Community forum on PrEP set in Houston

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Damon Jacobs

The United Way of Greater Houston — Community Resource Center will host a one-day event on pre-exposure prophylaxis — PrEP — on Thursday, Oct. 22. The event is co-sponsored by Med-IQ, HealthHIV, Pozitively Healthy and the National Coalition for LGBT Health. The event is supported by an educational grant from Gilead Sciences Inc.

“Are you prepared for PrEP? A Community Forum to Explore the Optimal Use of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis for HIV Prevention” will be open to the community from 5:15-8:30 p.m., and to HIV service providers from 5:15-9 p.m. Dinner will be provided. The UW Community Resource Center is located at 50 Waugh Drive.

Presentations will range from defining PrEP and how it works to identifying barriers to accessing and using PrEP. Continuing medical education and continuing education credits will be available for physicians, physicians’ assistants, nurses and other healthcare professionals.

Steering committee faculty for the event are Dr. Robert M. Grant, professor of medicine with the University of California in San Francisco; Dr. Oni J. Blackstock, assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine/Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York; and Dr. Richard Elion, associate professor of clinical medicine with George Washington University school of Medicine in Washington, D.C. Community presenter will be Damon Jacobs, a licensed marriage and family therapist and consumer PrEP educator from New York City.

Advocates and consumers can RSVP to the forum here.

Providers and healthcare professionals can contact Med-IQ at 866-858-7434 or by email at info@med-iq.com for information. ASO/CBOs and consumers can contact HealthHIV at 202-232-6749 pr by email at christopher@healthyhiv.org for information.

—  Tammye Nash

2 Dallas organizations among those receiving prevention funding from CDC

Six community-based organizations in Texas —  including two in Dallas — are among the 90 CBOs nationwide chosen to receive a total of $216 million in new funding intended to strengthen HIV prevention efforts, according to a statement released this morning (Wednesday, July 1) by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Kirk Myers, Abounding Prosperity

Dallas CBOs receiving funds are Abounding Prosperity Inc. and AIDS Arms Inc. Other Texas CBOs on the list are AIDS Foundation Houston Inc., BEAT AIDS Coalition Trust in San Antonio, Change Happens in Houston and St. Hope Foundation in Houston.

According to a statement from the CDC, “The selected CBOs have demonstrated experience and on-the-ground expertise serving populations most affected by the epidemic, including African-Americans, men who have sex with men, transgender individuals and people who inject drugs.

“Consistent with CDC’s high-impact prevention approach, CBOs will invest the new funding in cost-effective and scalable interventions, targeted to the populations that need them most,” the statement continued. “These include HIV testing, condom distribution, improving adherence to treatment among people with HIV, and ensuring access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) for people at high risk of infection.”

These funds are “one critical piece” of the nearly $700 million the CDC invests annually in HIV prevention efforts across the country, the statement said.

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Dr. John Carlo, AIDS Arms

Dr. Eugene McCray, director of CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, said the funding includes, for the first time, a component allowing organization to pool their expertise and resource into “prevention partnerships.” Of the 90 organizations receiving funds, 30 will serve as the lead of a partnership comprised of several organizations, giving 47 additional organizations the chance to contribute their expertise to help deliver more comprehensive prevention services.

“It’s clear that we need to focus our limited resources on strategies that can have the greatest possible impact,” McCray said. “This funding targets local communities to help maximize the impact of every federal prevention dollar. By delivering powerful prevention tools where they’re needed most, we can have a transformative impact on the epidemic.”

The funded organizations are in the 50 geographic areas that reported the highest number of HIV diagnoses in 2011. Of the 90 directly-funded CBOs, 67 (74.4 percent) primarily serve African-Americans and 15 (16.7 percent) primarily serve Hispanics; 64 (71.1 percent) primarily serve MSM.

 

—  Tammye Nash

AIDS Arms offers pop-up HIV testing locations this week

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Dr. John Carlo

National HIV Testing Day is Saturday, June 27, and AIDS Arms Inc. is honoring the day with pop-up locations for free HIV testing in Oak Lawn and in Cockrell Hill, beginning Thursday, June 25.

