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Howard University, Gilead working to encourage HIV prevention

‘A strategic, community-centered approach to address systemic disparities’

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Howard University earlier this month hosted an event to support efforts in the Washington, D.C. area to spread HIV/AIDS awareness.

The event highlighted a collaboration between Howard University and Gilead Sciences’ new Setting the P.A.C.E  (Prevention – Arts and Advocacy – Community – Education)  initiative, which addresses HIV prevention, health equity and anti-stigma efforts for both cisgender and transgender Black women and girls. 

“By taking a strategic, community-centered approach to address systemic disparities and improve overall health outcomes, Gilead continues its commitment to advancing health equity for Black cisgender and transgender women and girls in the U.S. who continue to be disproportionately impacted by the HIV epidemic,” said Deborah H. Telman, executive vice president of Corporate Affairs and General Counsel, Gilead Sciences. 

Gilead’s Setting the P.A.C.E. Initiative is a three-year, $10 million commitment to increase HIV prevention, anti-stigma and health equity efforts for Black cisgender and transgender women and girls in the United States. Howard is one of Setting the P.A.C.E.’s grantees and through the program, it conducts HIV prevention training and informational resources, arts and advocacy, community and nonprofit capacity building, and education.

In 2021, Black women accounted for 53% of new HIV diagnoses among women aged 16 and older in the United States, despite comprising only 14% of the women living in the country, according to the Centers for Diseases Control & Prevention. Additionally, Black transgender women are likelier to be diagnosed with HIV and are likelier, more than their peers, to go undiagnosed and untreated. 

Through Setting the P.A.C.E., high-impact organizations and projects working to improve the HIV landscape receive specialized help that assists them in tackling barriers to equitable HIV health outcomes, and in receiving funding to support a variety of impactful projects to expand programs that provide culturally responsive HIV care training and leverage arts and media to engage local communities and address stigma. 

Because of the urgency of HIV awareness in the Black queer community, more than 75% of the organizations selected for P.A.C.E grants are led by Black women. Funding is directed toward initiatives spearheaded by Black women.

“Gilead’s Setting the P.A.C.E. initiative will help empower organizations to expand custom programs tailored toward fighting stigma and expanding access to HIV care in their communities,” said Telman. 

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District of Columbia

New D.C. walking tour highlights LGBTQ history

Zach Patalingjug launched company in June in time for Pride Month

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Zach Patalingjug leads his Beyond the Closet: The Persecution and Liberation of the LGBTQ Community in Washington, D.C., tour on July 13, 2024. (Washington Blade photo by Sean Koperek)

Want to learn more about the city’s LGBTQ history while seeing some of the sights? Beyond the Landmarks’ Beyond the Closet: The Persecution and Liberation of the LGBTQ Community in Washington, D.C., tour could be just the choice.

Zach Patalingjug launched the company in June, and offers walks that highlights some of Washington’s LGBTQ history.

The LGBTQ-specific tour starts with him emailing each person on the route with a meet-up location and some advice for the tour itself. His business last month saw a lot of tourists participate in his tour — in part because of Pride Month, and Patalinjug is hoping to keep the momentum. 

Patalingjug, who is from California, has traveled to more than half of the country’s states and has traveled abroad numerous times to sightsee and absorb cultures. He told the Washington Blade he became inspired to create his company after reading James Kirchick’s “Secret City: The Hidden History of Gay Washington.”

Patalingjug spent a year researching his tour. He utilized the D.C. Central Library, where its fourth floor is dedicated entirely to the city’s history.

“I wanted to create a company that really explores the hidden gems, the lesser known history of Washington, D.C., to get the experiences that are truly authentic, and to tell stories that you don’t hear on most sightseeing tours,” he told the Washington Blade. 

The tours are between two to three hours long, depending on the group’s speed.

They officially start at 9:30 a.m., but Patalingjug recommends participants arrive 10 minutes earlier.

Each group meets in Farragut Square, directly outside of the Farragut West Metro station. The tour begins there and proceeds to Lafayette Square, where Patalingjug discusses the White House, the Hay-Adams Hotel, the former Lambda Rising bookstore, the Human Rights Campaign, the now-closed Chicken Hut near the White House, and myriad other locations. 

The tour ends in Dupont Circle.

Human Rights Campaign headquarters (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Patalingjug’s tour is more than a walk — each one is themed with topics that include “service, persecution, and liberation.

“Countless folks within the LGBTQ community have served and continue to serve the federal government,” he told the Blade.

He noted many of the people the tour highlights worked for the federal government before they lost their careers because they were outed or caught with a same-sex partner during the so-called “Lavender Scare.”

Then-Secretary of State John Kerry shortly before he stepped down in 2017 formally apologized to State Department personnel who were fired under the directive that then-President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued in 1953. President Joe Biden last year issued a formal proclamation on the policy’s 70th anniversary.

“For so many members of the LGBTQI+ community, hate, discrimination, and isolation throughout our country’s history have denied them the full promise of America,” Biden said. “The ‘Lavender Scare’ epitomized — and institutionalized — this injustice.”

