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HIV patients in the South face uphill battle

Poverty, lack of health care among problems

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AIDS Alabama, Kathie Hiers, gay news, Washington Blade, HIV

AIDS Alabama CEO Kathie Hiers (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — AIDS Alabama CEO Kathie Hiers will “never forget” the day in 1985 when she and her partner were at Denny’s in her hometown of Mobile, Ala., when six of her “best gay boyfriends walked in” and said they had all tested positive for HIV.

They had gone to nearby Pensacola, Fla., to get tested because Florida offered anonymous testing, unlike Alabama.

“I was like ‘Oh my God, what is happening,’” Hiers told the Washington Blade during a July 16 interview at her Birmingham office before traveling to the 2014 International AIDS Conference in Australia. “Today one of those six guys is still alive.”

More than three decades after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the first cases of what became known as AIDS, the epidemic continues to have a disproportionate impact on the South.

The CDC in 2010 noted nearly half of all new HIV infections in the U.S. were in the South, according to a policy report from the Southern AIDS Coalition. Eight of the 10 states with the highest rates of HIV — Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Texas and Tennessee — are in the region.

The CDC notes Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina are among the states with the highest rates of AIDS diagnoses.

Hiers said the statistics are slightly lower in Alabama because her organization has partnered with all of the state’s HIV/AIDS service organizations and works within all of its 67 counties.

“We’ve got a pretty cohesive network,” she said. “It’s very different than the other Southern states where you go to Atlanta and there’s a good bit, but you get outside Atlanta and there’s nothing. The same in Louisiana with New Orleans and so on.”

Hiers further noted the 1917 Clinic where a number of groundbreaking discoveries around HIV/AIDS have taken place is located at the University of Alabama-Birmingham.

“We’re always very connected to clinical trials and so on,” she said. “Those two things have helped Alabama.”

The Duke Center for Health Policy and Inequalities Research in 2011 noted Mississippi had the highest number of deaths from HIV of any state. Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee were among the top 10.

The U.S. Census also indicates that Mississippi is the poorest state in the country, with 22.3 percent of residents living below the poverty line between 2008-2012. Louisiana and Alabama have the second and fourth highest rates of poverty in the country respectively.

Statistics also indicate that people of color are more likely to live in poverty than whites.

“Part of what happens with people who are poor is they don’t go to the doctor,” Kathryn Garner, executive director of AIDS Service Coalition, an HIV/AIDS service organization in Hattiesburg, Miss., that serves people with the virus who live in 71 of the state’s 82 counties, told the Blade during a recent telephone interview. “If you don’t go to the doctor, you don’t know you’re HIV positive until you go to the doctor when you’re really sick and then you’re AIDS-defined.”

Charlotte “Dot” Norwood, gay news, Washington Blade, HIV

Charlotte “Dot” Norwood (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Charlotte “Dot” Norwood, a prevention counselor at Open Arms Healthcare Center, an HIV/AIDS clinic in Jackson, Miss., that My Brother’s Keeper, an organization based in nearby Ridgeland, Miss., that seeks to reduce health disparities among minority groups, is known affectionately as the “AIDS Lady.”

She told the Blade during a July 11 interview at the clinic that patients with the virus are often unable to get a job.

“[They] go for an interview, don’t get hired and it could be for many reasons,” she said. “Sometimes I think it’s because you know maybe they go in and the person’s first perception… masculine, things like that.”

People with HIV/AIDS fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act. It also bans all public entities and private companies that employ more than 15 people from discriminating against their employees based on their status.

No Southern state bans anti-LGBT employment discrimination. Louisiana, Tennessee and Florida include sexual orientation in their anti-hate crimes statutes, but not gender identity and expression.

HIV, Carl Green, gay news, Washington Blade

Carl Green (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Carl Green, a gay white man who has lived at Belle Reve, a residence in the Fraubourg Marigny neighborhood of New Orleans for people with HIV/AIDS since May, told the Blade during a July 14 interview that he lost his job when he told his then-manager he was living with HIV after several hospitalizations.

Green said he eventually lost his home and lived in his car until a bank repossessed it.

The New Orleans AIDS Task Force, an HIV/AIDS service organization that serves people with the virus in the Crescent City and throughout southeastern Louisiana, referred Green to Belle Reve.

“It was the universe saying you need to go back to square one and get your health together,” said Green.

Vicki Weeks, HIV, gay news, Washington Blade

Belle Reve Executive Director Vicki Weeks (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

People with HIV struggle to find housing, food

The Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988 bans discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS and other disabilities.

In spite of this federal law, a lack of housing remains an acute problem for low-income people with HIV/AIDS in the South.

Fifteen people currently live in two group homes in Belle Reve — including one called Belle Grace that Executive Director Vicki Weeks joked opened because of the “grace of God.” A third building — Belle Esprit — has four apartments for couples and families that can accommodate between seven to 10 people with children at any given time.

