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Us Helping Us debuts new HIV testing van

Us Helping Us, testing van, gay news, Washington Blade

(Photo courtesy of Us Helping Us)

An eye-catching new mobile health screening van launched on February 28 is carrying out its mission of encouraging black gay and bisexual men throughout the city to get tested for HIV, according to Ron Simmons, president and CEO of Us Helping Us, the HIV advocacy group that’s operating the van.

Simmons said the mobile health unit van is part of a national HIV testing and prevention program directed toward black gay and bisexual men through a grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which developed the program. The CDC says the program is aimed at lowering the HIV infection rate of black men who have sex with men, which is the highest of all the population groups deemed to be affected by the AIDS epidemic in the U.S.

Simmons is a nationally recognized expert on HIV-related services for people of color. He served as a member of a working group that advised the CDC in the development and implementation of the program, which is called “Testing Makes Us Stronger.”

That slogan along with a large drawing of a bare chested young man flexing the muscle of his raised arm appears on the side of the new van.


The bonds of battle

‘The AIDS Generation: Stories of Survival and Resilience’

By Perry N. Halkitis

Oxford University Press


249 pages

AIDS Generation: Stories of Survival and Resilience, Perry N. Halkitis, books, gay news, Washington Blade

AIDS Generation‘ by Perry N. Halkitis. (Book cover image courtesy of Oxford University Press)

Some of the best experiences you had last year were with your friends.

When you think back about the highlights, you remember dancing together, eating together, late-night bull sessions, parties, travels and idle man watching. Those shared experiences are the glue that forever hold your friendship together.

Or maybe, like the men in “The AIDS Generation” by Perry N. Halkitis, your bond is that you’re survivors.

The history of AIDS is vast and can’t be told without the stories of the people lost to the disease and the ones they left behind. Of the latter, Halkitis writes, “All the gay men of my generation, infected or not, are long-term survivors.”

Those are the men who came of age in the 1980s when “the promise for sexual freedom and sexual expression existed.” They are the men who, in the prime of their lives and when they should’ve been the picture of health, watched their friends and lovers die and who were told, upon their own AIDS diagnosis, that they, too, would probably be dead within two years.

But of course, that wasn’t necessarily true. This book, the culmination of a large-scale project on gay men who have lived with AIDS for decades, pulls together 15 survivors who were “still alive to tell their stories as middle-aged men.”

Some of them don’t remember when they learned of their diagnosis, while some remember the day clearly. Regardless, all exhibited “the pause,” as Halkitis calls the stress reaction to remembering that time.

Some of the 15 knew, deep-down, that they’d been infected; one said it would’ve been “a miracle … not to be positive.” For others, it came as a surprise. Some got sick, while others waited for illness that never really came. All are “resilient,” says Halkitis, and are now surprised and amazed to experience the kind of normal health issues that men in middle age endure.

“I’ve been at the worst of this virus,” one of the men told Halkitis, “and now I’m in the golden years of this virus. This virus has taken me halfway around the world and I’m still here.”

At first blush, “The AIDS Generation” may seem like it’s more academic than not. That assessment is true; there is plenty for academics in this book, but casual readers will find something here, too.

As one of the “AIDS Generation,” author Perry N. Halkitis knew which questions to ask of his subjects in order to get the memories and emotions he pulled from them. That questioning leads to a fresh sense of heartache in the telling of tales and a distant theme of horror that bubbles with anger and ends with a general awe for life and an appealing sense of triumph. Despite linguistic stumbles that might’ve been better off edited out, that makes them compellingly readable.

I believe there are two audiences for this book: long-term survivors who count themselves among the warriors, and younger men who need to learn. If you fall into either category, then reading “The AIDS Generation” will be a worthwhile experience.


Getting his spin on

DJ Paulo, Cherry Fund, gay news, Washington Blade

DJ Paulo is one of several big-name DJs in town this weekend for Cherry. (Photos courtesy DJ Paulo)


DJ Paulo


2009 8th St. N.W.


11 p.m.-4 a.m.

$20 ($70 for Cherry weekend pass)

Music lovers in D.C. are already familiar with the Cherry Fund’s annual charity dance and music event, which since its inception in 1997 has raised more than $988,000 in support of efforts to fight HIV/AIDS.

