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Saturday, June 4, 2011

The quest for a cure

Long-term AIDS survivor Matt Sharp, left, is a participant in a clinical trial run by Dr. Jay Lalezari. (Photo: Liz Highleyman)
Long-term AIDS survivor Matt Sharp, left,
is a participant in a clinical trial run by 
Dr. Jay Lalezari. 
By Liz Highleyman -

Thirty years after the first report of what would come to be known as AIDS, more and more researchers and advocates are talking about a cure for HIV - a development that is both shocking and long overdue.

"Hope for a cure is based on amazing progress in drug development and in understanding the underlying biology of HIV infection," said Paul Volberding, one of the first doctors to treat HIV and cofounder of the AIDS clinic at San Francisco General Hospital.

When the syndrome of opportunistic infections, wasting, and plummeting T-cell counts was linked to a virus, many believed it would not be long before effective treatment, a vaccine, and ultimately a cure would become available.

But HIV - which attacks the CD4 T-cells that coordinate the immune response -proved a wily foe. The advent of combination antiretroviral therapy (ART) in the mid-1990s dramatically reduced morbidity and mortality, and improvements over the past decade have enabled most people with access to treatment to reach an undetectable viral load.

Yet current antiretroviral drugs cannot completely eliminate the virus; HIV can silently hide in reservoirs such as long-lived memory T-cells and comes roaring back soon after treatment is interrupted.

Several changes during the past few years have made discussion of a cure no longer taboo, including greater understanding of how HIV evades the immune system and persists in the body.

"We’ve learned so much about the basic biology of HIV that we’re willing to say aloud what has always been a distant dream: that HIV may be cured, not just controlled," Volberding told the Bay Area Reporter.

While ART can keep most HIV-positive people alive and relatively healthy, persistent immune activation and inflammation due to long-term infection can contribute to cardiovascular disease and accelerated aging, even in people with suppressed viral load and good T-cell counts. On the global level, there is a growing consensus that we cannot treat our way out of the epidemic.

From Berlin to California

Many people attribute renewed hope for a cure to the Berlin Patient, a man who appears to have eradicated HIV after a bone marrow transplant, providing proof-of-concept that a functional cure is possible.

At the 2008 Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, German hematologist Gero Hütter presented the case of Timothy Brown, an HIV-positive American man living in Berlin who required a bone marrow stem cell transplant due to untreatable leukemia.

Hütter’s team managed to find a donor who was both a genetic match and carried an uncommon mutation that makes cells resistant to HIV infection. CCR5 is one of two gateways, or coreceptors, that HIV uses to enter cells. People who carry two copies of a genetic variant known as CCR5-delta-32 do not express this receptor on their CD4 T-cells, so most types of HIV are unable to enter.

After his own cells were killed off with chemotherapy and radiation to eliminate the leukemia, Brown received two transplants of hematopoietic or blood-forming stem cells from a donor with the double resistance mutation - a procedure that essentially replaces the recipient’s immune system with that of the donor.

Three years later Brown, who recently moved to San Francisco, remains off antiretroviral therapy and shows no signs of HIV in his blood, lymph nodes, gut, or brain.

This remarkable case led researchers to ask whether gene therapy could alter immune cells in a way that mimics the natural mutation. Richmond-based biotechnology company Sangamo BioSciences developed a zinc finger technique to delete the CCR5 gene from cells, rendering them resistant to HIV.

At this year’s retrovirus conference in February, Dr. Jay Lalezari from Quest Clinical Research in San Francisco reported findings from a clinical trial of this approach in six participants with long-term HIV infection who had undetectable viral load on ART but still had low CD4 cell counts.

Participants had whole blood withdrawn and CD4 T-cells were filtered out. The harvested cells were sent to a laboratory to undergo the zinc finger procedure to remove CCR5, and the altered cells were then reinfused back into the patients. Five of the six participants experienced significant and sustained CD4 count increases, averaging about 200 cells.

"I was one of those people that over the years was finally able to reach undetectable [viral load] but my T-cells never recovered fully," said study participant and longtime AIDS activist Matt Sharp. "My hope in this trial was really to get my T-cells to a safe and normal range, which they appear to have done out to eight months."

Based on an ongoing analysis, Lalezari told the B.A.R. , "We remain enthused and we’re encouraged that the study is moving in the right direction, but it’s still too soon to know if this approach is going to provide true benefit."

Lalezari’s team is currently recruiting additional participants for related gene therapy studies, including people who have not yet started ART, people experiencing treatment failure, and people with CD4 counts below 200.

While the CD4 cell approach could allow people to stay off ART for prolonged periods, using gene therapy to alter hematopoietic stem cells that give rise to all types of immune cells that may harbor HIV could potentially offer a permanent functional cure.

This strategy is riskier, but it has been shown to work in mice. John Zaia’s group at City of Hope is now testing the approach in HIV-positive people who need stem cell transplants for leukemia, with funding from the 2004 stem cell ballot initiative that established the California Institute of Regenerative Medicine.

"Since my case had a huge impact on getting the thought of a cure back on the agenda, I am hoping that people will not see this as a done deal," Brown, the Berlin patient, told the B.A.R. "I am hoping for lots of effort and money to be directed toward a cure that may be attainable for everyone."

Other approaches

Scientists from government, academia, and the pharmaceutical industry are exploring a variety of other approaches to curing HIV.

Broadly defined, these fall into three areas, explained Dr. Steven Deeks from the Positive Health Program at SFGH: preventing any remaining low-level viral replication, enhancing the capacity of the immune system to seek out and kill HIV, and interventions that "can either reverse signals that force the virus into hiding or stimulate the virus so that comes out of hiding."

Researchers are currently testing a wide array of compounds to purge latent HIV from resting memory T-cells and other reservoirs. Once these silent viral genes are turned on and start producing new virus, they become visible to the immune system and can be targeted by existing antiviral drugs.

