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Contact: Kimiko Martinez
323-993-7685

L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center Decries Continued Discrimination by the Boy Scouts of America

LOS ANGELES, May 23, 2013—In response to today’s vote by the Boy Scouts of America’s national council regarding gay scouts, L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center CEO Lorri L. Jean issued the following statement:

“No one should be misled by today’s cowardly, offensive and obviously calculated decision. The Boy Scouts of America is brazenly continuing to discriminate. They cannot escape the moral condemnation of fair-minded people simply because they’ve set an age limit on when their discrimination begins. 

In this day and age, it is neither acceptable nor progress for the BSA to allow gay boys to participate as scouts for a few years, only to harshly expel them from any involvement the moment they turn 18. The damning and toxic message to youth is the same either way. 

The Center urges people and companies who abhor discrimination to reject this half-hearted measure and continue to withhold support from the BSA until the group fully ends its discriminatory policies.” 

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About the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center 
For more than 40 years, the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center has been building the health, advocating for the rights and enriching the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Our wide array of services and programs includes: free HIV/AIDS care and medications for those most in need; housing, food, clothing and support for homeless LGBT youth; low-cost counseling and addiction-recovery services; essential services for LGBT-parented families and seniors; legal services; health education and HIV prevention programs; transgender services; cultural arts and much more. Visit us on the web at:www.lagaycenter.org.

By Kimiko Martinez

There’s no question that AIDS has been devastating to the LGBT community. In the 1980s, an entire generation of gay and bisexual men were affected by the epidemic.

But thanks to anti-retroviral therapies, HIV—for many people—is now a manageable chronic illness and not the death sentence it once was. And as science and medicine continue to add tools to the biomedical arsenal that help suppress the virus, people with HIV are living longer, healthier lives.

Ironically, it’s these people with HIV who are living healthier lives who could doom the virus and bring an end to the epidemic.

Ending the epidemic

For most people, the thought that we could see an end to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States continues to feel like a distant hope. Though isolated cases of “cures” have garnered plenty of attention the past few years—including the baby in Mississippi and the Berlin patient—we’re still years away from a vaccine or a cure for the more than 1 million Americans living with HIV.

So, then, what’s with all the talk about an AIDS-free generation? Why do scientists and leaders (including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton) believe there could be an end in sight to the epidemic?

The reason is simple: While research continues for a vaccine to prevent HIV infection, we have the tools—right now—to control the epidemic. We have the medicines to keep people with HIV from developing AIDS; and we have therapies to suppress viral loads to undetectable levels, making it far less likely to pass on the virus and infect new partners.

“If everybody who is living with HIV knew that they were infected, got the appropriate care and adhered to their treatment plan, we could significantly slow the spread of HIV,” says Christopher Brown, the Center’s director of Health and Mental Health Services.

“That’s what’s behind the notion of an AIDSfree generation and bringing an end to the epidemic.”

Deadly viruses like smallpox and measles were tamed by vaccines. For deadly bacteria, like the bubonic plague that centuries ago killed hundreds of millions, we’ve developed effective antibiotics. For the virus that causes AIDS, experts agree that anti-retroviral therapy can play a major role in ending the epidemic.

A strategy that works

While the tools to control the epidemic exist, making the tools work is a much more daunting proposition.

“Only about 30 percent of those who are HIV-positive in the U.S. are being treated with medications that can make their viral load undetectable,” says Dustin Kerrone, director of the Center’s Sexual Health Program. “That’s an unacceptably low number.”

Currently, of the 1.2 million HIV-infected people in the United States, about 941,000 know their status, 725,000 are linked to medical care, 480,000 are retained in HIV care, 427,000 are on anti-retroviral therapies, and 328,000 are virally suppressed.

Any increase in the number of people in treatment, who are less infectious, reduces the rate of new infections.

In this new treatment-as-prevention model, the thinking goes like this: Help more people get tested so they know their HIV status.

Then, provide those who are HIV-positive with appropriate medical care (including antiretroviral medications) and give them the tools and resources they need to adhere to their treatment plan. (The high cost of medications and side effects can be big factors that explain why some people fall out of care.)

Of course, treatment can’t begin until a person knows they’ve been infected.

Alarmingly, about 18 percent of Americans who are HIV-positive don’t know it; risky behavior with those 18 percent results in about half of the new infections.

“When people don’t know they’re infected, they’re more likely to have unprotected sex, thus increasing the risk of transmission to others,” Brown says.

