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Sanders makes commitment for Dem platform in HIV/AIDS meeting

Candidate says access to meds will be in Dem Party platform

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Bernie Sanders, gay news, Washington Blade
Bernie Sanders, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) met with HIV/AIDS activists. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders made a new commitment to highlight access to generic medications during a meeting with HIV/AIDS activists, according to attendees at the meeting.

The meeting took place late Wednesday in San Bernadino, Calif., with days remaining before the Democratic primary in the state on June 7.

According to a statement from the Sanders campaign, the candidate thanked the 20 representatives of the HIV/AIDS community in attendance at the conclusion of the meeting, which was hosted by Sanders supporter and actor-activist Danny Glover.

“Let me thank you for the work you do,” Sanders said. “The issues you have raised are enormously important and effect millions of people in this country and more around the world.”

According to activists, Sanders pledged during the meeting the 2016 Democratic Party platform will include a plank on the need to increase generic competition for pharmaceutical production of HIV/AIDS drugs, such as by reducing U.S. pressure on India to change its patent laws.

As part of a recent agreement with the Democratic National Committee, Sanders is able to name five members of the Democratic Party platform committee compared to the six members Clinton is able to name.

Hilary McQuie, who attended the meeting as director of U.S. policy and grassroots mobilization for the HIV/AIDS group Health GAP, said Sanders’ commitment on generic drugs was significant.

“The expansion of HIV/AIDS treatment globally has only been possible because of the reduction of intellectual property barriers that has allowed generic competition,” McQuie said. “This has resulted in a 99 percent drop in the price of HIV drugs. It is crucial that barriers to generic production continue to be reduced for new medications. India’s freedom to put public health and access to medicines ahead of pharma greed and U.S. bullying will mean the difference between life and death for millions of people.”

Michael Briggs, a Sanders spokesperson, didn’t go as far as saying Sanders made a commitment to a plank in the platform, but still said the candidate hopes it will happen.

“Bernie has always believed there should be an expansion of generic drugs throughout the world so poor people can get the drugs they need,” Briggs said. “He has for years taken on the greed of the pharmaceutical industry which had resulted in unnecessary death and suffering in many parts of the world. As president, he will fight for a major expansion of generic drug production. He hopes the Democratic convention in Philadelphia agrees with that.”

Much like during a meeting between HIV/AIDS and Clinton, activists presented Sanders a policy proposal seeking new commitments on HIV/AIDS. The policy document calls on candidates to prevent trade deals and intellectual property laws hindering generic production of medications, which activist say pose a threat to drug access.

In addition to asking Sanders to stop U.S. government pressure on India to change its patent law, activists say they asked Sanders to reaffirm his commitment to ending the AIDS pandemic by 2030 and commit to increase funding the global AIDS programs by $2 billion per year by 2020. Sanders has already committed to double the number of people receiving HIV treatment directly supported by the United States, but hasn’t committed to a funding target.

According to the Sanders campaign, Sanders agreed to set a national goal of ending the HIV epidemic within the country by the year 2025 so that in that year HIV is no longer a public health threat within any community in the United States. Further, the Sanders campaign says, the candidate called for expansion of the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program, which provides HIV-related services.

According to the Sanders campaign, the candidate at the meeting talked about his support for the California Drug Price Relief Initiative, which will be on the ballot initiative in the state in November. It would prohibit the state from paying more for prescription drugs, including HIV/AIDS treatments, than the lowest price paid for the same drug by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

“We think it’s a great start and we applaud the people of California for standing up to the pharmaceutical industry,” Sanders in a statement after the meeting.

Both Clinton and Sanders have made ending HIV/AIDS, which affects an estimated 1.2 million people in the United States, a component of their presidential campaigns. Sanders has unveiled a plan that doesn’t mention PrEP, but includes a goal for “virtually universal access” to low cost AIDS medications as soon as they’re approved and pushes for legislation to bar discrimination against LGBT people and people with HIV/AIDS.

Sanders initially agreed in the days before the crucial New York Democratic primary to take part in the meeting on the same day his rival for the Democratic nomination Hillary Clinton agreed to take part in separate meeting. HIV/AIDS activists had sought to meet with each of the 2016 presidential candidates in the aftermath of Clinton’s controversial remarks — for which she has apologized twice — praising Nancy Reagan for her HIV/AIDS efforts.

But days before the scheduled meeting in Indiana, Sanders cancelled without explanation days before it took place. Meanwhile, the meeting with Clinton took place as scheduled and the candidate took the opportunity to call for an end to HIV/AIDS “once and for all.” On the same day as the Clinton meeting, the Sanders campaign contacted HIV/AIDS to reschedule.

According to HIV/AIDS activists, they’re still waiting for Clinton to fulfill the verbal promises she made to advocates at the meeting after she pledged to follow-up within 30 days.

The campaign for presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has told activists he will schedule a meeting with HIV/AIDS activists after the campaign hires a policy staff, according to activists.