"We will undoubtedly learn a great deal with this first generation of ideas and hope to make breakthroughs, but it is certainly conceivable that our first ideas might not work," said Gilead Sciences researcher Romas Geleziunas. "However, since science is often an iterative process, this first generation might produce novel insights which will lead us to better ideas."

Advocates are devoting increased effort to promoting awareness of how far HIV cure research has come and encouraging more funding to enable it to go further.

"It’s fantastic that we have 10 to 20 great scientists working on this, but we need a few hundred," said Stephen LeBlanc of the AIDS Policy Project. "Community pressure is critical for getting this research moving more quickly. Whether a cure becomes available in three years or 20 years makes a tremendous difference to the world in terms of the number of people who will be felled by HIV."

Indeed, most experts are hesitant to predict when a cure for HIV might be available, especially after decades of wrong guesses about HIV vaccines.

"Over the next five years we’re going to see development of a variety of interventions that have a partial effect, and once we identify these various partially effective approaches, the next step will be to combine them to create a cure," Deeks told the B.A.R . "The first part is easier, the second part will be harder."

"Whether a cure is going to come from one approach or some combination, I do think its possible that in our lifetime we’ll be curing HIV," Lalezari conjectured.

In the meantime, UCSF Positive Health Program Medical Director Bradley Hare encourages people with HIV to take advantage of state-of-the-art therapy available today.

"My belief is that when we have strategies that can lead to a cure, the people who are going to be in the best position to benefit will be those who have controlled HIV," he said. "Getting on treatment early, staying on treatment, and keeping the virus undetectable make those people most likely to be successful."

People interested in learning more about the Quest gene therapy trials can contact (415) 353-0800 or drjay@questclinical.com.

Copyright Bay Area Reporter. For more articles from San Francisco's largest GLBT newspaper, visit www.ebar.com

Gay Irish presidential frontrunner claims he is victim of ‘smear campaign’ over paedophilia comments

By Christopher Brocklebank  -


Irish Senator David Norris, who looked set to become Ireland and Europe’s first openly gay president, has said the digging up of a nine-year-old interview in which he made controversial remarks about paedophilia is an act of sabotage.
The interview, which took place in 2002, reappeared in the Irish press on Monday. Consequently, his chances of becoming Ireland’s next president have been severely reduced.
As reported by Henry McDonald in the Guardian, Mr Norris had been ahead in all opinion polls in the race until this point.
The interview was with current affairs publication Magill. Norris had said to them: ”I haven’t the slightest interest in children, or in people who are considerably younger than me.
“I cannot understand how anybody could find children of either sex in the slightest bit attractive sexually . . . but in terms of classic paedophilia, as practised by the Greeks, for example, where it is an older man introducing a younger man to adult life, there can be something said for it. Now, again, this is not something that appeals to me.
“Although, when I was younger, I would have greatly relished the prospect of an older, attractive, mature man taking me under his wing, lovingly introducing me to sexual realities, treating me with affection, teaching me about life.”
Mr Norris has said the re-publication of the piece is part of a smear campaign. Speaking on an Irish radio station RTE, he said that he abhorred any sexual contact with children, and opposed paedophilia and incest in all its forms.
He added that, in the original interview he had “engaged in an academic discussion about classical Greece and sexual activity in a historical context. It was a hypothetical, intellectual conversation which should not have been seen as a considered representation of my views on some of the issues discussed over dinner.
“People should judge me on my record and actions as a public servant, over the last 35 years and on the causes and campaigns, for which I have fought, and not on an academic conversation with a journalist over dinner. I did not ever and would not approve of the finished article as it appeared.”
However, Helen Lucy Burke, the journalist who wrote the story in question, contested the claim made by Mr Norris that she had repeatedly turned her Dictaphone on and off during the interview.
Ms Burke also said she had amended a draft of her article in Magill prior to publication in order for Mr Norris to make any suggestions about changes.
Mr Norris is a longtime gay rights activist and respected James Joyce scholar.
If elected, he has vowed to challenge homophobia worldwide.

Married gay couples in Nova Scotia can now obtain a blessing from Anglican church

By Christopher Brocklebank  -


Legally partnered same-sex couples in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, Canada, can now obtain a blessing from the country’s Anglican Church.
A motion approving the blessings was passed at the 143rd Synod of the Diocese of Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island in Halifax last Saturday.
An overwhelming majority of over 300 participants voted in favour of the motion, but at least one participant left the event after a heated debate and the vote.
The issue of blessings for same-sex couples has been a controversial issue in Canada for some time.
Reverend David Fletcher of Lantz told the Novia Scotia Chronicle Herald: “It’s a contentious issue and it will continue to be.”
Rev. Fletcher added that he would like to see the Anglican Church go further and offer blessings for members of the bisexual and transgender communities and people in long-term heterosexual relationships who are unmarried, such as elderly and widowed couples who live together.
“They might prefer not to get legally married for a variety of reasons but would still like to have their long-term and committed relationship recognised by the church in the form of a sacramental blessing,” Fletcher said.
However, Reverend Stephen Ashton of Halifax voted against the motion and said there were a number of Anglicans who remain very much opposed to the concept of blessings for same-sex couples, even legally partnered ones.
“Approval of the motion violates interpretations of Scripture strictly adhered to by orthodox and evangelical members of the church [who] believe Scripture is opposed to same-sex relationships,” he said.
Some Anglican priests have left the church because they believe it has drifted too far from strict adherence to Scripture and Rev. Ashton said the decision to offer blessings in the diocese will lead to more defections.
In January, the issue saw international coverage when three former Anglican bishops were ordained as Catholic priests through a new programme offered by the Vatican that offers a simple route to Roman Catholicism for Anglicans who disagree with the direction their church is taking.

