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Senate Dems take series of actions to assist LGBT youth, elders

Lawmakers call for reinstatement of survey questions, introduce LGBT elder legislation

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National Champagne Brunch, gay news, Washington Blade

Sen. Tammy Baldwin signed letters and introduced legislation aimed at helping LGBT youth and elders.
(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Senate Democrats took a series of actions Tuesday seeking to assist the LGBT community — one action for the LGBT youth, two others for LGBT elders — both of which are subgroups that have a history of unique challenges.

In a pair of letters dated Nov. 7, U.S. Sens. Robert Casey (D-Pa.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) led 21 senators in calling on the Trump administration to ensure programs designed to combat youth homelessness reach LGBT people and include LGBT elders in health surveys.

Meanwhile, U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) — along with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) — introduced the LGBT Elder Americans Act, which seeks to improve services available for LGBT elders.

The letters, sent to both the U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, bases its call to action on President Trump’s promise during his 2016 campaign to be a friend to LGBT people.

“During the campaign, President Trump said that he would ‘do everything in [his] power to protect LGBTQ citizens.’  We write to you because the administration is not living up to the president’s promise,” the senators wrote. “We urge you to reverse course on actions that will make it more challenging for programs you oversee to serve LGBTQ Americans.”

Specifically, the letter to the Justice Department expresses concern two federal grant programs that combat homelessness — DOJ’s Mentoring for Child Victims of Commercial Sexual Exploitation & Domestic Sex Trafficking Initiative and HHS’ Street Outreach Program — will no longer focus on LGBT youth because this year’s funding requirement “removed that requirement as well as all mentions of LGBTQ youth.”

“As LGBTQ youth are at a higher risk for running away and becoming homeless compared to their peers, and therefore more likely to be victimized, we are concerned about the effect these administration decisions would have on these vulnerable youth,” the letter says.

Meanwhile, the letter to the Department of Health & Human Services calls for restoration of questions allowing respondents to identify as transgender in the National Survey of Older Americans Act Participants as well as LGBT on the Centers for Independent Living Annual Program Performance Report. (HHS has previously removed the sexual-orientation question from the NSOAPP, but reinstated it under public pressure.)

“In order to ensure that key programs for older adults and people with disabilities are meeting the needs of the entire LGBTQ community, we once again reiterate our call for HHS to restore the gender-identity question to the NSOAPP and to collect information on sexual orientation and gender identity on the CILPPR,” the letter says.

Additionally, the letter expresses concern about the withdrawal of a proposed HHS rule that would have clarified same-sex spouses should are afforded equal rights in nursing homes that receive Medicare and Medicaid. That rule was widely seen as redundant after the U.S. Supreme Court ruling for marriage equality nationwide.

Neither the Justice Department, not the Department of Health & Human Services, responded to the Washington Blade’s request to comment on the letter.

Meanwhile, the LGBT Elder Americans Act, reintroduced by Bennet, would build on the Older Americans Act to include LGBT seniors as a vulnerable population and permanently establish the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging.

“Our laws and research are not current in addressing the unique needs of the aging generation of baby boomers,” Bennet said in a statement. “This legislation would provide LGBT seniors, who often face significant barriers to accessing health care, with targeted services and resources. By helping aging service organizations assist older LGBT adults and permanently establishing a National Resource Center, we will better meet the needs of the LGBT community.”

Baldwin, who’s running for re-election in the U.S. Senate next year and remains the only out lesbian in Congress, also emphasized the importance of the LGBT Elder Americans Act in a statement.

“We should guarantee all of our seniors access to the care that truly meets their needs and so I am proud to advance this legislation that will improve services and support for LGBT older adults,” Baldwin said. “Too many LGBT older adults carry the harmful physical and emotional health effects of having lived through a lifetime of discrimination. It is past time we do something about it and strengthen the Older Americans Act to better support our LGBT seniors.”

