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Trump Admin Fights Against HIV Research

HIV Trump LGBT Politics Rachel Abbott

Politics Is Personal, No. 2

The Trump Administration has ordered the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to thwart progress on HIV-related experiments due to the use of human tissue. This move is an affront both to modern medicine and to the millions of people who have suffered from HIV and AIDs at the hands of Republican administrations.

Scientists at the Gladstone Center for HIV Cure Research in San Francisco have been working on lessening HIV’s ability to stay in reservoirs of the body. If their research were to continue, society could eventually see a drug that would make PrEP — the current treatment of prevention for people at risk of contracting HIV — a short-term drug instead of a lifelong medication. This sort of change would be a massive step forward in both the convenience and cost of HIV treatment, bringing us one step closer to a true cure for the disease. In their experimentation, the scientists have been combining the genes of lab mice with human fetal tissue to have a more accurate representation of the human immune system.

Now, in a sweeping move affecting medical research across the country, Trump’s administration has banned NIH facilities from obtaining any more fetal tissue for their experimentation. The move was led not by medical researchers but by anti-abortion activists who claim that the use of consensually-given aborted human fetal tissue is immoral. This news comes only a few years after the uproar over a heavily edited video claiming that Planned Parenthood illegally sold aborted fetal tissue parts. Although this new “pro-life” regulation does nothing to limit abortions themselves, it does prohibit life-saving medical research from advancing the cure for HIV. It could be seen as ironic if it weren’t so terrifyingly cruel to those suffering from the disease.

Although the NIH was ordered to cease the acquisition of tissue in September of 2018, the news about the HIV experimentation is just now reaching national headlines. It’s the latest in a long string of similar actions by the current White House. While the President will often tweet long streams-of-consciousness about the Mueller investigation, many policies are changing in a quiet and sinister way. Other recent examples include the resumption of family separation at the border, loosening of radiation regulations, and the removal of LGBT+ people from the U.S. census. LGBT+ people in particular stand to lose decades of progress if research on HIV/AIDS treatment continues to wither.

PIP2 Trump Admin Fights Against HIV Research
The famous image of the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. The members in white represent the only surviving members of the original choir. The rest succumbed to AIDS-related complications.

The Trump Administration is not the first US Presidency that has halted progress on a cure for AIDS. Most notably, Ronald Reagan and the recently-deceased George H. W. Bush both stalled progress on AIDS research at the height of the AIDS crisis in the late twentieth century. At the time, the disease was highly stigmatized and viewed as a condition that only affected gay men, often called the “gay plague”, while HIV/AIDS itself was for years referred to in the medical field as GRID, or Gay-Related Immune Deficiency. Homophobic policies and ignorance stunted research on the disease for decades, leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths in the United States alone. The LGBT+ community lost nearly an entire generation of gay activists, leaders, performers, and family members. Only now are activists such as Javier Muñoz of Hamilton beginning to undo the harmful prejudices against people with HIV/AIDS.

History seems doomed to repeat itself if work on the cure for HIV doesn’t resume soon. A postdoctoral student involved in the Gladstone center research, Thomas Packed called the cessation “a travesty for the outlook for HIV research… Blocking this significantly hurts our chances of finding an HIV cure.”

There is no word yet on how or when work on the cure for HIV will be able to resume.

Politics Is Personal is a weekly column written by staff writer Rachel Abbott. New entries appear Monday nights at 7. 

Everyone I’ve Ever Voted for Has Lost

HIV Trump LGBT Politics Rachel Abbott

Politics Is Personal, No. 1

Politics Is Personal is a new column by Rachel Abbott, covering local and national news as it affects LGBTQ+ people. This column abides by one principle: that politics is never just a difference of opinion but a system of moral beliefs that influence our lives, liberties, and pursuits of happiness. Marginalized populations are particularly endangered when politics go awry.

I was driving home from my mom’s neighborhood in Spring, Texas the night that I heard Beto O’Rourke lost the race for US Senate against Ted Cruz. We had been out celebrating my birthday, and I vowed not to check my phone all evening as the results began to roll in. I’m both a person who loves politics as well as a person with an anxiety disorder; and the two go together like ammonia and bleach. I wanted to stay away from both the politics and the anxiety so that I could enjoy my birthday celebration with my mom. Therefore, I’d put my phone on silent and shoved it into the bottom of my bag. All night while we were out shopping and getting sushi at a local dive, I had felt the weight of my phone pulling my phone nearer to the ground like bricks in the proverbial sack. . The vibration of every single notification threatened to pull me out of the moment I was fighting my own anxiety to enjoy.

I had avoided my phone for about five hours in an effort to be present and practice some birthday mindfulness. But when our night out came to a close and I needed to drive back downtown, I was forced to pull out my phone to put on some music and to get directions. Even as I tried to avoid the news updates, my eyes canned the headline at the top of the screen — “Beto Concedes Race to Ted Cruz”. That was that. As disappointed as I was, I mostly felt exhausted. Beto was the latest in a long string of candidates that I supported and rooted for only to watch be defeated.