Human Rights Watch urge residents of Liechtenstein to vote ‘yes’ in referendum over gay partnerships

By Christopher Brocklebank  -


Human Rights Watch have said that the people of Liechtenstein should vote “yes” in this month’s referendum on whether their parliament should proceed to legalise same-sex partnerships.
Boris Dittrich, advocacy director of the LGBT Rights Program at Human Rights Watch said: “The parliament has already taken the right steps to ensure that everyone in Liechtenstein, regardless of sexual orientation, is entitled to the protection of the law . . . now the citizens of Liechtenstein have an opportunity to endorse this move against discrimination.”
If the majority of voters say yes in the referendum – which is to take place 17-19 June – lesbian and gay couples will be entitled by law to most of the same rights as married heterosexual couples, except in the areas of second-parent adoption, artificial insemination, and surrogacy. A no vote will leave same-sex partnerships outside of the protection of the law.
Mr Dittrich added: “A ‘yes’ vote not only recognises the reality that there is absolutely no reason that lesbians and gay men should not be entitled to protection of the law for their intimate relationships, but is also consistent with European efforts to modernise family law.”
A registered partnership bill was unanimously adopted by the Liechtenstein Parliament (Landtag) on 16 March. The bill was due to become law on 1 September this year.
However, under Liechtenstein law, a bill can be prevented from becoming law if the people block it through a referendum, which must be held within three months of the adoption of the bill.
Such a referendum requires a petition signed by a minimum of 1,000 registered voters. On 21 April a group called Vox Populi presented a total of 1,208 signatures to the government, effectively demanding a referendum. The result will be binding.
“The people of Liechtenstein should not isolate their country from Western Europe or their LGBT citizens from the rest of society,” Mr Dittrich said. “The fundamental right not to be discriminated against should be observed in Liechtenstein, and same-sex partnerships should be recognised by law. The people of Liechtenstein should vote yes in the referendum.”

jay brannan - housewife official video (on tour now.)



housewife (on iTunes now!)

music and lyrics by jay brannan

directed by stewart hendler (thx stewart!!)

album out july 1 online/july 15 physical CD (pre-order CD & check tour dates at jaybrannan.com)

two bodies pressed together
two boys are falling hard
the smell of sweat and leather
a kinky greeting card

crazy about each other
we both have fucked up pasts
but when we are together
we have a fucking blast

[chorus:]
i wanna be a housewife
what's so wrong with that
i wanna be a housewife, yeah
and that's just where i'm at

i'm making guacamole
he's working on the car
when he grills turkey burgers
he knows i like them charred

i like to wash the dishes
i like to scrub the floors
don't mind doing his laundry
what are boyfriends for

[chorus]

i wanna have his baby
i wanna wear his ring
he drives me fuckin crazy
i am his everything

[chorus]

i wanna be a housewife
what's so wrong with that
can't wait 'til he's in my life, yeah
cuz we haven't met

we haven't met yet...
we haven't met yet...

www.jaybrannan.com

LGBT launches petition after Space Needle rejects pride flag

Seattle pride flag
The Space Needle flew the pride flag in 2010.
Members of the LGBT community have launched an online petition after the Space Needle announced it would not fly the pride flag for Seattle's gay pride parade in June. Joe Mirabella at change.org is helping organize the petition with Josh Castle. So far, they have over 1,500 online signatures.
Mirabella said, "[The Space Needle has] a very good relationship with the LGBT community and that's why it is so confusing to so many of us when they chose not to fly the flag again this year."
He said attending the first flag raising last year was a moment he'll never forget and he had hoped it would be an annual tradition.
"It's particularly poignant for the pride flag to fly on top of the Space Needle because Seattle has the country's second largest Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual, and Transgender population," Mirabella said. "People move here from all over the world seeking a community where they can feel safe and welcome."
Seattle Out and Proud, producers of the parade, says it has a great relationship with the Space Needle and it doesn't fly any flag regularly.

STEVE HAYES: Tired Old Queen at the Movies - #76

DINNER AT EIGHT (1933)

An all-star cast shows up at Lionel Barrymore and Billie Burke's penthouse for George Cukor's comic masterpiece, "Dinner At Eight". On the guest list is an aging actress, Marie Dressler, a rich tycoon, Wallace Beery, his chorus girl wife, Jean Harlow and a faded movie star, John Barrymore who's having an affair with their daughter Madge Evans. Also in sterling support is fast talking Lee Tracy as Barrymore's beleaguered agent and Hilda Vaughn as Harlow's laconic maid who resembles a man in drag. Taken from the stage hit by the Algonquin Roundtable team of George S. Kaufman and Edna Ferber, "Dinner at Eight" had the most star studded cast since "Grand Hotel," the year earlier. Directed by a master, it's glamorous, and witty; "They don't make 'em like that anymore!"




See Johnny as Lt. Brannigan in GUYS & DOLLS
Connecticut Repertory Theatre - June 2 -- June 12, 2011
TKTS: 860.486.4226, http://bit.ly/fXB92s

See Steve Hayes & Bradford Scobie in
SEUSSICAL THE MUSICAL
Connecticut Repertory Theatre - June 16 -- June 26, 2011
TKTS: 860.486.4226, http://bit.ly/fXB92s

Friday, June 3, 2011

George and Farid

George and Farid are a committed couple who have been together for ten years. They own a restaurant in Brooklyn and soon they will be dads. They want to marry in New York.

