Three HIV advances to celebrate on World AIDS Day
Charlotte, NC – As World AIDS Day approaches on December 1 each year, there is as always much work to be done, but there is also cause for celebration. Each year it seems we get closer to the ultimate goal of controlling and eradicating this global epidemic that first began making headlines over 30 years ago. Three historic firsts are among the victories that can be celebrated this year:
1. An HIV vaccine able to treat all strains of the virus is heading into large-scale human efficacy testing for the first time. The announcement came at the Global Citizen Festival, in New York City, on Sept. 23. “For the past ten years, we have been working on an HIV vaccine, using an innovative technology platform, the same technology we are using to make vaccines for Ebola and Zika,” said Paul Stoffels, Chief Scientific Officer, Johnson & Johnson. “In early stage clinical studies, we have seen 100 percent immune response in 350 healthy volunteers who participated in the study,” he noted, adding the results make him “more optimistic than ever” that a vaccine will be achieved in our lifetime.
2. Coming in line with what many advocates have been saying for years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finally came out publicly to declare that those who are HIV positive but undetectable due to antiretroviral therapy cannot pass on the infection. This is true even of unprotected sex, although safer sex practices are still encouraged.
3. For the first time in history, over half of those living with HIV are now receiving treatment. 19.5 million of the estimated 36.7 million people living with the virus now receive lifesaving antiretroviral drugs, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). The Middle East, North Africa, Eastern Europe and Central Asia remain trouble spots where deaths are on the rise as patients lack access to treatment. Still, the picture nationwide has never been this encouraging. (Q-Notes Online – Jeff Taylor a qoqnotes.com)
Debra Chasnoff, director of films on lesbian parenting is died
Boston, MA – Debra Chasnoff, the Academy Award-winning film director of Choosing Children, about the first generation of out lesbian moms, and a number of award-winning LGBTQ-inclusive educational films, died November 7 at the age of 60 from breast cancer. Chasnoff, a lesbian mom herself, may be best known for her educational documentaries that cover a range of LGBTQ-related topics. And her 1991 Deadly Deception, which exposed the health and environmental side effects caused by the production of nuclear materials by the General Electric Corporation, won an Oscar for Best Documentary Short. She then became the first lesbian to thank her partner in an Oscar’s acceptance speech.
It was Chasnoff’s 1985 film Choosing Children, however, that may have had the greatest impact on LGBTQ families. In it, she profiled six pioneering lesbian families who were among the first to have children after coming out. The children were created through known donors, unknown donors, and adoption. They ranged in age from infant to early teens. The women are white, black, and Hispanic, and include two interracial couples. In addition to three couples, there was one woman co-parenting with a gay man, a single mother, and a group of five women co-parenting together. The documentary generated coverage in mainstream newspapers, “the first media coverage in those areas ever that suggested that gay people could have kids,” Chasnoff said.
In 2015, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and true to her calling, began documenting the experience, colleagues at her film company Groundspark tell us: She envisioned a film that could help shape how people with cancer, their families, caregivers, healers, and medical practitioners approach life-changing diagnoses. Family and friends are continuing the effort with the working title: Prognosis, and are requesting contributions to carry on her legacy. (Bay Windows – Dana Rudolph at baywindows.com)
Australians approve same-sex marriage in referendum
Melbourne, Australia – Same-sex marriage has passed with 61 percent of the vote in a postal survey completed this week. The non-binding survey was sent to every Australian voter and was held from Sept. 12-Nov. 7. The Australian parliament must commit to deliver marriage equality by Christmas, the prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has said.
Although Australia has a mandatory voting law, this vote was not required. And since the vote wasn’t binding, it’s up to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s government and the Australian Parliament to enact legislation. The overall participation rate was 79.5 percent of voters, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Of the 16,006,180 eligible voters, 12,727,920 responded.
The question asked was: Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry? The highest percentage of yes votes (74 percent) came from the Australian Capital Territory, which includes Canberra, the capital. The participation rate (82.4 percent) was highest there as well. The lowest percentage of yes votes (57.8 percent) came from New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, which includes Sydney. Northern Territory, which includes the Outback and Ayers Rock, had the lowest participation rate (58.4 percent). The survey was criticized for delaying marriage equality, but the vote clearly showed it’s something Australians support. (Dallas Voice – David Taffet at dallasvoice.com)
Eight transgender candidates win elections nationwide
Charlotte, NC – Eight openly transgender candidates won on Election Day, making history. Andrea Jenkins joined the Minneapolis City Council, becoming the first openly transgender black woman elected to public office in the U.S. Another transgender candidate won a seat on the City Council as well, Phillipe Cunningham, whose race went down to the wire. In Virginia, Danica Roem unseated Bob Marshall to become Virginia’s first openly transgender lawmaker, and the first openly Trans state representative in the country. Marshall is a self-described homophobe, put forward a transphobic “bathroom bill,” mis-gendered Roem on the campaign trail and refused to debate her.
