The North Bay Business Journal – the North Bay’s leader in business news and events – is holding an inaugural PRIDE BUSINESS LEADERSHIP AWARDS. Redwood Credit Union is a Co-Host to the event. I’ve spoken with the Business Journal team about this event and am confident, with our help, they will do an excellent job. (They have produced hundreds of successful in-person and virtual events over the past 20 years.) Also, a portion of the sponsorship proceeds are being donated to Positive Images of Sonoma County – a 30 year established LGBTQIA support services nonprofit.
We need your nominations of LGBT business and community leaders who deserve recognition:· for running an excellent business· for service to the community, and· for making a difference with their everyday actions. Nominations take only a few minutes – the link is: http://nbbj.news/pride21Just one nomination is all it takes. (no need to have many people nominate the same person.)Deadline for all nominations in Monday, April 19th Consider a sponsorship We know June’s a busy month … and yet this is the first time for this kind of an Awards event in a market our size. If you have an interest in supporting this event, please contact for more information:Paul Pastorino, sr. account manager – firstname.lastname@example.org
Reps. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) and Anthony Brown (D-Md.) on March 4 introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that calls for creating a federal commission to investigate “the historic and ongoing impacts of discriminatory military policies and practices on LGBTQ servicemembers and veterans.”
The bill, H.R. 1596, the Commission to Study the Stigmatization, Criminalization, and Ongoing Exclusion and Inequity for LGBTQ Servicemembers and Veterans Act of 2021, authorizes the commission to conduct a fact-finding investigation into the past and current treatment of LGBTQ servicemembers and veterans, according to a statement released by Brown.
The investigation would include obtaining testimony from servicemembers, veterans, families, advocacy organizations, government agencies, and others, the statement says.
Takano is one of nine gay or lesbian members of the U.S. House. He currently serves as chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs. Brown, a longtime LGBTQ community ally, is a member of that committee as well as the House Committee on Armed Services.
The statement released March 4 by Brown’s office says U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) will introduce a companion version of the bill in the Senate in the coming weeks.
“For many generations, LGBTQ Americans have stepped up to serve our country in uniform, even when discriminatory policies prevented them from serving openly and when facing higher rates of harassment for just being who they are,” Takano said in the statement. “Many served in our military while hiding their identity, while others were discharged simply because they were LGBTQ,” Takano said.
“Our nation must reckon with the effects of discriminatory military policies and undo the damage that has been done,” said Takano in the statement. “Establishing this commission would help Americans understand the effects of anti-LGBTQ military policies, provide a path forward to rectify the injustices, and help create a welcoming culture for LGBTQ servicemembers and veterans in the military and at VA [U.S. Veterans Affairs Department],” he said.
“For far too long, LGBTQ+ servicemembers experienced discrimination, harassment, lost opportunities, and violence because of their identity,” said Brown, a retired Colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve who was deployed to Iraq in 2004 while a member of the Maryland House of Delegates.
“Military policy and practice were wrong then and contributed to this unacceptable environment, a fact that our country must acknowledge in order to move forward,” Brown said. “By acknowledging and providing redress for past discrimination, we can better foster inclusivity within the ranks, improve unit cohesion and readiness,” he said.
The statement released by Brown’s office says approximately 114,000 service members were discharged on grounds of their sexual orientation between World War II and 2011. According to the statement, an estimated 870,000 LGBTQ veterans have been impacted by “hostility, harassment, assaultive behavior, and law enforcement targeting” as a result of discriminatory military policies.
“To this day, many LGBTQ veterans who were discharged on discriminatory grounds are unable to access their VA benefits and those still serving face inconsistent protections that make them vulnerable to harassment and put their careers at risk,” the statement says.
The statement says the commission would also be authorized to make recommendations to Congress for “a path forward that various government agencies, service providers, and the military should follow to ensure equity for LGBTQ+ Americans who wish to serve.”
The Human Rights Campaign, the Minority Veterans of America, and the Modern Military Association of America announced their support for the bill.
The Modern Military Association of America was formed through the merger of the American Military Partner Association, which represented LGBTQ military families, and OutServe-Service Members Legal Defense Network, which represented LGBTQ service members since the early 1990s.
