Connect with us

News

Trump’s call to end HIV epidemic falls on skeptical ears

President touts ‘important strides’ in fighting disease

Published

on

2019 State of the Union (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

President Trump took the opportunity of his second State of the Union address to call for an end to HIV transmission in the next 10 years — but that call was received with skepticism from advocates unhappy with his administration’s approach to the epidemic thus far.

Speaking Tuesday before a joint session of Congress, Trump talked about the United States having made “important strides” in combatting HIV/AIDS, but that the time has come to finish the job.

“In recent years we have made remarkable progress in the fight against HIV and AIDS,” Trump said. “Scientific breakthroughs have brought a once-distant dream within reach. My budget will ask Democrats and Republicans to make the needed commitment to eliminate the HIV epidemic in the United States within 10 years. We have made incredible strides. Incredible. Together, we will defeat AIDS in America and beyond.”

The part of Trump’s remarks about “important strides” in combatting HIV/AIDS and defeating the disease not just in the United States but “beyond” were ad-libs from his prepared remarks.

Trump’s line about defeating HIV/AIDS was among those applauded by members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, including possible 2020 hopefuls Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio).

The inclusion of the call to end HIV in the State of the Union address was expected. On Monday, Politico reported health officials within the Trump administration were expecting that call to be a component of the speech. The Department of Health & Human Services is also expected to unveil a more detailed plan later this week.

Carl Schmid, deputy executive director of the AIDS Institute, said in a statement Trump is taking a “bold step” in the fight to end HIV/AIDS.

A co-chair of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, Schmid said the remarks were part of a bold initiative to end the HIV epidemic by 2030.

“His proposal to increase access to antiretroviral medications for people living with HIV and for prevention in those communities with the highest rates of HIV and where additional resources are most needed will translate into fewer HIV infections,” Schmid said. “Under the president’s proposal, the number of new infections can eventually be reduced to zero.”

Trump’s call to end HIV transmission is consistent with the administration adopting Obama-era goals to combat the epidemic in a progress report issued last year on the 2010 National AIDS Strategy. The administration is set to produce an updated version of that strategy by 2020.

The announcement also follows Secretary of Health & Human Services Alex Azar’s pledge in December to fight HIV/AIDS in a speech that recognized its disproportionate impact on African-Americans, Latinos and gay men.

Among those commending Trump for including a call to end HIV and calling for additional detail was Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.

“Many experts have stated over and over that we have the tools to end the epidemic. What we lack is the political will,” Weinstein said. “AHF looks forward to the details of the president’s plan and hopes it will address primary prevention of new HIV infections – including aggressive promotion of condoms and safer sex education, universal access to treatment for everyone living with HIV, strengthening the Ryan White HIV Program and protecting the 340B Drug Discount Program.”

But the general consensus among HIV/AIDS advocates was Trump — who defeated a Democratic nominee in 2016 who talked of an “AIDS-free generation” — wasn’t making enough commitments to pull off his stated goal.

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.), who’s gay and one of the co-chairs of the LGBTQ Equality Caucus, told he Washington Blade on Capitol Hill after the State of the Union address he does “applaud” the pledge to end HIV, but said the commitment may fall by the wayside like so many others.

“The president made bold promises in the campaign about reducing the costs of prescription drugs and when it came really time to follow through on it, he didn’t do it,” Takano said. “The same thing about infrastructure. Democrats, all of us, are willing to work with him on a true infrastructure bill, but he’s got to follow up on it, so the words I can agree with, whether they are bold true words remain to be seen.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was also cautious about Trump’s commitment to end HIV in a statement after the speech.

“The president’s call for ending HIV transmission in America is interesting, but if he is serious about ending the HIV/AIDS crisis, he must end his assault on health care and the dignity of the LGBTQ community,” Pelosi said.

Stacey Long Simmons, director of advocacy and action at the National LGBTQ Task Force, also questioned whether Trump was serious about ending HIV transmission despite his words in the State of the Union address.

“HIV advocates all agree that ending transmission is an important goal,” Simmons said. “Based on Trump’s repeatedly broken promises, we have cause to question his commitment until we see the necessary funding flowing to strategies that will actually end transmission.”

