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Trans people at great risk for COVID-19 but more resilient than ever 



Transgender Health Program at St. John’s Well Child & Family Center staff, from left to right: Teanna Herrera, Chloe De Guzman, Roberto Rodarte (kneeling), Jennifer Rodriguez, Leslie Monroy (Photo by Kazumi Yamaguchi, Associate Director, Transgender Health Program)

Recently, one of my patients at high risk of exposure told me: “COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate, but the health care system and society sure does.”

I haven’t seen this patient since the novel coronavirus pandemic ramped up, as she represents a cross-section of the most vulnerable people we treat: she’s a transgender, elderly, person of color on a fixed income.  While we were successful in getting her stably housed, she still faces much uncertainty in continuing to access transgender affirming services. And she’s not alone.

Large swaths of the transgender population already have trouble accessing healthcare and the pandemic adds another layer of complication to an already difficult and stressful experience. Compound this with other challenges that many of our community members face — such as having asthma and cardiology issues, as well as social factors including an increased risk of homelessness and lack of employment and educational opportunities — this translates into more transgender people living in a constant state of compromised health.

During this pandemic, we are seeing the true resilience of our community, with LGBTQ+ folks coming together to support each other through this global crisis all over the world. Facebook, Instagram, and other social media outlets have become essential platforms for us to check in with each other and protect community members who have been most impacted by COVID-19.

To protect community members who have recently lost health care access, some people have created networks to share excess hormones, or information on where to get grey-market hormones as many medical visits have been canceled due to the threat of exposure to COVID-19.

Here in Los Angeles, organizing efforts on the ground are also helping keep our people safe. The Unique Women’s Coalition, which primarily serves the black transgender community, which runs Tribe Chat and Melanin Magic online support groups, has started a COVID-19 Emergency Impact Fund that is available to all who are transgender identified and live in Los Angeles County.

The [email protected] Coalition, formed in 2009 to serve the needs of the transgender Latina immigrant community, is hosting a virtual town hall in May to address the immense and urgent need for funding by trans-led organizations that serve the transgender population.  They’re leading the conversation on how we can increase funding for trans-led organizations and encourage funders to make an intentional increase in providing resources for the transgender community during this crisis.

Even with these efforts, there are still many issues facing the community as a result of COVID-19. Many work at food service or service industry jobs for businesses that have either temporarily shuttered or closed for good, and now cannot afford rent, food, or other necessities.

With the unemployment rate at over 50% in Los Angeles, these issues magnify the already difficult challenges faced by the community.

Plus, an even greater problem looms on the horizon. The Trump administration is moving forward with a proposal that would eliminate trans-inclusive protections from Section 1557 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. While the Trump administration has declined to comment, they have directed inquiries to Roger Severino, Director of the Office of Civil Rights for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. He is a well-known conservative activist and has stated that being LGBT is “against your biology” and transgender people serving in the military “dishonors the sacrifices” of military veterans.

This is almost certain to be a major setback for the transgender community.

At St. John’s Well Child and Family Center, we continue to offer services to our patients on a daily basis. We have screening procedures in place for everyone entering the clinics and take every precaution to ensure the safety of both patients and staff. Appointments are available as tele-health visits for mental health and medical visits, and case managers for all supportive programs are available for consultation.

St. John’s has also pledged to test at least 2,500 people per week throughout the pandemic, bringing much needed testing and triage services to South Los Angeles in an attempt to address the stark racial disparities in testing and treatment for COVID-19.

This is a ray of sunshine for South Los Angeles, where access to medical care and insurance is a challenge — not only for the transgender community but for the community at large. But bringing this testing has a cost, and as of the beginning of the month, St. John’s only has approximately 3 weeks supply of PPE for staff performing the testing.

For those who are still employed and receiving stimulus checks, I encourage you to donate at least a portion of those stimulus payments to organizations serving the transgender community, especially trans-led organizations. I also ask that corporate funders make a commitment to donate to these organizations.

With pledges and donations to these organizations, we can ensure that the funds necessary to keep providing services that allow us to thrive and flourish — through COVID-19 and beyond.

List of organizations to donate to in Los Angeles:

St. John’s Well Child & Family Center

Unique Woman’s Coalition

[email protected] Coalition

Gender Justice Los Angeles

Thank you!




