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Obama announces initiative to develop HIV cure

President allocates $100 million for NIH research against disease

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Citizens Metal, Barack Obama, gay news, Washington Blade
Citizens Metal, Barack Obama, gay news, Washington Blade

President Obama announced $100 million in funding for NIH to develop an HIV cure (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key).

President Obama announced on Monday he’s redirecting $100 million at the National Institutes of Health for a new initiative to develop a cure for HIV as part of his vision for an “AIDS-free generation.”

Obama made the announcement when speaking before a group of HIV/AIDS advocates at a White House event observing World AIDS Day in the South Court Auditorium of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.

“The United States should be at the forefront of new discoveries in how to put HIV into long-term remission without requiting live-long therapies, or better yet, eliminate it completely,” Obama said.

In a fact sheet published after the event, the White House clarified the $100 million would be distributed over the course of three years and would catalyze further research for new therapies to improve outcomes for people with HIV.

Rowena Johnston, amfAR’s vice president and director of research, said in a statement after the event the administration’s efforts to find a cure for HIV would build off previous successes in the past year.

“This year, we saw a series of breakthroughs in HIV cure research that have brought us more clarity than we’ve ever had on the precise steps and tools needed to finally end AIDS,” Johnston said. “We cannot achieve the President’s goal of an AIDS-free generation without continued investment in the research necessary to ultimately help us find a cure for this disease.”

The event was part of the rollout for a new White House report on confronting HIV/AIDS, titled “Improving Outcomes: Accelerating Progress Along the HIV Care Continuum.” The report describes the state of the epidemic, makes recommendations going forward and highlights local successes as well as public-private partnerships.

In his remarks, Obama said significant progress has made in confronting HIV/AIDS since Congress first allocated funds to fight the disease in 1983, but certain communities continue to be affected more than others, including LGBT people and the D.C. area.

“Here in the United States, we need to keep focusing on investments to communities that are still being hit hardest, including gay and bisexual men, African-Americans and Latinos,” Obama said. “We need to keep up the fight in our cities — including Washington, D.C., which in recent years has reduced diagnosed infections by nearly half.”

As Assistant to the President on Domestic Policy Cecilia Munoz pointed out at the start of the event, the Centers for Disease Control has reported gay and bisexual men account for two-thirds of all new HIV infections in the United States.

Obama said after his remarks were over, he would sign into law the PEPFAR Stewardship and Oversight Act of 2013, which reauthorizes and extends funds under the Bush-era President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to confront HIV/AIDS overseas.

The PEPFAR program, Obama said, has exceeded goals set two years ago to help 6 million people across the globe receive treatment for HIV/AIDS by the end of 2013. As it stands, Obama said the program has helped 6.7 million people receive treatment.

As part of the related effort to maintain the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria, Obama said the United States will contribute $1 for every $2 pledged by other donors over the next three years, up to $5 billion total.

“Don’t leave our money on the table,” Obama said. “It’s been inspiring to see the countries most affected by this disease vastly increase their own contributions to this fight — in some cases, providing more than donor countries do. And that ought to inspire all of us to give more, to do more, so we can save more lives.”

Other accomplishments Obama touted was an end to waiting lists for drugs under the AIDS Drug Assistance Program. Two years after the Department of Health & Human Services announced that Obama directed $35 million to end the wait lists for federal drugs for HIV/AIDS, Obama said wait lists have since been eliminated.

“At one time, the needs was so great that over 9,000 people were on the wait list,” Obama said. “We vowed to get those numbers down, and I’m proud to announce that, as of last week, we have cleared that wait list. We are down to zero.”

Other initiatives Obama mentioned included old accomplishments, such as the lifting of the HIV travel ban, and new efforts, including the signing of the HIV Organ Policy Equity Act, or HOPE Act, which enables HIV-positive people to donate organs to others with the disease.

Additionally, Obama said early next year the United States will host a meeting with worldwide partners — including governments, the Global Fund, U.N.-AIDS, and civil society — to “sit around one table and develop joint HIV prevention and treatment goals for the countries where we and the Global Fund do business.”

“We’ll hold each other accountable, and we’ll continue to work to turn the tide of this epidemic together,” Obama said.