Trump has disappointed advocates fighting HIV/AIDS before. For starters, Trump — in an action first reported by the Washington Blade — fired all members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS in late 2017 via a letter without explanation. Those terminations occurred after six members of the council resigned on their own in protest over the administration’s inaction on the epidemic.

Only in December 2018 did the Trump administration finally announce new members of the council, but those members were two co-chairs, Schmid and John Wiesman. No other replacements have been named.

Trump has also made repealing the Affordable Care Act a main goal of his administration, although efforts seemed to have fizzled out after failed attempts in his first year in the White House. Nonetheless, Trump succeeded in repealing the individual mandate in Obamacare under the 2017 tax reform law and allowed states to implement work requirements under the Medicaid expansions.

According to the Henry Kaiser Family Foundation, Medicaid is the largest source of insurance coverage for people with HIV. An estimated 40 percent of people with HIV receive care under the program.

Also of concern are the “religious freedom” actions instituted within the Department of Health & Human Services under Roger Severino, a former Heritage Foundation scholar and now director of the HHS Office for Civil Rights.

Those actions include the creation of a Conscience & Religious Freedom Division. Critics say the division enables the denial of medical services in the name of religious freedom to LGBT people, including gender reassignment surgery for transgender people, as well as people with HIV.

David Stacy, director of government affairs for the Human Rights Campaign, said the Trump administration’s efforts disproportionately affect people with HIV and inhibit efforts to confront the epidemic.

“If this administration wants to combat the spread of HIV, they need to immediately end their efforts to cut Medicaid funding, undermine the Affordable Care Act and license discrimination against the most at-risk communities when they seek healthcare,” Stacy said. “This administration simply cannot achieve this goal while, at the same time, charging forward with attacks on health care for the communities most impacted by HIV. The American public deserves a real commitment from their government to end the HIV epidemic.”

A budget proposal with increased funds for HIV/AIDS would be a change for Trump. His first two budget requests to Congress have also requested 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.

Despite Trump’s request to cut those programs, the Republican-controlled Congress continued appropriating funds for those programs at the same level.

Simmons warned those who heard Trump’s pledge in the State of the Union address not to give him a pass on his administration’s neglect on HIV/AIDS.

“If Trump was serious about HIV, he wouldn’t have proposed HIV funding cuts in his first two budgets,” Simmons said. “If Trump was serious about helping those with HIV and reducing the transmission of HIV, he wouldn’t have abruptly dismissed the presidential council on HIV and left the council vacant for nearly a year. If Trump was serious about reducing the transmission of HIV, he wouldn’t have selected a vice president that gutted funding for health clinics, leading to an HIV outbreak in rural Indiana.”

The Department of Health & Human Services is also pursuing a controversial rule change to Medicare Part D, which affords seniors prescription drug coverage. The administration says the policy is intended to lower drug costs, but many advocates fighting HIV/AIDS said it would have the opposite effect.

Asia Russell, executive director of the New York-based Health GAP, said the Trump administration thus far has been a “nightmare” for people with HIV in the United States and around the world.

“Tonight’s announcement will not wake us up from this nightmare unless it immediately reverses these harmful political decisions,” Russell said. “To end the HIV epidemics at home and globally, a real leader must call for: At least $1 billion in additional funding for global AIDS for fiscal year 2020, a permanent repeal of the Global Gag Rule, Medicare for All to ensure access to quality health care in the United States, evidence-based policies such as harm reduction for people who use drugs, and truly progressive proposals to slash the cost of medicines in the U.S. and globally.”

Continue Reading
Advertisement

Politics

Meet new LGBTQ+ liaison for the Democratic National Committee

Sam Alleman joins DNC after work in abortion rights movement

Published

on

Sam Alleman joins the DNC after working at Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

WASHINGTON – The new LGBTQ liaison for the Democratic National Committee comes from a background not in LGBTQ advocacy, but in the abortion rights movement, and sees the two as working “hand in hand” for a common cause.

Sam Alleman, who started Monday as LGBTQ coalitions director for the DNC, said in an interview with the Washington Blade that his previous job as political outreach manager for five years at the Planned Parenthood Action Fund will inform his LGBTQ work going forward.

“The reproductive rights movement goes hand in hand with what we’ve been fighting for in the LGBTQ equality and equity movement as well,” Alleman said. “There is no being LGBTQ without your ability to have bodily autonomy and to make those same choices.”

