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News Briefs: October 2007

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Equality Texas, Nat’l Coming Out day, HIV travel ban, Pride officers, Jack Valinski & Don Gill honored. Plus Plus “The New Wave of HIV Drugs,” by Nelson Vergel.

Two Houston Men Join Equality Texas Board
GLBTs Urged to ‘Talk About It’ On National Coming Out Day
Legacy Applauds Effort to Lift HIV Travel, Immigration Bans
Pride Houston Elects Officers
Jack Valinski, Don Gill Honored By Space City Empire
The New Wave of HIV Drugs Is Here, by Nelson Vergel
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RCaballero
Robert Caballero

Two Houston Men Join Equality Texas Board

Equality Texas and Equality Texas Foundation have announced the election of four members to board of directors, two of whom are Houstonians.

At the Equality Texas August 20 board meeting, Rob Caballero and Grant Caplan were tapped along with two others to serve in positions of leadership for the Austin-based group that promotes equality for Texas’ gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender citizens.

Caballero, an attorney specializing in immigration and nationality law, is also chair of the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s Gay Lesbian Interest Group and LGBT Immigration Issues Working Group.

GCaplan
Grant Caplan

“The success and growth of Equality Texas relies heavily on the financial support of those individuals, groups, and corporations that stand to benefit from seeing the LGBT community succeed in their fight for equality,” Caballero said. “It is my hope that I am able to assist Equality Texas meet its financial goals so that they are able to speak on behalf of Texas’ LGBT community until our goal of true equality is met.”

Caplan is a partner in a management consulting firm that helps corporations manage their business travel programs. A frequent speaker at travel industry events and trade associations, Caplan is co-founder with Steven Tesney, his partner of seven years, of Pride Families, which offers merchandise, information, and support for GLBT families (“OutFront,” June 2007OutSmart ).

“I envision Equality Texas elevating its work with legislators to help them better understand the issues affecting LGBT Texans, especially with our local lawmakers who are unfamiliar with what’s at stake,” Caplan said. “The Texas public is becoming more comfortable with our issues because we’re more visible, but we must not become complacent when there is still more work to be done.”

The other new Equality Texas board members are Paul A. Boskind and Kim Lair, both of San Antonio. Details: www.equalitytexas.org.
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GLBTs Urged to ‘Talk About It’ On National Coming Out Day

Whether they came out 20 years ago or 20 minutes ago, gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals are being urged by the Human Rights Campaign and local activists to give voice to their decision to be open about their homosexuality.

Coming Out Day was founded by Dr. Robert Eichberg and Jean O’Leary in 1988 in celebration of the Second National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights one year earlier, in which 500,000 people marched in Washington, D.C., for GLBT equality.

To facilitate conversation about the importance of coming out, HRC is providing Coming Out Day Kits that offer an abundance of tips, including resource guides for heterosexuals and transgenders as well as promotional items and “everything else you’ll need to celebrate living openly,” according to HRC. Kits are available at www.hrc.org/comingoutkits.

Montrose Counseling Center launches a coming-out group on October 5, 6:30-8 p.m. The group will then meet on subsequent Friday evenings for eight weeks (except for November 23, which is the day after Thanksgiving). Details: 713/529-0034.

Members of Pride Houston celebrate National Coming Out Day with Houston Coming Out! Set for October 6, the 4-7 p.m. event will consist of a cocktail reception, with live music, and a silent and live art auction at a private residence (location shared with ticket holders). Prominent figures, both national and local, will offer their own coming-out stories, organizers say.

“National Coming Out Day is exactly what pride is about-raising awareness of the GLBT community by offering a familiar face to this human rights movement,” says Eric Skains, Pride Houston events chair. “We have come a long way. However, we must continue to educate so that our path towards a more positive and equal future is not lost.”  

Tickets are $20, with proceeds benefiting Pride Houston. Details: www.pridehouston.org.

