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Quinn loses historic bid for NYC mayor

Lesbian City Council speaker finishes third; de Blasio wins

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Christine Quinn, New York City, gay news, Washington Blade
Christine Quinn, New York City, gay news, Washington Blade

Christine Quinn finished third in the New York Democratic primary for mayor behind Bill de Blasio and William Thompson. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn lost her bid to become New York’s first openly gay and first female mayor on Tuesday, finishing third in a bruising Democratic primary in which she was assailed on issues unrelated to her sexual orientation.

With pro-LGBT candidate Bill de Blasio, who holds the city’s elected post of Public Advocate, holding a commanding lead in the final weeks of the campaign, Quinn struggled to come in second.

A second place finish could have placed her in an Oct. 1 runoff election against de Blasio if de Blasio failed to reach a 40 percent threshold needed to win the Democratic nomination outright.

But with 98 percent of the voter precincts counted shortly after 1 a.m. Wednesday, Quinn was in third place with 15.5 percent of the vote, trailing former city comptroller William Thompson, who had 26 percent of the vote.

De Blasio had 40.2 percent. However city election board officials said it could take a week before they count absentee and challenged ballots to determine whether de Blasio’s vote count remains at 40 percent or higher.

“I want to congratulate my opponents Bill Thompson and Bill de Blasio on a hard-earned victory,” Politicker.com blog quoted Quinn as saying at her election night gathering at a hotel in Chelsea.

“This was a hard-fought race, we took a lot of knocks, we were up against a lot of odds, but I’m proud of the race we all ran,” Politicker quoted her as saying. “There’s a young girl out there who was inspired by the thought of New York’s first woman mayor and said to herself, ‘You know what? I can do that.’”

The New York Times reported that an exit poll showed LGBT voters comprised 9 percent of the Democratic primary electorate on Tuesday. According to the Times, the exit poll showed de Blasio beating Quinn among LGBT voters by a margin of 47 percent to 34 percent. Thompson received 9 percent of the LGBT vote, former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner received 4 percent, and city comptroller John Liu received 3 percent of the LGBT vote, the exit poll showed.

Many political observers view Quinn’s third-place finish as an astonishing turn of events following her status as the frontrunner in the nine-candidate race during the first several months of the campaign. At one point Quinn approached the 40 percent mark in public opinion polls, placing her far ahead of de Blasio both in potential votes and in money raised.

Kenneth Sherrill, a political science professor emeritus at New York’s Hunter College, said a number of factors contributed to Quinn’s stunning decline in the polls and de Blasio’s dramatic rise. Among them, he said, were Quinn and her campaign advisers’ failure to recognize early on the intensity of voter animus toward incumbent Mayor Michael Bloomberg, with whom Quinn was perceived as a strong ally.

Sherrill said the negative impact of Quinn’s perceived association with Bloomberg was compounded by her decision to wage a campaign geared more for a general election than a Democratic primary.

“In the general election you have to appeal to the broader centrist voters,” he said. “In a primary, the best strategy is to appeal to the most ideological and activist voters.”

According to Sherrill, de Blasio skillfully took the latter approach, positioning himself as a progressive champion of New Yorkers struggling to retain their hold on the middle class. He said de Blasio capitalized on Bloomberg’s unpopularity and succeeded in defining Quinn as a Bloomberg crony, stressing Quinn’s key role in 2009 in backing a change in the city charter that allowed Bloomberg to run for a third term.

Sherrill and other political observers say Quinn’s campaign was also hurt badly by an independent expenditure organization formed by labor and animal rights activists called “Anybody But Quinn.” Among other things, the group produced attack ads denouncing Quinn for not supporting legislation to ban horse drawn carriages in New York’s Central Park.

Although Quinn sought to distance herself from some of Bloomberg’s positions, especially the mayor’s support for a “stop and frisk” policy initiated by the city’s police commissioner, which civil rights groups said targeted minority communities, her reluctance to more aggressively oppose the policy subjected her to strong criticism by de Blasio and some of the other candidates.

