AIDS at 35: The Anniversary of the First Report on a Mysterious New Disease

mmwrOn June 5, 1981 — 35 years ago this Sunday — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report with an inauspicious title: “Pneumocystis Pneumonia — Los Angeles.” Nestled between pieces on dengue and measles, the article in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report briefly described five patients, all young men from Los Angeles with cases of life-threatening pneumonia. While it didn’t immediately grab headlines, its publication represented a turning point in public health: the beginning of the AIDS era.


In another 35 years, will AIDS be a fading memory?


These patients’ pneumonia had been caused by a particular species of fungus, which back then was responsible for fewer than 100 pneumonia cases annually. Young, healthy people weren’t supposed to be vulnerable to this fungal infection, and the fact that men with no known risk factors were suddenly falling victim to it was a huge red flag that something strange was afoot.

The patients shared other characteristics as well, and at that point, scientists could only speculate what, if any, of these traits were associated with the strange new disease. All five patients were “active homosexuals,” were positive for cytomegalovirus (CMV), had yeast infections, ranged in age from 29 to 36, and used inhalant drugs (aka “poppers”). The CDC knew right away that this mysterious cluster of illnesses must have been caused by “a common exposure that predisposes individuals to opportunistic infections” — an observation that, in hindsight, was incredibly accurate, as HIV destroys the immune system and opens its host to normally rare infections. The editors posited that “some aspect of a homosexual lifestyle” might increase risk for this type of pneumonia — perhaps a sexually transmitted disease that somehow caused pneumonia. Continue reading

May 17 Is IDAHOT: The International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia

The following guest post comes to us via Kelley Dupps, public policy manager for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona.

Pride flags in Reykjavík. Photo: Dave

Pride flags in Reykjavík. Photo: Dave

Tomorrow marks the annual celebration of IDAHOT — the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia. Established in 2004, the day was originally focused on combating homophobia and quickly began to consolidate with other identity groups. Transphobia was included in the title in 2009 and biphobia was included in 2015 to acknowledge the unique challenges faced by the trans and bisexual communities. In actuality, all expressions of sexuality and gender are acknowledged and celebrated: queer, asexual, and pansexual. IDAHOT is commemorated each May 17 — the day the World Health Organization (WHO) removed homosexuality as a mental disease from the WHO Standards of Care in 1990.


No one is free until we are all free.


IDAHOT is a day both to celebrate LGBTQI identities worldwide, but also to draw attention to the violence and discrimination LGBQI communities face. LGBTQI (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex) people have more visibility, and with that comes increased violence and discrimination. This year, more than 130 countries are scheduled to participate — nearly 40 of those participating countries criminalize same-sex relationships. Interestingly, participating countries like Egypt, Russia, and Ghana are just a few of the countries around the world that punish same-sex attraction, behavior, and relationships — often by harassment, arrest, imprisonment, public humiliation, and even death.

This year’s theme for IDAHOT is mental health and well being. Individuals who identify as LGBTQI are often overlooked and left out of health systems around the world. Research has shown individuals in the LGBTQI community drink more alcohol, smoke more tobacco, and are at unique and increased risks for cancer, HIV, and other significant health events. Most LGBTQI folks are not aware of these risks and do not see a health care provider on a regular basis. Continue reading

Square Pegs, Round Holes: Building Trans-Inclusive Health Care

transgenderFor the first time in history, trans persons are being recognized in the mainstream and their identities are being embraced like never before. Laverne Cox’s cover story for Time and Amazon Prime’s original series Transparent winning four Emmys are examples of this recognition.

Kinda.


Today is National Transgender HIV Testing Day.


Truth is, the trans persons in the media are not representative of the norm. The findings of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey — a survey that collected responses from more than 6,000 transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals — give a clearer picture, and it’s not pretty. The authors of this study found trans persons faced adversity in almost all aspects of life, from experiencing double the rate of unemployment to suffering through a high rate of violent attacks (26 percent and 10 percent of the respondents reported being physically and sexually assaulted, respectively) because of their gender identities. Among all these results, I found one to be particularly unsettling:

“Respondents reported over four times the national average of HIV infection, with rates higher among transgender people of color.”

