25 ways to fight AIDS

Today, December 1, is World AIDS Day.

Wait! Before you click the ‘next’ button or scroll down your news feed hear me out: The LGBT community has been living with AIDS for three decades now. For people of my generation the message to get tested and use condoms has been stated and restated so many times that it has faded into the background with the result that, all too often, people do not take the steps they need to to protect themselves. Harris County is responsible for 30% of the new HIV/AIDS diagnosis in Texas and men who have sex with men account for 64% of newly diagnosed men statewide. The threat is not over, the fight is not over, AIDS still endanger the LGBT community.

But I don’t want to just talk about just condoms and testing (as important as they are). Fighting HIV/AIDS is easier than you might think. I present to you 25 ways, in no particular order, to fight AIDS in Houston.

25. If you’re over a certain age talk to a young LGBT person about how your life has been affected by HIV/AIDS. You might be surprised how eager we are to hear your stories.

24. If you’re under a certain age listen to an older LGBT person tell you how HIV/AIDS has affected their lives. I know you aren’t eager to hear their stories, but listen anyway. You may find that learning the history of your community is more empowering than you’d expect.

23. If you are a sexually active gay man or transgender woman participate in the Baylor College of Medicine’s HIV Vaccine Study.

22. Ask your local public or school library to put books about HIV/AIDS on the shelf, not just in the back room where they have to be requested. Access to accurate information is crucial in fighting the spread of the disease.

21. Post HIV/AIDS stories to facebook.

20. Ask your clergy person what your community of faith is doing to fight the pandemic.

19. Sign up for action alerts from the Texas HIV/AIDS Coalition at texashiv.org

18. Actually follow through when the action alerts from the Texas HIV/AIDS Coalition arrive in your in-box.

17. Volunteer for organizations that deal with communities at high risk for infection: high school dropouts, victims of sexual assault, the poor, the homeless and sex workers. Fighting AIDS means fighting the injustice in our society that all too often contributes to new infections.

16. Say AIDS out loud.

15. Ask political candidates what they will do to continue funding to fight HIV/AIDS.

14. Once they’re elected, ask those candidates why they aren’t doing more to continue funding to fight HIV/AIDS.

13. Remind yourself that it’s OK to be tired of hearing about HIV/AIDS.

12. Thank a person who volunteers their time to the fight.

11. Take a moment to remember the people we’ve lost.

10. Take a moment to think of the people we may loose if this pandemic isn’t stopped.

9. Take a HIV/AIDS healthcare worker to dinner.

8. Wear a red ribbon.

7. Recognize that wearing a red ribbon isn’t enough.

6. Work with communities other than your own. HIV/AIDS effects us all.

5. Get angry.

4. Get over your anger.

3. Donate to an HIV/AIDS Charity.

2. When you pass a mobile HIV testing center, thank the workers.

1. Don’t pretend the fight is over, and don’t let other people pretend it’s over either.

—  admin

What’s Shakin’ – Stone Soup at F Bar, Washtonians support marriage equality

Stone Soup1. For people living with AIDS proper nutrition is more than just healthy living, it’s a vital part of the regimen that keeps them alive. Unfortunately the struggling economy and cuts to government HIV/AIDS nutrition programs mean that, for some, eating right, or just eating, is a challenge.  That’s where the AIDS Foundation Houston Stone Soup Food Assistance Program steps in.  Kelly McCann, CEO of of AFH, says that the program has recently seen a 40% increase in request for assistance and needs an additional $25,000 a month to meet demand. F Bar (202 Tuam) is doing its part to help out tonight, collecting monetary and food donations from the community. Donors will receive a VIP invitation to an appreaciation party on Nov 22, and be entered in a raffle to win fabulous prizes.
2. Washington may soon become the seventh state to have full marriage equality, if a recent poll by the University of Washington, Institute for the Study of Ethnicity, Race & Sexualityis accurate.  The poll asked 938 registered voters in the evergreen state if they would support a same-sex marriage law were it to appear on the 2012 ballot: 47% responded that yes, they would strongly support it, only 32% said they would strongly oppose.
3. Voter turnout in Harris County is slowly catching up with the last municipal election cycle in 2009, but continues to lag.  So far 28,679 people have cast their ballots, 81% of the 34,485 who had voted at this point in the process the last go around.  Early voting continues through November 3.  Election day is Nov 8. A list of all early voting locations and sample ballots  are available at harrisvotes.org.