Jennifer Dane, the MMAA’s executive director, said the organization continues to receive reports from active-duty LGBTQ service members and LGBTQ veterans about instances of discrimination and harassment. She said more reports of problems in recent years have been associated with transgender service members following the Trump administration’s reinstatement of the military ban on trans service members, which President Biden overturned in January during his first week in office.
“Discrimination, harassment and violence have plagued the LGBTQ military community for decades and a formal commission to study and understand the detrimental impacts of harmful policies and behaviors is long overdue,” Dane said.
For the second year in a row, the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Delaware received the top ranking along with 16 other states for having laws and policies highly supportive of their LGBTQ residents as of 2020 in the annual State Equality Index released on Jan. 25.
The SEI is prepared jointly by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation and the Equality Federation Institute, two national LGBTQ advocacy organizations. The SEI treats D.C. as a state.
Its rankings place states and D.C. into four categories in the order of the degree of LGBTQ supportive laws and policies that are in place, the lack of such laws and policies, and laws and policies considered hostile to LGBTQ people.
The 2020 SEI places Virginia and one other state, Iowa, in the second highest ranking called “Solidifying Equality.” This represents a boost for Virginia’s ranking from the fourth and lowest category in the 2019 SEI based on the approval by the Virginia General Assembly last year of the landmark Virginia Values Act, a comprehensive LGBTQ civil rights law.
Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the organization for which the HRC Foundation is a part, said the Virginia Values Act makes Virginia the first state in the South to adopt non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people in state law.
“The 2020 legislative session was one of the most unusual in recent memory, given the COVID-19 pandemic,” David said in a statement. “However, despite the shortened sessions in many states, we saw multiple states pass pro-equality laws to protect the LGBTQ community,” he said.
In addition to D.C., Maryland, and Delaware, the other states placed in the highest category – called “Working Toward Innovative Equality” – include California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.
According to an HRC statement announcing the release of the 2020 SEI, 27 states have yet to adopt comprehensive non-discrimination laws protecting LGBTQ people, and LGBTQ people in those states “remain at risk of facing discrimination due to the lack of statutory protections.”
The HRC statement says LGBTQ people in those states face potential discrimination despite the June 2020 landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision of Bostock v. Clayton County, Ga., which declared that LGBTQ people are covered under the U.S. Civil Rights Act of 1964 under the act’s provision banning employment-related discrimination based on sex.
Some LGBT rights attorneys have said the sweeping high court decision could be interpreted to cover areas beyond just employment discrimination and would likely protect LGBTQ people living in states that have yet to pass LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws. And in his first week in office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order reversing a Trump administration policy seeking to limit the scope of the Bostock ruling. The Biden order requires all federal agencies to fully comply with the ruling.
But HRC and other LGBTQ advocates have said federal law currently lacks sex-based protections in certain key areas such as public spaces and services. They have said it remains imperative that all states pass comprehensive nondiscrimination laws, in part, because it could take more litigation to fully apply the Bostock decision in all areas.
Although D.C. had been placed in the SEI’s highest ranking category in 2019, in 2020 the D.C. Council passed two additional laws protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination.
One of them specifically bans discrimination against LGBTQ seniors in long-term care facilities. The other law bans the use in criminal trials of the so-called gay and transgender “panic” defense. Supporters of the ban say defense attorneys have used this defense to attempt to convince juries during a trial that an LGBTQ person was to blame for a violent attack against them because the perpetrator unintentionally “panicked” upon learning the victim was gay or trans when committing the violent attack.
President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team announced on Thursday that Biden has named Jeff Marootian, one of D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s openly gay cabinet members, as Special Assistant to the President for Climate and Science Agency Personnel.
Marootian, who currently serves as director of the D.C. Department of Transportation, was one of 14 appointees to the White House staff announced by the presidential transition team on Thursday who will advise the president on issues ranging from climate change, environmental quality, healthcare, veterans’ affairs, immigration, and racial justice among other issues.
“Delivering results to Americans grappling with the many challenges facing our country will require an experienced, innovative, and principled White House team,” Biden said in a statement. “The policy leaders announced today are accomplished public servants who are ready to build back better for this country immediately,” Biden said.
