Thursday, February 28, 2013

National Archives May Hold Kameny Files

(Page 1 of the reply.)

In response to my FOIA request for any and all files potentially held by the National Archives and Records Administration related to gay icon Frank Kameny, the agency basically says I or another researcher needs to visit the archives and search their holdings.

NARA says nothing about potential Kameny files and instead the agency suggests I search the source notes of David K. Johnson's book "The Lavender Scare: the Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government", and they sent those notes. Unfortunately, Johnson's sources don't state if he used documents held by NARA in what he wrote about Kameny. From the reply:

The records are open for public viewing and there are no access restrictions on them.

Since these files from NARA listed in the volume are widely dispersed, we cannot undertake the extensive research necessary to examine the records and identify the pertinent documents. Our staff can assist researchers with their work but cannot perform substantive research for them. We will make the records available in our research room so you or your representative can examine and select documents for reproduction.

We will be pleased to make the finding aids to these records available to you or your representative in our research room at the National Archives in College Park, MD.
(Page 2 of the reply.)

I turned to a gay researcher long familiar with NARA, Michael Dolan, who until recently resided in Washington and now lives in upstate New York, for his opinion of the reply and suggestions to comb through the archives:

That letter sounds honest enough and is a pretty standard response.  It's true that you do have to be onsite to really find things. Like they said, there are many different collections and material on one specific subject could be spread around several places, not just within each location but spread out among the various NARA locations, which include the Presidential Libraries.   

That is why people travel from all over the world and practically set up camp there to do research . . . perhaps someone in the DC area could go to College Park, MD and the downtown Archives with this information and one of the archivists would be able to help them navigate finding aids and fill out pull slips.
Let's hope an enterprising LGBT researcher develops an interest in spending a few hours at the National Archives and seeing what they may contain about the life and advocacy of Kameny.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

BAR: Time for HIV Charity Under One Roof to Close?

(DJ Schulz holds open the door at the swanky new Under One Roof store in San Francisco's Financial District. Credit: Jane Philoman Cleland, BAR.)

People with AIDS and the larger HIV community should quickly wise up to the serious fiscal problems at nonprofits and the evolving nature of our needs, versus the rocky stewardship of executives and boards of directors at the nonprofits that provide fewer and fewer direct services to clients.

To wit, the demise of NAPWA and the Native American AIDS Project and the refusal of Paul Kawata at NMAC to make his three current IRS 990s available on his group's site.

We also have to look at the entities that raise money for the nonprofits. As the Bay Area Reporter's Seth Hemmelgarn notes in their latest edition, the such an entity is raising concerns about their purpose and honesty:

[The Under One Roof charity] that's provided dwindling payouts to beneficiaries over the years is set to move into a swanky Financial district mall, despite the fact that it just dumped its costly Castro Street shop and hadn't previously announced plans for another permanent storefront . . .

Now, the organization is set to move into the Crocker Galleria in April. A ribbon cutting at the new location is scheduled for Friday, March 1 . . .

After Under One Roof moved to 518A Castro Street in 2008, the annual rent went from $85,000 to more than $200,000. A former board member helped with those costs, but the space became a money pit. The agency announced last year it would close the shop early in 2013, and did so January 31.

What the hell were they doing paying so much rent for that prime location, when PWAs in the Bay Area are desperate to either find or retain their housing and could have used a portion of that $200,000? That former board member is an idiot.

Must have been nice for the staff, board and volunteers to play sales clerks and cruise the boys on Castro Street while so much money flowed down the sewer in front's of Harvey's bar!

The crew running this show must be shamed into putting their scam out of business. Under One Roof leaders have abundantly shown they exploit PWAs and are out of touch with reality.

The tone of the paper's coverage, and quotes from other AIDS executives who are normally loathe to speak critically of other groups in public, poses a huge question. Is it time for this group to close?

Cynthia Laird, in her BAR editorial, takes a stick to the behinds of the board:

Unfortunately, Under One Roof's designated spokeswoman, Jennifer Kutz, has declined to speak with us. That's too bad, because we're certain that people living with HIV/AIDS and the organizations that have benefited from Under One Roof over the years would like some answers . . . There is a stunning lack of transparency among Under One Roof's board. And it brings to mind the problem nonprofits face when they are no longer effective or needed.

The handwriting is on the wall about this group. Do PWAs and the community a huge favor. Close up shop. Go out of business. Please.
CIA Neither Confirms Nor Denies Turing Files Exist

Since the Office of Strategic Services likely would have been interested in gay British mathematician Alan Turing receiving a security clearance in 1942 to collaborate with the U.S. Navy to crack Nazi Germany's intelligence codes, I filed a Freedom of Information Act request with its successor, the CIA.

A one-page letter arrived over the weekend via snail-mail, stating what I suspected would be the agency's reply:

In accordance with section 3.6(a) of Executive Order 13526, the CIA can neither confirm nor deny the existence or nonexistence of records responsive to your request.

My post about other FOIA requests to U.S. State Deparmtent, the FBI and the U.S. National Archive and no relevant files discovered is here, while my post about similar requests and replies from the U.K. Home Office and U.K. Nation Archives is here.
Ex-ED of Stonewall Democrats Says They Closed in 2012

The Washington Blade's reporter Lou Chibbaro Jr. just shot me an email about his February story about leaders of the Democratic National Committee promising to resurrect the Stonewall Democrats. Lou's story links to another Blade article, this one by Michael K. Lavers from January about the organization's executive director Jerame Davis confirming the group went out of business at the end of December.

Kudos to the Blade for these stories!

At the same time, let me state until today I obviously had no idea the Stonewall Democrats no longer existed. I'm surprised the Blade's stories didn't ripple beyond their web site and I wonder if anyone cared about the demise of the group.

I believe Davis has a responsibility to update the still-operating web site of his group, providing visitors with the information he shared with me this morning in an email:

National Stonewall Democrats ceased formal operations on December 31, 2012. At that time, we laid off all staff (that was only me) and closed our office. The organization is considered "on hiatus" at this time while a new group of folks works on forming a new board to assume the debt and rebuild the organization for a relaunch, most likely, in early 2014 . . .

A side note on your suggestion of folding into HRC - that's just not possible. HRC, whether it always appears that way or not, is a non-partisan organization . . .

Without NSD, the apologists at Log Cabin and GOProud are completely unfettered in their attempts to fool LGBT people into believing the GOP is more pro-equality than it actually is. Let alone the fact that it leaves no organization to bridge the gap between LGBT folks and the DNC or to keep an eye on our interests within the DNC.

If the best reason to resurrect the organization is to counter gay Republicans, who don't get any significant traction with gay Democratic voters or have influence beyond their small circles, it's not much of reason. And Davis' second point that gay Democrats need an organization to be their bridge to the Democratic Party seems very superfluous when we have HRC well-serving already in that role.