Sherrill said the litany of problems Quinn encountered in her campaign had “absolutely nothing” to do with her sexual orientation.

“It didn’t matter one bit,” he said of Quinn’s status as an out lesbian. “What mattered was her proximity to the mayor.”

Quinn won the endorsement of the city’s three major daily newspapers – the New York Times, Daily News, and New York Post. She also received the endorsement of Gay City News, the city’s LGBT newspaper, along with endorsements from most of the city’s prominent LGBT leaders.

The national LGBT groups Human Rights Campaign and Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund contributed thousands of dollars to her campaign and dispatched volunteers and field organizers to help in locations throughout the city.

Victory Fund President and CEO Chuck Wolfe issued a statement Tuesday night noting that eight of its 10 endorsed candidates in New York races, including City Council candidates, won their races in the New York primary.

“As you know by now, Council Speaker Christine Quinn was not successful in her bid for the Democratic nomination for mayor,” Wolfe said. “There’s no sugar-coating what an emotional loss this is for her, her many supporters and all of us here at the Victory Fund,” he said.

“I’ve known Chris for a long time,” he added. “She has been a remarkably effective and passionate advocate for LGBT equality and, most importantly, for everyone who calls New York City home.”

Political observers said the LGBT vote appeared to be divided, with many activists supporting de Blasio over Quinn.

Sherrill said that while de Blasio and Quinn emerged as rivals in a heated political campaign both made great strides to normalize what have been viewed as non-traditional families. He noted that de Blasio, who is white, put his black wife and bi-racial son and daughter in the forefront of his campaign.

“Quinn and her wife were around all the time,” Sherrill said. “She talked about her wife. She talked about her in-laws.”

Added Sherrill, “This was a campaign in which families that never were talked about before were being portrayed as normal, everyday, wholesome, all-American real New Yorkers. And it’s not causing a stir. It’s an amazing breakthrough.”

Finishing behind Quinn in the New York primary on Tuesday were New York City Comptroller John Liu, who received 7 percent of the vote and former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.), who received 4.9 percent. Four other lesser known candidates received less than 4 percent each.

Joseph J. Lhota, a top aide to GOP former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, won the Republican nomination in Tuesday’s primary. Although Democrats outnumber Republicans in New York City by a 6 to 1 margin, no Democrat has won the city’s mayoralty since 1989 when Democrat David Dinkins became the city’s first black mayor.

Four years later, Dinkins lost big to Giuliani, and Giuliani and Republican-turned-independent Bloomberg have dominated the general elections for mayor ever since that time.

Now, Lhota, who supports same-sex marriage, is viewed as progressive on social issues while, like Bloomberg, he is a strong ally to New York’s business interests. With de Blasio being perceived by many in the business sector as anti-business, some political observers think Lhota has a shot at winning in the November general election.

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VA to start process of covering gender reassignment surgery for trans veterans

Coverage was rejected even during Obama years

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The Department of Veterans Affairs has become the latest federal government health program to affirm it would begin covering gender reassignment surgery — an option for transgender veterans that was even rejected during the Obama administration.

Randal Noller, a VA spokesperson, said in response to an email inquiry from the Blade the department this summer “will initiate steps to modify rules published in the Code of Federal Regulations (also known as the CFR), to expand VA’s care to transgender Veterans and include gender-affirming surgery.”

“Gender-affirming procedures have been proven effective at mitigating serious health conditions, including suicidality, substance abuse, and dysphoria,” Noller said. “Updating this policy would allow VA to provide transgender and gender diverse Veterans with coordinated, medically necessary, transition-related surgical procedures.”

Noller added the change “would enable a safe, coordinated continuum of care that is Veteran-centric and consistent with VA values of equity and respect for all veterans.” The entire process for implementation, Noller said, can take about two years and includes a period of public comment. 

