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Transgender, intersex activists attend White House listening session

Alexus D’Marco from the Bahamas took part

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White House, gay news, Washington Blade
(Bigstock photo)

WASHINGTON — 16 transgender and intersex activists from around the world on Tuesday participated in a White House listening session.

A State Department spokesperson told the Los Angeles Blade the meeting was one of “a series of listening sessions that State is organizing on the human rights of transgender individuals” through the Interagency Working Group on Safety, Inclusion and Opportunity for Transgender Americans, which the White House Domestic Policy and Gender Policy Councils created in June.

The Departments of Justice, Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Education, Homeland Security, Labor, Interior and Veterans Affairs participate in the working group. The State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development are, according to the State Department spokesperson, “also participating to strengthen efforts to protect transgender individuals from violence and discrimination around the world.”

“These listening sessions will inform the working group’s review of policies that drive violence and poverty for transgender individuals at home and around the world, including homelessness, employment discrimination, violence and abuse, and bullying and rejection at school,” said the State Department spokesperson.

Jessica Stern, the special U.S. envoy for the promotion of LGBTQ rights abroad who officially began her tenure on Monday, is among those who took part in the meeting, which is one of three that happened on Tuesday. Additional meetings are scheduled to take place later this week.

“She looks forward to learning from transgender and intersex human rights defenders what their most pressing priorities are for continued U.S. engagement,” said the State Department spokesperson.  

Alexus D’Marco, executive director of the D’Marco Organization in the Bahamas, is among those who the White House invited to participate in one of Tuesday’s sessions.

“It is timely and important that the Caribbean region is included in this discussion,” D’Marco told the Blade. “As a region, we are often left behind. LGB and trans citizens in the Caribbean are becoming more visible; their access to healthcare, housing, justice, education and a decent quality of life are often impeded and fuel by stigma and discriminations.”

“I am grateful to be apart of theses discussion to move the Caribbean region forward,” added D’Marco.

The White House earlier this year released a memorandum that committed the U.S. to promoting LGBTQ rights abroad. State Department spokesperson Ned Price in May noted to the Blade that funding efforts “to protect human rights and to advance nondiscrimination around the world” are among the administration’s global LGBTQ rights priorities.

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Rachel Levine criticizes efforts to deny health care to trans youth

Former Pa. health secretary opened Victory Fund conference

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Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine speaks at the Victory Fund's 2021 International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in D.C. on Dec. 2, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — Assistant Health Secretary Rachel Levine on Thursday criticized efforts to prevent transgender youth from accessing health care.

“Unfortunately, some have fought to prevent transgender youth from accessing the health care that they need,” she said in a speech she delivered at the opening of the Victory Fund’s 2021 International LGBTQ Leaders Conference that took place in-person at the JW Marriott in downtown D.C. “This is politics and this politics has no place in health care and public health and they defy the established standards of care written by medical experts.”

Levine was Pennsylvania’s Health Secretary until President Biden nominated her to become assistant secretary of health.

She became the first openly trans person confirmed by the U.S. Senate in March. Levine in October became a four-star admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service.

The conference will take place in-person and virtually through Sunday.

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President Biden calls out LGBTQ survivors in World AIDS Day proclamation

Biden in his World AIDS Day statement says his administration “remains steadfast in our efforts to end the HIV epidemic”

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President Joe Biden (Official White House photo by Adam-Schultz)

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden recognized LGBTQ people as among the survivors of the HIV/AIDS epidemic on Tuesday in a statement recognizing World AIDS Day, marking a departure from consistent omissions of the LGBTQ community under the Trump administration.

“Ending the HIV epidemic is within our reach, and we are committed to finishing this work,” Biden said. “On World AIDS Day, we rededicate ourselves to building on the progress of the last 4 decades; upholding and advancing human rights; supporting research, science, and data-driven solutions; expanding access to housing, education, and economic empowerment; and fighting stigma and discrimination. No one living with HIV should suffer the undeserved guilt and prejudice that too many continue to experience.”