To me, a person born after the AIDS epidemic of the ’80s and privileged with a world that now has readily accessible condoms and HIV prevention medication (i.e., Truvada), HIV seemed like a relic of the past. Examining the amount of new HIV infections in the cisgender population (0.4 percent for females and 1.2 percent for males), this is an easy assumption to make. I was wrong. Other studies echoed the large disparities of HIV incidence and prevalence in trans persons. One systematic review uncovered four studies that found that 24.8 to 30.6 percent of male-to-female (MTF) transgender persons tested positive for HIV. Another study — conducted in Ontario, Canada — sampled 433 trans persons and found 7 percent of female-to-male (FTM) transgender persons and 19 percent of MTF persons had a high-risk sexual experience in the last year. Yet another found that 35 percent of MTF persons (and 2 percent of FTM persons) had HIV, and again, persons of color — in this case, African-American identified individuals — were at a greater risk. Indeed, in this study, African-American trans persons (FTM and MTF) were approximately three to 12 times more likely to have HIV. Given these data, the cynic in me questions, “Is anyone even trying to prevent HIV in trans persons?” Continue reading

Today Is Transgender Day of Remembrance and Resilience

The following guest post comes to us via Kelley Dupps, public policy manager for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona.

candleNovember 20 is Transgender Day of Remembrance & Resilience — a day that honors the memory of those killed because of anti-transgender prejudice. So far this year, each week a trans woman lost her life to this violence. Targeted simply for who they were, these women should not only be remembered and celebrated but should also be fuel to power the movement that stands up for fairness and equality for trans folks.

Transgender Day of Remembrance & Resilience is also an opportunity for the trans community and our allies to share stories about pervasive crimes against trans folks and to celebrate the resilience of a community often living in the shadows. The 2014 Hate Violence Report, which documented hate crimes perpetrated against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and HIV-affected individuals, showed an increase in transgender murder victims. Of the murder victims documented in this report, 80 percent were people of color, and 50 percent were transgender women. Transgender people of color were also 6 times more likely than the other groups studied to experience physical violence from police. These reports from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs paint a bleak picture for the transgender community, particularly the trans women of color communities. The FBI also tracks violence against those living with HIV and is able to get a more complete picture of the violence targeted to trans communities.

Findings from the Injustice at Every Turn report, conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality, showed alarming rates of violence and harassment experienced by the transgender community, including in educational settings, at work, during interactions with police and other authorities, at homeless shelters, when accessing public accommodations, and in jails and prisons.

At this time, 14 states, the District of Columbia, and more than 125 municipalities offer hate crimes protections that are inclusive of sexual orientation and gender identity. Arizona is not currently one of the states that protects LGBTQ people from violence and discrimination; however, several cities in Arizona do have nondiscrimination policies that protect city workers and community members: Phoenix, Tucson, Flagstaff, and Tempe.

After its signing in October 2009, the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act has made it a federal hate crime to assault an individual based on actual or perceived disability, gender, sexual orientation, or gender identity. This landmark legislation both mandates that the FBI track hate crimes based on anti-transgender bias and allows the Justice Department to assist in the prosecution of local hate crimes based on gender identity.

Much more needs to be done to address the level of violence and harassment targeted at transgender individuals. Please take a moment to remember those lost to violence and celebrate the resilient trans spirit. It’s time we commit to creating a world inclusive of all trans folks. Tag your own selfie and transformational message of how you would make your community safer for transgender people and post on social media with the hashtags #TransMonth and #PPAZ.


You can follow PPAA on Twitter @ppazaction and Instagram @PPAArizona.

Trans* Awareness Month: My Journey to Living Authentically

The following guest post comes to us via Kelley Dupps, public policy manager for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona.

November is Trans* Awareness Month — an awareness focused on the lives and experiences of those who identify as trans* (the T in LGBTQ) or queer or questioning (the Q).