—  admin

No place like home

Linze Serell began her Miss Charity America reign nine years ago, just not like you think.

“I was first runner-up for nine years,” Bill Lindsey says. “This year, I thought I’d give it another try.”

Serell is the alter ego of Lindsey and this year, he took the title for the first time after 11 total tries. But winning or not, this pageant is more than sparkles and makeup.

For 20 years, Miss Charity America has been the main fundraiser for Home for the Holidays, which sends people living with AIDS home during the season.

“It’s been a blessing to stick around this long,” he says. “I think we’re the only organization of our kind in the country.”

Last year, the organization provided travel for 23 people, including sending some home to South Africa. Although Lindsey says Home for the Holidays has lingered on the bottom of the list for AIDS funding, it has received help and acknowledgement from the likes of

American Airlines and Black Tie. This could be a new start for the organization, but that makes Miss Charity America no less important.

“Oh yes, this event is the life source of our organization,” Lindsey says.

— R.L.

Best Friends Club, 2620 E. Lancaster Ave., Fort Worth. 7 p.m. $5. All proceeds benefit the organization. HomeForTheHolidaysTexas.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 15, 2010.

—  Kevin Thomas

Gay couple separated by immigration law as one fights cancer; congressman won’t help

Aurelio Tolentino, left, and his partner, Roi Whaley

Roi Whaley and Aurelio Tolentino, both HIV-positive, met in 2004 through a support group for people living with AIDS. Roi is a native of Gulfport, Miss., and Tolentino, a registered nurse, had come to the U.S. on a work visa from his home in the Philipines.

Then, during the process of applying for his green card, authorities discovered Tolentino’s HIV-positive status, and immigration officials informed him he would have to leave the country. That was back in 2006, before President Barack Obama rescinded the policy prohibiting HIV-positive people from entering the U.S., either as immigrants or tourists.

Tolentino wasn’t too keen on going back to the Philipines. For one thing, it would mean leaving his partner, Whaley. On top of that, he had already been attacked and beaten for being gay in his home country, and if he were to return, it would likely happen again.

So Tolentino applied for asylum in the U.S. That application was denied because he had been in this country already for more than a year, and U.S. policy says anyone seeking asylum must apply within one year of entering the country.

Left with no other option, Tolention moved to Canada to live with his mother, who already has legal status as a permanent resident. He applied for asylum there and, once again, was denied. Now he may have no other choice than to return to the Philipines where he would possibly face harassment, violence and even death.

To make matters, Whaley was recently diagnosed with terminal cancer. He left for Seattle on Friday, Sept. 3, for a visit to his oncologist, after which he planned to fly on to Canada to spend the month of September with Tolentino and his mother. It will likely be the last time the partners see each other, since Tolentino faces deportation to the Phillipines, and Whaley’s deteriorating health rules out the possibility of him visiting Tolentino there.

There is one hope: a plea to the Department of Homeland Security to grant Tolentino a humanitarian parole that would allow him to return to the U.S temporarily to be with his dying partner. But that’s not likely to happen, either, especially without intervention from Whaley’s congressman, Rep. Gene Taylor, a Democrat from Bay St. Louis, Miss.

With the help of Immigration Equality, based in Washington, D.C., Whaley and Tolentino have already asked once for Taylor’s help. An aide in Taylor’s office told Whaley no, the congressman wasn’t going to intervene. And Taylor’s office has failed so far to even return calls from Immigration Equality.

But Steve Ralls, director of communications for Immigration Equality, said Friday that neither the couple nor Immigration Equality is ready to give up yet. They are asking for the public’s help in lobbying Congressman Taylor to intervene and get Homeland Security to grant the humanitarian parole that will let Whaley spend his final days with the man he loves.