Carl Schmid, deputy director of the AIDS Institute and attendee at the event, praised Obama for the new initiatives, but said more work is necessary, particularly to address the HIV/AIDS infection rate among gay men.

“We are not making progress when it comes to gay men and more must be done,” Schmid said. “We hope that the Administration along with the states and community based organizations follow the Strategy and, as was discussed at the White House today, follow the science and the epidemic, and for the US, that means a greater focus needs to be on gay men.”

A number of high-profile members of the Obama administration were present at the event, including Secretary of State John Kerry, Secretary of Health & Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, Senior Advisor to the President Valerie Jarrett, Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy Grant Colfax, Assistant to the President on Domestic Policy Cecilia Munoz and Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist Bill Gates.

In remarks that followed Obama’s, Kerry compared the international alliances that have formed to confront HIV/AIDS to similar alliances that have effected change at a global level.

“We are the nation that faced down the Soviet Union with the force of our ideals and our alliances, and without resorting to the force of arms,” Kerry said. “Now, no exaggeration, in our own time, in this generation, in our fight against AIDS – yes, in a different way, but no less important – we are able to engage in an initiative that can help define our nation and the global spirit.”

Jarrett maintained the administration is committed to confronting HIV/AIDS both at home and abroad because successful efforts overseas requires attention to the epidemic within U.S. borders.

“HIV remains a priority for the administration, and for the president, both here and abroad,” Jarrett said. “We’re committed to PEPFAR and the Global Fund, and to ongoing implementation of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy because the global response also requires a sustained national response to the epidemic right here at home.”

Also present at the event was HIV/AIDS advocate Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.). In an apparent ad-lib from his remarks when he mentioned he would soon sign legislation to continue funding for PEPFAR, Obama recognized  excitement from Lee as she applauded and said, “Count on the legislator to applaud legislation.”

After the event, Lee told the Washington Blade she was proud of Obama’s efforts in confronting HIV/AIDS and looks forward to his continued leadership to create a world without the disease.

“I think everything that this administration is doing is leading us to that, and fighting for an AIDS-free generation, and that’s the next step,” Lee said.

Obama concluded his remarks by articulating his vision for an “AIDS-free generation” in which all people can protect themselves from infection and all people with the disease have access to treatment.

“That’s the world I want for my daughters,” Obama said. “That’s the world that all of us want for our families. And if we stay focused, if we keep fighting, and if we honor the memory of those that we’ve lost, if we summon the same courage that they displayed, by insisting on whatever it takes, however long it takes, I believe we’re going to win this fight.”

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Middle East

Upwards of 30,000 march in Jerusalem Pride parade

Anti-LGBTQ violence reported after event

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The Jerusalem Pride and Tolerance Parade took place in Jerusalem on June 1, 2023 (Photo courtesy of WDG)

WDG is the Washington Blade’s media partner in Israel. WDG originally published this article on Friday.

JERUSALEM — Upwards of 30,000 people on Thursday marched in the Jerusalem Pride and Tolerance Parade, which marked the beginning of Pride month in Israel.

The parade, organized by the Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance, began with the traditional gathering at Gan Happamon. Many politicians also came to support and encourage the marchers.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid, who chairs the Yesh Atid party, in his speech referred to the counterprotest the Lahava movement organized near the parade’s starting point. Several dozen LGBTQ and intersex rights opponents participated in the protest.

“Outside are standing, like every year, the wretched thugs of Lahava movement, demonstrating against us,” said Lapid. “Only this year these people are no longer just a ridiculous bunch of dark extremists — they are part of the government. Bezalel Smotrich, (Internal Security Minister) Itamar Ben-Gvir [and] Avi Maoz, are trying to push us all back into the closet, to the dark closet of their foreknowledge. In Israel there is not one fight for democracy and a separate fight for LGBT rights. It’s the same struggle against those enemies. in the name of those values. Those who attack Israeli democracy attack the LGBTs, those who attack the LGBTs attack democracy.”

Benny Gantz, chair of the National Unity Party, referred to the need to hold parades in the capital. 