While AIDS is no longer the death sentence it once was, it is still a pandemic,and its impact on individuals and families is staggering. The best way to fight it, says Dr. John T. Carlo, AIDS Arms’ CEO, is to educate ourselves and to know our sero-status.

“By getting tested, a person can find out whether he or she needs life-saving medications,” Dr. Carlo said, noting that these free HIV testing events provide the “ideal opportunity to take this important step in preserving the health, safety and lives of loved ones.”

The tests at AIDS Arms National HIV Testing Day events are “fast (results can be available in as quick as 60 seconds), free and performed in a confidential manner,” according to an AIDS Arms press release.

NHTD pop-up testing locations are:

• Thursday, June 25, 3-7 p.m. at Walgreen’s, 3802 Cedar Springs Road.

• Thursday, June 25, 3-7 p.m. at Walgreen’s, 8120 S. Cockrell Hill Road.

• Thursday, June 25, 10 p.m.-2 a.m. at Havana’s, 4006 Cedar Springs Road

• Friday, June 26, 3-7 p.m. at Walgreen’s, 3802 Cedar Springs Road.

• Friday, June 26, 3-7 p.m. at Walgreen’s, 8120 S. Cockrell Hill Road.

• Saturday, June 27, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. p.m. at Walgreen’s, 3802 Cedar Springs Road.

• Saturday, June 27, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.. at Walgreen’s, 8120 S. Cockrell Hill Road.

• Sunday, June 28, 11 p.m.-3 a.m., Station 4, 3911 Cedar Springs Road.

—  Tammye Nash

25 Stories of LifeWalk: Raeline Nobles

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Raeline Nobles

LifeWalk, the  5K held each October to raise money for AIDS Arms and other North Texas AIDS service agencies, marks its 25th year this fall. And to celebrate, each Friday for the 25 weeks leading up to the event, AIDS Arms is posting another Story of LifeWalk.

This week’s story comes from Raeline Nobles, AIDS Arms’ longtime executive director, who retired a few years ago.

Check it out here.

—  Tammye Nash

Legacy’s Master Leasing needs sheets

Melissa Grove

Legacy Counseling Center’s glamorous Melissa Grove … because I didn’t have a picture of Larry to post

Legacy Counseling Center needs new and gently used full-sized sheets and bedding for its clients in its Master Leasing Program.

The program began about a year-and-a-half ago. About 24 apartments in Oak Cliff’s Oak Park Estates neighborhood were renovated and decorated with donations from the community to house people with HIV/AIDS who were homeless.

Residents who participate develop a one-year plan to get back on their feet, but having a place to live gives them the stability to do that. A number of residents who have participated in the plan have graduated out of the program.

Contact Larry by email or at 214-244-2240 to donate sheets or find out what else the program needs.

—  David Taffet

UPDATE: Needle exchange pilot program bill passes House

texas-capitolThe Texas House voted overwhelmingly today (Tuesday, May 12) to support a pilot needle exchange program aimed at slowing the spread of HIV and other diseases in select Texas counties.

HB 65 by Rep. Ruth McClendon, D-San Antonio, passed on a bipartisan 92-37 vote with 2 representatives voting present. The program would create test sites for an anonymous exchanges in Bexar, Dallas, El Paso, Harris, Neuces, Travis and Webb Counties.

“These Needle Exchange Programs have proven successful throughout the nation and have recently been enacted in Kentucky and Indiana. Charitable and faith based organizations have tried establishing these programs in Texas for years, and it is about time the government allows these organizations to help their communities without fear of arrest or government interference,” McClendon said in a statement to the Voice.

The bill would not use state money to establish the program, instead relying on not for profit groups to take on the efforts without fear of prosecution.

When Legacy Community Health’s Januari Leo learned it pass today, she said she was floored. “It was unexpected. We had been following other bills,” she said by phone. Having followed the fight for needle exchange bills in their various iterations since 2003.

