mayor’s budget proposal, which called for the $5.25 million in funding for World Pride 2025, did not include funding for the D.C. LGBTQ Center or for several other funding requests by the LGBTQ+ Budget Coalition.

At the request of D.C. Council member Zachary Parker (D-Ward 5), the Council’s only gay member, the Council approved at least two other funding requests by the LGBTQ+ Budget Coalition in addition to the funding for the LGBTQ Center. One is $595,000 for 20 additional dedicated housing vouchers for LGBTQ residents who face housing insecurity or homelessness. The LGBTQ housing vouchers are administered by the Office of LGBTQ Affairs.

The other funding allocation pushed by Parker is $250,000 in funds to support a Black LGBTQ+ History Commission and Black LGBTQIA+ history program that Parker proposed that will also be administered by the LGBTQ Affairs office.

Also at Parker’s request, the Council included in its budget bill a proposal by Parker to change the Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs to become a “stand-alone entity” outside the Executive Office of the Mayor. Parker told the Washington Blade this change would “allow for greater transparency and accountability that reflects its evolution over the years.”

He said the change would also give the person serving as the office’s director, who is currently LGBTQ rights advocate Japer Bowles, “greater flexibility to advocate for the interest of LGBTQ residents” and give the Council greater oversight of the office. Parker noted that other community constituent offices under the mayor’s office, including the Office of Latino Affairs and the Office of Veterans Affairs, are stand-alone offices.

The budget bill includes another LGBTQ funding provision introduced by D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6) that allocates $100,000 in grants to support LGBTQ supportive businesses in Ward 6 that would be awarded and administered by the Office of LGBTQ Affairs. Allen spokesperson Eric Salmi said Allen had in mind two potential businesses on 8th Street, S.E. in the Barracks Row section of Capitol Hill as potential applicants for the grants.

One is the LGBTQ café and bar As You Are, which had to close temporarily earlier this year due to structural problems in the building it rents. The other potential applicant, Salmi said, is Little District Books, D.C.’s only LGBTQ bookstore that’s located on 8th Street across the street from the U.S. Marine Barracks.

“It’s kind of recognizing Barrack’s Row has a long history of creating spaces that are intended for and safe for the LGBTQ community and wanting to continue that history,” Salmi said  “So, that was his kind of intent behind the language in that funding.”

The mayor’s budget proposal also called for continuing an annual funding of $600,000 to provide workforce development services for transgender and gender non-conforming city residents experiencing homelessness and housing instability.

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Virginia

Suhas Subramanyam wins Democratic primary in Va. 10th Congressional District

Former Obama advisor vows to champion LGBTQ rights in Congress

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Virginia state Sen. Suhas Subramanyam (D-Fairfax County) (Photo courtesy of Subramanyam's campaign)

Virginia state Sen. Suhas Subramanyam (D-Loudoun County) on Tuesday won the Democratic primary in the race to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) in Congress.

Subramanyam won the Democratic primary in Virginia’s 10th Congressional District with 30.4 percent of the votes. The Loudoun County Democrat who was an advisor to former President Barack Obama will face Republican Mike Clancy in November’s general election.

“I’m thrilled to be the Democratic nominee in Virginia’s 10th, and to have won this election during Pride Month,” Subramanyam told the Washington Blade on Wednesday in an emailed statement. “As I have done in the state legislature and as an Obama White House policy advisor, I will always stand as an ally with the LGBTQ+ community.”

Wexton, who is a vocal LGBTQ rights champion, last September announced she will not seek re-election after doctors diagnosed her with progressive supranuclear palsy, a neurological disorder she has described as “Parkinson’s on steroids.” Wexton is a vice chair of the Congressional Equality Caucus and a previous co-chair of its Transgender Equality Task Force.

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Baltimore

Police say they didn’t spray a chemical agent at Baltimore Pride. Why don’t those who attended believe it?

Attendees allege city failed to adequately respond to emergency

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A parade participant is photographed clutching on to a rainbow flag at Baltimore’s Pride Parade held on June 15, 2024. (Photo by Ronica Edwards/Baltimore Banner)

BY BRENNA SMITH and JOHN-JOHN WILLIAMS IV | A chemical agent that disrupted Pride Parade festivities last weekend continues to cause confusion and raise suspicion among many in the Baltimore LGBTQIA+ community, who question the police account of what happened.

The Baltimore Police Department said Tuesday that they had determined the released substance was Mace, but did not say how they came to that conclusion. A BPD spokesperson said that the chemical was released after two groups of people got into an altercation. Three people were treated and released from a nearby hospital because of injuries from the spray.

The rest of this article can be read on the Baltimore Banner’s website.

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