Last week, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) — along with Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and Charlie Crist (D-Fla.) — introduced companion legislation in the U.S. House known as the Ruthie & Connie LGBT Elder Americans Act, named for two LGBT elders who continue to fight for LGBT equality.

Michael Adams, CEO of the LGBT elder group SAGE USA, commended the lawmakers for introducing the legislation in a statement.

“LGBT elders, whose courage in the face of danger and adversity paved the way for progress on LGBT equality in recent years, deserve to be taken care of as they age, no matter where in the United States they live,” Adams said. “Our LGBT elder pioneers did not lead the movement birthed at Stonewall by being silent. We at SAGE follow their example by raising our voices in support of the Ruthie & Connie LGBT Elder Americans Act of 2017 and to demand justice for this growing population.”

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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.

“It 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. “This 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 and children — where single digit monkeypox cases have been reported — 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 emulate 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 — real world studies are needed — 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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Pan Africa ILGA urges authorities to investigate anti-LGBTQ, anti-intersex murders

Sheila Lumumba’s death in Kenya in April among cases cited

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Pan Africa ILGA once again urged authorities across the continent to investigate the murders of LGBTQ and intersex people and to work to reduce violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

The organization — which comprises 268 groups that work for LGBTQ and intersex rights across Africa — in a report it issued in July noted a number of high profile murders that have taken place this year. They include Sheila Lumumba, a 25-year-old Kenyan woman who was murdered in April, Pinky Shongwe, a 32-year-old South African who was stabbed to death in March, and Obisike Donald Ibe, a 31-year-old doctor in Nigeria who was slain in January.

Lumumba, a lesbian who was reportedly targeted because of her sexual orientation, was raped before her murder. A South African court in April sentenced two men to life in prison for raping a 19-year-old lesbian woman in 2020

“LGBTIQ+ persons deserve to thrive without fear of being persecuted,” said Pan Africa ILGA Executive Director Nate Brown. “The recent murder of Sheila in Kenya reflects the realities of the LGBTIQ+ community in Africa. It bears mentioning that unfortunately, these are not isolated incidents. They are part of a pattern of attacks, violence and murders against LGBTIQ+ persons across the continent.” 

Pan Africa ILGA board co-chairs Star Rugori and Barbra Wangere at the same time said the organization is in the process of developing a crisis reporting center that will document human rights violations against LGBTQ and intersex people in Africa and advocate for increased protections and respect for them.

“The inhumane violations and slaughter of LGBTIQ+ persons should prompt thorough investigations, aimed at prosecuting those responsible,” said Rugori and Wangere in a joint statement. “Government needs to protect activists and the greater LGBTIQ+ community and to call a halt to the impunity that links this chain of vicious murders. LGBTIQ+ lives matter and should be protected at all costs just like the rest of our African citizens.”

Bishop Sithembele Sipuka of the Catholic Diocese of Mthatha in South Africa during an interview with the Catholic Information Service for Africa said people who identify as LGBTQ or intersex should be treated with dignity.

“The most we can do, for now, is to grapple with it, to try and understand, and to see how to continue treating these people with the dignity that they have because, despite their sexual orientation, they are still children of God, they have the same dignity,” said Sipuka. “I have known people, credible people, authentic people who are gay or lesbian, very intelligent, very integral people, very committed people, very loving people, and so it is difficult to say that there’s something wrong with this one, you know because some of them really are in terms of integrity full of admiration, the way they are as a person that is difficult for me to condemn them, and say that there is something wrong with them.”

Sipuka also touched the issue of marriage equality, which is usually a catalyst for homophobic statements.

“The process and teaching of the church so far is still that marriage is between a man and a woman, but on the other hand, it does not mean at all that we should despise or think of people who are gay and lesbian as any less than heterosexual people,” said Sipuka. 

I cannot say you can go ahead and get married because I don’t have the mandate to do that. I do things on the mandate of the church. I am open to hearing more on how pastorally to deal with this matter. I am also open for it to be discussed theologically. In the end, the teachings about the church are always about love even exactly everything that they touch is about love,” added Sipuka.

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