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New study: LGBT adults face more discrimination in health care

CU researcher Carey Candrian, PhD, explains the barriers to care for queer patients and offers insight into how to prevent discrimination

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University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus is the largest academic-based health care provider in the Rocky Mountains, at the forefront of transformative education, science, medicine and health care. (Photo Credit: University of Colorado)

By Mara Kalinoski | AURORA, Colo. –  A recent study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), a nonpartisan health policy research organization, reveals that LGBTQ+ patients face discrimination at higher rates than non-LGBT patients.

The results of the 2023 survey conclude that despite most LGBT adults reporting having mostly positive interactions with health care providers, they’re still twice as likely to have a negative experience as a non-LGBT patient. Those surveyed reported instances of having questions ignored and pain medications denied by a doctor.

Social scientist Carey Candrian, PhD, associate professor of internal medicine at the University of Colorado School of Medicine focuses her research on improving the way older LGBT people are cared for during serious illnesses, especially during end of life care.

She says the results of the survey emphasize the need for more work and research to prevent further discrimination. She explains there are many obstacles and barriers in preventing proper care, and she hopes to create a more inclusive and safe health care landscape for people of all backgrounds and orientations.

Accessibility difficulties

A significant amount of LGBT older adults live at or below the poverty line, making financial insecurity and lack of proper health care one of the biggest barriers to accessing quality care.

“Lack of affirming or safe clinicians is a huge factor, which results in a lot of people not going to get routine care, because they’re fearful that they have to be silent about who they are or hide their identity to actually get the care they need,” Candrian says. “This is particularly true for the trans community. Because of this, they end up not going.”

LGBT adults who are disabled, impoverished, non-white, or dealing with mental health issues or addiction are even more likely to face discrimination when seeking health care. Of the adults surveyed by KFF, those who are Black or Hispanic, under the age of 30, and identify as women were more likely to experience discrimination than their non-LGBT counterparts.

“The fear mixed with a health care system that historically has not been inclusive and is not really designed for anyone who’s not straight, white, and cisgendered makes it extremely hard to speak up,” Candrian explains. “Then there’s the issue of refusal of care. There is still no protection that prevents people from denying care based on a variety of personal reasons.”

Risks of improper care

The prevalence of osteoporosis, various cancers (including colon, breast, ovarian, prostate, and cervical), obesity, and mental health disorders are higher in LGBTQ populations. Suicide rates are also high, especially among trans people.

“In general, LGBT people are more likely to have estranged relationships with their family,” Candrian says. “They’re less likely to be married, less likely to have kids. They are at a disadvantage insofar as they don’t have a lot of people to help advocate on their behalf. That combines with an undercurrent of discrimination that we know is happening all around the health ecosystem.”

Beyond the mental health impact and the risk of medical issues going untreated, there are also underlying health issues that can be caused or exacerbated by the stress of experiencing discrimination. This stress can manifest in physical symptoms and can take a severe toll on cardiovascular health.

“Dealing with diseases like cancer or dementia are recognized as some of the hardest things you can go through. And if you are worrying about whether you’re going to be accepted, or going to have a trusting relationship with your caregivers, it adds to the burden in extraordinary ways,” Candrian says.

Patients are not required to disclose their identities or orientations during doctor’s visits – which can provide a layer of safety, but also reinforces a culture of silence. Because doctors do not regularly ask for information on gender and sexuality, they are working with limited information and potentially missing key details that could inform care.

The opportunity for growth

Candrian suggests that providers routinely ask about sexual orientation and gender identity the same way they ask for other pieces of information, such as race and ethnicity. Coupled with strong non-discrimination policies, this normalization can lead to deeper understanding and decrease discrimination.

“Asking for this data needs to be rolled out with training and education,” Candrian explains. “This is still very dangerous information, and learning how to ask these questions in a way that doesn’t perpetuate discrimination lets people know that this is being asked to provide better care.”

Resources are available for the LGBTQ community on the CU Anschutz Campus, including the the LGBTQ+ Hubcampus mental health resources, and the UCHealth Integrated Transgender Program.

“When people are talking to patients, coworkers, family members, and friends, I would encourage them to ask themselves, ‘Does the way I ask this question give space for lots of different types of answers? What if they are trans? What if they are estranged from their family? What if they just lost a spouse? What if they have a partner of 33 years but are not legally married?’” Candrian says. “Does the way you frame your question shut them out, or invite them in?”

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Mara Kalinosk is a Communications Coordinator for the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

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The preceding article was previously published by the University of Colorado School of Medicine Anschutz Medical Campus and was republished with permission.

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Health

LGBTQ blood donation drive underway across the U.S.A.

The LGBTQ supportive blood drive will take place from May 28, 2024, through National Blood Donation Day on Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2024

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Los Angeles Blade/America’s Blood Centers graphic

NEW YORK – GLAAD, which describes itself as the world’s leading LGBTQ media advocacy organization, and America’s Blood Centers, a national organization of community-based independent blood donation centers, announced on May 22 they have launched an LGBTQ supportive “Summer of Giving” national blood donation drive campaign.

The announcement says the campaign is aimed at encouraging “businesses to host blood drives and all eligible individuals to donate blood in support of the recent FDA eligibility changes that promote fairness and inclusivity in the donation process while maintaining the safety of the blood supply.”

The joint announcement was referring to the final revised blood donation rules issued in May 2023 by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) that replaced a previous policy requiring men who have sex with men to abstain from sex for three months before they would be eligible to donate blood.