“Were Roi and Aurelio a married heterosexual couple, Roi would be eligible to apply to sponsor Aurelio for residency in the United States. Because they are a gay couple, however, that option is not open to them,” Ralls said in a press release sent out Friday. “Now, with Roi’s health deteriorating and Aurelio facing a move to the Philipines — where it would be nearly impossible for Roi to travel and be with him — the couple face impending separation. They are one of 36,000 such couples, according to an analysis of the 2000 Census data, facing this kind of situation.

“Despite having followed every immigration rule and voluntarily leaving the U.S. when immigration asked him to do so, Aurelio is now being punished under the law for following the law,” Ralls said.

If you want to help Immigration Equality fight for Roi and Aurelio, or if you are yourself part of an international same-sex couple trying to negotiate immigration law, contact the organization at 202-347-7007.

If you want to contact Congressman Taylor and encourage him to intervene on behalf of this couple, go to his website here to find addresses and phone numbers for his office in Washington, D.C., and all five of his offices in his district.

—  admin

Losing his home — and his health

Dallas man with HIV says housing stability helped him stay healthy. But late HOPWA payments led to his eviction, and a rising viral load

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer taffet@dallasvoice.com

FIGHTING FOR HEALTH AND HOUSING | Since he received notice that he was being evicted because HOPWA payments covering his rent were late, Dustin Mattlage’s CD4 count has dropped 200 points. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

“Housing stability has kept me out of the hospital,” said Dustin Mattlage, who has lived with HIV for 17 years.

But now, problems with the federal program that has helped give him stable housing is having a negative impact on his health.

In 2005, Mattlage began receiving assistance through Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS, a federal program better known as HOPWA. The program he relies on to keep a roof over his head is administered by the city, and Dallas consistently pays landlords late.

Mattlage said a recent 200-point drop in his CD4 count was caused by the stress of a current eviction demonstrates the importance of stable housing for people living with AIDS.

Don Maison, president and CEO of AIDS Services Dallas, agrees.

“I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen who have been told by their doctors they had weeks to live,” Maison said. “One guy moved into Ewing on May 1, 1996. He is thriving.”

People living with AIDS in stable housing have an 80 percent reduction in mortality, Maison said one study showed. Another study indicated the death rate is seven to nine times higher among people with AIDS who are homeless.

HOPWA supports a number of programs, including acquisition and rehabilitation of housing units, that have benefited ASD.

Other programs provide rental assistance and prevent homelessness, targeting individuals who are not in housing like ASD or Villages at Samaritan House in Fort Worth. In Dallas, the city and county run two of those programs.

The city provides temporary, emergency assistance. A person with HIV can apply for that help and Dallas will pay rent for up to five months a year. Fort Worth runs a similar program.

A county program that receives HOPWA funding provides permanent assistance.

According to a HUD study released earlier this year, renting apartments is cheaper than placing people in homeless shelters, even before the cost of extra services such as more emergency room visits is added.

Mattlage said that if he were homeless, he’d have no way to refrigerate the medication that has kept him out of Parkland.

With a stable home, Mattlage said, rather than worrying about where he was going to spend the night, he re-entered the workforce.

Before moving into the Bailiwick, an apartment complex in Oak Lawn, Mattlage made sure the complex accepted HOPWA payments without late fees. He lost a previous apartment because even though HOPWA emergency funds covered his rent when he was sick, late charges he couldn’t cover mounted to more than $1,000.

While payments from the city-managed program are reliable, they are also consistently late.

To receive payments from the city, a landlord signs up as a vendor on the City Hall website. They also sign a payment agreement and check off “Yes, I am willing to wait for payment. (By checking this box, I agree to wait 6-8 weeks for payment to be processed. I also agree that late charges will cease upon the date of this agreement).”

Earlier this year, Kevin Forhan purchased the Bailiwick.

Forhan said he could not comment for the story because of ongoing litigation with Mattlage but would talk to Dallas Voice after that pending case is resolved.

Unrelated to Mattlage, he made one comment about the program.

“I think the bureaucracy makes it difficult for a small business to deal with it,” he said.

The pending litigation he referred to began in May.

On May 19, Mattlage received a notice of rental arrears. On June 16, he was served with an eviction notice with a June 21 court date.