Sounds to me like Davis and the gay Democratic Party leaders, with their focus on the 2014 elections, want to revive the group to better buy and trade gay votes and suck up gay dollars. Without the Stonewall Democrats, gays won't suffer one iota.

Let's hope the revival of this group does not happen.
Stonewall Democrats: Dead or Alive?

(Credit: Michael Key, Washington Blade.)

[UPDATE: They're defunct. More info here.]

Let's give props to Jerame Davis, pictured, the executive director of the Stonewall Democrats, for his frankness about the financial trouble facing his group. In early December Davis wrote:

[We've] sent an email to [our] members and supporters detailing a more than $30,000 budget gap for the year and the danger that the deficit may force the organization to close its doors . . . For the second year in a row, our income has not met expectations. In 2011, we were able to offset the downturn by cutting costs - staff, services, programs; we cut everything to the bare essentials. We saw an uptick in funding at the beginning of 2012 as our renewed messaging and mission focus invigorated new and former donors . . . As the year closes, we're facing a budget deficit of over $30,000 and if we do not bridge this gap, we will likely be forced to close our doors.

Compare the honesty and transparency of the Stonewall Democrats with the evasiveness and murkiness of the National Association of People With AIDS and the Native American AIDS Project, before they went out of business.

Considering we have the Human Rights Campaign serving for decades as the LGBT wing of the Democratic Party, which has embedded gays throughout its national and local components, what's the point of the Stonewall Democrats' existence now? With a $30,000 hole to cover, donors have clearly diverted their dollars away from the Stonewall Democrats.

As we near the three-month mark since Davis wrote his plea, there's been no follow up posted at his site. The last update from one of the Stonewall Democrats' chapters was in May 2011, which is more recent than the group's last blog post back in January 2011.

If the Stonewall Democrats are still alive and functioning, their web site doesn't reflect it. I suggest whatever is left of the organization be folded into HRC.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Native American AIDS Project Has Shut Down

The Bay Area Reporter's Tom Kilduff in December wrote about the demise of the Native American AIDS Project that month, and the story seems to never have crossed the radar of the gay and AIDS press and blogosphere, probably because the story ran between the Christmas and New Year's holiday. Appearing any other time of the year, I believe the collapse of the group would have received additional attention.

In light of the recent bankruptcy of the National Association of People With AIDS, and the widespread coverage generated when it announced it was going out of business, we need to focus our sights on Native American organization.

From the BAR:

An internal budget document, [from the organization], shows that NAAP had an ending net income of $11,682.62 after all revenue and expenses were accounted for. The organization, founded in 1994, was located at 1540 Market Street and specialized in culturally appropriate services for Native American and indigenous populations who are HIV-positive . . . NAAP received the bulk of its funding from two branches of the Department of Public Health: $125,000 from HIV prevention and $102,000 from HIV health services . . . The agency served 43 clients in its prevention program, the number of clients on the medical side was not known at press time . . . NAAP had fallen behind on paying the rent . . . The landlord had posted an unlawful detainer (eviction) notice.

This past weekend, I rode past the organization's former location on Market Street near Van Ness Avenue and noticed the awning was still up. So was a metal gate across the entrance. I snapped the above photo of the awning and fence.

The inside of the storefront office contained a beat up gray carpet, some plastic wires and stray pieces of metal on the floor. The glare of the sunlight and fluorescent lights inside the office prevented my camera from capturing an image showing the empty space.

NAPWA and the Native American AIDS Project. Two troubled HIV organizations now closed. Are there other such organizations, hanging on by a thread and about to go under, or running dangerous deficits? Tell will tell.

Nudists & I: March 1st Court Hearings at Hall of Justice

The blog set up and operated by my friends Todd Swindell and Tate Swindell, to rally support on my behalf over the misdemeanor charge brought by the San Francisco District Attorney, has a new location. You can find We Like Mike here.

On Friday, March 1 at 1:30 pm, my attorney Derek St. Pierre and I will be appearing in Department 17 at the Hall of Justice, 850 Bryant Street. Friends are welcome to show up and support me.

Also on the same date, at the same time and in the same building, the four nudists who were arrested for getting naked on the steps of City Hall earlier this month, are to be arraigned. It is not known which Department will handle their arraignment. More info about that case is here.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Provocative Mr. HIV 2013 Ads Launched in Brussels

(Serofier translates as Seroproud.)

The web site for the National Association of People With AIDS appears to no longer exist, but before the group went out of business and shut down its site I complained about the use of stock images of people never identified as living with HIV. NAPWA did nothing to showcase actual PWAs on its site, only adding to the stigma we must deal with.

Today from Paris my friend Olivier Jablonski of the provocative AIDS advocacy group The Warning informed me of a radical new social marketing campaign underway by the Brussels chapter of The Warning. How radical it is? Quite, because the posters primarily show actual HIV positive gay men, and one negative man, and none of them are fashion model pretty. To my eye, the gays in the ads are quite appealing to the eye and their authenticity adds to their appeal.

Additionally, the English translation of the campaign's press release, from the sub-headline, uses a few provocative words that surprised even this (occasionally) jaded gay man living with AIDS:

Serofriendly, Seroproud, Serodifferent, Seroqueen

Never have I seen the term seroproud or seroqueen, have you? Seroproud troubles me because I don't think of living with HIV or people living with any diseases as a matter of pride. On the other hand, there is too much shame associated with AIDS that it may help PWAs grappling with it to get think of living with AIDS, and staying alive, as something to take pride in.

From the release:

Warning Brussels launched “Mr. HIV 2013”, a series of photographic portraits to counter serophobia and promote citizenship for people living with HIV in the gay community in Brussels . . .

Since its creation in 2010, Warning Brussels has tackled the invisibility of people living with HIV in Belgium. The public voice of people living with HIV is too often stifled by pessimistic rhetoric. Therefore, the public has almost no information on our everyday experiences, which contributes to misinformation, especially in regards to transmission and prevention. This is all the more surprising in the gay community where we would expect a greater proximity and visibility . . .

[The NGOs] prevention campaigns have long acted as if contracting HIV was the worst thing that can happen to you. By ignoring poz people in their communication, they implicitly advocate a general distrust towards them.

Warning Brussels could easily be talking about a lot of hysterical social marketing campaigns in San Francisco and elsewhere in the U.S. that once endlessly sowed distrust about gay poz men. Thankfully, we have not had to endure such fear and shame driven ads in a long time.

There is one aspect to this campaign that I don't like:

To the question: “When is the election of Mr. HIV?” We reply: “When everyone in Belgium feels sufficiently affected by HIV to pose as Mr. HIV”. LGBT NGOs and businesses are obviously involved in the project and are invited to become privileged partners. From now until the next Belgian Gay Pride in May, a different series of Mr. HIV portraits will be released each month in the city center of Brussels.