The previous policy was among the gradual changes made by the FDA from its original policy in the 1980s of automatically banning gay and bisexual men from donating blood due to their perceived risk of HIV infection. LGBTQ activists called that policy discriminatory because it banned all gay and bisexual men from donating blood even if they were not as individuals at risk for HIV infection.

The new policy, adopted in May 2023, according to a statement released by the FDA, put in place a screening process that asks all prospective donors regardless of their sexual orientation to answer a series of individual, risk-based questions to determine their eligibility for donating blood.

The FDA statement said implementation of the new policy “will represent a significant milestone for the agency and the LGBTQI+ community” as stated by Dr. Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research.

“The ‘Summer of Giving’ is a celebration of the LGBTQ community and decades of work to remove the stigma too many potential donors have to endure,” said GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis in the joint statement. “Removing discriminatory barriers and following facts and science will ease the critical national blood shortage,” Ellis said, adding, “This campaign sends a long-needed message that LGBTQ people are welcome and can generously contribute to their communities to help save lives.”

Kate Fry, CEO of America’s Blood Centers, said in the statement that her organization is proud to join GLAAD to promote the facts surrounding the FDA’s change in blood donor policy, which she said, “prioritizes the safety of the blood supply while bringing more equality to the donation process.”

Fry added, “The Summer of Giving campaign is a unique opportunity for individuals and businesses to donate blood and host blood drives in support of a new era of blood donor eligibility. Together we can help save lives during a time of critical need for the blood community.”

 The joint statement announcing the LGBTQ supportive blood drive says it would take place from May 28, 2024, through National Blood Donation Day on Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2024, “in recognition of the critical need for blood donations during the summer months.” According to the statement, “Despite the ongoing demand for blood products, donations typically decline during this period due to travel and the lack of school-based blood drives.”

Under the revised FDA blood donation policy, as was the case with the previous policy, anyone who tests positive for HIV is not eligible to donate blood. The new policy includes these restrictions, which apply to everyone regardless of their sexual orientation or gender:

• Any individual who has had a new sexual partner in the past three months and has engaged in anal sex in the same period is deferred for three months from the most recent sexual contact from donating blood.

 • Any individual who has had more than one sexual partner in the past three months and has engaged in anal sex during that same period is deferred for three months from the most recent sexual contact.

• Any individual who has taken any oral antiviral medication to prevent HIV (PrEP or PEP) is deferred for three months from the most recent dose. These medications may delay detection of HIV and result in false negative test results.

• Any individual who has taken any long-lasting antiviral medication by injection to prevent HIV (PrEP or PEP) is deferred for two years from the time from the most recent injection. These medications may delay detection of HIV and result in false negative test results.

• Any individual who has ever taken any mediation (i.e., ART) to treat an HIV infection is permanently deferred.

GLAAD and America’s Blood Centers say further details about the new FDA blood donation policy and to find the nearest community blood center, interested persons should access glaad.org/tag/summer-of-giving

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Health

CDC reports Mpox cases are rapidly outpacing last year’s numbers

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Mpox Vaccine (Photo Credit: Paulo Murillo/WEHO TIMES)

By Paulo Murillo || LOS ANGELES – Health officials report that over 570 cases of mpox have been detected in the U.S. so far in 2024, marking a significant increase compared to this time last year.

While this year’s infection rate remains lower than the peak observed during the mpox outbreak in early August 2022, when the country witnessed an average of about 470 new cases per week, the latest data underscore that mpox continues to circulate. Health authorities stress the importance of vaccination, particularly for individuals at risk of infection.

Los Angeles County of Public health reports a total of 2,591 of mpox cases (includes Long Beach and Pasadena) since it began tracking infections. Two people have died in LA County.

The primary mpox vaccine used in the U.S., known as JYNNEOS, is administered in two doses, spaced a month apart. Full vaccination is achieved two weeks after the second dose, with no current recommendations for booster shots. Eligibility and vaccine distribution locations can be found on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, as well as through various local health departments, including those of New York City and San Francisco.

Vaccination is not universally recommended; specific groups, such as gay and bisexual men with recent sexually transmitted infection (STI) diagnoses, are identified as at-risk populations eligible for vaccination.

Dr. Jenni McQuiston, deputy director of the CDC’s High-Consequence Pathogens and Pathology division, emphasized that most reported cases are among individuals who are either unvaccinated or under-vaccinated, reports Live Science.

Mpox, formerly known as monkeypox, is caused by a virus related to the variola virus, which causes smallpox. There are two main types of mpox viruses: clade I and clade II. Clade I is associated with more severe and fatal disease outcomes. While clade I has not been detected in the U.S. to date, there remains a risk of introduction through travelers from regions like the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Symptoms of mpox can include fever, muscle aches, fatigue, and swollen lymph nodes, with characteristic pox rashes that progress from discolored patches to raised bumps, blisters, and scabbing. Individuals with weakened immune systems, infants, those with a history of eczema, and pregnant individuals face a higher risk of severe disease.

Since the onset of the mpox outbreak in May 2022, the U.S. has reported over 30,000 cases, with the majority occurring in 2022. Although infection rates slowed by early 2023, recent data indicate a resurgence, with 576 cases reported between January 1 and March 23, 2024, according to provisional CDC figures.

Notable concentrations of cases in 2024 include over 110 in New York City, 64 in California, and 50 in Florida.

