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AIDS Healthcare Foundation president travels to Colombian border city

Michael Weinstein on Jan. 14 visited organization’s Cúcuta clinic

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AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein, center, at his organization’s clinic in Cúcuta, Colombia, on Jan. 14, 2020. (Photo courtesy of AIDS Healthcare Foundation)

AIDS Healthcare Foundation President Michael Weinstein last month visited a Colombian border city that remains on the frontlines of the Venezuelan refugee crisis.

Weinstein on Jan. 14 visited AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s clinic in Cúcuta, which is less than 10 miles from the Táchira River that marks Colombia’s border with Venezuela. Weinstein also traveled to the Simón Bolívar International Bridge that links the two countries.

“I’ve been to a lot of difficult, desperate circumstances,” Weinstein told the Los Angeles Blade on Monday during an interview at his Los Angeles office. “I’ve not seen anything quite like that bridge.”

“You think about what does it take for a mother to … trek with a 2-month-old baby or somebody to put an elderly person in a wheelchair knowing that they’re going to have to travel this incredibly long distance and not even knowing where their destination is going to be,” he added. “There’s nothing waiting for them.”

The Cúcuta clinic opened in September 2018.

AIDS Healthcare Foundation on its website notes the clinic currently has 892 “registered patients” with 856 of them receiving antiretroviral drugs and nutritional support. AIDS Healthcare Foundation also says 60 percent of the more than 7,250 HIV tests the clinic has given support “the Venezuelan population.”

Weinstein told the Blade the clinic serves Venezuelan migrants, Venezuelans who come to Cúcuta and return to their country and local residents. Weinstein said gay men and transgender people are among the clinic’s patients.

“(The clinic’s) primary mission is ARV treatment and the laboratory because that’s what they couldn’t get elsewhere,” Weinstein told the Blade.

Weinstein noted the Brazilian government donated antiretroviral medications to the clinic before Jair Bolsonaro, the country’s anti-LGBTQ president, took office in January 2019. Weinstein told the Blade this aid “hasn’t been cut off.”

The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has also given AIDS Healthcare Foundation a grant to help run the clinic, but Weinstein noted the funding requires his organization to purchase brand-name drugs that are “10 times” more expensive than generic ones.

Venezuela, which has the world’s largest known oil reserves, was once one of Latin America’s most prosperous countries. Venezuela’s worsening economic and political crisis has prompted millions of people to migrate to Colombia, Brazil and other countries.

Venezuelan HIV/AIDS service providers in Caracas, the country’s capital, and other Venezuelan cities with whom the Blade has spoken have said Venezuelans with HIV/AIDS have died because of a lack of antiretroviral drugs in the country. Statistics from the Pan-American and World Health Organizations, the Venezuelan Ministry of Health and other agencies note the number of people with HIV in the country increased from 97,000 to more than 120,000 from 2010-2018.

Police in February 2019 raided the offices of Fundación Mavid in the city of Valencia in Carabobo state and confiscated infant formula and medications for people with HIV/AIDS. Police also arrested three human rights activists who work for the Venezuelan HIV/AIDS service organization.

A source in Venezuela with whom the Blade spoke days before the Fundación Mavid raid said three condoms and a bottle of lubricant costs the equivalent of a month’s salary for someone who is making minimum wage. Food and fuel shortages and blackouts are among the myriad other issues that Venezuelans with HIV/AIDS, along with everyone else in the country, continue to face.

The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in September 2018 approved $5 million to “help alleviate the gaps in the provision of HIV treatment in Venezuela.” The Global Fund last month allocated an additional $19.8 million grant over the next three years to fight malaria in the country.

Weinstein told the Blade that access to antiretroviral drugs in Venezuela has begun to improve in recent months, but lab tests and other basic HIV/AIDS-related services remain unavailable. Weinstein also said AIDS Healthcare Foundation is working with Red Venezolana de Gente Positiva, a coalition of Venezuelan HIV/AIDS service organizations, to potentially open a clinic in Venezuela.

Weinstein met with Red Venezolana de Gente Positiva General Secretary Eduardo Franco and Alberto Nieves, executive director of Acción Ciudadana contra el SIDA, a Caracas-based HIV/AIDS service organization, when he was in Cúcuta.

People wait in the waiting room at an HIV/STI clinic in Caracas, Venezuela, on Feb. 13. 2019. Venezuelan HIV/AIDS service providers have told the Los Angeles Blade that people with HIV/AIDS have died because of an acute shortage of available antiretroviral drugs in the country. (Photo courtesy of Alianza Lambda de Venezuela)

Weinstein told the Blade that Colombians remain “very sympathetic” towards the Venezuelan people and their plight.

“In their hard times the Venezuelans helped them,” said Weinstein. “They feel badly for what is happening and what their circumstances are.”