Let the people vote on their favorite Mr. HIV 2013! You're never going to have all Belgians affected by AIDS or comfortable about the disease and people living with it. Giving people the chance to vote would produce plenty of conversations about why people are voting for one candidate over another, or just why they are engaged enough by the posters to cast a ballot.

However, I look forward to additional portraits in the coming months, keeping the campaign and message fresh.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

SF First City to Back Federal HIV Organ Transplant Bill

(Screen grab from "Sex in an Epidemic" video. Courtesy: Jean Carlomusto, via Albany Times Union.)

Last week, I stated my desire to see the HIV Organ Policy Equity (HOPE) Act become law because it could directly extend the lifespan and wellness of people living with AIDS, including myself and my partner Mike. That post is here.

A surprising number of ideologically diverse U.S. Senators and robust number of medical societies and AIDS organizations support the bill, but no municipal health agency was listed among the backers.

I emailed the head of my local health department, Barbara Garcia, and nudged her to take a favorable stand on the HOPE Act. A week later she had the department's Dr. Tomas Aragon, the director for population health and prevention, issue the statement I was looking for:

The San Francisco Department of Health endorses Senators Boxer and Coburn bill to lift the ban on researching organ transplantation between HIV infected individuals. This will pave the way for patients and clinicians to gain a better understanding of the safety and efficacy of transplant care in people with HIV. The SF DPH will be submitting a formal letter to the Senators acknowledging our strong support.

Thanks, San Francisco health department. Looking forward to seeing that letter to the Senators, and hope this endorsement leads to other local health agencies formally backing the proposed legislation.

The screen grab from my friend Jean Carlomusto's video is from the 1987 candlelight AIDS vigil in New York City. That year's theme was "Fighting for Our Lives", and it is theme every year including 2013 for people living with AIDS.

Support the HOPE Act, and if you're a PWA interested in signing a letter of support backing the act, please get in touch with me. The voices of PWAs need to be loud and clear fully championing HOPE.
Weekend Woof #29: Jesus, Maria & Random Muscle

Last weekend's edition went on hiatus. I'm back this week with a few photos that were all fun to snap. Happy Oscar Sunday to all and hooray for Hollywood!

When I asked this young farmer down at UN Plaza what his name was, he said Jesus. He said his friend's was Maria and that they're just good pals and not romantically involved with each other. The carrots they sold me are tasty and steamed, they make for a healthy snack during the Oscar show.

The top photo is of that same jogger I've seen on Market Street for a few weeks now, and he was again working up a sweat with his shirt off today. Such exhibitionism is to be fully appreciated! And the bottom photo is of a tattooed muscle hunk using his big, thick hand to hold his phone to his ear. I hope all you hand fetishists like the photo.

Previous batches of woofy dudes are here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Duboce News: Castro Losing Historic LGBT Identity

The folks at the Duboce Triangle Neighborhood Association, DTNA, have given voice to an issue I've discussed with radical queer political friends in the past three years. We're seeing more of the Castro clear gay identity continuing to erode and diminish.

From the February/March edition of the DTNA newsletter:

Candid conversations with many Upper Market/Castro retailers suggest concerns extend beyond the presence of vacancies. While vacancies are a problem, they are only a symptom suggesting larger economic flux. In many stores, sales are down. Some argue the neighborhood has too many bars or nail salons. There is also mounting concern around the loss of the community’s historic LGBT character. 

The dominant character of the Castro these days is cash. Who's got it, where it's being spent or is needed, how to increasing money flowing in and those who lack cash.
Across many LGBT demographics, people are expressing fears and concerns about the evolution underway in the Castro and the coming impact of hundreds of new condo dwellers, not to mention the recent store closures and formula retail forces wanting to further encroach on the area.

For Mike and I, it's rare that we go into the Castro for socializing with friends or to shop. We don't drink. The merchants don't want to share control of the rainbow flag, a big reason to not drop my money there. When I go for a political meeting or to seeing a movie at the Castro Theatre, I don't grab a nibble or cuppa tea.

Losing the historical queer character can most readily be seen in how the flagpole is not used to energize our living, memorialize our dead and educate ourselves in our march toward liberation. As I've blogged for two-years now, if it weren't for the control queens in the Merchants of Upper Market Castro group, we could be using public property to retain and maybe expand the queer character of the neighborhood, while also helping the merchants.

But MUMC is too insular, short-sighted and woefully lacking in creative thinking to activate the larger community. MUMC members are, you should pardon the expression, paying the price for their poor strategies as leaders with (dwindling) clout.

Even curmudgeon, former MUMC president and porn store owner Patrick Batt is spanking the group and echoing the complaints of activists, in this letter to the Bay Area Reporter:

MUMC seems more concerned with adding members – no matter who they represent – rather than developing a vision for the clearly changing and maturing neighborhood. Attend any of its bloated monthly meetings and you'll quickly see there is little time to adequately discuss projects brought before the membership let alone a true discussion on the vision and direction needed for the neighborhood in general. Meanwhile we are buffeted by the waves of ever increasing business closures and related vacancies presently gripping the Upper Market and Castro business districts and the not unrelated fall off in business and foot traffic that is its result.

A few major differences between MUMC and DTNA is that the former does not allow the public to attend, has no printed newsletter distributed locally and their site lacks depth, to put it mildly. While the latter welcomes the public at their meetings, drops off a printed newsletter with in-depth coverage at area businesses and homes, the newsletter is posted on their site that is full of useful info about engaging with the group.
Black AIDS Institute Posts IRS 990s; $730K Deficit in 2010

Congratulation are in order for the Black AIDS Institute based in Los Angeles, because after I requested they post their three most recent IRS 990 filings, within a day they kept their promise to share the tax filings on their site.

Here's the note I received yesterday from the assistant to Phill Wilson, pictured, the executive director of the group:

Phill Wilson is not in the office today, nor was he in yesterday. Thank you for your email of February 21st in which you brought to our attention that when you attempted to access our IRS Form 990, you received an error message. We have reached out to our IT consultant and this technical problem will be remedied post haste. Meanwhile, our 2011 IRS Form 990 is attached.

Unlike the leaders at the National Association of People With AIDS, who dithered and dodged my requests to get transparent on their site, and the executive director of the National Minority AIDS Council, Paul Kawata, who still ridiculously refuses to post his group's 990s on the NMAC site, the Black AIDS Institute executives should be applauded for simply getting with the transparency agenda. Be sure to read Greg Milward's site as he raises important questions for Kawata to answer.

