LGBT Community to be hit hard by Sequester

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LGBT and HIV and AIDS community leaders are bracing themselves for massive budget cuts if leaders in Washington fail to strike a deal before the clock strikes midnight.

A sequester would mean that the government would be forced to shave some $1.2 trillion from the federal budget. According to Huffpost,”The sequester will affect government spending across the board. The military will see $550 billion in cuts, drawing funds away from national security and military operations. On the domestic side, cuts will affect health care, education, law enforcement, disaster relief, unemployment benefits, non-profit organization funds, scientific research and more.”

Crosby Burns, research associate on LGBT issues for the Center for American Progress,  tells the Washington Blade the community has a lot to lose if some sort of compromise isn’t reached,”Politicians are literally playing games with people’s lives. If the sequester happens, AIDS patients will lose access to life-saving drugs, programs that combat hate crimes and domestic violence in the LGBT community will be slashed, LGBT homeless youth will have to remain on the streets if homeless shelters receive less funding, and LGBT workers who have been discriminated against will see their cases go uninvestigated.”

Unfortunately, it’s looking more and more like the sequester may happen. A last minute meeting between the White House and congressional leaders on Friday morning failed to produce any results.

During a White House news briefing earlier in the week, Education Secretary Arne Duncan told the Washington Blade even the problem of school bullying would be virtually ignored if the cuts go through, “We’re not even having that conversation today, it’s all about going in the opposite direction,” Duncan said. “So creating safe communities, creating climates in which children live free of fear, thinking about what we’re doing in the curriculum, afterschool clubs — all the things we should be doing whether it’s around reducing bullying, or whether it’s around the arts or robotics, or whatever it might be, we’re not even having that conversation, which is, again, crazy to me.”

“According to a fact sheet issued by the White House earlier this month, cuts to the AIDS Drug Assistance Program could result in 7,400 fewer patients having access to life-saving HIV medications. The White House also says around 424,000 fewer HIV tests could be conducted by Centers for Disease Control State grantees, which could result in increased HIV transmissions and costs in health care,” the Blade reported.

According to Huffington Post, “The $1.2 trillion in budget cuts would be spread over nine years and are equally divided between domestic and defense-related spending. During the remainder of the 2013 fiscal year, $85 billion worth of cuts are set to go into effect. The budget cuts would end in 2021.”

CDC: HIV On the rise in Young Gay/Bisexual Males

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According to statistics released late last year by the Centers for Disease Control, the number of reported HIV and AIDS cases in the U.S. remains at about 50,000 cases a year. What has many alarmed, however, is that the numbers show a sharp increase in cases among young men ages 13-24.

According to the Bay Area Reporter,”young people between the ages of 13 and 24 in the U.S. account for more than a quarter of new HIV infections each year (26 percent) while 60 percent of these youth living with HIV are unaware they are infected.”

Prevention workers Jaysen Foreman, the Empowering Positive Youth program coordinator at Charlotte’s Regional AIDS  Interfaith Network (RAIN), tells Qnotes the rise is due to,”is a sign of crucial changes in how HIV is being perceived nationally, a reality he sees reflected among the young people he serves locally.”

“HIV doesn’t have this scary face anymore — it’s not the face of 30 years ago, there are no sunken cheeks and face, no lesions on the body. HIV is not a threatening or horrible, gruesome thing anymore.”

Geneva Galloway, who works as RAIN’s director of community services, tells Qnotes that stigma and fear continue to be a defining factor in the spread of HIV,“It boils down to this: If we don’t get a grasp on the stigma, HIV-positive people are not going to be willing to speak up about it,” Galloway said, noting the importance of disclosing one’s status. “Our goal should be educating people about the stigma that keeps people from disclosing their status.”

Education also continues to be an issue.

As the Bay Reporter points out,”MSM,(males who have sex with males), the report shows that those infected were less likely to report having been taught about HIV or AIDS in school.

Foreman and Galloway say prevention efforts for positives and safer-sex lessons are important, but more should be done to unite and amplify the voices of those most at-risk, “young people, and especially young African-American men, need to “stand on the front lines” like many gay men did during the early years of the epidemic.”