Help George and Farid get married. Go tohttp://www.freedomtomarry.org/NewYork


Christian Lobby Slams AdShel Safe Sex Promotion With Homophobia




UPDATE: Quotes can be found at:http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/queensland/safe-sex-ads-to-be-reinstated-2011... and in the listed AdShel complaints
Number of complaints about the ad in 72hrs: 80
Number of protests in 48hrs: 90,000
Number of people pissed off enough to spend the last two days making a video about it: 4

Written by Paul Ayre
Directed by Paul Ayre & Jeremy Brull
Filming by Jeremy Brull
Edited by Emma McKenna and Jeremy Brull
Featuring (in order): Paul Ayre, Jeremy Brull, Emma McKenna, Craig Foster

On the 1st of June, a small group of people from the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) decided to focus a "grass roots" campaign to remove an ad promoting safe sex from bus shelters in Queensland. AdShel, the campaign creator bowed to the pressure of 80 complaints, many copied and pasted from a template sent out by figureheads in the ACL.

Under the guise of "please think about the children", a series of homophobic rants were found in the complaints - some of which are included here verbatim (abotu 80-90%). 10% we added because we thought they were funny - the fun part is guessing what's real and what isn't.

It's unfortunate these people use the banner of "Christianity" to promote hate. Most modern Chrisitans have accepted the homophobic aspects of the bible as misguided relics from a society gone by - Like stoning, slavery adn the whole "world being flat" thing. Unfortunately, there are a minority in Australia that wield these like weapons and give Christians a bad name.

I don't like that. You don't get to do that any more. If you're uncomfortable with the idea of homosexuality, you will grow out of it and then realise you had nothing to fear, and that your life hasn't changed in the slightest.

The Gay Who Wasn't Gay Enough

Muddy York RFC presents "The Gay Who Wasn't Gay Enough", a short film about a gay man finding it difficult to find his place in life after coming out and being accepted.

Gay Irish presidential frontrunner claims he is victim of ‘smear campaign’ over paedophilia comments

By Christopher Brocklebank  -


Irish Senator David Norris, who looked set to become Ireland and Europe’s first openly gay president, has said the digging up of a nine-year-old interview in which he made controversial remarks about paedophilia is an act of sabotage.
The interview, which took place in 2002, reappeared in the Irish press on Monday. Consequently, his chances of becoming Ireland’s next president have been severely reduced.
As reported by Henry McDonald in the Guardian, Mr Norris had been ahead in all opinion polls in the race until this point.
The interview was with current affairs publication Magill. Norris had said to them: ”I haven’t the slightest interest in children, or in people who are considerably younger than me.
“I cannot understand how anybody could find children of either sex in the slightest bit attractive sexually . . . but in terms of classic paedophilia, as practised by the Greeks, for example, where it is an older man introducing a younger man to adult life, there can be something said for it. Now, again, this is not something that appeals to me.
“Although, when I was younger, I would have greatly relished the prospect of an older, attractive, mature man taking me under his wing, lovingly introducing me to sexual realities, treating me with affection, teaching me about life.”
Mr Norris has said the re-publication of the piece is part of a smear campaign. Speaking on an Irish radio station RTE, he said that he abhorred any sexual contact with children, and opposed paedophilia and incest in all its forms.
He added that, in the original interview he had “engaged in an academic discussion about classical Greece and sexual activity in a historical context. It was a hypothetical, intellectual conversation which should not have been seen as a considered representation of my views on some of the issues discussed over dinner.
“People should judge me on my record and actions as a public servant, over the last 35 years and on the causes and campaigns, for which I have fought, and not on an academic conversation with a journalist over dinner. I did not ever and would not approve of the finished article as it appeared.”
However, Helen Lucy Burke, the journalist who wrote the story in question, contested the claim made by Mr Norris that she had repeatedly turned her Dictaphone on and off during the interview.
Ms Burke also said she had amended a draft of her article in Magill prior to publication in order for Mr Norris to make any suggestions about changes.
Mr Norris is a longtime gay rights activist and respected James Joyce scholar.
If elected, he has vowed to challenge homophobia worldwide.

Gay Couple Elected as H.S. Prom Royalty in Maine

Caleb Jett and Christian Nelsen
Caleb Jett and Christian Nelsen
By Kilian Melloy -

It was only a year and a half ago that voters in Maine repealed a law at the ballot box that would have extended marriage equality to the state’s gay and lesbian families, leaving Maine as one of only two New England states not to make family parity a matter of law.

But GLBT equality issues--including military service and marriage equality--find more support among younger Americans than with the nation’s elders, and the trend seems to hold true even in Maine, where two gay high schoolers were elected as prom royalty.

The two young men--Christian Nelsen, 17, and Caleb Jett, his boyfriend--took the prom royalty crowns at Sanford High School in Sanford, a town in the southern part of Maine, LGBTQ Nation reported on May 31.

The two "decided to put their names in the running as Prom King and Queen to change minds across their community and in their state," the article said.
"The two wore suits and proudly showed off their tiara and crown and shared a King and Queen dance."

"Even though they know not everyone is supporting them, they hope this will get everyone talking about acceptance in Sanford and across the state," local news channel WNTW Channel 8 reported.

"It fits my head perfectly," Christian Nelsen told the news channel as he tried on the tiara. "I think was meant to happen." Christian went on to recount how his write-in campaign succeeded in getting him elected as Prom Queen--and how the room went wild when his win was announced.

"I kinda got voted in because he got queen," Caleb Jett told the news channel. "And it was like, ’Who do we vote for, for king?’ And it was, like, ’Oh, his boyfriend, obviously, because that makes sense.’ "

"It doesn’t matter if it was a guy or a girl who wins Prom King or Prom Queen from now on," said Nelsen. "Anybody can win," Nelsen continued, "any type of person ... anyone who is bullied, or even just under the radar can win this type of thing."

"Though some are very supportive of the two young men," the news report continued, "news of an openly gay couple being crowned king and queen did not sit well with some in this small town."

The reporter added that though the news team had talked with "dozens" of Sanford residents, "and those who were against crowing a gay prom king and queen did not want to go on camera. In fact, one person told us he was afraid something he might say might offend someone."

