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Hate once again rears its ugly head in D.C.

Combating the troubling signs of anti-Semitism

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elections, gay news, Washington Blade
Collaborative Reproduction Amendment Act, elections, gay news, Washington Blade

(Washington Blade file photo by Aram Vartian)

Too often in the District of Columbia today we are seeing hate rear its ugly head. I am not sure if what is happening here and around the nation can all be laid at the feet of Donald Trump. There clearly is more to it.

In D.C. it was reported “hate crimes motivated by hatred of a religion increased last year, with a rise in the number of crimes targeting Jews and Muslims. Of the incidents spurred by hatred of a particular religion, anti-Semitism was again the leading cause, motivating about 55 percent of those episodes, followed by anti-Muslim sentiment, which spurred about 25 percent. The number of hate crimes targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people also went up last year.”

I have lived in the District for 40 years having moved here from New York City. It was evident to me then the District was more segregated than I had been used to in New York. I was born in Harlem and my grandparents owned a hardware/housewares store there. I taught school in Harlem and grew up in a home where diversity was valued. My parents who immigrated to the United States to escape the Nazis wanted me to understand different races, cultures and religions. We moved to Washington Heights when I was five but my parents had me travel to a non-denominational nursery school at the Riverside Church.

When I came to the District it seemed to be very segregated and communities came together less than they did in New York. It was all about east and west of the Anacostia River. I was smart enough to understand racism existed then and still does today and is unhealthy for everyone. We continue to have structural racism in the District and we must work every day to change that. We must fight it and speak out against it. We can never let racist comments go unchallenged and must stand up to hate.

As a Jew and a gay man I still benefit from what we understand to be ‘white privilege.’ Nevertheless, I would expect everyone to also speak out and fight anti-Semitism and homophobia whenever they occur. Today that seems not to be happening as often as it should in D.C.

The District now has a population of 700,000 and we have not abolished hate.
We must find a way to live together and respect each other if we are to become the great city we all want us to be. We need to provide a great education for all our children and job opportunities for all our residents. We need to fight for real equality and that includes economic equality.

So this recent incident of anti-Semitism takes us away from moving toward the better city we want for all. When Council member Trayon White first made his comments about ‘the Rothschilds controlling the weather’ I was offended but passed it off as a lack of education and was willing to see him educated about how what he said impacted Jewish people. I heard him make an apology and was willing to accept it. I was even willing to give him the benefit of the doubt when he gave $500 to Farrakhan’s Saviors Day, though not a pass that he gave it from his constituent service fund, that he may not have realized how anti-Semitic Farrakhan is.

But then I read comments from Jonetta Rose Barras, a well-known reporter and writer, make an excuse for White’s anti-Semitism and conflate the Jewish people with the policies of the State of Israel (something that’s happening all too often these days). Then Josh Lopez trying to lead what he called a ‘unity rally,’ not sure why he thought he is the person to do this and what impact he thought he could have, and allow Abdul Khadir Muhammad, a mid-Atlantic representative for Farrakhan to have his megaphone to spew his hateful anti-Semitism and not take back the megaphone and immediately speak out against it publicly. Why were the other speakers silent on this? Why did it take a reprimand from the mayor to get Lopez to apologize? Why has Trayon White yet to speak out and separate himself from the comments of Muhammad?

All of this is both frightening and a blot on the reputation of the District. Clearly we need to educate our children in every part of the city on why hate is wrong. We need to teach that racism, sexism, homophobia and anti-Semitism are wrong and destructive. The question is how we move forward from here. How do we move beyond the attacks on a Jewish member of the Council?

One way is for the Council of the District of Columbia to pass a sense of the Council resolution against anti-Semitism. They could include in that sense of the Council that we will also not accept racism, sexism and homophobia in our city. The mayor should ask the Council to do that and endorse the resolution once it is passed. It would also behoove Josh Lopez to resign from his public post on the Housing Authority as a way to demonstrate he has a real understanding of the situation he exacerbated even if his initial intent was to do some good. There are always repercussions for our actions.