I remembered the first time I felt that sense of loss and frustration. I had been just a few days too young to vote for Barack Obama’s re-election, but I registered as quickly as I could. Soon I voted for Wendy Davis in the primary elections. Then I voted for her again in the gubernatorial election of 2014. At the time, there was no doubt in my mind that Wendy Davis would win. She had filibustered magnificently — hell, she’d filibustered at all. She ran on a platform all about empowering bold, Texan women. She was young, she was charming, and she cared about education and minority populations. Yet she lost to Greg Abbott.

Then there was Bernie Sanders, whom I’d voted for in the primary elections in the 2016 presidential race. He ran on a platform of promoting economic equality, of affordable college tuition and free healthcare. His tax plan read as European and elegant, and he had decades of experience. He had marched with Martin Luther Fucking King Jr., for chrissakes. These bricks that build the Great Wall of Bernie all sound amazing, I thought. And Hillary already lost a primary once before. Surely Bernie is our candidate. Yet he lost to Hillary Clinton.

So I brushed off the dust, and I threw my support in for Hillary. Was she perfect? No. But God she was so much better than the alternative that it seemed laughable. Even when I wasn’t on fire for her policies, it was easy for me to support her. She was professional. She was poised. She had years of political experience and the education to match it. I was ready for the first female United States president. Beyond that, I felt like she had the bare minimum of human decency. She neither made fun of disabled reporters, nor boasted about sexually assaulting people. She didn’t call immigrants rapists and criminals. The bar set by her opponent seemed impossibly low. The bar was literally buried five feet under ground; you would have to dig your own grave to miss that bar.

Well, we all know how that turned out.

All of this is to say: I am used to my candidates losing, but I’m still sick of it. In a country where we tout a representative democracy, I have yet to vote and see my views represented. It feels, on a fundamental level, unfair. And it sounds whiny when I say it like that, but it doesn’t make it any less true. If the point of an elected official is to represent the views of their governed body, and your views are eked out year-after-year … what’s left to do?  

It would definitely be easier for me to sit with the disappointment if this were a matter of mere opinions. For instance, if the greatest thing at stake in any election were how much tax funding went to road repair versus the city bus system, I probably would not care all that much about the results. However, that’s not how our elections work. One representative supports my right to marry my partner; one thinks our union should be illegal. One representative will allow transgender people to receive the healthcare and support they need; one wants to define them out of existence. One representative would end border camps for children; one supports the destruction of families. When the stakes are this high, everyone should care. Everyone should care about these policies on a visceral, emotional level.

The baffling truth is that many people don’t feel that way. I’ve tried to figure out what’s going on in the minds of my close relatives and family friends who vote red time-and-again. Their beliefs are now reflected in our governor, both of our senators, our president, and the majority of the Supreme Court. But what, exactly, are those beliefs that they hold so dear? These are the same people who will assure me that they love me, love my partner, can’t wait for our wedding. Then, in the same day, they’ll post on Facebook that they’re voting for Ted Cruz or that they’re trying to “Make America Great Again”. It gives me emotional whiplash. And for what? What belief is it that my own family could hold more dear that my right, as their sister or niece or cousin, to feel happy and safe? I want to shake them — physically shake them — and ask, Why don’t I matter enough to you?

Beto O’Rourke lost by just a little over 2% of the vote. That means that nearly half of all Texans support liberal policies, yet both of our senators are conservative. I believe — and hope — that Beto will run for another political office one day, maybe not the presidency yet but something.  His campaign invigorated the Texas Democrats in a way that I’d never seen before. I would be really proud to be represented by a candidate like Beto O’Rouke. But it’s too soon for me to think about all that — too soon to excite myself again.

Wendy Davis. Bernie Sanders. Hillary Clinton. Lupe Valdez. Beto O’Rourke. My political mind holds something of a memorial to these people who ran on good, decent platforms but lost. There will be more candidates. I have no doubt in my mind that in a few months we’ll begin to ready our battle paint for yet another round of primaries and yet another round of general elections. There will be shiny and wonderful new democratic candidates who will reignite the spark of hope that us voters in the South carry in our hearts. After all, Senator Cornyn’s seat will be up for reelection soon, and then there’s that thing about the President. I hope these new candidates will win. I really, really need one of these new candidate to win. For the first time, I need someone that I voted for to win.

In the words of Wendy Davis: “I fucking hate to lose.”

EXCLUSIVE: Pride Houston Adds Non-Binary Grand Marshal Category

Pride Houston diversity LGBTQ POC REPRESENTATION

Pride Houston, Inc. is revamping their grand marshal categories for the 2019 year — adding a ‘non-binary grand marshal’ category in a step forward toward better inclusivity.