One small issue with the institute needs to be addressed still. At their About Us page, they say:

For a copy of our most recent audits, choose from the following:

However, when you click on the links they take you not to the audits but to the IRS 990s. The institute should amend the wording to reflect what is at the links.

The group has had roller-coaster ride of good and bad recent fiscal years, according to the 990s. In 2008 there was a $202,000 deficit, and 2009 excess of funds in the amount of $715,000. The 2010 filing shows the institute ran a $730,000 deficit and in 2011 reported a $257,000 in excess funds over their budget. 

Let's join in welcoming the Black AIDS Institute to the family of transparency AIDS Inc organizations acting responsibly by sharing 990s on their site. I hope Kawata and NMAC soon follow the terrific example of Wilson and his institute.
NAPWA Audits FOIAed from the CDC

There needs to be a full and transparent accounting of what led to the demise of the National Association of People with AIDS. Toward that end, I've filed a Freedom of Information Act request with the group's bigger funder while it was operating, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

I've asked for copies of all audits and investigations and their results and findings, conducted by the CDC regarding their contracts with NAPWA over the past two years.

With previous FOIA requests of mine to the CDC, I found the turnaround time was more lengthy than with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and as you see in the recent acknowledgement letter from the CDC the agency states it cannot meet the 20-day requirement of FOIA:

Your request will be sent to the area(s) which may have pertinent records. Program officials will initiate a search, and we will provide a copy of all releasable agency records as quickly as possible. The cut-off date for your request will be the date the search for responsive records is initiated by program staff. All requests are handled on a first-in, first-out basis.

Please note that the records you seek are maintained outside of this office and our staff has not yet been able to complete a search to determine whether there are records within the scope of your request. Accordingly, we will be unable to comply with the twenty-working-day time limit in this case, as well as the ten additional days provided by the statute.

If the former leaders of NAPWA had an authentic commitment to accountability to all of the people living with HIV and AIDS whom the group advocated for, they would take the necessary steps to share the CDC's audits of NAPWA on the web. Posting the audits and all related documents from the CDC would assist every PWA and AIDS nonprofit watchdog in learning valuable lessons from NAPWA's demise.

Just because NAPWA has formally ceased operating does not mean the scrutiny of the group, along with the last board members and executives, is over. Too many questions need to be, and will be, answered.

Friday, February 22, 2013

'Plague' (and I + Others) Nominated for Best Documentary Oscar

I'd like to thank the Academy for nominating David France's film "How to Survive a Plague" as one of the best documentaries of last year. At the same time, I wish to express my humble, deep and ever-lasting gratitude to all of my activist brothers and sisters who were part of ACT UP during the darkest and deadliest days of the AIDS epidemic in America.

Being here in 2013, with recent illnesses, diminished immune system and infections and the side effects of more than a decade on an HIV cocktail, and surrounded by loving my loving extended family and good friends, sharing laughter and daily life with my hus-bear Mike, would not be possible without my activism and that of others in the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power.

I make two small appearances in "Plague", first during the protest inside St. Patrick's Cathedral and later on during a street demonstration in Manchester, New Hampshire, leading up to the 1992 presidential primary.

I feel all of us ACT UPers who appear in the film were recognized by the Oscar nomination and that we all share in the recognition from the Academy.

One reason why I'm a fan of "Plague" and the other ACT UP documentary "United in Anger" directed by Jim Hubbard and Sarah Schulman, is because the films brought a number of deceased friends and decent people back to life.

AIDS was not just a medical epidemic and political crisis. AIDS before protease inhibitors was a fucking war with too many people cut down in the prime of life, and we've still as a nation and a proud gay community have not fully come to grasp the awfulness of the battlefields we fought on and the people we lost.

Today I wish honor the late Steev Bohrer, the man who gave ACT UP its name. Steev was a volunteer on the Gay Men's Health Crisis hotline and during his time at the switchboard would create acronyms of groups that one day might form and combat AIDS. Steev is missed and remembered for his contributions to activism.

Regarding the chances of "Plague" winning the Oscar, I believe they are good, but I speak with much bias as someone who appears (and loudly yells) in it.

A better prognosticator of the likely winner for best documentary is the Indie Wire site, which predicts "Searching for Sugarman" will win but also says "Plague" could win. Just being nominated is an honor for "Plague" and we'll all learn on Sunday which documentary is taking home the golden Oscar statuette. 

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Boxer + Coburn = HIV Organ Donation Bill

On Feb. 14, Valentine's Day and a day when we're focused on matters of that vital human organ, the heart, two senators from polar opposites of the political spectrum put aside differences. The cause? A bill to help our aging population of people living with AIDS.

From the release issued by the offices of Boxer and Coburn, pictured:

U.S. Senators Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Tom Coburn (R-OK) today introduced the HOPE Act (HIV Organ Policy Equity Act), legislation that would end the federal ban on federal research into organ donations from HIV-positive donors to HIV-positive recipients. The bipartisan measure - which is also sponsored by Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Rand Paul (R-KY) - would open a pathway to the eventual transplantation of these organs, offering hope to thousands of HIV-positive patients who are currently on waiting lists for life-saving organs. Currently, even researching the feasibility of such transplants is banned under federal law . . . According to a study published in the American Journal of Transplantation, allowing organ transplants between HIV-positive patients could increase the organ donation pool by 500-600 donors a year and save hundreds of lives. 

Did you ever think you'd see a day when ultra liberal Boxer and super conservative Coburn, not to mention the likes of Tammy Baldwin and Rand Paul, would unite like this? We should applaud this bipartisan effort on political, medical and ethical grounds.

My partner Mike and I, along with other PWAs, may one day need to take advantage of organ transplants so this bill is of keen interest to us. On an important grammatical and empowerment note, I'm pleased the senators' release never used the offensive term "AIDS victim", a small contribution toward reducing stigma.

According to the senators' release, a wide array of organ transplant, medical societies and the Human Rights Campaign, AMFAR and Lambda Legal, along with other gay and AIDS groups are also behind the bill. 

Please spread the word about the HIV Organ Policy Equity Act.
NYT Outs Japan Scholar Donald Richie as Bisexual

(Richie in 2007 at a gallery exhibition of his paintings. Credit: Bloomberg/Getty.)

My appreciation and understanding of the films made by Japanese director Kenji Mizoguchi, especially "Sisters of the Gion", "Ugetsu" and "The Life of Oharu", was deepened by reading Donald Richie's writings on the Japanese film industry. Richie spent decades in Japan analyzing and explaining the country and its cinema to Westerners. He passed away on February 19 and his obituary in the New York Times disclosed a very interesting fact that was news to me:

Openly bisexual, Mr. Richie also wrote frankly about his lovers, both male and female, saying Japan’s greater tolerance of homosexuality in the 1940s, relative to that in the United States, was one reason he returned to the country after graduating from Columbia University in 1953 . . . Donald Richie was born in Lima, Ohio, on April 17, 1924, and lived most of his life alone, though he was briefly married to Mary Richie, an American writer. 

