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LGBT Nigerians seek asylum in U.S., Canada

Bisexual man jailed, treated ‘like a criminal’

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Nigeria, Goodluck Jonathan, gay news, Washington Blade

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan. (Photo by World Economic Forum; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

Duke, a 38-year-old bisexual Nigerian man who asked the Washington Blade not to publish his last name, arrived at his friend’s home in Nigeria’s largest city, Lagos, in the spring of 2012 after driving from a his pig farm when police officers arrested him.

He said the officers told him they took him into custody because he is gay. Duke said they proceeded to beat him β€œlike I’ve never been beaten before” before they stripped him naked and placed him into a cell with a concrete floor with his hands handcuffed behind his back β€œlike a criminal.”

Duke said his cellmate, who had been arrested in a gay club, died the next day from a combination of a lack of medication to treat his asthma and injuries he suffered when officers beat him.

Duke said they left the man’s body in the cell for three days before removing it – and they accused him of killing his cellmate.

The officers released him only after he signed a written confession that said the man died while he and Duke were having sex. Duke told the Blade they told him to report to local authorities a few days later, but he instead fled to Canada where he has lived since June 2012.

“If you go back these guys are going to kill you or they’re going to send you to jail,” he said during an interview earlier this month from Toronto, recalling the conversation he said he had with a friend before he left Nigeria.

Duke is one of four LGBT Nigerian asylum seekers in the U.S. and Canada with whom the Blade recently spoke.

O.T., a 27-year-old man who lives in Tenleytown, arrived in D.C. last November after he fled Lagos.

He told the Blade during a Feb. 17 interview that he has been arrested three times after police raided gay parties. O.T. said the officers charged them with sodomy – they also threatened, abused and treated him and others β€œlike a criminal” while in custody.

O.T. told the Blade a man whom he met through a friend blackmailed and extorted money from him – he said he once threatened to stab him with a broken bottle in his own bedroom. O.T. said he fled Nigeria after the man threatened to tell the police he was having sex with him.

β€œI love my life,” said O.T. β€œI don’t want anything to happen to me, so I gave him some money. Unfortunately he kept coming back for more.”

A 49-year-old gay Nigerian lawyer who currently lives in Montgomery County told the Blade he was living in a village outside Abuja, the country’s capital, in September 2012 when a mob attacked him. He said he spent a week in the hospital after the police arrested him and beat him.

β€œThis is why I came to America,” said the man who asked to remain anonymous.

A 21-year-old lesbian Nigerian woman told the Blade from Toronto she moved in with her aunt in Lagos as a teenager after her father kicked her out of her family’s home because of her sexual orientation.

She fled to Canada in 2012 after her girlfriend’s boyfriend caught them together.

β€œIt didn’t end up very well,” she said. β€œHe was threatening to expose us to everybody and all of that, so I had to leave.”

Asylum seeker returned to Nigeria in spite of danger

Nigeria is among the more than 70 countries in which consensual same-sex sexual acts remain criminalized. Those found guilty of homosexuality in the northern part of the African country under Shari’a law face the death penalty.

Duke told the Blade he fled to Gambia, a small West African country sandwiched between Senegal, in 2000 after his classmates caught him having sex with his boyfriend and attacked him.

Duke said he was β€œquiet about whatever I was doing” while in the predominantly Muslim nation because he β€œwas aware of the dangers in case something happened.”

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh described gay men as β€œvermin” during a Feb. 18 speech on state television that commemorated the 49th anniversary of the country’s independence from the U.K. as Reuters reported. He said in separate remarks at the U.N. General Assembly last September that homosexuality is among the three β€œbiggest threats to human existence.”

Duke told the Blade he and his boyfriend in late 2011 had a heated argument about having sex with his girlfriend before he was to have traveled to Ghana to apply for a work visa that would have allowed him to travel to Canada. He said a neighbor called the police after the two men began fighting.

Duke quickly left for the airport and flew to Accra, the Ghanaian capital, as scheduled.

