Sign Up to Receive Email Action Alerts From Issa Exposed

Filed under: AIDS

HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius urges greater access to health care worldwide

By Scottie Thomaston

Yesterday Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius spoke at the World Health Assembly, saying that people who are LGBT need greater access to health care worldwide. This is a systemic problem affecting millions of people in hundreds of countries and though everyone has a right to health care, you can still be denied medical attention simply because of sexual orientation or gender identity:

Everyone has a basic right to health care. This is a principle that all people should share and all nations should strive for.

Achieving this goal means working to break down the barriers that prevent people from getting the care they need. Sometimes those barriers have to do with resources, when people can’t afford the treatments they need. Sometime those barriers have to do with geography, for example when people live in rural areas with little access to health care providers.

And sometimes those barriers have to do simply with who people are – and that’s what we’re here to talk about today.

Today, millions of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender men and women around the globe are not getting the care they need simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

She noted that it takes on different forms. It isn’t always obvious discrimination. There is not always a situation in which someone is denied care because of their orientation. Instead, patients are often denied proper care simply because of unfamiliarity with the needs of patients and lack of training on those needs:

This can take the form of outright discrimination, like when people are given substandard care or are turned away from a hospital or local clinic because they happen to be lesbian or gay.

Often, the barriers are more subtle, like when doctors and nurses don’t take the time to understand the health needs of their LGBT patients

In other cases, health care providers violate patient confidentiality and disclose the sexual orientation of their LGBT patients. This can put LGBT people who are not “out” in their communities, at risk of discrimination, social exclusion, physical violence, or even death. And it leads many LGBT people to risk traveling to distant care facilities in order to prevent this from happening.

Because of this, LGBT populations are often invisible and unacknowledged. But they are there, in considerable numbers, in every country in the world.

In recent years, more media attention has been focused on the way hospitals in the United States are treating patients who are transgender.

Sebelius acknowledges that even the United States has a long way to go to correct these problems:

I know these barriers because they still exist in my own country. Every day, LGBT Americans endure violence and harassment, have difficulty finding appropriate medical care, and face bullying and exclusion.

And it’s important for everyone to work toward simply allowing more people to have more access to health care:

This is a goal that all countries should be able to get behind. Even when we have religious or cultural differences, we should all be able to agree on the fundamental principles of making sure people can see a doctor when they are injured, get medicine when they’re sick, and have access to the basic preventive care necessary to live a healthy life.

The speech follows Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s remarks on LGBT rights last year.

5 Comments May 22, 2012

What marriage equality’s advocates can learn from ACT UP’s AIDS activism

By Jacob Combs

On its website, the San Francisco AIDS Foundation is celebrating its 30 year anniversary with a collection of archival photos marking the three decades that have passed since HIV and AIDS sprung onto the scene as a matter of national importance and one fundamentally connected to the livelihood of the LGBT community.

Last weekend, I was lucky enough to attend the New York premiere of “How to Survive a Plague,” the powerful and passionate documentary chronicling the success of ACT UP, the AIDS advocacy group that transformed the national debate on the disease and its treatment in the 1980s and 1990s.  In his review for the Hollywood Reporter, David Rooney wrote, “Words like ‘important’ and ‘inspiring’ tend too often to be meaninglessly attached to non-fiction filmmaking, but in the case of David France’s compelling snapshot of a revolutionary period in AIDS treatment, they are amply justified.”

As a young gay man who didn’t live through the worst days of the AIDS epidemic, “How to Survive a Plague” felt like the most important LGBT history lesson I’ve had since I watched “The Times of Harvey Milk.”  Because director David France chooses to tell the story of ACT UP not through a narrative of the institution as a whole but rather primarily through the individual experiences of several of its founding members, the film manages to demonstrate the effect that the government’s failure to take the AIDS crisis seriously had not only socially, but also personally.

What struck me most while watching “How to Survive a Plague,” though, was how instructive Act Up’s success can be for other social change movements, including our own marriage equality effort.  As France’s film demonstrates, two of the most significant elements of ACT UP’s success were its ability to foster and engage a community and its members passion for educating themselves.

I think those two elements are also what makes Prop 8 Trial Tracker so powerful, and indeed it were part of what drew me to the site back in the beginning of 2010.  Before I started reading P8TT, I knew almost nothing about equal protection law, terms like rational basis and heightened scrutiny, the history of marriage law in the United States, or the complex path a case takes from a district court to the Supreme Court.  Here at P8TT, people who aren’t legal experts but who are genuinely passionate about marriage rights and LGBT advocacy in general can educate themselves and engage in dialogue and debate about how we can effect action.