Then in an effort to move beyond this I would hope some of our religious leaders across the District would join together and speak out on these issues. We must find a way to move on and a big part of that is the recognition we must educate our residents and especially our children that as our mayor has said, “Hate is wrong and won’t be tolerated in the District of Columbia.”

 

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

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Hospitals are abusing this drug discount program

Congress must step in to help low-income patients

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Hospital chains are unfairly profiting off a program meant to help low-income patients afford their medicines. If policymakers don’t reform this system soon, I worry that many of the marginalized patients I’ve devoted my career to protecting won’t be able to access the care they need.

The program, known as 340B, gives drug discounts to hospitals in underprivileged areas so that they can better serve their communities. Yet, with little oversight, the hospitals can divert the savings to their own bottom lines.

A recent report from the Drug Channels Institute exposed just how big the problem is.

The analysis found that under 340B, hospitals took discounts worth $52.3 billion in 2022 with scant evidence that those savings went to help low-income patients. The report also found that the 340B program continued its exponential growth during the pandemic, swelling by 22% between 2021 to 2022. 

In short, money intended to help marginalized communities is instead being funneled into hospital profits in ever-greater amounts. Having spent much of my career helping Black men with HIV, I find this gravely concerning. But the impact of the exploitation extends far beyond my own work, to all communities grappling with chronic disease and unaffordable health care. The solution is for Congress to bring some much-needed oversight and regulation to the 340B program. 

It all started three decades ago when lawmakers launched a seemingly benevolent plan: In order to help non-profit “safety net” hospitals in poor communities, 340B required pharmaceutical companies to sell them drugs at big discounts. The idea was that this would lower drug prices for low-income patients and also help the hospitals, so that they could reinvest in facilities, equipment, and staff to serve disadvantaged patients. 

Unfortunately, the 1992 law failed to codify any rules about what hospitals should do with the savings, so no proof of reinvestment is required. Soon enough, even hospitals serving prosperous communities realized they could use the law’s loopholes to turn 340B into a profit center. 

Many hospitals have multiple locations. Under current regulations, a hospital can use its facility in an underserved community to qualify for the 340B Program, take millions of dollars in drug discounts, then resell the drugs in more affluent neighborhoods. 

Consider the Cleveland Clinic, known as one of the best hospitals in the country. It uses satellite “rural referral centers” to qualify for discounted drugs under 340B, then sells them at full price through its Cleveland-based flagship hospital. 

The profit from such maneuvers can be substantial. For instance, 340B hospitals sell top oncology drugs at a median of 4.9 times their discounted price, according to a report from the Community Oncology Alliance.

It’s no wonder that 44% of U.S. hospitals now report that the 340B program is a substantial revenue source. It may have also contributed to industry consolidation in recent years, encouraging hospitals to merge in order to acquire qualifying facilities.  

Despite the program’s rapid expansion, there’s little evidence that it’s benefiting marginalized patients. A study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the “financial gains for hospitals have not been associated with clear evidence of expanded care or lower mortality among low-income patients.” Another study, in the journal Health Services Research, concluded that when new hospitals join 340B, it doesn’t lead to any change in the amount of uncompensated care they provide. 

In fact, 340B may actually increase healthcare costs for low-income patients. Because hospitals benefit from the difference between the discounted drug price and the sale price, they are incentivized to prescribe more expensive drugs, which yield higher profit margins than lower-cost generic alternatives.

This appears to be happening with the PrEP drugs that prevent transmission of HIV. A report from the American Action Forum, a think tank, found that 340B likely incentivizes hospitals to prescribe more expensive brand-name PrEP over generic versions. This means some patients are paying more than they should for this lifesaving medicine. 