He told the Blade he tried to call his boyfriend’s cell phone from Ghana several times, but he did not answer. Duke said he eventually spoke with a Gambian friend who told him β€œnot to come back” to the country because the police had arrested his boyfriend and taken him to an unknown location.

Duke remained in Ghana for four more days before he reluctantly returned to his homeland.

β€œI sensed the danger in Nigeria, but that was many years ago,” he said. β€œI left Accra and went to Nigeria.”

Every entity in Nigeria ‘detests homosexuality’

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan last month signed a draconian bill into law that punishes those who enter into a same-sex marriage with up to 14 years in prison. The statute also prohibits anyone from officiating a gay union, bans same-sex β€œamorous relationships” and membership in an LGBT advocacy group.

“We regret that this bill was passed by Nigeria’s Assembly and signed by the president,” Aaron Jensen, a spokesperson for the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the State Department, told the Blade on Wednesday. “This law goes far beyond prohibiting same-sex marriage.”

Jensen also dismissed claims the law’s supporters have made that homosexuality is something the West brought to Nigeria.

“Gay people and being gay is not a Western privilege; it’s a reality,” he said.

The Nigerian government did not return the Blade’s request for comment on the law or the reports of systematic anti-LGBT violence that have emerged from the country since Jonathan signed the statute.

The LGBT asylum seekers with whom the Blade spoke said they feel the Nigerian president signed the anti-gay bill into law because he wanted to bolster his re-election chances in the country’s 2015 presidential elections.

β€œI could not believe that he would actually approve that,” said the 21-year-old lesbian Nigerian who has applied for asylum in Canada. β€œI can’t even imagine what’s going to happen.”

O.T. told the Blade the statute has made things β€œmore complicated for gay people in Nigeria.” He added he feels Jonathan should instead focus on reducing poverty and fighting Boko Haram, an Islamic extremist group that has killed an estimated 10,000 people in attacks throughout the northern part of the country since launching a violent insurgency in 2009.

β€œUnfortunately he signed the bill once it got to his desk,” said O.T. β€œThe only thing that can bring the Muslim and Christian community to sit at one table and [talk] is the gay issue… two enemies that really want to kill each other can agree on this particular issue.”

Duke, who told the Blade he narrowly escaped a group of men in 2012 before they beat his partner unconscious in his home, made a similar point.

β€œIf you look at Nigeria from left to right, east to west, north to south, every entity in that country detests homosexuality,” he said. β€œEvery single group has given [Jonathan] a thumbs up.”

The 21-year-old lesbian Nigerian woman with whom the Blade spoke in Toronto said she has begun the Canadian asylum process, but it has not gone β€œso good” because she wasn’t able to receive her passport and other documents from her family. Duke’s first hearing took place last September, but the lawyer who originally represented him was Nigerian.

“The 21-year-old lesbian Nigerian woman with whom the Blade spoke in Toronto said she has begun the Canadian asylum process, but it has not gone β€œso good” because she wasn’t able to receive her passport and other documents from her family. Duke’s first hearing was to have taken place last September, but his current lawyer who is Jewish asked the judge to postpone it because it coincided with religious holiday.

Duke said he hired him because he felt his original lawyer, who is Nigerian, “detests LGBTQ” people like “those back home.”

O.T. said he filed his application for asylum in the U.S. two weeks ago.

The 49-year-old gay Nigerian man told the Blade his final hearing is scheduled to take place in October 2015. He said he is currently applying for a permit that will allow him to legally work in the U.S.

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Over 100 LGBTQ-themed books in a Florida school district labeled with advisory warning

They warn: β€œthis book has been identified by some community members as unsuitable for students.”

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Advisory Notice (via Twitter)

A southwest Florida district put parental β€œadvisory notice” on over 100 books, many of which are race or LGBTQ-themed.Β 

A great number of books in Collier County Public Schools, either digital or physical, now have warning labels writing β€œAdvisory notice to parents,” according to an NBC report,

The label, tweeted by nonprofit free-speech-promoting group PEN American, states, β€œThis Advisory Notice shall serve to inform you that this book has been identified by some community members as unsuitable for students. This book will also be identified in the Destiny system with the same notation. The decision as to whether this book is suitable or unsuitable shall be the decision of the parent(s) who has the right to oversee his/her child’s education consistent with state law.” 

