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A toast to a better 2018

New year brings key election as the resistance ramps up

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toast, gay news, Washington Blade

A toast to 2018 and to the people who will stand up, speak out and vote to put Democrats back in office.

I can’t imagine a worse start to 2017 than Donald Trump being inaugurated as the nation’s 45th president. My Blade column immediately following his election was a simple statement in a black border “Let Us Pray.” We quickly understood prayer wasn’t going to do it and instead we had to take to the streets and then VOTE.

First came the Jan. 21 ‘Women’s March’ where millions of women, and the men who support them, took to the streets to say in a loud and clear voice “we will resist.” Then came the Science March, the Immigration March, the Environmental March and the March for LGBTQ+ Equality. We have shown we will resist what we saw coming down the pike and I don’t think many of us expected it to be as bad as it is. Donald Trump, while not getting any major legislation passed (this column being written before a final vote on his disastrous tax reform package), has managed to take us backwards in nearly every area of life. Trump has set a tone in the country allowing the Ku Klux Klan and Nazis to feel he actually welcomes their support.

The first step backwards was the nomination and confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. His right-wing vision of America will hurt us for decades. Just as will all the other lower-level federal judges Trump is nominating and the Republican Senate is confirming. Then came the ban on immigrants and the nominations and confirmation of a slew of Cabinet secretaries in areas from Education to Environment to Health and Human Services; all with an ultra-conservative leaning hell-bent on rolling back every progressive gain made during the eight years of the Obama administration. This includes taking money from public education to fund private schools; rolling back as many parts of the Affordable Care Act as possible even without new legislation; and trying to keep transgender people from serving in the military among other disgusting initiatives including recently rolling back net neutrality.

When it comes to foreign affairs, Trump is scaring the world with his positions and statements. He is doing everything possible to get us into a war alienating nearly every one of our long-time allies. He appointed a Secretary of State with no statecraft experience and is decimating the State Department to the point it can’t function. Good people are resigning because they don’t want to be associated with what he is doing.

Politically, we see Trump ensnared in a massive investigation of whether or not he or anyone else in his campaign colluded with the Russians to win the election. We know Russia interfered and we are seeing by dribs and drabs more and more of his high-level campaign staff being indicted. Now the Special Counsel is apparently looking at whether Trump can be charged with obstruction of justice for trying to end the investigation. He and Republicans in Congress are still clearly obsessed with Hillary Clinton even though he won the election.

As the year comes to an end we are in the middle — some think it’s just the beginning — of a tipping point in how society tolerates sexual harassment. We are finally reconsidering what will be acceptable behavior for men toward women and what do we do to punish them for unacceptable past behavior.

Recently, we have seen a glimmer of hope the American people won’t accept quietly what Trump and the Republican Congress are doing to us. Democrats took over the governorship in New Jersey, held on to the one in Virginia by a large margin, and made huge gains in Virginia legislative races. Transgender candidates won races across the nation. Women in huge numbers are running for office at every level including lesbians Angie Craig in MN 2nd district and Gina Ortiz Jones in San Antonio, both running for Congress. We took heart when in Alabama enough voters actually voted for decency for Democrat Doug Jones to win.

So a toast to 2018 and to the people who will stand up, speak out and vote to put Democrats back in office.

 

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBT rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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D.C. voting begins, but you can do more

Donate, volunteer near and far to ensure Democrats prevail

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On Oct. 3, every D.C. registered voter will begin receiving their ballot in the mail. We are fortunate that voting in D.C. is both easy and safe. Not everyone in the nation has that opportunity. I urge everyone to look in your mail for your ballot and VOTE! If you are not yet registered, you can still do so by contacting the D.C. Board of Elections. We are fortunate in D.C. to live in a place where the rights of members of the LGBTQ community are protected by law, and our legislators support us. As a community we have worked hard to ensure that. But there is still more to do. 

I moved to D.C. in October 1978 and Marion Barry was about to be elected mayor. He had the support of the LGBTQ community and once elected thanked the Stein Democratic Club for all their support. Back then, we had yet to achieve all we were fighting for. Today, although we are protected by law, there are many cultural issues we have to deal with. There are still those, even in our community, who are not willing to see us live our lives openly, fully, and in safety. As a community we must join together to make sure all of us are safe, because if one of us isn’t, none of us are. 