The relationship between the LGBTQ movement and abortion rights may be more pronounced in the coming months: A national battle is taking place over a Texas law banning abortion in the state for any woman pregnant for more than six weeks as the U.S. Supreme Court will consider litigation with the potential to overturn Roe v. Wade. LGBTQ legal advocates, faced with a term at the Supreme Court with no major cases specific to LGBTQ rights, are already turning their focus to the abortion cases.

“I think that the gender equity lens here, as we move toward building out that permanent infrastructure that really brings all of those things together through more of a social justice lens, will be absolutely critical to being successful, particularly speaking to our younger demographics, to making sure trans and queer people feel included in a way that’s actually equitable and just,” Alleman said.

Alleman identified two key priorities for him in his new role at the DNC — turning out LGBTQ voters for Democratic candidates and building an internal infrastructure for the LGBTQ community — and said his previous work at Planned Parenthood Action Fund working with candidates and coalition groups will help him reach that goal.

“I really plan to use a lot of the lessons that I learned there in building out to making an inclusive campaign, both in programs and in voter contact infrastructure, within the party itself as well,” Alleman said.

Alleman, reiterating he was still in the first days of his job, said the process for building out the LGBTQ community infrastructure at the DNC is still in its initial phases. Alleman said his vision would be not only turning out LGBTQ voters, but finding a way that “allows them to plug in as volunteers and leaders within the party to do the voter contact to hold the events on the ground, to work with our state party partners, and making sure that their voices are represented.”

Key to building out that infrastructure, Alleman said, would be making sure all voices within the LGBTQ community are heard. Alleman made a special point to say queer and transgender people “who have been our partners for so long and deserve a seat at the table” will be an essential part of the infrastructure.

The voice of LGBTQ people, Alleman said, will be increasingly important in elections as the numbers of voters who identify as LGBTQ increase. Pointing to 2020 exit polls showing 7 percent of the electorate identified as LGBTQ, Alleman said more LGBTQ people than ever turned out in the presidential election and overwhelmingly backed Biden by 61 percent. (Republicans were also able to claim a small victory, having doubled their share of LGBTQ voters from 14 percent to 28 percent who voted for Donald Trump after the previous election.)

“We know that that demographic is only growing,” Alleman said. “Within under 18 year olds, approximately 16 percent of folks identify as LGBTQ in this country. So really my priorities are building out an infrastructure here at the DNC, that will turn out LGBTQ voters for Democratic candidates as they become a larger and larger subsection of our voting population.”

Alleman joins the Democratic National Committee days before a Virginia gubernatorial election observers see as a national bellwether for upcoming congressional midterm elections. Terry McAuliffe, a Democratic former governor who said in a interview with the Blade his opponent is the “most homophobic, anti-choice” candidate in Virginia history, is running against Glenn Youngkin, who said recently he continues to oppose same-sex marriage but “will support” the law.

Polls show an exceedingly close race in a state President Biden won handily in the presidential election. An Emerson College/Nexstar Media poll found the race is a dead heat and McAuliffe and Youngkin are tied with 48-48 percent each. The election is Tuesday.

Asked what he sees as his role in the closing days of the Virginia election, Alleman reiterated he was still on Day One of his role at the DNC, but believes Democrats are “doing everything possible to turn out different constituency groups for Terry McAuliffe and Democrats, up and down the ballot in Virginia.”

“My role as I start to step in here is really working to make sure that our national partner organizations are doing everything possible to turn out that book as we head into GOTV, and be a partner to them as they drive their supporters out to make sure that we’re not leaving anything on the table come next Tuesday when we elect Terry McAuliffe governor of Virginia again,” Alleman said.

Lucas Acosta, a spokesperson for the DNC who joined in on the interview with Alleman, said the DNC is working with groups such as the Human Rights Campaign (his former employer) to highlight the records of both Virginia candidates.

“I think what happened last week — Youngkin’s comments on same-sex marriage — are concerning,” Acosta said. “That’s definitely something that we are going to continue to highlight in the closing days of the campaign. That obviously is just a further example why Youngkin is not the moderate he purports to be, but rather a Trump acolyte, who is going to turn back time on rights for a litany of Virginians, including LGBTQ folks.”