While mpox can affect anyone, certain groups, including gender-diverse and transgender individuals, as well as men who have sex with men, are disproportionately impacted. Efforts to increase vaccination rates among these populations are ongoing, as data suggest that many at-risk individuals have not received the recommended doses.

Dr. Brandy Darby, director of the Division of Surveillance and Investigation at the Virginia Department of Health, emphasized the continued risk posed by mpox and stressed the importance of public awareness and vaccination efforts. Virginia has already noted a significant increase in mpox cases in 2024 compared to the previous year.

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Paulo Murillo is Editor in Chief and Publisher of WEHO TIMES. He brings over 20 years of experience as a columnist, reporter, and photo journalist.

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The preceding article was previously published by WeHo Times and is republished with permission.

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Commentary

Empowering Voices: The role of trustworthy adults in youth Sex Ed

Outside of family, our youth’s primary resource for sexual education is school, and we know there are limitations on what schools can provide

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Planned Parenthood Los Angeles/Los Angeles Blade graphic

By Brittinae Phillips | LOS ANGELES -Through leading and delivering education programs for Planned Parenthood Los Angeles’s Black Health Initiative for the past four years, I have had hundreds of in-person conversations with thousands of youth and young adults about sexual health, sexuality, and relationship values.

What I’ve learned over and over from these experiences is that vast misinformation, confusion, and stigma about sexuality and sexual health remain pervasive in the minds of our young people, and the resources they have on these topics simply aren’t enough.

With content from the internet perpetually at our fingertips, it’s easy to have the misperception that today’s emerging adults are savvier when it comes to sexual health and education. But in my work, I see wide gaps in knowledge and understanding. In my sessions, I hear the same questions about basic body anatomy, the difference between sexual orientation and gender identity, and, what’s more, bewilderment about hurtful sexual stereotypes, particularly those aimed at Black men and women. 

It’s important to remember that outside of family, our youth’s primary resource for sexual education is school, and we know there are limitations on what schools can provide. Consider that as of September 2023, only 38 states, along with the District of Columbia, mandate sex or HIV education. Within this group, a mere 20 states insist on including contraception education, and just 18 of these states mandate that the information provided be medically accurate.

Even here in California, health advocates report that the implementation of existing laws, limited funding to support training for educators, and the lack of broad health education requirements all continue to create barriers to sex education for young people in the state.

For youth who may have questions about LGBTQ+ topics, resources are even more scant. Only 10 states and DC require inclusive content about sexual orientation, and four states require only negative information to be provided on homosexuality and a positive emphasis on heterosexuality. California is unfortunately not immune to gaps in this area either.

A 2022 report developed by Equality California revealed that only 52% of districts have adopted LGBTQAI+ inclusive social science textbooks at the high school level. Advocates also report a significant rise in opposition at the local school board level to implement sex education, particularly to LGBTQAI+-inclusive or historically accurate content.

Our teachers are doing all they can to give their students accurate knowledge and helpful tools. But we must acknowledge that this patchwork of requirements and varying standards means that a comprehensive understanding of sex education eludes many young people, leading to a concerning lack of knowledge.

The exclusion of LGBTQ+ topics not only deprives students of vital health information but also misses the opportunity to answer questions from students of any orientation that could help foster compassion and understanding, leaving intact all-too often discriminatory environments for young people who identify as LGBTQ+.

For many, I know this feels both familiar and “bigger than just me.” But I encourage readers to remember how they felt as young people, the questions they had, and the confusion they may have endured. Are we content to hope that today’s young adults just figure it out? My experience shows me they are looking for more than that. 

I can say with certainty our young people want to talk – they are looking for trustworthy adults to ask questions and express their concerns. Whether as a parent, family member or friend, I know it can be challenging to broach these conversations. Starting them can feel awkward, and young people may posture they’re “in the know,” but they need to discuss these topics. Below are some of the principles I follow in my classes to spark these conversations.

  • Check your surprise. Most of the anonymous questions I receive from young adults are about anatomy and basic human biology. Let them know it’s okay to ask these questions – they need to understand their bodies to care for themselves.
  • Words do matter. There are a lot of terms available today that people can use to describe their sexual orientation or gender identity. It’s important for adults to understand these terms so that they can have better conversations with youth.   
  • Talk about consent. Consent is a critically important topic to learn about – it is everyone’s responsibility to learn how to both say no to situations that aren’t right for them and listen when someone says no, and act appropriately.  This includes asking for a yes, rather than waiting for a no.
  • It’s essential to really listen. If they feel like you are really listening, they will feel better

about talking with you. Listening without judgment will help young adults figure out what’s best for them and live by those values.

  • Be a role model. Young adults want to talk about these topics and seek support and guidance. You can be honest about information while still underscoring the benefits of healthy behaviors and decisions.
  • You don’t have to have all the answers. If you can’t answer a question, work together to find the answer. Giving wrong information or not answering the question does not help someone make healthy choices.

We can overcome inaccurate information and damaging stereotypes through more of what my team and I do daily – giving young people a safe place to have honest, attentive conversations. Even more reassuring is that we all have the opportunity and ability to make a positive difference in a young person’s life by intentionally making space for them to address sensitive topics. I hope to inspire proactive action.

To get information or resources, please visit: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/parents.  