“We won’t have to march when in this parade we won’t need security, we won’t need snipers and undercover policemen. We won’t have to walk when each and every one can walk in any neighborhood they want, holding hands like any couple. We will not have to march when gay will not be a curse in school but simply self-determination, when each and every one can fill out any government form according to what he is,” he said. “We will not have to march when a prime minister in Israel would not think of giving the keys to the education system to a dark racist and allocating hundreds of millions to oversee liberal education programs. I am ashamed of this and I tell you that even at the most difficult political price, I will never do such a thing. We will not have to march when there are no racists in the government. Such people would be denounced and would not be elected, not because of the law — but because no one would want to elect them. We won’t have to step when simple love won’t be complicated or will be as complicated as any simple love.”

At the end of the gathering, the marchers began marching towards Independence Park where Ran Danker, Ivri Lider, Roni Duani, Rinat Bar and others were performing.

More than 2,000 police officers and soldiers, visible and hidden, secured parade participants with the assistance of reinforcements and volunteers. 

As with every year, the police commissioner and the Minister of internal Security came to the parade area to examine the work of the police in the field. But unlike previous years, Ben-Gvir was received with shouts of “shame.” Ben-Gvir came to supervise the parade, despite a prior demand from the parade organizers that he refrain from doing so.

“In my position as a minister, I do and will do everything so that there is no crazy case, as was the case with the murder of Shira Banki,” said Ben-Gvir, “My policy is to give freedom of speech to those who oppose the parade, even to those who speak against the parade, that is their right. They are not breaking the law yet. Our job on this day is to allow the parade and protest, this is democracy, this is the beautiful mosaic in the state of Israel and this is how I act as minister of national security.”

Several serious incidents of violence against the LGBTQ community took place after the parade ended and marchers dispersed. In one of them, boys and young men were seen setting Pride flags on fire, and in the second, a group of young people attacked a number of LGBT people near Jerusalem’s Central Station. They shouted at them to “go back to Tel Aviv, you son of a bitch.”

“This is a resounding slap in the face that reminds us that no matter how much we spread light, the struggle is not over yet, and the hatred towards us exists and understands,” Jerusalem Open House for Pride and Tolerance said in response to the violence. “In Jerusalem those who walk around the city tonight, are asked to be alert and take care of themselves. Don’t worry, we will win.”

“The Jerusalem parade is the strongest expression of our opposition to hatred, and to the plans of the hate lobby to fight in our community,” Hevruta, an LGBT religious organization, said. “Even hundreds of millions of shekels, the authority and standards of Avi Maoz and the Noam party will not be able to extinguish our love for God, for who we are and for our families.”

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Texas

Texas governor signs bill banning transgender youth healthcare

Senate Bill 14 to take effect on Sept. 1

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Landon Richie, a 21-year-old political science major and a leading transgender activist, protesting at the Texas Capitol in May. (Photo courtesy of Landon Richie)

By Alex Nguyen and William Melhado | Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law Friday a bill that bars transgender kids from getting puberty blockers and hormone therapies, though the new law could face legal challenges before it takes effect on Sept. 1.

Senate Bill 14’s passage brings to the finish line a legislative priority for the Republican Party of Texas, which opposes any efforts to validate transgender identities. Trans kids, their parents and LGBTQ advocacy groups fiercely oppose the law, and some have vowed to stop it from going into effect.

Texas — home to one of the largest trans communities in the U.S. — is now one of over a dozen states that restrict transition-related care for trans minors.

“Cruelty has always been the point,” said Emmett Schelling, executive director of the Transgender Education Network of Texas. “It’s not shocking that this governor would sign SB14 right at the beginning of Pride [month]; however this will not stop trans people from continuing to exist with authenticity — as we always have.”

Authored by New Braunfels Republican state Sen. Donna Campbell, the law bars trans kids from getting puberty blockers and hormone therapies, treatments many medical groups support. Children already receiving these treatments will have to be “weaned off” in a “medically appropriate” manner. The law also bans transition-related surgeries for kids, though those are rarely performed on minors.

Those who support the law claim that health care providers have capitalized on a “social contagion” to misguide parents and push life-altering treatments on kids who may later regret their decisions. SB 14’s supporters have also disputed the science and research behind transition-related care.

But trans kids, their parents and major medical groups say these medical treatments are important to protecting the mental health of an already vulnerable population, which faces a higher risk of depression and suicide than their cisgender peers. At the same time, doctors say cutting off these treatments — gradually or abruptly — could bring both physical discomfort and psychological distress to trans youth, some of whom have called it forced detransitioning.