Here in Idaho there are two two important groups focusing on the demographic. Boise Mpowerment is an organization, “dedicated to building Boise’s young gay and bisexual men’s community.” The Genesis Project, in Pocatello, is focused on,”creating a safer and stronger community in Southeast Idaho where young men can feel empowered to make a difference in their own lives, the lives of their peers, and their community.” Both groups are very active within their communities and welcome new members.

“Overall, an estimated 12,200 new HIV infections in the U.S. occurred in 2010 among young people aged 13-24, with young gay and bisexual men and African-Americans hit harder by HIV than their peers. In 2010, for example, 72 percent of estimated new HIV infections in young people occurred in young men who have sex with men,” says the Reporter.

Currently, an estimated 1.2 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV.

ACT-UP joins #Occupy in call for Wall Street Healthcare Tax

Members of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, (ACT-UP), joined forces with members of Occupy Wall Street on Wednesday to draw attention to a plan that would provide better health care for the uninsured.

About nine activists were arrested during the protest, held in the heart of New York’s financial district.

According to the Washington Post,”New York Stock Exchange workers jeered from the sidewalk as handcuffed protesters wearing Robin Hood costumes were loaded into police vans after chaining themselves together and blocking traffic in the area around Wall Street. Police used chain cutters to remove them.”

“The protestors are asking for the government to tax market trades by investment banks, hedge funds and other financial outfits to fund universal health care,” explains an ACT-UP blog post. “The AIDS activists met up with Occupy Wall Street supporters at City Hall to rally for what they call a “Financial Speculative Tax.” They contend the funds generated by such a tax would help treat HIV-positive people and those who are uninsured — and that it would register as barely a blip on the bottom line of most Wall Street firms.”

Eric Sawyer, who is one of the group’s founding members tells the Washington Post,”When it comes to AIDS and housing services…big business is not funding anything, but they got the bailout.”

Act-Up was founded in 1987 amid the AIDS crises, the group has since gone international with chapters around the world.

According to the group,”Today, out of the 34 million people living with HIV worldwide, about 6.6 million people in low- and –middle income countries have access to HIV treatment with nearly 8 million additional people still in need.”

a.l.p.h.a. to Offer HIV Testing at the College of Southern Idaho

a.l.p.h.a. (Allies Linked for the Prevention of HIV and AIDS) will be offering rapid oral HIV testing on the CSI campus in Twin Falls on Wednesday, April 4th, from 11:30 a.m. until 4:30 p.m., room 247 inside the Student Union Building.

There is no charge for the test and clients can know their results in 20 minutes. No appointment is necessary and the event is open to the public.

Allies Linked for the Prevention of HIV and AIDS opened its doors on September 1st, 2003, located in a tiny space above the Flying M Coffeehouse in downtown Boise. a.l.p.h.a. became a comfortable referral center for HIV testing and counseling, STD/STI screening, support groups, workshops, and training. a.l.p.h.a. developed an educational outreach program approved by the Idaho Department of Education, and has helped thousands of people in Idaho “Know Their Status.”

In late 2009, a.l.p.h.a. opened its first satellite office in Twin Falls. Since opening its doors, it has grown from a small storefront on Main Street to its current multi-room office located at 213 3rd Ave East.

Besides HIV testing, the all volunteer led organization also offers free education classes regarding HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs), support programs and free prevention materials.

Over the past three years a.l.p.h.a. has participated in several events on the CSI campus including World AIDS Day activities and testing, an AIDS walk and volunteers have made several classroom presentations regarding HIV and AIDS.

Wednesday’s event will mark a new partnership between CSI’s Community Service Council and a.l.p.h.a. in order to provide once-a-month on campus testing at the college and its satellite locations.

To set up an appointment or to find out more call 734-3842.

Speaking of a.l.p.h.a., you might have noticed all the dust flying at its Boise location. Recently the decision was made to combine the Exposure thrift shop with the a.l.p.h.a. office, located at 1009 W. Bannock St.

