Tag Archives: LGBT

President Obama Wants Conversion Therapy Banned

Transgender 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn wrote in her suicide note that one of the ways her family rejected her was by forcing her to see “Christian therapists.”  These therapists told her that she was selfish and wrong, and should look to God for help. Soon after her suicide, a White House petition was started, calling for “Leelah’s Law,”  which would ban all forms of the cruel ex-transgender and ex-gay conversion therapies.

Recently, the White House responded to the petition in agreement that conversion therapy should be banned.  Valerie Jarrett, White House Senior Advisor, said, “The overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrates that conversion therapy, especially when it is practiced on young people, is neither medically nor ethically appropriate and can cause substantial harm.”  She added, “As part of our dedication to protecting America’s youth, this Administration supports efforts to ban the use of conversion therapy for minors.”

President Obama Wants Conversion Therapy Banned

Jarrett believes that even with the best intentions, families can cause harm to their children who are LGBTQ. She said, “Countless families and guardians across the country proudly support their LGBTQ+ children. Too many LGBTQ+ youth, however, lack this support system, which can have devastating consequences. Negative family reactions to LGBTQ+ youth can be perceived as rejection by children, often contributing to serious health issues and inhibiting a child’s development and well-being. And when it comes to LGBTQ+ youth, some actions by family and caregivers can be harmful, despite even the best intentions.”

This year, Republican lawmakers have defeated several legislative bans that were pending in various states; some are still pending. Currently, only California, New Jersey, and Washington, DC have banned conversion therapy for minors. According to Jarrett, a national ban would require congressional action. But, she said: “We’re hopeful that the clarity of the evidence combined with the action taken by the states will lead to broader action that the administration would support.”

Jarrett stated in an interview with the New York Times that Obama was incredibly moved by Alcorn’s story and added that it’s not a unique experience: “It’s not the story of one young person,” she said. “It is the story of countless young people who have been subjected to this.”

5 Ways Bisexual Women Can Pursue Better Healthcare

Many individuals in the LGBT community face significant issues with regard to health care. For example, bisexual women face a high risk of physical and mental health problems and have a higher likelihood of experiencing violence and addiction. Discrimination is often experienced within the healthcare system. The bisexual community is fighting this, to spread education and make quality healthcare more accessible.

There are some general guidelines that may be helpful for bisexual women who are looking for quality health care. Read on to learn the five ways bisexual women can take care of their health, even while facing exceptional challenges.

5 Ways Bisexual Women Can Pursue Better Healthcare

Be aware of risks
Bisexual women are more likely to experience addiction, smoke, have depression and have suicidal thoughts and/or attempts, compared to other groups. Bi woman are also at a higher risk for cancer than heterosexual women or lesbians and less likely to get screening. Amy André, a co-author of Bisexual Health: An Introduction said, “Research shows that bisexuals experience more discrimination, violence, and stigma than gays and lesbians.” She believes that the fact that bisexuals have the worst health is directly linked to the violence, stigma and discrimination.

Seek quality health care
Unfortunately, it’s not possible to assume that every doctor is able to cater to the unique needs of LGBT patients. It is easier in urban areas, but still more difficult to find a provider that doesn’t group bisexual patients with gay or straight women. There is a list of providers in the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association directory and the Bisexual-Aware Professionals Directory. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and compassion.

Be your own advocate
You’ll need to be more assertive at times because some doctors will ask questions that are heteronormative. If you find that the doctor assumes you are a sexuality that you aren’t, you may need to answer broadly. You’ll want to make sure that you’re giving proper information about your past and current partners, and your sexuality. Some women will find it more difficult if they live in a small community with few doctors. Push yourself as far as you feel comfortable and remember that you can request certain types of screening for your physical and mental health.

Know your financial barriers
According to LGBT MAP’s Unfair Price study, bi women are more than twice as likely to live in poverty than the general population, and 29% of LGBT women have trouble finding affordable health care, compared to 19% of heterosexual women. Women in rural areas may experience even more difficulty. It’s of vital importance to have access to affordable health care. This could mean a visit to a free clinic, Planned Parenthood or a doctor’s office that takes your health insurance.

Get the word out
Form a support system and be supportive to others in a similar position. Doing this not only positively affects your chances of receiving affordable health care, it improves your health.

Many Transgender People are Completely Avoiding Doctors

It can be difficult for many individuals to have discussions about their sexual history with a physician. It’s not uncommon for people to consider it uncomfortable. But, for many transgender people, the conversation never happens because they do not seek out health care, according to Adrian Juarez, PhD, a public health nurse and assistant professor in the University at Buffalo School of Nursing.

A preliminary study (“Examining the Role of Social Networks on Venue-Based HIV Testing Access and Decision Making in an Urban, Transgendered Population”) that examined health-based decision making and access to HIV testing in urban, transgender populations, showed that many transgender individuals withheld from pursuing necessary care due to social stigma and lack of affordability.

Many Transgender People are Completely Avoiding Doctors

“There is evidence that health care providers do tend to be judgmental, and it’s unwelcoming,” says Juarez.  Of course, people are not going to visit health care providers if they fear that they’re going to face discrimination and stigma.

The results of the study are especially cause for concern because, according to a 2009 report from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), about one third of transgender people in the U.S. are HIV positive. And, transgender women of color are even more at risk of HIV infection. According to the NIH study, more than 56 percent of black transgender women are HIV positive.

Among other reasons, an inability to afford medical care is keeping transgender patients away from doctors. Transgender people are more than twice as likely to be homeless and four times more likely to experience extreme poverty (compared to the general population)…having a household income of less than $10,000 per year. This data comes from a 2011 report from the National Center for Transgender Equality. It’s not as if it’s easy for transgender people to get work, either. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, out of more than 6,000 transgender people surveyed in the nation, 90 percent said they were subject to mistreatment, harassment, and discrimination at work.

If a transgender person does happen to visit a healthcare provider, some doctors are not informed on how to properly treat the  patients. Juarez says, “It puzzles me how doctors will still refer to trans individuals by their biological name. That’s their identity.”

The line between identifying and biological gender can be blurry in healthcare settings. For example, transgender men still need Pap smears and transgender women need prostate screenings, but some health care providers might not offer these tests in order to keep from making suggestions that go against the patient’s identified gender. There is an urgent need to address stigmatization and provide health care professionals education on how to appropriately and compassionately treat transgender patients.

Important Ways Parents Contribute to LGBT Teens Health

Many parents of teenagers have their hands full, to put it lightly. Being a parent is not an easy job. You have to work on your own issues and those of your children. LGBT teens have particular health issues that need to be addressed and many heterosexual parents are either not aware of them or they don’t know where to start when it comes to helping their teens be healthy. Here are some steps you can take to help your teenager:

Seek out a pediatrician who is LGBT-friendly
This is important because your child might not be comfortable with the doctor they had in childhood. You may find a healthcare provider that’s LGBT or who is an ally. In order to find out, you must ask them. It’s also possible that they will be listed online. The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) has a database that is searchable by zip code.

Look into mental health care
Even if your teenager doesn’t appear to have signs of mental distress, they might. They might need someone with whom they can speak and feel comfortable saying things that they may not with a parent. Check out GLMA’s website for this information if you want. Also, consider someone to talk with for your own needs.

Remember that safe sex is still important
If your teen is with a same-sex partner, they still need to learn about safe sex practices. Make sure they’re tested for HIV and STIs and follow up with testing regularly. Make sure they know how to protect themselves in many ways, including not allowing themselves to be pressured into having sex before they’re ready.

Important Ways Parents Contribute to LGBT Teens Health

Vaccinations are important
Health care providers are not recommending that the HPV vaccine Gardasil is given to girls and boys. It’s important to get them vaccinated. For example, health care providers recommend that men who have sex with men (MSM) are given vaccinations against Hepatitis A & B, HPV, and the flu (annually) to begin with.

Keep watch of their online personas
This is important for everyone, whether or not they have LGBT kids. Your children are vulnerable to being lured into unsafe experiences or relationships by predatory adults. Make sure to pay attention to their online activity and have talks with them about how they appear in their online world. A harsh and constant reality is that bullying and violence against LGBT people exists; this includes child abuse and exploitation.

Speak about substance use/abuse
LGBT people are at a higher risk for substance abuse. Talk with your kids about the risks and the pressures they might face. If your child has a problem, seek treatment.

