Wednesday, August 30, 2006

NY Times is Wrong on Clinton Foundation's Budget

Yesterday's glowing front-page profile in the New York Times on former president Bill Clinton's efforts fighting HIV/AIDS around the globe made the following claim:

The Clinton foundation’s budget last year was $30 million, raised from private donors. Mr. Clinton, who oversees its operations full time, has plunged into many causes, from childhood obesity to tsunami relief to global warming, but he has made his most substantive contribution on AIDS.

I don't know where the Times got that $30 million figure from, because after looking at the latest IRS 990 filings for Clinton's two charities, it appears as though the paper reported an incorrect amount.

The William J. Clinton Presidential Foundation, based in Little Rock, Arkansas, in its most recent IRS 990 report, shows the foundation had revenue of $57.7 million. A little bit less than double of what the Times claimed was the foundation's budget last year.

His other charity, the Clinton Foundation HIV/AIDS Initiative, which is headquartered in Quincy, Massachusetts, had a much smaller budget, according to its only IRS 990 filing, and that amount was $5.9 million. Not exactly pocket change, but also not anywhere near the $30 million figure reported by the Times.

So far, the Times has not printed a correction about the wrongly reported figure for Clinton's foundation.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

POZ: Fear Factor, HIV Vaccine Ads & People w/AIDS

My latest column for POZ magazine is about the use of fear by the San Francisco health department and the National Institutes of Health to recruit volunteers for HIV vaccine trials, and also how fear is occasionally a key factor in HIV prevention messages.

Excerpts from my column, appearing in the August issue of POZ:

In those early days, we all grappled with spooky unknowns. What, precisely, caused the dying—and how could we stop it, treat it, live with it, get the care and respect we deserved? In such a climate, fear of the disease and dying was probably one of the best options to spur behavioral changes that could save our and others’ lives.

Now, as AIDS turns 25, so much has improved for those fortunate enough to have survived and have accessed treatment. Why, then, is fear—demeaning, demonizing, repulsive fear—still being used to hype HIV prevention?

Every night, as I walk home from dealing with doctors, diagnostic tests or running to the pharmacy to perfect my ever-changing AIDS cocktail, I must pass an enormous billboard selling fear in San Francisco. [...]

A supposed friend of people with HIV, the Stop AIDS Project, recently launched a prevention campaign with an alarmist tagline so creepy it seems ripped from a ’50s pod-people double feature:

“Some of the guys you’ll cruise tonight have an STD.”

Attention, good people of San Francisco! Run for them thar hills and hope those guys don’t follow you, swim through the sewers up into your shower and nail ya.

Then there’s another billboard, from “Ready for the day when we can date without fear of infection?” it asks in large black letters.

This one’s a recruiting tool for the HIV Vaccine Trials Network. I support the trials and hope they produce a vaccine, but I absolutely loathe how the ad tries to make us feel bad—that all potential sex partners might think twice about dating me. That all we homosexuals—“the gays,” as we are often lumped—are diseased and should be handled with tongs. [...]

What I didn't know as I wrote the column is that the CAB, community advisory board, for the San Francisco branch of the vaccine trials had heard from other gay men and people with AIDS, back in the spring, complaining about the campaigns and how they contribute to stigmatizing people living with HIV or AIDS.

As hard as it to believe, the CAB does not post its agendas or minutes on its web site, even though federal statutes require the board to share this public information, without a member of the public having to file a FOIA request. Someone should inform the CAB that the community has a vested interest in the work of HIV vaccine researchers, and that it has a sacred duty to keep the community at-large up-to-date on the trials and work of the CAB.

That being said, I have sent a FOIA request to the health department and the CAB, asking for their agendas and minutes over the past two years and have left messages for the health officials, requesting them to expand the CAB's site to regularly post information about their meetings and the topics discussed.

I've also managed to obtain the minutes, which appear in full below, from the CAB's meeting in April, when the group dealt with community concerns about the language in the recruitment ads.

From the minutes:

[Jen Sarche, director of community education] noted that we have received several emails regarding our “Ready for Love,” and “Ready to Date without Fear of Infection” ads which have appeared in the past two and a half months in Muni Stations and bus shelters. The emails expressed concern that the ads unintentionally stigmatized HIV positive people, or that they encouraged unsafe sex. A community member attending the meeting addressed his concerns to the CAB as an HIV positive individual, saying the ads were causing a “stir” in the community and felt the ads implied that people who were HIV positive could not be dated or loved without fear.

So how did the CAB respond to these community concerns?:

The CAB felt strongly otherwise noting the need to have messages directed at HIV negative individuals. Both HIV negative and HIV positive members of the CAB stated that fear can be a palpable and at times useful emotion. CAB members also pointed out the ads speak about fear of HIV infection which is significantly different than fear of HIV positive individuals.

While the CAB members, regardless of HIV status, believe fear is a proper tool in the fight against AIDS, and for them such an attitude may be appropriate, I don't think it's okay for the CAB to dismiss the concerns of people who took the time to write to the CAB and attend the meeting to express reservations. In my opinion, the CAB should listen to the community members who are troubled by the fear message and develop recruitment messages based on other factors.

More excerpts from the minutes:

The ads have sparked an increase in discussion about HIV vaccines as well as an increase in calls from potential participants. After a good and spirited discussion it was agreed that the current ads will remain in place. [...]

The CAB then reviewed a new ad that will be forthcoming in June. The ad ties into Pride for June, and talks about taking pride in joining an HIV vaccine study. The response to the new ad was less than enthusiastic. [...]

Sounds to me the CAB chose to ignore individuals from the community not happy with the CAB's work. So much for the CAB representing the full spectrum of opinions from the community!

Interesting that these minutes show some community members were less than enthusiastic about the use of fear, and took the time to write or show up at the meeting, while at the same time, without any sourcing, the minutes also illustrate the response to the Pride message was supposedly less than enthusiastic also. Odd that the minutes don't reveal who exactly lacked enthusiasm for the Pride campaign in June.

Did the CAB receive emails from the community showing no enthusiasm for the Pride ads, or was it just CAB members who weren't enthusiastic?

It is frequently said that we're all in the battle against AIDS together, whether we're poz or negative, a researcher or person living with AIDS, someone who struggles to live on disability benefits or an executive at a service organization making more than $200,000 annually.

On a basic level, I agree that everyone is affected by HIV and should be supportive of efforts to find a cure and an effective and affordable vaccine, and one way to keep us united to control and end AIDS is by insisting the HIV vaccine CAB in San Francisco listen to community members angry over the use of fear to sell the trials, and that the CAB publicize its monthly meetings and post its agendas and minutes on the web.

Here are the full minutes from the April CAB meeting:

HIV Research Section
San Francisco Department of Public Health
Community Advisory Board Minutes
April 18, 2006

Present: Alan Bettis, Brad Vanderbilt, Brent Sugimoto, Darnell Durio, Jamie Nesbitt, Jeff Gustavson, Karl Knapper, Michael Tyree, Naomi Akers, Stephan Oxendine, Steve Muchnick, Marina Rifkin, David Diaz, Albert Liu, Gavin Morrow-Hall, Jen Sarche, Jonathan Fuchs, Susan Buchbinder, and Parker Nolen (guest)


- Steve Muchnick wrote a letter of support for Sonya’s R01 grant, and worked with Naomi to write one for the IDEA grant, and copies are available to the CAB.

- UCSF is looking for recruiters with experience working in communities of color for a gay couples study – contact Brad Vanderbilt if you know someone who is interested.

- We enrolled the180th participant in the ACE Study (HPTN 039) and enrollment will close internationally at the end of May. Thanks for all who helped make this day happen.

- The Volunteer Appreciation event is scheduled for June 8th – put it in your calendar. Invitations will go out in May.

- A health provider’s community forum is scheduled for May 3rd addressing emerging issues in HIV prevention, including PrEP, Serosorting, and Superinfection. We are hosting the forum with the San Francisco AIDS Foundation.

- Susan will conduct a HIV vaccine chat on May 17th, the day before HIV Vaccine Awareness Day – watch for login information.

Names Based HIV Reporting

California Governor Schwarzenegger signed SB 699 into law on April 17th, authorizing the use of names-based HIV incidence reporting in California. The change means that HIV testing sites will now be required to report new HIV cases by name to the state for reporting to the CDC. The CDC will use these data to determine CARE and Prevention funding for the state. This is a significant change from the previous non-name reporting which utilized a code-based system. Some members of the prevention community are concerned that the change will discourage people from seeking out HIV testing.

Participants in our prevention research studies are exempt from the names-based reporting requirement because of the protections in place for confidentiality.

The CAB recommended that we increase our community education efforts around fears around vaccine-induced positive tests and whether they are reportable, and made comments for clarification of the language around these issues in our consent forms. Questions were also raised about how the new law impacts people who were previously tested in confidential testing sites, and whether the state will go back to decode all the past HIV cases identified in California. Jonathan will clarify this part of the law and we will report back to the CAB about it at a future meeting.

Community Input into our recruitment ads

Jen noted that we have received several emails regarding our “Ready for Love,” and “Ready to Date without Fear of Infection” ads which have appeared in the past two and a half months in Muni Stations and bus shelters. The emails expressed concern that the ads unintentionally stigmatized HIV positive people, or that they encouraged unsafe sex. A community member attending the meeting addressed his concerns to the CAB as an HIV positive individual, saying the ads were causing a “stir” in the community and felt the ads implied that people who were HIV positive could not be dated or loved without fear.

The CAB felt strongly otherwise noting the need to have messages directed at HIV negative individuals. Both HIV negative and HIV positive members of the CAB stated that fear can be a palpable and at times useful emotion. CAB members also pointed out the ads speak about fear of HIV infection which is significantly different than fear of HIV positive individuals.

The ads have sparked an increase in discussion about HIV vaccines as well as an increase in calls from potential participants. After a good and spirited discussion it was agreed that the current ads will remain in place. Further discussion followed about the process for CAB approval of our ad materials. Because of time pressures, it is not always possible to wait for CAB meetings to get input into the ads. A small media review working group will be created which will be asked to look at advertisements on-line and get feedback back in within a couple of days.

The CAB then reviewed a new ad that will be forthcoming in June. The ad ties into Pride for June, and talks about taking pride in joining an HIV vaccine study. The response to the new ad was less than enthusiastic. Jen will work with our designer and inform the CAB of the finalized product.

Press and Communications around Project T

In the past month there has been a lot of press about pre-exposure prophylaxis, both about whether it is currently in use in the community, and whether TDF or Truvada were the better agent for it. An article went out over the Associated Press wire and was picked up by hundreds of news organizations. The content of this story was fine, but slightly confused, especially with regard to the tenofovir vs. Truvada information. More concerning were the headlines that were printed with the article, such as, “New pill protects against HIV.” Susan and Al also gave several interviews for original stories as well, including the San Jose Mercury News, the Wall Street Journal and CNN.

As a result, the PrEP Communications Working Group that has been previously discussed will be convened by the CDC to create some clearer messages for broad distribution. The Working Group will include representatives from each U.S. PrEP site, Brad and Steve O. will represent our CAB. We will convene a Project T working group meeting, including interested members from the community, to give Brad and Steve an agenda to present to that group.

Al will be speaking at a forum, hosted by CHAMP and AVAC, on PrEP in NYC next week.
Results from the PrEP survey that Al is conducting will be available by summer although to date no significant use of PrEP has been noted.

Explore and New Choices Data

New data from the Explore study has been released showing the significant predictors of HIV infection included the following:

- Having unprotected sex as a “bottom” with someone who is HIV +, HIV status unknown or a person believed to be HIV –

- Having unprotected sex as a “top” with persons known to be HIV infected

- Having had four or more anal sex partners in the previous six months

- Heavy (four or more drinks per day) alcohol use or having six or more drinks at one time

- The use of alcohol and drugs before or during sex

- Use of amphetamines

- Depression

- Gonorrhea

This new data seems in line with previous studies conducted by the Research Section that indicated that unprotected sex with unknown or persons perceived to be HIV negative, having multiple sex partners and use of alcohol and drugs were predictors of HIV infection.

Results from the New Choices study, a cross-sectional study looking for emerging risk factors for HIV infection, found that use of both crystal meth and Viagra (not necessarily together) were associated with unprotected anal sex with an HIV discordant or serostatus unknown partner.

The CAB stated that information was useful but did not discover new territory nor address the root causes of this kind of risk. The CAB wondered what the new data means in terms of future programming and policy directed at gay men. The CAB specifically wanted to know why will two percent of gay men still become infected this year and how do we create a healthier gay men’s community.

No one had clear answers to the questions but it was noted that the San Francisco Gay Men’s Community Initiative is addressing these concerns and should be invited to attend a future CAB meeting.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

SF Chron: Iran's Stonings; 138 British MPs Condemn Killing Gays, Minors

I have two items to share with you regarding Iran and executions. The first comes from the Matier & Ross political gossip column that ran in the August 20 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle. Though it is short and bland about the emotional issue of stoning women, I'm satisfied the paper gave some space to Iran's barbaric ways of killing people, and the State Department preventing Iranians who studied in the US from visiting California for a reunion.

The second piece of news is from our dear pals in OutRage!UK. They report that more than one hundred members of parliament recently deplored Iran's hanging of gays and minor

The Chronicle said:

Last week, the ever-progressive Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who happens to be Iranian American, won unanimous board approval of two board resolutions near and dear to his heart.

The first resolution condemned the State Department for turning back a group of Iranian university alumni -- who recently landed at SFO for a reunion in Santa Clara -- because they allegedly posed a security risk.

The second resolution asked for the State Department's help to condemn the Islamic Republic of Iran for the reported stoning deaths of two women accused of adultery.

As for how Mirkarimi explains condemning the State Department in one breath, and then asking for their help in condemning the Iranian government in the next?

Simple, said Mirkarimi, "I consider myself a pragmatic."

And here is the release from OutRage!UK:

138 British MPs condemn Iran's execution of gays and minors;
Call for Iran to observe the international human rights conventions it has signed

London – 23 August 2006
Further information:

Brett Lock – OutRage! 0770 843 5917

Chris Bryant MP – 020 7219 8315 or 01443 687 697

British MPs from all parties have signed an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons condemning Iran's execution of gay people and children (full text below).

The motion was tabled by out gay Labour MP, Chris Bryant, who represents the south Wales working class constituency of the Rhondda.

"So far, 138 MPs have signed the EDM," reports Brett Lock of the gay human rights group OutRage!, which helped brief the MP on human rights abuses in Iran.

