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HHS lays out details for Trump’s plan to confront HIV/AIDS

Details flesh out plan announced in State of the Union address

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The Trump administration has laid out details for its plan to fight HIV/AIDS. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Top officials in the Department of Health & Human Services laid out details on Wednesday of President Trump’s plan to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030, asserting “significant new resources” would be in the upcoming budget request for domestic HIV/AIDS programs after two years of proposed cuts.

In a conference call with reporters, the officials fleshed out the plan announced by Trump this week during the State of the Union address, saying the goal was to reduce new HIV diagnoses by 75 percent within five years, and by 90 percent within 10 years.

Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, described the effort as a “laser-focused program” that will target 48 counties in the United States, D.C., and San Juan, Puerto Rico, as well as seven states where the epidemic is mostly in rural areas.

(A map pinpointing those locations, including the seven states — Missouri, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama and South Carolina — can be found online at hiv.gov.)

Those areas, Redfield said, largely form the basis for where new HIV infections are happening in the United States.

But Redfield also said minority communities, including LGBT people, are especially at risk for HIV infection.

“Recent data has showed our progress in reducing the numbers has plateaued, increasing the burden of new infections, particularly in African-American and Latino gay and bisexual men, transgender individuals, women of color and people living in the South,” Redfield said. “Now is the time to change this and we have the tools to end the epidemic and we have to apply them.”

Redfield said the targeted geographical areas were identified as a result of monitoring trends for much of the 38,500 new HIV/AIDS infections last year.

“I was shocked that it was only 48 counties out of over 3,000 counties in the United States, so it shows that we had a very geographically focused outbreak, that if we could augment the capacity of those 48 counties in response to these new infections, and begin to prevent new infections, we could drastically reduce the number of new infections,” Redfield said.

The additional seven states, Redfield said, were selected because new infections were happening there, but were in rural areas and less concentrated.

The health officials said the new efforts will reenergize the fight against HIV/AIDS after a period of stagnation in which the effort to stop new infections has plateaued.

Brett Giroir, assistant secretary of health, said 40,000 new infections are still happening throughout the United States each year.

“HIV has cost America too much for too long,” Giroir said. “We have lost 700,000 American lives since 1981, and unfortunately, despite the emergence of new tools and new techniques, we are at high risk of another 400,000 becoming infected with HIV over the next decade.” 

In response to a question from the Washington Blade, Giroir said the new approach to fighting HIV/AIDS would take the form of increased funding for HIV/AIDS programs in the budget request Trump will submit to Congress next month.

“We absolutely want to confirm that there will be significant new resources to support the effort you just heard outlined,” Giroir said. “The scientific community…as well as our closest advisers and technical experts devised a plan, submitted a plan to the budget, and we’re very confident we will have the sufficient resources provided in the 2020 budget for us to begin this very aggressive plan.”

A budget proposal with increased funds for HIV/AIDS would be a change for Trump. His first two budget requests to Congress sought funding cuts for both domestic HIV programs, chiefly the Ryan White Care Act, and programs designed to fight the global epidemic, such as PEPFAR. Although the cuts to domestic programs were diminished in the second budget, the cuts to global programs were still considered draconian.

Giroir, however, said the increased funds in the next budget request will be for domestic efforts, so the global fight is another matter.

“I was speaking specifically about the domestic programs,” Giroir said. “I don’t have any information on global programs.”

In response to subsequent questions from reporters, the health officials wouldn’t give details about the extent to which domestic funds would be increased, but affirmed new money would come from requesting additional funds as opposed to restructuring existing programs.

Of course, those funds can only be appropriated by Congress despite whatever request the Trump administration, as evidenced by the recent war between Trump and Congress over funding for a U.S.-Mexico border wall.

Giroir emphasized the importance of Congress appropriating the funds for the Trump administration to pull off the HIV/AIDS plan.

“We are very confident the president’s budget, as will be proposed, will be sufficient to support our 2020 activities in this initiative, so we need Congress to support the budget and support the increased resources that we ask for,”  Giroir said.

Key to the strategy, the health officials said, will be ensuring these communities have access to PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, for HIV prevention.