It’s important to point out the dubious character of the word “queer.” While used as an epithet to shame LGBTQ people, the word has been reclaimed by many members of the community as reflective of their identity. Remember, Facebook allows more than 50 ways to identify one’s identity and orientation; and for many, “queer” is seen as less restrictive than many of the other letters in the LGBTQ alphabet soup.


When we love someone, gender doesn’t matter.


Planned Parenthood historically has been there for the LGBTQ community — from supporting the early liberation movement to compassionately working with HIV/AIDS patients, to today addressing the issues continually chipping away at equality for all. Planned Parenthood continues to stand with the LGBTQ community in calling for continued equality in all aspects.

Planned Parenthood has always believed in one’s autonomy over one’s own body, identity, and decisions — and that is no different when it comes to supporting and fighting for trans equality. But what are we talking about when we say “trans*”? Identifying as transgender means that one’s own gender identity is different than the gender assigned at birth. The term “trans*” serves as an umbrella for other transgender identities, such as genderqueer and gender fluid to name a couple of examples. Many folks know of Caitlyn Jenner’s decision to come out and live her life authentically. She was honest that she could no longer fake it through life — the toll was too much on her soul. It was a sentiment that I could identify with. Continue reading

The Mayor of Castro Street Turns 85

Harvey Milk DayThe pathway to social change is paved with an unwavering commitment to forging ahead in the face of adversity, and above all, loyalty to your community. This Friday, we celebrate the legacy of Harvey Milk on what would have been his 85th birthday, had his life not been cut short by assassination. When we talk about social movements, we often point to a specific event as a catalyst for change, and oftentimes, that event is a tragedy. I, however, believe that it is people like Harvey Milk who bring about and create change through their dedication to justice, no matter what barriers may present themselves.


“If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door.” — Harvey Milk


Harvey Milk was one of the first openly gay politicians ever to be elected and serve in a United States public office. Upon arriving in San Francisco in 1972, Milk opened his iconic camera store in the famed Castro district, and became increasingly involved in promoting local businesses in the area. A longtime proponent of equal rights for all and an unapologetic advocate for the LGBTQ community, Milk became the unofficial spokesperson for the gay rights movement, and campaigned for a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Upon losing both his first and second election for the Board of Supervisors, in 1975 he was appointed to the San Francisco Board of Permit Appeals by his ally and friend, Mayor George Moscone. Continue reading

Out of Limbo: An Interview With Kent Burbank

Kent Burbank (left) and his family

Marriage equality for same-sex couples has come about partly through court decisions finding against states that have passed laws or constitutional amendments defining marriage as between one man and one woman.

In Arizona, the case was Majors v. Jeanes (formerly Majors v. Horne), which included seven couples and two widowed members of couples. One of the couples in the case was Kent Burbank and Vicente Talanquer, who had adopted two sons. Since Arizona did not allow two “unrelated” individuals to adopt jointly, only one of the fathers — Vicente — had been able to legally adopt. And when the couple was legally married in Iowa, that marriage was not recognized in Arizona, meaning that Kent still could not be a legal father to his sons. Only after the decision in Majors v. Jeanes on October 17, 2014, was he finally able to adopt his sons. His family is one of the first in Arizona in which both parents in a same-sex couple were legally able to adopt their children jointly.


“Vicente became the legal father. I had to, essentially, be nothing.”


Kent Burbank, who was once on the board of directors of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona, agreed to share his experiences with the adoption process, the lawsuit, and his marriage. I was very interested in interviewing him: I am also an adoptive parent, and since I adopted as a single mom, mine was also viewed as a non-traditional adoption. As we talked, I found we had experiences in common, but that some of what we faced was quite different.

Our meeting took place at the library in downtown Tucson, on January 5, 2015.

Arizona only allowed husband and wife to adopt jointly. Is that why you got involved with the lawsuit?

Our primary purpose for joining the lawsuit, speaking just for my husband and I, was about getting the ability to have both of us recognized as legal parents. When we went through the adoption process we had to do everything that a married, heterosexual couple would have had to have done — background checks, lengthy histories on both of us, statements about why we both want to adopt — and at the very end they said, “Oh, so sorry. Arizona doesn’t allow unmarried, gay couples to adopt.” Continue reading