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Poking the homophobic beehive in Botswana

University of Botswana, gay news, Washington Blade

University of Botswana (Photo public domain)

By KATLEGO K KOL-KES

 

With Uganda, Nigeria and Zimbabwe being vocal with their homophobia, it seems University of Botswana students have felt left out of the action. The newly formed LGBT society, UB-LEGABI has subsequently threatened politicians who would not support LGBT issues. This is a drastic move in a country with an antiquated colonial anti-sodomy law. This new campaign has poked the proverbial homophobic beehive on a national level, especially as it’s an election year.

Last year, I debated the chair of the Evangelical Fellowship of Botswana on national radio after it employed similar bullying tactics. They warned politicians that it was the EFB’s duty to protect the moral fiber of the “Christian community,” therefore they would de-campaign anyone who supports what they call “gay rights.” Needless to say, the EFB chair’s citations of the Bible were met with well-informed retorts, proving that you don’t pick fights with people you underestimate.

Last year saw a surge in sensationalising homosexuality in Botswana. Each week brought a new “gay” headline, including a rumoured bill to register and imprison suspected homosexuals and sex workers to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS. What the UB-LEGABI committee has done with this tirade is enable the homophobes rather than boost any LGBT rights defences. They’ve declared war before understanding the battlegrounds.

Reading through the Facebook responses to the article published in the tabloid newspaper, The Voice, the roots of the homophobic comments are evident: religious bias, masculine insecurity and uninformed notions of homosexuality.

The (unedited) comments included statements like: “wats the use of gays and lesbians, if they cant make babies?”; “why must they force people to accept their lifestyle! this aint America…”; “B4 they come wth their stupid threats, they must b sure of 1 thing “WHETHER THEY ARE MALES OR FEMALES.” Some even blame gays for the lack of rain in southern Botswana, a country that is 80 percent desert.

The greatest shock comes when you read comments calling presidents like Robert Mugabe, Goodluck Jonathan and Yoweri Museveni to Botswana to instill laws like Uganda’s recent measure. Museveni’s declaration that the west is promoting homosexuality in Africa goes to show how uninformed, and religiously blinded, some of our leaders are.

This begs the questions: Is Western intervention in internal affairs worsening the situation? Are U.S. warnings to cut off aid simply making life more laborious for LGBT activists in these countries?

The homophobes fail to understand the far-reaching effects of such legislation as Museveni’s because of their obsession with the act of gay sex. Unfortunately, lesbians are sidelined in the conversation on homosexual acts. Some comments referred to two bearded men kissing, and “how can a man sweat to provide for another man?”

Statements such as these prove that the nation is in dire need of education on the nature of homosexuality before expecting citizens to support threats to de-campaign people they see as their protectors. The plethora of closed-minded comments that acknowledge homosexuality slows population growth, or that this will mark Jesus’ cue to return has made it seem, to the homophobes in Botswana, that they are not alone nor wrong for such ignorant thoughts.

The hive was poked, but of the 467 comments fewer than 10 were in defense of LGBT rights. There isn’t a visible united front of LGBT rights defenders. This only fuels the misconceptions such as Tshenolo Makakeng’s that: “There are less than 60 (which are mostly at UB) gays in Bots.” We must put facts before fury.

What’s been made evident is that we’re growing too impatient with the community we want to “accept” us. National acknowledgement of LGBT existence would suffice because it sets enough of a precedent for educating the laymen. It seems LGBT movements around the world have forgotten the baby steps that have led to U.S. victories over “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act. It may seem as though background work is dormancy but it’s as important as making grand threats against politicians in an election year. Smoke works better on bees than sticks and stones.

Katlego K Kol-Kes is a writer and activist based in Gaborone, Botswana. She has recently begun covering Botswana LGBT life and has contributed to Afropunk’s Gender Bent blog. Follow her on Twitter.

04
Mar
2014

Re-elect Jim Graham for Ward One Council

Jim Graham, D.C. Council, District of Columbia, Ward One, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) (Washington Blade file photo by Jeff Surprenant)

By ALAN ROTH

LGBTQ voters in Ward One have a profound choice to make in the April 1 primary. That’s because when a new D.C. Council is sworn in next January, it will lack an openly gay Council member for the first time in nearly 18 years — unless Jim Graham is re-elected.

With Jim being challenged by someone who has no real record or experience beyond the narrow boundaries of her former ANC single member district, and with David Catania giving up his at-large seat to run for mayor, now is the time for LGBTQ voters in the Ward to focus seriously on an old political adage: “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu.”

