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Biden rounds out team to take on HIV/AIDS domestically, globally

Experts say ‘too soon’ to assess domestic efforts

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Biden names a global AIDS coordinator and new PACHA members

With the goal of beating HIV by 2025 domestically and a pledge for a renewed effort to fight the disease globally, President Biden has put in place officials charged with making that happen.

The White House kicked off the week with the announcement that John Nkengasong, who has served as a top official on global health at the Centers for Disease Control, would be nominated as ambassador-at-large and coordinator of U.S. government activities to combat HIV/AIDS globally at the State Department.

Meanwhile, leadership within the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, otherwise known as PACHA, was restructured in August as the Biden administration has continued the Ending the HIV Epidemic plan health officials started in the Trump administration.

Carl Schmid, who served as co-chair of PACHA during the Trump years, no longer holds that position, and has been replaced by Marlene McNeese, a woman of color and deputy assistant director of the Houston Health Department. John Wiesman, former secretary of health for Washington State, will continue to serve as co-chair.

McNeese is among eight new members of PACHA. The others are:

  • Guillermo Chacón, president of the Latino Commission on AIDS;
  • Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative at the Human Rights Campaign;
  • Raniyah Copeland, CEO of the Black AIDS Institute;
  • Leo Moore, medical director for clinic services at the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health;
  • Kayla Quimbley, national youth HIV and AIDS Awareness Day ambassador for Advocates for Youth;
  • Adrian Shanker, founder and executive director of Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center; and
  • Darrell Wheeler, senior vice president for academic affairs at Iona College in New Rochelle, N.Y.

The changes underscore the new approach to HIV/AIDS Biden promised during his presidential campaign. Among them is beating HIV/AIDS domestically by 2025, which is five years earlier than the plan under the Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative that began in the Trump administration. Whether or not Biden will meet that ambitious goal remains to be seen.

Winnie Byanyima, executive director of UNAIDS, hailed the nomination of Nkengasong to the global AIDS position upon news of the announcement.

“John Nkengasong’s vast experience in combatting HIV, combined with his position as Africa’s leading disease expert fighting Ebola, COVID-19 and more, position him extremely well to guide the United States’ global contribution towards ending the AIDS pandemic,” Byanyima said. “Today, the HIV and COVID-19 pandemics are colliding in communities throughout the world, and the threat of a resurgent AIDS pandemic is very real. We need the kind of bold thinking and commitment he has brought throughout his career.”

While the global AIDS appointment will have a role in international programs, such as PEPFAR and U.S. participation in the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria, the PACHA appointments will focus on both domestic and global perspectives.

Schmid, executive director of the HIV+Hepatitis Policy Institute, said despite the change in leadership he will maintain his role as head of the subcommittee on the Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative.

“It’s good,” Schmid said.”They appointed a lot of African-American community, Latino community [members] and they said they’ll rotate co-chairs,” Schmid said. “I think it’s good that they put on new blood, and new leadership.”

Schmid has been a vocal skeptic about Biden being able to meet his goal to beat HIV by 2025 — as opposed to the 2030 target set by the previous administration — but said the realignment in PACHA was “not at all” related to that.

“I think I was replaced because the Biden administration wanted the leadership of PACHA to be more representative of the current epidemic in the United States,” Schmid said.

Schmid, however, refused to back down from his prediction that Biden won’t be able to make his 2025 goal a reality.

“I think you will find wide agreement within the HIV community that it is not feasible to end HIV by 2025,” Schmid said. “There is just too much work to do and change to happen.”

The new appointments will add to the cadre of Biden appointees engaged on HIV/AIDS, including Harold Phillips, who was appointed in June to lead the White House Office of National AIDS Policy after that position remained vacant for the entirety of the Trump administration.

‘Too early’ to gauge effort to beat HIV domestically

The focus of the appointees on the domestic front will be the Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative, a plan heavily focused on PrEP as a means of preventing HIV in an effort to reduce new incidents of infections by 90 percent within 10 years. The program was launched in 2019.