A weeklong observance, Seven Straight Nights for Equal Rights, begins October 7, culminating with an overnight vigil at Montrose Counseling Center on October 13. The first-time program, which includes both an online component as well as events across the nation, is organized by the Austin-based equal-rights groups Soulforce and Atticus Circle. (See OutFront.) Details: www.sevenstraightnights.org.

Local activist Dot Nelson Turnier, a 2006 candidate for the Texas legislature (“Connecting Dot,” October 2006 OutSmart), is also organizing “Coming Out Through the Years,” an observance and conference scheduled for October 13, through Out Houston, a new advocacy organization and website she has established.

“The process of coming out is different for everyone and has certainly changed over time,” Turnier says. “We will be kicking off the day with a panel of some well known and some lesser known people in the Houston GLBT community as they talk about their experiences.”

The 11 a.m.-4 p.m. event is freeat Montrose Counseling Center. Details: www.outhouston.org.
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Legacy Applauds Effort to Lift HIV Travel, Immigration Bans

Legacy Community Health Services officials recently commended Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) for introducing legislation that would take a step toward overturning the 20-year policy that has banned HIV-positive non-citizens from entering the United States. Lee’s bill, the HIV Nondiscrimination in Travel and Immigration Act of 2007, would also give relief to individuals living in this country who are barred from attaining most types of legal status.

“We have come a long way and have greater understanding of HIV transmission and prevention since this policy went into effect in 1987,” said Randall Ellis, director of government relations for Legacy. “The current ban is based on ignorance and fear, and it is time that policy corresponds with current science.”

Nearly 200 health organizations, including the American Medical Association, the World Health Organization, and the American Public Health Association, expressed opposition to the ban when it first went into effect in 1987. In 1991 the federal department of Health & Human Services (HHS) reversed its position and tried to overturn the policy.   Congress stepped in, making the ban statutory and enshrining it in the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1993.

Lee’s bill would amend the 1993 act, striking the provision that renders people with HIV inadmissible to the United States and returning authority for that determination to HHS. The bill would mandate a department review of all policies regarding the continued listing of HIV and AIDS as grounds for inadmissibility. HHS would then be required to report its findings to Congress and to make them available to the public.

“While the bill falls far short of completely overturning the discriminatory policy, it would bring the INA in line with the longstanding and widespread recognition that there is no public health justification for the ban whatsoever,” Ellis said. “We feel strongly that restricting movement or choice of residence based on HIV status is discriminatory and unjustifiable on public health grounds.”
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Pride Houston Elects Officers

At a September 11 meeting of its board of directors, Pride Houston elected officers for the upcoming year. Brad Odom was voted in as president, with Albert Garcia elected vice president. Sean Carter is the new treasurer, and NAME NAME is secretary.

Pride Houston produces the annual nighttime GLBT Pride Parade, held in Montrose each June in commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion in New York City. At its August25 meeting, the Pride Houston board voted to keep the 2008 parade in Montrose (“News Briefs,” September 2007OutSmart).

Pride Houston also presents related festivities throughout the year. This month those events include a Coming Out Day event (see news in this section) and the world premiere of the new comedy film Theft on October 18, 6:30 p.m., at the River Oaks Theater. Details: www.pridehouston.org.
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Counseling Center Sets Health Issues Townhall Meeting

Inviting “anyone who is concerned about health and wellness issues,” the Montrose Counseling Center has announced an October 18 town-hall meeting to address subjects relating to health issues in the GLBT community. The 6:30-9 p.m. meeting will be held at the counseling center (401 Branard).

The meeting follows up on the 2005 Futures Conference, during which community organizations and individuals presented resolutions on different aspects of the local community. The resolutions, edited by Futures Conference co-organizer Phyllis Randolph Frye into a document called “The Gay Agenda,” included several that concerned health and wellness and health care. The document is available at www.houstonglbtcommunitycenter.org.

In addition to issues affecting health, organizers will discuss the Mayor’s Wellness Initiative, addressing how the initiative affects the GLBT communities.