Not everyone in the GLBT community was happy, either.

"Look, we get it," a May 27 Queerty posting said. "Hooray for bucking patriarchal traditions while raising awareness about equal rights and gender equity!" However, the posting added, "the idea of a gay guy denying a young woman a shot at the tiara just to make a point has always seemed odd, over-privileged, and even a tad misogynist..."

A May 27 posting at Gaywrites, however, hailed the event as "Better than Glee."

GLBT youth have made headway in recent years with respect to the issue of finding greater acceptance in schools, but social events such as proms still see starkly contrasting results; indeed, proms have become something of a flash point in the anti-gay culture wars. In some cases, as with last year’s imbroglio involving Constance McMillen, at that time a senior at Itawamba Agricultural High School in Mississippi who wished to escort her girlfriend to the event, the issue can lead to pitched controversy. McMillen’s school canceled prom rather than allow the teen to bring a same-sex date, and then reportedly hosted two proms--one attended by the school’s popular set, the other, to which McMillen was shunted, not.

In Massachusetts, the annual Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth (BAGLY) Youth Pride Day and prom have been the target of anti-gay group MassResistance. The group infiltrated last year’s event with a 20-year-old anti-gay activist and college student, who then wrote a report labeling the BAGLY event an effort to "recruit" youths into a "cult" of homosexuality.

The spying episode was reminiscent of a ploy in 2000, in which the group sent a mole to a confidential discussion for gay teens, made a recording of what was said, and then took the recording to a local radio station where it was aired. The group claimed that the discussion included detailed discussions of sex acts, and dubbed the manufactured scandal "Fistgate."

But, as a newly minted catchphrase says, "It Gets Better." Acceptance of GLBTs is climbing rapidly in America, and schools are starting to catch up to the young people who attend them--youths who are increasingly supportive of the GLBTs among them.

Meantime, those who reached adulthood only after a long and painfully closeted adolescence--or teen years filled with pain and rejection--have found avenues to redress the things they were unable to enjoy in their teens. One example: Capital Queer Prom, an event in Washington, D.C., where adults can have the dance they wanted as high schoolers--and be themselves while they are at it.

Kilian Melloy is EDGE Media Network’s Web Producer and Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews media, conducts interviews, and writes aggregate news stories and commentary for EDGE.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Airman Discharged, DADT Still in Play

Pentagon confirms Air Force discharge under ''Don't Ask, Don't Tell'' on April 29 – the first and only discharge since Obama signed a bill to repeal the law

By Chris Geidner -

An Air Force spokesman confirmed today that the secretary of the Air Force approved a discharge under the military's ''Don't Ask, Don't Tell'' policy on April 29 of this year. The discharge, according to a Pentagon spokeswoman, is the only such discharge since the Pentagon on Oct. 21, 2010, directed that DADT discharges would require the approval of the service branch secretary.

Stanley and Cartwright
Stanley and Cartwright
At a January news conference, Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness Clifford Stanley said that no DADT-related discharges had occurred under the new procedure requiring the approval of the service branch secretary, Stanley and Defense Department general counsel for discharges. Prior to October 2010, a one-star general or the equivalent could sign off on a discharge.
Asked by Metro Weekly at the time to clarify the circumstances under which an individual would be discharged currently under DADT, Stanley said then that he could not answer with any specificity because he must consider ''the gestalt of all of what that individual is or is about.''
Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez wrote today to Metro Weekly, ''The only separation approved following the Oct. 21, 2010 policy change is an Air Force separation, approved Apr. 29, 2011.''
Air Force Major Joel Harper, an Air Force spokesman, clarified the specifics of the discharge to Metro Weekly, writing, ''On April 29th, 2011, the Secretary of the Air Force approved the discharge of an Airman under the provisions of 10 USC 654, after coordination with the DoD General Counsel [Jeh Johnson] and the Under Secretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness [Stanley].''
Harper continued, ''Each of these officials evaluated the case carefully, and concluded that separation was appropriate. The Airman in the case asked to be separated expeditiously.''
Servicemembers United executive director Alex Nicholson, who stated that he was unfamiliar with this case, wrote, ''[T]he Department of Defense has made it abundantly clear that it is now virtually impossible to discharge someone who does not want to be discharged.''
Harper did not immediately respond to a request for further information about the Airman and the circumstance of the Airman's discharge, including whether a voluntary statement by the servicemember was the basis for the discharge.
Nicholson, however, noted, ''We know that servicemembers have sometimes requested their own discharges and have used the fact that the law is on the books to force a discharge through despite a command or service preference for retention.''
Nonetheless, the development stands in contrast to two documents put out by the White House this week pointing to the passage of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell Repeal Act in December 2010 as one of the administration's successes for advancing LGBT equality.
President Barack Obama's proclamation for 2011 LGBT Pride Month, which was issued on May 31, and a White House fact sheet released on June 1 detailing ''The Obama Administration's Commitment to Winning the Future for the LGBT Community'' both discuss the repeal, with Obama stating in the proclamation, ''I was proud to sign the repeal of the discriminatory 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy.''
Despite this, as the discharge shows and as Harper reiterated in his email, ''Until repeal occurs, 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' remains the law.''
Repeal will not occur under the DADT Repeal Act until the president, defense secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify to Congress that the changes needed to implement repeal are ''consistent with the standards of military readiness, military effectiveness, unit cohesion, and recruiting and retention of the Armed Forces.'' At that point, a 60-day congressional review period must pass before 10 U.S.C. 654 – the DADT law – is taken off the books.
A White House spokesman was unavailable to provide immediate comment.
Informed of the Airman's April 29 discharge, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network executive director Aubrey Sarvis told Metro Weekly, ''This discharge underscores the need for the President, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the Secretary of Defense to certify 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' repeal and put this ugly chapter in American history behind us. It also highlights the undeniable and unfortunate fact that service members remain under investigation and at risk of discharge.''