VA Secretary Denis McDonough first announced the policy change in a speech in Orlando marking the five-year anniversary of the mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub.

Once implemented, the VA would join other federal health care systems in offering coverage for gender reassignment surgery, which previously has included Medicare, Medicaid (other some states, like Iowa, are dubiously claiming exemptions), the Federal Employee Health Benefits programs and the U.S. military health care system as a result of the Biden administration reversing the transgender military ban.

The idea of the VA offering coverage for gender reassignment surgery was first raised during the Obama administration. However, in the lame duck session after former President Trump was elected, the then-Secretary of Veterans Affairs scrapped the idea, citing concerns about appropriate funding.

According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, the estimated number of U.S. veterans who are transgender is more than 134,000, and more than 15,000 transgender people are serving in the military today.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, hailed the change in a statement on Saturday as “another step in the Biden administration’s effort to fight discrimination against transgender people, including our transgender veterans.”

“Every veteran deserves to have access to the health care that they need, and the VA is working to make sure that includes transgender veterans as well,” Keisling said.

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HIV research sped development of COVID vaccine

Top NIH official says success in coronavirus will boost AIDS work

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‘In many ways, the work for the past 25 years that we’ve done in HIV vaccines sped the development of coronavirus vaccines,’ Carl W. Dieffenbach, Ph.D.

Since 1996, Carl W. Dieffenbach, who holds a Ph.D. in biophysics from John Hopkins University, has served as director of the Division of AIDS at the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases, which is an arm of the U.S. National Institutes of Health or NIH.

In a June 10 interview with the Washington Blade, Dieffenbach gave an update on the extensive, ongoing research into the development of an HIV/AIDS vaccine that he has helped to coordinate for many years, including current human trials for a prospective AIDS vaccine taking place in the U.S., South America, and Africa.

One thing he feels passionate about is a development not widely reported in the media reports about the successful development of the COVID-19 vaccine. According to Dieffenbach, the extensive research into an AIDS vaccine in recent and past years, while not yet successful in yielding an effective AIDS vaccine, helped lay the groundwork for the rapid development of the different versions of a COVID vaccine.

“Because my division runs the largest clinical trials program in the word, we jumped in with both feet to help with coronavirus disease for both vaccines and drugs and things like that,” he said. “And the platforms that were used – the way they are making the coronavirus vaccines – the RNA vaccines with Moderna – were first piloted by NIH and Moderna to try to make an HIV vaccine,” Dieffenbach says.

“So, in many ways, the work for the past 25 years that we’ve done in HIV vaccines sped the development of coronavirus vaccines,” he told the Blade. “And now it’s time to take what we’ve learned from coronavirus and take it back to HIV and start afresh or continue with what we have and build upon from what we have learned.”

Dieffenbach says one reason the development of a COVID vaccine came about before an AIDS vaccine, despite more than 20 years of AIDS vaccine research, is that the HIV virus is far more complex than the coronavirus, especially its ability to infect and remain embedded in the infected person for life. 

“Back in 2007 we had the first hint that an AIDS vaccine might be possible with a study called RV144,” Dieffenbach says. “We spent 10 years trying to replicate that, and we just completed that study – a study called HVTN702. And it showed no efficacy,” he said, meaning it did not work.

“So that was a big disappointment to us,” he says “But in the meantime, we had pushed forward with the J&J [Johnson and Johnson pharmaceutical company] vaccine and are pretty far along. We’ll see what happens. We should know in the next several months whether the N26 version of an AIDS vaccine, and HIV vaccine works or not,” he says. “We’re very close to an answer.”

Washington Blade: Where do things stand in the development of an HIV/AIDS vaccine in light of Dr. Fauci’s statement a few weeks ago that the development of a COVID-19 vaccine could provide a boost to developing an AIDS vaccine?

Carl Dieffenbach: Sure. So, maybe I can start by introducing myself to you as a way of putting this into a context.