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100th anniversary celebration of Dupont Circle fountain set for May 17

GWU student creates tribute video

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The iconic Dupont Circle fountain turns 100 this month. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

LGBTQ residents and longtime visitors to D.C.’s Dupont Circle neighborhood are expected to be among the participants in the 100th anniversary celebration of the installation of the Dupont Circle fountain scheduled to be held at the circle on Monday, May 17.

Aaron DeNu, president of Dupont Festival, a nonprofit arts and cultural programming group that’s organizing the celebration, says it will take place from noon to at least sunset inside Dupont Circle.

The celebration will take place one week after the May 10 release of a YouTube video, “How Dupont Circle Evolved as a Hub for LGBTQ+ Life in the District,” produced by George Washington University student Dante Schulz. Schulz is the video editor for the G.W. student newspaper The Hatchet.

Among those appearing in the documentary video are veteran LGBTQ rights activists Deacon Maccubbin and his husband Jim Bennett, who owned and operated the Dupont Circle LGBTQ bookstore Lambda Rising beginning in the 1970s, which is credited with contributing to Dupont Circle’s reputation as the epicenter of D.C.’s LGBTQ community for many years.

Also appearing in the video is longtime D.C. gay activist and Dupont Circle area resident Craig Howell, a former president of the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance.

“At this point in time due to COVID restrictions we’re not going to be doing any particular formal gathering of folks,” DeNu told the Washington Blade in describing the May 17 celebration. “But we’ll have a soundtrack that’s playing throughout the day from that original ceremony – the same songs they used in the original dedication a hundred years ago,” he said.

DeNu said the event will also feature “historic imagery” related to Dupont Circle and the people who have gathered there over the years.

“So, we’re really just inviting people to come and have lunch, stop by the park after work, and just stop and reflect on 100 years of Dupont Circle fountain, take a look at the imagery and see some old friends and hopefully stop by and see the Dupont businesses that are around the area,” DeNu said.

The LGBTQ video produced by Dante Schultz can be accessed here.

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Trans woman sues D.C. Jail for placing her in men’s unit

Lawsuit charges city with exposing inmates to ‘risk of sexual violence’

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Sunday Hinton (Photo courtesy of the American Civil Liberties Union of D.C.)

The American Civil Liberties Union of D.C. and the D.C. Public Defender Service filed a class action lawsuit on May 11 on behalf of a transgender woman being held in the D.C. Jail on grounds that the city violated its own Human Rights Act and the woman’s constitutional rights by placing her in the men’s housing facility at the jail.

The lawsuit charges that D.C. Department of Corrections officials violated local and federal law by placing D.C. resident Sunday Hinton in the men’s unit at the D.C. Jail against her wishes without following a longstanding DOC policy of bringing the decision of where she should be placed before the DOC’s Transgender Housing Committee.

The committee, which includes members of the public, including transgender members, makes recommendations on whether a transgender inmate should be placed in either the men’s or the women’s housing unit based on their gender identity along with other considerations, including whether a trans inmate’s safety could be at risk. Under the policy, DOC officials must give strong consideration to the recommendations of the committee.

The lawsuit, which was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, says the committee has not met or acted on any trans-related jail housing matter since January 2020.

It says Hinton was taken to the D.C. Jail on April 26 after a judge ordered her held following an arrest for an alleged unarmed burglary in which she attempted to take $20.

It notes that the Department of Corrections has a “default” policy of placing transgender inmates in either the male or female housing unit at the D.C. Jail and other city detention holding facilities based on the inmate’s “anatomy.” If a female transgender inmate is anatomically male, the inmate – barring other mitigating circumstances – is placed in the male housing facility under the default policy. Similarly, a male transgender inmate who is anatomically female is placed by default in the women’s housing unit under the DOC policy.

“DOC’s policy of focusing on anatomy rather than gender identity is both discriminatory and dangerous,” the ACLU says in a statement released on the day it filed the lawsuit on Hinton’s behalf. “It forces trans individuals, particularly trans women, to choose between a heightened risk of sexual violence and a near-certain mental health crisis,” ACLU attorney Megan Yan said in the statement.

Yan was referring to yet another DOC policy that sometimes gives a transgender inmate placed in a housing unit contrary to their gender identity the option of being placed in “protective custody,” which the lawsuit calls another name for solitary confinement. The ACLU and the Public Defender Service have said solitary confinement in prisons is known to result in serious psychological harm to inmates placed in such confinement.

“Because DOC’s unconstitutional policy exposes every transgender individual in its custody to discrimination, degradation, and risk of sexual violence, Ms. Hinton seeks, on behalf of a class of similarly situated individuals, a court order that strikes down DOC’s unlawful focus on anatomy as the touchstone for its housing decisions regarding transgender individuals,” the lawsuit states.

It further calls on the DOC to use “gender identity, not anatomy, as the default basis for housing assignments” for transgender inmates and to provide all trans individuals a prompt hearing by the DOC Transgender Housing Committee.