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Brittinae Phillips, Sr. Education Manager for Planned Parenthood Los Angeles’s Black Health Initiative manages community outreach and education for parents, college students, and youth in diverse communities throughout the county

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AIDS and HIV

Researchers announce using gene editing tool, HIV cut out of cells

The team eliminated HIV from cells in a laboratory raising hopes of a cure, but cautioned that for now their work represents proof of concept

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HIV virus in the bloodstream. (Photo Credit: National Institutes of Health)

BARCELONA, Spain – Researchers from the Amsterdam University Medical Center made a groundbreaking announcement this week of the results of a major study to be presented at the 2024 European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, which will be held April 27-30 in Barcelona.

A team led by Dr. Elena Herrera-Carrillo using a gene-editing tool known as Crispr-Cas, were able to eliminate HIV DNA, removing all traces of the virus from infected cells. In the press release Tuesday, Dr. Herrera-Carrillo alongside team members Yuanling Bao, Zhenghao Yu and Pascal Kroon, said that utilizing the gene-editing tool they focused on parts of the virus that stay the same across all known HIV strains.

“These findings represent a pivotal advancement towards designing a cure strategy,” the team said.

Herrera-Carrillo’s team works in developing a cure for HIV infection based on novel CRISPR-Cas methods.  CRISPR-Cas is a powerful gene editing tool working like genetic scissors but can also be used to selectively attack and inactivate integrated HIV DNA genomes in infected cells.

Herrera-Carrillo’s team eliminated HIV from cells in a laboratory, raising hopes of a cure, but cautioned that for now their work represents proof of concept, and will not become a cure for HIV tomorrow. According to the researchers the next steps involve optimizing the delivery route to target the majority of the HIV reservoir cells within the body.

The hope the research team points out, is to devise a strategy to make this system as safe as possible for future clinical applications, and achieve the right balance between efficacy and safety. “Only then can we consider clinical trials of ‘cure’ in humans to disable the HIV reservoir,” they stated adding, “While these preliminary findings are very encouraging, it is premature to declare that there is a functional HIV cure on the horizon.”

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Recovery

Shining a light on the meth epidemic in the LGBTQ community

Breathe Life Healing Center is set to host the ChemSex Crisis Summit on March 14-15 in West Hollywood, California

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Brad Lamm is an author, teacher and interventionist best known for helping people make life-enhancing change. In 2012, Brad realized a dream come true as he opened the first Breathe Life Healing Center to provide powerful residential, insurance-friendly trauma treatment in urban environments. (Photo courtesy of Breathe Life Healing Center)

WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. — The silent epidemic of methamphetamine addiction in the LGBTQ+ community has reached a breaking point, leaving countless lives shattered in its wake. In response to this growing crisis, Breathe Life Healing Center is set to host the ChemSex Crisis Summit on March 14-15 in West Hollywood.

The event aims to bring together professionals to confront uncomfortable truths about addiction and exploitation, and to develop effective strategies for prevention, treatment and recovery.

The stories of those impacted by meth addiction paint a harrowing picture of the depths of this crisis:

Dr. J, a once-prominent epidemiologist, found himself on the wrong side of the statistics he knew so well. 

“I knew the data inside and out — I just never thought I’d become one of those grim statistics myself,” he recounts ruefully.

His journey from a rising star in the world of public health to a homeless addict on the streets of LA is a testament to the insidious power of meth addiction. After earning his PhD and advising on policies at a prestigious government agency, Dr. J’s groundbreaking insights into the LGBTQ community’s health disparities propelled him to a renowned university to lead cutting-edge research initiatives. With a generous salary and a beautiful home in the Hollywood Hills, Dr. J felt like he had it all.

But beneath the veneer of success, he was struggling with his own demons. “At first, meth was just a way to let loose and have fun,” he admits. “But then it became a way to cope with stress, a way to make sex hotter, a way to make myself feel more confident.”

As his addiction spiraled out of control, Dr. J found himself slipping further and further away from the life he had built. Within two years, he had lost everything: His job, his home, his relationships. He found himself living under an overpass, his once-brilliant mind consumed by the never-ending cycle of addiction.

It was only when he hit rock bottom, facing the grim reality that more than 1,900 people died from meth in LA in 2021 alone, that Dr. J found the strength to seek help. Medically-assisted treatment and LGBTQ+-affirmative rehab became his lifeline, helping him to slowly rebuild his shattered life.

Filling the emptiness 

Peter’s story is a cautionary tale of privilege and addiction. 

Born into wealth, his trust fund enabled a bohemian lifestyle that quickly descended into meth addiction. “I became idle and depressed,” he recalls. “That’s when meth lit me up like never before.” His recreational usage quickly spiraled out of control, leading him to burn through his allowance and pawn valuables to feed his habit.

“I sold a Warhol for a fraction of its value and it’s now worth many times more than it was then,” he laments, shaking his head at the memory. It was only through the intervention of friends who urged his family to cut him off financially and force him to return home, that Peter was able to break free from the grip of addiction.

“Those first sober years were just brutal,” he admits. “I resented everyone and everything. I was HIV-positive in a tiny, conservative rural town and my health was in the gutter.” 

Slowly, with the support of his loved ones, Peter began to reassemble the pieces of his life. He found solace in caring for his aging mother and threw himself into his recovery with the same intensity he once devoted to chasing his next high.

Today, 20 years sober, Peter is grateful for the second chance he’s been given. “I still think about meth sometimes, and the life I had in Hollywood,” he confesses. “But I know I’d be dead without the people who saved me.”