Belle Reve was able to renovate all three of its buildings several years ago after it received $1,189,000 in funds from Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS (HOPWA) from the New Orleans Office of Community Development, $300,000 from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, grants from the National AIDS Fund and other groups and money from the Qatari government.

“I’m happy until I can get on my own and start over again,” a Belle Reve resident of color who describes himself as “very-much gay,” but asked to remain anonymous told the Blade. He worked at Tulane Hospital in New Orleans for four years before he tested positive in May 2013. “I’m looking for another job, but I’ve been having a little problem with that because I guess I’m gay. They look at you and they judge you.”

Miss Eddie, a 58-year-old transgender woman who has lived with HIV since the 1980s, moved from the New Orleans suburb of Kenner to Belle Reve in late May after her former lover died.

“It’s a great blessing being here,” she told the Blade.

Thirty-two people with HIV/AIDS currently live at Grace House, a residence in Jackson, Miss.

AIDS Services Coalition runs two residences in Hattiesburg for people living with the virus.

Eight men live in 121 Haven House, a Victorian home built in the 1880s that serves as a transitional shelter. More than a dozen women with HIV and a family live in a second facility — 227 Place — with nine two-bedroom apartments.

AIDS Service Coalition last month bought a 16-unit apartment complex with four fourplexes.

Garner said they should be renovated by the end of the year.

“Our goal of course if someone’s able to work or able to function out in the world,” she told the Blade. “We do everything we can to get them away so they can be out in the world and do the things everything they want to do.”

The South Mississippi AIDS Task Force in Biloxi, Miss., operates a transitional housing facility for people with HIV/AIDS on the state’s Gulf Coast.

“Everyone we have in any of our shelters either have no income or have disability or a low-paying job,” said Garner. “It’s really difficult if you’re making $790 a month when a one-bedroom apartment in Hattiesburg is $550 to $600 a month. The math on that just doesn’t work and there’s not enough public housing and there’s not enough housing choice vouchers.”

AIDS Alabama has one of the largest housing programs of any HIV/AIDS service provider in the South with roughly 150 units throughout the state. The majority of these are in Birmingham, the state’s largest city.

AIDS Alabama also offers rental assistance to people living with HIV across the state through HOPWA.

“Even so we always have waiting lists,” Hiers told the Blade. “Housing is just a huge need for people with HIV.”

HIV/AIDS service providers with whom the Blade spoke in Mississippi and Alabama said access to transportation and even food can adversely affect the health of people living with the virus — especially those who live in rural areas.

Dr. Laura Beauchamps, an infectious disease practitioner at Open Arms, told the Blade as she prepared to administer pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) that many people with HIV/AIDS who live in rural areas are simply unable to travel to Jackson “to get checked on a regular basis.”

“They just don’t take care of themselves and they keep on spreading [the virus,]” she said as Norwood listened. “It is just very sad to see. In other states it’s not the same because they have a better transportation situation or ways to get them to the clinics and continue [with their treatment.]”

Garner told the Blade one of her organization’s clients who lives in a shelter in Columbus, Miss., travels to the state capital, which is nearly two hours away, to receive health care and HIV treatments. AIDS Service Coalition also provides her with support network, even though its offices are a 4-hour drive away from where she currently lives.

“She calls once a month and we visit,” said Garner. “We do what we can do.”

Hiers said the majority of AIDS Alabama’s clients in the Birmingham metropolitan area do not own cars. The agency has three vans that “run full time” to bring clients to their appointments and other commitments, but Hiers said “it’s not enough.”

Hiers described the city’s public transportation system as “pitiful,” noting an AIDS Alabama client who takes a 5:30 a.m. bus from his home to get to his job at 9:30 a.m. was almost fired because he was late.

Up to 170 families each month receive food assistance from Open Arms.

Norwood noted the food pantry in the back of the clinic that her son helps stock with donations was “a little bare” because the next delivery had yet to arrive from a local food bank. She told the Blade she personally delivers food to her clients who are hungry and are unable to travel to the clinic.

“I’ll step out of pocket and go get them myself, or take food,” said Norwood. “Sometimes I have my people who haven’t ate in a few days and they’ll call one of my guys. And my guys will call me and say ‘hey Dot, honey can you help me Dot?’ Oh yeah, that’s not even to be asked.”

Lack of education, stigma spread virus

Timothy Thompson, HIV, gay news, Washington Blade

Timothy Thompson (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Anti-HIV stigma also remains a serious problem for those living with the virus in the South.

Timothy Thompson, a peer educator with the New Orleans AIDS Task Force, told the Blade over dinner in the French Quarter on July 13 that many people who are disproportionately at risk for HIV in the city do not get tested because of the stigma attached to the virus.

“One of the biggest things is that there is the idea if I go and I test positive I’ll be alienized from my people, from my family or the people that I hang out with or things that I’m able to do I won’t be able to do anymore,” he said. “There is a level of truth to that because of the ongoing problems that are faced because of the ignorance that is around the disease itself.”

