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Gay syphilis outbreak meeting Tuesday in Palm Springs

Health officials desperate for new prevention ideas



On Tuesday, community leaders will join healthcare providers, business owners, and concerned citizens will convene a meeting in Palm Springs to address the spike in syphilis in the Coachella Valley. Health officials say the number of confirmed cases in some areas is ten times higher than the national average. Most affected are men who have sex with men (MSM), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the Riverside County Department of Public Health reports the number of babies born with the disease has increased tenfold, as well, compared with numbers from three years ago.

“We do have a syphilis outbreak happening right now,” Marcella Herrera-Carpenter program coordinator for the Riverside University Health System told KMIR.

The first meeting of the newly formed Riverside County Syphilis Community Collaborative will be held at 1:30 PM at the Demuth Community Center in Palm Springs.

Health officials say they have fought the rise in syphilis cases for several years, but with mixed results. “We need to start thinking outside the box,” said Herrera-Carpenter. Officials hope the inclusion in the Collaborative of stakeholders who are not government researchers will allow them to break through the silos that often slow and stymie progress.

Jose Arballo, senior public information officer at the Riverside Health Department, told the Los Angeles Blade that the Collaborative was formed in part thanks to the leadership of Riverside County Supervisor V. Manuel Perez. “When he met with the administrators at Public Health, there was a report and the numbers came out and he was concerned about the high numbers,” said Arballo. Perez suggested a meeting of community leaders and stakeholders to find new approaches to better combat the problem.

Arballo said the agency is looking for suggestions in Tuesday’s meeting that might help fill gaps in the administration of health services, or put a new focus on changing patient behavior.

“We’re really looking for anything people have in the way of ideas,” Arballo said, as well as some answers to, “How do we get the messaging out there to people we’re trying to target?” The best communication strategies will likely vary, he explained, according to the different populations of patients with whom the agency hopes to engage.

Syphilis is treatable with antibiotics, but the CDC warns damage caused by the infection is irreversible. Different signs and symptoms are associated with each of the three stages of syphilis, typically beginning with painless sores that develop at the original site of infection on or around the penis, around the anus, or in the rectum, or in or around the mouth. Since the disease is spread by contact with the sore(s) as would occur through unprotected vaginal, anal, or oral sex, officials recommend condoms as a means of prevention.

Dr. Christopher Foltz, who works with the Desert AIDS Project, told KMIR that MSM who are taking pre-exposure prophylaxis (PReP, Truvada) to reduce their risk of contracting HIV should also use condoms to help guard against diseases like syphilis.

“The reason why I think a lot of the surge with the Syphilis outbreak is because of PrEP people are often using PrEP as a way to not use condoms so that is increasing the incidents of all STDs,” Foltz said.

Syphilis can be transmitted in-utero. Forty percent of babies born to mothers who have the disease but do not receive treatment are either stillborn or live for only a short time after they are delivered. If they do survive, they will live with debilitating, permanent disabilities including blindness, deafness, and severe damage to teeth, bones, and joints.

As the Riverside community looks for solutions to curb the spike in syphilis, officials recommend regular testing for all sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs), along with condom use.

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Vermont GOP Governor signs law banning ‘gay panic defense’

With the Governor’s signature Vermont becomes the 14th state to enact a similar ban.



Vermont State House (Capitol) (Photo Credit: State of Vermont)

MONTPELIER, VT. – Vermont Republican Governor Phil Scott signed legislation Wednesday that bans use of the ‘gay panic defense” by criminal defendants.

H.128, prevents a defendant at trial or sentencing from justifying violent actions by citing a victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. 

With the Governor’s signature, Vermont becomes the 14th state to enact a similar ban. (See Table from Wikipedia)

The LGBTQ+ “panic” defense strategy is a legal strategy that asks a jury to find that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity/expression is to blame for a defendant’s violent reaction, including murder.

It is not a free-standing defense to criminal liability, but rather a legal tactic used to bolster other defenses. When a perpetrator uses an LGBTQ+ “panic” defense, they are claiming that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity not only explains—but excuses—a loss of self-control and the subsequent assault. By fully or partially acquitting the perpetrators of crimes against LGBTQ+ victims, this defense implies that LGBTQ+ lives are worth less than others.

One of the most recognized cases that employed the LGBTQ+ “panic” defense was that of Matthew Shepard. In 1998, Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old college student, was beaten to death by two men. The men attempted to use the LGBTQ+ “panic” defense to excuse their actions. Despite widespread public protest, the defense is still being used today.