(HOUSTON) — When it comes to Pride celebrations throughout the world, there’s always discussion about how grand marshal titles can be adjusted to be more inclusive of all people in the LGBTQIA community. These categories vary from Pride organization to Pride organization. Some host only a single grand marshal each year, while others classify their grand marshals by gender identification. Some cities even host a celebrity grand marshal seat, which has not always proven to be popular within the community. But as the discussion about gender identification is constantly and rightfully making its way to the forefront, Pride Houston, Inc. has made the optimistic decision to rebrand their own grand marshal categories and take a trailblazing step forward toward better inclusivity.

In recent years, the grand marshals that lead Houston’s LGBT Pride Celebrations annually have been classified to ‘male’, ‘female’, and ‘ally’ or ‘honorary’ categories. But after hearing and seriously considering remarks from the community to make their grand marshal categories more inclusive of trans and non-binary people, Pride Houston, Inc. has made the bold and promising decision to reassess how they’ll be taking grand marshal nominations from the community in 2019. While last year — which marked Pride Houston’s 40th Anniversary — all forty years’ worth of grand marshals were honored leading up to and at the event, this year Houston’s LGBTQ+ community can expect a few changes. According to Daniel Cato, who serves as the marketing director for Pride Houston, Inc., the 501(c)(3) nonprofit has revamped the male and female categories, now classifying them as “male-identifying grand marshal” and “female-identifying grand marshal”, in an effort to better serve the trans community and provide them with a sense of much-needed inclusion. Additionally — and while retaining its ‘ally” category — this will be the first year that Pride Houston, Inc. will open up a new grouping, a “gender non-binary grand marshal” for their 2019 celebration. By doing this, Pride Houston hopes to help highlight the often-forgotten non-binary people in its celebration here in Houston.

“As an organization, we want to continue the effort of making Pride more inclusive to all. Pride Houston has started the conversation of moving away from gender-related grand marshal categories.”

— Lo Roberts, President & CEO

But Pride Houston isn’t stopping there. It seems as if they are well aware that this may not be a fix-all. In an exclusive chat with About Magazine first, both Cato and Pride Houston President and CEO, Lo Roberts, added that come late February of 2019, the nonprofit will host a Town Hall with representatives of Houston’s LGBTQIA community to discuss what more they can do to become more inclusive. At this Town Hall, Pride Houston hopes to discuss what the future would look like for their grand marshal categories and allow the public to talk back with Pride’s representatives in order to provide ideas and input to aid in the evolution of Pride Houston’s honors.

31404200_2172616306302314_7926198944600686592_o EXCLUSIVE: Pride Houston Adds Non-Binary Grand Marshal Category
Pride Houston president & CEO, Lo Roberts (photo by Eric Edward Schell of Pride Portraits).

In an exclusive statement from Roberts to About Magazine, the president and CEO said, “As an organization, we want to continue the effort of making Pride more inclusive to all. Pride Houston has started the conversation of moving away from gender-related grand marshal categories. The 2019 Houston LGBT Pride Celebration will maintain its traditional categories, but will additionally provide a ‘gender non-binary’ category. That being said, Pride Houston has also decided that an open and public dialogue must occur in order to review these categories and to create a consensus among the greater community about what these honors should look like and how they should be represented. I would personally like to invite our entire community to come out and be a part of the discussion as we continue to make Pride Houston the community’s organization.”

This decision comes just off the heels of the loss of Ray Hill — an icon and activist in LGBTQIA culture and the man who co-organized Houston’s very first Pride parade. Following his death, Pride Houston also announced that they would be hosting an annual Town Hall to discuss the safety of Houston’s LGBTQ+ community, as well as the issues its people face. The nonprofit is now taking nominations in all four of their 2019 grand marshal categories. The form for these nominations can be found here. Pride Houston will be accepting nominations through 6 January 2019. Nominees for each category will be announced at the Pride Unveiling Event (where the 2019 theme will also be revealed) on 24 January 2019. Public voting for nominees in each category will run from January 25th through mid-April; and the selected grand marshals will be announced at the annual Pride Kickoff Party on 25 April 2019.

BREAKING: Houston/Montrose Restaurant Baba Yega Catches Fire

baba yega houston fire brunch montrose restaurant

The beloved Houston/Montrose restaurant, Baba Yega, reportedly caught fire Friday night during the dangerous storms.

(HOUSTON) — Bruch-time favorite eatery Baba Yega reportedly set fire during the nasty storms rolling through the city late Friday night. While it is not yet clear whether or not the storms had anything to do with the building fire, multiple sources across social media nearby have reported that the building has, in fact, been seen in flames. More information will be available as it is made available to About Magazine.

The quaint Montrose cafe which was named after a Slavic witch (according to the restaurant’s website) has been a favorite of the neighborhood and LGBTQ community since 1975. What was once a bungalow was eventually converted into the staple eatery with several spots on its campus both indoors and outdoors for guests to dine. Baba Yega is frequently packed to capacity for Sunday brunches, and also is equipped with private rooms for parties and events. Baba Yega’s owners are large supporters of the LGBTQ community and consistently make an effort to give back to local nonprofits, Montrose, and queer people.

This is a developing story.