Thompson said people with HIV/AIDS with whom he has worked in New Orleans have told him that people did not want to have someone who is positive eat in their home because they think the virus spreads through saliva.

“They’re not aware of the different things that really transmit the disease as well as the different things that you can do to make sure that the people you are around that are affected about it still feel like they are normal human beings,” said Thompson. “You’re aware that this does not transmit this way and most people aren’t aware and they tend to offend people by their lack of education.”

The Blade heard similar stories from service providers and LGBT rights activists in Mississippi.

“We have folks — and this is 2014 — who are being asked in their family homes to eat off of paper plates,” said Garner.

Antwan Matthews, a gay man of color from Meridian, Miss., living with HIV, officially learned his status on April 24, 2013, the day before his 20th birthday.

He told the Blade during a July 11 interview at Open Arms where he will begin to receive care next month that his mother told him that his father, who is a Pentecostal minister, took out a life insurance policy on him after he found out he was positive.

“He’s almost gambling with my life,” said Matthews. “He’s just waiting for me to die or something.”

Matthews said his mother was initially supportive of him, but he said she pointed out his HIV status after they argued about his sister wanting to move out of the house once she had turned 18.

“She texts me and said ‘you wouldn’t listen, so look at you, you’re living with HIV now so you don’t have anything to say to me,’” said Matthews. “I was like OK. It kind of bothered me because you just don’t expect that to be said from your mom or your parents and stuff like that.”

The Belle Reve resident who asked to remain anonymous told the Blade he initially did not want to “introduce” his family in Lafayette, La., to “my HIV” because he thought they were not “going to accept it.”

“They did,” he said. “So I came here just to get myself together, for myself. So I came here and now they accept everything.”

Katrina disrupted HIV care, damaged facilities

Vicki Weeks, HIV, gay news, Washington Blade

Belle Reve Executive Director Vicki Weeks (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Weeks said eight of 12 people who were living at Belle Reve when Hurricane Katrina approached New Orleans in 2005 could not evacuate on their own because they — or their relatives — did not have access to transportation.

She and three other Belle Reve staffers used private vehicles to evacuate their residents to a campground in Alexandria, La., a city roughly 200 miles northwest of New Orleans.

The trip that normally takes less than four hours took 16 hours because of massive traffic jams.

Weeks, her residents and staff spent nearly three weeks at the campground before an HIV/AIDS service organization in Anniston, Ala., offered them housing and a place to work.

They remained in Alabama for seven months before returning to New Orleans.

“The city did not have an evacuation plan for people with no vehicles, and that’s why so many people stayed,” said Weeks, who lives in the Gentilly Terrace neighborhood of New Orleans that Katrina inundated with six feet of water. “That’s why they had so many people here because there was no transportation out of this city other than your own vehicle or a vehicle of a relative. We tried to get our residents to go with relatives or with churches, but we still have eight out of 12 that had no way to get out of town.”

Katrina damaged the roof of AIDS Service Coalition’s shelter.

Garner told the Blade a man living with HIV from New Orleans approached her after she arrived to survey the damage and said he only had two days worth of his antiretrovirals.

“That story replicated itself,” she said. “Basically what we did for several months was triage.”

Garner added an additional problem that people living with HIV/AIDS from other states who fled to Mississippi after Katrina is the state’s Medicaid program offered less generous benefits than they had been accustomed.

“If they were getting psychotropic medicines or if they were getting pain medicines or fill in the blank, they came to Mississippi and that wasn’t covered,” she said.

Service providers criticize governors for not expanding Medicaid

 

Alabama State Capitol, HIV, gay news, Washington Blade

76 percent of those who are on the Alabama AIDS Drug Assistance Program would become eligible for Medicaid if Gov. Robert Bentley and the Republican-controlled Legislature expanded it, according to AIDS Alabama CEO Kathie Hiers. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Gallup survey noted Texas had the highest rate of uninsured residents, with 27 percent of people without health insurance. Arkansas, Mississippi, Florida and Louisiana, Georgia and North Carolina were among the other states with the highest rates of uninsured residents.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory have all refused to expand their state’s Medicaid programs under the Affordable Care Act.

Hiers told the Blade the majority of the 13,000 Alabamians living with HIV are “extremely poor,” yet the state’s Medicaid program requires potential recipients to be disabled and have a monthly income of 13 percent of poverty level. She said this figure works out to around $111 a month.

Hiers added 76 percent of those who are on the Alabama AIDS Drug Assistance Program would become eligible for Medicaid if Gov. Robert Bentley and the Republican-controlled Legislature expanded it.

“I get so frustrated at our Southern states who need the health care the most not expanding Medicaid here,” said Hiers. “It’s just colossally stupid. We’re turning down billions and billions in health care for Alabamians and Southerners just because of the ideological differences between the parties. And I think that’s just wrong.”