In response, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Texas, Lambda Legal and the Transgender Law Center pledged on May 18 to fight SB 14 in court. They have yet to file a lawsuit.

“Transgender people have always been here and will always be here,” Ash Hall, policy and advocacy strategist at the ACLU of Texas, said Friday. “Our trans youth deserve a world where they can shine alongside their peers, and we will keep advocating for that world in and out of the courts.”

This legal threat is not new; some of these groups have sued several other states over their restrictions. Earlier this year, the Department of Justice also joined the legal fight against Tennessee’s ban.

While the lawsuits are tailored to each state, Sasha Buchert, a senior attorney at Lambda Legal and the director of its Nonbinary and Transgender Rights Project, told the Texas Tribune last month that a major common challenge to the laws hinges on the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause and the argument that these laws are stopping trans kids from accessing the same medical treatments that are still available to their cisgender peers.

Buchert added that the lawsuits’ immediate goal is generally to get a preliminary injunction to stop these laws from taking effect, a tactic that has seen some success.

“It’s one thing to see some of the things that state legislators do, but it’s a completely different thing when you’re under the white-hot spotlight of judicial scrutiny,” she said.

And prior to SB 14, the ACLU and Lambda Legal successfully sued Texas last year to halt state-ordered child abuse investigations of parents who provide their trans kids with access to transition-related care. Impeached Attorney General Ken Paxton later appealed the decision in March, but the 3rd Court of Appeals has yet to issue a ruling on it.

“It’s a privilege to be able to fight,” Buchert said about the ongoing court challenges that Lambda Legal is involved in.

Editor’s note:

In a late Friday evening phone call, Landon Richie, with the Transgender Education Network of Texas, told the Washington Blade:

“Today Governor Abbott signed cruelty into law. Legislation that purports to ‘protect youth’ while stripping them of the life-saving, life-giving care that they receive will cost lives, and that’s not an exaggeration. Trans kids deserve not only to exist, but to thrive as their authentic selves in every facet of their lives, and we will never stop fighting to to actualize a world where that is undisputed. Despite efforts by our state, trans people will always exist in Texas, as we always have, and we will continue to exist brilliantly and boldly, and with endless care for one another.”

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The preceding article was previously published by The Texas Tribune and is republished by permission.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues. 

Disclosure: The ACLU of Texas has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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U.S. Federal Courts

Federal judge rules Tenn. drag ban is unconstitutional

Law was to have taken effect April 1

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(Bigstock photo)

U. S. District Court Judge Thomas L. Parker of the U. S. District Court for the Western District of Tennessee declared Tennessee’s anti-drag Adult Entertainment Act to be unconstitutional.

Parker’s ruling comes after a two-day trial last month. A Shelby County-based LGBTQ theatre company, Friends of George’s, had sued the state of Tennessee, claiming the law unconstitutional under the First Amendment.

Parker ordered a temporary injunction halting the just enacted Tennessee law that criminalizes some drag performances, hours before it was set to take effect April 1. In his 15 page ruling ordering the temporary injunction Parker wrote:

“If Tennessee wishes to exercise its police power in restricting speech it considers obscene, it must do so within the constraints and framework of the United States Constitution. […] The court finds that, as it stands, the record here suggests that when the legislature passed this statute, it missed the mark.”

Attorneys for the theatre company had argued that drag performances were an artform and protected speech under the first amendment.

In his 70 page ruling Friday, Parker wrote:

“After considering the briefs and evidence presented at trial, the court finds that — despite
Tennessee’s compelling interest in protecting the psychological and physical wellbeing of
children — the Adult Entertainment Act (“AEA”) is an UNCONSTITUTIONAL restriction on
the freedom of speech.”

“The court concludes that the AEA is both unconstitutionally vague and substantially
overbroad. The AEA’s ‘harmful to minors’ standard applies to minors of all ages, so it fails to
provide fair notice of what is prohibited, and it encourages discriminatory enforcement. The
AEA is substantially overbroad because it applies to public property or ‘anywhere’ a minor
could be present.”

Read the entire ruling:

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