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LGBT activists rally for Gray at re-election kick-off

Mayor mentions gay, trans residents in first campaign speech

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Vincent Gray, gay news, Washington Blade
Vincent Gray, gay news, Washington Blade

‘Today, I apologize to you for the pain that my campaign caused. I ask for your forgiveness,’ Mayor Vincent Gray said of his 2010 mayoral campaign. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

At least a dozen LGBT activists joined more than 500 city residents on Saturday for Mayor Vincent Gray’s first rally to launch his 2014 re-election campaign.

Several of the activists said Gray’s mention of LGBT people two times in his speech at the rally highlighted his long record of support for the LGBT community.

The event was held in a packed auditorium at an arts and recreation center on Mississippi Avenue in Southeast D.C. known as THEARC.

“I look around this room and I see folks from every part of our city,” Gray told the gathering. “I see enormous talent and tireless dedication. I see white, I see black, I see brown, and every color in between,” he said.

“I see straight, I see gay, and I see transgender. I see rich and I see poor,” he said. “But above all, I see what makes us the greatest city in the greatest country on Earth — I see a community.”

In another part of his speech Gray said the accomplishments of his first term included his longstanding effort to unify the city’s diverse and growing population.

“We are bringing together young and old, black, brown and white, Latino, Asian, immigrants from throughout the world, gay, straight, able and disabled,” he said.

Gray is being challenged by eight candidates in the city’s April 1 Democratic primary, including four City Council members, all of whom have records of support on LGBT issues.

Much of the coverage of Gray’s speech by the media focused on his apology to the city for the campaign finance irregularities associated with his 2010 mayoral campaign, which led to criminal charges and guilty pleas by four of his top campaign staff members. Gray has said the campaign finance law violations by the four staffers happened without his knowledge.

“I know that the 2010 campaign caused many people great pain,” Gray said in his speech. “I know that our city suffered embarrassment. Today, I apologize to you for the pain that my campaign caused. I ask for your forgiveness.”

Gray added, “Although I cannot apologize for the misdeeds of others, the 2010 campaign was my campaign, and I am deeply sorry for the pain and embarrassment it caused.”

The LGBT activists attending the rally joined virtually everyone one else in the packed auditorium in rising to their feet to give Gray a prolonged ovation in response to his apology. Many in the audience chanted, “Four more years, four more years” before sitting down to listen to the remainder of Gray’s speech.

“I thought it went extremely well,” said gay Democratic activist Lane Hudson, a member of Gray’s 2014 campaign finance committee.

“It’s an overflow crowd. There are hundreds and hundreds of people here,” Hudson said. “The mayor gave a great speech. He addressed very well the 2010 election issue and laid out a real clear vision for the next four years.”

Asked how the LGBT vote is likely to break down in the April 1 primary, Hudson said, “I think it will probably split just like it did in the last election. But one thing that’s clear is Vince Gray is the best mayor in the entire country on LGBT issues.”

At least four prominent transgender activists attended the rally, including Earline Budd, Jeri Hughes and Alexandra Beninda. Budd and Beninda were appointed by Gray to the D.C. Human Rights Commission as the first-ever transgender people to serve on the commission.

“He has done what I think is vital to this city in so many ways in terms of economic development,” said Beninda. “Within our transgender community he definitely has a place in our hearts because he has done so much – with Project Empowerment, with the Transgender Awareness Campaign,” she said in referring to a city-sponsored job training program and a trans related non-discrimination campaign initiated by Gray.

“He has done more than anybody else has ever done in the city for the transgender community,” Beninda said.

Hughes and Budd said Gray, while breaking new ground in his support for the transgender community, has an exceptionally strong record in support of the entire LGBT community. The two also said the city as a whole has prospered under Gray’s tenure as mayor.

LGBT activists who are backing other candidates, including Council members Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), have said those candidates are also strong supporters of LGBT rights and that LGBT people should select a candidate based on non-LGBT issues.

Longtime gay activists Deacon Maccubbin and Bob Summersgill said they are backing Wells over Gray, among thing things, because Wells has a stronger record on ethics in government issues.

Gay rights advocate and D.C. Department of Health official Ivan Torres, who attended the Gray rally on Saturday, said he believes Gray comes out ahead on non-LGBT issues.

“You can have any preferences that you like,” Torres said in referring to LGBT people supporting candidates running against Gray. “But you cannot deny that in the past four years Washington, D.C. has gone forward — forward in so many ways — economic development, the unemployment rate has gone down, and development is there, and the integration of us gay people, the gay and lesbian community, the transgender community into governance.”