In other races:
Gerri Cannon won a seat on the Somersworth School Board, and has said she has plans to run for New Hampshire State Representative.
Lisa Middleton became the first openly transgender member of the city council in Palm Springs, now made up entirely of members of the LGBTQ community. Middleton is also now the first openly transgender non-judicial elected official in the state of California.
Stephe Koontz won a spot on the Doraville City Council, just northeast of Atlanta, becoming the city’s first transgender elected official.
Raven Matherne won a seat on the Stamford Board of Representatives, making her the first out Trans lawmaker in the city.
Tyler Titus will join the Erie School Board, making him the first out transgender person elected to office in Pennsylvania.
Democrats also celebrated wins across the country, especially in Virginia, where Democrat Ralph Northam beat Republican Ed Gillespie and the party grabbed a number of House seats. These Democrat and LGBTQ wins are being seen as many as a rebuke of the Trump administration and its policies. (Q-Notes Online – Jeff Taylor a qoqnotes.com)
Lesbian wins state senate seat in conservative Oklahoma
Tulsa, OK – The Tulsa World reports that a year ago, Democrats threw $200,000 and a first-tier candidate at Senate District 37, trying to unseat incumbent Republican Dan Newberry. They lost the conservative west Tulsa County district by 15 percentage points. This year, with Newberry leaving the Senate, Democrats entered a lightly funded, little-known 26-year-old lesbian. She won by 31 votes.
Allison Ikley-Freeman’s victory November 14 over Republican Brian O’Hara continued a string of Democratic special election upsets over the past two years. It gives Democrats three special election victories in predominantly Republican districts in the Tulsa area in the past two years, including two this year. Complete but unofficial results showed Ikley-Freeman with 2,234 votes to 2,203 for O’Hara. As is usual with special elections, low voter turnout was an important fact — only 4,437 people voted in this election, compared to almost 32,000 in last year’s regular general election.
Ikley-Freeman, a mental health counselor, said she and her campaign team worked hard at targeting voters they knew would turn out for her in a low-volume election. “When we were knocking on doors, so many people said, ‘Thank you. We didn’t know there was an election,” Ikley-Freeman said. “You always hope you’re going to win, but going into today I tried to have no expectations,” she said.
(The Tulsa World – Randy Krehbiel at http://www.tulsaworld.com/homepagelatest/democrat-pulls-off-special-election-victory-for-senate-seat-in/article_7aed6549-3589-54ea-b3be-9a5f8c87c420.html}
Anti-gay Ohio legislator resigns following sex with a man
Columbus, OH – The Independent reports that an Ohio lawmaker who routinely touted his Christian faith and anti-LGBT views has resigned after being caught having sex with a man in his office. Wes Goodman, who is a Republican state legislator, is married to a woman who is assistant director of an annual anti-abortion rally known as March for Life. The right-wing legislator, who pushed “family values”, was reportedly witnessed having sex with a man inside his office who was not employed by the legislator.
According to the Columbus Dispatch, the observer told Ohio House Chief of Staff Mike Dittoe what had happened on November 14. Mr. Dittoe responded by telling House Speaker Republican Cliff Rosenberger who in turn met with Mr. Goodman. The 33-year-old, who has been branded the “conscience of the conservative movement”, resigned for “inappropriate conduct” shortly after the meeting took place. Mr. Goodman, whose Twitter biography describes him as “Christian. American. Conservative. Republican. Husband to @Beth1027”, has regularly claimed “natural marriage” occurs between a man and a woman. “Healthy, vibrant, thriving, values-driven families are the source of Ohio’s proud history and the key to Ohio’s future greatness,” reads his campaign website which has now been taken offline. Prior to his election last year, he worked as an aide to US Representative Jim Jordan, a highly conservative, anti-LGBT Republican. The Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBT advocacy group in the US, named Mr. Jordan in their Hall of Shame in 2014 for attempting to block marriage equality in the District of Columbia.