Simply put, that adage reminds us there is no substitute for being represented by one of our own — someone who, like Jim Graham, has lived what we have lived, experienced what we have experienced, and will never allow those personal life lessons to be cast aside for reasons of political expediency.

It also means that if we aren’t “at the table” as part of the decision making process, other politicians with other constituencies to serve are liable to be carving up our interests like a Thanksgiving turkey when the hard decisions (like funding for programs essential to our community) have to be made.

Earlier this year, the Advocate named D.C. the gayest city in America. It’s therefore difficult to imagine a D.C. Council without a single LGBT Council member — someone with whom we would be able to have open, honest discussions about our issues and concerns when they arise.

Before his election to the Council, Jim led the Whitman-Walker Clinic for more than 15 years, providing HIV/AIDS-related, STD, and other health services when few others would. On the Council, he has obviously been a leader on LGBTQ issues. His knowledge, understanding and support of our community’s concerns is not only unquestioned, it is unparalleled.

As a former Adams Morgan ANC member and chair, I can attest personally to Jim’s devotion to his Ward and his commitment to providing the best constituent service in the Wilson Building. By contrast, most of what we’ve heard from Jim’s opponent turns primarily on innuendo and negativity.

So let me confront the “ethics issue” head on, because I know it’s on some people’s minds, and let’s begin here: After more than two years of public discussion and Post editorializing, no prosecutor has ever charged Jim with any crime; the one civil lawsuit filed against him was dismissed; and not even his opponent has alleged that a penny of public or private money has found its way into his pockets.

If you’ve actually read the reports of the Ethics Board and the Cadwalader law firm hired by WMATA, you could well conclude, as I have, that Jim in fact had the best interests of his Ward One constituents at heart when he questioned a certain bidder’s interest in developing the Florida Avenue Metro property involved in the most serious allegations against him.

Cadwalader’s report said many of Jim’s objections to the bidder and one of its principals “appear to have been based on legitimate concerns with public safety and welfare. For example, Graham was concerned with [that principal’s] reputation as a landlord as well as his ownership of a club in Ward 1 that had lost its license to operate due to a fatal stabbing of a club patron.  Moreover, Council member Graham appeared genuinely concerned throughout the joint development process with the development experience and expertise of [this bidder] – legitimate concerns that manifested themselves in the outcome of the process.”

Perhaps there were better ways to go about all this. Still, I don’t have any doubt that Jim’s intent was to protect his Ward. Did he do it to benefit himself personally? The Cadwalader report certainly found no evidence of that.

It’s time for us to move on. Let’s focus on what’s best for Ward One and D.C.’s LGBTQ community over the next four years. Keeping our strongest representative on the D.C. Council by re-electing Jim Graham certainly beats being listed “on the menu” by relying on the platitudes and innuendo of an ambitious wannabe.

Alan Roth is a former chair of the Adams Morgan ANC, a current member of the D.C. Water and Sewer Authority board of directors, a member of the Gertrude Stein Democratic Club and a member of Friends of Vernon Street.

28
Mar
2014

Gay juror removed from AIDS drug trial

gay juror, National LGBT Bar Association, Gay News, Washington Blade

(image via Wikimedia Commons)

SAN FRANCISCO — A San Francisco court ruled last week that a case against an AIDS drug company will get a new trial after it was determined that the company improperly excluded a gay man from the jury, Bloomberg reports.

In 2011, an Oakland jury ordered Abbott Laboratories to pay GlaxoSmithKline $3.5 million for breaching a drug agreement, though Abbott was cleared of charges that it sought to stifle competition over HIV drugs when it quadrupled the price of the drug Norvir in 2003, the article said.

The judge overseeing the trial permitted the exclusion during jury selection when Abbott exercised its right to keep certain individuals off the jury. When questioned, the man said he had a male partner and had lost friends to AIDS, Bloomberg reports.

“Permitting a strike based on sexual orientation could send the false message that gays and lesbians could not be trusted to reason fairly on issues of great import to the community or the nation,” a three-judge appellate panel in the U.S. Court of Appeals wrote last week.

30
Jan
2014

Young gay Aussie men avoiding HIV tests

Sydney Opera House, Australia, gay news, Washington Blade, avoiding

Health professionals in Australia have raised concerns about a 65 percent increase in the number of men aged 18-24 newly diagnosed in the country’s New South Wales region. (Photo by David Iliff; courtesy Wikimedia Commons. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0)

SYDNEY — A new report from Australia finds that about one-third of young gay men there are avoiding getting tested for HIV and other STIs despite the fact that they are increasingly likely to have had unprotected sex with casual partners, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Health professionals there have raised concerns about a 65 percent increase in the number of men aged 18-24 newly diagnosed in the country’s New South Wales region between 2009-12, the article said.