Trafficked

Perhaps most chilling is the story of Carlos, a young Colombian man who found himself trapped in a nightmarish cycle of exploitation and addiction after being lured to the U.S. with the promise of a better life. Upon arrival, he was taken to a lavish house party that quickly revealed itself to be a facade for a dark world of abuse.

“The gringos that arrived later were wealthy looking people and I was told some of them were politicians, businessmen, married men with families,” he recounts with a shudder. Behind their masks of respectability, these men had paid the house and the young men were on the menu.

Drugged with meth and then exploited by powerful men, Carlos found himself trapped in a vicious cycle of addiction and sexual slavery. Even after a daring escape, fleeing into the unfamiliar streets wearing nothing but torn underwear, he found himself pulled back into the clutches of the trafficking ring, his hopes for a better life shattered.

It was only when a stroke nearly claimed his life that he found the courage to seek help, but even then, the path to recovery was fraught with obstacles. As an undocumented immigrant, Carlos faced countless barriers to accessing the support and treatment he so desperately needed. 

Fear of deportation and a lack of information about resources available to trafficking victims kept him silent, even as he struggled with the trauma of his experiences and the grip of addiction.

“I’m pretty sure the LGBTQ community isn’t aware of the grip the sex-trafficking network has on people like me,” Carlos says, his voice heavy with emotion. “I’m also sad about that because I know for sure concern is silenced and that people just look the other way. I guess it’s too messy to care about, but people are dying and being addicted and their lives ruined. Some people are even disappeared.”

Even when Carlos finally found the courage to seek help, he discovered that the path to justice was far from equal. As an undocumented immigrant, he faced countless barriers to accessing the legal protections and support services that could have helped him break free from the trafficking ring and rebuild his life.

Feeling hopeless and alone, Carlos made the difficult decision to return to Colombia, but even there, the shadow of the trafficking network loomed large, threatening him and his family. Today, he continues to grapple with the trauma of his experiences and the grip of addiction, a stark reminder of the urgent need for better protections and support for trafficking victims, regardless of their immigration status.

Examining the truth

These stories are just a few examples of the countless lives impacted by the meth crisis in the LGBTQ community. The ChemSex Crisis Summit aims to bring attention to this silent epidemic and work towards developing effective strategies for prevention, treatment and recovery.

“The ChemSex crisis is a complex issue that requires a multi-faceted approach,” says Brad Lamm, founder of Breathe Life Healing Centers and co-author of “Crystal Clear + Sexually Recovered” with Kathleen Murphy, executive clinical director of Breathe Life Healing Centers. “As these stories illustrate, meth addiction affects the entire LGBTQ spectrum, from the privileged to the marginalized. It’s one of the most urgent issues our community faces, and we must address it on every level — from the biological to the psychological to the societal.”

Murphy agrees. “We must address not only the biochemical effects of meth addiction but also the underlying traumas and social factors that contribute to it,” she explains. “Underlying childhood wounds from families and cultural institutions, from internalized homophobia — these are the roots that have to be healed.”

Melissa McCracken, a leading expert on substance abuse in the LGBTQ community, notes that many ChemSex users turn to substances, specifically meth, as a means to overcome fear and shame and to “hot wire” intimacy and connection. 

“Queer sex education is lacking, and many folks do not learn courtship or intimacy skills in their formative years, resorting to drugs to engage with others,” she explains. “Meth also eradicates emotional consciousness, so the allure of a shame-free sexual experience is very enticing to many users who may not have the means or resources to seek out professional help to resolve shame, trauma, or internalized homophobia.”

McCracken also warns that the meth of today is not the same as it was 10-20 years ago, before the rise of cartel-produced “P2P meth.” “Not only is it more potent, but it is also manufactured differently, using different chemicals,” she explains. “The adverse effects of meth are more prevalent in P2P meth users, with upwards of 90 percent of those seeking treatment reporting psychosis, paranoia, anhedonia, isolation and ongoing mental health issues well into recovery.”

“We are seeing the effects of P2P meth in treatment that resembles long-term chronic use in folks who use the drug one or two times a month.”

The summit will feature a range of speakers and panel discussions, covering topics such as the role of trauma in substance abuse, best practices for LGBTQ-affirmative treatment, and strategies for supporting long-term recovery. Attendees will learn from leading experts in the field and connect with others working to address the crisis in their own communities.

But the work does not end with the summit. Organizers hope that the event will serve as a catalyst for ongoing action and advocacy, both within the LGBTQ+ community and beyond.

“We must come together as a community to demand change and to support those who have been marginalized and left behind,” says Murphy. “It is only by confronting the uncomfortable truths about addiction, exploitation, and inequality that we can begin to create a society where everyone has the opportunity to heal and thrive.”

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AIDS and HIV

Gilead Sciences awards grants to HIV/AIDS groups in Caribbean, Latin America

Stigma, criminalization laws among barriers to fighting pandemic in region

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Free condoms in a São Paulo Metro station. Gilead Sciences has announced it has given grants to 35 organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean. The groups will use the funds to fight HIV/AIDS in the region. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

FOSTER CITY, Calif. — Gilead Sciences this week announced it has given $4 million in grants to 35 organizations in Latin America and the Caribbean that fight HIV/AIDS.

A press release notes Asociación Panamericana de Mercadeo Social (Pan-American Association of Social Marketing) in Nicaragua, Fundación Genesis (Genesis Foundation) in Panama, Fundación por una Sociedad Empoderada (Foundation for an Empowered Society) in Argentina, Associação Nacional de Travestis e Transexuais (National Association of Travestis and Transsexuals) in Brazil and Caribbean Vulnerable Communities are among the groups that received grants. Gilead notes this funding through its Zeroing In: Ending the HIV Epidemic in Latin America and the Caribbean will “improve access to care, increase health equity and reduce HIV-related stigma for populations most affected by HIV.”