The power of this model has become especially clear to me through the last few weeks as the political landscape of Amendment One in North Carolina has shifted.  I feel personally that I have already learned so much about North Carolina and about the nuances of a state which is much more complicated than any simplistic politicial narrative.  I feel that Amendment One’s opponents have a good shot of defeating it at the ballot box if they can educate both voters and advocates about the truth of what the amendment would really do.

Amendment One is just the first of many ballot challenges that the marriage equality movement will have to grapple with this year.  Each state that will take up marriage equality referenda in the fall are unique and pose distinct challenges and possibilities.  But as ACT UP’s success shows us, our commitment to self-educate as a community creates the potential for us to educate others.  It’s how we became so engaged with the Prop 8 trial throughout its time at the district court and the 9th Circuit.  And it’s how we will continue to build upon our victories in the future.

3 Comments April 2, 2012

Gay Alabama legislator Patricia Todd joins conservative Republican to repeal anti-gay sex education law

By Scottie Thomaston

Alabama’s decades-old law laying out the minimum contents that must be included in sex-education curriculum is under the microscope, as Alabama’s first gay legislator Patricia Todd joins Alabama Republican and member of Phyllis Schlafly’s conservative Eagle Forum to work on repealing it. The law has an inordinate amount of antiquated and plainly inaccurate – scientifically and legally – stipulations and references. The law states that school sex education policy should teach “[a]bstinence from sexual intercourse is the only completely effective protection against unwanted pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) when transmitted sexually.” The CDC says, of course, that condoms “when used consistently and correctly, are highly effective in preventing the sexual transmission of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.” This is not controversial, and in the fight against HIV/AIDS, it’s necessary to promote condom use along with other alternatives.

The law also suggests that teachers should emphasize “that homosexuality is not a lifestyle acceptable to the general public and that homosexual conduct is a criminal offense under the laws of the state.” In 1992, I suppose at least the first part of this could be construed as more true than it may be today. However, clearly gay and lesbian relationships are considered largely just fine to the general public. And the American Psychological Association supports ending discriminatory marriage laws that prevent gay and lesbian couples from having their relationships recognized as equal by the government and society, and has said that “homosexuality is a normal expression of human sexual orientation that poses no inherent obstacle to leading a happy, healthy, and productive life, including the capacity to form healthy and mutually satisfying intimate relationships with another person of the same sex and to raise healthy and well-adjusted children.” Anywhere from 50-54% of Americans at the national level support marriage for gay and lesbian couples. There is no gay ban in our nation’s military. Even being out as gay in Alabama itself is not as bad as it once was, as anti-bullying laws to protect gay students continue to be pushed in the state legislature and even pride events are becoming more well-attended. It’s inarguable that today, as more kids are born or adopted to gay and lesbian parents, it’s not rational to teach our kids that gay and lesbian relationships are not acceptable.

Todd says, “‘Not an acceptable lifestyle,’”[…]“What the heck does that mean? It’s like they’re trying to say we shouldn’t exist.'”

The second part of the statement in the law is even worse. Laws banning gay and lesbian couples from being intimate with each other were ruled unconstitutional in 2003 in Lawrence v. Texas. The law in Alabama is still on the books, which is a problem for reasons beyond criminalization, but it is unenforceable as a criminal law because of the Supreme Court decision. There is no reason this should be considered a statement that should be made to students in Alabama.

It’s an unlikely alliance, but both sides see possible positive gains in repealing the law. The Anniston Star the Republican, Mary Sue McClurkin, as suggesting that repeal of the law would allow local districts to teach – or not to teach – the law however they want, “There’s a long list of things we require from them,” McClurkin said. “And sex education is one topic that’s best taught in the home.”

From Todd’s perspective, says the Star, sex education is implemented too unevenly: “In some places it’s taught in science class, in other places it’s done in health,”[…]“In some places it’s taught by the basketball coach and in some places the kids aren’t getting anything.”

“I’m just telling them they shouldn’t be teaching things that are incorrect[.]”

Think Progress has noted that Todd had once pragmatically proposed removing the language suggesting that sexual relationships between gay and lesbian couples is illegal but it never went anywhere. She is hoping to get Republicans onboard by her proposal to repeal the entire sex education law.

15 Comments March 19, 2012

What’s missing from World AIDS Day

I wrote this post at exactly three years ago today, and am republishing it this morning with an update because there is little difference between how the Administration and national LGBT advocacy organizations chose to mark World AIDS Day in 2008 and how they choose to do so today.