The bill has faced an uphill climb in the Legislature in the past. Leo said the bill nearly passed in the 2009 session. Last session right wing groups used it as bait to defeat many of its supporters in the House and Senate. Losing key Republican support left advocates thinking it was all but dead.

Like Leo, Resource Center’s Rafael McDonnell was surprised. He also welcomed the vote. “This is a welcome move by the House to create this pilot program. We’ve seen elsewhere that needle exchanges are effective to reduce the spread of communicable diseases like HIV. It’s a common sense policy and good for public health. I hope it finds support in the state senate.”

The bill’s future in the state senate is uncertain following the defeat last year of its chief Republican supporter former State Sen. Bob Deuell of Greenville by Sen. Bob Hall. The bill had no Senate companion this year.

To Stephen Pace of AIDS Interfaith Network, even if it just won in the House, the time for a needle exchange is still long overdue. “We need needle exchanges in the arsenal. It is part of the comprehensive approach to HIV. The struggle is really about judgment about drug use, not HIV prevention – and we have been involved in the struggle for 30 years,” AIDS Interfaith’s Steven Pace wrote via text message. ”It’s time for Texas to get on board with all the real ways of doing HIV prevention.”

—  James Russell

UPDATE: LGBT groups respond to FDA lifting lifetime ban on blood donations

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UPDATE:

Lambda Legal and the ACLU chimed in as well echoing the earlier statements from the Human Rights Campaign and Resource Center’s Rafael McDonnell: the rule requiring men not have had sex with other men for 12 months before donating blood contributes to unfounded fears, generalizations and stereotypes of gay men.

Per Lambda Legal’s Scott Schoettes, Legal Senior Attorney and Director of the HIV Project:

Merely changing the parameters of this outdated policy does not alter its underlying discriminatory nature, eliminate its negative and stigmatizing effects, nor transform it into a policy based on current scientific and medical knowledge…If we are serious about a policy that is truly most protective of the blood supply, it will treat all potential donors the same and base any deferrals on the conduct of those potential donors within a scientifically justified ‘window period’ prior to donation.

Per the ACLU’s Legislative Representative Ian Thompson:

The FDA’s proposal must be seen as part of an ongoing process and not an end point. The reality for most gay and bisexual men — including those in committed, monogamous relationships — is that this proposal will continue to function as a de facto lifetime ban. Criteria for determining blood donor eligibility should be based on science, not outdated, discriminatory stereotypes and assumptions.

Earlier, the Human Rights Campaign’s Government Affairs Director David Stacy blasted the FDA’s decision:

While this new policy is movement toward an optimal policy that reflects fundamental fairness and the best scientific research, it falls far short of an acceptable solution because it continues to stigmatize gay and bisexual men, preventing them from donating life-saving blood based solely on their sexual orientation, rather than a policy based on actual risk to the blood supply. This new policy cannot be justified in light of current scientific research and updated blood screening technology. We will continue to work towards an eventual outcome that both minimizes risk to the blood supply and treats gay and bisexual men with the respect they deserve.

ORIGINAL STORY:

The Food and Drug Administration announced today (Tuesday, Dec. 23) that it will lift the lifetime ban on blood donations by men who have sex with men, reports The New York Times. The FDA however stayed the rule requiring men not have had sex with other men for 12 months before donating blood.

The FDA instituted the ban in the early days of the AIDS epidemic, when little was known about the virus, to protect the nation’s blood supply. But according to the Times, “science — and the understanding of H.I.V. in particular — has advanced in the intervening decades, and on Tuesday the F.D.A. acknowledged as much.”

The LGBT think tank Williams Institute estimated lifting the ban could add 317,000 pints of blood to the nation’s supply annually, a two percent increase.

The United States joins other European countries in lifting the ban, such as Britain which listed theirs in 2011.

The move is seen as a victory for gay and bisexual men.

“This is a major victory for gay civil rights,” I. Glenn Cohen, a law professor at Harvard University who specializes in bioethics and health, told the Times. “We’re leaving behind the old view that every gay man is a potential infection source.” But he said the policy was “still not rational enough.”