Love them unconditionally
Good health depends a great deal on a child’s supportive, loving environment.

Mental Health’s Influence on HIV Prevention

The HIV epidemic has changed a lot within the past 20 years, and still yet, continued high risk behaviors have remained the same.  Contributing factors to these behaviors include a lack of power or oppression, marginalization, sexual abuse, sexual compulsivity, low self esteem, depression, and loneliness.  These are not issues that can be fixed quickly.  Addressing these issues requires effort and time and may extend beyond the capabilities of many HIV programs for prevention.

An important thing learned from HIV prevention research is one size doesn’t fit all. Programs require different components that address the various different needs of clients.  Increased access to syringes for people who inject drugs, and condoms to those who have sex are necessary to win the battle against HIV.  Skill building and increasing knowledge about HIV are good methods for prevention, but they don’t work for everyone.  For most, the obstacles related to behavior changes involves dealing with mental health problems.

What people experience and what they do have effects on their mental health. Substance abuse and use (even when the drugs are not abused), marginalization, poverty, and discrimination are all serious factors that can have a big impact on one’s mental health and can place some people at a higher risk for contracting an HIV infection.

Mental Health's Influence on HIV Prevention

Do Issues with Mental Health Affect HIV Risk?

Yes. When someone decides to engage in a risky drug or sexual act, it doesn’t always occur due a consciously made decision.  Instead, these decisions are sometimes based on an attempt to get satisfaction for another need related to a mental health condition. For example:

  • Low self-esteem: For many men who have sex with other men (MSM), internalized homophobia and low self-esteem can impact their risk of of contracting HIV.  Internalized homophobia is a feeling which results in a person having a lack of self-acceptance, feeling unhappy, or self-condemnation for being gay.  In one study, it showed that men who did test positive for HIV were the ones that were in fact the ones that experienced internalized homophobia.  These men seemed to spend less time with others who lived the same lifestyle, and they also showed less satisfaction in their relationships.
  • Male to female transgender persons, also known as MTFs, identify depression, rejection, feelings of isolation, and low self esteem as barriers to risk of HIV reduction.  Many MTFs state that they take part in unprotected sex because it verifies their identity and helps boost their self esteem.
  • Post traumatic stress disorder:  People who are diagnosed with PTSD seem to partake in high-risk sexual behaviors.  One study showed that 59% of the women who were HIV positive had full PTSD due to traumas, such as rape, assault, or witnessing a murder. Non-violent traumas including serious accidents, loss or children, or homelessness.  Still yet, these women were not being treated for PTSD.  A national study performed on veterans found that substance abusers who had PTSD were more than 12 times as likely to be HIV infected than those veterans who were not suffering from PTSD or substance abuse.
  • Depression and anxiety: Those suffering from depression and anxiety are more likely to take part in high- risk sexual activities, such as substance abuse, including injection drug use, prostitution and choosing a high-risk partner.  A study following city youths for over a several year time period found that the change in risk behaviors wasn’t associated with access to information, counseling or knowing someone had AIDS.

What can be done?

As you can clearly see, mental health conditions by far increase risky sexual behaviors.  In order to address mental health issues, it is important that a person visit an individual therapist or counselor, as well as a physician to be put on appropriate medication(s). It’s also important for such people to have access to structural and community level programs that address mental health needs and HIV.

6 Major Reasons We Need to Rethink HIV Prevention

Many HIV prevention campaigns rely on appealing to our emotions, but are not taking a good look at the HIV research and information available. Read on to see why we should rethink HIV prevention.

60 Percent of young people with HIV do not know their status
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), 60 percent of young individuals have no idea that they have HIV. Some men and women who are HIV negative think that it is too big of a risk to be with someone who discloses that they are HIV positive, yet they might go on to have sex with someone who believes they’re HIV negative, but hasn’t been tested to verify. Those undiagnosed carry a higher viral load than those who are aware of their status and on treatment.

91 percent of new HIV transmission happen by those who are not diagnosed or haven’t been treated
This statistic comes from a new study released by JAMA Internal Medicine. In 2009, there were more than 1.1 million people living with HIV; of these people 207,600 were undiagnosed and 519,414 knew they were HIV positive, but were not receiving medical care. In comparison to those who were undiagnosed, those who knew about their status, yet not receiving medical care were 19 percent less likely to transmit the virus.

6 Major Reasons We Need to Rethink HIV Prevention

Those who are HIV positive and receiving antiretroviral therapy (ART) who have achieved an undetectable viral load are 96 percent less likely to spread HIV
There hasn’t been a reported case of anyone living with the virus with an undetectable viral load who has transmitted the virus.

Truvada has been shown to reduce HIV transmission by 96 – 99 percent, when used daily
One new study also shows when PrEP is used as needed (a user taking Truvada 2-24 hours before sex and one pill 24 and 48 hours after) has shown to be 86 percent effective in preventing HIV. With all that’s available–TasP, PrEP and condom use, there seems to be much less of a reason to fear sex with someone with someone of opposite HIV status. Be open and honest with your partner.

Three out of 10 in the US have their virus under control
The care continuum, which is also known as the HIV treatment cascade, showed that even though 86 percent of people living with HIV were diagnosed, only 30 percent of them had  an undetectable viral load. The majority of those living with HIV know they have it, but are either too scared or unable to do what is needed to control it.

You can expect to live an additional 51 years if you’re newly diagnosed in your 20’s
That is, if you enter proper treatment. This is roughly the same number of years as a person without HIV would live. Many need only take one pill each day to manage HIV. Of course, there are mental and emotional health issues to treat as well.

Kentucky Senate OKs Bill to Make Transgender Students Use Separate Restrooms

Recently, Kentucky’s state Senate voted for segregation of transgender students when using public school bathrooms. Atherton High School in Louisville made a decision to allow a student born male, but identifying as a female to use their girls’ restroom—this was reversed when the Senate voted 27-9 in favor of a bill against this decision.

When the school allowed the transgender student to use the girls’ bathroom, some students and parents objected due to their reported discomfort in sharing a bathroom with someone they felt should not be using, having been born of the opposite sex. This is when Republican Sen. C.B. Embry of Morgantown decided to introduce legislation, which is receiving support from the Family Foundation of Kentucky.

Republican Sen. Mike Wilson of Bowling Green does want those, such as his daughter, to be uncomfortable in a bathroom. He thinks society is being pressured to change because we live in a day of political correctness. He said, “I don’t want that situation for my daughter to be in a place and a state of undress in front of the opposite sex, whether they identify with her sex or not.”

Kentucky Senate OKs Bill to Make Transgender Students Use Separate Restrooms

However, some voted against the bill; 3 Republicans and 6 Democrats, for various reasons from believing this should be a decision made at the level of the school involved, to the belief that this is a dangerous step towards discrimination.

This bill requires school officials to provide the “best available accommodation” to students who say their gender is not that of their biological sex, who also have parental consent in writing. The bill even defines biological sex as “identified at birth by a person’s anatomy.” Some of the accommodations include: unisex bathrooms, single-stall restrooms, or “controlled use” of faculty bathrooms.

A 16-year-old transgender student, who attends a private Louisville school, spoke of his experience when his school made him use a separate bathroom and testified before lawmakers saying, “It was outing me every time I had to walk in there because nobody else used them.” And, “For me and other trans kids it’s especially hard being in a biological body that simply doesn’t match my gender identity: how I feel in my heart and mind.”

Language in the bill that would have allowed students to sue their school for not enforcing the law, has been removed.

HIV Used to Fight Cancer

HIV and cancer are the most feared diseases on the planet.

But now researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are using one to fight the other. 125 patients with either non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or chronic leukemia took part in this study, 36 of which were children. Two-thirds of participants had either gone through partial or full remission due to the experimental procedure.

Researchers at the university’s School of Medicine are reprogramming billions of cells in the body’s own immune cells to attack the cancer, a tactic which originated from studying HIV. The portion of the virus that allows it to pass into white blood cells is being used to fight cancer. What they are using isn’t HIV per se, but the genetic portion that gives the virus this ability. This method could replace bone marrow transplantation in some instances. This is the current treatment which is complex and can be dangerous.