At the Federal level, Senate Bill 1137, a bill to amend title 18, United States Code, to prohibit gay and trans panic defenses has been introduced in Congress on Apr 15, 2021. This bill is in the first stage of the legislative process. It will typically be considered by in this case the Senate Judiciary Committee next before it is possibly sent on to the House or Senate as a whole. The legislation is sponsored by Senator Edward “Ed” Markey, (D- MA).

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South Carolina’s capital city considers ban on conversion therapy

Conversion therapy has been banned in 20 states and more than 70 municipalities across the United States.



The First Lady of the United States, Dr. Jill Biden and Columbia City Councilmember Tameika Isaac Devine (Photo from the Facebook Page of Councilmember Devine)

COLUMBIA, SC. – The city council in a unanimous vote Tuesday granted initial approval to a new ordinance that bans the practise of conversion therapy — sometimes referred to as reparative therapy or ex-gay therapy.

The ordinance, put forward by City Councilmember Tameika Isaac Devine, defines conversion therapy as “treatment that seeks to change an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same gender.”

The ordinance however does leave stipulations that allow “counseling that provides support and assistance to a person undergoing gender transition.”

According to The State, the ordinance would make it unlawful “for any provider to provide conversion therapy or reparative therapy to a minor within city limits if the provider receives compensation for such services.” The penalty would be civil, not criminal, and would carry a $500 fine.

Devine told The State’s journalist Chris Trainor that a prohibition on conversion therapy for minors is recommended by the national Human Rights Commission and leading LGBTQ organizations such as the Human Rights Campaign, GLAAD, and PFLAG.

“We felt like this was very important as we talk about equality within the city,” Devine told The State. “It’s not just racial equality, it cuts across all lines. We wanted to move forward with this.”

The City’s Council passed the ordinance on its first reading on the item on Tuesday, with final approval likely to be considered later this month.

The Williams Institute estimates that 698,000 LGBT adults in the U.S. have received “conversion therapy,” 350,000 of whom suffered the experience as adolescents. Most medical and psychological professional associations strongly oppose “conversion therapy” as illegitimate. 

The American Psychological Association has opposed the practice since 1998, arguing that there is “no credible evidence” such procedures proffered by adherents of the so-called therapy could change sexual orientation.

Conversion therapy has been banned in 20 states and more than 70 municipalities across the United States. California was first to do so in 2012.

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Born This Way Foundation and Harris Poll find youth of color receiving less kindness

According to the survey’s research results, there is an undeniable link to how kindness contributes to many aspects of mental wellness



BOSTON, MA. – The Born This Way Foundation announced Monday the results of a survey of over 2,000 young people ages 13 to 24 in the United States, exploring how young people define kindness and the impact on their mental wellness.

The survey, which ran from January 29, 2021 to February 12, 2021, had results showed that nonwhite and LGBTQ+ youths are less likely to hear kind words and thoughts or actions than their cisgender white peers — even from themselves.

According to the survey’s research results, there is an undeniable link to how kindness contributes to many aspects of mental wellness, from helping young people feel safe, confident, and less alone to changing the trajectory of their day and even their desire to stay alive.

They also reveal that based on one’s race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and financial security, young people experience and witness kindness in varying frequencies, which could have further implications on their respective mental wellness.

Key findings of the survey include:

  • Most young people say experiencing more kindness would improve their mental wellness—be it from others (73%), themselves (74%), or observed in the world around them (71%).

  • The acts of kindness young people most commonly say would have the biggest impact on their mental wellness are having someone who: listens when they have a problem (85% say it would have a big/moderate impact), believes in them and encourages them to do their best (83%), and checks in on them or asks if they’re doing OK (80%).

  • White youth are more likely than Black, Indigenous, and youth of color to say they experience certain acts of kindness. White youth are far more likely to have someone who believes in them and encourages them to do their best, goes out of their way to show they care, or listens when they have a problem.

  • Transgender and non-binary youth* say that the act of introducing yourself using pronouns is among the top acts that would have a big improvement on mental wellness. (*Note: Small sample size [n=45]. Results should be interpreted as qualitative in nature.)

  • Three quarters of young people are coping very (19%) or somewhat well (56%), and those who are, are much more likely than those who are not to say they regularly experience and witness acts of kindness, have people in their life who care about them, understand them, or that they can talk to if they have problems, say they have a place they can go (in real life or online) where they feel like they belong, and have found ways to thrive in the past year, ultimately giving insight into the keys to coping with crisis.

The Born This Way Foundation is a non-profit organization founded in 2012 by American musical singer-songwriter artist and LGBTQ/Human Rights activist Lady Gaga and her mother, Cynthia Germanotta.

The full report is available below:

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