“It’s great they’re lifting the lifetime ban. It made no sense because we’re in a different time and place. But we’re only half way there,” said Resource Center’s Communications and Advocacy Manager Rafael McDonnell. ”They’re limiting monogamous couples who have been together for a long time and practice safe sex. It’s progress but they could have gone further.”

He also speculated if the new rules, which will be drafted early next year, will include gender identity. He cited a case from earlier in 2014 when a transgender woman in Canada was mistaken for a gay man and turned away from donating blood. Canada lifted their lifetime ban on men who have sex with men from donating blood as long as they have been celibate for five years. The policy does not exist for trans women in relationships with women, however.

Just a few weeks ago, two federal advisory committees met to discuss changing the federal policy, reported NPR. While one committee on blood safety overwhelmingly voted (16-2) to change the policy, another was more cautious. The latter, an advisory committee to the Food and Drug Administration, discussed and then ducked making any possible changes. But they were open to allowing donations by men who haven’t had sex with another man for more than a year, which seems to indicate a compromise in the administration.

MSM are more susceptible “as a group, at increased risk for HIV, hepatitis B and certain other infections that can be transmitted by transfusion,” according to the current FDA webpage. But that policy isn’t discriminatory: “FDA’s deferral policy is based on the documented increased risk of certain transfusion transmissible infections, such as HIV, associated with male-to-male sex and is not based on any judgment concerning the donor’s sexual orientation.”

 

—  James Russell

Christmas Stocking Auction raises funds for Legacy Founders Cottage

The annual Christmas Stocking Auction at the Round-Up Saloon on Sunday, Dec. 14 raised $19,000 for Legacy Counseling Center’s Legacy Founders Cottage. Founders Cottage provides hospice and rehabilitative care for people living with HIV.

—  David Taffet

Arizona pastor says cure for AIDS is gay genocide

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So-called “pastor,” Steven Anderson

Faithful Word Baptist Church Pastor Steven Anderson celebrated World AIDS Day 2014 by sharing with his Tempe, Az. congregation the cure for AIDS: kill all the gays.

According to RawStory.com, in a sermon he titled “AIDS: The Judgement of God,” said that the we could have an “AIDS-free world by Christmas” simply by following Old Testament scripture.”Turn to Leviticus 20:13, because I actually discovered the cure for AIDS. ‘If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death. Their blood shall be upon them.’

“And that, my friend, is the cure for AIDS. It was right there in the Bible all along. And they’re out spending billions of dollars in research and test. It’s curable — right there. Because if you executed the homos like God recommends, you wouldn’t have all this AIDS running rampant,” Anderson told his congregation Sunday, Nov. 30, the day before World AIDS Day,

In that same sermon, Anderson shouted out a furious denial of the idea that LGBT people can be Christian, declaring that “No homos will ever be allowed in this church as long as I am pastor here.”

But “the homos” aren’t the only folks Anderson hates. According to IfYouOnlyNews.com, he got in trouble with the Secret Service in 2009 after he posted a video online in which he openly prayed for President Obama to die (he did it again this year); he has preached that women have no purpose outside the kitchen and the bedroom and should certainly never speak in church; and he has preached that Jews are all vile liars.

If you have the stomach for it, here’s video of Anderson, first, calling for gay genocide, and second, declaring there will never be any homos in his church.
You can probably find more of his so-called sermons on YouTube; he seems to be quite proud of his ignorance, bigotry and hatefulness.

—  Tammye Nash

Tainted Love:

How HIV stigma is damaging our community today… and at least one way it could serve a higher purpose

By Lawrence Ferber

 

Editor’s Note: Some of the names and some details in this article have been changed.

Stigma: a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.

Hearing the words “I’m HIV-positive” made Bryan freeze.