Although Congress has appropriated money for the initiative, and just last week, the Department of Health & Human Services distributed $48 million to HRSA centers as part of the effort, experts say not enough data is available to tell to whether or not the program has been effective.

Jennifer Kates, senior vice president and director of global health & HIV policy at Kaiser Family Foundation, said data isn’t yet available on whether new incidents of HIV are reduced because the latest data is from fiscal year 2019.

“From the perspective of the timeline of the goals of the initiative, it’s too early, we wouldn’t know that anyway, but just even given the context and what’s happened since it started, I just don’t know how you’d evaluate it,” Kates said. “What I do believe is important though, is the idea of dedicated new funding. It was the first new funding provided to HIV for years that’s been channeled to local jurisdictions [and] has the potential to catalyze new and better responses, but we don’t know yet that’s happened.”

The coronavirus pandemic, which has been the top priority for health officials around the world, is also obfuscating any potential assessment of the Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative.

Daniel Bruner, senior director of policy at the D.C.-based Whitman-Walker Institute, said the coronavirus has “dramatically impacted medical care,” including HIV/AIDS efforts.

“The pandemic has also necessitated substantial shifts in federal, state, and local resources into COVID prevention, diagnosis and treatment,” Bruner said. “Therefore, it is premature to draw any conclusions about the EHE initiative’s effectiveness. The federal government has emphasized its continuing commitment to the EHE initiative, and Whitman-Walker also remains committed to that work.”

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Massachusetts

Boston Children’s Hospital targeted by violent anti-LGBTQ threats

‘We condemn these attacks in the strongest possible terms’

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(Screenshot/YouTube WBZ)

Anti-LGBTQ far right extremists are targeting Boston Children’s Hospital, threatening its employees and medical staff after falsehoods and disinformation spread online recently about the healthcare facility’s treatment of transgender youth.

In a statement posted online, a spokesperson for Boston Children’s Hospital wrote: “In response to commentary last week critical of our Gender Multispeciality Service (GeMS) Program, Boston Children’s Hospital has been the target of a large volume of hostile internet activity, phone calls and harassing emails including threats of violence on our clinicians and staff fueled by misinformation and a lack of understanding and respect for our transgender community.”

The statement notes that the false information, with special attention being cast on the lies that Boston Children’s Hospital was performing hysterectomies (transgender care related) on minors. The age of consent for that gender-affirming procedure is 18.

“We condemn these attacks in the strongest possible terms, and we reject the false narratives upon which they are based,” the hospital continued. “We are working with law enforcement to protect our clinicians, staff, patients, families and the broader Boston Children’s Hospital community and hold the offenders accountable. We will continue to take all appropriate measures to protect our people.”

Journalist Martha Bebinger with WBUR,  Boston’s NPR news station, noted the campaign started last week with criticism of a video posted on the hospital’s website about hysterectomies. Several conservative social media accounts shared posts about the video on Twitter. The hospital performs hysterectomies on patients 18 and older, but not on children as some of the posts claimed.

The social media account Libs of TikTok, which has often promoted “groomer” discourse that falsely linked LGBTQ teachers and parents to pedophilia, began to make a variety of false claims. One allegation included the lie about Boston Children’s Hospital offering gender-affirming hysterectomies to children under 18 years old.

Surgeons at Boston Children’s Hospital have said they would consider performing other procedures, including phalloplasty, or penis construction, on 17-year-old male trans patients. But hospital staff say that hasn’t happened because no 17-year-old has met the required legal and other criteria.

Conservative journalist and anti-LGBTQ+ activist Christopher Rufo, who has helped incite white Christian nationalist right-wing uproar over the critical race theory being taught in the nations’ secondary schools and also fabricated a story that queer theory was also being to taught kindergarteners up through high school, took aim at Boston Children’s Hospital in a tweet Wednesday.

Then adding to the far-right extremist pile-on, Media Matters for America reported Wednesday that anti-trans pundit Matt Walsh also attacked the hospital.

Christina Buttons, a Nashville-based radical anti-LGBTQ far-right journalist for the Canadian anti-LGBTQ conservative publication, the Post Millennial, which features other transphobic writers, attacked NBC News reporter Brandy Zadrozny on Twitter over her reporting on Boston Children’s Hospital.