So, I’m the director of the Division of AIDS, which is the largest funder of HIV research in the world. And I report directly to Dr. Fauci. So, I’m responsible for all AIDS, all the time. And that is my passion and purpose in life. Part of that is working toward a safe, effective, and durable HIV vaccine, which has been one of the two most challenging questions left in science today. The other is a cure. They are connected in some ways.

So, with that as background, when coronavirus disease came along – because my division runs the largest clinical trials program in the world – we jumped in with both feet to help with coronavirus disease for both vaccines and drugs and things like that. And the platforms that were used – the way they are making the coronavirus vaccines – the RNA vaccines with Moderna were first piloted by NIH and Moderna to try to make an HIV vaccine. So, we’ve being working on that platform with Moderna for several years.

The leadership at Pfizer used to be part of a group at Penn, where we were also working with them. The J&J vaccine – we currently have in two Phase III clinical trials for HIV, one in sub-Saharan Africa, specifically in young women and the other one in the Americas in men who have sex with men and transgender individuals. Both of those Phase IIIs are moving along. The women’s study is fully enrolled. The men’s study was hit hard by COVID, but we worked through and will be fully enrolled by September.

One other vaccine just to talk about is the Oxford vaccine, the AstraZeneca vaccine. That is also using a platform at Oxford University, which has been used for HIV. So, in many ways, the work for the past 25 years that we’ve done in HIV vaccines sped the development of coronavirus vaccines. And now it’s time to take what we’ve learned from coronavirus and take it back to HIV and start afresh or continue with what we have and build upon from where we have learned.

Blade: That’s very interesting. But can we assume, then, from the clinical trials that have taken place for an HIV vaccine that they did not succeed in providing the immunity needed for an effective vaccine? 

Dieffenbach: So, that’s exactly the problem we have. Back in 2007 we had the first hint that an AIDS vaccine might be possible with a study called RV144. We spent 10 years trying to replicate that, and we just completed that study – a study called HVTN702. And it showed no efficacy. So, that was a big disappointment to us. But in the meantime, we had pushed forward with the J&J vaccine and are pretty far along. We’ll see what happens. We should know in the next several months whether the N26 version of an AIDS vaccine, and HIV vaccine works or not. We’re very close to an answer.

Blade: So, the human trials are ongoing.

Dieffenbach: Oh, again – the study in young women in sub-Sahara Africa is fully enrolled. The men’s study will be fully enrolled in September. So, we have fought through the coronavirus epidemic to maintain, to nurse these trials along to make sure with the $100 million or so we’ve invested, that we didn’t want them to go down the drain literally because we lost too many people for follow-up. So, this was a herculean effort that has gone on all the time trying to do the vaccine studies for coronavirus disease, which we were also incredibly successful in.

Blade: Can we assume all of the people participating in the studies were HIV negative?

Dieffenbach: Yes, they’re HIV negative. They are people who are at risk. And also, in South America, for example, the major countries we’re in are Peru and Brazil. And they’ve had a strong research culture with us, going back more than a decade. For example, both of those countries played big roles in our studies of pre-exposure prophylaxis. A study called I-PREX that demonstrated that in men who have sex with men that [a PrEP drug] works well to prevent HIV acquisition in seronegative men who have sex with men.

So, we’ve been there. This is a really good setup for the countries, for the citizens that are in those countries that want to avail themselves to the research that has benefited everybody.

 Blade: Among those who are participating in these ongoing AIDS vaccine trials, can we assume they cannot be taking the PrEP anti-retroviral drugs that have been shown to be highly effective in preventing HIV infection?

Dieffenbach: So, what we’ve done is we – everything is by conversation. So, when somebody who is interested in the study comes in, we talk to them. What is your chief interest in being in this study? And a lot of people want to be in the study because then they can access PrEP. They want to make it easier to get a hold of pre-exposure prophylaxis. They feel that is the best way that they can protect themselves.