“The HIV prevention and care needs of people throughout Latin America and the Caribbean are incredibly diverse, and each of these programs addresses a unique community challenge,” said Gilead Vice President of Corporate Giving Carmen Villar. “Our grantees are deeply embedded in their communities and best positioned to provide needed HIV care and support services.” 

“Their expertise will be essential to achieve the Zeroing In program’s goals of improving access to comprehensive care among priority populations, decreasing HIV-related stigma and reducing HIV and broader health inequities,” she added.

The pandemic disproportionately affects Transgender people and sex workers, among other groups, in the region. Activists and HIV/AIDS service providers in the region with whom the Washington Blade has previously spoken say discrimination, stigma, poverty, a lack of access to health care and criminalization laws are among the myriad challenges they face.

First Lady Jill Biden in 2022 during a trip to Panama announced the U.S. will provide an additional $80.9 million in the fight against HIV/AIDS in Latin America through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. 

Cuba in 2015 became the first country in the world to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV. The Cuban government until 1993 forcibly quarantined people with HIV/AIDS in state-run sanitaria.

Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago in recent years have decriminalized consensual same-sex sexual relations. 

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2021 ruled Jamaica must repeal its colonial-era sodomy law. The country’s Supreme Court last year ruled against a gay man who challenged it.  

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Human health studies & sciences

Genetic variations linked to human bisexual behavior

Behavior, risk-taking, & offspring numbers uncovered in a study from Professor Jianzhi ‘George’ Zhang at the University of Michigan

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – In a groundbreaking study published Wednesday in Science Advances, scientists have identified genetic variations associated with human bisexual behavior for the first time.

Led by Professor Jianzhi “George” Zhang at the University of Michigan, the research delves into the intricate relationship between genetics, behavior, and societal factors, shedding light on the long-standing evolutionary puzzle of why natural selection has not eradicated the genetics underpinning same-sex attraction.

The study, based on data from more than 450,000 people of European descent who participated in the UK Biobank, a long-term genomics project, builds on growing research, including a seminal 2019 paper in Science that found genetic variants influencing same-sex behavior, with environmental factors playing a significant role.

Professor Jianzhi George Zhang, Zhang Lab of Molecular & Genome Evolution at the University of Michigan. (Photo Credit: University of Michigan media affairs)

Zhang explained that the motivation for the new research was to differentiate between various forms of homosexual behavior, recognizing that there is a spectrum. “In the past, people lumped together all homosexual behavior…but actually, there’s a spectrum,” he said.

Analyzing participants’ complete sets of DNA and combining that information with survey responses, Zhang and co-author Siliang Song confirmed that the signatures associated with same-sex behavior and bisexual behavior were distinct. This allowed them to analyze these behaviors separately, leading to intriguing discoveries.

Male heterosexuals carrying markers associated with bisexual behavior (BSB)-associated alleles were found to father more children than average, suggesting reproductive advantages. Moreover, men identifying as risk-takers tended to have more children and were more likely to carry BSB-associated alleles.

“Our results suggest that male BSB–associated alleles are likely reproductively advantageous, which may explain their past persistence and predict their future maintenance,” the authors wrote.

Nature’s complexity was underscored by Zhang, noting that a single gene can influence multiple traits, a phenomenon known as “pleiotropy.” “Here we’re talking about three traits: number of children, risk-taking, and bisexual behavior—they all share some genetic underpinnings,” he said.

Exclusive same-sex behavior (eSSB) associated alleles, however, were correlated with having fewer children when carried by heterosexual men, indicating that these traits may diminish over time.

The UK Biobank data revealed a significant trend—the proportion of people reporting both bisexual and homosexual behavior has been rising for decades, likely due in part to growing societal openness.

In an additional report, scientists announced on Wednesday that they have identified genetic variations associated with human bisexual behavior. The study builds on the University of Michigan research and further emphasizes the link between these genetic variations and risk-taking behavior, as well as the impact on offspring numbers when carried by heterosexual men.

The authors of both studies estimated that approximately 40 percent of a person’s behavior regarding bisexuality is influenced by genetics, while 60 percent is influenced by the environment. Emphasizing the contribution to understanding human sexuality, the researchers stressed that their results are not intended to endorse discrimination based on sexual behavior.

This comprehensive research provides a nuanced perspective on the interplay between genetics, behavior, and societal factors in shaping human sexuality, opening the door to further exploration in this complex and evolving field.

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AIDS and HIV

Local, national events to mark 35th annual World AIDS Day

HIV disproportionately affects certain populations. Men who have sex with men accounted for 70% of 32,100 estimated new HIV infections

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – UNAIDS dubbed this year’s World AIDS Day theme as “Let Communities Lead.” This is how conversations around HIV and AIDS should be structured, Duante’ Brown said, who manages two programs at NMAC — a nonprofit dedicated to working to end the AIDS epidemic. People living with HIV need to be considered the subject matter experts, he said. 

“Bringing those people into the room, showing them that they have a voice and that there’s not just this group of people who are making a decision for them … is definitely the way that you go about this.”