A spokesperson for Twitter told the Washington Blade Wednesday afternoon that the company support team was looking into the reports of harassment.

Zadrozny reported: Anti-trans activists also targeted the individual doctors who appeared in the YouTube videos from Boston Children’s Hospital, leaving vulgar and harassing comments on their social media accounts and flooding their online pages with negative reviews. Some hospital staff have since made their social media profiles private.

This isn’t the first time that far-right activists have targeted doctors and medical institutions — or even Boston Children’s Hospital.

Lee Leveille, co-director of Health Liberation Now, a trans rights advocacy group that investigates the effects of policy on trans health, said the hospital was also a target in May 2021 for providing gender-affirming care amid a similar wave of targeted harassment on medical facilities.

“The original organized network that jump started the clinic protests has been slowing down a bit and is more decentralized,” Leveille said over email. “Local pockets will still operate here and there, but they’re less connected to a central organized push than the original ones. Now we’re seeing new faces rallying the cause — including the likes of Matt Walsh and Libs of TikTok.”

A spokesperson for the Boston Police Department said the department is aware of the threats and is working with hospital staff.

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District of Columbia

Will D.C. host World Pride 2025 after Taiwan cancellation?

InterPride organizers mum on selection of new host city

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(Photo by Andy Lain 多元的台灣 2014彩虹大遊行)

A surprise announcement last week by Taiwanese organizers of World Pride Taiwan 2025 that they have withdrawn their agreement to host the international Pride event has raised the immediate question of whether the event will be moved to Washington, D.C., which lost its bid to host the event to Taiwan.

Capital Pride Alliance, the group that organizes D.C.’s annual Pride events, submitted a bid for D.C. to become the host city last September with the support of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and city agencies that help organize large events.

World Pride Taiwan 2025 is the group that won its 2021 bid to host World Pride 2025 in the Taiwanese port city of Kaohsiung. The group said in a statement that it decided to cancel its role as the host for World Pride following a dispute with InterPride, the U.S.-based international organization that founded and administers World Pride, and that selects the host city.

World Pride, an international event that takes place every two years, draws thousands of participants from throughout the world to the host city. 

Although disagreements had surfaced over whether World Pride Taiwan had the economic capacity to host an international event like World Pride, the group said in its statement that the issue that prompted the cancellation was InterPride’s insistence that the name “Taiwan” could not be used in the title of the event and only the name World Pride Kaohsiung 2025 could be used.

According to the statement, the name “Taiwan Pride” has symbolic significance for the Taiwanese LGBTQ community, among other reasons, because all the island nation’s Pride events since 2003 have used the name Taiwan Pride.

In its own statement, InterPride said all past World Pride events have used the name of the host city rather than the country in which the city is located. In its statement, it said it offered a compromise allowing Taiwanese organizers to call the event “World Pride Kaohsiung, Taiwan,” a claim Taiwanese organizers dispute.   

The Washington Blade couldn’t immediately reach an official or spokesperson for InterPride to determine whether it plans to reopen the bidding process to select another city to host World Pride 2025 or whether it would invite D.C.’s Capital Pride Alliance to host the event on behalf of D.C.

Capital Pride Alliance submitted what it said was a comprehensive bid last September calling on InterPride to select D.C. as the World Pride 2025 host. Capital Pride and the Taiwanese group were the only two organizations to submit a bid for World Pride 2025.

When InterPride announced last November that it had selected the Taiwanese city of Kaohsiung to host the international event, Capital Pride issued a statement congratulating Kaohsiung Pride and World Pride Taiwan 2025 for winning the bid.

Ryan Bos, the Capital Pride Alliance executive director, told the Blade on Wednesday that as of early this week InterPride had not contacted Capital Pride Alliance about the Taiwanese group’s decision to cancel the event. He said Capital Pride learned about the cancellation from news media reports.

Asked if Capital Pride plans to reactivate its bid to host World Pride 2025, Bos did not offer a direct answer.