Patrick O’Connell, acclaimed AIDS activist, dies at 67

Played key role in creating red ribbon for awareness



Patrick O'Connell, gay news, Washington Blade
Activist Patrick O’Connell was instrumental in creating the red ribbon to promote AIDS awareness. (Photo courtesy of Allen Frame; courtesy Visual AIDS)

NEW YORK – Patrick O’Connell, a founding director of the New York City-based AIDS advocacy group Visual AIDS who played a lead role in developing the internationally recognized display of an inverted, V-shaped red ribbon as a symbol of AIDS advocacy, died on March 23 at a Manhattan hospital from AIDS-related causes, according to the New York Times. He was 67.

Visual AIDS said in a statement that O’Connell held the title of founding director of the organization from 1980 to 1995.

During those years, according to the statement and others who knew him, O’Connell was involved in the group’s widely recognized and supported efforts to use art and artist’s works to advocate in support of people with HIV/AIDS and efforts to curtail the epidemic that had a devastating impact on the art world.

Thanks to a grant from the Art Matters foundation, Visual AIDS was able to retain O’Connell as its first paid staff member in 1990, the group said in its statement.

“Armed with a fax machine and an early Macintosh computer, Patrick helped Visual AIDS grow from a volunteer group to a sustainable non-profit organization,” the statement says. “A passionate spokesperson for the organization, he helped projects like Day Without Art, Night Without Light, and the Red Ribbon reach thousands of people and organizations across the world,” the group says in its statement.

“We were living in a war zone,” the statement quoted O’Connell as saying in a 2011 interview with the Long Island newspaper Newsday. “But it was like a war that was some kind of deep secret only we knew about,” O’Connell said in the interview. “Thousands were dying of AIDS. We felt we had to respond with a visible expression,” he told the newspaper.

With O’Connell’s help, Visual AIDS in 1989 organized the first annual Day Without Art in which dozens of galleries and museums in New York and other cities covered art works with black cloths to symbolize the mourning of those who died of AIDS. Among those participating were the Brooklyn Museum, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which replaced a Picasso painting with a “somber informational placard,” according to the New York Times.

In 1990 O’Connell helped Visual AIDS organize the first Night Without Light, which was held at the time of World AIDS Day. New York City’s skyscraper buildings, bridges, monuments, and Broadway theaters turned off their lights for 15 minutes to commemorate people who lost their lives to AIDS, the New York Times reported.

In the kickoff of its Red Ribbon Project in 1991, McConnell helped organize volunteers to join “ribbon bees” in which thousands of the ribbons were cut and folded for distribution around the city, the Times reports. Those who knew McConnell said he also arranged for his team of volunteers to call Broadway theaters and producers of the upcoming Tony Awards television broadcast to have participants and theater goers display the red ribbons on their clothes.

Among those displaying a red ribbon on his label at the Tony Wards broadcast was actor Jeremy Irons, who was one of the hosts. In later years, large numbers of celebrities followed the practice of wearing the red ribbon, and in 1993 the U.S. Postal Service issued a red ribbon stamp.

The Times reports that O’Connell was born and raised in Manhattan, where he attended Fordham Preparatory School and later graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., in 1973 with a bachelor’s degree in history. According to Visual AIDS, O’Connell served as director of the Hallwalls arts center in Buffalo, N.Y. from 1977 to 1978 before returning to New York City to work for a gallery called Artists Space.

The Times reports that O’Connell learned in the middle 1980s that he had contracted AIDS and began a regimen of early AIDS treatment with a cocktail of over 30 pills a day. His involvement with Visual AIDS, which began in 1989, ended on an active basis in 1995 when his health worsened, the Times reports.

As one of the last remaining survivors of his New York contemporaries who had HIV beginning in the 1980s, O’Connell continued in his strong support for AIDS-related causes through 2000s and beyond, people who knew him said.

Visual AIDS says it is gathering remembrances and photos for a tribute post for O’Connell on its website. It has invited people to share their memories of him by sending written contributions and images via email to: [email protected].

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National AIDS Memorial celebrates recent Pedro Zamora Scholars

Named in honor of AIDS educator, activist and reality television pioneer Pedro Zamora



SAN FRANCISCO, CA. – The National AIDS Memorial is marking National Youth HIV & AIDS Awareness Day by celebrating its most recent Pedro Zamora Young Leaders Scholarship recipients, highlighting their work on campus and in their communities. 

The memorial has created a special section on its scholarship website highlighting their work, impact and commitment to social change, particularly around HIV/AIDS, which continues to disproportionately impact young people and communities of color.

This past year, eight scholars were selected from six states across the country, each receiving $5,000 in financial scholarships.  Their studies and work range from mitigating the impact of HIV/AIDS in communities of color and other marginalized communities and supporting mentor programs to reduce homelessness, to helping people navigate the criminal justice system and providing counsel to help people living with HIV through the challenges of Covid-19. 