Advocates and HIV/AIDS service providers with whom the Blade spoke in Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama all said the vast majority of their funding comes from the federal government and private grants.

Eighty-five percent of AIDS Alabama’s annual budget of $7.9 million comes from federal sources, with HUD providing the majority of this money. The organization also receives financial support from the Ford Foundation, the Elton John Foundation, the Tide Foundation and other foundations.

HOPWA funds comprise 80 percent of Belle Reve’s $1 million annual budget.

“If we lose that there’s nothing else that we can do to keep the doors open,” Weeks told the Blade. “We have got to prepare for that.”

The Mississippi Department of Health runs a free STD clinic in Jackson where Beauchamps also works.

She told the Blade that she and her colleagues are able to find “a lot of people” there who are positive.

Beauchamps nevertheless stressed the state does not extend enough resources to her and other HIV/AIDS service providers to fight the epidemic.

“We need more grants,” said Beauchamps. “We need more support to do more testing and then to reach out in communities that don’t have a way to come all the way down to the metro area.”

Weeks criticized Louisiana lawmakers and Jindal for cutting state education and health care funding.

She noted the closest mental health clinic to Belle Reve is in Hammond, a city about an hour northwest of New Orleans, because Jindal closed the facility that had been in the Crescent City.

“All I can say is that we’re not happy with some of the issues or some of the things that our governor, Bobby Jindal, has done,” said Weeks. “We all get upset when he cuts funding for education or health care, but the state’s budget is in state law that they can’t touch any of this other stuff. That only leaves education and health care. So whoever set our government up did a very poor job.”

’I’m doing a 100 percent better’

Antwan Matthews, HIV, gay news, Washington Blade

Antwan Matthews (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

In spite of the steep challenges, people living with HIV/AIDS and those who support them remain optimistic.

Matthews has begun speaking with teenage boys about the virus. He is also fighting to include HIV/AIDS in school curricula.

“They need to be taught,” he told the Blade. “It’s just like anything else: English, history, math, anything else that they learn. They should learn about this.”

Green has once again began taking antiretrovirals after a three year lapse.

He also had surgery last month to remove a cancerous tumor from his rectum.

“I’m doing a 100 percent better,” said Green. “It’s like I’m getting back in touch with me and getting my priorities back together. I just don’t think I would have still been on this earth. I really don’t.”

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Steve Gactivista

    August 8, 2014 at 1:37 pm

    Great article. I am so ashamed of how we treat people in our own country. I wish I had millions of dollars to help build homes for all HIV people on the hard edges of life.

  2. El Dorado

    August 8, 2014 at 10:09 pm

    The American South sounds a lot like Russia is for gays except that at least here we have freedom of speech and association per our constitution which allows us to fight for our rights and hate crimes laws that at least offer us some protections against bashing!

    Goes to show how naïve it is for gay Americans to think that being gay doesn’t matter anymore in this country. Younger gays living in larger more liberal cities really are living in a bubble reality. It’s a lot better than it was thirty years ago in general, but still far from where we want to be.

  3. Ray Hill

    August 14, 2014 at 7:54 pm

    I am a GLBTQ/HIV&AIDS activist in Houston, Texas We started organizing around AIDS related issues in 1980 with the formation of the Kaposi's Sarcoma Committee (now AIDS Foundation, Houston) before the terms AIDS and HIV were chosen. Montrose Clinic (organized 1978) is now Legacy Health Services with six locations in places where at risk populations live and by carefully usin available public funds and advising clients as to social services available we are doing a remarkable job addressing the needs. Montrose Center (originally Montrose Counseling Center) picks up what Legacy doesn't cover but we are not worried about overlap because the need for services is too important to quarrel about. What is needed in other "Southern" places is bold and imaginative local leadership.

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    August 29, 2014 at 6:20 pm

    i am Marian from USA, Am really happy that i was cured of HIV with the herbal medicine of Dr Ariba, i have been suffering from this disease for the past 3 years without solution until i came across the email of this doctors who have cured so many people with his herbal medicine, i also chose to give him a chance to help me, he told me what to do and i kindly did it, and he gave me his herbal medicine and direct me on how to use, i also follows his direction for use and he ask me to go for a check up after 2 Days and which i did, to my greatest surprise My result came out as negative, Am really happy that there is someone like this DR who is ready to help anytime any day. to all the readers and viewers that is doubting this testimony stop doubting it and contact this Dr and see if he will not actually help you. i am not stupid if you want to confirm you can reach me on my phone number +12017544996. he is really a great man contact him now. [email protected] [email protected]

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Equality Act, contorted as a danger by anti-LGBTQ forces, is all but dead

No political willpower to force vote or reach a compromise

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Despite having President Biden in the White House and Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress, efforts to update federal civil rights laws to strengthen the prohibition on discrimination against LGBTQ people by passing the Equality Act are all but dead as opponents of the measure have contorted it beyond recognition.

