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Jill Biden criticized for unveiling Nancy Reagan stamp at White House

LGBTQ cite Reagan administration ‘indifference’ to AIDS epidemic

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(Screen capture via C-SPAN)

A White House ceremony on Monday hosted by first lady Jill Biden that unveiled a new U.S. postage stamp honoring former first lady Nancy Reagan drew criticism from LGBTQ and AIDS activists.

In postings on social media and in a statement by the D.C.-based LGBTQ group Mattachine Society of Washington, the activists said they believe the Reagan administration failed to adequately address the AIDS epidemic and LGBTQ rights issues and a postage stamp honoring Nancy Reagan was unwarranted.

Some of the activists, including Charles Francis, co-founder of the reconstituted Mattachine Society of Washington, said the White House decision to unveil the new Nancy Reagan stamp during LGBTQ Pride Week showed an insensitivity to the LGBTQ community.

According to the Associated Press, Biden praised Nancy Reagan at the June 6 White House ceremony as a first lady who “made such a difference” and who “served the American people with grace.”

The AP reported that Biden’s office did not respond to a request for comment about the criticism as of early this week.

The first class “Forever Stamp” was scheduled to be officially issued on July 6, which marks the 101st anniversary of Reagan’s birth. She becomes the sixth first lady to appear on a U.S. postage stamp. The others included Martha Washington, Dolley Madison, Abigail Adams, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Lady Bird Johnson. 

Reagan died in 2016 at the age of 94.

The White House ceremony came one week after President Biden issued a Pride Month proclamation expressing his longstanding support for LGBTQ rights and denouncing what he said were hostile efforts in many states placing LGBTQ people under “relentless attack.”

In a statement to the Blade, Francis said he was concerned that recent efforts by some historians and authors to “rehabilitate” Reagan as a behind-the-scenes supporter of LGBTQ people and people with AIDS cannot be backed up by the facts.

“And here we go again with more Nancy Reagan rehabilitation with a new Nancy Reagan postage stamp announced during Pride,” Francis said. “Please consider if you write about the ongoing outrage that even our friends like Jill Biden fall for the memory-dead notion that Nancy Reagan was not political LGBTQ America’s worst enemy,” he said.

Francis points to documents that the Mattachine Society of Washington obtained from the Reagan presidential library in California in the group’s role of using “archives activism” to undercover long hidden government documents showing discrimination and harassment against gay government workers and others.

One of the documents the group found was a telegram sent to the White House in 1985 by an aide to actor Rock Hudson at the time Hudson traveled to France to seek medical treatment for his AIDS diagnosis, which he initially kept secret. Media reports and a copy of the telegram released by Mattachine Society of Washington shows that Hudson confidant Dale Olson sent the telegram to then White House Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Press Secretary Mark Weinberg.

The telegram informs Weinberg that Hudson was seriously ill in a French hospital and needed to be transferred to another hospital where a doctor Hudson had seen and received treatment from in the recent past was located, but the second hospital declined to admit Hudson on grounds that he was not a French citizen. Olsen’s telegram urges Weinberg to arrange for the White House to contact the hospital on Hudson’s behalf and call on the hospital to admit Hudson.

“Only one hospital in the world can offer necessary medical treatment to save life of Rock Hudson or at least alleviate his illness,” Olson stated in the telegram.

Other documents obtained by Mattachine Society of Washington from the Reagan Presidential Library show that Weinberg brought the matter to Reagan’s attention and at Weinberg’s recommendation, Reagan declined to intervene or have the White House intervene on Hudson’s behalf on grounds that it would be improper for the White House to take action that it would not take on behalf of any other American citizen. Instead, the White House responded to the telegram by referring Hudson and his aides in France to take the matter to the U.S. Embassy in Paris.

A detailed February 2015 article about the Hudson-White House development by BuzzFeed reports that the hospital in question eventually admitted Hudson. The article reports that the doctor treating Hudson, a recognized specialist in the early development of AIDS drugs, told Hudson his HIV infection was too far advanced for the experimental drug the doctor had to be of any help to the famed Hollywood star. 

According to the article, the seriously ill Hudson flew back to Los Angeles, where he died on Oct. 2, 1985.

The BuzzFeed article says that Weinberg told BuzzFeed in an interview that Reagan informed her husband about Hudson’s situation shortly after the telegram had been received and that President Reagan called Hudson at the French hospital to wish him well.

“I spoke with Mrs. Reagan about the attached telegram,” BuzzFeed quoted Weinberg as saying in a memorandum to another White House official. “She did not feel this was something the White House should get into and agreed to my suggestion that we refer the writer to the U.S. Embassy, Paris,” Weinberg said in his memo.

“That refers to special treatment for a friend or celebrity,” BuzzFeed quoted him as saying in his 2015 interview with the news organization. “It had nothing to do with AIDS or AIDS policy or — that’s a whole different issue,” BuzzFeed quoted Weinberg as saying.