Brown manages the ESCALATE program at NMAC, which aims to empower people to address HIV stigma, and the ELEVATE program, which is a training program for people with HIV to be more involved in the planning and delivery of the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, which is the largest federal program designed specifically for people with HIV. 

In the United States, it’s estimated 1.2 million people are living with HIV, according to HIV.gov. About 13% are unaware they have HIV.

HIV also continues to disproportionately affect certain populations. Men who have sex with men accounted for 70% of the 32,100 estimated new HIV infections in 2021. And Black individuals accounted for 40% of the new infections that year, while only comprising 12% of the population of the United States, according to the CDC

In 2023, stigma is a key inhibitor to ending the epidemic, Brown said. When stigma gets out of the way, there could be a day when there are no new cases of HIV transmissions, he said. To get around that stigma, people need to have meaningful and productive conversations about AIDS. 

“Not treating it as taboo, making sure that we are empowering people living with HIV and AIDS to tell their stories and to be empowered to feel that it’s OK,” Brown said. “And that nothing is wrong with you.”

And there are events in the locally and nationally to recognize World AIDS Day, many of them aimed at abolishing the stigma that comes with talking about HIV.

Icon Janet Jackson headlines the World AIDS Day Concert on Dec. 1 in Houston.

At a national level, Janet Jackson is set to headline the World AIDS Day concert on Dec. 1 — an annual fundraiser sponsored by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. The concert will be at the NRG Arena in Houston, and will also honor actor and activist Blair Underwood with its lifetime achievement award. 

“[The concert] really is a way to commemorate World AIDS Day in a way that is both remembrance of those that we’ve lost, recognizing where we’re at, but also really celebrating and connecting the work that’s yet to be done. And having folks still leaving uplifted and elevated about what the future could hold,” said Imara Canady, AHF’s national director for communications and community engagement. 

Jackson has long been an outspoken advocate for people living with HIV. Her song, “Together Again,” is a tribute to a friend she lost to AIDS, as well as a dedication to patients around the world. 

The AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the largest nonprofit HIV/AIDS service organization and advocacy group, has several health care centers in the region and many across the nation and world. AHF also has a free HIV test locater online at freehivtest.net

AIDSWatch, the electronic memorial to people lost to HIV and AIDS, will be viewable on www.AIDSWatch.org and on the City of West Hollywood’s WeHoTV broadcast and streaming channels, including Spectrum Channel 10 within West Hollywood, beginning at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday, Dec. 1, for 24 hours.

The City of West Hollywood will join STORIES: The AIDS Monument and APLA Health in a World AIDS Day event on Friday, Dec. 1. The evening will begin at 5:30 p.m. with a reception at the West Hollywood Park Aquatic and Recreation Center (ARC) Respite Deck, located at 8750 El Tovar Place.

After a short program with refreshments, attendees will descend the grand staircase of the ARC at 6:30 p.m. in a candlelight procession through West Hollywood Park and along N. Robertson, Santa Monica, and N. San Vicente Boulevards to the City’s Council Chambers/Public Meeting Room, located at 625 N. San Vicente Boulevard. There, the evening will continue with a screening of the award-winning 2023 documentary “Commitment to Life.” Doors will open at 7 p.m. and the screening will begin promptly at 7:15 p.m. 

Events are free to attend and open to the public. Limited validated parking will be available at the West Hollywood Park 5-Story structure. 

Advance RSVP is requested by reserving a spot on Eventbrite.

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New silent opioid epidemic: Secure LGBTQ+ spaces is the answer

There is an urgent need for more LGBTQ+ safe spaces and events that do not have access to drugs and alcohol

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Paramedics from Los Angeles County Fire-Rescue Dept. Squad 8 West Hollywood respond to an overdose. (Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles)

By Darwin Rodriguez | WEST HOLLYWOOD – In the shadows of the ongoing opioid crisis that continues to grip our nation, a new silent epidemic has emerged that has gone virtually unnoticed.

While the opioid epidemic has commanded national headlines and sparked urgent conversations about substance use disorders and treatment, the LGBTQ+ community continues to remain shrouded in silence – left in a battle to combat this crisis alone. Homophobia today contributes to more overdoses than ever before and our divisive politics stand in the way of saving the lives of our LGBTQ+ neighbors.

The tragic reality is that homophobia in our country continues to persist on a regular basis. The stigmatization and discrimination faced by LGBTQ+ individuals often leads them to adopt unhealthy behaviors to cope – many of which predisposes them to a long-term struggle with substance use disorders.

In 2020, LGBTQ+ individuals were found to use substances at nearly double the rate of the overall population. Consequently, LGBTQ+ individuals often enter treatment with more severe substance use disorders when compared to their heterosexual counterparts. While schools and community organizations have attempted to foster safe spaces to curb this pattern, our challenging and divisive political climate has hindered progress.

Over these past few years, nationwide anti-gay policies and legislation have threatened the safety of LGBTQ+ individuals. In 2022, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis introduced the controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

Meanwhile, the University of Houston closed its campus’ only LGBTQ+ resource center in response to the passing of Senate Bill 17, which banned diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives in higher education institutions.

LGBTQ+ books across the US have been banned from libraries and schools with many believing that the art of drag poses a greater threat to our nation than deadly firearms.

With the unprecedented amount of vitriol the LGBTQ+ community is facing, now is the time to mobilize and unify efforts toward a positive paradigm shift. If our goal is to eliminate this new silent epidemic, we need to coalesce and diversify safe spaces for the LGBTQ+ community. While creating safe spaces is an arduous feat, history has also shown that unified efforts can achieve remarkable progress.