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District of Columbia

46 out commissioners join ANC Rainbow Caucus

Raising the profile of issues unique to D.C.’s LGBTQ residents

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(Washington Blade file photo by Aram Vartian)

At least 46 out members of the city’s Advisory Neighborhood Commissions who were elected in November have joined the ANC Rainbow Caucus, according to caucus co-chair Vincent Slatt, who won election to the Dupont Circle ANC Single Member District 2B03.

Slatt said he and ANC Rainbow Caucus co-chair Ryan Cudemas-Brunoli of ANC 3F01 plan to continue the caucus’ activities since its founding in 2018 of raising the profile of problems and issues unique to LGBTQ residents throughout the city and to use caucus members’ positions to push for a D.C. government response to those issues.

At least 34 straight-identified commissioners have signed up as allies to work with the Rainbow Caucus, Slatt said.

The city currently has a total of 46 ANCs representing neighborhoods throughout the city that have between two and as many as 10 single member districts (SMDs) each with an elected commissioner, with a total of 345 commissioners. Under the city’s Home Rule Charter, ANC seats are nonpartisan, unpaid positions whose elected members are charged with advising the D.C. government on local neighborhood issues.

Among the caucus’ past accomplishments, Slatt said, was the active role it played in lobbying the D.C. Council to amend the city’s hate crimes law to ban the so-called LGBTQ “panic defense.” Defense attorneys have used that defense to argue that a client charged with physically assaulting or murdering an LGBTQ person did so after they panicked upon learning the victim was gay or LGBTQ.

Slatt noted that the caucus, among other actions related to crime targeting LGBTQ people, submitted a community impact statement to a D.C. Superior Court judge at the time of sentencing for a man charged with a violent hate crime assault targeting a gay Asian man and his elderly parents. The judge denied a request by the defendant’s attorney to issue a suspended jail term with probation and instead sentenced the man to seven months in jail.

Slatt said the ANC Rainbow Caucus is currently closely monitoring the police investigation into the January 2023 murder of D.C. transgender woman Jasmine Star Parker.

“As in previous caucus work, we’ll have letters, resolutions, and proclamations on different matters,” Slatt said, which will be posted on a website the caucus plans to launch soon.

The caucus can currently be contacted via email at ancrainbowcaucus.org.

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District of Columbia

Newly diagnosed HIV cases increased slightly in D.C. in 2021

Report cautions fewer people were tested during COVID-19 pandemic

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Clover Barnes, Director of the D.C. Department of Health’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD and TB Administration (HAHSTA), was among those playing a lead role in preparing the newly released D.C.HIV/AIDS surveillance report. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The D.C. Department of Health’s Annual Epidemiology and Surveillance Report released on Tuesday shows there were 230 newly diagnosed HIV cases in the D.C. in 2021, the most recent year in which data have been analyzed.

The report says the 230 cases in 2021 represents an 83 percent decline in new cases from the peak number of 1,374 cases in 2007, but a slight increase from 219 cases reported in 2020. The report shows there were 273 newly reported HIV cases in 2019, 331 cases in 2018 and 386 in 2017.

In addition to HIV, the report includes data related to the number of newly reported cases of hepatitis, tuberculosis, and other sexually transmitted infections such as syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia. 

“Annual surveillance data is critical to our understanding of disease trends and our planning and programmatic efforts to control and prevent disease,” the report says. “However, the data in this year’s report must be examined in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic continues to have an immense impact on the availability, accessibility and utilization of disease screening, prevention, and care services,” according to the report.

Among other things, the report says the D.C. Department of Health, to which it refers as D.C. Health, saw a 20 percent decline in the volume of HIV, chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and hepatitis laboratory reports received in 2020 compared to 2019, indicating fewer people were being tested and diagnosed for the diseases. 

“HIV lab volume decreased further from 2020 to 2021 with a 20 percent decline, and an overall decline from 2019 to 32 percent,” the report says. “Given disruptions to screening services, the potential for underdiagnosis and underreporting is most substantial for those with asymptomatic infections,” it says.

The Annual Epidemiology and Surveillance Report was released at a Tuesday event at the city’s Town Hall Education Arts Recreation Campus in Southeast D.C. in commemoration of Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. 

Among those who attended or spoke were Harold Phillips, director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, and Dr. Demetre Daskalakis, deputy coordinator of the White House Mpox Response who’s on leave from his role as director of HIV/AIDS Prevention at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Also participating in the event were Rita Harcrow-Flegel, drector of the U.S. Department Housing and Urban Development’s Office of HIV/AIDS Housing; Dr. Sharon Lewis, interim director of D.C. Health; Clover Barnes, senior deputy director of D.C. Health’s HIV/AIDS, STD, and TB Administration, and Erin Whelan, executive director of the D.C. LGBTQ youth advocacy group SMYAL.

