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Meningitis outbreak spurs vaccine recommendation

Health officials closely monitoring three Chicago cases

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vaccine, meningitis, gay news, Washington Blade
vaccine, syringe, gay news, Washington Blade

Invasive meningococcal disease is considered rare but potentially fatal if left untreated.

CHICAGO — Health officials in Chicago last week urged gay men, particularly those with HIV, to get vaccinated against invasive meningococcal disease after three cases have been confirmed according to the Chicago Department of Public Health according to CBS Chicago, the Windy City Times and other outlets.

Previously affecting gay men in New York and Los Angeles, the disease is considered rare but potentially fatal if left untreated. The Chicago Department of Public Health, which urged the vaccine especially for men with HIV or men who have anonymous partners and use “hook up” apps, said it has been carefully monitoring each case to determine if the outbreak is isolated to a specific subpopulation.

The vaccine is considered safe and effective and is available at many sites in Chicago and also in Washington. Though less contagious than the common cold, the disease is spread through prolonged, close contact with saliva that can include intimate kissing, sexual contact and sharing drinks, marijuana or cigarettes.

Last year in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Times reported at least eight known cases of the disease, four of which were in men who have sex with men. Three of them died and were in their late 20s, the Times reported in April, 2014.

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One non-binary person’s perspective on how to transition thoughtfully and safely

Q and A: Transitioning and its long-term impact

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Photo Courtesy of Arin Jayes.

Miami and Baltimore– Urban Health Media Project reporter Vanessa Falcon, a high school student in Miami, interviewed Arin Jayes, 30, of Baltimore, about his gender identity journey and experience transitioning to a non-binary trans man. Jayes, a behavioral health therapist, is also an urban farmer and embroidery artist.

Q:  How was your transitioning process? Was it overall very difficult? Why? How long did it last?

A: As a non binary person, I have a flexible view of how individuals develop their gender identity. It’s something that may evolve throughout a person’s lifetime, based on experiences; changes in personal values and relationships; bodily changes; and other factors. Gender identity also intersects and interacts with many other identities, such as race, ethnicity, physical ability or disability, sexual orientation and class. 

For many trans folks, the gender transition process is lifelong and never-ending! Pronouns can change multiple times (hence the “pronoun check” posts we see on Facebook). Similarly, physical changes or adjustments may happen over years, instead of all at once. I mention this before bringing up my own story because it is important to normalize the idea of flexible, changing genders. After all, gender is a social construct designed to categorize people. When we view gender on a continuum, we can recognize a galaxy of gender journeys that a person can take.

My own transition is a prime example. I came out as genderqueer in 2012, and used “they/them” pronouns exclusively. In 2015, after further introspection, I realized that I wanted to live in a more masculine body. I came out to my family and friends as a non-binary trans man, using “he” pronouns and physically transitioning. I made this decision with the understanding that I wasn’t transitioning because I identified as a “man” per se, but that I felt more comfortable in a body that had more masculine characteristics. Since physically transitioning seven years ago, I’ve passed as male about 90% of the time. (Masks can sometimes make passing complicated for trans folks!) When people ask me nowadays what my gender is, I just say “non-binary,” and that my pronouns are “he or they — either as fine.” I am leaning into presenting as femme or as masc as I want on any given day, and being as gay as I want. It can be tempting to present in a way that is more conventionally masculine or feminine, because sometimes it is just easier (fewer questions, comments, or worse). But if COVID-19 has taught me anything, it is that time is not guaranteed, and we must consider what makes life worth living, and embrace it. Every time Pride Month rolls around, I recommit to my true self. But this year it feels all the more important.

Q: Throughout the transitioning journey, many clients are informed of possible negative side effects. Despite hearing about them, you still decided to transition. Why?

A: Deciding to transition was one of the most important and difficult decisions I have ever made. Like many trans people, I didn’t initially know what being transgender meant. I had to do a lot of research, introspection and support group work before I realized that being transgender described how I felt. When deciding whether to physically transition, a person can do research about the changes that they may experience, talk to other people that have gone through similar changes, and seek individual or group therapy for support. I decided to physically transition after weighing my options based on the information that I gathered, the changes that I wanted, and my financial budget.

Luckily, there is a lot of information and help available. Trans folks are resourceful, and do a lot to support and inform our communities.  For example, there are numerous databases developed by trans people for trans people that allow you to review different surgeons or healthcare providers; compare photos or results of surgeries; and share resources and educational information about physically transitioning. Many community mental health centers have legal clinics that help people navigate the name and gender marker change process.

One side effect that I didn’t entirely understand until after I transitioned was the significant impact that being transgender has on how we navigate the world. It affects where we go to school and receive healthcare, even which streets we choose to walk down late at night. On a job interview, we often feel the need to consider, “Will people here be accepting of me? Will there be a restroom that I can safely use?” As a white and masculine-adjacent person, my navigation of the world is privileged based on systems of white supremacy. I will not for a second forget the trans women of color who paved the way for us to demand justice; their leadership — and that of their successors in our movements — must be recognized.