Democrats have enjoyed an advantage as a result of the sea change in support in favor of LGBTQ rights. But things may be beginning to shift as LGBTQ issues change and move away from same-sex marriage to other battlegrounds, such as transgender people participating in school sports consistent with their gender identity.

Washington Post columnist James Hohmann reported this week on new data from the National Republican Senatorial Committee finding gender and race issues play out in favor of Republicans among suburban voters, if they’re on terms like critical race theory or concepts like “genderism.” According to the data, 65 percent said “allowing biological males to compete against women in high school and college sports is hugely unfair and will erase many of the gains women have made in athletics over the last 50 years.”

Just this week, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law House Bill 25, which effectively bars transgender girls from participating in school sports consistent with their gender identity, making the Lone Star State the latest state to enact such a measure in defiance of federal laws against discrimination based on sex.

Alleman, asked whether the DNC would change the way it approaches these issues, said he wasn’t aware of the data and questioned whether the conclusion of the data “really makes much sense.”

“I think we’ll at least continue to push forward the message of what we’ve done as Democrats which is fight for these individuals to be treated just the same as everyone else,” Alleman said.

Continue Reading

Federal Government

State Department to issue passports with ‘X’ gender marker

Special LGBTQ rights envoy celebrates ‘significant step’

Published

on

(Public domain photo)

WASHINGTON — The State Department on Wednesday is expected to issue the first U.S. passport with an “X” gender marker.

Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ rights abroad, on Tuesday told the Los Angeles Blade and the Associated Press during a conference call the State Department will initially issue a gender-neutral passport to one person.

Stern said the State Department will begin “offering the ‘X’ gender marker option to routine passport applicants” in early 2022. A State Department official said the delay is necessary because the U.S. Office of Management and Budget needs to approve “the required form updates.”

Secretary of State Antony Blinken in June announced the State Department will allow passport applicants to “self-select their gender as ‘M’ or ‘F'”

People who identify as intersex, non-binary or gender non-conforming can choose a gender-neutral gender marker for their passports and Consular Report of Birth Abroad, a document that confirms an American who was born overseas is a U.S. citizen. The new policy that Blinken announced in June no longer requires “medical certification if an applicant’s self-selected gender does not match the gender on their other citizenship or identity documents.”

“Offering a third gender marker is a significant step towards ensuring that our administrative systems account for the diversity of gender identity, gender expression and sex characteristics,” said Stern during the conference call. “Because people do not always fit within a male or a female designation, it doesn’t benefit anyone to have inconsistencies between people and systems.”

Stern added passports with an “X” gender marker will “reflect the true gender of the passport holder and make people safer, hopefully by reducing the likelihood of dehumanizing harassment and mistreatment that so often happens at border crossings when a person’s legal documentation does not correspond with their gender expression.”

“When a person obtains identity documents that reflect their true identity, they live with greater dignity and respect,” said Stern.

The State Department’s announcement comes a day after it publicly acknowledged Intersex Awareness Day, which commemorates the world’s first-ever intersex rights protect that took place in Boston in 1996.

Dana Zzyym, an intersex U.S. Navy veteran who identifies as non-binary, in 2015 filed a federal lawsuit against the State Department after it denied their application for a passport with an “X” gender marker. The State Department official with whom the Blade spoke on Tuesday declined to say whether Zzyym is the first person who will receive a gender-neutral passport in the U.S.

“The department does not generally comment on individual passport applications due to privacy considerations,” said the official.

Lambda Legal, which represents Zzyym, in a press release said their client on Wednesday received a passport with an “X” gender marker.

“I almost burst into tears when I opened the envelope, pulled out my new passport, and saw the ‘X’ stamped boldly under ‘sex,’” said Zzyym in the press release. “I’m also ecstatic that other intersex and non-binary U.S. citizens will soon be able to apply for passports with the correct gender marker. It took six years, but to have an accurate passport, one that doesn’t force me to identify as male or female but recognizes I am neither, is liberating.”

Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ rights abroad. (Photo courtesy of OutRight Action International)

President Biden in February signed a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad.

The White House in June named Stern, who had previously been the executive director of OutRight Action International, a global LGBTQ advocacy group, to her position. Stern said the issuance of passports with “X” gender markers demonstrates the Biden administration’s commitment to LGBTQ rights.

“I am proud that the United States seeks to protect and promote the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons globally and this is an excellent example of leading by example,” said Stern.

Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Argentina are among the handful of other countries that issue gender-neutral passports.

The State Department official said their colleagues have “been coordinating with Canada and New Zealand on best practices as we work towards this goal, based on their experiences.” They said the State Department has also “coordinated with several LGBTQI+ organizations, both directly and through the White House Domestic Policy Council, throughout this process.”

Continue Reading

California

A Black Trans Woman’s fight for Transgender health equity

Jasmine is one of very few Black trans women who is an Executive Director of a clinic with such broad-ranging direct services

Published

on

Courtesy of Jasmine Bright

By Ebony Harper | SACRAMENTO – If you know Jasmine Bright, you know she is a force to be reckoned with. Jasmine is a mother to the rejected, a sister to those that need a shoulder, and a warrior queen for our trans babies (and adults). Don’t let the pretty face fool you. She turns into a momma bear when her community is under any threat of harm.

Jasmine’s experience of being both a healthcare administrator and one that has faced her trauma and hurdles as a Black trans woman gives her a unique mantle of leadership.

Jasmine just received the promotion she deserves after serving as the Director of the Hormone Clinic of Sacramento’s Gender Health Center (GHC) for the past few years. Now, we will know Jasmine as the new GHC Co-Executive Director alongside Lauren Pulido, a former California State Capitol employee. Jasmine is one of very few Black trans women who is an Executive Director of a clinic with such broad-ranging direct services. This is huge!

When you first meet Jasmine Bright, you will be immediately captivated by her beauty. Once you have a conversation with her, you recognize that Jasmine is not just a gorgeous face – she’s beauty, brains, and a whole lot of compassion. Raised by her mother, Jasmine’s journey started in Pittsburg, California, until the family relocated to Sacramento. Jasmine became a caretaker from the start; she loved taking care of her younger siblings and continues to be the family protector.

Jasmine came out at a young age when she was in junior high school. Jasmine’s mother did not know much about being trans. As a Black mom, she loved and protected her daughter. Jasmine’s mom was a trans advocate before it was hip as she took on Jasmine’s school for denying her daughter the right to use the girl’s bathroom. Mother wasn’t playing that! Her mom immediately stepped into an advocacy role for her young trans daughter to prevent Jasmine from experiencing the same traps other Black trans people fall into. She was going to love her child regardless AND dare somebody to say something! She was ready to risk it all for her child.

Jasmine Bright with her mother (Courtesy of Jasmine Bright)

Jasmine’s mother understood the safety risk and emotional trauma behind making Jasmine use a bathroom she didn’t belong. Jasmine’s mom took on the school and won! Jasmine’s mother demonstrated the strength and compassion of a supportive Black parent of a trans child. Jasmine learned how to be nurturing, strong, and resilient from her mother and transplanted these family values to Sacramento’s LGBT community as the new GHC Executive Director.

Jasmine’s dedication and perseverance are inspiring. Alongside Lauren, the two GHC Executive Directors imbues transgender health and wellness services with new life, passion, and grit while modeling how Sacramento can effectively administer trans healthcare. Their vision is to co-create a world where “trans people are unbound from all facets of structural marginalization; manifesting a world where people recognize trans people as experts of their own lives and gender-affirming care.”

As a Black trans woman with over fifteen years of experience as a healthcare provider, Ms. Jasmine Bright weathered her fair share of storms- only to come out triumphant on the other side unscathed. It takes grit not to be deterred and forge a bright path for a new future while building a legacy for those who will come after her. We see you, Jasmine! We thank you!

Ever since Jasmine Bright was a little girl growing up in Pittsburg, she dreamed of providing support to those in need. Well, dreams do come true!!!

Jasmine Bright (Photo Credit: Gender Health Center)

If you want to learn more about Gender Health Center and how you can support their work, go to www.genderhealthcenter.org

********************

Ebony Harper is the Executive Director of California TRANscends, a statewide initiative that promotes the health and wellness of transgender people throughout California with a focus on Black and Brown transgender communities.

The California legislature recognized Ms. Harper for her work. Harper sits on the State of California Transgender Advisory Council, the board of Mirror Memoirs, and serves as the newest board member for the Transgender Law Center and Borealis Philanthropy. 

Twitter @ebonyavaharper

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @LosAngelesBlade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular