CDC Cancels LGBT Youth Healthcare Summit, Despite High HIV Rates

U.S. Rep. Tom Price, R-Roswell, Georgia, is Donald Trump's choice for Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.
U.S. Rep. Tom Price, R-Roswell, Georgia, is Donald Trump’s choice for Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.

BY KAREN OCAMB  |  Progressives are still finding their footing since unpredictable but vengeful Donald Trump was inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States last Friday, Jan. 20. And since California delivered millions of votes to Trump’s Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, the Golden State was quickly in his cross-hairs — prompting Gov. Brown and mayors throughout the state to vigorously denounce Trump’s broad executive orders and his presumably unconstitutional pledge to withhold federal funding from cities that promise sanctuary to undocumented immigrants.

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Meanwhile, at the other end of the governmental spectrum, federal agencies that fear they might have their budgets slashed, based on the Trump administration’s performance, are preemptively distancing themselves from anything that remotely looks politically progressive. Last Friday, Jan. 20, the day Trump was sworn in, for instance, the LGBT page on the White House website was unceremoniously deleted, as was the page for the White House Office of National AIDS Policy.  On Thursday, Jan. 26, Talking Points Memo reported that  the CDC decided to “indefinitely postpone” a long-planned LGBT Youth Summit, presumably fearing Trump’s negative reaction if the summit got any attention.

“This was supposed to be a big deal,” a source, who requested anonymity given the politically sensitive nature of the cancellation, told TPM. “They had a whole communications team on it, it was going to be on Facebook live. The intention was to plan a 5-year agenda” at the CDC in Atlanta in order “to address the health and well-being of LGBTQ youth.”

The source said that CDC event planners were developing a list of potential partner organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign and Matthew Shepard Foundation, but wanted to wait until after the election to move forward.

“It was never actually explicitly said by anyone that we’re canceling this because Donald Trump won the election,” the source said.

“The whole reason that I went to work in the CDC was because I wanted to devote my career to impacting health outcomes for sexual and gender minority youth. So to have been part of the planning committee for the convening of the summit and to have it ripped out away for me or at least canceled because people in leadership thought it was going to be a bad idea…” the source said, trailing off.

Why does this matter? Health outcomes, especially around HIV/AIDS and STDs among LGBT youth, matter to the nation’s future. According to AIDS.gov  and the CDC site about HIV/AIDS, — both sites that are still up— as of 2014, “Gay and bisexual men accounted for 83% (29,418) of the estimated new HIV diagnoses among all males aged 13 and older and 67% of the total estimated new diagnoses in the United States.”

Additionally, “Gay and bisexual men aged 13 to 24 accounted for an estimated 92% of new HIV diagnoses among all men in their age group and 27% of new diagnoses among all gay and bisexual men.”

On Thursday, the Human Rights Campaign announced it has partnered with the Elton John AIDS Foundation for the second year for an “intensive, capacity-building fellowship program for young leaders at the front lines of the fight to end the spread and stigma of HIV.” HRC’s HIV 360° Fellowship program will focus on the challenges of those communities hit hardest by HIV, “including Black and Latino gay and bisexual men, transgender women of color, and LGBTQ people living in the South.”

“We all must continue to act with urgency to combat this epidemic, including investing in emerging leaders on the frontlines of the most affected communities,” Mary Beth Maxwell, HRC Senior Vice President for Programs, Research and Training, said in a press release.

“In order to end AIDS, we must continue to train and mentor young activists and emerging leaders from a variety of fields including LGBTQ rights, racial and economic inequality, substance abuse, and poverty and homelessness,” said Scott Campbell, Executive Director of the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

The conservative national Log Cabin Republicans are apparently trying to take the lead for the LGBT movement in addressing LGBT rights and potential rollbacks of pro-LGBT executive orders by the Trump administration, but so far HIV/AIDS does not appear to be a top priority.

To be fair, there has been no hue and cry over Trump’s reinstating of the ‘Global Gag Rule,’ which will negatively impact people with HIV/AIDS, too.

“Past global gag rules made foreign organizations stop any involvement with abortion in order to receive family planning funding from the U.S., but the new gag order expands this to include all health funding, Ronald Johnson, vice president of policy and advocacy at AIDS United,” said in a new report in  SELF magazine.  “According to Slate, this difference means that instead of influencing $600 million in U.S. foreign aid, Trump’s version of the global gag rule will impact $9.5 billion.”

“To say that America unilaterally decides this—or a single person decides this—is terrible for the world,” says Margaret Hoffman-Terry, M.D., chair of the national board of directors for the American Academy of HIV Medicine.

Meanwhile, the incredibly successful President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief launched by President George W. Bush in 2003 is rumored to be on the chopping block after a transition team questionnaire asked if PEPFAR had become a “massive, international entitlement program” worth the investment.

“[I]t’s hard to assess the intent of those questions, but at face value, they represent a point of view that is skeptical in the least and barely veiled hostility at the most,” Jack Chow, who focused on HIV at the State Department under Colin Powell, told The Atlantic.“They could be aimed at provoking a justification—an aim that is not too uncommon for these kinds of inquiries.”

Defunding the program would be catastrophic, he noted, since antiretroviral drugs must be taken continuously to prevent a flare up. “To sustain that therapy, there are substantial pipelines involving supply chains, financing mechanisms, and myriads of organizations,” says Chow. “Disruptions risk rekindling HIV.”

What of HIV/AIDS in America, especially considering Trump’s predominately anti-LGBT and anti-science cabinet?

“If [the late President Ronald] Reagan was remembered for his inaction on the plague, Trump may be remembered for explicitly dismantling the [AIDS] safety net and for enacting policies that will make the virus move more freely between people,” Steven W. Thrasher wrote in The Guardian last December. “As Carolyn Guild Johnson, director of prevention of services at St Louis Effort for [AIDS], recently told me: “I’m not only worried about our clients, but also the public health emergency that will result from the increased community viral load.’”

Also concerning is a national epidemic of STDs. In California, the highest STD rates are found among young people, African-Americans and gay and bisexual men, with alarming increases in syphilis, gonorrhea and chlamydia in Southern California, according to state public health officials.

In Orange County alone, the rates have gone through the roof, with Syphilis up 412 percent and gonorrhea up 204 percent.

Right now, HIV/AIDS advocates are watching what is happening with Affordable Care Act and Ryan White CARE Act funding. On his first day in office, Trump signed an executive order to “repeal and replace” the massive health care law, without articulating what the replacement will be.

“One in three people living with HIV in Illinois gained coverage through the Affordable Care Act,” John Peller, president and CEO of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, told the Chicago Reader.   “That’s 12,000 people out of about 38,000 people living with HIV in the state.”

“We’ve got a lot to worry about,” says Patti Capouch, CEO of Test Positive Aware Network. “If the Affordable Care Act is repealed and Ryan White isn’t reauthorized, that is a really scary situation for our clients and our community. Before the Affordable Care Act, if you didn’t have insurance, you only had Ryan White to rely on. I can’t even imagine what that would look like without them.”

No doubt all of these issues would have been discussed at that now-cancelled CDC LGBT Youth Summit.

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