It calls for the DOC to be required to implement the recommendations of the Housing Committee “so that each person is housed as safely as possible and without discrimination.”

In addition to the lawsuit, Hinton’s attorneys filed an application for a temporary restraining order to immediately require the DOC to transfer Hinton to the D.C. Jail’s women’s housing facility. The attorneys also filed a motion for a preliminary injunction to stop the DOC from using a transgender person’s anatomy as the default or sole criteria in making housing assignments at the jail.

In response to a request from the Washington Blade, DOC spokesperson Dr. Keena Blackmon sent the Blade a DOC statement responding to the lawsuit.

“The Department of Corrections is dedicated to the safety and security of all residents in its care and custody,” the statement says. “DOC is committed to following its policies and procedures relating to housing transgender residents,” it says. “Ms. Hinton recently arrived in DOC custody and, per the agency’s COVID-19 protocols, was placed into single-occupancy quarantine for 14 days.”

The statement adds, “Once that quarantine ends, Ms. Hinton will go before the Transgender Housing Committee to determine her housing based on safety needs, housing availability, and gender identity. D.C. DOC is sensitive to Ms. Hinton’s concerns and will continue to ensure that its residents’ needs are met.”

DOC spokesperson Blackmon didn’t immediately respond to a follow-up question from the Blade asking why the Transgender Housing Committee has not met for over a year, which the ACLU has said resulted in all transgender female inmates being placed in the male housing facility.

Blackmon also couldn’t immediately be reached for a second follow-up question asking for DOC’s response to the lawsuit’s claim that DOC officials told Hinton’s lawyers that she was being placed in the men’s housing facility because she was anatomically male.

The lawsuit says the DOC default policy of placing Hinton in the jail’s male housing unit violates the D.C. Human Rights Act, which bans discrimination based on gender identity. The act has been interpreted to mean private businesses or the city government cannot prevent a transgender person from using facilities such as bathrooms or locker rooms that are in accordance with their gender identity.

D.C. Superior Court records show that Hinton has been arrested a total of 24 times in D.C. between 2006 and 2018. All except three of those arrests are listed as misdemeanor offenses, with just three listed as alleged felony offenses. One of the arrests is listed as a traffic offense.

In nearly all of the prior arrests, the court records identify Hinton by her birth first name, with her last name of Hinton used in all of the arrest records.

The burglary offense for which Hinton was charged on April 26 of this year and for which she is currently being held the D.C. Jail would  normally not result in a defendant being held in jail while awaiting trial. The fact that Hinton is being held rather than released pending trial suggests her prior arrest record may have prompted a judge to order her incarceration.

ACLU attorney Yan, who is among the attorneys representing Hinton in the lawsuit, said Hinton’s prior arrest record should not be a factor in the lawsuit.

“We don’t think any of the underlying things are relevant to her claim in this lawsuit, which is based on her identity and the fact that her constitutional and statutory rights to be free from discrimination are being violated,” Yan said. “At the end of the day, Sunday is a transgender woman and she’s a woman and she deserves to be held according to her gender identity as she desires.”

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Gay Iranian man murdered in so-called honor killing

State Department describes Ali Fazeli Monfared’s death as ‘appalling’

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Ali Fazeli Monfared (Photo courtesy of Facebook)

Reports indicate an Iranian man’s relatives killed him after they discovered he was gay.

The Iranian Lesbian and Transgender Network wrote on its website that Ali Fazeli Monfared, 20, was kidnapped in Ahvaz, a city in Iran’s Khuzestan’s province on May 4.

The advocacy group said Monfared, who was known as Alireza, was beheaded. His body was reportedly found on May 5, the day after he was kidnapped.

The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps had exempted Monfared from military service because he is gay, even though consensual same-sex sexual acts remain punishable by death in the country. An activist who has known Monfared since late 2019 told the Iranian Lesbian and Transgender Network his half-brother discovered he was gay when he opened an envelope from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps that contained his military exemption card.

Masih Alinejad, an Iranian journalist and activist, reported Monfared at the time of his murder was planning to flee Iran and live with his boyfriend, who previously sought refuge in Turkey. Alinejad said Monfared’s half-brother and cousins killed him “as part of an honor killing.”

The Iranian Lesbian and Transgender Network says authorities have arrested Monfared’s half-brother and cousins and charged them with first-degree murder. A State Department spokesperson on Tuesday in a statement to the Washington Blade described the Fazeli Monfared’s murder as “appalling.”

“The United States firmly opposes abuses against LGBTQI+ persons. The struggle to end violence, discrimination, criminalization and stigma against LGBTQI+ persons is a global challenge, and one that remains central to our commitment to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms for all individuals,” said the spokesperson.

“Iran must do more to ensure the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons are protected,” added the spokesperson. “We extend our deepest sympathies to Mr. Monfared’s loved ones.”

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