Medical bodies and community groups have responded by taking testing to the streets in a bid to encourage more young men to find out their HIV status.

Health officials speculate that about a quarter of the young men diagnosed had simply not been exposed to prevention campaigns.

05
Mar
2014

Make a safer selfie during sex

condoms, gay news, Washington Blade

If a condom appears intact after use, you’ve lowered by 125,000 times your chance of contracting HIV.

These days, everything is about the selfie. We listen to our personalized music playlists on our phones, binge-watch entire seasons of our favorite program on demand and target our social media shout outs to specific people on our friends list.

So it’s no surprise that you can now customize your strategy for staying safe from HIV. Here’s the new menu of choices for staying safe. Create your safer selfie.

Condoms:  Lots of guys use condoms when they hook up with someone who looks like he gets around, but then skip the rubbers when they meet a “quality” guy.  Even quality guys may have had playful pasts, and many are telling the truth when they say they don’t think that they’re infected — even though they haven’t tested in years. So how well do condoms protect you?

Best case: If a condom appears intact after use, you’ve lowered by 125,000 times your chance of contracting HIV. Condoms also offer this undeniable benefit: you can check to see if the other guy is really wearing one right now.

No guarantees: Condoms only work when someone is wearing them. Gay guys who claim to use condoms all the time reduced their HIV risks by 70 percent. Rule out the guys who seem to be forgetting the nights they skipped the condoms, and protection is much higher. Condoms break or slip off in as few as 0.4 to 0.6 percent of uses, and that’s because these numbers include the people who fumble with them drunk or use wildly inappropriate lubricants. Still, if you just can’t stand using condoms, there are other choices.

PrEP: Never heard of it? You will. With PrEP, an HIV-negative guy takes the anti-HIV combination medicine that people living with HIV take. The difference is that he takes it every day before a possible exposure to HIV.  That’s the “pre” in PrEP.

Best case: PrEP can offer almost complete protection from an HIV exposure. In the largest studies conducted, none of the guys who took at least most of their PrEP medications became infected. PrEP does take advance planning, though. You can’t start taking PrEP the day you’re planning to have sex (it takes about a week to build up in the body).

No guarantees: Truth is, in the largest PrEP study, new HIV infections were only reduced by 44 percent, mainly because some people who said they were going to start PrEP never did, or they only took a few of their pills.  So just like condoms, you have to use it to get the benefits.

Treatment as Prevention: If your HIV+ partner is taking anti-HIV medications, that helps him and protects you. Less virus in his bloodstream makes him far less contagious. The first large study said that the risk of catching HIV from a treated person drops 96 percent.

Best case: taking anti-HIV treatment is something many positive guys are already doing.

No guarantees: there’s no way to see if the other guy is taking his treatment the way you could check for a condom. Once they’re off the meds, the drugs start draining out of their system, and that means you’re not protected anymore.

Test twice, Talk, and Trust: This is not the same as only hooking up with guys you think are HIV-negative. Here, you take an HIV test with your partner, and discuss whether you’re both comfortable having a “closed” relationship (or open only with protection).  If you both are, you test again to confirm neither had a new HIV infection that the first test missed, and then you may choose to take the condoms off.

Best case: Many guys have been using this strategy for years (including me), and it appears to work for those who follow all the steps.

No guarantees: If you do allow “playing,” remember that condoms protect better against HIV than against some other STDs that are easier to transmit.

PEP:  Whichever safer selfie method you choose, if something goes wrong and you realize you’ve been exposed to HIV, there’s one more option. If you get on a six-week prescription of anti-HIV medicines right away (“post-exposure”), you can often stop the virus from “latching on.”

Best case: Officially, you have 72 hours to start treatment, and your odds of becoming HIV+ drop by about three-quarters.

No guarantees: Don’t take the deadline too literally, and wait the whole weekend. The same studies show that the earlier you start PEP, the better the protection.

Why choose any option?  Maybe you just don’t consider staying HIV-free that important anymore. If and when you catch it, you’ll just take a pill a day, and live forever. Well, you’re not entirely wrong, but there’s more to it than that.

Best case: If keep to your doctor’s appointments and take your medicines faithfully, you can live a long life these days with HIV. Some studies predict that people can live with HIV for three or four decades, or even up to 53 years.