When HIV/AIDS was dubbed a silent epidemic during the 80s, The ACT UP coalition was formed to end misinformation, re-invigorate political action, and shift the public narrative surrounding the deadly disease.

Founded by members of the LGBTQ+ community, they mobilized public awareness campaigns, staged demonstrations and most importantly, gathered members together to discuss the problems in an inclusive manner.

ACT UP was instrumental to the change in public perception of HIV/AIDS, paving the way for advancements in the social and scientific aspects of the silent epidemic. If we want to tackle this new silent opioid epidemic head-on, we must commit to mobilizing in a manner similar to ACT UP to end LGBTQ+ overdoses. One of our first steps should be creating more community spaces for LGBTQ+ people that are affirming and sober.

There is an urgent need for more LGBTQ+ spaces and events that do not have access to drugs and alcohol. Coffee shops, bookstores, and community centers should take initiative to host LGBTQ+ activities and become cornerstones for inclusive community building.

Cuties, a Los Angeles coffee shop that opened in 2017, was founded with the intention of providing a safe space for members of the LGBTQ+ community that was not focused around alcohol and substance use. They would host a variety of events at the cafe quickly becoming a hotspot for many of its patrons. Unfortunately, the brick and mortar coffee shop closed its doors in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The untimely closing of Cuties has contributed to the dwindling presence of LGBTQ+ safe and sober spaces in the greater Los Angeles region.

It is essential to support local LGBTQ+ meeting spaces. To be an ally to the LGBTQ+ community, reaching out to local school districts, chambers of commerce, and business owners to host LGBTQ+ nights is a first step in the right direction.

For people who identify as LGBTQ+, the time is now to connect with our fellow LGBTQ+ neighbors and mobilize movements for safe and sober areas, which will pave the way for healthier,  and safer substance use practices.

Even if these actions feel out of reach, simply talking to your families and neighbors about LGBTQ+ acceptance and sharing your own story of acceptance can move us toward a future where sexual identity does not put one at risk for an overdose.

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

Darwin Rodriguez

Darwin Rodriguez is a program manager at the Institute for Public Strategies and oversees the Safer WeHo Coalition in West Hollywood, which meets once a month.

To learn more about IPS, visit https://publicstrategies.org/.

To follow the Safer WeHo Coalition on Instagram search for: @saferwehocoalition

The preceding commentary was previously published at the WeHo Times and is republished with permission.

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AIDS and HIV

Maxine Waters criticizes House GOP over proposed cuts to HIV/AIDS programs

Calif. Democrat spoke at U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS in D.C.

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U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) speaks at the U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS on Sept. 6, 2023, in Washington. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) on Wednesday sharply criticized House Republicans over their proposed cuts to HIV/AIDS prevention programs.

The California Democrat who represents the state’s 43rd Congressional District in a speech she delivered at the U.S. Conference on HIV/AIDS noted the House Appropriations Committee’s Fiscal Year 2024 Labor, Health, Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill would cut $767 million from domestic HIV/AIDS programs.

Waters said the bill would cut funds to fight HIV/AIDS among underrepresented groups by 53 percent and “completely eliminates” funding for “Minority AIDS Initiative activities within the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.” Waters also noted the appropriations measure “eliminates funding” for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Ending the HIV Epidemic Initiative, the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program and community health centers.

“The cuts to the Minority AIDS Initiative will exacerbate racial disparities and the elimination of the (Ending the) HIV Epidemic Initiative,” said Waters.

Waters also criticized House Republicans for “refusing to authorize” the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.” The California Democrat said ending PEPFAR “would endanger the lives of millions of people around the world who are living with HIV and endanger the lives of millions more who are at risk.” 

“Moreover, it would compromise United States leadership on global health issues,” added Waters. “These programs used to have widespread support. It’s shameful that House Republicans are now trying to eliminate them. We cannot allow these cuts to pass. We cannot compromise. We will not give up.”

U.S. Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) are among those who Waters criticized by name in her speech.

“I will speak truth to power. I want to use words that they will understand. Hell no! We won’t go! We are not going to give up,” said Waters. “That’s the people’s money. You can’t decide who you’re going to spend it on and not who you’re going to spend it on.”

More than 3,000 people are expected to attend the National Minority AIDS Council-organized conference that will end on Saturday. This year’s theme is “A Love Letter to Black Women.”

“We need a love letter to Black women,” said Waters. “We need it not only from this conference. We need it from our families often times. We need it from our communities. We need it from the churches that we give so much attention to and give our resources to and don’t really get it back. We need a love letter coming from all over this country for what we have suffered, for what we have endured, for the way that we have been denied and for the way that we have been ostracized.” 

Waters in her speech specifically praised former Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank and the late U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) for their work in support of LGBTQ+ rights and efforts to combat HIV/AIDS. Waters also thanked Jewel Thais-Williams, who opened Catch One, a bar and restaurant on Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles that became a refuge for people with HIV/AIDS.

“They had nowhere to gather, nowhere to go, nowhere to be recognized as people who needed support,” said Waters.

B. Kaye Hayes, deputy assistant secretary for infectious disease in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health who is also the executive director of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, is among those who are expected to speak at the conference. Mark S. King, an HIV/AIDS activist and blogger who published “My Fabulous Disease: Chronicles of a Gay Survivor” on Sept. 1, is scheduled to talk on Thursday.

Cal Benn contributed to this story.

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