Hospitals chains’ continued abuse of 340B also takes critical resources away from the healthcare facilities the program is meant to help. For instance, Ryan White HIV/AIDS providers help low-income people living with HIV access medications and support services. But letting hospitals exploit loopholes in 340B could leave fewer discounted drugs for Ryan White and similar safety net programs.

Congress needs to reform the bloated and unaccountable 340B program as soon as possible. Democrats and Republicans should be able to agree that eligibility standards must be tightened and reporting requirements improved. Hospitals must use 340B profits to help our most vulnerable patients.

Guy Anthony is president and CEO of Black, Gifted & Whole.

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Key West doesn’t need more, or bigger, cruise ships

Seeking a balance of ‘environmental protection and sustainable tourism’

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(Photo by Miami2you/Bigstock)

There is a fight today about whether they should let more, and bigger, cruise ships dock in Key West. The New York Times recently wrote about it. As someone who has spent many memorable vacations in Key West, I side with those who say “no” to more cruise ships. The organization Safer, Cleaner, Ships, is fighting to keep more, and larger, ships, out of Key West. They have the right idea. 

The question that should be asked is: “What kind of an island do the people living on Key West want?” And the answer should drive the decision of the Florida Legislature, and Governor DeSanctimonious. Unfortunately, it may be decided based on political donations the governor received. One resident of Key West, Christopher Massicotte, co-founder of Duval Street Media, said, “Key West voters overwhelmingly supported reducing cruise ship size, and the number of daily disembarkations. Then greedy Mark Walsh, who owns the dock, went straight to the governor and the legislature asking them to overturn the will of the people for his own financial gain, greased with a $1 million contribution to DeSantis’s campaign for president. The citizens of Key West aren’t trying to stop all cruise ship traffic, or bring the city back to ‘The good old days.’ We are trying to create a balance of environmental protection and sustainable tourism.”  

I cruise regularly and love it and have traveled to Alaska on a cruise and woke up one morning on the ship in Ketchikan, to step out on the balcony and see six massive ships, and hundreds of busses on the pier, ready to take passengers on tours. In Key West, that won’t happen. Instead, the thousands of passengers will not get on busses, rather throng the main street (Duval), from one end of town to the other, making it look more like Times Square, instead of a sleepy little island, which is what always attracted people to the idea of Key West. It is what attracted Hemmingway. It attracted President Truman to set up his winter White House. Everyone going to visit Key West heads to the Southernmost Point in the U.S. to snap their photo. One doesn’t need thousands more people heading there all at once. Just the thought of this would have Hemmingway and Truman turning over in their graves.

I always thought Key West did fine with an airport, and people coming to visit by car, then staying in a hotel, or guesthouse. I often stayed at one of the great little guesthouses, or some of the smaller hotels, on the island. I remember the larger ones being on both ends of Duval Street. There were great bars and restaurants, and you could amble down Duval slowly, enjoying the sound of the music coming out of the bars — think Jimmy Buffett.

I loved Key West when it was a gay Mecca, having the first openly gay mayor of a city. At the time there were lots of gay guesthouses and clubs. I remember dancing at the Copa, and there was the dock on the southern side of the island, next to the one tiny beach, which locals called ‘dick dock.’ It was a great spot for nude sunbathing, as was the pool at the Southernmost Motel. That period ended when the gay community moved to South Beach in Miami. Key West is still welcoming to the LGBTQ community. There is the iconic La Te Da hotel, on Duval Street, with its tea dance. Performing there is another Key West icon, Christopher Peterson, a female impersonator extraordinaire. Christopher said, “Unfortunately I don’t think we need to dredge again the beautiful coral reef we live on, just to have 10,000 more people here for six hours, adding nothing to the economy because they eat and drink on the ship for free.” He added, “Bigger is not always better unless it’s in the bedroom…. king-size bed…. dirty minds!”

Numbers can always be used in many ways, but the Times column reported “Before the pandemic, nearly a million people a year were visiting Key West aboard cruise ships. But when Covid-19 brought that to a halt, the city’s $2.4 billion tourism industry, responsible for 44 percent of its jobs, did not collapse. Instead, hotel tax revenue rose 15 percent, and with 1.4 million arrivals, the airport set a record in 2021.”