While presiding Justice of the Peace Luis Sepulveda sympathized with Mattlage, he found no grounds for refusing the eviction. Mattlage did receive a stay, however, by filing an immediate appeal on grounds of housing discrimination based on disability. HUD referred the complaint to the city’s Fair Housing Office.

The court date for the appeal was July 22. Although he expected to lose, that delay gave Mattlage a month, rather than five business days, to find a new place to live and move.

He is now on permanent housing assistance in the HOPWA program managed by the county. Once Mattlage found his new apartment, the county scheduled an inspection to make sure the new apartment meets certain minimum standards and safety requirements. They also checked that the apartment is the size allowed and not a larger apartment that the client could sublet to a roommate for profit.

As expected, Mattlage lost his appeal on June 22, but was given an extra week for the county to approve the new residence and move.

Mattlage said receiving HOPWA emergency assistance is easy: To get temporary help from the city, bring a rental arrears notice, a copy of the lease and a current letter of diagnosis. “They want to know you’re currently getting treatment,” he said.

Mattlage said he found a lot of AIDS-related discrimination in housing in Oak Lawn.

While calling apartment complexes, he asked if they accepted Section 8 housing vouchers, a HUD program that subsidizes shelter for low-income individuals and families.
If they said they would, he asked if they accepted HOPWA. Most of those Oak Lawn properties that took Section 8 said they would not accept HOPWA.

Mattlage praised the HOPWA programs and said the city emergency help was easy to access. Getting an appointment with the county took more persistence. But both require some legwork.

“You have to be proactive,” he said.

City officials did not return calls seeking comment.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 23, 2010

—  Kevin Thomas

‘Hell Freezes Over’ tops $10K

Rafael McDonnell of Resource Center Dallas reports that the final total for “Hell Freezes Over,” the fundraiser held in response to the Fred Phelps cult’s visit last week, topped $10,000.

The “Westboro Baptist Church Memorial Ice Machine” was ordered Tuesday and was paid for with proceeds of the fundraiser.

With several hundred dollars collected at the Dallas Holocaust Museum, the money raised in Dallas may be a record for fundraising at a Phelps counterprotest.

McDonnell shared some of the notes that accompanied the donations. One of his favorite came from Gary Duncan of Jani-King:

Rafael,

Love the idea of the name of your campaign. Very clever. Those Westboro people make my blood boil! Best of luck with your campaign.

Others donations were made in memory of or in honor of members of the community:

Hello good people.

I am a lifelong friend of Paul Doolan.

Take good care of him; he is precious.

Please use the enclosed check for the “Hell Freezes Over” campaign.

There was this beautiful note in memory of a son who died of AIDS:

In memory of my son, Mark D. Raymond, who would have been 50 years old had he lived. And my protest against the so called “Christians” in this land who manage to get so much media coverage. Congratulations in keeping your heads up and making the event positive for the Center.

And this one from someone who read about the visit:

Please accept this small donation to help you raise money for the much-needed ice machine.

While I do not live in the area of the Resource Center, I do know about the work the Center provides to citizens of the Dallas area, especially those living with AIDS. I commend you for asking people to donate up to one dollar for each minute of protest time. I am sure the article in The Dallas Morning News moved others as it did me to act and support your cause.

One donation was made in honor of activist Latisha McDaniel’s work in the community:

We wanted to make this contribution in your honor b/c of the selfless dedication w/ which you have continued to help others move past their own prejudices both within & outside the GLBT community. You actively seek to create positive change in the world around you, not to merely complain about the problems you see. You have also continually sought to build bridges between the straight & GLBT communities so that we can progress together, respecting each other’s contributions to society. You have challenged those around you to talk about difficult subjects in a safe & open atmosphere. You have become an inspiring voice of reason, compassion & passion on human rights issues that many have come to respect. We anticipate you becoming one of our city’s great leaders in the future & look forward to continuing to serve a supportive role in your dreams towards making a difference in the lives of others.

Diane Litke is president of Congregation Beth El Binah, the target of the Phelps clan picket at RCD.

“I’m glad being a target could be so productive for the Resource Center,” Litke said.

—  David Taffet