In the meantime, vaccines do not make themselves, but finding one remains the best hope for a cure. Prevention must one day become eradication. Please consider volunteering for an HIV vaccine trial. And if you are not eligible, consider asking a friend, family member, or colleague to do so. We have made great strides over the last year and it must continue. More details below, or you can go to for more -Adam)

By Adam Bink

Credit: Karen Ocamb at (marking the 30th anniversary of the discovery of HIV)
ALC ribbon 30th anniversary

I’ve been sitting at my computer all morning, reading through the advocacy discussion on World AIDS Day. Usually on these kinds of commemoration days there is an overemphasis on quick internet activism- a Facebook status update is all I expect out of lots of friends, both gay and straight- and an underemphasis on offline action.

Today is no exception, but it’s especially disappointing because of the lack of emphasis on vaccine trials. Allow me to get a little personal on you.

I come from a background of volunteering. My mom was a team leader for the United Way Day of Caring, so I participated each summer. Before I could not do so anymore because of the ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men, I donated blood at the Red Cross every chance I became eligible again- literally gallons’ worth. My grandpa spent the last few years of his life needing blood transfusions, so I became aware of important it is and how many shortages there are.

In that spirit, and because of how HIV/AIDS affects my community and friends, four years ago I participated in an HIV vaccine trial through the National Institutes of Health. The trials were no secret- NIH advertised in Metro Weekly, a local LGBT magazine, calling for volunteers. It wasn’t difficult- when I had a visit (I had a total of about a dozen, I got up a little earlier so I wouldn’t miss work and hopped on the DC Metro a couple of stops to the NIH campus. I did a few visits of background medical counseling and routine blood tests- the same you would get at a yearly check-up with your physician. The vaccine was given in separate doses- all with careful monitoring of symptoms. The extremely courteous, friendly, professional medical staff called regularly to check up and make sure I was okay. I was given a chart to monitor any reaction I had- which was none. The follow-up visits consisted of simple blood tests and inquiries on any symptoms. It was not, by any stretch, a harrowing experience, and I was generously compensated for my time. And I’ve been tested multiple times since then and am still HIV-negative. In fact, I’ve since gone back to participate in an avian flu vaccine trial, and am currently enrolled in a trial to help find a cure to chikungunya, a mosquito-borne disease common in Africa and Asia. Each time, the NIH physicians and staff are professional, caring and courteous.

I didn’t tell many people about my participation at the time, and those I did tell, I was shocked at the concerned reaction- even by physicians I know, even by people I know who lost family to other diseases with no cure, and have lamented to me how there is no vaccine. Yet when you say “I’m volunteering for a vaccine trial,” people ask “why must you? Let someone else.”

But the trial vaccine cannot cause HIV infection. From the NIH website set up for volunteer intake (emphasis theirs):

Q: Can a study vaccine cause HIV infection?

It is impossible to get HIV infection or develop AIDS from experimental vaccines. They are not made from live HIV, killed HIV, weakened HIV, or HIV-infected cells. The investigational vaccines in this trial cannot cause HIV infection.

You could even be receiving a placebo, and the studies are independently-reviewed. More to the point, though, I was left wondering at the public approach to HIV/AIDS and other diseases. How are we ever going to get past prevention and onto eradication if we don’t get past the perception that these vaccines just make themselves, and volunteering isn’t critical?

You see the same approach today. On Twitter, Join Red, which is a corporate-sponsored organization designed to raise awareness, as of this post makes no mention this morning on Twitter with over 1 million followers of volunteering to find a vaccine or even getting tested, yet remarkably talks about “the end of AIDS”, a new quilt and Bono’s media appearances. The Obama administration’s website,, has an entire section devoted to how one can use new media on its homepage, but if you want to find information about the government’s own research, driven by tens of thousands of volunteers, you have to do some serious digging to find this article, and even then there is no real call for trial participants. I just received a copy of President Obama’s upcoming speech at George Washington University, and it makes no mention of how exactly we will find a cure. Among advocacy organizations, NGLTF makes no mention, and HRC asks you to upload a photo. Not a photo wearing red or holding a red ribbon or a sign about HIV/AIDS…just a photo.

Now, I’ll be the first to say I’m no expert on epidemics, and I know issues like getting tested, using prophylaxis such as condoms, combating stigma in the African-American community, and syringe exchange programs are critically important. I also know HIV/AIDS vaccine trials have had limited success- although no more so than lots of other diseases. But it simply doesn’t make any sense to talk about prevention of diseases through pap smears and mammograms and HIV tests, and not ask people to volunteer to try and end these diseases permanently. At some point, prevention must become eradication.