"Many more would have signed had it not been for the summer period when lots of them go away. We are delighted that so many MPs are concerned about the persecution of gay people and of women who don't conform to Tehran's hardline interpretation of Islam."

Mr Lock also praised Chris Bryant for raising Iranian human rights abuses during the House of Common’s European Union Affairs debate in June (copy below):

"Chris made a moving, informative contribution to the debate, exposing Iran's increasing use of the death penalty for a wide range of crimes, including violations of Islamic morality," noted Mr Lock. "When it comes to the barbaric hangings in Iran, Chris is the conscience of the Commons."

EDM 2616

Bryant, Chris – Labour MP for Rhondda:

That this House commemorates the anniversary of the public hanging on 19th July 2005 of two gay teenage boys, Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni, in Mashad in Iran; notes that at the time of their alleged crimes the two boys were at most 17 years and possibly younger; further commemorates the hanging in Nekra in northern Iran on 15th August 2004 of a 16 year old girl, Ateqeh Sahaleh, on charges of un-Islamic behaviour; condemns these and all other Iranian executions of under-age minors, which are in direct contravention of the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Iran is a signatory; notes that as many as 4,000 Iranians have been executed for their homosexuality since the Islamic Revolution in 1979; and
calls on Iran to stop its campaign of torture, harassment and ill-treatment against gays and to end all executions of minors.

Signatures (138)

Bryant, Chris
Herbert, Nick
Joyce, Eric
Gove, Michael
Eagle, Angela
Llwyd, Elfyn
Prentice, Gordon
Purchase, Ken
Reid, Alan
Ruddock, Joan
Simpson, Alan
Spellar, John
Harris, Evan
Heath, David
Hood, Jimmy
Hoyle, Lindsay
Johnson, Boris
Jones, Kevan
Keen, Alan
Linton, Martin
Marris, Rob
Maude, Francis
McDonagh, Siobhain
McDonnell, John
McKechin, Ann
Moore, Michael
Morley, Elliot
Mountford, Kali
Mudie, George
Mullin, Chris
Breed, Colin
Buck, Karen
Campbell, Ronnie
Challen, Colin
Clapham, Michael
Cohen, Harry
Cryer, Ann
Davies, David TC
Dobson, Frank
Doran, Frank
Efford, Clive
Fisher, Mark
Flynn, Paul
Francis, Hywel
George, Andrew
Goodwill, Robert
Abbott, Diane
Hamilton, David
Baker, Norman
Bercow, John
Betts, Clive
Stewart, Ian
Strang, Gavin
Stringer, Graham
Tami, Mark
Taylor, Dari
Taylor, David
Teather, Sarah
Thurso, John
Wright, Iain
Younger-Ross, Richard
Hillier, Meg
Brown, Lyn
Butler, Dawn
Clark, Katy
Creagh, Mary
Flello, Robert
Goodman, Helen
Griffith, Nia
Hands, Greg
Jackson, Stewart
James, Sian C
Johnson, Diana R
Keeley, Barbara
Horwood, Martin
Khan, Sadiq
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
Thornberry, Emily
Newmark, Brooks
Penning, Mike
Pritchard, Mark
Waltho, Lynda
Reed, Jamie
Shapps, Grant
Willott, Jenny
Pope, Greg
Rosindell, Andrew
Spink, Bob
Jones, Lynne
MacKay, Andrew
Meale, Alan
Burgon, Colin
Cable, Vincent
Caton, Martin
Conway, Derek
Corbyn, Jeremy
Dean, Janet
Durkan, Mark
Garnier, Edward
Hancock, Mike
Bottomley, Peter
Weir, Mike
Hemming, John
Austin, Ian
Moon, Madeleine
Williams, Stephen
Price, Adam
Pugh, John
Russell, Bob
Sheridan, Jim
Hermon, Sylvia
Hopkins, Kelvin
Iddon, Brian
Lepper, David
Loughton, Tim
McCafferty, Chris
Brake, Tom
Burden, Richard
Cummings, John
Dismore, Andrew
Drew, David
Bayley, Hugh
Vaz, Keith
Vis, Rudi
Wareing, Robert N
Williams, Betty
Anderson, David
Leech, John
McGovern, Jim
Holmes, Paul
Illsley, Eric
Lewis, Julian
Moffatt, Laura
Gerrard, Neil
Williams, Hywel
Willis, Phil
Wyatt, Derek
Swinson, Jo

Chris Bryant MP, speaking in the House of Commons debate on European
Union Affairs on 14 June 2006:

Hansard – official transcript of the parliamentary debate:

14 Jun 2006 : Column 864

Equally important, however, is the issue of human rights in Iran. Iran’s human rights record is grisly. It has been so for many years, but in many ways it has become worse in the past 18 months. Last week in the other place, Lord Triesman reported that the number of executions in Iran had increased dramatically compared to this time last year. We know that the use of the death penalty in Iran is on the
increase: Amnesty International reckons that there were at least 94 instances of its use last year in Iran, and the International Federation of Human Rights estimates a much higher number of cases—between 300 and 400.

I know that not all hon. Members believe that the death penalty is wrong. I believe that it is wrong in all instances, just as torture is wrong, but it is particularly wrong when it is imposed on minors—those aged under 18. Last year, at least nine people aged under 18 were executed in Iran. In 2004, a 16-year-old girl was hanged for fornication and a 14-year-old boy was whipped to death for eating during Ramadan. That is not a situation that people either in this country or across the European Union can countenance any longer.

Furthermore, the death penalty is regularly used in Iran for lavaat, or homosexuality. On 19 July 2005, Ayaz Marhuuni and Mahmoud Askari were executed in Mashhad. They were both 17, although the authorities tried to say that they were 19, and at the time of the alleged crimes, they were probably 15 or 16. Almost certainly, the charges presented against them, which changed from day to day, were trumped up. Not only were they hanged, but it was not a British-style hanging; instead, as is often the case when the death penalty is used for lavaat, they were
executed by a slow hanging method whereby a thin cord is placed to the side of the neck so that the neck does not break and the person struggles on the cord, often for several minutes, before being asphyxiated. It is a deliberately brutal and cruel death, which we should not countenance.

At least 11 people were executed for lavaat between December 2004 and November 2005. Many more have been sentenced and no more has been heard of them, but we can be fairly certain that in many cases the execution has happened, not in public as used to happen, but in private. In addition to that, there are many honour killings in parts of Iran. One expert on the Ahwaz region said that homosexuals

“are generally killed in Ahwaz, by the security forces or by their male kin, in one of three ways: strangulation, throat-slitting or decapitation. If the homosexual youths are killed by the security forces, their corpses—frequently decapitated but accompanied by their heads—are left in the street. Their families therefore have a certain tragic incentive to kill them more humanely”

Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. In the limited time left, the Hon. Gentleman should relate his remarks to the European Union.

Chris Bryant: I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I was about to say that what the EU has tried to do, albeit perhaps not frequently enough, is raise such human rights issues in its discussions with the Iranian authorities. I believe that this week provides a real opportunity for the EU to make progress and, in particular, to make sure that no EU country repatriates anyone from Iran who seeks asylum by virtue of their homosexuality. Some people have been repatriated to Iran by other European countries and have subsequently been executed. There are, of
course, countries in Europe that have a mixed record on those human rights issues, but I believe that the EU has a unique opportunity to move forward with a robust record on human rights.


Monday, August 21, 2006

White House: Security Net's Holes; Cheney's "Groundhog Day"

Consider this hypothetical question: What if you're a terrorist intent on finding vulnerable spots in America's security nets, how would you go about finding those vulnerabilities?

One way would be to read the New York Times, which President George Bush and his administration maintain feeds information to evil-doers when the paper reports on programs like the National Security Agency's warrantless spying.

You might get a terrorist buddy a job at the Justice Department and have him access secret documents on the lack of information sharing between immigration officials and law enforcement agents.

Another way would be filing Freedom of Information Act requests with the Department of Homeland Security for records on the agency's screening efforts targeting air cargo shipments and airline passengers, and the effectiveness of the current screening processes, almost five years after 9/11.

But why go through any of those cumbersome steps when all you need do to learn about gaps in our security is visit the White House's "Expect More" web page. There, you'll learn exactly where the gaps are, with just a few mouse clicks.

Click here to learn about the
"Automation Modernization Program [which eventually] will provide Immigration and Customs Enforcement with the necessary technology to communicate and share information within the agency and with its other law enforcement and immigration partners [...] The program has weak program and management structure and must dramatically improve its ability to manage its resources."

To be honest, I thought this program of integrated data sharing for ICE was already in place, but I was wrong and what is in place right now is so lame the White House wants dramatic improvements.

What's the status of the Transportation Security Administration's protection of cargo and passengers? We're okay on these matters, right? Guess again.

"TSA should improve improve [sic] methods to evaluate risks and vunerability [sic] in the air transportation system as it relates to air cargo. The program has recently developed interim long-term and annual measures to measure program effectiveness. However, due to data limitations, the program is unable to measure the risk reduced as a result of implementing program objectives. Work remains to close security loopholes, including improving screening efforts and refining procedures to approve indirect air carriers. The program has developed a strategic plan and is deploying a new security screening system, both of which are steps in the right direction."

Click here for the source of this sad news.

Don't fear, this is what the TSA is doing to implement more security in the air:

"Improving methods used to evaluate risks and vulnerability in the air transportation system through the 'Freight Assessment System.' TSA willl [sic] fully deploy this system in 2008."

Hmmm, more than a year away before that system is up and running. Doesn't exactly instill confidence in me. How about you?

Surely the TSA program screening our luggage must be doing a good job. Right?

"The Baggage Screening Technology program provides the technology necessary to prevent the entry of dangerous weapons, particularly explosives, on aircraft through inspection of checked baggage."