HIV-RibbonA 23-year-old graphic designer, Bryan had met a guy at a Manhattan gay club, a svelte 25-year-old tourist named Zach, with whom he danced, drank and laughed. Around 1 a.m., just before heading to Zach’s hotel for more private activities together, the tourist disclosed his positive HIV status.

His viral load was undetectable, successfully suppressed with a drug regimen to the point that there was low to no risk for transmission. He was clear of other STDs, and he had packed an ample supply of condoms.

Still, Bryan declined to go back with him, offering up a politely worded excuse rather than saying what he really thought: “I don’t sleep with HIV-positive guys.”

But Zach had heard those words, or variations on them, more than a few times since he had diagnosed a couple of years before. And he could see thetruth clearly in Bryan’s green eyes.

He felt like shit — judged and tainted. But while Zach wouldn’t lie and tell someone he was negative, he understood why so many others in his shoes did.

Bryan ended up hooking up later that same night at another bar with an architect-in-training from Chicago named Alex, who said he was negative.

Here’s the twist: When he turned Zach down that night, Bryan was actually already HIV-positive, even though he didn’t find out until about six months later. That’s when he went in and got tested for the first time in three years, having put off being tested because he was afraid of what he might find out, thanks to a bareback encounter with a man he met on Grindr, a man who deleted his Grindr profile the next day, disappearing as if in a puff of smoke.

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Matthew Rodriguez with the comprehensive HIV/AIDS resource website The Body, noted: “Stigma is really damaging on both ends. For negative people, stigma can sometimes stop them from getting tested. If they feel they did anything that put them at risk, they may not want to get tested because the result may be devastating.

“I think it also stops people from interacting with those living with HIV as full people,” he continued. “People just look at you as a status, as a virus. It can also stop people from going to the doctor or seeking treatment, because that’s admitting they have the virus.”

At best, HIV stigma can lead to emotional sting, lost connections and deep blows to self-esteem. At worst, it can cause life and career-threatening discrimination and behavior that is dangerous and destructive to oneself and to others.

A recent study by Houston’s LIVE Consortium on the topic of HIV stigma within the gay/bisexual male community was published in the International Journal of Sexual Health. It concluded that, “Because it is realistic to expect that in a climate in which HIV has become increasingly invisible and closeted and in which infections are on the rise [due to stigma], gay and bisexual men will be increasingly affected and infected by HIV.”

Numerous organizations and campaigns are addressing HIV stigma, from those created exclusively for that purpose, including the two-year-old The Stigma Project and HIV Equal, to online resources like The Body, Avert.org, and HIV Plus, to hookup apps like MISTER.

The latter, in collaboration with Michigan’s Mr. Friendly HIV nonprofit, allows members to declare a commitment to “Live Stigma-Free” and date individuals of any HIV status on their profiles.

Despite these, stigma is only getting worse within the LGBT community, a fact LIVE’s disheartening study backs up.

Olympic gold medal diver Greg Louganis, who is himself HIV-positive, said: “I find often that stigma is self-imposed, out of undeserved and unwarranted shame and guilt.”

Louganis has HIV-positive since the 1980s, and his life is chronicled in the new documentary, Back On Board, currently making the rounds at festivals.

“The biggest problem is it inhibits open communication,” Louganis said, “and we still in this society have a difficult problem talking about sex.”

Longtime AIDS activist Peter Staley, a subject of David France’s Oscar-nominated documentary How To Survive A Plague, describes stigma as, literally, a “viral divide between those who perceive themselves to be negative and those who are positive. There are a lot of negatives to living with HIV the rest of your life — having to keep your health insurance in order, meds, side effects — but the big one now is the stigma.”

He continues, “I think a large number of negative men, especially if younger, try to avoid HIV just by avoiding people with HIV. They think they’re protected by a kind of moral code where a positive guy would disclose. On the flipside, the positive guys are so threatened by that stigma that they keep their status a secret, and that perpetuates the false assumption by many negative guys there isn’t a lot of HIV in their world.

“They think it isn’t something playing out in their generation that much, even though it is.”