Political willpower is lacking to find a compromise that would be acceptable to enough Republican senators to end a filibuster on the bill — a tall order in any event — nor is there the willpower to force a vote on the Equality Act as opponents stoke fears about transgender kids in sports and not even unanimity in the Democratic caucus in favor of the bill is present, stakeholders who spoke to the Blade on condition of anonymity said.

In fact, there are no imminent plans to hold a vote on the legislation even though Pride month is days away, which would be an opportune time for Congress to demonstrate solidarity with the LGBTQ community by holding a vote on the legislation.

If the Equality Act were to come up for a Senate vote in the next month, it would not have the support to pass. Continued assurances that bipartisan talks are continuing on the legislation have yielded no evidence of additional support, let alone the 10 Republicans needed to end a filibuster.

“I haven’t really heard an update either way, which is usually not good,” one Democratic insider said. “My understanding is that our side was entrenched in a no-compromise mindset and with [Sen. Joe] Manchin saying he didn’t like the bill, it doomed it this Congress. And the bullying of hundreds of trans athletes derailed our message and our arguments of why it was broadly needed.”

The only thing keeping the final nail from being hammered into the Equality Act’s coffin is the unwillingness of its supporters to admit defeat. Other stakeholders who spoke to the Blade continued to assert bipartisan talks are ongoing, strongly pushing back on any conclusion the legislation is dead.

Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, said the Equality Act is “alive and well,” citing widespread public support he said includes “the majority of Democrats, Republicans and independents and a growing number of communities across the country engaging and mobilizing every day in support of the legislation.”

“They understand the urgent need to pass this bill and stand up for LGBTQ people across our country,” David added. “As we engage with elected officials, we have confidence that Congress will listen to the voices of their constituents and continue fighting for the Equality Act through the lengthy legislative process.  We will also continue our unprecedented campaign to grow the already-high public support for a popular bill that will save lives and make our country fairer and more equal for all. We will not stop until the Equality Act is passed.”

Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), chief sponsor of the Equality Act in the Senate, also signaled through a spokesperson work continues on the legislation, refusing to give up on expectations the legislation would soon become law.

“Sen. Merkley and his staff are in active discussions with colleagues on both sides of the aisle to try to get this done,” McLennan said. “We definitely see it as a key priority that we expect to become law.”

A spokesperson Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who had promised to force a vote on the Equality Act in the Senate on the day the U.S. House approved it earlier this year, pointed to a March 25 “Dear Colleague” letter in which he identified the Equality Act as one of several bills he’d bring up for a vote.

Despite any assurances, the hold up on the bill is apparent. Although the U.S. House approved the legislation earlier this year, the Senate Judiciary Committee hasn’t even reported out the bill yet to the floor in the aftermath of the first-ever Senate hearing on the bill in March. A Senate Judiciary Committee Democratic aide, however, disputed that inaction as evidence the Equality Act is dead in its tracks: “Bipartisan efforts on a path forward are ongoing.”

Democrats are quick to blame Republicans for inaction on the Equality Act, but with Manchin withholding his support for the legislation they can’t even count on the entirety of their caucus to vote “yes” if it came to the floor. Progressives continue to advocate an end to the filibuster to advance legislation Biden has promised as part of his agenda, but even if they were to overcome headwinds and dismantle the institution needing 60 votes to advance legislation, the Equality Act would likely not have majority support to win approval in the Senate with a 50-50 party split.

The office of Manchin, who has previously said he couldn’t support the Equality Act over concerns about public schools having to implement the transgender protections applying to sports and bathrooms, hasn’t responded to multiple requests this year from the Blade on the legislation and didn’t respond to a request to comment for this article.

Meanwhile, Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who declined to co-sponsor the Equality Act this year after having signed onto the legislation in the previous Congress, insisted through a spokesperson talks are still happening across the aisle despite the appearances the legislation is dead.

“There continues to be bipartisan support for passing a law that protects the civil rights of Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity,” said Annie Clark, a Collins spokesperson. “The Equality Act was a starting point for negotiations, and in its current form, it cannot pass. That’s why there are ongoing discussions among senators and stakeholders about a path forward.”

Let’s face it: Anti-LGBTQ forces have railroaded the debate by making the Equality Act about an end to women’s sports by allowing transgender athletes and danger to women in sex-segregated places like bathrooms and prisons. That doesn’t even get into resolving the issue on drawing the line between civil rights for LGBTQ people and religious freedom, which continues to be litigated in the courts as the U.S. Supreme Court is expected any day now to issue a ruling in Fulton v. City of Philadelphia to determine if foster care agencies can reject same-sex couples over religious objections.

For transgender Americans, who continue to report discrimination and violence at high rates, the absence of the Equality Act may be most keenly felt.