In a separate statement Vice President-elect Kamala Harris called the latest round of White House appointees “innovative thinkers and principled leaders,” and added, “I look forward to working with them to ensure that every American has a fair shot a pursuing their dreams.”
Marootian, a longtime advocate for LGBTQ equality, has served as director of the D.C. Department of Transportation since 2017. Since shortly after the November 2020 presidential election, he has served on the U.S. Department of Transportation Agency Review Team for the Biden presidential transition.
Prior to joining Bowser’s cabinet post in 2017, Marootian served in the administration of President Barack Obama as White House Liaison and later as Assistant Secretary for Administration at the U.S. Department of Transportation.
During the 2012 Obama-Biden re-election campaign Marootian served as Director of LGBTQ Outreach at the Democratic National Committee.
The announcement of his appointment says he would be working at the White House Presidential Personnel Office. A spokesperson for the Biden transition team could not immediately be reached to determine whether the Personnel Office is in the White House itself, the Old Executive Office Building, which is part of the White House complex, or at another location.
The Presidential Inaugural Committee for President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris is calling on the LGBTQ community to participate in several planned virtual inaugural events that reflect the theme of “America United,” an inaugural official told LGBTQ representatives at a Jan. 12 online briefing.
“We are looking forward to the inaugural ceremonies in which the American people and the world will witness the peaceful transition of power,” said Rina Patel, the inaugural committee’s Associate Director of Coalitions before a Zoom gathering of close to 50 representatives of LGBTQ organizations from across the country.
“This will mark a new day for the American people focused on healing our nation, bringing our country together, and building back together,” she said.
Patel noted that the inaugural swearing-in ceremony for Biden and Harris, which will take place outside the U.S. Capitol, will not be open for in-person viewing and will be restricted mainly to members of Congress.
“In order to be mindful of COVID-19 guidelines there are no public tickets available for the inauguration,” she said. “I know some folks are excited about being in D.C., but we are really encouraging everyone to stay home and not to travel to D.C.”
At least three national LGBTQ organizations, meanwhile, were scheduled to hold their own inaugural celebrations in honor of the incoming Biden-Harris administration.
The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization, announced it is joining “community partners” in holding a virtual LGBTQ Inaugural Ball on Jan. 20 called the Power of Unity.
“This not-to-be-missed virtual event will feature musical performances and special appearances from equality leaders across the LGBTQ movement,” a statement promoting the event says. Among the performers scheduled to appear, the statement says, is Billy Porter, the Grammy, Tony and Emmy Award-winning actor, singer and activist who stars in the FX hit series “Pose.”
HRC is billing the event as a fundraiser with suggested levels of donations of $400, $250, $175, $100, and $35, with financial supporters having access to an online reception and having their name posted as an official sponsor. But HRC says people can also attend the online Inaugural Ball free of charge by registering in advance of the event.
The Center for Black Equity, the D.C.-based national LGBTQ advocacy organization that organizes the nation’s Black Pride events, is holding its own virtual inaugural ball on Jan. 20, according to Executive Director Earl Fowlkes. Fowlkes said some LGBTQ elected officials were expected to speak at the event along with Reggie Greer, who served as the LGBTQ liaison for the Biden presidential campaign.
The LGBTQ Victory Fund, which raises money and provides logistical support for openly LGBTQ candidates running for public office, was scheduled to hold a virtual Inauguration 2021 fundraising event on Jan. 14.
In a statement on its website, the group said the event would celebrate “the queerest U.S. Congress in history!” a reference to the record number of LGBTQ candidates elected or re-elected to Congress in the 2020 election. Nine U.S. House members and U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), were expected to appear at the Victory Fund event.
The Biden inauguration was scheduled to take place two weeks after the Jan. 6 Capitol riots in which hundreds of supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol building in a siege that took the lives of five people, including a U.S. Capitol Police officer.
The Biden-Harris inaugural committee has said it was working closely with the U.S. Secret Service, D.C. police, and a Capitol Police force with new leadership to ensure the security and safety of all those participating in the few in-person inaugural events.
Patel and Carrie Gay, another inaugural committee official, told the LGBTQ representatives at the Jan. 12 online briefing about at least three virtual inaugural events that community-based organizations, including LGBTQ groups, could participate in.
The two said one of the events scheduled for Jan. 18 was being organized in conjunction with the annual Martin Luther King Jr. National Day of Service. Community organizations throughout the country, including LGBTQ organizations, were being invited to organize events assisting those in need that would be publicized on the inaugural committee’s website, Gay told the briefing. Most of the events were to be virtual.
“Events will focus on COVID-19 relief and address challenges that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, such as poverty, hunger, racial injustice, homelessness, mental health, and educational disparities,” a statement released by the inaugural committee says.
“The Presidential Inaugural Committee is asking Americans everywhere to participate in community service and urging them to sign up to volunteer at bideninaugural.org/day-of-service and encourage their friends, family, and neighbors to join,” the statement says.
In a live online webinar broadcast from Hong Kong on Nov. 12, organizers of the 11th quadrennial Gay Games celebrated the start of a two-year countdown for the Nov. 12, 2022 opening ceremony at the Hong Kong Stadium for the world’s largest LGBTQ sports competition and arts andcultural event.
Members of the Gay Games Hong Kong 2022 organizing team, which is an arm of the U.S.-based Federation of Gay Games, told the 79 people who joined the webinar from 29 countries that they expect 12,000 participants, 75,000 spectators, and 3,000 volunteers – a total of at least 90,000 from 100 countries — to take part in the Hong Kong Gay Games.
They noted that 36 sporting events are planned, including traditional sports like soccer, wrestling, volleyball, and figure skating as well as sports more common in Asia such as dragon boat racing, dodgeball, eSports, and trail running.
An outdoor Festival Village will be opened near the harbor in central Hong Kong that will showcase art and cultural events and exhibits as well as performing arts events including daily performances by bands, dance groups, and vocalists that have been associated with the Gay Games for many years, according to literature released by organizers.
Members of the organizing team also pointed to what they consider an historic first. The location of the Gay Games in Hong Kong will mark the first time in its 40-year history that the quadrennial event will be held in Asia.
“Unity is the key message of Gay Games Hong Kong,” said Dennis Philipse, a Hong Kong resident and the founder and co-chair of Gay Games Hong Kong.
“Carrying a torch of empowerment and connection in Hong Kong serves to bring our community together in this important time for our city,” he said in a statement.
“We are excited to welcome all the 12,000 participants and 75,000 spectators from 100 countries to the city as the Games serve to boost the local economy by 1 billion Hong Kong dollars,” he said.
Neither Philipse nor the other Gay Games Hong Kong organizers who spoke at the webinar mentioned the political strife and turmoil that has unfolded in Hong Kong beginning several years ago when pro-democracy protesters began a series of almost daily demonstrations, some of which turned violent. Many of the protesters said they were raising strong objections to China’s growing efforts in recent years to gain control of the local Hong Kong government that protesters say violates China’s international agreement in 1997 with Great Britain to allow Hong Kong to govern itself in domestic affairs for 50 years as a condition for Britain to cede Hong Kong to China.
The protests and virtually all of the episodes of violence appear to have stopped in July of this year shortly after China intervened by enacting a “national security” law that bypassed Hong Kong’s local legislature and which essentially bans demonstrations against the government of Hong Kong or China. The law defines such demonstrations as “sedition” and “subversion of state power” and calls for punishment of up to life in prison for violating the new law.
Federation of Gay Games spokesperson Shiv Paul told the Washington Blade in a statement that the Gay Games Hong Kong 2022 organizing team has created a contingency planning committee that has developed plans to address “potential scenarios/risks such as an on-going pandemic, social unrest or unseasonal weather events.”
“We are closely monitoring the health, political, sporting, travel, and international events that could impact the delivery of Gay Games 11 in Hong Kong,” Paul said. “Plans are in development so that we have prepared actions that would assist in mitigating the potential impact of any unfortunate circumstances that might arise.”
Paul added that there has not been a recurrence in “protest violence” in Hong Kong since the new national security law took effect in July of this year.
“The National Security Law (NSL) targets activities that endanger national security (secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign or external forces),” he said. “It does not have any bearing on LGBT+ affairs or sporting competitions,” Paul stated in his statement. “Based on our assessment to date, we do not expect the NSL will have any direct impact on the Gay Games taking place in Hong Kong.”