Privilege is for everyone.

Another Testimony brought to you by the Courage Campaign.

★★ Gay-Ville: A whole new travel experience★★

www.gay-ville.com

Visit our facebook page
www.facebook.com/TheGayville

Directed by Omer Tobi
Photography: Asaf Einy
Produced by Eliad Cohen

Special thanks:
Hila Ben-Baruch
Eyal Moskovitch


We've got Pride, now it's time to GetEQUAL!


I don't know if you can hear it, but I can...
From immigration reform to peace action to environmental justice to LGBT rights – many are issuing the same call to our President: “We are tired of waiting -- actions speak louder than words!”
These grassroots roars aren't misplaced -- while some of our national organizations are content to go ahead and throw their early support behind President Obama's re-election, many grassroots activists are furious at the slow pace of progress and believe that we have much more to strive for before we hand over our dedicated service, our hard-fought dollars, or our votes to a specific campaign or candidate. And it makes me furious to listen to someone so eloquently state his support for our equality but, with a year and a half until the next election, choose to fundraise off our community rather than work to bring us closer to full equality.
On Tuesday, the White House issued its annual "Pride Proclamation" -- a beautifully-written piece that does nothing to provide the "liberty and justice for all" that we've been promised. In fact, the proclamation isn't even as strong as last year's statement, which at least made strides toward supporting marriage equality! [1]
It's time for us to hear more than beautiful speeches from a President who has the power to change our lives for the better, but as yet hasn’t demonstrated the political will to do so. We deserve a President who is unequivocal in his support for our inherent dignity and equality.
There are hundreds of changes the President could make that would bring us much closer to full equality [2], but those changes remain in dusty binders rather than on the law books. It's time to dust off those binders and to start taking action to deliver equality, rather than just writing about it: http://org2.democracyinaction.org/o/6535/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=7048.
The President is asking for LGBT votes and dollars, while doing little to deliver the kind of change we deserve and merely "evolving" on things as fundamental as marriage rights. How long must we wait to see the political will in our President that we see from his speechwriters? How many more “Pride Proclamations” must we read before we gain the most basic rights we deserve as people, let alone as Americans?
Help us send a message to the White House and to this Administration that we cannot in good conscience say we are "IN" for any campaign that isn’t willing to recognize us as full human beings under the law. Help us make clear to President Obama and any others courting our votes over the next year and a half that piecemeal equality is not enough -- we're "in" to GetEQUAL, not to line a campaign's coffers: http://org2.democracyinaction.org/o/6535/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=7048.
As Kerry Eleveld recently wrote, our new reality is that "the right thing to do is also the popular thing to do." [3] Now is the time to see the President "come out" for us!
Show us you're serious, Mr. President. Embrace full federal equality for LGBT people now -- anything less is merely lip service!
Get Out! Get Active! GetEQUAL!
Robin McGehee, Director
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[1] "Obama Issues Pride Proclamation -- With No Mention of Relationship Recognition" -- http://www.metroweekly.com/poliglot/2011/05/obama-issues-pride-proclamatio.html
[3] "Doing The Right Thing For 2012" -- http://equalitymatters.org/blog/201104060011
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World Champion San Francisco Giants and ItGetsBetter

The Giants have joined the "It Gets Better Project" to inspire hope for young people who may be struggling.

Planned gay pride picnic in heart of Harlem puts local church leaders in a tizzy

The backlash comes as no surprise to Harlem Pride's Carmen Neely.
By RYAN STRONG -


A planned gay pride picnic in the heart of Harlem has put local church leaders in a tizzy, with one pastor vowing his family won't leave the house on that day.
"If children start to believe it is okay to be gay, they will think it's okay to be a pedophile or have sex with animals," said Dr. Ronald Ferguson, the senior pastor at Antioch Church of God on W. 124th St. "It's a slippery slope."
Ferguson, who has three adult children and four grandkids, said he expects parishioners to follow his lead and stay indoors when the second annual Harlem Pride event arrives June 24.
"This gay pride nonsense is an abomination," Ferguson told the Daily News. "God does not want to see homosexuals in our parks."
Neither do Ferguson or some other local pastors fuming over the celebration of gay rights set for Marcus Garvey Park.
"The park is a family area, and the homosexual agenda will do nothing but harm the community," said Pastor Charles Curtis of Mount Olivet Baptist Church.
"Due to our religious beliefs, we do not support ... that event."
The backlash is no surprise to Harlem Pride President Carmen Neely. Her group encountered resistance last year after a misunderstanding over the event's name.
"When people hear 'Harlem Pride,' they think proud of living in Harlem or proud to be black," she said.
The unaware attendees instead found men holding hands, women kissing and bedazzled drag queens belting Lady Gaga hits.
The church critics complain the event is an attack on family values and a bad example for black youth.
Harlem Pride's weekend-long celebration, from June 24 to 26, includes a barbecue, bowling and a dance party. The park party is the only event located in a public area.
Despite the verbal assault from Harlem's black churches, Neely has no intention of backing down.
"I want the gay and lesbian people of uptown to have a celebration of our own," she said. "This will be different than the events in the West Village because it will be filled with people of color."
Neely insists the event is for everyone - including children.
"I realize the church plays a big role in the black community," Neely said, "but we're people, too, and deserve our day in the sun."

As AIDS Patients Age, A Complex Health Picture Emerges

By Kilian Melloy -

AIDS patients who survived the first wave of the epidemic are now reaching the age when they might have expected to encounter health issues even apart from HIV. But the picture is complicated by the long-term effects of living with the disease, as well as by the medications they have taken to keep the virus in check, 
the AFP reported on May 30.