Mara Keisling, outgoing executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, disputed any notion the Equality Act is dead and insisted the legislation is “very much alive.”

“We remain optimistic despite misinformation from the opposition,” Keisling said. “NCTE and our movement partners are still working fruitfully on the Equality Act with senators. In fact, we are gaining momentum with all the field organizing we’re doing, like phone banking constituents to call their senators. Legislating takes time. Nothing ever gets through Congress quickly. We expect to see a vote during this Congress, and we are hopeful we can win.”

But one Democratic source said calls to members of Congress against the Equality Act, apparently coordinated by groups like the Heritage Foundation, have has outnumbered calls in favor of it by a substantial margin, with a particular emphasis on Manchin.

No stories are present in the media about same-sex couples being kicked out of a restaurant for holding hands or transgender people for using the restroom consistent with their gender identity, which would be perfectly legal in 25 states thanks to the patchwork of civil rights laws throughout the United States and inadequate protections under federal law.

Tyler Deaton, senior adviser for the American Unity Fund, which has bolstered the Republican-led Fairness for All Act as an alternative to the Equality Act, said he continues to believe the votes are present for a compromise form of the bill.

“I know for a fact there is a supermajority level of support in the Senate for a version of the Equality Act that is fully protective of both LGBTQ civil rights and religious freedom,” Deaton said. “There is interest on both sides of the aisle in getting something done this Congress.”

Deaton, however, didn’t respond to a follow-up inquiry on what evidence exists of agreeing on this compromise.

Biden has already missed the goal he campaigned on in the 2020 election to sign the Equality Act into law within his first 100 days in office. Although Biden renewed his call to pass the legislation in his speech to Congress last month, as things stand now that appears to be a goal he won’t realize for the remainder of this Congress.

Nor has the Biden administration made the Equality Act an issue for top officials within the administration as it pushes for an infrastructure package as a top priority. One Democratic insider said Louisa Terrell, legislative affairs director for the White House, delegated work on the Equality Act to a deputy as opposed to handling it herself.

To be sure, Biden has demonstrated support for the LGBTQ community through executive action at an unprecedented rate, signing an executive order on day one ordering federal agencies to implement the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last year in Bostock v. Clayton County to the fullest extent possible and dismantling former President Trump’s transgender military ban. Biden also made historic LGBTQ appointments with the confirmation of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Rachel Levine as assistant secretary of health.

A White House spokesperson insisted Biden’s team across the board remains committed to the Equality Act, pointing to his remarks to Congress.

“President Biden has urged Congress to get the Equality Act to his desk so he can sign it into law and provide long overdue civil rights protections to LGBTQ+ Americans, and he remains committed to seeing this legislation passed as quickly as possible,” the spokesperson said. “The White House and its entire legislative team remains in ongoing and close coordination with organizations, leaders, members of Congress, including the Equality Caucus, and staff to ensure we are working across the aisle to push the Equality Act forward.”

But at least in the near-term, that progress will fall short of fulfilling the promise of updating federal civil rights law with the Equality Act, which will mean LGBTQ people won’t be able to rely on those protections when faced with discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

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D.C. bill to ban LGBTQ panic defense delayed by Capitol security

Delivery of bill to Congress was held up due to protocols related to Jan. 6 riots

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New fencing around the Capitol following the Jan. 6 insurrection prevented some D.C. bills from being delivered to the Hill for a required congressional review. (Blade file photo by Michael K. Lavers)

A bill approved unanimously last December by the D.C. Council to ban the so-called LGBTQ panic defense has been delayed from taking effect as a city law because the fence installed around the U.S. Capitol following the Jan. 6 insurrection prevented the law from being delivered to Congress.

According to Eric Salmi, communications director for D.C. Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who guided the bill through the Council’s legislative process, all bills approved by the Council and signed by the D.C. mayor must be hand-delivered to Congress for a required congressional review.

“What happened was when the Capitol fence went up after the January insurrection, it created an issue where we physically could not deliver laws to Congress per the congressional review period,” Salmi told the Washington Blade.

Among the bills that could not immediately be delivered to Congress was the Bella Evangelista and Tony Hunter Panic Defense Prohibition and Hate Crimes Response Amendment Act of 2020, which was approved by the Council on a second and final vote on Dec. 15.

Between the time the bill was signed by Mayor Muriel Bowser and published in the D.C. Register under procedural requirements for all bills, it was not ready to be transmitted to Congress until Feb. 16, the Council’s legislative record for the bill shows.

Salmi said the impasse in delivering the bill to Congress due to the security fence prevented the bill from reaching Congress on that date and prevented the mandatory 60-day congressional review period for this bill from beginning at that time. He noted that most bills require a 30 legislative day review by Congress.

But the Evangelista-Hunter bill, named after a transgender woman and a gay man who died in violent attacks by perpetrators who attempted to use the trans and gay panic defense, includes a law enforcement related provision that under the city’s Home Rule Charter passed by Congress in the early 1970s requires a 60-day congressional review.