Added Paul, “Once the coronavirus pandemic is more settled, we anticipate Hong Kong will deliver a strong program of events to rebuild the tourism industry and Gay Games Hong Kong will be well timed to be a strong event within these plans.”
Philipse and others who spoke at the Nov. 12 webinar from Hong Kong said LGBTQ supportive sports organizations and businesses in Hong Kong have expressed strong support for the Gay Games and have made financial contributions to support the city’s ability to hold the Games. Organizers also point out that local Hong Kong government officials have also expressed support for the Games.
“Becoming Asia’s first city to host Gay Games isn’t just a cause for pride and celebration for Hong Kong,” said Ricky CHU Man-kin, chairperson of Hong Kong’s Equal Opportunities Commission. “It drives home the message that the LGBTI community and indeed all in society deserve to be visible, represented and included in sports and other areas of life,” CHU Man-kin said in a statement released by Gay Games Hong Kong 2022.
A 60-minute video recording of the webinar organized by Gay Games Hong Kong can be accessed through this link.
Additional information about Gay Games Hong Kong 2022 can be accessed here.
The owner of the Baltimore Eagle, an LGBTQ leather-Levi bar that has been in business for 30 years, has raised strong objections to what he says was an Aug. 7 raid on his establishment by a dozen representatives of city regulatory agencies who claimed they were investigating a complaint that the Eagle was violating COVID-19 social distancing rules.
Eagle owner Ian Parrish told the Washington Blade the raid came shortly after he alerted officials with the Baltimore Board of Liquor License Commissioners that he learned that people associated with a competing LGBTQ establishment filed complaints against the Eagle with the liquor board and the city Health Department falsely claiming the Eagle was violating social distancing requirements.
He said his attempt to alert the liquor board and health department about the false complaints apparently did not reach the people who conducted the raid.
Parrish said one of the officials in charge of the agents that conducted the raid, all of whom wore “black body armor,” became angry when he asked to take their temperature as they arrived at the Eagle’s door. Parrish said taking people’s temperature “is part of our COVID-19 protocols for all people entering the premises.”
“’We’re the f[**]king liquor board,’ was their answer to my request,” Parrish said in an email to Maryland State Sen. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore), a copy of which he sent to the Blade. “Then, the horde of the agents in body armor walked through me. I was ping-ponged from side to side as each agent physically pushed me from left to right and back about ten feet as they forced their way past me,” he said in his email to Washington.
“Not only did those agents abuse their authority by assaulting me, they put our patrons at risk by willfully ignoring State of Maryland COVID protocols, and some of them weren’t even wearing masks!” Parrish said in his email message.
“The SWAT style show of force put upon us was grossly out of proportion for the circumstances, it frightened our patrons to the point of them leaving, and the worst part of it was that we were subjected to this gross abuse of authority for absolutely no valid reason,” said Parrish in the email.
Adam Abadir, a spokesperson for the Baltimore City Health Department, responded by email to a Blade inquiry about the concerns raised by Parrish that the Health Department was part of an unnecessary raid on the Baltimore Eagle.
Abadir characterized the visit to the Eagle by the various city agents as an “inspection” that was conducted by members of the Baltimore Social Club Task Force, which consists of several city agencies, including the Health Department, liquor board, and the police and fire departments. He said the inspection visit was prompted by complaints received from citizens that the Eagle was allegedly in violation of social distancing orders issued by Baltimore Mayor Barnard Jack Young to address the COVID pandemic.
Abadir said that at least one of the individuals that filed a complaint against the Eagle sent the Health Department a flier issued by the Eagle advertising a “foam party” scheduled to take place Aug. 7 and 8. The flier, a copy of which Abadir sent the Blade, states: “Throw on your harness and get naughty under piles of safe, antibacterial foam on our social distance patio. Thank you for respecting our COVID-19 guidelines.”
According to Abadir, the task force members determined through their inspection that the Eagle was in violation of a mayoral order issued on Aug. 7 just hours before the Eagle raid that banned indoor operations at bars and restaurants after 10 p.m. He said that during the inspection visit the Eagle’s management immediately complied with the order by moving all indoor patrons to the Eagle’s outdoor space and no penalty was imposed.