Patalingjug’s tour highlights Frank Kameny, founder of the Mattachine Society of Washington, the city’s first politically active LGBTQ rights group that organized one of the country’s first gay rights protest that took place in front of the White House in 1965.

The protest highlighted the federal government’s discrimination against gays and lesbians. Kameny in 1957 lost his job as an astronomer in the Army Map Service because he was gay.

Frank Kameny Way in Dupont Circle is part of Zach Patalingjug’s Beyond the Closet: The Persecution and Liberation of the LGBTQ Community in Washington, D.C., tour (Washington Blade photo by Sean Koperek)

The tour also highlights Margaret “Midge” Costanza, an advisor to former President Jimmy Carter who invited members of the National Gay Task Force, which is now known as the National LGBTQ Task Force, to the White House in 1977.

“I’m just incredibly excited to be able to tell the authentic stories of people who lived through this period of history,” said Patalingjug.

Log onto Beyond the Landmarks’ website for more information.

Michael K. Lavers and Lou Chibbaro, Jr., contributed to this story.

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District of Columbia

Ruby Corado pleads guilty to wire fraud in plea agreement

Reduced charge says she stole at least $150,000 in COVID-relief funds

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Ruby Corado in El Salvador (Photo via Facebook)

Ruby Corado, the founder and executive director of the now-defunct LGBTQ community services organization Casa Ruby, pleaded guilty Wednesday, July 17, to a single charge of wire fraud as part of a plea bargain deal offered by prosecutors with the Office of the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia.

The charge to which she pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court for D.C. says she diverted at least $150,000 “in taxpayer-backed emergency COVID relief funds to private off-shore bank accounts for her personal use,” according to a statement released by the U.S. Attorney’s office.

Court records show that U.S. District Court Judge Trevor N. McFadden, who is presiding over the case, has scheduled a sentencing hearing for Jan. 10, 2025.

Corado’s guilty plea came a little over six weeks after prosecutors on May 31 filed a one-count criminal information charge of wire fraud against her that replaced an earlier criminal complaint charging her with bank fraud, money laundering, monetary transactions in criminally derived proceeds, and failure to file a required report of a foreign bank account.

The earlier complaint was filed at the time the FBI arrested Corado on March 5 of this year at a hotel in Laurel, Md., shortly after she returned to the U.S. from El Salvador. The initial complaint, like the new criminal information that replaced it, accused Corado of diverting at least $150,000 of federal pandemic relief funds to her own bank accounts in El Salvador. The charges say the funds were intended for use by Casa Ruby to support indigent LGBTQ clients in need of housing and other support services.

At the request of Corado’s court-appointed attorney and against the wishes of federal prosecutors, who said Corado would be a flight risk, another judge agreed to release Corado into the custody of her niece in Rockville, Md., under a home detention order. The release order came seven days after Corado had been held in jail since the time of her arrest on March 5.

In addition to a prison sentence, the charge of wire fraud also includes a possible penalty of financial forfeiture for which Corado could be required to pay restitution to the government. The plea agreement filed in court includes this statement to Corado’s attorney: “Specifically, your client agrees to the entry of a forfeiture money judgment in an amount ordered by the Court, which is equal to the value of any property which constitutes or is derived from proceeds traceable to the offense in Count One of the Information in which your client is pleading guilty.”

However, legal observers have said that under a plea agreement like the one offered to Corado, prosecutors most likely will ask the judge for a lesser sentence. Corado’s attorney is also expected to point out that this is a nonviolent, first-time offense for Corado, which merits a lesser sentence.

Corado has denied wrongdoing in her operation of Casa Ruby in response to a separate civil complaint filed against her and Casa Ruby by the Office of the D.C. Attorney General. That complaint is still pending in D.C. Superior Court.

In its July 17 statement the U.S. Attorney’s office refers to court documents showing that Corado, “on behalf of Casa Ruby, received more than $1.3 million from the Paycheck Protection Program and the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program.” The statement adds, “Instead of using the funds as she promised, Corado stole at least $150,000 by transferring the money to bank accounts in El Salvador, which she hid from the IRS.”

The statement says that in 2022, “when financial irregularities at Casa Ruby became public, Corado sold her home in Prince George’s County and fled to El Salvador.” It says FBI agents arrested her at the hotel in Laurel, Md. on March 5 “after she unexpectedly returned to the United States.”

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District of Columbia

Judge orders D.C. high school to recognize anti-LGBTQ student group

Ruling overturns claim that Christian group’s policy violates Human Rights Act

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A U.S. District Court judge on July 11 issued a preliminary injunction ordering D.C.’s Jackson-Reed High School, the city’s largest public high school, to officially recognize a student group called the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which requires its leaders to support the group’s religious belief that homosexuality is immoral.

The 31-page ruling by Judge Dabney L. Friedrich came in response to a May 7, 2024, lawsuit filed by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ national office against D.C. Public Schools officials and the D.C. government. The lawsuit charges that Jackson-Reed High School violated the Christian student group’s religious rights under the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. Religious Freedom Restoration Act by refusing its most recent application for recognition.