There's a decent amount of relevant information and reporting on the web regarding Richie's basic openness about his same-sex interests, something I don't recall coming across when reading his essays on Japanese films. I suspect others were also unaware of his bisexuality until the Times obit came out. Indeed, Richie's Wiki entry was bereft of this fact until this week when the entry was updated to include the Times' reporting on his bisexuality.

Japan, and the film world, have lost a valuable friend.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

New HIV Accountability Site: NMAC and Transparency?

Greg J. Milward is a person living with AIDS and an accountability activist keeping tabs on AIDS Inc, and he does so from fly-over country. He's based in Madison, Wisconsin, and recently created a new site called and I urge you to read it. There is far too little accountability work being performed these days, and in so many ways, Greg's voice is very needed.

A simple and potent agenda: operates on the fundamental belief that HIV/AIDS organizations have an obligation to operate in an open and transparent manner . . . Accountability and transparency, while a simple concept, is one that many have found a bitter pill to swallow . . .

Excellent use of a powerful metaphor, one that PWAs know from downing daily cocktails to ward off opportunistic infections and extend our lives.

Greg's most recent post sheds light on the shameful longstanding and continuing lack of transparency from a large national organization:

The National Minority AIDS Council is headquartered in Washington, D.C. . . . 
We calling on Paul Kawata, [the group's director] to make available, at a minimum, the following information:
  • The last three years of NMAC’s IRS form 990 filings
  • The last three years of Independent Financial Audits of NMAC
  • The last three years of Annual Reports
  • NMAC governing documents (bylaws, etc.)
None of these basic documents are available on the NMAC website . . . :
  • 2008 Net loss of $ 389,251
  • 2009 Net loss of $ 527,542
  • 2010 Net loss of $   52,531
  • 2011 Net loss of $ 937,627
That’s a cumulative NET LOSS of $1,906,771 over the past four years.  Losses in each of the past four years is problematic and raises many questions that deserve to be answered.

This is speaking truth to power and deserves the support of all PWAs and AIDS Inc watchdogs.

Yes, Greg is echoing calls I've made for Kawata to get with the transparency agenda and it's my hope that his demand for Kawata to finally provide much-needed accountability is the thing that brings NMAC out of fiscal darkness and into the sunlight.

DC Police: No Files on Gay Pioneer Frank Kameny

My friend Deacon Maccubbin, the founder of DC's now-defunct gay bookstore Lambda Rising, suggested I make a FOIA request to the Metropolitan Police Department for any records on the late gay icon and pioneer Frank Kameny.

I was getting nowhere with the FBI and potential Kameny papers in their archive, when Deacon reminded me the MPD worked closely with federal agencies when Kameny protested at the White House, Pentagon and State Department.

The MPD's public information officer Lisa Archie-Mills yesterday replied to my request, informing me a search had proved basically fruitless. MPD's full response is here.

Please be advised a comprehensive search for records conducted by the Corporate Support Bureau, Records Branch of the MPD, yielded negative results. In addition, a comprehensive search for records conducted by the Investigative Services Bureau, Special Liaison Division, located a one-page document consisting of an email which is attached. An Incident-Based Event Report, is also attached to correspond with the information contained in the attached e-mail.

That email is worth quoting:

The complainant, 86 year old Frank Kameny, was found by his house mate to be unconscious and not breathing. The board responded and found no signs consistent with life. Nothing appeared to be suspicious regarding his death and he was transported to the OCME to be pronounced.

Knowing first-hand how Kameny was a master logical thinker, I believe he would note the impossibility of a dead person being a complainant, considering they're not breathing. When Kerry Elevald was a reporter for the Advocate and Kameny was very much alive and still kicking, she claimed he had died and of AIDS. Neither was true, and I'm paraphrasing here, Kameny good-naturedly asked if there was a date given for his alleged death!
(Kameny delivering a letter to the White House in 1965. Credit: Kay Tobin Lahusen, New York Public Library.)

I find it beyond comprehension that the FBI contends it has no records whatsoever on Kameny, a proud gay activist who stood up to government homophobia countless times from the Cold War up to his death. Recently, I submitted new details to the FBI regarding Kameny's interactions with the agency and requested further searching.

We now have the MPD in the same company as the FBI, maintaining there's nothing of relevance in the archive. Either record-keeping at the FBI and MPD was incredibly shoddy regarding Kameny's public activism, or files have been misplaced or destroyed.

Do you really believe there are no surveillance records on Kameny?

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Stephen Fry Meets Kampala Atheists; Hugh Laurie in Uganda?

Based on readily available public information, I have updates to share on actor and gay activist Stephen Fry's visit to Uganda, currently underway and generating a good deal of interest in that country and around the globe. My previous reporting is here.

According to his Twitter feed, Fry is busy making a documentary film and he writes, "Had a great morning with the brilliant & wise “Fat Boy” - top radio host in Kampala & his highly unusual & interesting guest."
James Onen's Twitter feed linked to the photo above, showing Fry meeting with members of the Freethought Kampala group. They describe themselves on their site as, "Promoting reason in a highly superstitious society . . . [with a] philosophical viewpoint that holds that opinions should be formed on the basis of science, logic, and reason, and should not be influenced by authority, tradition, religion or any other dogma."

There's an odd post at the Scare-a-Hero site operated by Simon Kahero, who is heterosexual and a big fan of Fry's many talents. Kahero, after learning Fry would be in Uganda, writes:

I therefore went about my day quietly hoping that Fry wouldn’t be chaperoned round Kampala by some idiot focussing on brothels, slums, and funny places run by the worst possible Ugandans available . . .

Kahero, pictured on the right, omits mention of Fry's gayness or the still-pending Anti Homosexuality Bill with a death penalty clause for gays in parliament and uses an unwelcome term, about approaching him for a photo together:

I abandoned [my car] with the driver and moved in for the kill, not sure exactly what I was going to tell him but planning to speak up for Uganda . . . while campaigning for anything positive from him . . . “Of course,” he gently acquiesced to my request . . .

Enjoy Uganda, Stephen Fry! And don’t say anything bad or we’ll be on your case . . . Go see the wildlife, eat the local food, and if you meet any daft Ugandans doing stupid things, join us in laughter but believe me, they don’t represent ALL OF US unless you happen to be in Parliament.

That dangerous and draconian bill is at the top of the parliament's "Business to Follow" agenda in coming days, and longtime gay and lesbian watchdog bloggers Jim Burroway and Melanie Nathan share info at their respective sites.