Abadir said that due to threats made against members of the Social Club Task Force during past inspection visits to other establishments, the task force members “unfortunately must wear bulletproof vests/flak jackets for their protection.” He said the “body armor,” as Parrish called it, is worn by task force members on all inspection visits and the inspection visit to the Eagle was handled the same as inspections for all other bars, restaurants and other establishments.
Matt Achhammer, a spokesperson for the Baltimore Board of Liquor License Commissioners, provided the liquor board’s explanation of the raid on the Eagle in a Sept. 2 email to Baltimore City Council member Ryan Dorsey. Dorsey asked the liquor board about the raid after being contacted by Parrish.
Achhammer said in his message to Dorsey that the inspection visit to the Eagle was prompted, among other things, by the Eagle’s flier advertising its foam party as well as two complaints about the Eagle from citizens who called the city’s 311 non-emergency services phone line to report the complaints.
“In this case please note that on August 7, though the location had major COVID violations, it was issued a warning,” Achhammer told Dorsey in his email. Achhammer acknowledged Parrish’s concern that multiple executive orders by the Baltimore mayor have created confusion among businesses required to put in place COVID related restrictions and policies.
Parrish said that he later learned that the mayor’s order banning indoor operations at restaurants and bars was issued at noon on Aug. 7, just hours before the raid took place at the Eagle. He said no one from the liquor board or health department contacted the Eagle to inform the club about the revised order.
“There is no reason why a call, a text, an email can’t be sent out to licensees to keep us informed so that nobody is causing an infraction unwittingly,” Parrish told the Blade. He said that at least one of the task force members participating in the Eagle raid acknowledged that the COVID related orders and rules have changed frequently over the past several months, making it difficult for businesses to keep abreast of the changes.
In his email message to State Sen. Mary Washington, a lesbian, a copy of which he sent to the Blade, Parrish said the Baltimore Eagle has a long record of operating as a responsible bar, restaurant, and retail shop.
“I mention this because in 30 years the Baltimore Eagle has never – not once – never been called before the Liquor Board for any wrongdoing,” Parrish states in his email to Washington. “We are a bar with a very long and verifiable history of community involvement and charitable giving, and we enjoy the formal written support of over 1,200 residential and commercial neighbors of all backgrounds and beliefs, the Charles North Community Association, and the support of 5,000-plus people who follow the Baltimore Eagle on social media,” he said.
Parrish told the Blade the agents participating in the raid never explained to him what the alleged multiple COVID violations were that Achhammer referred to in his email message to Councilmember Dorsey. Parrish said it was possible that Eagle patrons moved closer together than required for social distancing during the confusion that took place during the raid when the agents walked through all of the Eagle’s different rooms and spaces.
“Regarding the presence of foam, that has absolutely no bearing on social distancing or our other COVID-19 protocols,” Parrish said in a follow-up email to Councilmember Dorsey. “[T]he antibacterial soap-based foam has a deleterious effect on the COVID-19 virus, which is one of the reasons why we moved forward with it in the first place,” Parrish told Dorsey.
“So that certainly was not a reasonable impetus for the raid,” he continued. “What was actually relevant about the theme was that it was a threat to a competing venue’s performers to the point they openly discussed in the very same Facebook post their plan to file false complaints – which they did; and again, I personally made the authorities aware of this prior to the raid,” Parrish said in his email.
Parrish said he believes the people who filed what he says were false complaints against the Eagle were drag performers associated with a competing LGBTQ venue. But he declined to identify the competing venue.
“I think this story has a real chance of just touching off more negativity and a bigger problem,” he said. “I’m not trying to point fingers, even though these people really frightened our patrons and affected our business,” Parrish said. “But we’re talking to them since this whole incident. We started talking. We’re really not trying to go backwards and inflame anybody.”
Officials with Gay Games Hong Kong 2022, the committee organizing the quadrennial international LGBTQ sports event scheduled to take place in Hong Kong in November 2022, announced at an online webinar on Aug. 27 that a “contingency planning committee” has been created to address potential “risks” associated with the event.