No guarantees: HIV treatments still cause side effects, from the unpleasant and common ones (diarrhea, fatigue, sleeplessness) to the silent bodily changes that can add up over time to cause other serious health problems in some people to trigger cardiac events, kidney failure, liver failure, and bone fractures.

Whichever safer option you choose, the best thing you can do is just to make a choice.  Condomless sex is up 20 percent among gay men over the past five years. HIV is still causing the equivalent of five 9-11s in U.S. deaths each year. Almost all new HIV infections are happening to guys who aren’t following any of these strategies. So pick one, stick to it, and make a safer selfie.

Stephen Fallon is president of Skills4, a healthcare consulting firm. Reach him via skills4.org.

01
Apr
2014

New LGBT health initiative unveiled in Pa.

LGBT Health Initiative, University of Pennsylvania, gay news, Washington Blade

University of Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jeffrey M. Vinocur; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

PHILADELPHIA — The University of Pennsylvania is unrolling an LGBT health initiative that covers medical, dental and nursing schools as well as the region’s largest health system, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

Penn is set to announce its Program for LGBT Health Friday and has posted details online this week.

P.J. Brennan, the health system’s chief medical officer, told the Inquirer it was a natural fit with Penn Medicine’s three-pronged mission: research, education, and patient care. There has been no opposition, he said, a sharp contrast with the 1980s. He was training in infectious diseases here when the division had to fight “a lot of fear and ignorance” to start an HIV program.

Now Penn is compiling a list of its LGBT experts to include in a brochure that would help patients choose doctors. The idea came out of a daylong planning retreat that the program’s organizers held in the fall, the Inquirer reports.

12
Feb
2014

HIV shot shows promise in study on monkeys

syringe, monkeys, gay news, Washington Blade

Injections of long-lasting AIDS drugs protected monkeys for weeks against infection. (Photo by Fifo; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

BOSTON — Researchers are reporting that injections of long-lasting AIDS drugs protected monkeys for weeks against infection, a finding that could lead to a major breakthrough in preventing the disease in humans, the New York Times reports.

Two studies by different laboratory groups each found 100 percent protection in monkeys that got monthly injections of antiretroviral drugs, and there was evidence that a single shot every three months might work just as well, the article said.

Because many people fail to take their antiretroviral pills regularly, the findings could have huge potential benefits if they can be replicated in humans, the Times reports. A preliminary human trial is to start late this year, said Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr, an AIDS expert at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, but a larger trial that could lead to a treatment in humans may still be years away, the article said.

05
Mar
2014

Whitman-Walker to honor former White House AIDS czar

Jeffrey Crowley, AIDS, gay news, Washington Blade

Former White House AIDS czar Jeffrey Crowley. (Photo courtesy of Whitman-Walker Health)

Whitman-Walker Health on April 17 will honor former White House AIDS czar Jeff Crowley at its annual spring benefit at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Northwest D.C.

“I’ve had a chance to reflect on this great experience I had and then just to be recognized for my work by Whitman-Walker I think is really special,” Crowley told the Washington Blade during an interview on March 31.

Crowley, who was the director of the Office of National AIDS Policy at the White House from February 2009 until December 2011, spoke with the Blade hours before the deadline for Americans to sign-up for health insurance through the Affordable Care Act that President Obama signed into law in 2010.

Crowley described the Affordable Care Act as a “structural intervention that will make it easier to get” people with HIV onto care and keep them in treatment. He further noted Obama signed the law less than four months before the White House released the first national HIV/AIDS strategy.

“I’ve also said there’s no way I could have imagined a transition that didn’t have bumps along the way,” said Crowley, referring to glitches with the Affordable Care Act website and other enrollment-related concerns. “Over time those things will work themselves out. The ACA really creates an opportunity for us to make a lot of progress.”

Crowley acknowledged undocumented immigrants are unable to apply for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. He also said those with HIV below the poverty level who live in states that did not expand Medicaid may not be able to afford coverage because they cannot access marketplace subsidies.

“We have these ongoing challenges,” Crowley told the Blade.

The Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resource Emergency Act remains available to assist uninsured people with HIV and those who are underinsured. The program can also supplement and help reduce drug costs for those living with the virus.

The AIDS Drug Assistance Program under the Affordable Care Act will also be able to cover drugs that Medicaid, Medicare or private insurance will not cover.