Finally, a commenter at Kaheru's post asks a question about Fry's friend and acting colleague:

Have you seen Hugh Laurie? He’s coming with Stephen Fry to Uganda for filming a video.

To which Kaheru replies:

Hi. Apparently he is already in Kampala with Fry. I am afraid of appearing to be a stalker but I did call the hotel to confirm. ;-)

Considering the attention Fry is receiving among Ugandan social networkers, I imagine we'll soon learn if Laurie has joined him over there.

Finally, I hope Kaheru proves himself to be in opposition to the Anti Homosexuality Bill and someone who supports full human rights and protections for the sexual minorities of Uganda. I'm sure Fry would ask the same of Kaheru.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Video: Kenyan VP Candidate: Gays = Dogs; Activists Protest

(At the 11:20 mark, Ruto is asked about same-sex marriage and begins his offensive comments.)

Who in the world could Kenyan politician William Ruto turn to and acquire a portion of his deranged stupidity about gay people? Evidence readily points to one source: an American politician and 2012 failed Republican candidate for president, Rick Santorum, who once equated gays with "man on dog" sexual relations. Of course, Ruto and Santorum are mighty capable of devising new slander about LGBT folks all on their own.

On Valentine's Day during a live televised debate in Nairobi, gays were wildly portrayed with great inaccuracy. Journalist and gay advocate Colin Stewart provides some of the facts:

Human rights activists in Kenya have united to decry hate speech used [Feb. 14] by candidate William Ruto during Kenya’s deputy presidential debate. Quoting inaccurately from the Bible (Rev. 22:15), Ruto said that the Bible equates homosexuals with dogs. He said: “… if you read the Bible clearly, it equates homosexuals with a very derogated animal called dogs. They are in the same school according to the Bible.”

“Careless utterances by politicians can cause a world of harm to innocent citizenry,” replied a press release from the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya, the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, and Identity Kenya.

The Nation newspaper of Kenya gives additional details:

“There should not be grey areas when it comes to the killing of the child. Abortion is unconstitutional,” said Mr Ruto . . . Abortion largely informed the ‘NO’ side that opposed adoption of the new constitution in 2010 and Mr Ruto, who was the leading figure, said his thoughts had not changed on the issue. He compared same sex relationships to prostitution and that they "needs to be dealt with.”

Ruto and his ignorance would be very at home in the Republican Party here in the United States. Homophobia knows no borders.

Stirring the pot as it needs to be, from an activist perspective, is the courageous out gay Denis Nzioka, pictured, who is in his mid 20s and has an impressive resume. According to the Daily Post he's written to the top of the ticket of Ruto's party:

"Dear Mr Uhuru Kenyatta, personally, I was a firm supporter of your candidature and portfolio but that has considerably changed since yesterday night when your running mate, Mr William Ruto equated homosexuals to dogs at the Deputy President’s debate,” Nzioka said. Nzioka said . . . it will be a big blow for Jubilee Coalition to lose a bloc vote of 2 million votes. 

“There are 2,000,000 gay and lesbian Kenyans who, [on Feb. 14], decided not to vote for your candidature on account of what Mr Ruto said,” Nzioka added. 

Good for Nzioka writing such upright letter threatening the loss of votes and speaking the language a politician understands, all in the name of dignity and justice for LGBT people in Kenya. I've seen a few stories tonight from Kenya mentioning Nzioka's letter and I salute his public advocacy.

Wishing him and the Kenyan LGBT community all the best in obtaining an apology from Ruto.
Gay Icon Stephen Fry is in Uganda

Last Sunday, Mike and I watched some of the BAFTA Awards show on BBC America especially because the host was out actor and activist Stephen Fry, pictured. We're both fans of his for his acting skills and all the time he devotes to gay rights and AIDS awareness.

I recently joined Twitter (my ID is @MichaelPetrelis) and I'm following Fry, as are more than five million other Twitter users.

Fry today tweeted about waiting to leave the UK for Kampala, Uganda, and then again when he arrived over there. Nothing though about why he's visiting the nation, but I expect and hope what ever the reason is part of his agenda will be to show solidarity with the LGBT community of Uganda.

As a gay celebrity with a global fan-base and high-profile in all sorts of media, Fry can bring more attention to the brave work of Uganda's gay and sexual minority community, and combat the vile lies and hatred of bigots.

Let's hope we're soon reading about Fry being active in Uganda regarding gay and AIDS matters.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Russians Bring Prokofiev's Soul to SF 

The Russian National Orchestra was in town for two concerts at Davies Symphony Hall this week, and I made it to their Wednesday evening performance for the first half of the program.

Daniil Trifonov, a rising young pianist, brought the soul of Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 3 to life. Resembling actor Bud Cort during his "Harold and Maude" phase, Triifonov played from memory and with unabashed gusto.

Members of the orchestra delighted in keeping pace with him, creating a cohesive sound that stirred my ears. Triifonov may have been the star in the limelight, but he generously didn't overpower his colleagues. For the more subdued sections, he displayed a delicate fingering of the piano keys.

Once it was over, the audience lustily applauded and most patrons stood for an ovation. Triifonov readily sat back down and played a short solo by Prokofiev, which I wished had been longer.

As much I wanted to stay for the second half, I left at intermission because there was too much fragrance in the hall, adversely effecting my breathing. Sorry I didn't get the chance to experience Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 4, but I went home happy having thoroughly enjoyed what I did hear.
National Minority AIDS Council: $938K Deficit

Paul Kawata, executive-director-for-life at the National Minority AIDS Council, is not the least bit interested in providing the public with transparency about his group. You may recall in August we spoke and he was adamant about not posting IRS 990s or annual reports on NMAC's site, while also refusing to link to the 990s.

Compare that dearth of transparency with AIDS United's About Us page containing their three most current 990s and annuals.

My August post reported that over fiscal years 2008, 2009 and 2010, NMAC ran a cumulative deficit of $970,000.

The latest 990, for fiscal year 2011, was recently posted and reveals a $938,000 deficit.

So, over the course of the last four-years under Kawata's leadership, NMAC has run up a cumulative deficit of $1.9 million. No wonder he is unwilling to do anything to shed light on this fiscal matter.

Wisconsin-based AIDS accountability advocate Greg Milward brought the latest 990 to my attention and noted that Kawata's salary, despite the huge deficit, jumped to $272,711. Bad fiscal management is no barrier to a raise for Kawata.

Milward also informed me that the former executive director of the National Association of People With AIDS, Frank Oldham, is on the board of directors of NMAC. There seems to be plenty of bad stewardship at NMAC and NAPWA to keep accountability watchdogs busy for months.

Click here to view NMAC's 990s over the last ten years at the Foundation Center site.

NYT Omits Gay Angle: WY Teen Suicide & Bullying

(RIP: Kyle Wells, Dead at Age 16 From Hate.)