Although those risks include the potential impact of the coronavirus pandemic and ongoing “social unrest” in Hong Kong, organizers stated during the webinar that the Hong Kong government remains highly supportive of the Gay Games. They said a team of more than 100 volunteers is working diligently to safely accommodate the thousands of LGBTQ athletes and spectators expected to arrive in Hong Kong in November 2022.
The webinar took place less than two months after China enacted a highly controversial security law giving the Hong Kong government greater authority in cracking down on pro-democracy protesters who have been holding demonstrations, some of which have become violent, for more than a year.
The Federation of Gay Games, the international governing body that oversees the Gay Games, reaffirmed its decision to select Hong Kong as host for the 2022 Gay Games during its Annual General Assembly meeting in Guadalajara, Mexico last November. One year earlier, the FGG selected Hong Kong over D.C. and Guadalajara, who were the two finalist cities competing with Hong Kong, to become the host city for the games.
FGG officials have predicted at least 12,000 athletes will participate in 36 sports in the 2022 Gay Games, with at least 75,000 spectators expected to turn out in Hong Kong to watch the games and participate in at least 20 accompanying arts and cultural events.
“As mentioned in the webinar, Gay Games Hong Kong 2022 has set up a contingency planning committee and has drawn up a contingency plan to cover specific risks, like the pandemic and social unrest,” said Federation of Gay Games spokesperson Shiv Paul in response to an inquiry from the Washington Blade.
“FGG with GGHK are closely monitoring the health, political, sporting, travel, and international events that could impact the delivery of Gay Games 11 in Hong Kong in November 2022,” Paul said. “Contingency plans are in development to mitigate the potential impact any unfortunate circumstances might cause,” he said.
“The team on the ground in Hong Kong are doing an excellent job in keeping the board up to date with concerns surrounding Hong Kong,” Paul quoted Joanie Evans, co-president of the FGG, as saying.
Paul added, “The GGHK team is composed of a team of 100 passionate LGBTQ+ volunteers and are looking forward to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Gay Games, first in Asia. They happily make Hong King their home, feeling safe in the ability to lead out, productive lives. The organization cannot speculate on sensationalized unconfirmed preconceptions.”
He was referring to a question from the Blade asking whether China might force local Hong Kong officials to arrest Gay Games spectators from Europe, North America or elsewhere if they make statements critical of China during the Gay Games cultural events.
Under the sweeping national security law enacted by China earlier this year, Hong Kong officials have made numerous arrests of dissidents denouncing China for infringing on what dissidents say was China’s 1997 agreement with the United Kingdom to allow Hong Kong to remain a semiautonomous region of China for 50 years after the British handed over its former colony to China.
Paul said the Hong Kong government has been involved in the Gay Games Hong Kong organizers’ application process for holding the Games in Hong Kong beginning in 2016.
“GGHK has been having ongoing and regular communications with multiple departments of the Hong Kong government to ensure that they are kept abreast of the process and support required from the government,” Paul told the Blade.
“In all the interactions GGHK is having with the Hong Kong government, support continues to grow within the Hong Kong government regarding GGHK,” he said. “New allies are offering support as it will be one of the biggest events to take place in Hong Kong during the next few years and stands to positively impact on the city,” said Paul.
American Gene Technologies, a Rockville, Md.-based gene and cell therapy company, announced on Aug. 11 that it has received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to begin its first human clinical trial for a unique cell altering treatment that it believes will enable the immune system of people who are HIV positive to permanently eliminate HIV from their body.
“AGT developed a new treatment to repair immune system damage done by HIV and allow natural responses to control the virus,” the company says in a statement announcing the approval for its clinical trial. “From its research, AGT believes a cure is attainable and is now taking the significant step of testing in humans.”
The statement says AGT is conducting its Phase 1 clinical trials at sites in the Baltimore-D.C. area. It says the Washington Health Institute in Northeast D.C., Georgetown University, and the University of Maryland’s Institute of Human Virology in Baltimore will be the three sites for the trials.
According to the statement, the Phase 1 trial will investigate the safety and efficacy of a product the company calls AGT 103-T, “a genetically modified cell product made from a person’s own cells.” It says the product and treatment should work to remove HIV infected cells from the body and “decrease or eliminate the need for lifelong antiretroviral treatment.”