Francis and other critics of the Reagan administration handling of AIDS said Nancy Reagan’s reasoning for turning down Hudson’s appeal for help at a time he was seriously ill in a French hospital was faulty.

“Seems strange that the Reagans used that excuse, since they often did favors for their Hollywood friends during their White House years,” BuzzFeed quoted longtime AIDS activist Peter Staley as saying. 

“I’m sure if it had been Bob Hope in that hospital with some rare, incurable cancer, Air Force One would have been dispatched to help save him,” Staley said. “There’s no getting around the fact that they left Rock Hudson to dry. As soon as he had that frightening homosexual disease, he became as unwanted and ignored as the rest of us.”

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The White House

Biden executive order to bolster efforts to secure release of Americans detained abroad

Brittney Griner remains detained in Russia

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President Joe Biden (Screenshot from C-SPAN)

President Joe Biden on Tuesday signed an executive order that will bolster his administration’s efforts to secure the release of Americans who are detained or being held hostage abroad.

The executive order, which is based on the 2020 Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act, a retired FBI agent who Iranian authorities arrested in 2007, reinforces what a press release describes as “the administration’s tool kit in key ways.”

  • Reinforces the U.S. government’s efforts to support families of Americans wrongfully detained or held hostage overseas;
  • Authorizes agencies to impose costs and consequences, including financial sanctions, on those who are involved, directly or indirectly, in hostage-taking or wrongful detentions to support expanded and ongoing interagency efforts; 
  • Directs relevant parts of the U.S. government to bolster their engagement and sharing of relevant information, including intelligence information, consistent with the protection of sources and methods, with families regarding their loved ones’ status and U.S. Government efforts to secure their release or return, as appropriate; and
  • Charges experts across the interagency to develop options and strategies to deter future hostage-taking and wrongful detentions.

“It reaffirms the fundamental commitment of the president of the administration to bring home those Americans held hostage (and) wrongfully detained abroad,” said senior administration on Monday during a conference call with reporters.

Another senior administration official added the executive order “reinforces U.S. government efforts to support the families of Americans wrongfully detained or held hostage overseas by directing parts of the federal government to bolster their engagement with such families and their sharing of relevant information, including intelligence information, with families regarding their loved one’s status, and the government’s efforts to secure their release or their return.”

“This EO (executive order) reflects the administration’s commitment not just to the issues generally, but to the families in particular and it has been informed by the government’s regular engagements with them and other stakeholders who have and continue to undertake important constructive advocacy efforts on behalf of their loved ones,” they said. “President Biden and those across the administration will now draw on this EO to advance our efforts and we hope to do so in an active conversation with family members and outside stakeholders.”

The executive order also creates a “D” indicator in the State Department’s travel advisories that notes the countries in which American citizens are at risk for “wrongful detention.” Burma, China, Iran, North Korea, Russia and Venezuela are the first six countries named. 

“We’re committed to provide us citizens with comprehensive safety and security information about foreign countries so they can make informed travel decisions before they before they head overseas,” said another senior administration official during Monday’s conference call. “The United States opposes wrongful detention and the practice of using individuals as political bargaining chips everywhere. These practices we know represent a threat to the safety of all US citizens traveling and living abroad.”

Biden signed the executive order against the backdrop of WNBA star Brittney Griner’s continued detention in Russia.

Brittney Griner (Photo by Kathclick via Bigstock)

Officials at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport in February detained Griner — a Phoenix Mercury center and two-time Olympic gold medalist who is a lesbian and married to her wife, Cherelle Griner, — after customs inspectors allegedly found hashish oil in her luggage. 

The State Department has determined that Russia “wrongfully detained” her.

Griner’s trial, which began on July 1, continues, even though she has pleaded guilty to charges that she smuggled drugs into the country. The White House is under increased pressure from Griner’s wife and family, teammates and LGBTQ activists to secure her release.

A senior administration official on Monday’s call did not directly respond to a question about how the executive order will help secure Griner’s release.

“There are a number of ways in which it would affect cases like that case in the wrongful detainee category,” said the official. “The executive order directs those across the executive branch to share consistent accurate information with the families of those who are deemed wrongfully detained, to ensure that they receive support and assistance throughout the ordeal, and to work with parts of our government to try to impose costs on those responsible.”

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The White House

Jill Biden addresses LGBTQ donors at Equality PAC fundraiser

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Jill Biden urged action an Equality Act fundraiser.

First lady Jill Biden expressed solidarity with members of the LGBTQ community Monday at a D.C.-based fundraiser hosted by the Equality PAC, urging action amid fears same-sex marriage is under threat in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.

“Right now we’re fighting the battles we thought we had already won,” Jill Biden said. “And we don’t need to guess where the extremists are going next because they’ve already told us in the Dobbs decision.”

The Equality PAC is a congressional political action committee led by the openly gay and lesbian members of the U.S. House. Among the notables seen in attendance who spoke at the fundraiser were Reps. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who co-chair the caucus. The event was held at the Long View Gallery.