“There is a chance it goes into effect any day now, just given the timeline is close to being up,” Salmi said on Tuesday. “I don’t know the exact date it was delivered, but I do know the countdown is on,” said Salmi, who added, “I would expect any day now it should go into effect and there’s nothing stopping it other than an insurrection in January.”

If the delivery to Congress had not been delayed, the D.C. Council’s legislative office estimated the congressional review would have been completed by May 12.

A congressional source who spoke on condition of being identified only as a senior Democratic aide, said the holdup of D.C. bills because of the Capitol fence has been corrected.

“The House found an immediate workaround, when this issue first arose after the Jan. 6 insurrection,” the aide said.

“This is yet another reason why D.C. Council bills should not be subject to a congressional review period and why we need to grant D.C. statehood,” the aide said.

The aide added that while no disapproval resolution had been introduced in Congress to overturn the D.C. Evangelista-Hunter bill, House Democrats would have defeated such a resolution.

“House Democrats support D.C. home rule, statehood, and LGBTQ rights,” said the aide.

LGBTQ rights advocates have argued that a ban on using a gay or transgender panic defense in criminal trials is needed to prevent defense attorneys from inappropriately asking juries to find that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity or expression is to blame for a defendant’s criminal act, including murder.

Some attorneys have argued that their clients “panicked” after discovering the person against whom they committed a violent crime was gay or transgender, prompting them to act in a way they believed to be a form of self-defense.

In addition to its provision banning the LGBTQ panic defense, the Evangelista-Hunter bill includes a separate provision that strengthens the city’s existing hate crimes law by clarifying that hatred need not be the sole motivating factor for an underlying crime such as assault, murder, or threats to be prosecuted as a hate crime.

LGBTQ supportive prosecutors have said the clarification was needed because it is often difficult to prove to a jury that hatred is the only motive behind a violent crime. The prosecutors noted that juries have found defendants not guilty of committing a hate crime on grounds that they believed other motives were involved in a particular crime after defense lawyers argued that the law required “hate” to be the only motive in order to find someone guilty of a hate crime.

Salmi noted that while the hate crime clarification and panic defense prohibition provisions of the Evangelista-Hunter bill will become law as soon as the congressional review is completed, yet another provision in the bill will not become law after the congressional review because there are insufficient funds in the D.C. budget to cover the costs of implementing the provision.

The provision gives the D.C. Office of Human Rights and the Office of the D.C. Attorney General authority to investigate hate related discrimination at places of public accommodation. Salmi said the provision expands protections against discrimination to include web-based retailers or online delivery services that are not physically located in D.C.

“That is subject to appropriations,” Salmi said. “And until it is funded in the upcoming budget it cannot be legally enforced.”

He said that at Council member Allen’s request, the Council added language to the bill that ensures that all other provisions of the legislation that do not require additional funding – including the ban on use of the LGBTQ panic defense and the provision clarifying that hatred doesn’t have to be the sole motive for a hate crime – will take effect as soon as the congressional approval process is completed.

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D.C. man charged with 2020 anti-gay death threat rearrested

Defendant implicated in three anti-LGBTQ incidents since 2011

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shooting, DC Eagle, assault, hate crime, anti-gay attack, police discrimination, sex police, Sisson, gay news, Washington Blade

A D.C. man arrested in August 2020 for allegedly threatening to kill a gay man outside the victim’s apartment in the city’s Adams Morgan neighborhood and who was released while awaiting trial was arrested again two weeks ago for allegedly threatening to kill another man in an unrelated incident.

D.C. Superior Court records show that Jalal Malki, who was 37 at the time of his 2020 arrest on a charge of bias-related attempts to do bodily harm against the gay man, was charged on May 4, 2021 with unlawful entry, simple assault, threats to kidnap and injure a person, and attempted possession of a prohibited weapon against the owner of a vacant house at 4412 Georgia Ave., N.W.

Court charging documents state that Malki was allegedly staying at the house without permission as a squatter. An arrest affidavit filed in court by D.C. police says Malki allegedly threatened to kill the man who owns the house shortly after the man arrived at the house while Malki was inside.

According to the affidavit, Malki walked up to the owner of the house while the owner was sitting in his car after having called police and told him, “If you come back here, I’m going to kill you.” While making that threat Malki displayed what appeared to be a gun in his waistband, but which was later found to be a toy gun, the affidavit says.

Malki then walked back inside the house minutes before police arrived and arrested him. Court records show that similar to the court proceedings following his 2020 arrest for threatening the gay man, a judge in the latest case ordered Malki released while awaiting trial. In both cases, the judge ordered him to stay away from the two men he allegedly threatened to kill.