The scholars include Moses Aina, NYU Tisch, New York; August Clayton, Towson University, Maryland; Caterina Dong, Brown University, Rhode Island; Bo Hwang, UCLA, California; Philip Jones, San Francisco State University, California; Adeleye Mesogboriwon, Edward Waters College, Florida; Brandon Staple, Colorado University, Colorado; Matthew Zheng, Stanford University, California.  Learn more about the scholars here.

“This amazingly talented group of students truly embodies the spirit of Pedro and his work to help reduce stigma, fear and prejudice,” said Annie Wilson, National AIDS Memorial Board Member, who chairs the scholarship selection process, and was a scholarship recipient in 2012. “This scholarship provides a unique opportunity for us to celebrate the ideas and power of young people who are pursuing their educational goals and advancing social change through community service.”

Named in honor of AIDS educator, activist and reality television pioneer Pedro Zamora, the scholarship supports young leaders who carry the torch of activists like Pedro in pursuit of a bold vision that never again will a community be harmed because of fear, silence, discrimination, or stigma. Much like Pedro himself, this scholarship seeks to support young scholars who embody their activism work in ways inspired by their own passions, insights, originality, and conviction.

The program is funded through the generous support of Gilead Sciences.  Since its inception in 2009, the scholarship has been awarded more than 100 students, providing more than $350,000 in financial support for their higher education goals.

“This scholarship supports inspiring students who are leaders on campus and in their communities and are making a tremendous impact on so many important issues around health, social and racial justice,” said John Cunningham, executive director, National AIDS Memorial. “Through the support of partners like Gilead Sciences, this program continues to grow, helping shape the next generation of leaders who carry Pedro’s torch forward.”

Applications for the Fall 2021/Spring 2022 school year are now being accepted.  Learn more about how to apply at Applications must be submitted by July 15, 2021.

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New CDC data says people with HIV at high risk for intimate partner violence

There were also significant differences based on gender and sexual identity



CDC Headquarters building, Atlanta, Georgia (Blade file photo)

ATLANTA, GA. – New data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that one in four adults with HIV in the United States has experienced intimate partner violence (IPV), which disproportionately affects women and LGBTQ populations.

Further, people with HIV who experienced IPV in the past 12 months were more likely to engage in behaviors associated with elevated HIV transmission risk, were less likely to be engaged in routine HIV care and more likely to seek emergency care services and have poor HIV clinical outcomes. The findings are reported in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, published by Elsevier.

Lead Investigator Ansley B. Lemons-Lyn, MPH, and colleagues from the CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention and the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control in Atlanta, GA, USA, used data from the Medical Monitoring Project, an annual survey used to produce national estimates of sociodemographic, behavioral, and clinical characteristics of adults diagnosed with HIV.

Analysts estimated the prevalence of respondents who had ever experienced IPV and those who experienced IPV within the last 12 months and compared that with sociodemographic information, behavioral characteristics, clinical outcomes, and the use of emergency or inpatient medical services in the past year.

Among individuals with HIV, 26.3 percent had at least one experience of IPV. Significant differences were found by race/ethnicity and age; 35.6 percent of women, 28.9 percent of transgender people, and 23.2 percent of men had experienced IPV.

There were also significant differences based on gender and sexual identity. Although women overall experienced the highest prevalence of IPV, bisexual women experienced the highest proportion (51.5 percent) compared with all gender and sexual identity groups.

Overall, 4.4 percent of people with HIV had experienced IPV in the last 12 months. Statistically significant differences were found by sociodemographic characteristics, such as age and gender/sexual identify but not by race/ethnicity or gender identity.

The study found that compared with individuals with HIV who did not experience IPV in the last 12 months, those who did engaged in riskier behavior such as binge drinking, use of injection drugs, and transactional sex. They were more likely to report not receiving additional needed services.

These findings suggest that screening people with HIV for IPV and linking them to services, not only during HIV testing but also during routine HIV care, is important.

A higher proportion of individuals reporting IPV in the last 12 months were not receiving HIV medical care, were not taking antiretroviral therapy, and were more likely to miss HIV-related medical appointments. They were also more likely to have more than one emergency room visit or hospital admission in the past 12 months.

The study suggests that when IPV is identified, the safety and health of people with HIV can be improved with supportive services. IPV is preventable, especially when efforts begin early. The investigators note that most IPV and protection programs are tailored for heterosexual women. Given the extent to which the study found risk to other gender/sexual identity groups and racial/ethnic minorities, investigators suggest that programming should be tailored for marginalized groups.

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