“Progress isn’t a line,” Jill Biden said. “It sometimes feels like an ocean, pushing forward and pulling back. But with time and persistence, the shore of injustice does wear away.”

Jill Biden touted President Biden’s actions on behalf of the LGBTQ community, pointing out he signed an executive order against anti-LGBT discrimination, ended the transgender military ban, and appointed LGBTQ federal officials. She also mentioned an executive order President Biden signed in June, which included new prohibitions on widely discredited conversion therapy.

The first lady closed the event urging action and expressing solidarity, although she momentarily tripped over the LGBTQ acronym.

“I want you to know that I will be there beside you every step of the way. It won’t be easy,” she said. “The legacy of the LGD – the LGBTQI community is a hope that has never been crushed.”

Takano also spoke at the event and said Equality PAC raised a total of $217,000 at the event and more than $10.8 million this cycle, envisioning wins for Democrats on Election Day despite expectations of Republican gains.

“We are going to keep our majority and I dare say we’re going to expand it,” Takano said.

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The White House

CDC on monkeypox: ‘We anticipate an increase in cases in the coming weeks’

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The head of the Centers for Disease Control said she expected the reported cases of monkeypox to increase.

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, warned on Friday the spread of monkeypox, an outbreak that has occurred primarily among gay and bisexual men, would increase in the coming weeks.

“Now as we closely monitor cases, I would like you all to understand that we anticipate an increase in cases in the coming weeks,” Walensky said in a conference call with top Biden administration health officials and reporters.

The increase, Walensky said, is due to three factors: 1) The CDC streamlining its reporting process to allow states to report new cases more quickly and accurately; 2) With more cases in the United States, an increase in the resulting exposure of these cases in the coming weeks; and 3) A significant increase in the number of people seeking laboratory tests and the number of specimens being submitted for testing.

Monkeypox cases in the United States, Walensky said, have reached 1,470 reported cases documented across 44 jurisdictions as of July 14.

Younger gay and bisexual men are primarily affected: The median age is 36 with a range of 18 to 76 years of age, and the vast majority of cases happen among those who identify as men who have sex with men based on demographic information local health departments provided to CDC, Walensky said.

The Biden administration on the same day Walensky disclosed the new data announced an order for another 2.5 million doses of Bavarian Nordic’s JYNNEOS vaccine to respond to the current monkeypox outbreak.

The vaccines, however, won’t arrive soon: According to the Department of Health & Human Services, they’re coming in 2023 as part of the plan for the U.S. government’s available supply of vaccine to reach 7 million by mid-2023, which would be several months after the outbreak has begun.

The Biden administration has been faulted for moving too slowly in responding to monkeypox in criticism reminiscent of inaction during the coronavirus and HIV/AIDS epidemics, including being too slow to distribute vaccines and make testing available. Monkeypox is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact, unlike the other two diseases, and isn’t fatal.

Walensky during the call acknowledged “the demand for vaccines from jurisdictions is higher than our current available supply,” but pushed back on other criticisms as “points of confusion where we’ve been hearing from the public, our partners and media.” The availability of tests, for example, is and has been meeting capacity, Walensky said.

“We have the testing capacity needed,” Walensky said. “We expanded the nation’s monkeypox testing capacity this week, and now have four commercial labs with combined capabilities along with CDC laboratory Response Network … we’ve gone from being able to test 6,000 samples a week to 70,000 samples per week. Having commercial lab testing for monkeypox will also make it more convenient for providers to access tasks by using existing providers to lab relationships, and we have not yet received anywhere near that demand of tests as our capacity now permits.”

Also during the call health officials announced efforts to work on delivery of 786,000 doses currently located in Denmark, which they said will be available pending FDA clearance by the end of July. The inability of the Biden administration to move the vaccines from Europe in a timely fashion has been a source of criticism of the FDA.

Peter Marks, director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation & Research at the FDA, pushed back on that criticism in response to a question from the Washington Blade, insisting the FDA had taken a timely approach to obtaining those vaccines.

“First of all … quite contrary to missing a chance for approval, FDA actively reached out using contacts with the Biomedical Advanced Research & Development Authority to actually move up the submission that was necessary and all of the other events that were necessary to get those doses to be able to be used from what was originally going to be this fall,” Marks said. “And we did that actually, pretty shortly after we realized there was a monkeypox outbreak.”

Marks also said the United States was unable to rely on the European Union’s certification of the vaccines because the FDA relies on its own safety protocols for approval of medication for use domestically.

“We do not in the United States recognize — we don’t have mutual recognition of vaccine inspections for initial licensure from other countries, and that’s because we have our quality standards that have to be maintained,” Marks said. “And we have with all due diligence to make sure that the necessary procedures were undertaken, so that these will be available before the end of July but these doses were originally not scheduled to be approved until sometime in the fall, and that was moved up.”

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