Each year, Cherry brings in top international DJs and premier parties to Washington venues and this year is no exception with top-notch spinners such as DJ Eddie Elias, DJ Joe Gauthreaux, DJ Alain Jackinsky and DJ Mike Reimer lending their talents.

“Last year’s Cherry had 125 attending the afterhours event at Tropicalia, which for 7 a.m. in Washington is pretty remarkable,” says James Decker, a board member with the Cherry Fund. “This year we expect 200-plus. We’ve already sold 120 advance passes, which is more than double last year.”

The Cherry committee also expects a huge turnout for its main event at Town, scheduled from 9 p.m.-4 a.m. on Saturday which will feature DJ Paulo mixing it up for a night being billed as “Emergence,” and featuring the Tribal Bitch and DJ Twin.

“I’ve spun for Cherry before, plus I grew up in Bethesda, so D.C. has a special place for me,” DJ Paulo, who’s gay, says. “People can expect an energetic set with lots of new productions and vocals.”

Originally from Portugal, DJ Paulo knew early on that he wanted to spin music for a living and started playing small clubs and gaining a name for himself.

“I was living in Los Angeles and noticed promoters were only bringing DJs from New York (i.e. Peter Rauhofer, Victor Calderone) and all the DJs in Los Angeles had a ‘lighter’ sound,” he says. “So I started a small residency in the middle of West Hollywood on Fridays at Rage called ‘Stereo.’ People caught on to my sound and things evolved from there.”

The weekly residency was a good way for DJ Paulo to test out his sound and from there, he earned a residency at Spin, a popular afterhours club where Avalon in Hollywood now resides.

Over the years, he’s headlined at some of the world’s largest and most prestigious parties, including Black and Blue Montreal, New York’s Saint at Large Black Party, Fire Island’s Pines Party and Dancing on the Bay, Orlando’s Gay Days and Taiwan’s Ministry of Sound.

His spins are responsible for a slew of remixes of tracks that have reached No. 1 on the Billboard Dance Charts, including songs by Christina Aguilera, Inaya Day, Madonna, Britney Spears, Lady Gaga and pretty much everyone else worth getting on a podium for.

Success didn’t come without lots of hard work and some hiccups along the way. The one thing that has always frustrated DJ Paulo was when people would hear just one single podcast and judge his sound based on just one set.

“More than anything, whether it’s a peak time event or an afterhours, I cater to the party — even a beach tea dance I can play,” he says. “I always stay true to my sound, it just varies according to the event.”

He is co-founder of Pure Music Productions and has built one of the hottest independent record labels, providing top-10 progressive tracks on Beatport and various digital download sites.

It’s a life that DJ Paulo wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. Music, he says, has more power than some people will admit.

“Making people feel good through music is one of the best rewards of being a DJ,” he says. “Then there’s the traveling to all these amazing places. Just two weeks ago I was in Tel Aviv and got to visit Jerusalem. Meeting so many amazing people is a real treat.”

His production and style is very important to him. When someone goes to an event, he believes the sound should be distinctive so you know you’re hearing a particular DJ.

“I’m always continuing developing my sound. I try to stay current with new artists and introduce people to new music,” he says. “I see a real trend and club life looks like it’s coming back (especially in New York). I think the best is yet to come.”


Major grant awarded to black gay HIV study

HIV, resistant, Human Immunodeficiency Virus, gay news, Washington Blade, black gay

Scanning electron micrograph of HIV-1 budding (in green) from cultured lymphocyte. (Public domain image by the CDC/C. Goldsmith, P. Feorino, E.L. Palmer and W.R. McManus)

PITTSBURGH — The University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health announced this week that it was awarded a $3.2 million grant to study the reasons why black gay men are disproportionately affected by HIV and AIDS, Pittsburgh City Paper reports.

“Where could all this virus be coming from, if black gay men are in fact more conservative in terms of sex and less likely to shoot drugs?” Ron Stall, director of the Center for LGBT Health Research at Pitt and principal investigator on the project, told City Paper. “If you can’t answer that basic question you can’t do HIV prevention among black gay men.”

According to the CDC, young African American gay and bisexual men accounted for the highest number of new HIV infections among all gay and bisexual men in 2010. Black gay and bisexual men ages 13-24 also accounted for twice as many new infections as their white or Latino/Hispanic peers in that year, the Pittsburgh City Paper article said.