Colombia and the U.S. are among the dozens of countries that have officially recognized National Assembly President Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president. Cuba is among the nations that continue to back President Nicolás Maduro.

“There’s no optimism about change,” Weinstein told the Blade. “Nobody thinks that it’s going to improve anytime soon.”

Weinstein further described Guaidó as “weak” and added there is little hope that he will be able to oust Maduro from power.

“No one’s seeing a light at the end of the tunnel,” added Weinstein.

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Texas

Alarming numbers of Texas Trans kids in crisis over litany of anti-Trans bills

“Under the guise of protecting children- Texas legislators are directly harming thousands of transgender & nonbinary youth”

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LGBTQ youth protest anti-Trans bills at the Texas Capitol building (Photo Credit: Equality Texas)

NEW YORK – The Trevor Project received nearly 4,000 crisis contacts from transgender and nonbinary youth in Texas in 2021, with many directly stating that they are feeling stressed and considering suicide due to anti-trans laws being debated in their state.

This new data comes during a year when Texas lawmakers have proposed nearly 70 anti-LGBTQ bills, including more than 40 bills that specifically target transgender and nonbinary youth — far more than any other state.

The Texas State Senate passed its anti-trans sports ban SB3 this week, and the companion bill HB10 is now moving forward in the Texas House. 

Republican Texas Governor Abbott has prioritized SB 3 and called for a third consecutive special session of the legislature to consider this bill, which would ban transgender student-athletes from playing on sports teams consistent with their gender identity.

“The Trevor Project’s crisis counselors have been hearing from transgender and nonbinary youth in Texas who are scared and worried about anti-trans laws being debated in their state — and some have even expressed suicidal thoughts. This is a crisis. We urge Texas lawmakers to consider the weight of their words and actions — and to reject HB10/SB3,” said Amit Paley, CEO and Executive Director of The Trevor Project.

  • Between January 1 and August 30, 2021, The Trevor Project received more than 10,800 crisis contacts (calls, texts, and chats) from LGBTQ young people in Texas looking for support. More than 3,900 of those crisis contacts (36%) came from transgender or nonbinary youth.
  • Crisis contacts from LGBTQ young people in Texas seeking support have grown over 150% when compared to the same time period in 2020.
  • While this volume of crisis contacts can not be attributed to any one factor (or bill), a qualitative analysis of the crisis contacts found that:
  • Transgender and nonbinary youth in Texas have directly stated that they are feeling stressed, using self-harm, and considering suicide due to anti-LGBTQ laws being debated in their state.
  • Some transgender and nonbinary youth have expressed fear over losing access to sports that provide important acceptance in their lives.

“As a transgender young person in Texas, this new data from the Trevor Project is not surprising, but it’s nonetheless harrowing and alarming to see this representation of the detrimental impact Texas Lege is having on our community — especially our kids. Lawmakers and proponents of bills like SB3 and HB10 should be alarmed by these statistics, too,” Landon Richie a Trans youth activist and GenderCool Youth Leader from Houston told the Los Angeles Blade.

“Under the guise of protecting children and promoting fairness, Texas legislators are directly harming thousands of transgender and nonbinary youth, denying them the dignity, respect, and childhoods that they deserve. It’s never an exaggeration to say that the passage — and merely debate — of these bills will cost lives,”  Richie added.

National mental health organizations like The Trevor Project and state LGBTQ equality groups including Equality Texas and Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT) are raising concerns about the impact of such legislation on the mental health and wellbeing of transgender and nonbinary youth.

The Trevor Project’s 2021 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that more than half (52%) of transgender and nonbinary youth seriously considered suicide in the past year and 1 in 5 attempted suicide. Further, Trevor released a new research brief earlier this month on LGBTQ youth participation in sports, which found that a majority of LGBTQ young people (nearly 66%) do not actively participate in sports — with many citing fear of bullying and discrimination as a key factor for not participating.

If you or someone you know needs help or support, The Trevor Project’s trained crisis counselors are available 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386, via chat at TheTrevorProject.org/Help, or by texting START to 678678. 

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Utah

2nd largest school district in Utah bans Pride & BLM flags as ‘too political’

“We have to have a politically neutral classroom, and we’re going to educate the students in the best possible way that we can”

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Davis School District Offices in Farmington Utah (Photo Credit: Davis School District)

FARMINGTON, Ut. – Administrators this week in the Davis School District, which is Utah’s 2nd largest school district with 72,987 students, banned LGBTQ Pride and Black Lives Matter flags, saying they are ‘politically charged.’

According to the Salt Lake City Tribune, Davis Schools spokesperson Chris Williams told the paper; “No flags fly in our schools except for the flag of the United States of America.” Williams later walked that statement back adding a clarification that some of the Districts schools have flags from sports team or international countries which are considered “unrelated to politics.”

“What we’re doing is we’re following state law,” said Williams. “State law says that we have to have a classroom that’s politically neutral.”