Stephana Ferrell, co-founder of the Florida Freedom to Read Project, which means to fight book banning, told NBC that she had a call from Elizabeth Alves, the associate superintendent of teaching and learning for Collier County Public Schools. In the call, Alves told her that the district added the labels starting in February.Β 

These measures, which Alves described as a β€œcompromise,” happened after the district’s legal representative talked with the Florida Citizens Alliance, a conservative group which initiated a β€œPorn in Schools Report” project last year. The report included a list of books that β€œpromote gender self-identification and same-sex marriage” as well as titles that include β€œindecent and offensive material,” as the group explained. 

Chad Oliver, the Collier County Public Schools spokesperson, on the other hand offered a different story. 

Oliver sent an email to NBC News and said, “Based upon advice from the General Counsel, we placed advisory notices on books about which parents and community members had expressed concern and in accordance with the recently passed Parents’ Bill of Rights Law (HB 241).” 

The law referred by Oliver is also known as the β€œDon’t Say Gay” law.

According to PEN America, there are 110 labeled books in total, and the list greatly overlaps with the one Florida Citizens Alliance inquired about with Collier County Public Schools.Β 

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Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney introduces bill to make monkeypox testing free

Health insurers would be required to cover costs

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Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney has introduced legislation to make monkeypox testing free to the public. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), amid the ongoing monkeypox affecting gay and bisexual men, has introduced legislation in the U.S. House seeking to make testing for disease free to the public.

Maloney, one of seven openly gay members of Congress and chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said in a statement the measure, called the No Cost for Monkeypox Testing Act, would testing amid the monkeypox outbreak would be accessible to all.

β€œIt is critical that we eliminate cost as a barrier to testing for monkeypox to ensure we can identify cases and prevent further spread,” Maloney said. β€œThis legislation takes the lessons we learned from past public health emergencies and protects those at risk of contracting monkeypox by making tests accessible to everyone.”

The legislation would require private health insurers as well as Medicare and Medicaid to cover the costs of monkeypox testing at no expense to the patients, either through deductibles, co-payments, and co-insurance.

The bill introduction comes the week after the Biden administration declared the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency and the same it has issued new guidance to enhance to the accessing of existing vaccines doses amid criticism federal officials were too slow in distributing shots.

The Washington Blade has placed a request in with the Centers for Disease Control seeking comment on the legislation. Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra said Tuesday the federal government has the capacity to conduct an estimated 80,000 tests each week.

Maloney has been representing New York’s 18th congressional district, but after redistricting is now seeking re-election in the 17th district. Amid controversy over a potential showdown between Maloney and Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.), who’s Black, another openly gay member of Congress and the current representative of that district, Jones has since opted to run for re-election in the New York’s 10th congressional district. Maloney is now running unopposed in the 17th.

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Biden administration shifts monkeypox vaccine approach amid shortage

Health experts sees new guidance as mixed bag

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The Biden administration has changed its guidance on monkeypox vaccines to enhance availability amid the shortage.

The Biden administration, amid criticism it was slow to act on the monkeypox outbreak and still not meeting the demand for vaccines as the number of cases continues to grow, has announced a shift in guidance for implementation of the shot in an effort to enhance availability.

As the estimated number of monkeypox cases in the United States reaches 8,900, top health officials announced the new move on Tuesday as part of a decision by Secretary of Health & Human Services Xavier Becerra to issue a determination under Section 564 of the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act to justify emergency use authorization of vaccines. The announcement follows up on the Biden administration’s announcement last week declaring the monkeypox outbreak a public health emergency.

Becerra said in a conference call with reporters the 564 determination and change in approach to vaccines would “boost and strengthen” the Biden administration’s response to monkeypox, which has overwhelmingly affected gay and bisexual men, and “safely accelerates and multiplies our supply of effective vaccines by up to fivefold.”