The long-term effects of living with the disease can include diminished memory, chronic neuropathy (nerve pain), and premature aging of the body’s systems.

The article noted that older AIDS patients sometimes live not only with the physical stress of the virus and their pharmaceutical regimens, but also financial hardship and isolation.

"I’ve often said to my doctors, ’You’re so worried about the AIDS but I’m gonna drop over from a heart attack,’" was how one longtime AIDS patient, Lou Grosso, 57, put it. "It bothers me; I’m having a good life and don’t want it to be cut short because my body thinks I’m 80."

National Institutes of Health news release from last September explained some of what patients who have lived with the disease over the long term may face.

"In those with long-term HIV infection, the persistent activation of immune cells by the virus likely increases the susceptibility of these individuals to inflammation-induced diseases and diminishes their capacity to fight certain diseases," the release said.

"Coupled with the aging process, the extended exposure of these adults to both HIV and antiretroviral drugs appears to increase their risk of illness and death from cardiovascular, bone, kidney, liver and lung disease, as well as many cancers not associated directly with HIV infection.

"In addition, a growing number of adults in their 40s and 50s with long-term HIV infection are experiencing syndromes that resemble premature aging," the release added.

That could mean greater risk of kidney failure, hypertension, osteoporosis, general frailty, mental diminishment, or some combination of health issues.

"A recent study found that 52 percent of HIV positive Americans suffer from some type of cognitive impairment," the AFP article said. "Only 10 percent of people in the general population, by contrast, experience such problems, according to the CNS HIV Antiretroviral Therapy Effects Research study."

Text at emedicine.medscape.com confirms that the virus affects the human central nervous system.

"Physicians frequently encounter neurologic and psychiatric complications in patients with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection," the text reads. "This is not surprising, since HIV enters the central nervous system (CNS) early in the course of the infection."

Typically, however, dementia is less a problem in the short term for patients who are on an effective drug regimen.

"The development of dementia is usually delayed until severe immunodeficiency develops," the text states.

But over the long term, even patients who successfully manage their viral loads may find that they exhibit some degree of neurological impact, albeit usually comparatively minor.

"The rate of impairment in patients with HIV is much, much higher," Dr. Victor Valcour said last year at the 2010 International AIDS Conference, an Aug. 31, 2010, article at The AIDS Beacon reported. "About half of patients who have HIV will have abnormal testing," added Valcour, who is associated with San Francisco’s Memory and Aging Center at the University of California.

The AFP article noted that older AIDS patients might also be at higher risk for cancer. 



Longer Lives, Later Infections

It’s a striking shift in the AIDS-related health care situation, the article said. In the 1980s, before the advent of the cocktail, many AIDS patients died young. But as new drugs made it possible to keep the virus in check for decades at a time, younger HIV+ people stopped dying in droves and started surviving to become older patients.

"Today, more than a quarter of HIV patients are 50 years or older, according to the US Centers for Disease Control," the article said, going on to note, "Experts are just starting to tease out which of these illnesses are caused by the virus, which are drug side-effects and which are just natural signs of aging."

HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, has proven remarkably hard to kill once it has infected an individual--partly because the virus mutates and adapts so rapidly, but also because it has the capacity to hide in tissues where it can lurk for years before re-emerging. Because of this, AIDS patients cannot simply take a course of treatment when the disease "flares up," as is the case with some other medial issues. AIDS patients need to take their medication every day for the rest of their lives to control the virus.

Modern medicine has identified promising new avenues to fighting the virus, from disabling its capacity to replicate to finding ways to prevent it from infecting T cells, the part of the human immune system that the virus directly affects. But those modes of treatment may still be years in the future. Meantime, the current cocktail of anti-retrovirals is adequate for most people to control their viral load, and for many, the prognosis for long-term, healthy survival is good--if they start their treatment regimen soon after infection. But living with the disease untreated for years can damage the body, and the drugs can also have serious side effects.

Then there’s the stigma of the disease. While HIV+ people are not shunned and denigrated as much as they once were, there remains a lingering sense of shame for some sufferers and accusation from some elements of society that depict gays as "disease ridden"--the disease in question being HIV.

Indeed, anti-gay activists still use HIV as a veritable bludgeon against sexual minorities, often conveniently forgetting that in some parts of the world--Africa, for instance--AIDS is primarily a disease that affects heterosexuals.

In the U.S., the AFP article noted, "Long-term HIV patients are almost 13 times more likely to suffer from depression than other Americans, according to a 2006 study from the AIDS Community Research Initiative of America."

It’s not necessarily the case that older AIDS patients were young when they contracted the disease. The virus does not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation, gender, race, socio-economic status--or age. Indeed, in recent years, a trend has emerged of older people becoming HIV+. The dangerously mistaken notion that AIDS is a "gay" disease that heterosexuals need not guard against only makes the situation worse.

The age of a person at the time of contracting HIV can play a significant role in the eventual health outcome, the NIH release said.

"HIV disease progresses more quickly in older compared with younger adults, and antiretroviral therapy restores immune system cells less effectively, placing this older group at greater risk for illness and death from HIV infection than younger people who are infected for comparable periods of time," the release explained. "Moreover, the higher rate of pre-existing conditions in people of advanced age often complicates their treatment for HIV infection."

Further complicating the issue is an erroneous social expectation--shared even by doctors--that older Americans are less at risk. This can lead to a sense that people past a certain age no longer need to be tested for HIV, and the natural effects of aging can mask the symptoms of HIV.

"Many people mistakenly assume that older Americans are not sexually active and therefore not at risk for HIV infection," a government-run AIDS website, www.aids.gov, says. "This is not the case. A 2007 national survey of Americans ages 57 to 85 found that the majority of older Americans are sexually active. This is particularly true for healthy older Americans.