The lawmaker acknowledged he was stepping down in a statement. “We all bring our own struggles and our own trials into public life,” he said. “That has been true for me, and I sincerely regret that my actions and choices have kept me from serving my constituents and our state in a way that reflects the best ideals of public service,” he continued. “For those whom I have let down, I’m sorry. As I move onto the next chapter of my life, I sincerely ask for privacy for myself, my family, and my friends.” (The Independent – Maya Oppenheim at https://www.yahoo.com/news/anti-lgbt-lawmaker-resigns-being-140200984.html)
Is nudity in the locker-room soon a thing of the past?
Montreal, Quebec – As reported in the Montreal Gazette, nudity in the locker-rooms of public indoor pools is being phased out. It never occurred to longtime Brossard pool user Roland Bérard that it
was inappropriate to take all his clothes off in the locker room. “I’m all for respect,” says Bérard, “but when I’m taking my shower, I don’t want to wear my bathing suit.” Bérard has been using Brossard’s indoor pool for 30 years. It never occurred to the 67-year-old healing facilitator and former engineer that it was inappropriate to take all his clothes off in the locker room to shower and change. But the South Shore municipality informed swimmers in its November newsletter that nudity is forbidden in changing rooms. “The city would like to remind users of the public pools that in the changing rooms, they must be clothed, covered up or use the cubicles or toilets,” aquatic supervisor Dominique Lavigne wrote in an email to Bérard after he sent a query about the new rules.
Locker-room etiquette will get even more complicated two years from now, when Brossard opens a new aquatic center with a universal changing room, rather than separate ones for men and women. Lavigne noted that part of the reason the city has banned nudity is to get pool users accustomed to the idea that they have to cover up in the locker room. Universal changing rooms are a growing trend as communities seek to make recreational facilities more gender-inclusive and responsive to the needs of people with disabilities, who might need to be accompanied by a member of the opposite sex. The trend follows bitter legal battles in the United States over access to locker rooms for transgender students. But users in the habit of peeling off their clothes without a second thought complain the increase in inclusivity is coming at the cost of less individual freedom. Bérard says there’s nothing shameful about the human body.
While tolerance for nudity seems to be decreasing in North America that’s not the case in northern Europe, where naked swimmers rinse off in coed showers before entering the pool and nude family saunas are a perfectly acceptable activity. Danes, who have family nudist nights and many beaches where clothing is optional, have the highest level of contentment on the planet (so says the UN World Happiness Report) and don’t worry too much about what they look like. (The Montreal Gazette – Marian Scott at http://montrealgazette.com/news/local-news/nudity-at-pools)
Google apologizes for its sentiment analyzer’s anti-gay bias
As reported in Motherboard, John Giannandrea, Google’s head of artificial intelligence, told a conference audience earlier this year that his main concern with AI isn’t deadly super-intelligent robots, but ones that discriminate. “The real safety question, if you want to call it that, is that if we give these systems biased data, they will be biased,” he said. His fears appear to have already crept into Google’s own products. In July 2016, Google announced the public beta launch of a new machine learning application program interface (API), called the Cloud Natural Language API. It lets you “easily reveal the structure and meaning of your text in a variety of languages,” the company said. API included a sentiment analyzer to allow programs to determine the degree to which sentences expressed a negative or positive sentiment. The problem is the API labels sentences about religious and ethnic minorities as negative—indicating it’s inherently biased. For example, it labels both being a Jew and being a homosexual as negative.
Last month, Andrew Thompson experimented with the API by feeding it sample texts, and the analyzer started spitting out scores that seemed at odds with what it was being given. He threw simple sentences about different religions at it. When he fed it “I’m Christian” it said the statement was positive. When fed “I’m a Sikh” it said the statement was even more positive. But when given “I’m a Jew” it determined that the sentence was slightly negative. It similarly thought statements about being homosexual as negative. It looks like Google’s sentiment analyzer is biased, as many artificially intelligent algorithms have been found to be. AI systems, including sentiment analyzers, are trained using human texts like news stories and books. The result for “Jew” provides a glimpse into how this might be happening with the Natural Language API. In 2006, researchers investigated why the top result when searching for “Jew” on Google was the anti-Semitic site “Jew Watch.” The reason? Hate sites tended to call Jews “Jew,” while news sites and other resources are more likely to use the word “Jewish.”
A Google spokesperson responded to Motherboard’s request for comment and issued the following statement: “We dedicate a lot of efforts to making sure the NLP API avoids bias, but we don’t always get it right. This is an example of one of those times, and we are sorry. We take this seriously and are working on improving our models. We will correct this specific case, and, more broadly, building more inclusive algorithms is crucial to bringing the benefits of machine learning to everyone.” (Motherboard – Andrew Thompson at https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/j5jmj8/google-artificial-intelligence-bias)
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