So we begin that work by voting. My recommendation for voters everywhere is to vote for Democrats up and down the ballot. In D.C., I will vote for Kenyan McDuffie (I) for the Council seat that must be filled by someone from another party. I urge people across the District to vote for: Eleanor Holmes Norton for Delegate, Muriel Bowser for Mayor, Brian Schwalb for Attorney General, Phil Mendelson for Council Chair, Kenyan McDuffie and Anita Bonds for Council-at-large. Then in individual Wards: Brianne Nadeau for Ward 1 Council, Matt Frumin for Ward 3 Council, Zachary Parker for Ward 5 Council, and Charles Allen in Ward 6. These are people committed to standing up for us and have proven this over many years. If Ward 5 elects Parker once again there will be an open member of the LGBTQ community on the Council. 

Again, while we are lucky in many ways, let us remember our status as a federal district is not the same as a state. Under home rule, our budget and legislation are both subject to congressional oversight. Congress gets the chance to review both. Over the years they have added amendments to bills preventing us from spending money on things from needle exchange to abortion. So once we do our duty and vote here, we must work to ensure the election of members of Congress from every state who will be protective of our rights. 

If you are able, please consider working for candidates across the nation who stand up for the LGBTQ community and other issues you may be passionate about. I will work to elect candidates who will stand up, speak out, and vote for human rights, civil rights, immigration reform, climate change, election reform, women’s rights including the right to control their own bodies, and LGTBQ rights. 

There are many ways to get involved. Again, first submit your own ballot, and make sure all your friends and family do the same. Then you can get more involved by contributing money or going out and working for other candidates. Knocking on doors helping them get their message out is one way. Making phone calls is another. There are candidates in Virginia who need our help and you can find them by contacting the Virginia Democratic Party. Or contact groups like the Human Rights Campaign, NARAL pro-choice America, Victory Fund, the Democratic National Committee, or other groups you may be involved with, if you are willing to go farther afield to help candidates who will be supportive of the issues you care about. 

This mid-term election is about the future of democracy and protecting individual rights. It is about standing up and saying we will not allow Trumpism to take over our nation. We will not let the seditionists and insurrectionists, who charged our Capitol on Jan. 6 and those who support them, win. 

After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade none of us should be confident that our rights won’t be next. So VOTE and then go out and work to ensure we keep Democrats in control of Congress. Our lives may truly depend on that.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

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Safe Place International to take National Coming Out Day global

Group to spotlight LGBTQ refugees around the world at D.C. event

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(Photo courtesy of Safe Place International)

Tuesday, Oct. 11, Safe Place International will celebrate National Coming Out Day by spotlighting the journeys and achievements of its LGBTQIA+ refugee leaders around the world.

Safe Place International is a holistic leadership development organization for displaced LGBTQIA+ individuals. As the lived experiences of the LGBTQIA+ community are often trivialized and overlooked, we endeavor to create pathways for a sustainable and fulfilled life that celebrates the unique qualities that their lives hold. LGBTQIA+ refugees and asylum seekers are at a unique intersection of identity, where they have to face both xenophobia for their migrant status and prejudice for their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. In approximately 70 countries, LGBTQIA+ individuals experience violence and discrimination due to their sexual orientation or gender identity. This is caused by oppressive government policies and legislation that criminalizes same-sex relationships. It is also caused by negative religious and societal beliefs. As a result, LGBTQIA+ individuals flee their countries and families in search of a safe place to call their home.

After leaving behind their lives; many refugees find themselves without food, shelter, safety or support for their future. Asylum seekers and refugees that identify as LGBTQIA+ are ignored or unseen by the refugee protection system and facing increased marginalization due to their status as refugees and their sexual orientation or gender identity.

In only a few years, Safe Place International has reached over 15 countries and served over 1,000 LGBTQIA+ refugees and asylum seekers, who we consider “community members.” Our belief in these community members is why we can proudly say that we are a refugee-led, person of color-led, women-led and LGBTQIA+-led organization!

National Coming Out Day is a significant day for the LGBTQIA+ community, as it is a day when so many find the courage to proclaim their truth and join the Pride family. The day is also special to those of us who have already “come out” as we reflect on becoming who we are and the evolution to who we were meant to be. While some journeys were filled with warmth, affirmation and liberation, many have experienced rejection, pain, loss and even death. Regardless of one’s experiences on this spectrum, National Coming Out Day has become a time when the LGBTQIA+ community comes together to ensure that our new community members are met with the encouragement and acceptance that we all deserve. It is also a time to reflect on the countless queer bodies who face persecution, violence and oppression around the globe.

Safe Place International’s Coming Out Day Celebration will do just that. The event marks a significant new chapter as the organization officially “comes out” to the D.C. community. We will be introducing our new executive director, as well as celebrating the successes of our interventions by exploring how Safe Place International is impacting the lives of our global LGBTQIA+ community and what makes them so resilient, compassionate and ready to change the world! 