Helping that 18 percent learn their status is difficult for a number of reasons. Socioeconomic and cultural barriers, access to health care and testing services, internalized homophobia, and plain old fear are huge barriers for many. Additionally, there are those who know they’re HIV-positive but aren’t in care, don’t stay in care or don’t take the meds that can make their viral load undetectable.

“Finding that 18 percent remains a tremendous challenge,” Brown says. “Some of the people in that group just don’t want to know their status. They’re afraid to find out they’re positive, they’re struggling with internalized homophobia or have a whole host of other reasons that keep them from getting tested.”

Treatment as prevention

It seems so simple: Test people to identify those who are positive. Provide those who are HIV-infected with appropriate care and medications. Epidemic over. But, of course, it’s not that simple. 

“We’ve always known how to theoretically end this epidemic,” says Darrel Cummings, the Center’s Chief of Staff. “All we have to do is wear condoms 100 percent of the time. Regrettably, after more than 30 years into this epidemic, gay and bisexual men remain the only population in the U.S. where infection rates are on the rise.

So, a condom strategy alone does not work. A biomedical strategy combined with necessary social supports though, just could.”

The problem is that, throughout most of the country, the necessary infrastructure to support this strategy doesn’t exist. Medical care, testing services, community outreach and prevention, mental health, housing, substance abuse treatment, etc. are often provided by separate organizations with separate missions.

And many of these organizations don’t work together, even though they are located in the same cities and towns.

For example, an individual might test positive for HIV at one organization and then be sent to another organization for treatment.

A patient may be getting good medical care but not have access to mental health support, addiction recovery services or a host of other services that can help people deal with their diagnosis, stay in care and be consistent with their medications.

“We must reinvent ourselves as service providers and as a community,” Cummings says. “We must do all we can to help. And that’s what the Center is doing now.”

Brown agrees. “We know what’s keeping people from getting tested and staying in care, but haven’t had enough resources to address it,” he says.

“Now more resources are being directed toward the issues that cause people to fall out of care. But it’s still going to take awhile. It’s not going to happen overnight.”

At the Center of ending HIV 

Knowing that there’s work to be done at every level of the treatment cascade (the chart on page 10-11 that shows infected, been diagnosed, linked to care, retained in care, on anti-retroviral therapy and have suppressed viral loads), the Center has completely geared its services to identify those who don’t know their status and to ensure that those who are HIV-positive have the resources to get the medication they need and stay on it.

Because no organization offers a wider range of services (medical care, counseling, support groups, medication, etc.) for people living with HIV, the Center is uniquely equipped to link those who test positive to the care they need.

When someone tests positive at the Center, a specialist counsels them on what to expect, the support services available to them, potential sources of financial assistance, etc.

And a person newly diagnosed with HIV can typically see a doctor in the Center’s Jeffrey Goodman Special Care Clinic within 24 hours.

The Center’s HIV prevention services strategically reach those most at risk— including gay and bisexual young men of color, one of the only demographic groups with a rising infection rate. Programs also provide services to the high-risk group of gay/bi men who use crystal meth and smartphone apps to hook up, encouraging them to get tested.

At the Jeffrey Goodman Special Care Clinic, the Center has increased its capacity for testing, employed new technologies to provide quicker and more accurate test results, and expanded its offerings of leading edge biomedical interventions, including PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis, a treatment given to people within 72 hours of HIV exposure) and PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis, a prevention method that reduces the risk of becoming infected).

And as California prepares for implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the Center has worked diligently to protect those living with HIV.

“We’ve really tried to make sure that the governor, legislature and county structures understand that people with HIV have very specific needs,” says Aaron Fox, the Center’s Health Policy Manager. “Whether that’s medications, being able to see an HIV specialist in your network or making sure that if their out-of-pocket costs are really high that there’s a payer that can help offset some of those costs. Because the last thing we want someone doing is dropping out of care because they can’t afford a $40 copay.”

Throughout the organization, the Center is doing everything it can—at every level—to address the myriad needs of those living with HIV and to eliminate barriers to receiving and staying in care.

“It’s only when we have a broad variety of services that meet the needs of our community and support their overall health and wellbeing—like we do at the Center—that we can really imagine an end to the epidemic that has cost us so dearly for such a long time,”

Cummings says. “The Center is truly at the vanguard of this effort, and will continue to do more and do better. We want to be the model for other organizations to replicate elsewhere.