In an online virtual news conference held on Aug. 12, AGT Chief Executive Officer Jeff Galvin explained that the clinical trial involves a multi-step process of extracting blood from an HIV-positive person whose HIV is fully under control through anti-retroviral medication and immediately subjecting the blood to a process of Leukapheresis, which separates a type of white blood cells known as T-cells.
Galvin said the T-cell samples extracted through that process will be sent to a lab, where they will be genetically altered in a process developed by AGT. He said AGT believes the genetically altered T-cells will make them resistant to HIV infection and enable them to do what HIV has prevented human T-cells from doing during the course of the 40-year plus HIV epidemic – to neutralize the virus and prevent it from harming the human body.
Once the gene altering process is completed and an initial waiting period is used to allow the altered cells to multiply in the lab, the cells will be “reinfused” into the body of the person participating in the trial and from whom the original collection of T-cells was obtained, Galvin said.
AGT has said in earlier statements that individuals participating in the clinical trial will initially continue to take their regularly prescribed anti-retroviral medication while testing of their blood continues to determine whether the newly infused T-cells are killing or neutralizing HIV to a degree that will no longer make the anti-HIV medication necessary.
C. David Pauza, AGT’s chief science officer and the company’s lead researcher in the development of the genetically altered, HIV resistant T-cells, stated at the news conference that under FDA protocol, the process must be shown to be safe and not have significant side effects on the first person to undergo the procedure before the procedure is performed on the second person to participate in the clinical trial.
Pauza said he, Galvin and the AGT team consider the FDA’s approval of the clinical trial an important development brought about by years of research and laboratory testing.
“This is momentous news that we have FDA approval to launch Phase 1 and conduct our first human trials,” he said in a statement. “We are beyond excited to reach this milestone. This brings us closer to our goal of transforming lives with genetic medicines,” he said.
“Based on our successful commercial-scale product manufacturing runs and features of the product observed in our labs, this therapy has a high potential to be effective,” Pauza said.
Galvin told the news conference that the current cost for the complete process of extracting cells from an HIV infected person, genetically altering the cells, and reinfusing the HIV resistant T-cells back into the person’s body is about $200,000. But he said he’s optimistic that the cost of the procedure will go down dramatically as it is used more frequently in coming years. Among other things, he said that the extraction of the T-cells and the genetic alternation process can be done through machines in an automated process that can lower costs.
FDA spokesperson Monique Richards told the Washington Blade the FDA is prohibited by law and regulation from commenting on or acknowledging the existence of an “investigational new drug” application, known as an IND, or whether a clinical trial is taking place.
“The FDA supports the safe clinical development of these products and we are committed to continuing to work collaboratively with industry and the medical and scientific communities to provide the information and guidance needed to help foster the advancement of these promising therapies,” Richards said in an email on Friday.
D.C. Congressional Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton released a letter last week calling on Michael R. Sherwin, the Acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia who serves as the city’s top prosecutor, to step up prosecutions of hate crimes targeting the LGBTQ community.
Norton’s office said her letter follows several public meetings Norton has held to address the issue of prosecuting hate crimes.
“This letter is the latest in my longstanding work to ensure every member of our community is safe from attack and harassment,” Norton said in an Aug. 5 statement. “We must work to protect our LGBTQ community,” she said.
“The U.S. Attorney for D.C., who is not elected by D.C. residents or appointed by D.C. officials, is responsible for prosecuting almost all local crimes in D.C.,” Norton said. “I have continuously pressed the last several U.S. Attorneys for D.C. to prosecute hate crimes and will continue to do so. The office must work to ensure everybody can live in a safe environment.”
D.C. police records show that as of June 30, 2020, in the first half of 2020, there were 15 reported hate crimes targeting the victim because of their sexual orientation and 12 reported hate crimes targeting the victims because of their gender identity. It couldn’t immediately be determined from police records how many of those cases resulted in an arrest and whether the U.S. Attorney’s Office has prosecuted any of the cases.
Norton noted she has introduced legislation in the House of Representatives calling for giving D.C. the authority to prosecute all local crimes. The legislation was not expected to be approved by Congress under the current Republican-controlled U.S. Senate.
A spokesperson for the D.C. U.S. Attorney’s Office couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on Norton’s letter to Sherwin.