That's sounds very reassuring, until one reads about the problems with the technology and when the TSA expects better screening to be operational:

"The baggage screening technology architecture is sound, although questions exist regarding the efficiency of its current deployment within airports. The program now has strong performance measures, but targets are under development. The program has not yet undertaken an evaluation of sufficient scope and quality [...]

"[The TSA is] procuring and deploying approximately 125 Next Generation explosive detection machines by 2007."

Follow this link
for the source material.

Notice they say those new devices should be ready by 2007, but the issue of whether they'll be operational is not addressed. What's the rush anyway, all these years after the September 11 tragedy on our soil? It must be a priority for Bush administration officials.

Maybe the TSA's program for screening passengers and carry-on bags and preventing the introduction of guns and explosives on planes is meetings some stated goals? Nope, this technology program falls into the "Results Not Demonstrated" category:

"The assessment found that the Passenger Screening Technology program was unable to demonstrate outcome-based performance results. The program recently developed annual performance measures, but targets are under development. The program has not yet undertaken an evaluation of sufficient scope and quality. Work remains to develop long-term measures. TSA is in the process of implementing better management information systems so that performance oversight of technology contractors is improved."

When newspapers report on these failures in our security nets, Bush and his officials at the Department of Homeland Security accuse the publications of providing damaging information to the country's enemies. But when the same information appears on the White House site, with no apparent rush to close these security holes, it's not aiding and abetting our foes. How long will the White House post this data before the administration gets serious about protecting us?

Oh, one more small thing. Will someone please ask the White House to use spell-check and grammar-check for the Expect More site?

Cheney's "Groundhog Day"

Vice President Dick Cheney traveled to Arizona last week in his official capacity as chief fundraiser and scaremongerer, and just for sating my curiosity, I took one troubling phrase from his speech and Googled it. Something about the phrase sounded terribly familiar.

Sure enough, Dick, Dick, Dick! has been using the exact quote, and same boring deadly talking points since at least February of this year:

Vice President's Remarks at the 46th Annual American Legion Conference
Tuesday, February 28, 2006

"We can expect further acts of violence and destruction by the enemies of freedom."

Updated: 19 Apr 2006
Cheney addresses U.S. soldiers at Fort Riley, Kansas

"We can expect further acts of violence and destruction by the enemies of freedom."

June 23, 2006
Hilton Chicago

"We can expect further acts of violence and destruction by the enemies of

June 27, 2006
Remarks by the Vice President at a Luncheon for Congressional Candidate Adrian Smith
Midtown Holiday Inn Convention Center Grand Island
Grand Island, Nebraska

"We can expect further acts of violence and destruction by the enemies of freedom."

June 30, 2006
Vice President's Remarks at a Luncheon for Congressman Scott Garrett
Waldorf Astoria New York, New York

"We can expect further acts of violence and destruction by the enemies of freedom."

August 16, 2006
Dick Cheney Visits Idaho
By Jolyn Thomas

"We can expect further acts of violence and destruction by the enemies of freedom."

August 15, 2006
Vice President's Remarks at a Luncheon for Arizona Victory 2006
Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa
Phoenix, Arizona

"We can expect further acts of violence and destruction by the enemies of freedom."

Mr. Vice President, in reminding Americans that we can expect the enemies of freedom to stay the course in waging attacks against us and each other in Iraq, do you honestly believe you are instilling confidence in your plan of action for the war over there?

Repeating the same deadly expectation this past year for hand-picked audiences is not leadership and you should start to level with us about precisely when we can pull our troops out of harm's way. Bring the troops home and you won't have to make the same speech anymore.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

CDC's Gay HIV Chief MIA at Toronto; Bush's AIDS Silence

The name Dr. Kevin Fenton should ring a bell for you. He's the openly gay black man who heads the CDC's division of HIV and STD prevention, but to judge from the dearth of news articles, only one, and blog mentions, zero citations and I used two blog search engines, Google's and Technorati's, he may not have used the just-concluded 16th international AIDS conference in Toronto to his full advantage.

I want whoever is running CDC's HIV prevention programs to really put himself or herself out there at the biennial meetings, where so many are gathered to learn from and teach the CDC. One way to reach not just the participants who went to Toronto, but people with AIDS and activists who, like me, didn't attend but nonetheless monitored what was happening and blogged about it all, is through the mainstream media and blogosphere. It's not rocket science figuring out ongoing communication from CDC to AIDS activists and professtionals.

And it's not as though Dr. Fenton himself would have to personally send out a release or establish a blog to reach and engage an audience that wants leadership from him. He has the enormous CDC press operations to get press and blog attention, and he should have done better in this regard last week.

Reading news accounts and blog postings about the minimal focus on gay prevention needs over all and particularly for black gay men at Toronto, I wondered why he didn't use his powerful position to guarantee gay black issues were on everyone's agenda? Does he not know how to use his federally-funded bully pulpit to reach under-served audiences at-risk of HIV infection?