Biden, as the world recognizes World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, enumerates LGBTQ people as survivors in a paragraph acknowledging the coronavirus pandemic has presented new obstacles in efforts to beat HIV/AIDS.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the challenges our heroic health care and frontline workers face, yet they continue to deliver essential HIV prevention services and provide vital care and treatment to people living with HIV,” Biden said. “The pandemic has also interrupted HIV research and highlighted the work that still remains to achieve equitable access to HIV prevention, care, and treatment in every community — particularly for communities of color, adolescent girls and young women, and the LGBTQI+ community.”

The inclusion of LGBTQ people in a statement recognizing World AIDS Day stands in contrast to statements from President Trump, who consistently declined to mention the LGBTQ community in each of his statements. The consistent omissions took place even though top health officials under the Trump administration started the Ending the HIV Epidemic initiative, which seeks to beat HIV/AIDS by 2030.

Last year, Trump press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, asked by the Washington Blade why the LGBTQ community was missing from the 2020 statement, responded with a false statement Trump was the first to observe World AIDS Day by adorning the White House with a large red AIDS ribbon. In fact, the practice began under President George W. Bush and had continued through Obama and Trump administrations.

The inclusion of LGBTQ people in Biden’s World AIDS Day statement is consistent with former President Obama mentioning LGBTQ people as among the survivors of HIV/AIDS in his final World AIDS Day statement. In 2016, Obama acknowledged “gay and bisexual men, transgender people, youth, black and Latino Americans, people living in the Southern United States, and people who inject drugs are at a disproportionate risk” of the disease.

Biden in his World AIDS Day statement says his administration “remains steadfast in our efforts to end the HIV epidemic,” ticking off policies his administration has pursued, including a budget request of $670 million to fight HIV/AIDS domestically and support for global initiatives to fight HIV/AIDS, which he said has save more than 21 million lives.

“This remarkable progress over the past 18 years has been made possible through strong, bipartisan United States leadership and American generosity,” Biden said.

Read President Biden’s full statement below:

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
 
A PROCLAMATION
For decades, World AIDS Day has been recognized as an opportunity for people around the world to stand together in the fight against HIV.  This year on World AIDS Day, we are focused on addressing health inequities and inequalities and ensuring that the voices of people with HIV are at the center of our work to end the HIV epidemic globally.

While we have made remarkable progress in the 40 years since the first-known reported case of AIDS, this disease remains a serious public health challenge — and we join the international community to honor and remember the more than 36 million people, including 700,000 Americans, who have tragically died from AIDS-related illness since the start of the epidemic.  We also renew our commitment to stand with the nearly 38 million people living with HIV around the world as we pursue our shared goal of ending the HIV epidemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has added to the challenges our heroic health care and frontline workers face, yet they continue to deliver essential HIV prevention services and provide vital care and treatment to people living with HIV.  The pandemic has also interrupted HIV research and highlighted the work that still remains to achieve equitable access to HIV prevention, care, and treatment in every community — particularly for communities of color, adolescent girls and young women, and the LGBTQI+ community.

My Administration remains steadfast in our efforts to end the HIV epidemic, confront systems and policies that perpetuate entrenched health inequities, and build a healthier world for all people. Earlier this year, I reinstated the White House Office of National AIDS Policy to coordinate our efforts to reduce the number of HIV infections across our Nation.  This week, my Administration is releasing an updated National HIV/AIDS Strategy to decrease health inequities in new diagnoses and improve access to comprehensive, evidence-based HIV-prevention tools. This updated strategy will make equity a cornerstone of our response and bring a whole-of-government approach to fighting HIV.

My budget request includes $670 million to support the Department of Health and Human Services’ Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. Initiative — to reduce HIV diagnoses and AIDS-related deaths.  My Administration has also strengthened the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS by adding members from diverse backgrounds who bring the knowledge and expertise needed to further our Nation’s HIV response. 

My Administration is committed to helping the world end the AIDS epidemic as a public health threat by 2030.  Through the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), we have saved more than 21 million lives, prevented millions of HIV infections, and supported at least 20 countries around the world to reach epidemic control of HIV or achieve their ambitious HIV treatment targets.  This remarkable progress over the past 18 years has been made possible through strong, bipartisan United States leadership and American generosity.  Now, together with partner governments and communities, my Administration is setting a bold vision for achieving sustained epidemic control of HIV by supporting equitable health services and solutions, contributing to improved health for all in PEPFAR-supported countries, and working with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; UNAIDS; and other regional and local partners toward the goal of ending the HIV epidemic everywhere.