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases, maintained the importance of PrEP and medications to reduce viral loads as part of this effort.

“You treat an individual and bring their viral load to a below detectable level, they will not transit their virus to another individual, and we know that pre-exposure prophylaxis works in more than 97 percent of the cases,” Fauci said. “If you put those two together, theoretically, then, if you get everyone that’s infected on anti-retroviral and decrease the viral loads to below detectable levels, and give those who need PrEP PrEP, you can end the epidemic as we know it, and that is our goal.”

Although the U.S. government is already taking steps to confront HIV/AIDS, the health officials also billed the effort as a multi-agency approach to HIV/AIDS in coordination with local communities that hasn’t been seen before.

Fauci said NIH would contribute to work by the Centers for AIDS Research, which are 19 centers throughout the country that worked on the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.

“This is a five-to-10 year program, and we know when we do things in certain areas, we can do better as the years go by, so we’re committed to working very closely through our stakeholders with our colleagues to make sure that we implement to the best degree possible the program to make it successful,” Fauci said.

George Sigounas, administrator of the Health Resources & Services Administration, said two programs — the Ryan White and HRSA health centers  — will play an essential role in the plan.

Although Ryan White, which provides care to low-income people with HIV, will continue its role, Sigounas said HRSA health centers “will play a major expanded role in providing pre-exposure prophylaxis to those populations at the greatest risk of acquiring HIV infection.”

Michael Weahkee, principal deputy director of the Indian Health Service, said his organization will also play an important role in the initiative.

“In partnership with Native communities, we can end the HIV epidemic in Indian country by strategically focusing on those communities that have been most impacted,” Weahkee said.

According to Weahkee, American Indian and Alaska Native populations have seen a 63 percent increase in new infections among young Native men who have sex with men.

One reporter asked whether the plan reported by the New York Times within HHS that would eliminate transgender people from the definition of sex under the law would impact HIV/AIDS efforts.

Redfield, repeating comments he made earlier when asked about the anti-trans proposal, denounced stigma as the “enemy of public health” and said the “transgender population in particular needs to be reached out to.”

Fauci talked particularly about the importance of reaching the transgender community in fighting HIV/AIDS.

“Transgender people are certainly at high risk of infection and also are overrepresented in the group that are infected, so this program…will treat transgender people the way we treat any other patient, giving them the respect they deserve whether they are infected or whether they are at risk of infection,” Fauci said. “And that’s a commitment that we all have very firmly.”

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Bill to ban conversion therapy dies in Puerto Rico Senate committee

Advocacy group describes lawmakers as cowards

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Puerto Rico Pulse nightclub victims, gay news, Washington Blade

 

A Puerto Rico Senate committee on Thursday killed a bill that would have banned so-called conversion therapy on the island.

Members of the Senate Community Initiatives, Mental Health and Addiction Committee voted against Senate Bill 184 by an 8-7 vote margin. Three senators abstained.

Amárilis Pagán Jiménez, a spokesperson for Comité Amplio para la Búsqueda de la Equidad, a coalition of Puerto Rican human rights groups, in a statement sharply criticized the senators who opposed the measure.

“If they publicly recognize that conversion therapies are abuse, if they even voted for a similar bill in the past, if the hearings clearly established that the bill was well-written and was supported by more than 78 professional and civil entities and that it did not interfere with freedom of religion or with the right of fathers and mothers to raise their children, voting against it is therefore one of two things: You are either a hopeless coward or you have the same homophobic and abusive mentality of the hate groups that oppose the bill,” said Pagán in a statement.

Thursday’s vote comes against the backdrop of continued anti-LGBTQ discrimination and violence in Puerto Rico.

Six of the 44 transgender and gender non-conforming people who were reported murdered in the U.S. in 2020 were from Puerto Rico.

A state of emergency over gender-based violence that Gov. Pedro Pierluisi declared earlier this year is LGBTQ-inclusive. Then-Gov. Ricardo Rosselló in 2019 signed an executive order that banned conversion therapy for minors in Puerto Rico.

“These therapies lack scientific basis,” he said. “They cause pain and unnecessary suffering.”