Amanda Darrow, Director of Youth, Family, and Education at the Utah Pride Center in Salt Lake City, told multiple media outlets the school district is “politicizing the rainbow flag” which doesn’t belong on a political list.

“That flag for us is so much more,” said Darrow. “It is just telling us we’re included in the schools, we are being seen in the schools, and we belong in these schools.”

KUTV CBS2 News in Salt Lake City checked with the Utah State Board of Education. In an email, spokesman Mark Peterson said, “There is nothing in code that specifically defines a rainbow flag as a political statement so it would be up to district or charter school policies to make that determination.”

The local Utah chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union also weighed in saying in a statement;

Whether or not a school district has the legal ability to ban inclusive and supportive symbols from classrooms, it is bad policy for them to do so,” the advocacy organization said in a statement. “Utah schools have an obligation to ensure that all students, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identify, feel welcome inside a classroom. We urge school administrators and teachers to adopt policies that make all students feel safe and included.”

Williams insisted the policy is not meant to exclude anyone and that all students are loved and welcomed – they just want to keep politics out of school he told the Tribune and KUTV.

“We have to have a politically neutral classroom, and we’re going to educate the students in the best possible way that we can,” said Williams.

A Utah based veteran freelance journalist, writer, editor, and food photographer weighed in on Twitter highlighting the negative impact of the Davis Schools decision on its LGBTQ youth.

Davis County School District bans LGTBQ and BLM flags as ‘too political’

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U.S. Federal Courts

Extremist Anti-LGBTQ legal org petitions Supreme Court in Colorado case

Lorie Smith said the law violated her freedom of speech and religious expression, forcing her to design wedding websites for same-sex couples

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U.S. Supreme Court (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

SCOTTSDALE, Az. – The Alliance Defending Freedom, (ADF)- listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-LGBTQ extremist hate group, are appealing a July ruling by a three judge panel of the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. The case stemmed from a Lakewood, Colorado based web designer, who sued to challenge Colorado’s anti-discrimination law. ADF filed its appeal Friday, asking the U.S. Supreme Court to review that ruling.

Lorie Smith, claimed in court filings that the Colorado law violated Smith’s freedom of speech and freedom of religious expression, citing that it would force her to design wedding websites for same-sex couples which violated her ‘Christian’ beliefs.

In its 2-1 ruling, the 10th Circuit panel said Colorado had a compelling interest in protecting the “dignity interests” of members of marginalized groups through its law.

In a statement issued by ADF, the Arizona based firm claimed; “The 10th Circuit issued an unprecedented decision in the case, 303 Creative v. Elenis, holding that Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act both forced Lorie “to create websites—and thus, speech—that [she] would otherwise refuse,” and also created a “substantial risk” of removing “certain ideas or viewpoints from the public dialogue,” including Lorie’s beliefs about marriage.”

ADF added; “The lawsuit contends that Colorado Revised Statute § 24-34-601(2)(a) violates the First Amendment’s Free Speech and Free Exercise clauses. The state law is the same one the commission twice used against Masterpiece Cakeshop cake artist Jack Phillips, who is currently being harassed by an activist attorney in a third lawsuit that also attempts to use Colorado’s law against him. After a trial resulted in a decision against Phillips, ADF attorneys representing him and his shop have appealed that case to the Colorado Court of Appeals.”

The Supreme Court in the Masterpiece Bakeshop case narrowly ruled in a 7–2 decision, the Colorado Civil Rights Commission had not acted employing religious neutrality. In the decision Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the court majority on Monday, said it is “unexceptional” that Colorado law “can protect gay persons in acquiring products and services on the same terms and conditions that are offered to other members of the public,” but at the same time, “the law must be applied in a manner that is neutral toward religion.”

The high court however did not rule on the broader intersection of anti-discrimination laws, free exercise of religion, and freedom of speech, and whether a business can invoke religious objections to refuse service to LGBTQ people.

Colorado Solicitor General Eric Olson questioned whether Smith should even be allowed to challenge the law since she had not started offering wedding websites yet, the Associated Press reported.

But if she did, Olson said, her argument would mean she would refuse to create a website for a hypothetical same-sex couple named Alex and Taylor but agree to make the same one for an opposite-sex couple with the same names. He said that would be discrimination under the Colorado Anti-Discrimination Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

Judge Mark Beck Briscoe wrote in Monday’s majority opinion (303 Creative, et al. v. Elenis, et al.) that “we must also consider the grave harms caused when public accommodations discriminate on the basis of race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation. Combatting such discrimination is, like individual autonomy, `essential’ to our democratic ideals.”

In his dissent, Chief Judge Timothy Tymkovich wrote that “this case illustrates exactly why we have a First Amendment. Properly applied, the Constitution protects Ms. Smith from the government telling her what to say or do.

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