The project, a collaboration with the Center for Black Equity, will survey 6,000 black men who have sex with men — the largest sample of this subgroup ever studied — to try and figure out why they are less likely to get tested for HIV, or seek medical treatment even if their HIV status is known. Participants will give their feedback anonymously and will be recruited at black gay pride events across the country. They’ll also be asked to answer questions about their mental health, substance use and violence victimization and other health issues to understand negative health outcomes associated with the subgroup, but also possible areas of resilience, the City Paper reports.


U.S. aid program to Uganda ends after anti-gay law signed

Dickson Mujuni, RPL AIDS Foundation, Uganda, gay news, Washington Blade

Dickson Mujuni of the RPL AIDS Foundation in Uganda working with youth
peer educators in the East African country. (Photo courtesy of Dickson

The Washington Blade has confirmed the U.S. has not renewed a program with the Ugandan Ministry of Health that helps fund the country’s HIV/AIDS response after an anti-gay bill became law.

The agreement that fully or partially funded the salaries of 87 employees of the Ugandan Ministry of Health who support the country’s response to the epidemic expired on Feb. 28.
Reuters late on Thursday reported the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spent $3.9 million on the program last year, but a U.S. official did not say how much aid the Obama administration has withheld. A spokesperson for the Ugandan Ministry of Health told the news agency it would “no longer be able to access money from a fund” to purchase anti-retroviral drugs and HIV testing kits.

A source familiar with the aid program told the Blade on background the funds sent to the Ugandan Ministry of Health were not used to purchase or distribute anti-retroviral drugs. The source added the expiration of the contract will not “directly impact” the “ability to deliver lifesaving medications in Uganda” through the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

Uganda receives nearly $300 million each year through PEPFAR to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the East African country. The Ugandan government in 2013 received more than $485 million in aid from the U.S.

“We did not renew these contracts because we wanted to have a dialogue with the government of Uganda about whether it should assume greater responsibility for core government functions associated with HIV/AIDS response, including these salaries,” said the source familiar with the Ugandan Ministry of Health aid program.

The program expired four days after President Yoweri Museveni signed into law a bill that would impose a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of repeated same-sex sexual acts.

The Obama administration subsequently announced it is reviewing its relationship with the Ugandan government over the issue. The World Bank, the Netherlands and other European countries have postponed loans or cut aid to the East African country after Museveni signed the so-called Anti-Homosexuality Bill into law.

Dickson Mujuni of the RPF AIDS Foundation told the Blade late last month during a telephone interview from Kampala, the Ugandan capital, his organization has had to abandon plans to build a hospital because of the anti-gay law. Mujuni said gay and lesbian Ugandans have also gone “underground.”

“The community is very scared, very worried,” Mujuni told the Blade.

A coalition of Ugandan human rights organizations that includes HIV/AIDS and LGBT advocates on March 11 filed a challenge to the law with the country’s Constitutional Court.

The State Department said Secretary of State John Kerry highlighted the law’s “negative impact” on fighting the HIV/AIDS epidemic and other public health initiatives during a telephone call with Museveni on Feb. 27.

“It complicates our relationship with Uganda,” Uzra Zeya, acting assistant secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor at the State Department, told the Blade in a follow-up interview. “We have deep concerns about the law posing a threat to the safety and security of the LGBT community, but also the safety and protection of all Ugandan citizens.”


Obama nominates new Global AIDS office director

Barack Obama, Global AIDS, gay news, Washington Blade

President Obama’s choice for the AIDS post was applauded by advocacy groups. (Washington Blade file photo by Lee Whitman)

President Obama on Jan. 9 nominated Dr. Deborah L. Birx, a retired Army colonel and AIDS researcher, to replace Dr. Eric Goosby as the new U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator.

The official title of the position is Ambassador at Large and Coordinator of United States Government Activities to Combat HIV/AIDS Globally.

The office, which is part of the State Department, is in charge of administering the multi-billion dollar President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR.

Since its creation in 2003 by President George W. Bush and its approval by Congress, the PEPFAR program has been credited with saving the lives of millions of people with HIV/AIDS in developing countries in Africa, Asia and other places by dispensing AIDS drugs and helping host countries improve medical treatment.

Birx has served since 2009 as director of the Division of Global HIV/AIDS at the Center for Global Health, which is an arm of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She served from 2005 to 2009 as director of the CDC’s Global AIDS Programs for the National Center for HIV, STD, and Tuberculosis Prevention.