Ending the HIV epidemic is within our reach, and we are committed to finishing this work.  On World AIDS Day, we rededicate ourselves to building on the progress of the last 4 decades; upholding and advancing human rights; supporting research, science, and data-driven solutions; expanding access to housing, education, and economic empowerment; and fighting stigma and discrimination.  No one living with HIV should suffer the undeserved guilt and prejudice that too many continue to experience.  We must innovate and explore new ways to help address HIV/AIDS in communities here at home and around the world.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR., President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim December 1, 2021, as World AIDS Day.  I urge the Governors of the United States and its Territories, and the American people to join the HIV community in activities to remember those who have lost their lives to AIDS and to provide support, dignity, and compassion to those living with HIV.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirtieth day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand twenty-one, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and forty-sixth.
                              JOSEPH R. BIDEN JR.
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President Biden delivers remarks on the omicron variant of Covid-19

Omicron Variant Is ‘Cause For Concern, Not A Cause For Panic’

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Screenshot via NBC News Youtube

WASHINGTON – President Biden delivers remarks on the omicron variant of Covid-19 after meeting with his response team.

FULL TEXT of the President’s remarks.

 Good morning, folks.  I hope you all had a happy Thanksgiving -– able to get together with your family and friends.  And it was great to see so many families getting together this Thanksgiving after being apart last year.  And we have much to be grateful for as a nation.
 
When I was elected, I said I would always be honest with you.  So today, I want to take a few moments to talk about the new COVID variant first identified last week in Southern Africa.  It’s called the Omicron. 
 
It is –- and to their credit, the scientific community in South Africa quickly notified the world of the emergence of this new variant.  This kind of transparency is to be encouraged and applauded because it increases our ability to respond quickly to any new threats.  And that’s exactly what we did. 
 
The very day the World Health Organization identified the new variant, I took immediate steps to restrict travel from countries in Southern Africa.  But while we have — that travel restrictions can slow the speed of Omicron, it cannot prevent it. 
 
But here’s what it does: It gives us time.  It gives us time to take more actions, to move quicker, to make sure people understand you have to get your vaccine. You have to get the shot.  You have to get the — get the booster if you’re -–
 
Sooner or later, we’re going to see cases of this new variant here in the United States.  We’ll have to face this new threat just as we have faced those that have come before it.
 
Today, there are three messages about the new variant that I want the American people to hear. 
 
First, this variant is a cause for concern, not a cause for panic.  We have the best vaccine in the world, the best medicines, the best scientists.  And we’re learning more every single day. 
 
And we’ll fight this variant with scientific and knowledgeable actions, and speed — not chaos and confusion.  And we have more tools today to fight the variant than we’ve ever had before — from vaccines to boosters, to vaccines for children five years and older, and much more.
 
A year ago, America was floundering against the first variant of COVID.  We beat that variant significantly, and then we got hit by a far more powerful threat: the Delta variant.  But we took action, and now we’re seeing deaths from Delta come down.  We’ll fight the –- you know, and –- look, we’re going to fight and beat this new variant as well. 
 
We’re learning more about this new variant every single day.  And as we learn more, we’re going to share that information with the American people candidly and promptly. 
 
Second, the best protection –- I know you’re tired of hearing me say this — the best protection against this new variant or any of the –- of the variants out there -– the ones we’ve been dealing with already — is getting fully vaccinated and getting a booster shot.  Most Americans are fully vaccinated but not yet boosted.
 
If you’re 18 years or over and got fully vaccinated before June the 1st, go get the booster shot today.  They’re free, and they’re available at 80,000 locations coast to coast.  A fully vaccinated boosted person is the most protected against COVID. 
 
Do not wait.  Go get your booster if it’s time for you to do so. 
 