So, in that situation, what we do is we take those people and link them to PrEP services where they can easily get PrEP in their community. So, first it’s taking care of those people. Then there are people who really have no interest in PrEP. And we actually counsel them every time they come in for a study. Are you sure you don’t want to access PrEP? And those are the people we then say, if you’re not interested in PrEP, what do you think about participating in a vaccine trial?

Because they’re the ones who have the most freedom of thought. They don’t have an opinion about the vaccine or about PrEP. So, those are the people we’ve been focusing on and enrolling. So, we’ve been very careful to make sure that if people wanted PrEP they not only have access, but they didn’t feel like somehow having to trade something in order to get it. The freedom to join a study should be a free choice. And it shouldn’t be a coercive thing to get PrEP. So, we just took that off the table and said if you’re truly interested in PrEP we can get you PrEP and make sure that was available. 

Blade: So, in that case, if they choose PrEP they would not be in the vaccine trial?

Dieffenbach: You know, it’s interesting that you ask it in that way. Because you have relationships with your community, many of the investigators have reported that people will say, you know I tried PrEP and it wasn’t for me. It made me gaseous. It upset my stomach. I wasn’t myself. I tried it. I couldn’t make it work for me. I want to stop PrEP. Am I still eligible for the [vaccine] study? And the answer is of course. Many people are very happy on PrEP and they come in for visits occasionally and say this is working for me and just have the relationship with the doctors there, so it works. So, again, it’s about maintaining contact with your communities.

Blade: Can you tell a little about what happens next after people become part of an HIV vaccine trial. Do you have to keep in touch with these people, and do they have to get an HIV test periodically?

Dieffenbach: Exactly. So, the vaccine consists of a series of injections. It’s a mixture of vector systems that delivers a series of encoded HIV genes that are specifically designed to induce very broad immunity. There’s a whole computer-based process to design those components of the vaccine to make sure that it has sequence similarities with all the different versions of HIV circulating in the globe. And then at the end there is a protein boost. And we carry this out.

So, about every three to four months people come in. They get a shot. They fill out questionnaires. They give a blood sample. And they’re tested for HIV and are given a boost or a placebo. And they stay in touch with the clinic. They come in and out of the clinic. And the retention is quite high in these situations because people really like having the attention of the clinic available to them. It’s part of the community.

Blade: So, they go to a clinic for all of this?

Dieffenbach: It’s a research clinic. It’s not like a state-run health clinic. It’s a research clinic. Clinic is just a term for where people are seen.

Blade: Are any of these AIDS vaccine trials that are going on taking place in the United States?

Dieffenbach: Yes. So, the study is called Mosaico. And it’s HVTN706. And we have sites throughout the United States as well as South America. But that study is limited to men who have sex with men – the one in the United States.

Blade: Is it broader than just men who have sex with men in other countries?

Dieffenbach: No, so we decided to really focus on specific at-risk populations. So, in the Americas we chose to focus on men who have sex with men and transgender individuals. And sub-Saharan Africa we focused on young women because that is the target of the study population. So, 705 is all women in sub-Saharan Africa. And in the Americas in North and South America it is all men who have sex with men and transgender individuals.

Blade: Can we assume that the researchers that are doing these studies have a sensitivity of LGBTQ people? Is there still an issue where people worry about being outed as being gay or transgender?

Dieffenbach: So, many of the sites that we work with have been part of our system for over 20 years. And so, they are trusted members of the LGBTQ community within their cities and states. And ‘states’ is a literal term where it’s a state in Colombia or Peru or Brazil. And so, it is part of the fabric of the gay community in these places. Just like in San Francisco the San Francisco health clinic and the DCF clinics are part and parcel of everything the community does there.

And so, the lead physician in San Francisco is Susan Buchbinder. She has been a leader in health in this population for over 25 years or actually closer to 30 years at this point. We’re all getting old. Do you know that? So, we have been at this a very long time. And really have tried to build structures that are durable and therefore are reliable to the community. And that’s where we go back to the same groups time after time.