“There are issues of the affordability because some of drugs may not be covered and then the co-payments might be too high,” said Crowley. “There’s a lot of advocacy going on right now with some of the HIV advocates in some cases state-by-state with the local advocates to really educate these plans to improve their formulary policy so they don’t put all the drugs in the highest level.”

Crowley, who is the program director of the National HIV/AIDS Initiative at Georgetown University’s O’Neill Institute, also applauded D.C.’s response to the epidemic.

He specifically noted the “test to treat” approach to combating the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the nation’s capital and the D.C. Department of Health’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD and Tuberculosis Administration (HAHSTA)’s work with local HIV/AIDS service organizations to use a surveillance model to reconnect people with the virus who have stopped treatment to care.

“I’m actually really, really proud of the District,” said Crowley. “In the past they weren’t necessarily the leader on a lot of fronts.”

Crowley, who is a Whitman-Walker client, taught high school science in Swaziland from 1988-1991 when he was a member of the U.S. Peace Corps. He also held various positions with the now defunct-National Association of People with AIDS from 1994 through 2000.

Crowley described the organization’s 2013 bankruptcy as “sad.”

“It’s really important for people living with HIV to have a voice,” Crowley told the Blade. “There’s still a need to be a voice for people with HIV and we’re going to have to look at different mechanisms.”

02
Apr
2014

Health experts to address high STI rates in gays

STI, gay news, Washington Blade

UK health officials report record high STI rates for gay men there.

LONDON — Health experts in the UK were slated to meet in London Friday to share evidence and devise new strategies to address what they say are record high STI rates for gay men there, the Independent reports.

Rates of gonorrhoea, chlamydia and syphilis in gay men have soared in recent years, official figures show, while new HIV infections have also reached record highs, the paper said.

Experts say that, paradoxically, the rise of successful drug treatments for HIV has contributed to increased infection rates for other sexually transmitted infections. More men are having unprotected sex in the assumption that they no longer need to wear a condom to protect themselves from the virus, once considered a death sentence before the advent of effective anti-retroviral drugs. Other men are lowering their risk by sero-sorting, or ensuring partners have the same HIV status as them, but then having unprotected sex, risking the transmission of other infections, the Independent said.

The problem has taken on a worrying new dimension in the past five years, with a minority of gay men, particularly in London and other major cities, taking up high risk sexual behavior associated with the injection club drugs such as crystal meth.

Infection rates for HIV itself are also on the rise, with 3,250 new diagnoses in men who have sex with men the UK in 2012, an all-time high, the paper reported.

There were 36,000 STI diagnoses in men who have sex with men in England alone in 2012, including 8,500 new cases of chlamydia, 10,800 for gonorrhoea and 2,100 cases of syphilis. Although improved testing and screening explains some of the rise, health experts agree that high risk behaviours have become much more common, the Independent reports.

12
Feb
2014

What’s next for Equality Maryland?

Gay News, Washington Blade, Carrie Evans, Gay Maryland

Carrie Evans, executive director of Equality Maryland, said her group will address HIV/AIDS and schools issues, among others. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

With the Maryland Senate’s passage of the Fairness for All Marylanders Act, which provides protections in employment, housing, credit and public accommodations based on gender identity, and the House of Delegates currently debating the measure, Equality Maryland, the state’s largest LGBT rights organization, has provided a glimpse into its future initiatives.

Last July, the organization developed a three-year strategic plan as reported in the Blade that provides a roadmap for its future. It focuses on “the intersections of the lives as LGBT and as military personnel, as people of color, as immigrants, as we age, as we are HIV+, as we attend school, and as we are persons with disabilities,” according to an Equality Maryland email to supporters.

Carrie Evans, executive director of Equality Maryland, recently acknowledged that future legislative initiatives, while not having the same “stature” as marriage or transgender equality, are important nonetheless.

“Legislative issues around HIV and AIDS and schools come to mind,” Evans told the Blade.  “In 2013 and early 2014 we have worked extensively on health care issues, especially on issues surrounding the rollout of the Affordable Care Act.  We held several town hall meetings for the LGBT community and what the new law means for the community and people living with HIV/AIDS.”

Evans pointed out that during the current General Assembly, Equality Maryland has been part of the coalitions working to increase the minimum wage, reform marijuana policy and earned sick leave for workers. “These coalitions portend our commitment to focus on ensuring the ‘ands’ of LGBT lives are addressed,” she says. “We are more than our sexual orientation and gender identity, we are black, immigrant, parents, rural dwelling, disabled, young, and senior citizens and Equality Maryland will work on advocating for the whole of a LGBT person’s identity and issues.”

11
Mar
2014