And let's not overlook the fact Dr. Fenton was born in Jamaica, a country hard-hit by HIV and a rampant violent homophobia that has directly contributed not only to the murders of gay HIV prevention workers there, but also to the soaring rates of infections in the Caribbean nation. Would have been nice of him to have organized a panel or event on the matters facing gay men in Jamaica today in staying alive and not contracting HIV, or living with it if they are positive.

Okay, now that I've addressed some of the identity-politics aspects incumbent to Dr. Fenton and his performance on the world stage last week, I want to broaden the frame a bit. Putting aside those aspects, I'm still left with an overwhelming sense of a dangerous low-key approach on his part to raising any of the CDC's HIV prevention agenda and messages for everyone at Toronto, not just targeting gays and blacks.

We need the person directing CDC's prevention work to use traditional and new web media to reduce HIV rates, engage a wide spectrum of people and to do a better job of informing not just the AIDS community, but all of the American public about his efforts.

For whatever reason, the CDC's media office had a muted press strategy at Toronto, unlike previous conferences where CDC really milked the many media opportunities at any AIDS conference. If Google and the CDC's press office web page are any indication, the agency didn't put out a single release, make it known how to contact CDC officials or stage any news briefings.

At the same time, I wish to point out that Dr. Fenton's ultimate boss, President George Bush, was also quiet about AIDS last week, or at least the White House web site's AIDS page had nothing about the Toronto meeting and its stated goals, much of which involve the a big portion of the U.S. government. The Office of National AIDS Policy page was last updated in February.

Why have such an office in the White House advising the president, with no clear activities for seven months, and at minimum send a message from the Oval Office to the attendees at the conference, maybe even announce new funding streams to combat AIDS and assist those living with HIV?

I'm not suggesting that Bush tear himself away from battling terror and spreading democracy in the Middle East and make a video welcome for Toronto, or perhaps hold a cabinet meeting on AIDS while the conference is underway, but please, something, anything other than SILENCE on White House site and from the president and his top-level staff is necessary to ensure AIDS doesn't fade from the public's agenda.

Friday, August 18, 2006

SF Chronicle: U.S. Constitution Arrested!

Sure, this great "Bad Reporter" comic strip by Dean Asmussen is amusing, but given half a chance, you can be sure George W. Bush and his cronies would love to incarcerate the Constitution and throw away the key.

Click on the image to enlarge it. And keep reminding yourself, only two-and-a-half depressing years to go before Bush retires to his Crawford, Texas, ranch.
HRW's AIDS Blog and "Victims"

Conor Fortune
Communications Associate
Human Rights Watch
New York, NY

Dear Mr. Fortune,

Several days ago I blogged about HRW's AIDS blog and use of the term "victim" to describe people with AIDS.

I would like to know who I need to contact at HRW regarding the following questions:

1. Why does HRW use "victim" when writing about people living with HIV/AIDS on the group's blog?

2. Is HRW not aware that many, if not all, people with HIV and AIDS, consider the term "victim" offensive and adds to the stigma surrounding the disease and people with it?

3. Will HRW apologize for using the word "victim" on its AIDS blog?

4. Who at HRW is responsible for that blog?

5. Can HRW remove "victim" from the AIDS blog and replace it with people living with HIV/AIDS?

A prompt reply is requested and appreciated.

Best regards,
Michael Petrelis
Person Living with AIDS
San Francisco, CA
Ph: 415-621-6267

HRW AIDS blog,
My blog post about HRW's use of "victim"

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Saudi Officials Arrest Twenty Men at "Gay Wedding"

This troubling news came my way from two good friends, each on polar opposites of the political spectrum, who independent of the other sent me this article from the South African Press Association - Agence France-Presse wires, showing that for at least two of my buddies, when the issue is the treatment or abuse of gays in the Middle East and other parts of the globe, they want me to see the news and bring it attention.

An excerpt from the only story so far on this case:

Riyadh - Saudi authorities arrested 20 young men after raiding a suspected gay wedding in the southern town of Jizan, a newspaper reported on Wednesday.

The detainees, who were among some 400 men attending "the wedding party of two men" on Tuesday, had been "emulating women," the Al-Watan paper said.

In all, some 250 people were detained in the police raid on the party but the rest were later released [...]

Some guests were also seen chewing qat, an illegal narcotic widely used in neighbouring Yemen, on a hill above the square where the party was being held, Al-Watan said.

Homosexuality is illegal in conservative Saudi Arabia, which metes out strict punishments based on sharia, or Islamic law.

The site has a trove of background information and stories about the violations of human rights protections for gays in Saudi Arabia. Click here to start reading the collected stories.

You know me, I read something like the article about the latest arrests and I want to throw together a press conference at a Saudi consulate, but there isn't one in San Francisco. If I lived in Washington or New York, I'd be organizing an action at the Saudi embassy or mission the United Nations.

(Photo credit: Brett Lock, OutRage!UK. London gays protesting at the Saudi embassy in May.)