If that is enough revenue to keep Key West being the wonderful place it is to live and visit, it seems adding thousands of more day trippers out of cruise ships isn’t going to make the place better. Rather, it will hurt the environment, and make things worse.

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

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Most of America opposes Speaker Johnson’s anti-LGBTQ hate

No one should have their identity politicized so GOP can score points with its base

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House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-La.) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

When I was a kid, I was afraid to come out to my religious family – at the time, gay marriage was still illegal. Fortunately, times have changed: My family is supportive of me for who I am and I now plan to marry my partner one day. But the newest speaker of the House jeopardizes that dream, making me fear the life I have planned with the person I love will soon fall out of reach.

Recently, after three weeks of chaos, the House of Representatives elected Mike Johnson (R-La.) as speaker. His extremist rhetoric and horrific record of discrimination toward the LGBTQ community doesn’t represent where most of America is – but it does clue us into the priorities of today’s Republicans.

The love that I and my partner have built over our three years together is the same as straight couples. Yet Johnson’s legislative record flies in the face of that as he’s argued to uphold bans on same-sex marriage, sought to ban inclusion of gay couples in employment benefits, and compared gay marriage to bestiality. It’s impossible to feel optimistic that, with a background like that, Johnson will protect my rights during his tenure.

The entirety of my community feels the same apprehension. My coworker, Mads Stirling, who came out as a nonbinary trans person in 2021, has the same fears that I do. They found that being empowered to live as their authentic self through hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and changing their driver’s license gender marker improved their mental health. 

“But even as I was transitioning with the crucial support of family, friends, coworkers, and the local government, I felt terrified as I watched Republican-led states roll back rights for trans people,” Mads said.

Johnson contributed to the dangerous climate that spurred these attacks, speaking in favor of banning gender-affirming care for transgender youth and joining a contingent of politicians who proposed more than 500 anti-LGBTQ bills in the U.S. in 2023. In his new role as speaker, Johnson could even help unravel important protections like federal nondiscrimination laws. 

It feels like our country is moving backward and that nowhere is safe for people with identities like mine. Having been there myself, my heart breaks for LGBTQ children who will hear the new speaker’s horrible homophobia and transphobia and feel unsafe being their authentic selves. No person, least of all children, should have their identity politicized so the Republican Party can score points with its members. 

It is appalling that while 70% of Americans support gay marriage, we have a speaker who opposes it. It is appalling that while gender-affirming care reduces suicidality in trans adults and children, we have a speaker that wants to deny life-saving care to them. It is appalling that, in 2023, a person in power can spread such hatred toward a group of people for simply existing.

The Speaker of the House should be a voice for all Americans, representing our interests and embodying the role of a leader. But as a gay Black man, it is impossible for me to feel that Johnson — and the Republican Party he answers to — can ever represent us when they work so actively against us.

The Republican Party and Mike Johnson have demonstrated over and over again that protecting and uplifting LGBTQ+ people is not a priority. We expect Johnson intends to serve only his own party’s extremist agenda by further isolating and oppressing LGBTQ people — after all, they maneuvered him into power. We fear the erasure of LGBTQ identities entirely by disappearing us from public life and making our private lives intolerable by criminalizing our families and our healthcare.

America deserves better than Mike Johnson. We can never tolerate nor normalize Johnson’s hateful rhetoric toward LGBTQ people, and now that he has a national platform, it’s more important than ever to speak out and vote against the GOP’s extremist policies. We must continue our work to elect representatives that will champion LGBTQ people and fearlessly defend their rights so that in the future, no one with views like these can assume a place in Congress. 

We deserve leadership reflective of the American people and that’s not Mike Johnson or the GOP’s anti-LGBTQ agenda.

Mike Griffin is senior electoral organizer for D.C.-based Community Change.

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