"However, older Americans do not always realize that they may be at risk for HIV infection," the site’s text adds. "Many came of age in the decades before AIDS and did not receive the information about HIV prevention that younger generations did. Others were married or in long-term relationships for many years and tuned out information about HIV.

"Now, after being widowed or divorced, they are entering intimate relationships again for the first time in decades. Compare with those who are younger, they may be less knowledgeable about HIV/AIDS and therefore less likely to protect themselves."

Regardless of whether older AIDS patients have lived with the disease for decades or have recently become infected, some fear that the health care system will be taxed by the graying of the HIV+ population.

"Our society is not prepared for the aging baby boomer generation. We don’t have enough geriatricians to care for the sharply rising number of seniors," Marjorie Hill , the head of Gay Men’s Health Crisis, said last year, EDGE reported on July 19, 2010. "We are even less prepared to care for populations with unique health care needs, such as HIV-positive older adults."
Kilian Melloy is EDGE Media Network’s Web Producer and Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews media, conducts interviews, and writes aggregate news stories and commentary for EDGE.

Commonwealth secretary general speaks out against homophobia following Tatchell’s criticisms

By Christopher Brocklebank  -



The Commonwealth secretary-general, Kamalesh Sharma, has written an article in the Nairobi Star speaking out against homophobia.
Peter Tatchell said: “His article appears to be in direct response to my critique of his long silence and inaction on LGBT human rights, which was published in the Guardian on 17 May.”
In his article, written on International Day Against Homophobia (IDAHO), Mr Tatchell said: “The Commonwealth is a bastion of global homophobia, often bucking the worldwide trend towards sexual orientation equality, with increased state-sanctioned threats and repression.”
He also added that the vast majority of the Commonwealth’s anti-gay laws were the “poisonous” legacy of British colonialism, and originally imposed in the 19th century.
In the response piece, Mr Sharma wrote: “I have consistently made it clear publicly that we deplore hate crimes of any nature and the vilification and targeting of gay and lesbian people runs counter to the fundamental values of the Commonwealth, which include non-discrimination on any grounds.
“I also recognised the Delhi High Court for its landmark decision to decriminalise homosexual acts. This addressed a legal legacy of the British colonial era that continues to affect more than three-quarters of Commonwealth countries long after Britain itself has moved on.”
He continued: “If attitudes are to change, if homophobia is to be challenged – as it should – and if laws on homosexuality are to be reformed the best hope lies in democratic and legal processes.”
Mr Tatchell said it was “Small but notable progress.”
He added:  ”I plan to press Mr Sharma to meet me and other LGBT activists. We’ve heard his words, now we want action.”

Amsterdam city officials to be annually questioned on their support for gay marriage

By Christopher Brocklebank  -



Marriage commissioners in Nieuw-West district of Amsterdam will have to undergo an annual evaluation in order to ensure their consistent support for same-sex marriage.
The measure came about as a result of a case in which two city officials refused to officiate at same-sex marriages.
It is believed that while one official was employed by the city prior to 2007, when willingness to perform same-sex marriages was not a requirement, the other official in question is said to have initially voiced no objections to performing the ceremonies.
Her case is currently being investigated by district officials. If it transpires she had been dishonest in order to obtain the position rather than changed her mind, she could be fired.
In December 2009 British registrar Lillian Ladele was disciplined by Islington Council because she refused to perform civil partnerships, saying that it was against her religious beliefs.
Ladele took her case to the Court of Appeal claiming or religious discrimination, but lost.
She then went to the UK Supreme Court who dismissed her application for an appeal against the decision, saying she failed to “raise an arguable point of law of general public importance.”
Her lawyers have argued she was the victim of a witch-hunt and was shunned by her colleagues for refusing to carry out civil partnerships.
Ms Ladele, who said her rights had been “trampled” by gay couples, is now taking her case to the European Court of Human Rights.

Ugandan woman branded with iron for being a lesbian faces deportation from UK

By Christopher Brocklebank  -



A 22-year-old Ugandan woman who was subjected to being branded with a hot iron in her home country as a punishment for being a lesbian, may be deported from the UK.
Betty Tibikawa, who is currently detained in Yarl’s Wood immigration removal centre in Bedford, is expected to be removed from the UK after losing her asylum claim.
This comes after deputy prime minister Nick Clegg announced last week that the coalition’s year-old promise that it would no longer continue the practice of deporting people to countries where they were likely to face persecution – and worse – over their sexual orientation had been met.
According to Tuesday’s Guardian, Ms Tibikawa was about to start university in Kampala when she was set upon by three men who taunted her about her sexuality. They branded with a hot iron and left her unconscious. Ms Tibikawa was then bedridden for two months. An independent medical report confirmed her scars were consistent with being branded.
Ms Tibikawa told the Guardian: “I can’t sleep and I’m having terrible nightmares about what will happen to me if I’m sent back to Uganda. My family have disowned me because I’m a lesbian and I’m convinced I’d be killed if I’m sent home.
“I was ‘outed’ in a Ugandan magazine called Red Pepper in February of this year saying that I’m wanted for being a lesbian. This has put my life at increased risk.”
Human rights organisations worldwide have repeatedly documented abuse against gay men and lesbians in Uganda, reportedly one of the most dangerous countries in the world for LGBT people.
Another Ugandan lesbian, known only as “BN”, was to be removed from the UK in January but her deportation was prevented after her lawyers successfully intervened. Her case will come before the court of appeal next month.
Also, a 34-year-old Ugandan gay man was to be deported on 17 May, though it is not yet known if this went ahead.
David Kato, a gay activist in Uganda, was murdered there earlier this year.
Homosexuality is illegal in the country and an anti-gay bill calling for more stringent measures against LGBT people was to be voted on by the Ugandan parliament last week. Ultimately, it was not included on the agenda, though it is likely it will come before parliament again later in the year.