HIV Used to Fight Cancer

The genetic material fashioned from the type HIV uses is inserted into the patient’s T-cell, an immune system cell known to fight pathogens. Certainly it isn’t the virus itself nor can patients develop HIV from the procedure. When the new cells are refurbished as cancer fighters, they are once again reintroduced into the body, where they can do mighty battle and crush cancer. These cells also reproduce spreading throughout the body and taking the fight right to cancer.

Dr. Doug Olson was diagnosed with Leukemia in 1996. He has undergone four treatments since. The cancer keeps resurfacing. By 2010, around half of all the bone marrow cancer in his body was infected with cancer. With few options left, he underwent this new treatment. Four weeks later, he was cancer free. Oncologists and others wonder if this sort of therapy can be adapted to fight other forms of cancer.

An HIV Cure is Still a Long Way Away

Though HIV treatment today is better than at any time in the past, challenges remain.

We have antiretroviral therapy (ART) today which can help HIV patients lead a normal life. But this requires lifelong care. What’s more ARTs are expensive and compliance with the drug remains an issue for many patients. Besides medications that can control the virus, the case of the “Berlin Man” or Timothy Brown encourages researchers. In 2007 Brown went for leukemia treatment. He received a transplant of hematopoietic stem cells. These are all the cells associated with blood. But the donor these cells came from had a rare genetic disorder, which proved to make Mr. Brown HIV resistant. To date there is no sign of HIV in Brown’s body. He no longer has to take antiretroviral drugs. Despite this, there are still many challenges in curing HIV.  In fact, the task is more complex than researchers first imagined.

An HIV Cure is Still a Long Way Away

Though scientists are able to halt the virus’s replication, it continues to be able to hide out in the body, in what are known as HIV reservoirs. It can attach its DNA to a cell’s genome, and continue on in long living cells, such as CD4+T cells found within the immune system. One recent study suggests that the HIV virus can be kicked out of their hiding places and neutralized. Another study found a way to snip HIV’s DNA out of a cell’s genome.

A recent John Hopkins University study found that these latent reservoirs are 60 times more prevalent than previously thought.  ARTs are not only a method of controlling the virus but also preventing it. Many health experts say ARTs should be more widespread to prevent the virus, particularly amongst at-risk populations. Now that researchers understand the challenges they face more clearing in locating HIV reservoirs, extracting the virus and it’s DNA, they can now develop better methods and someday a cure.

Death Rate for African-Americans with HIV Declined Significantly

For African-Americans living with HIV, the mortality rate took an impressive nosedive between 2009 and 2012 according to the CDC.

In a recent report, the agency revealed that the mortality rate fell somewhere between 21-28% depending upon how it is calculated, while the number of actual deaths for blacks dropped 18%. Still, the mortality rate and number of deaths remains elevated over other races, the CDC finds. Though only 14% of the population, African-Americans account for 50% of all new HIV cases.

Among certain subgroups such as black men who have sex with men (MSM) the number of cases has actually risen. Still, the drop in death rate and mortality rate made greater strides for black people, more than any other race.  Data from the U.S. Census was cross-referenced with the National HIV Surveillance System in order to arrive at these results.

Death Rate for African-Americans with HIV Declined Significantly

Two rates were calculated from this data, the rate of those living with HIV per 1,000 and per 100,000. It is estimated that 8,165 African-Americans lost their lives to HIV in 2012, compared with 5,426 whites and 2,586 Hispanics. African-Americans were 48% of the total. They were 1.5 times more likely to die of HIV than whites and 3.2 times more likely than Hispanics. Still, deaths among African-Americans between 2008 and 2012 dropped 18% according to the report. Among all of those living with HIV, a 28% decline was observed. For African-Americans, mortality rates fell from 28.4 per 1,000 in 2008 to 20.5 per 1,000 in 2012. Those who were older and living with HIV had a higher death rate.

Transmission method had considerable influence, as those who contracted HIV through intravenous drug use had the highest mortality rate. This is because they are more likely to have other serious health problems that increase their risk. MSM had the lowest mortality rate from HIV. Researchers note that the way the study was conducted, looking at all deaths associated with HIV, rather than HIV-only related deaths, it is impossible for them to determine any differentiation in care among the races.

Researchers wrote that overall the situation has improved for all of those living with HIV and differences between races has narrowed.  Moreover, minority focused treatment and care programs may see further declines.