According to biographical information released by the White House, Birx served on active duty in the Army for 29 years in a wide range of medical and AIDS-related research positions. Among other posts, she served as director of the U.S. Military HIV Research Program and as director of the Division of Retrovirology at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research from 1996 to 2005.

She served from 1995 to 1996 as the Walter Reed institute’s laboratory director of HIV-1 Vaccine Development and from 1994 to 1995 as chief of the Department of Retroviral Research.

Birx also served as an adjunct professor at the University of North Carolina since 2012, a consultant to Walter Reed Army Medical Center since 1989, and an assistant professor at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences since 1985. She received her M.D. from Penn State University.

If confirmed by the Senate as expected, Birx will take the helm at the Global AIDS Office at a time when the Obama administration is seeking to shift some of the costs of operating the PEPFAR program to host countries under U.S. supervision. Some AIDS groups have criticized the administration for reducing funding for PEPFAR in 2010. The White House argued that although modest funding cuts were made, PEPFAR more than doubled the number of people for whom it provided life-saving drugs since Obama took office in 2009.

“We have been able to pivot the PEPFAR program from what was an emergency response that was not sustainable to a sustainable response,” Goosby told the Wall Street Journal at the time he stepped down as head of the Global AIDS Office in late October.

“Our role now is not as the person who goes in and builds clinics,” the Wall Street Journal quoted him as saying. “Now we’re watching our colleagues in countries do that themselves, and if there’s a drop in impact we are there with them strengthening the weak links.”

Goosby returned to the University of California in San Francisco, where he taught and conducted AIDS-related research prior to heading the Global AIDS Office in Washington.

The New York-based Foundation for AIDS Research known as AMFAR said it “enthusiastically welcomed” Obama’s decision to nominate Birx as the next Global AIDS Coordinator.

“Dr. Birx is an expert on HIV/AIDS who has contributed significantly to groundbreaking research throughout her illustrious career,” AMFAR CEO Kevin Robert Frost said in a statement. “She brings to the table just the right mix of technical, management and leadership skills, and a keen understanding of what needs to be done to accomplish the AIDS free generation goal reaffirmed by President Obama in his State of the Union address last year.”


GLCCB to host town hall on PrEP

PrEP, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, HIV, gay news, Washington Blade

Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is a medical protocol that is designed to treat people who have not been exposed to specific diseases, but are at high risk of contracting them.

The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland (GLCCB) will host a town hall panel and discussion on April 28 on the use of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP)— an HIV prevention method in which people who do not have HIV take a daily pill to reduce their risk of becoming infected.

“The use and effects of PrEP still remain a mystery to many in our community,” GLCCB board member Chris Adkins said in a statement. “This month’s town hall is designed to allow for an open dialogue between community members and health care professionals to educate, clarify, and demystify the use of this often misunderstood HIV prevention method.”

The town hall will be held in the Mason Lord Room of the Waxter Center from 7-9 p.m. and will feature guest speakers Deb Dun of Chase Brexton Health Services; Brian M. Palmer of Gilead Sciences, Inc.; Dr. Renata Arrington-Sanders of Johns Hopkins Hospital; and Dr. Patrick Ryscavage of University of Maryland Medical Center.

The panel will address the risks and benefits of the medication, accessing health insurance and co-pay assistance programs needed to cover the costs, and ways to access medication in Baltimore. Additionally, HIV testing will be offered and local physicians will be available to answer any related questions.

Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is a medical protocol that is designed to treat people who have not been exposed to specific diseases, but are at high risk of contracting them.


From Stonewall to marriage equality at lightning speed

Stonewall to marriage, gay news, Washington Blade, National Equality March

Even those of us involved in the fight for women’s rights and civil rights would never have believed the speed at which things are changing for the LGBT community. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

The progress from Stonewall to marriage equality in my lifetime is amazing. My accepting who I am mirrored the evolving LGBT movement. Coming of age at 21 in New York City, a gay man deep in the closet, hiding my sexual orientation to become a teacher. At 25, starting a political career and working for the most gay-friendly politician in the nation, the congresswoman who introduced the first ENDA bill in Congress, yet still deep in the closet.