The counseling center’s GLBT Behavioral Health & Wellness Coalition is organizing the town-hall meeting. Individuals who plan to attend should RSVP to coalition chair Michael Migura, 713/529-0037, ext. 338.

The coalition meets on the second Thursday of each month, 3:30 p.m., at the center.
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Jack Valinski, Don Gill Honored By Space City Empire

Long-time community volunteers Jack Valinski and Don Gill will be honored this month at a ceremony capping the week-long fifth-anniversary celebration of the Imperial Court of Houston (ICOH) Space City Empire. Valinski will receive the group’s Community Hero award, and Gill will receive its Barry Petree Community Commitment Award.The honors will be distributed at “Prom Night on Uranus,” the ICOH Entronement Ball, which recognizes the accomplishments of the group’s most recent leaders, Orlin Cullever and Ginger Vitis. The formal dinner and show on October 20 at the Crown Plaza Downtown will be emceed by Houston PBS personality Ernie Manouse.

Rose Smith and Jeff Wallace have been announced as the new empress and emperor of the social fundraising organization. Details: www.spacecityempire.org.

The event benefits Legacy Community Health Services Drug Assistance Fund and the Lexy Bowen Community Fund.
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The New Wave of HIV Drugs Is Here
by Nelson Vergel

For the first time in 10 years, HIV-postive patients will have access to two new HIV drug classes. Patients with ongoing viral replication that have been failing current medicines will have a “second chance” to control their HIV by starting new drugs to which their virus has not mutated and become resistant. It is estimated that 20 percent of the half a million patients taking HIV medications in the United States are not responding to their medication and have ongoing viral replication in their bodies that may shorten their life spans and also make them more infectious to others.  

No single HIV medication can control HIV by itself, needing at least two more in combination. But many people have HIV that has developed multidrug resistance   (MDR) by mutating around medicines, which allows the virus to aggressively kill the CD4 cells that “direct” the immune system’s response against invaders. MDR patients need to start at least two to three “active” drugs that their virus has never seen, but most have not had that luxury in the past few years due to drug approvals that did not happen concurrently.

Fortunately, two new drugs that work in completely new ways are making this possibility a reality for the first time since protease inhibitors were introduced to the market 10 years ago. A new entry inhibitor (Maraviroc, trade name: Selzentry) that works at attempting to block the attachment of HIV to the CD4 T cell, and the first integrase inhibitor (Raltegravir, trade name: Isentress) that works inside the nucleus of the CD4 cell, provide effective new targets to attack the virus. The most critical thing right now is to educate physicians and patients on how to best use these new drugs so that their benefits at lowering viral load to undetectable levels are sustained until a cure is found. Other medications like Fuzeon (an approved fusion inhibitor), Aptivus and Prezista (approved second generation protease inhibitors), and TMC 125 (a second generation non nucleoside analog in expanded access) can be combined with the two novel agents approved this year to hit the virus in different parts of its life cycle outside and inside the CD4 cell.

This second wave of HAART (highly active antiretroviral therapy) has the potential to save many lives. I urge patients not to screw up this last chance to get an effective combination before we go through another dry period of no new drugs in the coming few years. It is imperative to do your homework before jumping into a new regimen with limited data.

Nelson Vergel will be giving the last update for this year on recent conferences that had new data on these and other emerging options for HIV treatment. His lecture will be held on Oct. 24 at 6:30 pm at the United Way on 50 Waugh. Patients and clinicians are welcomed. Free parking and food will be provided. Seating is limited. For reservations or more information, e-mail [email protected] or call the Houston Buyers Club at 713/520-5288. More information on new HIV medications can be found at Nelson’s website www.SalvageTherapies.org.

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HIRED Jack Valinski as community development director for Montrose Counseling Center. Valinski was previously director of operations for the Houston Equal Rights Alliance and, prior to holding that position, he was executive director of Pride Houston for many years. He serves on the board of directors of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus and produces and co-hosts Queer Voices, the weekly GLBT radio program on KPFT 90.1 FM. Valinski was voted male grand marshal of the 2007 GLBT Pride Parade.

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