The lawsuit says the group applied for and received recognition in 2022, making it eligible for full school benefits, funding, and the right to hold meetings at school facilities. But according to the lawsuit, the school system reversed its decision of recognition in the fall of 2022 after a school athletic coach expressed opposition to the recognition on grounds that Fellowship of Christian Athletes discriminates against the LGBTQ community by its requirement that its leaders oppose homosexuality.

In its court filings in response to the lawsuit, the Office of the D.C. Attorney General says Jackson Reed, in consultation with D.C. Public Schools officials determined that the Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ requirement that its student leaders must adhere to its position on homosexuality violates the D.C. Human Rights Act and the D.C. school system’s longstanding policy of prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Plaintiffs’ religious rights are not violated by D.C. Public School’s Anti-Discrimination Policy because it is a generally applicable, religiously neutral policy that applies to every student and student organization at DCPS schools,” the AG’s court filing says. “As such, Plaintiffs’ religious freedoms, as guaranteed under the First Amendment, are not infringed,” it says.

The AG’s court filing says D.C. Public Schools made it clear that it would grant full recognition to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes chapter at Jackson-Reed High School if it disassociates itself from the national group’s “discriminatory” policy on homosexuality. Students associated with the Jackson-Reed FCA group and the attorneys representing them declined that offer.

In addition to the District of Columbia, the lawsuit names as defendants Lewis D. Ferebee, Chancellor and CEO of D.C. Public Schools; and Cinthia L. Ruiz, the D.C. Public Schools’ Chief Integrity Officer.

It says the Jackson-Reed student group that signed onto the lawsuit is part of a national Fellowship of Christian Athletes organization that operates more than 7,000 student chapters called “huddles” that meet at middle school, high school, and college campuses across the country.

In what initially appears to be supportive of the D.C. Attorney General’s position, Judge Friedrich cites the Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ statement of faith, which holds that marriage is limited to “a lifelong covenant relationship between a man and a woman.” In her ruling the judge further quotes  the Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ position prohibiting “sexual relations outside of marriage (whether involving individuals of the same sex or opposite sex)” and “any sexually immoral act … including homosexuality.”

But in her ruling granting the Christian group’s request for a preliminary injunction while the lawsuit itself continues in litigation, Friedrich states that D.C. ‘s defense falls short. As stated in the lawsuit, the judge points out, among other things, D.C. Public Schools has recognized other secular student groups that have restrictions on who can be leaders or members.

The lawsuit argues that at Jackson-Reed High School several student groups are allowed to restrict who their leaders can be, such as the Disabled Student Alliance and the Asian Student Union as well as the Wise Club, which the lawsuit says offers “special space for young women.”

“These limits seem reasonable; they create focused, helpful spaces for involved students,” the lawsuit says. “But by reserving to itself the discretion to allow these clubs to choose their leaders based on beliefs or characteristics, D.C. Public Schools impermissibly singles out Fellowship of Christian Athletes for discriminatory treatment by stripping FCA of its recognized status for doing the same thing,” it says.

“Antidiscrimination laws ‘have done much to secure the civil rights of all Americans,’” Friedrich states in the conclusion section of her ruling. “But anti-discrimination laws, like all other laws, must be applied evenhandedly and not in violation of the Constitution,” she states. “Unfortunately, it appears that this command was not followed at Jackson-Reed High School.”

The judge notes again that Fellowship of Christian Athletes requires its student leaders, “but not its members,” to “affirm their commitment to the group’s beliefs.” She states that among those beliefs is the prohibition on sexual relations outside of marriage between a man and a woman.

 “For this, FCA lost its official status at Jackson-Reed,” Friedrich wrote in her ruling. “As a condition for reinstatement, the District forced FCA to choose between official school recognition and its religious principles. Such treatment is at odds with that received by secular groups at Jackson-Reed that limit membership on the basis of other protected characteristics and/or ideological alignment,” the judge concludes.

In support of her ruling, Friedrich cited a decision by the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco last September that overturned a similar school ban on a religious student group by San Jose, Calif., public schools. The ruling by the 9th Circuit, which has the reputation of being a liberal appeals court, declared the school system could not withhold recognition of some student affinity groups and not others based on their views or beliefs.

Based on “at least” the possibility that D.C.’s Fellowship of Christian Athletes will prevail in its lawsuit under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Free Exercise Clause of the Constitution, Friedrich said she granted FCA’s request for a preliminary injunction ordering the D.C. Public Schools to grant recognition of FCA at Jackson-Reed High School. The judge said she declined to approve the group’s request that the injunction be expanded to include  all D.C. public schools.

Under court rules, a preliminary injunction remains in effect until the time a lawsuit is resolved in court. The lawsuit filed by Fellowship for Christian Athletes requests a trial by jury. Court records show that no trial date had been scheduled as of July 12.

The D.C. Office of the Attorney General did not immediately respond to news media inquiries for comment on the judge’s ruling and whether it plans to appeal the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for D.C.

Jackson-Reed High School, which had the name Woodrow Wilson High School from the time of its opening in 1935 until its name was changed in 2022, is located in the city’s Tenleytown neighborhood in Northwest Washington.

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