“We definitely need to have conversations about it,” he said. “We definitely would be open to the conversation. Our team put in a lot of time and effort to put together a very comprehensive and strong bid,” Bos said. “D.C. is a worthy destination, and we can truly make a major impact on the world stage by hosting an event such as this,” Bos said. “So, we would be open to entertaining the conversation.”

Bos pointed to Capital Pride’s announcement at the time it submitted its bid to host World Pride 2025 last September that hosting the event in 2025 would come at a time when Capital Pride plans to commemorate the 50th anniversary of D.C.’s first LGBTQ Pride event in 1975, which began as a block party near Dupont Circle.

“So, though we were not selected last fall, we have been moving forward in organizing an international Pride event for 2025 on the world stage for our 50th anniversary,” Bos said. “So, regardless of what happens, we will be continuing down that path.”

Bos said Capital Pride Alliance officials will also be attending InterPride’s annual international conference this October in Guadalajara, Mexico, which is held each year in connection with InterPride’s role as an association of LGBTQ Pride organizations throughout the world. Bos said the issue of selecting a new host city for World Pride 2025 could emerge as a topic of discussion at that conference.

World Pride Taiwan 2025 organizers said in their statement that InterPride did not insist on leaving out the name Taiwan in the title of the event during the bidding process last year and at the time InterPride decided to select the Taiwanese group to host the event in Kaohsiung. The group also disputes InterPride’s claim that it offered a compromise to include the name Taiwan along with Kaohsiung in the event’s title.

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Delaware

Delaware to open monkeypox vax clinics in Rehoboth, Wilmington

State expands access per CDC recommendations

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CAMP Rehoboth is hosting a vaccine clinic next week. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Rehoboth and Wilmington, Del. will host monkeypox vaccination clinics next week after the Delaware Division of Public Health authorized the administration of one-fifth of the original vaccine dosage — per federal recommendations — on Monday.

On Aug. 23 CAMP Rehoboth, a local LGBTQ organization, will host a vaccine clinic from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in its community center at 37 Baltimore Ave. An additional vaccine clinic will be held on Aug. 25 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Wilmington on the ground floor of the city’s Community Service Building at 100 West 10th St.

According to a Tuesday CAMP Rehoboth news release, individuals “engaging in high-risk activities” should consider vaccination against monkeypox, namely men who have sex with men or anonymous sexual partners, trans and non-binary individuals assigned male at birth who have sex with men, sex workers, and staff at establishments where sexual activity occurs. 

To receive a vaccine at the Rehoboth clinic, individuals must register in advance by calling 302-227-5620 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. To receive a vaccine at the Wilmington clinic, individuals must register in advance by calling 302-652-6776 between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Two hundred slots are available at each clinic, and second doses will be administered on Sept. 20 in Rehoboth and Sept. 22 in Wilmington at the same time as the initial vaccination appointment.

The two-dose vaccination series is not considered effective until two weeks after the second dose, CAMP Rehoboth noted in a Tuesday news release. The vaccine, JYENNOS, is approved by the Food and Drug Administration, but may not provide protection to those who have received a smallpox vaccine more than three years ago, the news release added.

In addition, as of Monday, individuals living with HIV or taking pre-exposure prophylaxis to prevent HIV are eligible for vaccine access, and can contact their healthcare providers or DPH at 866-408-1899 to receive a vaccination appointment.

The state’s decision to expand vaccine access follows national trends, and comes after local and national organizations advocated for increased action from the Centers for Disease Control to combat the spread of the virus. On Aug. 12, more than 150 LGBTQ centers and organizations across the country, including Delaware’s Sussex Pride, signed a letter to the CDC in favor of “increasing the number of available vaccines” and expanding current data and testing on the virus nationally. As of Aug. 5, Delaware has administered 33 doses of the monkeypox vaccine, according to a DPH news release.

For more information, individuals can contact the DPH hotline for monkeypox-related questions and concerns on weekdays from 8:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. at 866-408-1899, or email [email protected]. Information concerning monkeypox prevention programs and resources can be found at de.gov/monkeypox.

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