Then moving to Washington, D.C. at 31, a city that just elected a mayor who credited the LGBT community and the Stein Democratic Club with making the difference in his election. Pride events were gaining in strength and visibility and my first in Dupont Circle had me hiding behind a tree to make sure my picture wouldn’t end up in a newspaper. Then life started moving faster for me and the LGBT community. By the time I was 34, we were beginning to hear about AIDS and that coincided with my coming out to friends. Then began the process of my morphing into an LGBT activist joining in the fight against HIV/AIDS and openly participating in marches for LGBT rights, openly attending Pride events on a muddy field in Dupont, and being a regular at Rascals, the bar of the moment.

Over the ensuing years the organized LGBT community would get stronger and stand up for our rights and I would find that being “out” still had its consequences. Being rejected for a job for being gay was one of them. As the community turned to more activism, my role in politics was becoming more identified with being gay. First becoming a columnist for the Washington Blade and then finding my picture on the front page of the Washington Post supporting a mayoral candidate and being identified as among other things a gay activist.

As the fight for marriage equality heated up in D.C., GLAA activist Rick Rosendall and I met at a little outdoor lunch place on 17th Street and set the plans in motion to form the Foundation for All DC Families, which begat the Campaign for All DC Families, which helped coordinate the fight for marriage equality in the District.

For so many who grew up in the Baby Boomer generation, life continues to hold many surprises. But even those of us involved in the fight for women’s rights and civil rights would never have believed the speed at which things are changing for the LGBT community.

The courts are moving at a much faster pace than anyone could have predicted even a year ago, striking down bans on gay marriage enacted by state legislatures. State constitutional amendments banning marriage equality are being declared unconstitutional by a raft of federal judges. From Oklahoma to Kentucky, Utah to Virginia, federal judges are saying that states must recognize these marriages. While the cases are being appealed there is a clear path for one or more of them to reach the Supreme Court in its next term. While they weren’t ready to make a decision when they rejected the Prop 8 case in 2013, they will now probably have to decide the fate of marriage equality nationwide and determine whether it is constitutional to discriminate against gay and lesbian citizens.

Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen in her decision in Virginia added to the so-far unanimous group of federal judges who have thrown out these bans. Judge Allen quoted from Mildred Loving, who was at the center of the 1967 Supreme Court case that struck down laws banning interracial marriage. At the time that case was decided only 14 states had laws allowing interracial marriage and already there are 17 states and the District of Columbia that allow gay marriage. While people are hailing her decision she clearly had to be embarrassed when she had to amend her written opinion because she confused the U. S. Constitution with the Declaration of Independence. She isn’t the first and won’t be the last to do that.

Clearly the time has come in our country for full equality. The decisions made by these federal judges have been based on the Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor. Then Attorney General Eric Holder announced “the federal government would recognize legal same-sex marriages in federal matters including bankruptcies, prison visits and survivor benefits.” He stated that, “It is the [Justice Department's] policy to recognize lawful same-sex marriages as broadly as possible, to ensure equal treatment for all members of society regardless of sexual orientation.”

In what seems like lightning speed, the LGBT community is moving toward full civil and human rights.


Study finds meth use affects T-cell counts

crystal meth, methamphetamine, gay news, Washington Blade, drugs, T-cell

Crystal meth (Photo by Radspunk via Wikimedia Commons)

SAN DIEGO — Researchers in California have found that U.S. men who have sex with men and use methamphetamine had greater T-cell activation and proliferation than non-users, even though they had an undetectable viral load.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of California at San Diego, studied 50 men and produced evidence that meth users may have a deeper HIV DNA reservoir than non-users.

Users who are HIV-positive have a higher risk of cognitive impairment and faster progression to AIDS, researchers said.

But the reasons for these associations remain unclear. Worse antiretroviral adherence or meth-related risk behaviors could explain worse health outcomes in meth users, or some physiologic mechanism could explain these health deficits, researchers said.


Atlanta-based AIDS organization gets new director

Atlanta, Georgia, gay news, Washington Blade, AID Atlanta

Atlanta (Photo public domain)

ATLANTA — A gay doctor with a lengthy background in health grant and program management was tapped to lead AID Atlanta, the largest AIDS service organization in the Southeast, and manage its $7.6 million budget, Project Q Atlanta, a regional blog, reports.

“I am thrilled to become part of this great organization,” Dr. Jose Rodriguez-Diaz said in a prepared statement. “I look forward to working closely with the board, the staff and the community in taking AID Atlanta to the next level of its more than 30-year history. This year will be exciting and transformative for the organization and I am excited to be part of it.”