It was nothing more than a gut feeling that led me to dig deeper into the circumstances of this Wyoming teen's suicide-by-bullying last year, reported the February 13 New York Times story by Sabrina Tavernise:

One common argument is that the suicidal person would have found some other way to kill himself, even if no gun was available. That is the belief of Sharon Wells, the adoptive grandmother of Kyle Wells, a 16-year-old in Cody, Wyo., who shot himself with her pistol in October. “It’s not the guns, it’s the person,” Ms. Wells said.

Kyle was born into a world of problems that began with fetal alcohol syndrome, and continued throughout school, where he was bullied relentlessly for his small stature, she said.

Something didn't ring right about being bullying only because of his size. Sure enough, a quick Googling turned up much relevant info about how Kyle's size and being gay caused students to harass him. From a January 22 article in the Casper Star Tribune by Kyle Roerink:

Kyle was 16 years old, 5 feet tall and gay. On Oct. 30, 2012, he took his own life. "He was a lover, not a fighter," said a group of his peers during a community discussion about bullying in Park County School District 6 last month . . . The students, many with cuts on their wrists, spoke about the daily aggression Wells faced at school. He would go from being bisexual to gay to straight to wanting a sex change. 

The article states Kyle was bullied in every grade and at every school he was transferred to, while school officials claim no records were kept about the bullying he endured. No actions were taken by officials to stop the bullying.

What irks me about the New York Times story, which was about the high number of suicides from guns over all and especially in states with large percentages of the population owning guns, is that it omitted the small but crucial fact of Kyle being gay.

Yes, Kyle endured bullying for several reasons and the Times should have said it was his size and his gayness that contributed to the problems he faced. I'm saying the Times had a responsibility to weave the gay angle into the story, to show anti-gay bullying played a significant role in this teenagers death.

The Times should append a note to the story stating this fact.

Friday, February 15, 2013

NAPWA's Bankruptcy Filing Open to Public Inspection

The paperwork filed yesterday by the National Association of People With AIDS declaring bankruptcy have been made available to me by Greg Milward. He's a fabulous AIDS accountability advocate in Madison, WI, who blogs at, and I thank him for finding and sharing the filings.

To read the NAPWA filings go here, here and here.

Over at the Washington Blade, veteran reporter Lou Chibbaro Jr writes about some of the details in the paperwork:

One source familiar with NAPWA and some of its board members said the bankruptcy filing follows reports late last year that as much as $700,000 in NAPWA funds was either missing or unaccounted for.

According to the source, the discovery that funds were unaccounted for prompted the board to ask the Montgomery County States Attorney’s office to investigate the matter . . .

The bankruptcy filing shows that many of NAPWA’s former employees are listed as creditors who are owed sums of money ranging from several hundred dollars to more than $4,000. NAPWA’s landlord, Brookfield Properties, is owed $75,000 in back rent, according to the bankruptcy filing.

Chibbaro tried to speak with former executives of NAPWA and couldn't reach them for comment. In the coming weeks, I expect more information to be made publicly available about what led to the demise of the group.

Should a new organization be formed to represent the voices and needs of people with HIV and AIDS? Yes, of course, but it should from the start be fully transparent and accountable to the community it wants to represent.

After NAPWA allowing itself to be coopted by the CDC and OraSure and Gilead grants, not to mention misguided influence by AIDS service groups, its biggest problem was a top-down, closed-door approach. Look at where it got them.

AIDS isn't over and there is very much still a need for a responsible and authentic grassroots organization to advocate on behalf of PWAs.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

NAPWA Announces Bankruptcy, End of Operations

Some of the dishonesty, denial and lack of transparency from the dwindling number of leaders at the National Association of People With AIDS can to an end today with the announcement that the group is kaput. Even at this point, after years of being opaque and issuing verbiage to obscure the failures, NAPWA say it is only suspending operations in its headline.

In the past few days, I have emailed and left vmail for Tyler TerMeer, the board chair who runs the Ohio AIDS Coalition, and Vallerie Wagner, the board vice chair who works at AIDS Project Los Angeles. I've wanted to follow up on my previous NAPWA reporting here, here, here and here.

TerMeer emailed me finally:

I received the message that you gave me a call today. My apologies, I have been in meetings all day. The NAPWA website has been updated today with an announcement, which I have also attached for you. This announcement will also go out to the NAPWA e-mail membership list. 

Posted a short time ago:

The National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA) – the largest, oldest, and most trusted voice for the 1.2 million People Living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) in the U.S. –has ceased operations and has filed a petition in United States Bankruptcy Court to discharge its debts in bankruptcy and liquidate.

United States Bankruptcy Court 
District of Maryland
Greenbelt Division
 In re National Association of People with AIDS, Inc      
Case No. 13-12525

The rest of the release is useless shameless self-congratulations. What people with AIDS, former donors and vendors, and the general public need are for NAPWA to either link to that filing or post it to their site, explain why they are now out of business, the status of any criminal investigations or federal audits regarding contracts, and if they intend to ever speak forthrightly with the PWA community.

So many lessons must be learned from the years of dysfunction, the coopting of the group by the CDC, too much influence over the agenda by AIDS service organizations and HIV negative persons.

It will take a push from PWAs, the gay and AIDS press and blogosphere, and nonprofit watchdogs to make transparent the decisions and people who have destroyed NAPWA.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

'Did My Poop Sample Arrive Yet?'

(Thank you, all nurses and doctors at the Davies Hospital ER, for taking care of me again with albuterol and sympathy.)

One of the benefits with the San Francisco Department of Public Health's digitizing of my medical records is automatic alerts are sent to my doctor about screenings I should receive based on demographic info.

Last month, during a regular medical visit to get my latest blood lab results and go over other health matters, my doctor said it was time for me to undergo a screening for colon cancer. He gave me a kit containing a small tube for a stool sample, instructions on collecting the specimen at home and a pre-paid box imprinted with the address for the microbiology lab at General Hospital.

On Monday, my doctor called to discuss my two recent visits to the emergency room at Davies Hospital. He receives notifications from the ER after they've examined me and results from any tests performed along with notes from the ER doctor. It's about time such info is easily shared between healthcare facilities.

After we went over how successful the albuterol inhalation treatment went for my latest bout of pulmonary troubles and discussing the chest X-rays, I asked my doctor if my poop sample had arrived yet. It had.

Thank goodness the colon cancer screening results came back totally negative.We both cheered this good news. I said even though my initial screening was supposed to be when hitting fifty (four years ago), I'm glad DPH's new electronic program was the catalyst to getting the colon test now.