We truly believe we’re leading the charge toward an AIDS-free generation.”

By Nigel Campbell

After 28 episodes and five seasons, In The Moment, the landmark web series that helped change the dialogue around HIV and spark discussions about safer sex, is taking its final bow.

The series, created by Dave O’Brien and sponsored by the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center and the City of West Hollywood, came together at a watershed moment.

“It was at a time when we were really looking for fresh and innovative ways to promote safer sex,” says Susan Cohen, the Center’s Director of Health Education & Prevention Services. “Since the Internet was becoming a primary source for dating and hooking up, we knew we needed to be online… to reach people where they were.”

But the Center also realized that banner ads and PSAs weren’t the answer. They needed an innovative strategy to deliver the message and to engage people.

“I think that the old ways of HIV prevention were no longer effective,” says Brett Holland, an executive producer on In The Moment and head of WeHo Life, the West Hollywood-funded gay men’s wellness program. “People just don’t respond to demands to ‘wear a condom.’”

With that in mind, the Center and WeHo Life connected with the show’s would-be creator Dave O’Brien, who broached the idea of an online web series. This was, at the time, a new strategy.

“We started talking about the possibility of doing a web soap opera and shot a ‘pilot’ episode,” O’Brien says. “With In The Momentwe used the power of storytelling to connect with people on an emotional level and integrate HIV messaging in a way that was more subtle and would spark discussions among people.”

O’Brien’s subtle and engaging messaging ultimately allowed the show to move beyond its initial aims of simply increasing awareness about HIV in the pilot episode to episodes that focused on a broad range of current topics related to men’s health. “Because it’s an ongoing living, breathing series, every season we were able to plug in issues that were pertinent to the community,”

Holland says. “We introduced bullying because that became such a prominent issue two years ago, and we tackled racism.” It went on to address everything from relationships between HIV-positive and -negative partners and interracial relationships to monogamy, infidelity, addictions to sex and crystal meth, and even body image issues. the show also introduced a transgender character with guest appearances by Calpernia Addams, an actress and activist for transgender rights and issues.

Addams wasn’t the only famous face to stop by. As publications like The Los Angeles Times, Frontiers and Instinct spread the word on the series and what it was accomplishing, performers like Darryl Stephens (Noah’s Arc), Parvesh Cheena (Outsourced) and Matthew Lush volunteered for the In The Moment cameras.

Still, the series will ultimately be remembered for its impact on its audience. Holland, who manages the InTheMoment. tv, as well as the show’s YouTube channel (InTheMomentTV), is constantly overwhelmed by the positive feedback the show receives from all demographics of our community.

“I had a comment two months ago,” said Holland, “from a guy who said ‘thank God for your show. I’m positive and my boyfriend’s negative and there’s nothing out there dealing with the situation or helping people like him and me. There’s nowhere for us to go to feel like we belong, or an outlet or a role model.’”

And In The Moment’s viewers aren’t limited to Los Angeles.

“Three years ago I had a letter from a boy in England who said it helped him come out,” Holland says. “It helped him be comfortable with himself and find his sexuality.”

So what is the final legacy of the award winning series with its famously diverse cast  and unabashed willingness to confront tough topics?

O’Brien states it simply: “I just hope that we can help people to connect their own lives with the stories that occur on In The Moment and give people an opportunity to start conversations with friends.”

Note: Nigel Campbell is a series regular in the role of “Kyle” on “In The Moment”. He also serves as a staff writer for Instinct Magazine.

The Dream Team

The Center’s vision to provide medical services to all members of the LGBT community comes to life

by Gil Diaz

Dr. Monica Stokes is a fearless warrior. 

In her 30 years of practicing medicine, she has served in the Navy, completed her medical residency at the U.S. Naval Hospital in San Diego, and interned at Oakland’s U.S. Naval Hospital.  She also co-led the primary care services at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Though she’s not in combat now, she is facing a new battle: helping lesbians and bisexual women take better care of their health.  As the Center’s new Director of Women’s Care, Stokes is leading the Center’s medical services for women.

“As lesbians and bisexual women, we face unique risks to our health, so we’ve got to protect ourselves,” she says. “When the Center offered me this job, I said I needed 100 percent of the organization’s support to get this program off the ground.  And I got it.”

Meet the newest members of the Center’s medical team.

Meet the newest members of the Center’s medical team.