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

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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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Blinken says Biden raised Russia’s LGBTQ rights record with Putin

Geneva summit between two presidents took place on June 16

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Secretary of State Antony Blinken (YouTube screenshot)

WASHINGTON — Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday said President Biden raised the Kremlin’s LGBTQ rights record with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their recent summit.

“The president pushed human rights — including LGBTQI rights — with President Putin,” Blinken told Washington Post columnist, “PBS NewsHour” contributor and host of MSNBC’s “The Sunday Show” Jonathan Capehart during a virtual Pride month discussion the Atlantic Council hosted.

Biden met with Putin on June 16 in Geneva. Blinken was among those who participated in the summit.

The White House did not say whether Biden specifically raised Russia’s LGBTQ rights record with Putin. Biden told reporters after the summit that he stressed to Putin “that no president of the United States could keep faith with the American people if they did not speak out to defend our democratic values, to stand up for the universal rights and fundamental freedoms that all men and women have, in our view.”

“What he told President Putin is that as an American president — where for all of our challenges, many of which are manifest in recent months and recent years — this is something that is basically stamped in to our DNA and he would be abdicating his responsibility as president, as an American president, not to raise these issues,” Blinken told Capehart.

Capehart specifically asked Blinken about the case of two Chechen brothers who were arrested in Russia in February and returned to their homeland, even though they had fled Chechnya’s anti-LGBTQ crackdown.

“We didn’t get into specific cases in that meeting, but he made very clear to President Putin that this is fundamentally who we and who he is and what we’ll do and will continue to do going forward,” said Blinken.

Blinken also did not say how Putin specifically responded to Biden’s decision to raise his country’s LGBTQ rights record with him. Blinken, however, did say “there was at least an acknowledgment” the U.S. will raise human rights in such meetings.

“This is what an American president should do,” said Blinken. “This is who we are and this is what we represent to the world.”

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Politics

The Stonewall Inn bans Anheuser-Busch during NYC Pride weekend

“We urge Anheuser-Busch and other companies doing this to publicly commit to stop donating to anti-LGBTQ politicians”

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NYC Pride 2019 passes in front of the Stonewall Inn (Photo by Andrew Nasonov)

NEW YORK – In response to news that the Anheuser-Busch InBev company had made political contributions to lawmakers behind bills targeting transgender youth, the owners of the Stonewall Inn announced its ban of AB InBev products during New York City’s Pride weekend.

The historic West Village pub, widely regarded as the location of one of the seminal defining events in the history of the LGBTQ rights movement, is sponsoring a public ‘pour-out’ of Bud Light, Michelob ULTRA, and Stella Artois in front of the bar on Wednesday, June 23, to demand that the Leuven, Belgium based AB InBev stop donating to anti-LGBTQ legislators and commit to using its lobbying efforts to advance the Equality Act.

Should the Equality Act be passed, it would afford LGBTQ people with equal nondiscrimination protections under federal law.

“You can’t turn your logo rainbow on social media, call yourself an ally, and then turn around and make donations that fuel hate. There are really no excuses, and companies like Anheuser-Busch need to own up to what they’ve done,” said Stonewall Inn co-owner Stacy Lentz. “As a business owner, it’s never easy to stop selling a product that affects your bottom line — especially during the busiest weekend of the year. But I’m an activist above all else and we at The Stonewall Inn know we bear a unique responsibility to call out hypocrisy when we see it. Anheuser-Busch and other companies must do better.”

According to data from the Keep Your Pride campaign, since 2015, Anheuser-Busch has made 48 donations totaling $35,350 to 29 anti-LGBTQ legislators behind recent bills attacking trans youth. 

Through its nonprofit arm, The Stonewall Inn Gives Back Initiative, Stonewall recently launched the Safe Spaces program, which identifies and certifies entertainment venues, food and beverage locations, stores, businesses, and other public venues as Safe Spaces for LGBTQ people. Under its criteria for certification, businesses that donate to anti-LGBTQ lawmakers would not qualify for designation as a Safe Space.

“As one of our best-selling products, Bud Light has been a longtime staple here at The Stonewall Inn. It’s deeply disappointing to learn that Anheuser-Busch has given money to lawmakers who are attacking trans kids, some of the most vulnerable people in the LGBTQ community,” said Stonewall Inn co-owner Kurt Kelly.

“We’re horrified to see so-called allies supporting lawmakers who would make life harder for anyone in our community. We urge Anheuser-Busch and other companies doing this to publicly commit to stop donating to anti-LGBTQ politicians and use their lobbying power to support the Equality Act,” Kelly added.

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National

Vigil held after Wilton Manors Pride parade accident

Fort Lauderdale mayor expressed ‘regret’ over initial terrorism claim

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A vigil in the wake of the accident at the Stonewall Pride Parade took place at the Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on June 20, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — More than 100 people on Sunday attended a prayer vigil in the wake of an accident at a Wilton Manors Pride parade that left one person dead and another injured.

The vigil took place at the Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale.

Clergy joined activists and local officials at a vigil at the Sunshine Cathedral in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on June 20, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Yariel Valdés González)

A 77-year-old man who was driving a pickup truck struck two men near the Stonewall Pride Parade’s staging area shortly before 7 p.m. on Saturday. One of the victims died a short time later at a Fort Lauderdale hospital.

The pickup truck narrowly missed U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who was in a convertible participating in the parade, and Florida Congressman Ted Deutch.

The driver of the pickup truck and the two men he hit are members of the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus. The Fort Lauderdale Police Department on Sunday described the incident as a “fatal traffic crash” and not a terrorism incident as Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis initially claimed.

“As we were about to begin the parade, this pickup truck, this jacked up white pickup truck, dashed across, breaking through the line, hitting people, all of us that were there could not believe our eyes,” said Trantalis as he spoke at the vigil.

Trantalis noted the pickup truck nearly hit Wasserman Schultz. He also referenced the arrest of a 20-year-old supporter of former President Trump earlier in the week after he allegedly vandalized a Pride flag mural that had been painted in an intersection in Delray Beach, which is roughly 30 miles north of Fort Lauderdale.

“I immediately knew that something terrible was happening,” said Trantalis, referring to the Stonewall Pride Parade accident. “My visceral reaction was that we were being attacked. Why not? Why not feel that way?”

“I guess I should watch to make sure there are no reporters standing by when I have those feelings, but that was my first reaction and I regret the fact that I said it was a terrorist attack because we found out that it was not, but I don’t regret my feelings,” he added. “But I don’t regret that I felt terrorized by someone who plowed through the crowd inches away from the congresswoman and the congressman, myself and others.”

Trantalis also told vigil attendees that “I guess we forgive” the pickup truck driver.

“But I regret that his consequences resulted in the death of an individual who was innocent and who was there to have a good time, like the rest of us, and I regret there is a man who is in serious condition … fighting for his life and there,” added Trantalis.

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