We’ve achieved a cervical cancer vaccine. Every winter, everyone flocks to get a flu vaccine to the degree that there’s always a shortage. Every child gets an MMR vaccine. Hepatitis B. Polio. Chicken pox. On and on and on. Americans know how critical vaccines are. What seems to be be unknown is that these vaccines do not come out of thin air. They come from people volunteering to help develop them so that the rest of our country, and the world, can live longer. People bravely volunteer to fight overseas in the name of saving lives. Why don’t the rest of us bravely volunteer to save lives here at home? It’s time to start volunteering, and for our leaders to start calling for volunteers.

If you are a man who has sex with men, HIV negative and between 18-45 years old, please consider becoming one of the tens of thousands of vaccine trial participants (there are a few other requirements you can read about on NIH’s website). If you aren’t, you can still help — please consider passing along trial information over e-mail, social media or word of mouth. There is NO risk of infection from the vaccine and participants are well-compensated for their time. There are trial clinics all over the country. If you have any more questions, many answers can be found at or you can feel free to e-mail me at adam at couragecampaign dot org.

We will never get eradicate these diseases if we don’t and step up individually. Mark World AIDS Day by taking a giant step forward towards a cure.

Update: Top ten myths about HIV Vaccine research.

10 Comments December 1, 2011

Permanent ban on blood donations from MSM lifted in UK; unsound ban remains

By Adam Bink

I wrote back in September about the progress in the UK towards a sensible policy on blood donations from MSM (men who have sex with men). Today, the lifetime ban was officially lifted, though a ban remains if you’ve had sex with another man in the past year. One way of viewing it is a step forward on the policy; the objective may be to narrow to a 12-month or 6-month window, as other countries do, and when the sky doesn’t fall, e.g. there isn’t a sudden epidemic of people getting infected through transfusions, then perhaps we’ll shift to a criteria makes sense, that being risk-based rather than a blanket ban on a group of individuals.

By the way, a lifetime ban still remains here in the United States, something the government is looking at revising as well, though it remains an extremely slow process. More background on the issue here.

6 Comments November 8, 2011

The power of storytelling

Please keep trying out and posting comments on the threaded comments thread, folks, as we cover other topics. It helps to have everything in one place -Adam

By Adam Bink

I won’t repeat it too in-depth, but we often say our mantra at Courage Campaign and our movement is story-telling to change hearts and minds… or at the very least, start a conversation.

Here is the incredibly moving story of an AIDS/LifeCycle rider currently cycling from San Francisco to Los Angeles to raise money to fight, and awareness of, HIV/AIDS. He stopped and told his mother he is HIV+ during the tour on the phone. Watch:

It must take a lot of courage. He may have just turned his mom into an advocate by telling his story… or at the least, moved her in the right direction. Sometimes storytelling is often about being gay, but it is sometimes about being positive, too (and many other issues).

As we encourage folks to tell their stories as part of the Dustin Lance Black challenge, today Servicemembers Legal Defense Network asked its supporters to record a video for the challenge about serving in the military:

SLDN is pleased to collaborate with the Courage Campaign on its “Testimony” website, providing an SLDN “Community Page” as a place for veterans and families to share their stories about how “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal has affected their lives. Check out the newly uploaded story of Navy veteran Alicia Barnes on our page, as she talks about serving in the closet.

Recently, the Courage Campaign launched a video challenge featuring Dustin Lance Black, screenwriter of the 2008 Oscar-nominated drama “Milk.” In this video, Dustin encourages viewers to record and post their own testimony on the website, to tell stories about why they support LGBT equality. If Dustin selects yours as one of his favorite videos, he will bring his production crew to your hometown to film a public service announcement!

SLDN joins Dustin’s call, as we encourage you to post your video about DADT on SLDN’s Community Page. From young veterans to long-time military spouses, countless lives have been affected by DADT and the prior regulatory ban on military service by LGB people. This is your chance to speak up and speak out, to talk candidly about how this law and imminent repeal impact you and your family and friends.

To enter the contest, just record and upload a 1-2-minute video telling your story in support of LGBT equality no later than 11:59 p.m. on June 15th, 2011. Click here for details about how to upload your video. Please add your video both to both Dustin’s and SLDN’s Community Pages (select multiple pages when uploading, using the Ctrl key).

Thanks for stepping out for LGBT equality and sharing your story about DADT. Good luck on the contest – let’s get uploading!

Thanks SLDN for encouraging story-telling for members of the military LGBT (and allied) community, and for those of you in other communities, please do tell your story. You can get started here!


29 Comments June 9, 2011

Previous page