Rosselló issued the order less than two weeks after members of the New Progressive Party, a pro-statehood party  he chaired at the time, blocked a vote in the Puerto Rico House of Representatives on a bill that would have banned conversion therapy for minors in the U.S. commonwealth. Seven out of the 11 New Progressive Party members who are on the Senate Community Initiatives, Mental Health and Addiction Committee voted against SB 184.

“It’s appalling. It’s shameful that the senators didn’t have the strength and the courage that our LGBTQ youth have, and it’s to be brave and to defend our dignity and our humanity as people who live on this island,” said Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para [email protected], a Puerto Rican LGBTQ rights group, in a video. “It’s disgraceful that the senators decided to vote down this measure that would prevent child abuse.”

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Undocumented LGBTQ immigrants turn to Fla. group for support

Survivors Pathway is based in Miami

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Survivors Pathway works with undocumented LGBTQ immigrants and other vulnerable groups in South Florida. (Photo courtesy of Francesco Duberli)

 

MIAMI – The CEO of an organization that provides support to undocumented LGBTQ immigrants says the Biden administration has given many of his clients a renewed sense of hope.

“People definitely feel much more relaxed,” Survivors Pathway CEO Francesco Duberli told the Washington Blade on March 5 during an interview at his Miami office. “There’s much hope. You can tell … the conversation’s shifted.”

Duberli — a gay man from Colombia who received asylum in the U.S. because of anti-gay persecution he suffered in his homeland — founded Survivors Pathway in 2011. The Miami-based organization currently has 23 employees.

Survivors Pathway CEO Francesco Duberli at his office in Miami on March 5, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

Duberli said upwards of 50 percent of Survivors Pathway’s clients are undocumented. Duberli told the Blade that many of them are survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking and victims of hate crimes based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Part of the work that we have done for years is for us to become the bridge between the communities and law enforcement or the justice system in the United States,” said Duberli. “We have focused on creating a language that helps us to create this communication between the undocumented immigrant community and law enforcement, the state attorney’s office and the court.”

“The fear is not only about immigration,” he added. “There are many other factors that immigrants bring with them that became barriers in terms of wanting to or trying to access the justice system in the United States.”

Duberli spoke with the Blade roughly a week after the Biden administration began to allow into the U.S. asylum seekers who had been forced to pursue their cases in Mexico under the previous White House’s “Remain in Mexico” policy.

The administration this week began to reunite migrant children who the Trump administration separated from their parents. Title 42, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rule that closed the Southern border to most asylum seekers and migrants because of the coronavirus pandemic, remains in place.

Duberli told the Blade that Survivors Pathway advised some of their clients not to apply for asylum or seek visa renewals until after the election. Duberli conceded “the truth of the matter is that the laws haven’t changed that much” since Biden became president.

Survivors Pathway has worked with LGBTQ people in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody in South Florida. American Civil Liberties Union National Political Director Ronald Newman in an April 28 letter it sent to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas called for the closure of the Krome North Service Processing Center in Miami, the Glades County Detention Center near Lake Okeechobee and 37 other ICE detention centers across the country.

The road leading to the Krome North Service Processing Center in Miami on June 7, 2020. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Survivors Pathway responded to trans woman’s murder in 2020

Survivors Pathway has created a project specifically for trans Latina women who Duberli told the Blade don’t know they can access the judicial system.

Duberli said Survivors Pathway works with local judges and police departments to ensure crime victims don’t feel “discriminated, or outed or mistreated or revictimized” because of their gender identity. Survivors Pathway also works with Marytrini, a drag queen from Cuba who is the artistic producer at Azúcar, a gay nightclub near Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood.

Marytrini and Duberli are among those who responded to the case of Yunieski “Yuni” Carey Herrera, a trans woman and well-known activist and performer from Cuba who was murdered inside her downtown Miami apartment last November. Carey’s boyfriend, who had previously been charged with domestic violence, has been charged with murder.

“That was an ongoing situation,” noted Duberli. “It’s not the only case. There are lots of cases like that.”

Duberli noted a gay man in Miami Beach was killed by his partner the same week.