According to a recent newsletter, the move is a win-win for  the organization,”We not only save a money, but now 100% of Exposure sales revenues will directly benefit a.l.p.h.a. programs. Plus, Exposure has already introduced a.l.p.h.a.’s mission to new supporters whom may otherwise not have heard of us. Really, any way you look at it – this is a GREAT move!”

There will be a open house on Thursday, April 5th, from 5-8pm to celebrate the changes. No RSVP necessary!

Besides the thrift store, a.l.p.h.a. also operates a food bank for HIV+ individuals in the Treasure Valley. a.l.p.h.a. is a safe place for those who are HIV+ to gather and collect weekly nutritional items as well as socialize.

Monetary donations  to help support a.l.p.h.a. and its mission are always welcome.

For more information call 208-424-7799 or visit the a.l.p.h.a. website by clicking HERE.

It’s National Native HIV and AIDS Awareness Day!

Today, March 20th, marks the first day of spring. It is also National Native HIV and AIDS Awareness Day. According to organizers,” This is a day to remember those who we have lost as a result of AIDS and to reignite our commitment to end the spread of this disease among native peoples.”

The task of combating HIV and AIDS in Native populations is a difficult one and it’s getting harder.

“People working to combat HIV in Indian Country are faced with a double whammy: infection rates are on the rise, but funding sources to fight the epidemic are drying up,” reports the Indian Country Today Media Network.

That’s in part to the Federal Government’s national HIV and AIDS strategy which is focusing on the nation’s highest HIV positive populated areas.

The problem with the strategy, according to Indian Country Today, is that means, “funds are being diverted away from rural and more sparsely populated areas. Those areas include most Indian nations, says Robert Foley, CEO of the National Native American AIDS Prevention Center(NNAAPC), a Denver, Colorado-based nonprofit group.”

“State heath departments in Idaho. Wyoming, North Dakota and other states with large Native populations are now seeing 10-15 percent drops in HIV prevention budgets, with up to 33 percent projected,” Foley told the Website. “Organizations within those states will have decreased access to HIV prevention dollars.”

There’s also still a lot of stigma surrounding the virus.

Melvin Harrison, founding executive director of the Navajo AIDS Network, or NAN, tells the website, “the fact that people are still reluctant to talk about HIV and AIDS compounds the data collection problem: Nobody talks about HIV in the tribal government; it’s too complex,” he said. “There’s homophobia. There’s HIV phobia. There’s AIDS phobia. There’s transgender phobia. It’s really frustrating.”

According to the CDC,“The HIV epidemic is a serious health threat to Native communities. Although American Indians/Alaska Natives or AIs and ANs represent 1% of the U.S. population, they have historically suffered high rates of health disparities, including HIV and AIDS. Overall, approximately 20% of HIV-infected Americans do not know they are infected, while among AIs and ANs this figure is closer to 25%. AIs and ANs diagnosed with HIV infection or AIDS die sooner after their diagnosis than members of any other ethnic or racial group, suggesting that they may be diagnosed late in the course of their infection. This underscores the importance of educating AIs and ANs on the facts about HIV prevention and increasing access to basic health care services. ”

The National Native HIV and AIDS Awareness Day website reports that, “since the beginning of the epidemic through 2008, 3,629 American Indians/Alaska Natives (AI/AN) have been diagnosed with AIDS. 1,847 AI/ANs with HIVand AIDS have passed away from the disease. In 2008, there were an estimated 2,306 AI/ANs living with HIV and AIDS – 1,650 men, 627 women and 29 children.”

Organizers behind the day say they,”encourage all Native communities to plan events to support HIV awareness. We need to continue to fight the stigma of this disease, encourage HIV testing, and raise the level of knowledge and awareness about HIV and AIDS. for more information, please visit www.aids.gov, or to find a testing center near you, visit www.hivtest.org.”

Here In Idaho, you can get a rapid oral HIV test at no charge through a.l.p.h.a. (Allies Linked for the Prevention of HIV and AIDS.).  The volunteer organization has offices located in Boise and Twin Falls, it also offers educational programs to equip individuals with the tools they need to help combat HIV, AIDS and other STIs in their communities.

You can also contact your local health department or visit the above websites to learn more.

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