An arrest affidavit filed by D.C. police in the 2020 case states that Malki allegedly made the threats inside an apartment building where the victim lived on the 2300 block of Champlain Street, N.W. It says Malki was living in a nearby building but often visited the building where the victim lived.

“Victim 1 continued to state during an interview that it was not the first time that Defendant 1 had made threats to him, but this time Defendant 1 stated that if he caught him outside, he would ‘fucking kill him.’” the affidavit says. It quotes the victim as saying during this time Malki repeatedly called the victim a “fucking faggot.”

The affidavit, prepared by the arresting officers, says that after the officers arrested Malki and were leading him to a police transport vehicle to be booked for the arrest, he expressed an “excited utterance” that he was “in disbelief that officers sided with the ‘fucking faggot.’”

Court records show that Malki is scheduled to appear in court on June 4 for a status hearing for both the 2020 arrest and the arrest two weeks ago for allegedly threatening to kill the owner of the house in which police say he was illegally squatting.

Superior Court records show that Malki had been arrested three times between 2011 and 2015 in cases unrelated to the 2021 and 2020 cases for allegedly also making threats of violence against people. Two of the cases appear to be LGBTQ related, but prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office did not list the cases as hate crimes.

In the first of the three cases, filed in July 2011, Malki allegedly shoved a man inside Dupont Circle and threatened to kill him after asking the man why he was wearing a purple shirt.

“Victim 1 believes the assault occurred because Suspect 1 believes Victim 1 is a homosexual,” the police arrest affidavit says.

Court records show prosecutors charged Malki with simple assault and threats to do bodily harm in the case. But the court records show that on Sept. 13, 2011, D.C. Superior Court Judge Stephen F. Eilperin found Malki not guilty on both charges following a non-jury trial.

The online court records do not state why the judge rendered a not guilty verdict. With the courthouse currently closed to the public and the press due to COVID-related restrictions, the Washington Blade couldn’t immediately obtain the records to determine the judge’s reason for the verdict.

In the second case, court records show Malki was arrested by D.C. police outside the Townhouse Tavern bar and restaurant at 1637 R St., N.W. on Nov. 7, 2012 for allegedly threatening one or more people with a knife after employees ordered Malki to leave the establishment for “disorderly behavior.”

At the time, the Townhouse Tavern was located next door to the gay nightclub Cobalt, which before going out of business two years ago, was located at the corner of 17th and R Streets, N.W.

The police arrest affidavit in the case says Malki allegedly pointed a knife in a threatening way at two of the tavern’s employees who blocked his path when he attempted to re-enter the tavern. The affidavit says he was initially charged by D.C. police with assault with a dangerous weapon – knife. Court records, however, show that prosecutors with the U.S. Attorney’s Office lowered the charges to two counts of simple assault. The records show that on Jan. 15, 2013, Malki pleaded guilty to the two charges as part of a plea bargain arrangement.

The records show that Judge Marissa Demeo on that same day issued a sentence of 30 days for each of the two charges but suspended all 30 days for both counts. She then sentenced Malki to one year of supervised probation for both charges and ordered that he undergo alcohol and drug testing and undergo treatment if appropriate.

In the third case prior to the 2020 and 2021 cases, court records show Malki was arrested outside the Cobalt gay nightclub on March 14, 2015 on multiple counts of simple assault, attempted assault with a dangerous weapon – knife, possession of a prohibited weapon – knife, and unlawful entry.

The arrest affidavit says an altercation started on the sidewalk outside the bar when for unknown reasons, Malki grabbed a female customer who was outside smoking and attempted to pull her toward him. When her female friend came to her aid, Malki allegedly got “aggressive” by threatening the woman and “removed what appeared to be a knife from an unknown location” and pointed it at the woman’s friend in a threatening way, the affidavit says.

It says a Cobalt employee minutes later ordered Malki to leave the area and he appeared to do so. But others noticed that he walked toward another entrance door to Cobalt and attempted to enter the establishment knowing he had been ordered not to return because of previous problems with his behavior, the affidavit says. When he attempted to push away another employee to force his way into Cobalt, Malki fell to the ground during a scuffle and other employees held him on the ground while someone else called D.C. police.

Court records show that similar to all of Malki’s arrests, a judge released him while awaiting trial and ordered him to stay away from Cobalt and all of those he was charged with threatening and assaulting.

The records show that on Sept. 18, 2015, Malki agreed to a plea bargain offer by prosecutors in which all except two of the charges – attempted possession of a prohibited weapon and simple assault – were dropped. Judge Alfred S. Irving Jr. on Oct. 2, 2015 sentenced Malki to 60 days of incarnation for each of the two charges but suspended all but five days, which he allowed Malki to serve on weekends, the court records show.

The judge ordered that the two five-day jail terms could be served concurrently, meaning just five days total would be served, according to court records. The records also show that Judge Irving sentenced Malki to one year of supervised probation for each of the two counts and ordered that he enter an alcohol treatment program and stay away from Cobalt.

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