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Birx participates in virtual International AIDS Conference

White House coronavirus task force coordinator drew parallels with HIV/AIDS epidemic

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Deborah Birx, gay news, Washington Blade
Dr. Deborah Birx (Photo public domain)

The coordinator of the White House’s coronavirus task force participated in the 2020 International AIDS Conference that is taking place this week.

Dr. Deborah Birx during a pre-taped interview with Liz Schrayer, president of the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition, a group that promotes American diplomacy and international development efforts, that was shown on Tuesday drew parallels between the fights against the coronavirus and HIV/AIDS pandemics.

“It’s the very fundamentals that we learned in HIV, really the key issues about knowing the epidemic, to really make sure that we have the data,” said Birx.

Birx said “the second really core principle” in the fight against the coronavirus is “know your status.” Birx nevertheless conceded the U.S. still needs to do more coronavirus tests.

“We still have to increase testing even further and get to the place where we’re at least being able to see the asymptomatics,” she said.

Birx discussed public health messaging around the pandemic, noting it “doesn’t help to keep saying the same three things over and over again if people aren’t hearing you and being able to apply that to their lives.” Birx also said the countries that have had the highest coronavirus mortality rates has surprised her.

“The majority of the mortality has been in high-income and upper-income countries and although COVID may spare many of the resource-limited setting countries from mortality, it won’t probably for infection and it’s more the community’s reaction to those infections that keep them away from the health facilities that are critical for our incredible work that we’ve done together on HIV, TB and malaria and what our colleagues have done in USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) with maternal child health and immunizations,” she said.

“The devastation of this at the community level and the devastation to our health care providers who are at the front lines who have been facing … is going to have a long-term impact both psychologically, physically, emotionally and I think financially,” added Birx.

Birx is the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator and U.S. Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy at the State Department. She spoke with Schrayer as part of a panel that focused on the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

The conference began on Monday. It was scheduled to take place in San Francisco and Oakland, Calif., but it is happening virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Johns Hopkins University of Medicine’s Coronavirus Resource Center notes there are nearly 3 million confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. Their statistics also indicate the pandemic has killed more than 131,000 people in this country.

The U.S. has the highest rate of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths in the world.

Birx’s pre-taped interview with Schrayer was shown on the same day the White House notified the U.N. that the U.S. will begin the process of withdrawing from the World Health Organization, which the Trump administration has sharply criticized over its response to the coronavirus pandemic. Birx did not specifically discuss the federal government’s response to the pandemic, which has also been widely criticized.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health who is also a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, has also participated in the conference. Fauci is scheduled to take part in a virtual press conference on Thursday.

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Illinois

Illinois high school investigates ‘anti-queer’ bathroom survey

A group of students calling themselves the ‘Anti-Queer Association’ had circulated the so-called survey

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Anna-Jonesboro Community High School (Photo Credit: Anna-Jonesboro Community High School)

ANNA, Il. – An unofficial student survey that made the rounds at the Anna-Jonesboro Community High School located in the Southern tip of Illinois last week has the local LGBTQ+ community angered and LGBTQ+ students alarmed.

A group of students calling themselves the ‘Anti-Queer Association’ had circulated the so-called survey that asked: “Yes, I want queers to go in the bathroom,” or ” No, I don’t want queer kids to go to the bathroom with us normal people.”

Screenshot courtesy of NBC-affiliate, WPSD-TV 6, Paducah, Kentucky

Rob Wright, the superintendent told NBC News affiliate WPSD 6 News that school administrators found out about the survey this past Wednesday.

“We began investigating. We’re still investigating. At this point in time, I really can’t give any information regarding any individuals or discipline measures,” said Wright. “But, I can tell you that this type of harassment is taken very seriously and will not be tolerated. And once the investigation is complete, the appropriate discipline will take place where warranted.” 

The Rainbow Café LGBTQ Center in neighboring Carbondale, Illinois, responded to the survey, “My understanding is that it was an association that was brought upon the students and a parent that’s cosigning for it that made the Anti-Queer Association, basically trying to repeal the Keep Youth/Children Safe Act,” Michael Coleman a member of the Cafe’s board of directors told WPSD. “Basically stating that we are supposed to have inclusive bathrooms for those who are transgender or non-binary or non-conforming,” he added.

Coleman also told the station that bullying, harassment and discrimination of any kind is not tolerated.

Noting that the high school’s LGBTQ+ students are feeling alarmed and that there are no safe spaces, He said that the message he wanted to convey to those students is to let them know they have a safe space available with his organization. He also shared a message to those responsible for the survey.

“Come to Rainbow Cafe. We offer a plethora of resources and training,” he said. “I’m actually the one that does all of the training for different local agencies, schools. We do training on an individual basis as well, so you know, I like to tell people: If you don’t know something, learn it. Don’t spew hate about it because you don’t understand something.”