“There are lots of crimes that happen to our community that never gets to the news,” he said. “We got those cases here because of what we do.”

Yunieski “Yuni” Carey Herrera was murdered in her downtown Miami apartment in November 2020. (Photo courtesy of social media)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Patrick O’Connell, acclaimed AIDS activist, dies at 67

Played key role in creating red ribbon for awareness

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Activist Patrick O’Connell was instrumental in creating the red ribbon to promote AIDS awareness. (Photo courtesy of Allen Frame; courtesy Visual AIDS)

Patrick O’Connell, a founding director of the New York City-based AIDS advocacy group Visual AIDS who played a lead role in developing the internationally recognized display of an inverted, V-shaped red ribbon as a symbol of AIDS advocacy, died on March 23 at a Manhattan hospital from AIDS-related causes, according to the New York Times. He was 67.

Visual AIDS said in a statement that O’Connell held the title of founding director of the organization from 1980 to 1995.

During those years, according to the statement and others who knew him, O’Connell was involved in the group’s widely recognized and supported efforts to use art and artist’s works to advocate in support of people with HIV/AIDS and efforts to curtail the epidemic that had a devastating impact on the art world.

Thanks to a grant from the Art Matters foundation, Visual AIDS was able to retain O’Connell as its first paid staff member in 1990, the group said in its statement.

“Armed with a fax machine and an early Macintosh computer, Patrick helped Visual AIDS grow from a volunteer group to a sustainable non-profit organization,” the statement says. “A passionate spokesperson for the organization, he helped projects like Day Without Art, Night Without Light, and the Red Ribbon reach thousands of people and organizations across the world,” the group says in its statement.

“We were living in a war zone,” the statement quoted O’Connell as saying in a 2011 interview with the Long Island newspaper Newsday. “But it was like a war that was some kind of deep secret only we knew about,” O’Connell said in the interview. “Thousands were dying of AIDS. We felt we had to respond with a visible expression,” he told the newspaper.

With O’Connell’s help, Visual AIDS in 1989 organized the first annual Day Without Art in which dozens of galleries and museums in New York and other cities covered art works with black cloths to symbolize the mourning of those who died of AIDS. Among those participating were the Brooklyn Museum, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which replaced a Picasso painting with a “somber informational placard,” according to the New York Times.

In 1990 O’Connell helped Visual AIDS organize the first Night Without Light, which was held at the time of World AIDS Day. New York City’s skyscraper buildings, bridges, monuments, and Broadway theaters turned off their lights for 15 minutes to commemorate people who lost their lives to AIDS, the New York Times reported.

In the kickoff of its Red Ribbon Project in 1991, McConnell helped organize volunteers to join “ribbon bees” in which thousands of the ribbons were cut and folded for distribution around the city, the Times reports. Those who knew McConnell said he also arranged for his team of volunteers to call Broadway theaters and producers of the upcoming Tony Awards television broadcast to have participants and theater goers display the red ribbons on their clothes.

Among those displaying a red ribbon on his label at the Tony Awards broadcast was actor Jeremy Irons, who was one of the hosts. In later years, large numbers of celebrities followed the practice of wearing the red ribbon, and in 1993 the U.S. Postal Service issued a red ribbon stamp.

The Times reports that O’Connell was born and raised in Manhattan, where he attended Fordham Preparatory School and later graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in history. According to Visual AIDS, O’Connell served as director of the Hallwalls arts center in Buffalo, N.Y. from 1977 to 1978 before returning to New York City to work for a gallery called Artists Space.

The Times reports that O’Connell learned in the middle 1980s that he had contracted AIDS and began a regimen of early AIDS treatment with a cocktail of over 30 pills a day. His involvement with Visual AIDS, which began in 1989, ended on an active basis in 1995 when his health worsened, the Times reports.

As one of the last remaining survivors of his New York contemporaries who had HIV beginning in the 1980s, O’Connell continued in his strong support for AIDS-related causes through 2000s and beyond, people who knew him said.
Visual AIDS says it is gathering remembrances and photos for a tribute post for O’Connell on its website. It has invited people to share their memories of him by sending written contributions and images via email to: [email protected].

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