Q: Did you have, or do you currently have, any regrets about transitioning?

A: What I think this question is getting at is, “How do you know you’re sure?” This was a question that I asked myself many times as I considered making irreversible (or at least, not easily reversible) changes to my body. My answer to that is: I didn’t truly know it was right until after I did it. That may seem radical or scary. One may ask, “Why on earth would you do something so permanent if you weren’t sure?” But It took a leap of faith. And, as someone who has been there, I can say that if it doesn’t feel right, you know. It is important to trust yourself and your bodily autonomy. Also, if you decide to stop your physical transition, you don’t need to think of it as “de-transitioning.” The path of your gender journey is unique to you. You call the shots.

Q: How has transitioning helped you and your image of yourself? How has it affected your self-esteem and mental health?

A: Much of what is written about trans people focuses on the challenges of being trans. While I said that deciding to transition was one of the most important and difficult decisions I ever made, it was also one of the best ones I ever made. I love being trans! Trans people are unique, creative, and resilient. Trans culture is rooted in grassroots community organizing. It is humbling to think of all the amazing thinkers, writers, and artists who walked this journey. I have had the privilege to meet a lot of amazing trans people who remind me of the power of our community.

Q: What advice would you give to other people who want to follow the path you did?

A: Despite what society tells you about bodies and gender, there are no rules! You don’t have to justify or explain to anyone your decision to transition. You’re in the driver’s seat. Your body belongs to you and no one else. You will live in your body for the rest of your life. Therefore, you get to decide on what terms you will occupy it.

This article is part of our 2021 Youth Pride Issue in partnership with Urban Health Media.

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Health

New Partnership to Support LGBTQ COVID-19 Vaccine Clinics

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The Leonard-Litz Foundation has partnered with Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, a nonprofit organization in Pennsylvania, to increase the capacity of LGBTQ community centers to host COVID-19 vaccination clinics.

Five LGBTQ community centers in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic have been selected to receive a grant from the Leonard-Litz Foundation and technical assistance from Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center.

The five centers are:

The five participating centers are organizing leading-edge vaccine promotion strategies, even adding incentives such as drag performances and additional health services to the vaccine sites.

Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center has been offering LGBTQ COVID-19 vaccine clinics since mid-March and has arranged over 1,000 doses through clinics held on-site. This partnership seeks to ensure that LGBTQ community centers across the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic are prepared to offer COVID-19 vaccines for the LGBTQ community in their service areas.

“Vaccine hesitancy is the number one issue we need to address if we want to return to living our lives,” said Elliot Leonard, founder of the Leonard-Litz Foundation. “The LGBTQ community has endured decades of discrimination from both public and private health organizations, and many are understandably concerned about revealing personal information as part of the vaccination process. This partnership seeks to address that head-on by implementing vaccine protocols through LGBTQ-supportive organizations.”

“The COVID-19 vaccine is essential to protecting the lives of LGBTQ people—and all people,” said Adrian Shanker, executive director of Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center. “But due to many barriers to care, LGBTQ people may not be able to access vaccines. That’s why Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center is so pleased to partner with Leonard-Litz Foundation and five regional LGBTQ centers to increase capacity for COVID-19 vaccine clinics specifically for the LGBTQ community.”

Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center provides arts, health, youth, and pride programs to strengthen and support the LGBTQ community across the Greater Lehigh Valley. They previously received a grant from Leonard-Litz Foundation to help support their LGBTQ-specific health advocacy in Pennsylvania.

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Health

In-person 2022 International AIDS Conference to take place in Montreal

Pandemic forced 2020 gathering to go virtual

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The International AIDS Society has announced the 2022 International AIDS Conference will take place in-person in Montreal.

The conference, which will also feature virtual events, is scheduled to take place from July 29-Aug. 2, 2022. Pre-conference meetings are slated to begin on July 27, 2022.

“AIDS 2022, the world’s largest conference on HIV and AIDS, will convene leading scientists, policy makers and grassroots activists,” reads the International AIDS Society’s announcement.

Canadian Health Minister Patty Hadju is one of the conference’s co-chairs.

“We know that there is still a long way to go in the fight against HIV and AIDS,” said Hadju in an International AIDS Society press release. “In 2022, Canada will proudly host AIDS 2022 so that we can further our commitments to ending the HIV and AIDS global epidemic.”

“We remain committed to our 95-95-95 targets, moving towards reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, and to reducing stigma and discrimination,” added Hadju. “By bringing together domestic and international partners, we can redouble our collective efforts to improve the health of all our citizens and finish the fight against HIV and AIDS.”

The 2020 International AIDS Conference was to have taken place in San Francisco and Oakland, Calif., but it took place virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic. The 2012 International AIDS Conference took place in D.C.

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