And if you are not vaccinated, now is the time to get vaccinated and take your children to be vaccinated.  Every child age five or older can get safe, effective vaccines now. 
 
While it will be a few weeks before we know everything we need to know about how strongly the existing vaccines protect against the new variant — Dr. Fauci, who is with me today — of our medical team, and — believe that the vaccines will continue to provide a degree of protection against severe disease. 
 
And as an additional protections, please wear your masks when you’re indoors in public settings, around other people.  It protects you; it protects those around you. 
 
Third, in the event — hopefully unlikely — that updated vaccinations or boosters are needed to respond to this new variant, we will accelerate their development and deployment with every available tool.
 
I want to reiterate: Dr. Fauci believes that the current vaccines provide at least some protection against the new variant and the boosters strengthen that protection significantly. 
 
We do not yet believe that additional measures will be needed.  But so that we are prepared if needed, my team is already working with officials at Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson to develop contingency plans for vaccines or boosters if needed.
 
And I will also direct the FDA and the CDC to use the fastest process available — without cutting any corners for safety — to get such vaccines approved and on the market if needed. 
 
And we will do that the same way if — any modifications are needed or current treatments need — used to help those with — who get ill with the COVID virus. 
 
Look, I’m — I’m sparing no effort and removing all roadblocks to keep the American people safe.  All of this is confusing to a lot of people.  But if it’s confusing to you, let me close with this simple message: If you are vaccinated but still worried about the new variant, get your booster.  If you aren’t vaccinated, get that shot.  Go get that first shot.
 
My team at the White House will provide me with daily updates this week.  And on Thursday, I’ll be putting forward a detailed strategy outlining how we’re going to fight COVID this winter — not with shutdowns or lockdowns but with more widespread vaccinations, boosters, testing, and more. 
 
I promised every American that there will be — always be the latest vaccines available and the booster shots available to them and for free and — everywhere available.  Every single American, free of charge — and I will keep that commitment. 
 
But we need to do more than vaccinate Americans.  To beat the pandemic, we have to vaccinate the world as well.  And America is leading that effort.  We’ve shipped — for free — more vaccines to other countries than all other countries in the world combined: over 275 million vaccines to 110 countries. 
 
Now we need the rest of the world to step up as well.  Let me be clear: Not a single vaccine shot Americans ever send to the rest of the world will ever come at the expense of any American.  I will always make sure that our people are protected first. 
 
But vaccinating the world is just one more tool in how we need to meet our moral obligation as Americans and how to best protect Americans as well.
 
The Delta variants and now the Omicron variant all emerged elsewhere in the world.  So we can’t let up until the world is vaccinated.  We’re protecting Americans by doing that as well.
 
As we continue this effort, let’s remember where we stand.  We’re in a very different place as we enter the month of December this month compared to where we were last — last Sept- — last Christmas. 
 
Last Christmas, fewer than 1 percent of American adults were vaccinated.  This Christmas, the number will be over 71 percent, including more than 86 percent of seniors. 
 
Last Christmas, our children were at risk without a vaccine.  This Christmas, we have safe and effective vaccines for children ages five and older, with more than 19 million children and counting now vaccinated. 
 
Last year, a majority of schools were closed.  This year, 99 percent of our schools are open.  And let me reiterate once more: We also now have booster shots that provide extra protection.  They are free and convenient.  There is still time to get your first two shots or your booster shot or get your children vaccinated before Christmas.  All three are available and can be done before Christmas.
 
If you and your family are fully vaccinated, you can celebrate the holidays much more safely.  And given where we were last year, that’s a blessing that none of us should take for granted.
 
We’re throwing everything we can at this virus, tracking it from every angle.  And that’s what we have to keep doing.  That’s how we reopened our country.  That’s how we reopened our businesses.  That’s how we reopened our schools.  That’s how, even with a pandemic, we’ve generated a record job creation, a record economic growth in this country. 
 
We’ve moved forward in the face of COVID-19.  We have moved forward in the face of the Delta variant.  And we will move forward now in the face of the Omicron variant as well.
 
So thank you.  May God bless our troops.  And I hope you all have — I’ll be speaking before then, but — a Merry Christmas, as we approach it.

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