Blade: Have the locations of the vaccine testing sites been released publicly?

Dieffenbach: Yes, all of that is publicly available on clinicaltrials.gov. If you go into clinicaltrials.gov and search HVTN705 or HVTN706 you will get a version of the protocol, all the times it’s been modified, where we are – the protocol. All of that is public knowledge and available to you. HVTN705 is the women’s study. HVTN706 is the men’s study.

Blade: Is there a timeframe for when these latest vaccine studies might be completed?

Dieffenbach: I think within the next several months. We will get an answer out of the women’s study and then the men’s study is probably a year away. We were slowed a little bit because of COVID. We actually had to pause enrollment for several months. But we’re back on track.

Blade: Isn’t there a parallel research effort for an HIV/AIDS cure?

Dieffenbach: Yes, we have a very large program in cure research. It is a lot earlier in the discovery process and so it’s still very ‘researchy.’ And we have a very large program called the Martin Delany Collaboratories for Cure Research. Martin Delany was an activist who really pushed NIH in so many wonderful ways to really take the need for a cure seriously. His argument was a cure is the next logical step after effective anti-retroviral therapy. You cannot stop with one pill once a day. You’ve got to keep going. And he was pretty persistent. And unfortunately, he died several years go and we just thought the best way to honor him, and his memory was to name a program after him.

Editor’s note: Next week, in the second and final installment of his interview with the Blade, Dr. Dieffenbach discusses the progress in research and studies into an HIV/AIDS cure and explains from a scientific standpoint why an HIV vaccine is taking longer to develop than a COVID vaccine.

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Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards vetoes trans youth sports bill

Discrimination is not a Louisiana value, and this bill was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana

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Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards (D) (Official state portrait)

Washington Blade: LGBTQ News, Politics,…

BATON ROUGE – Louisiana’s Democratic John Bel Edwards announced Tuesday that he has vetoed a measure that would have barred trans girls and women from participating on athletic teams or in sporting events designated for girls or women at elementary, secondary and postsecondary schools. 

The measure, Senate Bill 156 authored by Sen. Beth Mizell titled the ‘the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,’ in the Governor’s eyes, “was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana,” Edwards said in his veto statement;

“As I have said repeatedly when asked about this bill, discrimination is not a Louisiana value, and this bill was a solution in search of a problem that simply does not exist in Louisiana. Even the author of the bill acknowledged throughout the legislative session that there wasn’t a single case where this was an issue. 

Further, it would make life more difficult for transgender children, who are some of the most vulnerable Louisianans when it comes to issues of mental health. We should be looking for more ways to unite rather than divide our citizens. And while there is no issue to be solved by this bill, it does present real problems in that it makes it more likely that NCAA and professional championships, like the 2022 Final Four, would not happen in our state. For these and for other reasons, I have vetoed the bill.”

The Baton Rouge Advocate newspaper’s State House reporter, Blake Paterson, noted that [the law] would have required athletic teams or sporting events for women at public institutions be composed only of “biological females,” or those who presumably were listed as female on their birth certificates.

The measure won Senate approval 29-6 and cleared the House 78-19. Those margins are wide enough to override a governor’s veto, though it’s unclear whether lawmakers will return to Baton Rouge to do so.


“Governor Edwards deserves enormous credit for urging Louisianans to reject the politics of division and to focus on what brings us together, including a shared concern for vulnerable children. As his veto message rightly notes, transgender youth already face huge challenges,” Shannon Minter, the Legal Director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, (NCLR) told the Blade in an email. “Banning them from school sports would not make any child’s life better or safer, but it would bring discredit and economic hardship to the state, which likely would lose NCAA and professional championships. Governor Edward’s veto message is a model of clarity and compassion. We need more leaders with his courage.”

The ACLU reacted in a tweet saying:

 

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