“Today’s action also reaffirms HHS and this administration’s commitment to using all available resources and capabilities to end the monkeypox outbreak and provide the best possible care to those suffering from the virus,” Becerra added.

The new vaccine approach, which may may be considered minor to non-medical observers, would change injections of the JYNNEOS vaccine from the subcutaneous route (delivery of the vaccine under the fat layer underneath the skin) to the intradermal route (delivery of the vaccine into the layer of skin just underneath the top layer). In theory, that would allow for greater accessibility of monkeypox vaccines as it increases the number of doses from each vial of vaccine.

The change was made amid criticism the Biden administration failed to meet the demand for vaccines during the outbreak and geographic inequity as certain metropolitan areas of the country have more access to vaccines than other places.

As The New York Times reported last week, the Biden administration has faced criticism for not moving quickly enough in acquiring and distributing vaccines, including bulk stocks already owned by the U.S. government manufactured in Denmark by Bavaria Nordic now being given to other clients.

“The government is now distributing about 1.1 million doses, less than a third of the 3.5 million that health officials now estimate are needed to fight the outbreak,” the Times reported. “It does not expect the next delivery, of half a million doses, until October. Most of the other 5.5 million doses the United States has ordered are not scheduled to be delivered until next year, according to the federal health agency.”

Biden officials, nonetheless, touted the numbers of vaccines and tests in response to monkeypox as a positive, acknowledging the 1.1 million vaccines being made available as well as delivery of more than 620,000 of those doses, deployment more than 15,000 courses of the monkeypox treatment and increasing the country’s capacity to administer tests on a weekly basis to around 80,000. Meanwhile, officials also promoted the change in approach in vaccines as means to allow greater accessibility to the shots.

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, promoted during the conference call the use of intradermal injections and said they’re “often used for TB skin tests and have been used for other types of vaccines.”

Although Walensky conceded some health care providers “may not be as familiar with intradermal administration” as they are with subcutaneous injection, she said CDC would make additional guidance materials available, including a clinician alert message to the Association of State & Territorial Health Officials, outreach to key clinician partners and an education resource video. The change in guidance, Walensky said, is for vaccine implementation in adults, but children β€” where single digit monkeypox cases have been reported β€” would continue to receive vaccination in the traditional subcutaneous approach.

But health experts aren’t responding with overwhelming praise to the decision to change the guidance on vaccine implementation from subcutaneous injections to intradermal injections, expressing concerns the new approach may be insufficient.

Jennifer Kates, director of global health & HIV policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, was among those saying the change in guidance on vaccine approach was a mixed bag and told the Blade more data is needed to evaluate the effectiveness.

“As we saw with COVID, using these authorities in the context of public health emergencies is an important strategy,” Kates said. “In this case, this step will significantly expand access to vaccines for those most at risk. However, there remain questions about the effectiveness of this approach β€” real world studies are needed β€” and challenges to translating vaccines into vaccinations.”

Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation & Research (CBER) at the Food & Drug Administration, was asked during the conference call with reporters to respond to concerns the change in guidance was insufficient and downplayed the novelty of implementing the vaccines through the intradermal route as “not at all new.”

“In fact, the reason why the Bavaria part of this equation comes from the fact that in Germany, this vaccine was given intradermally originally, in an effort to replicate the original version of the smallpox vaccine,” Marks said. “It’s been given to thousands of people intradermally, so this isn’t the first time it’s been done.”

Walkensky said the intradermal vaccine approach has been implemented amid policies among localities to implement a one-dose approach to the JYNNEOS vaccine through the subcutaneous route. (The D.C. government is one of the jurisdictions that had enacted a one-dose approach amid a vaccine shortage.) There is not data, Walkensky said, to support that approach and “in fact, if anything, there are data saying that that is not protective enough.”

“So by using this alternative strategy of intradermal dosing, not only do we have more doses, but we actually allow people to get two doses in a way that shows immunologic response that’s superimposable from the subcutaneous dosing,” Walkensky said. “So we have more doses, and in fact, we have the ability to doubly vaccinate people so that they get the protection that they need.”

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