New Yorker Steven Colon, a 21-year-old videogame design student diagnosed with HIV this past summer, now knows this sobering reality firsthand. Prior to his seroconversion — because he preferred barebacking with some partners, Colon opted for frequent HIV testing to keep tabs on his status — Colon only had sex with partners who identified as HIV-negative. He says he didn’t choose to have sex only with HIV-negative men; it was just that none of his partners ever told him they were positive.

After finding out he was HIV-positive, Colon contacted his sexual partners, but none of them have come forward to say they were actually positive or that they have tested positive since.

“It’s a little upsetting I don’t know who it is,” he admits.

Colon, who promotes a monthly superhero/spandex/lycra-themed party at NYC’s Pieces bar (called Skintight USA), found some immediate support amongst a couple of friends who, coincidentally, also tested positive at about the same time.

Staley feels that a major failing with most anti-stigma campaigns is that they “preach to the choir” and so fail to reach their target audiences — such as those gay millennials whose new infection rates are, as illustrated by Colon’s social cluster, rising.

On the ACT UP NY Alumni Facebook page last month, member Rebecca Reinhardt reported some flabbergasting, ill-informed comments and opinions she overheard at a West Hollywood happy hour for Ivy League 20-somethings.

These pearls of overheard misinformation included: “Condoms are useless, since they always break and you have only a 2 percent chance of getting HIV from unprotected sex anyway,” and PrEP “is a waste of money since it’s just for sex addicts anyway. “

Staley interjects, “I’m not wagging my finger at these guys. This generation of young gay men is no worse than mine. They’re just living in different times. When I was 20, I also perceived risk very differently, and was very dismissive of things that happened earlier in history and that I didn’t think applied to me.”

One exception when it comes to prevalence of stigma and misinformation seems to be San Francisco, where many early PrEP adopters live. Even those who argue that PrEP encourages reckless behavior that can cause upticks in other STD infections — like Hepatitis C — are at least having open communication.

“San Francisco is the shining example of where, if you put stigma on a locality ranking scale, you’ll find the least stigma of anywhere in the country,” Staley says. “They also have a very low HIV infection rate because guys there talk and think about HIV, and [use] a much more reasoned risk analysis.

“There will be a negative guy sleeping with positive guys, but asking about their viral load and making certain decisions determined by that,” Staley says. “That sophistication is lost on many young gay men outside San Francisco and New York City. I want to figure out the best way to reach them, and its likely going to come from [within] their generation, not mine.”

Activist Jack Mackenroth, who was open about his HIV-positive status while a contestant on Project Runway, agrees that it’s difficult to get people who don’t think — who don’t want to think — that HIV directly affects them engaged. He feels that once PrEP use grows more widespread, medical treatments advance and positive people become more visible, HIV stigma will dissipate.

Yet with stigma winning the battle today, is it possible to take this destructive force, reprogram it and somehow wield it for constructive, prevention-forward purposes? To replace fear and loathing with understanding and empathy, and to ultimately humanize HIV-positive individuals?

Perhaps — and in a handful of sizes.

“It would be useful to set someone down and say, ‘Imagine you are positive,’” Mackenroth muses. “You want to know what it feels like, wear a t-shirt saying you are positive all day long. You will know what that that’s like.”

That’s exactly what Kevin Maloney’s Rise Up To HIV is doing with its “No Shame About Being HIV+” T-shirts. Members of New York University’s First Year Queers & Allies leadership program wear these to experience reactions from those who would perceive their shirt as a status announcement.

It’s a start, and an experiment that more schools and colleges should look into.

“I’ve worn it and gotten mixed responses,” says Rodriguez. “Honestly, anyone can get HIV. The whole problem with stigma is [it perpetuates that] someone had to do something wrong to get HIV.

“But we know from science that with gay men, two-thirds of infections happen within the context of relationships,” Rodriguez continues. “I applaud people who don’t let status stand in the way of having a sexual relationship. It’s usually not the positive and on treatment guys one should be second-guessing. It should be the ones who don’t know. The only ones who know their status for sure are positive.”

—  Tammye Nash