More info on colon cancer and who should be screened available here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

US Govt: No Surveillance Files on Alan Turing

What I find very odd, considering the extreme homophobic times genius mathematician Alan Turing lived in and the high level security clearances he had, is that neither the United Kingdom nor United States intelligence agencies and respective national archives possess no surveillance files on him.

How the hell did Turing escape the attention and scrutiny of agencies that deemed homosexuals deviants and threats to national security?

The latest American agency to respond to my request for public records pertaining to Turing is the National Archives and Records Administration. An excerpt from their letter that arrived recently:

This is in response to your January 6, 2013 Freedom Information Act request concerning any or all files that we may possess on the late British Mathematieian Alan Turing who died June 7, 1954 . . .

We searched our online databases (ARC-Archival Research Catalogue) and OPA (Online Public Access) but did not locate any reference to Turing among the records in our holdings.  If you can locate specific agencies that may have information, you should contact that Freedom of Information/Public Affairs office.

Speaking of those other U.S. agencies, I have submitted FOIA requests to the State Department and the Department of the Navy, because Turing had to interact with the former for his visa and the latter is where he conducted his code-breaking research, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation since he may have came to their attention due to his homosexuality.

The State Department replied and said since the potential records I seek are more than 25 years old, they may have been transferred to the National Archives, and we now know that agency can't locate any Turing files.

The FBI stated a search of their central records was conducted, but nothing potentially pertaining to Turing turned up. I'm waiting to hear from the Department of the Navy.

Although nothing of relevance has been found in various UK and US government archives on Turing, I feel it's important to state this and build a public online record about efforts to obtain surveillance files. There can never be enough transparency about the mistreatment and harassment of homosexuals by the UK and US governments.

My post about no Turing records found by UK agencies is here.
Princes William + Harry Bring Awareness to AIDS Stigma

Yesterday's op-ed by Bill Keller in the New York Times looked at Obamacare, corporations and religious exemptions. Keller went to Marci Hamiliton, a professor at Cardozo Law School and critic of such exemption, for her opinion and she asked this rhetorical question:

Can you deny treatment of AIDS victims because your religion disapproves of homosexuals?

Rhetoric aside, use of the term "AIDS victim" reminded me of the not-so-subtle ways stigma against people living with HIV/AIDS is reinforced by well-intentioned columnists and professors.

Two influential and attention-grabbing young men across the pond, however, are showing their commitment to fighting the stigmatization of PWAs. Princes William and Harry, pictured, recently shared a letter with the leading HIV prevention group in the United Kingdom, the Terrence Higgins Trust, marking the thirtieth-anniversary of its founding.

In their opening paragraph, they shine a light on AIDS stigma:

Our generation has never known a world without HIV. We have grown up knowing of the devastating impact this virus has on lives, on families, on communities. We know, too, that HIV can be treated and the lives of sufferers extended by many years. However, there is still a stigma which blights sufferers of the disease, even today.

Yes, and that stigma needs to be constantly addressed and challenged. Good of the boys to remind folks of this problem, while also shining a light on the work of the Trust and the people who carry out its mission to stop HIV transmissions and tend to the needs of PWAs.

(The Princess and a PWA in 1987. Credit:

Curious how Princes William and Harry had their representatives issue this important letter, I asked the Trust's spokesman Will Harris for more details:

In the UK, Princess Diana was a huge force for good during the early days of the HIV epidemic. During the 80s and 90s, she often visited the London Lighthouse (which was then a hospice for people with AIDS and is now one of our service centres in London) to sit with and offer comfort to patients and their families. Usually she did this anonymously, with no entourage and no cameras. On one occasion she also made a public visit, famously shaking hands with a gentleman who was living with HIV. As you can imagine, this was a huge step forward for public understanding of the virus at the time. The letter came about following conversations between ourselves and the princes’ office. 

I forgot about Princess Diana's groundbreaking volunteering with and support for PWAs during the darkest days of the AIDS epidemic. Glad to be reminded of how she pitched in to help, when too many celebrities and world leaders didn't give a damn, and to see her sons carrying on her charity work.

We need more people, from high-profile newsmakers to ordinary folks, doing what they can to lessen the burdens of AIDS stigma.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Avalos' Municipal Bank for SF: Hot Air Went Nowhere

If you feel a hot wind blowing through the streets of San Francisco, it's likely to be coming from straight progressive Supervisor John Avalos, pictured center wearing a blue shirt exploiting an Occupy protest for his mayoral campaign in 2011.

Avalos skillfully coopted the energy and anger of Occupy San Francisco at the height of street protests, by introducing worthless resolutions at the Board of Supervisors that did very little to deter the police and health authorities from shutting down the camp sites downtown. Well, it got him lots of press.

In October 2011, a few weeks before the mayoral election where he came in second, Avalos held a hearing at City Hall about creating a municipal bank. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that a few hurdles were in the way:

But the bottom line is that San Francisco can’t create a municipal bank without a change in state law, and that’s not likely to happen any time soon.

However, according to the supervisors’ budget and legislative analyst, the city could pursue alternatives. Among them: Invest city money in local credit unions and community development banks. But that is limited. No more than $250,000 could be deposited in each of those institutions, making the overall pot pretty small . . .

There were a handful of other options outlined, but none offered quick fixes. “There’s more work to do,” Avalos conceded. “I don’t see it as something that’s happening overnight.”

In March 2012, five months after his hearing, when announcing his bid for reelection as supervisor in District 11, Luke A. Thomas of Fog City Journal reported the following quote:

Asked what he hopes to accomplish in the next four years, Avalos said, “We have a foreclosure crisis in San Francisco.  It’s really strong in my neighborhood.  I want to figure out how we can create measures to support households against defaults and foreclosures.  I also want to look at this municipal bank idea, something that I’ve been pushing.”

That was almost one year ago and I asked Avalos and his staff what has happened since then to make the municipal bank a reality. All I got back from the Avalos team was silence.

While he lacks the time commitment to follow through on good ideas, he was able to fly to Washington, DC, in November 2012 to attend a junket for elected progressives, and boost his resume for future elections.

After more than four years as supervisor, I can't think of many signature accomplishments from Avalos. Yes, his local hire legislation was a tremendously valuable and important law, but I can't think of what else he's solely responsible for that has benefited a wide cross-section of city residents.

Providing more evidence that he's politician first and foremost looking to move up the political ladder, instead of creating ambitious solutions at the Board of Supervisors, Avalos devoted himself last year to winning a seat on the Democratic County Central Committee. Great. He now holds two elected positions where he can propose useless resolutions.

Speaking of hot air resolutions, the Bay Guardian last week had this to report:

In addition to the resolution calling for divestment from fossil fuels, Avalos also plans to introduce a resolution urging the San Francisco Retirement Board to divest from publicly traded manufacturers of firearms and ammunition.

The actual and tangible accomplishments of Avalos are damn difficult to list.