Statements at the event by the White House and D.C. officials and a statement released by the office of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser point to stepped up efforts by D.C. to provide HIV testing and treatment services to all those at risk for HIV, including services free of charge for those unable to pay for them.

Among the services announced is the availability of Post Exposure Prophylaxis, or PEP, a medication D.C. Health is offering free of charge that is taken to prevent HIV infection if taken within 72 hours of being exposed to HIV. Also available, officials said, is the medication known as Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PrEP, which, when taken as a daily pill, prevents people from becoming infected with HIV. That too is available free of charges for those in need, the statement from the mayor’s office says.

“We want people in D.C. to know their status and get connected to the right care at the right time — with no shame or stigma attached,” Bowser said in the statement. “We have so many fantastic healthcare partners in D.C., and they have helped us expand access to free PEP, free PrEP, free condoms, free at-home tests, and more,” the mayor said. “Now, we need to make sure people know what’s available and how to access it.”

The statement calls on the public, especially those at risk for HIV, to access information about the city’s HIV prevention and support related services through a new website: sexualbeing.org.

It says the city continues to push for its “bold goal” of having fewer than 21 new HIV diagnoses each year by 2030. It says the city is also stepping up efforts to ensure that everyone who tests positive for HIV will quickly access the anti-retroviral medication that, if used as directed, prevents HIV related illness and suppresses a person’s HIV viral load to a point where they cannot transmit HIV to another person through sexual contact.

The newly released report includes these findings for the year 2021:

• There were 11,904 current D.C. residents, or 1.8 percent of the population, living with HIV in 2021.

• Sexual contact was the leading mode of transmission of newly diagnosed HIV cases in 2021. 

• There were 230 newly diagnosed HIV cases in 2021, a small increase over the 219 new cases reported in 2020, but a significant drop from the 1,373 cases in the peak year of 2007 and the continued decline in cases in subsequent years.

• The proportion of people living with HIV in D.C. in 2021 that are Black is 71 percent

• The proportion of Black men diagnosed with HIV in 2021 who have sex with men (MSM) was 35 percent.

• The proportion of white men diagnosed with HIV in 2021 who have sex with men (MSM} was 8 percent. 

• The proportion of Black heterosexual men diagnosed with HIV in 2021 was 8 percent.

• The proportion of Black heterosexual women diagnosed with HIV in 2021 was 15 percent.

• The report does not show the proportion of white heterosexual men who tested positive for HIV in 2021.

• The proportion of transgender persons diagnosed with HIV in 2021 was 3.5 percent. 

• In 2021, the overall gender breakdown in the proportion of newly diagnosed HIV cases was 73.9 percent male and 22.6 percent female. 

The report was expected to be posted for access on the D.C. Health website at www.dchealth.dc.gov

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Virginia

Va. House passes two anti-transgender bills

Measures likely to die in Democratic-controlled state Senate

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Republican-controlled Virginia House of Delegates on Tuesday approved two anti-transgender bills.

State Del. Karen Greenhalgh (R-Virginia Beach)’s House Bill 1387, which would ban trans athletes from school sports teams that correspond with their gender identity, passed by a 51-47 vote margin. State Del. Dave LaRock (R-Loudoun County)’s House Bill 2432, which would require school personnel to out trans students to their parents, passed by a 50-48 vote margin.

“We are dealing with forcibly outing kids regardless of the safety of their home,” said state Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas) on Monday when she spoke against HB 2432. “You have no idea of the harm you’re causing. Do better for them.”

Roem, who is the first openly trans woman seated in a state legislature in the U.S., also spoke against HB 1387 on the House floor.

Equality Virginia and the Human Rights Campaign are among the groups that condemned the bills’ passage.

“It can be hard for people to understand what it means to be a transgender or nonbinary young person if they’ve never met one. But trans and nonbinary young people are our friends, family members and neighbors, and like all young people, they deserve safe and inclusive learning environments where they can thrive and be supported as they are,” said Kasey Suffredini, vice president of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project, in a statement. “These bills would only contribute to further isolation and stigma at a time when trans young people are already struggling.”

The two bills will now go before the Democratic-controlled Virginia Senate.

The Senate Education Committee last week killed six measures that would have banned transition-related health care for minors in Virginia and prevented trans athletes from school teams that correspond with their gender. It is likely HB 1387 and HB 2432 will meet a similar fate.

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