“They really feel very unsafe in that environment in Anna-Jonesboro and that they felt that nothing was going to get done,” Coleman said. “That by us taking that stand, that initiative, they really feel like it’s not going to happen anymore.”

Superintendent Wright said to WPSD that “he is personally disappointed that this happened at the school.” The station asked Wright if the staff at the Anna-Jonesboro Community High School will provide counseling to the LGBTQ+ and other students affected. His response was that the school has always had counseling and other resources available to students.

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Ohio

Akron, Ohio non-profit gears up to assist LGBTQ+ young adults

“Although there’s a nondiscrimination ordinance for LGBTQ+ people in Akron, he says that Ohio still has a long way to go for LGBTQ+ rights”

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Giovonni Santiago (Photo courtesy of META Akron Facebook page)

AKRON, Oh. – The Motivate, Educate, Transform and Advocate (META) Center has provided support to Northeast Ohio trans and gender-nonconforming youth from ages 7 to 19 since 2016. Now, Giovonni Santiago, the founder of the Akron, Ohio, based nonprofit, is gearing up to support people in their 20s. 

Santiago started the group to “create social change and foster acceptance” by providing housing coordination, legal advocacy, emotional support and community outreach, reports the Akron Beacon Journal

“Sometimes, it’s just allowing people to have a place to go,” Santiago told the Beacon Journal. “It’s like they don’t need to have a conversation. They just need a safe place.”

“I do this work because I want other people to live their life authentically,” he said.

Santiago says that parents who see their child “expressing differently than society would say they should” seek his help.

“A parent might say, ‘Well, my daughter likes to play with trucks’… and it’s not just a one-time thing,” he told the Beacon Journal. “It might be nothing, and it might be something.”

“We want them to know that’s not a bad thing,” he said. “We want people to feel valid with who they are.”

Although META is based in Akron and does much of its work in Northeast Ohio, Santiago says his group has a national impact, helping approximately 200 people a year, according to the Beacon Journal.

“It entails support groups, one-on-one peer support with myself, we send out care packages after individuals have gender-affirming surgery, we offer a clothing closet, so we send clothing to individuals who need clothes,” he said. 

Santiago, who is also the Northeast Ohio organizer for Equality Ohio, knows first-hand the struggle that trans kids face, as he too is a trans man.

“As trans people, the journey is not just ours,” he told the Beacon Journal. “It affects our families, it affects our friends. It affects everyone.”

According to the Beacon Journal, he entered the U.S. Air Force during the “don’t ask, don’t tell” military era. After his Air Force service, Santiago earned a degree in early childhood education and began teaching preschool.

At 27, Santiago began his medical transition at the Louis Stokes Cleveland Veterans Affairs Medical Center in 2013. He tells the Beacon Journal that he was the doctor’s first trans patient.  

“I was born female, and knew that I belonged in a male body,” he said. “So, I tell people that I’ve been transitioning, and I’ve been transitioning for eight years.”

Santiago is a highly regarded LGBTQ organizer. According to the newspaper, he was named one of Cleveland Magazine’s Most Interesting People and honored by NBC Out in 2018.

Although Santiago helped establish a nondiscrimination ordinance for LGBTQ+ people in Akron, he says that Ohio still has a long way to go for LGBTQ+ rights. Santiago added that nearby Cleveland is “No. 4 on the list for where Black trans women are murdered.”

“We’ve always been here, but we’ve had to live in fear,” he said. “Even now in Ohio, there are zero protections for LGBTQ people”

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Virginia

Virginia GOP gubernatorial candidate opposes marriage equality

The Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center categorized as an extremist anti-LGBTQ hate group has endorsed Youngkin

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Glenn Youngkin (Blade file photo)

FAIRFAX COUNTY, Va. – Glenn Youngkin in an interview with the Associated Press has reiterated his opposition to marriage rights for same-sex couples.

Youngkin—a Republican who is running against Democrat Terry McAuliffe to succeed Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam—said in an interview published on Friday that he feels “called to love everyone.” Youngkin then reiterated his opposition to marriage equality before he added it is “legally acceptable” in the state. “I, as governor, will support that,” Youngkin told the AP.

McAuliffe was Virginia’s governor from 2014-2018. Same-sex couples began to legally marry in Virginia a few months after McAuliffe took office.

McAuliffe in 2014 became the first governor of a Southern state to officiate a same-sex wedding. The lesbian couple who McAuliffe married recently appeared in one of his campaign ads.

McAuliffe on Friday criticized Youngkin. “As governor, I worked my heart out to keep Virginia open and welcoming to all,” said McAuliffe in a tweet. “This type of bigotry and intolerance has no place in our commonwealth.”

The Family Research Council, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has categorized as an extremist anti-LGBTQ hate group, earlier this month endorsed Youngkin, but Log Cabin Republicans are among the groups that have backed his campaign.

The Human Rights Campaign in 2019 named Youngkin’s former company, the Carlyle Group, as a “Best Place to Work for LGBTQ Equality” in its annual Corporate Equality Index.

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