So, if you want to be inspired, perhaps explore meaningful ways to impact and change the lives of oppressed queer people whose only crime is love and authenticity, then please join us! Hold us as we boldly come out to D.C. We promise you a fun, colorful celebration that will be grounded in meaning, connectedness, and the relentless spirit of love and acceptance. 

For more details, feel free to contact Matt Maxwell, our director of development at [email protected]. You can purchase your ticket here.

We hope to see you there! 

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Opinions

Cruel court decision makes it harder to prevent AIDS

Disease gets a boost from federal judge in Texas

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Just as the disease was on a glide path to extinction thanks to new drugs, HIV/AIDS got a boost from a federal court in Texas.

On Sept. 7, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor ruled that the government can’t require an employer-sponsored health care plan to cover a therapy that prevents the spread of a disease that has already killed more than 700,000 Americans. The decision in Braidwood Management Inc. v. Becerra is not just poorly argued; it is flat-out cruel.

Perhaps the best feature of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010, nicknamed Obamacare, was a requirement that insurance offer coverage of specified preventive care procedures and therapies, such as colon cancer screening and influenza immunizations.

In June 2019, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an advisory panel of experts, issued a “Grade A” recommendation for pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, a medicine that is 99% effective in preventing HIV transmission during sex. The first PrEP drug, Truvada, had been approved seven years earlier by the Food & Drug Administration. On Jan. 1, 2021, the federal government required plans to cover PrEP with no copay, coinsurance, or deductible.

Even before the mandate, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) credited PrEP with helping reduce new HIV infections in the U.S. by 8% between 2015 and 2019 “after a period of general stability.” The CDC now calls PrEP “a key prevention strategy for ending the HIV epidemic in the U.S.,” a goal for 2030 set by both the Trump and Biden administrations.

The way to end AIDS once and for all is to get PrEP to those who need it most. Researchers are developing intravaginal rings, implants, antibodies, and long-lasting injectables. Although PrEP use has risen by a factor of eight in just five years, three-quarters of those most at risk are not using the therapy.

The success of the lawsuit by a group of self-described Christian business owners and employees will make access even more difficult. The plaintiffs argued that the preventive care mandate for PrEP violated their constitutional right to religious freedom. In the complaint, Dr. Steven Hotze said that he was unwilling to pay for a health plan covering PrEP “because these drugs facilitate or encourage homosexual behavior, which is contrary to [his] sincere religious beliefs.”

Hotze, whose vitamin company ran afoul of the FDA for COVID-19 claims, was indicted in April on aggravated assault charges involving a bizarre search for ballots after the 2020 election.

In the PrEP case, Hotze’s objection went beyond gay sex. He complained that providing coverage of the drugs facilitates and encourages “sexual activity outside of marriage between one man and one woman” as well as illegal drug use.

Judge O’Connor agreed. He went even further, ruling that members of the Preventive Services Task Force were “unconstitutionally appointed.”

In a previous case, O’Connor had ruled that the entire ACA was unconstitutional, but the Supreme Court reversed that decision last year. The current ruling draws on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993, which was enacted by Congress after the Supreme Court ruled in Employment Division v. Smith that the protection of the free exercise of religion in the First Amendment does not entitle anyone to a religion-based exception from a general law.

In recent years, writes Michael Dorf of the Cornell University Law School, “conservative Christians have increasingly relied on [RFRA] to obtain exceptions from laws involving insurance coverage for contraception and abortion.”

For example, in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, a 2014 case, the Supreme Court held that a company owned by religious Christians could be excused from an obligation to pay for health insurance that covered “forms of contraception that the owners regarded as tantamount to abortion.”

But the ruling in the Braidwood case is far more sweeping. The Hobby Lobby plaintiffs considered abortion itself immoral. In this case, it’s not PrEP that Braidwood considers immoral; it’s certain kinds of sexual activities. By substantially lowering the risk of contracting HIV/AIDS, this twisted logic goes, PrEP is a facilitator of what Hotze considers immoral. And by offering insurance that covers PrEP, Braidwood says it becomes complicit.

There is a serious cost to this attenuated argument. By decreasing access to PrEP, people will needlessly become ill and, in some cases, die. The economy will also be burdened with the cost of treating a disease that can be prevented.

Modern science has developed therapies that are ending the spread of a dangerous, mortal virus. Easing access to these medicines is clearly a legitimate function of government — undoubtedly, a compelling interest. What can be more selfish and foolish than to erect needless obstacles for those who want to protect themselves and people around them?

James K. Glassman, a former Under Secretary of State in the George W. Bush administration, is an adviser to health care companies and non-profits.

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