Human Rights Watch Labels People With AIDS "Victims"

Ever since the HIV/AIDS epidemic began, people living with the disease have vigorously fought being labeled "victims" and generally prefer terms such as PWA, person with AIDS, or PLWHA, people living with HIV/AIDS.

One group that didn't get the memo about this is the Human Rights Watch. Today on HRW's blog from the Toronto AIDS conference, the group asks bloggers to show solidarity "with the victims" of the disease.

Needless to say, I was shocked to see the normally hyper politically correct HRW refer to people with AIDS as victims and I've contacted the leaders at HRW to request that they remove the reference to victims from their blog. While it would be nice if HRW also apologized to persons with HIV/AIDS for calling us victims, right now, I'll be happy if they just delete the word victims.

From HRW's AIDS blog:

If you are a blogger, you can use your bully pulpit to stand with the victims and activists to end human rights abuses for those with HIV/AIDS, strengthen the political will necessary to win the fight against AIDS, and expand access to HIV prevention information, condoms, clean needles, methadone and anti-retroviral drugs.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Toronto AIDS Confab: SF Rates Plateau Due to Serosorting

An important abstract from San Francisco was presented today at the Toronto AIDS conference showing new HIV infections reached a plateau years ago, after peaking seven years back in 1999, and that the reason for this good news is probably due to serosorting practices developed by sexually active gay men, both HIV poz and negative. To me, it says much about the HIV prevention industry, which does not promote in any way serosorting as an effective means to stop HIV, that serosorting plays a crucial role in preventing and controlling new infections.

The full abstract:

HIV serosorting? Increases in sexually transmitted infections and risk behavior without concurrent increase in HIV incidence among men who have sex with men in San Francisco

Background: Sexually transmitted infections (STI) and unprotected anal intercourse (UAI) have been increasing among men who have sex with men (MSM) in San Francisco. However, HIV incidence has stabilized. We evaluated recent trends in sexual risk behavior, STI, and HIV incidence to assess whether increases in HIV serosorting (i.e., selective unprotected sex with partners of the same HIV serostatus) may contribute to preventing further expansion of the epidemic.

Methods: The study applies an ecological approach and follows the principles of Second Generation HIV Surveillance. Temporal trends in biological and behavioral measures were assessed using multiple pre-existing data sources: STI case reporting, prevention outreach programmatic data, and voluntary HIV counseling and testing data.

Results: Reported STI cases rose from 1998 through 2003. Rectal gonorrhea cases increased from 158 to 311 while early syphilis increased from 8 to 314. UAI increased overall from 1998 to 2004 (p<0.001) in community-based surveys; however, UAI with partners of unknown HIV serostatus decreased overall (p<0.001) among HIV-negative MSM, and among HIV-positive MSM declined from 30.7% in 2001 to a low of 21.0% in 2004 (p<0.001). UAI (any, receptive, insertive) with a known HIV-positive partner decreased overall from 1998 to 2004 (p<0.001) among MSM at HIV testing programs. HIV incidence using the serological testing algorithm for recent HIV seroconversion (STARHS) peaked in 1999 at anonymous testing sites (4.1%) and the STI clinic confidential testing program (4.8%), with rates leveling off through 2004.

Conclusions: HIV incidence among MSM appears to have stabilized at a plateau following several years of resurgence. Increases in the selection of sexual partners of concordant HIV serostatus may be contributing to the stabilization of the epidemic. However, current incidence rates of STI and HIV remain high. Moreover, a strategy of risk reduction by HIV serosorting can be severely limited by imperfect knowledge of one´s own and one´s partners´ serostatus.

Back in May, the Bay Area Reporter ran an excellent piece by Matthew Bajko about serosorting and how the city was about to get the nation's first media campaign about the practice.

From Bajko's article:

The San Francisco AIDS Foundation, however, is about to become the first AIDS agency in the country to discuss serosorting in a social marketing campaign. The agency plans to launch advertisements and a Web site this June that will not only discuss serosorting but other controversial methods like "negotiated safety" or seropositioning – where a negative man will only top or a positive man will only bottom during sex.

Well, two months later the AIDS foundation has not launched its serosorting campaign, but it may not matter much that this appears to be an empty promise from the foundation, because gay men are engaging in serosorting sexual practices that do much to halt new HIV infections, all without any help from HIV prevention groups or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Iran Spares Woman From Death by Stoning

Today marks a small victory in the international effort to end the barbaric practice state-sanctioned executions by any method.

A letter from the lawyer for Ashraf Kalhori is circulating today announcing that the Iranian woman's life has been spared, but that she is not totally out of harm's way just yet.

These developments should help the San Francisco Board of Supervisors pass a resolution on August 15, calling on the U.S. State Department to condemn female stoning in Iran. Click here to read the resolution, introduced by Sup. Ross Mirkarimi.

Needless to say, I am damn proud to live in a city where ending the death penalty in any country that allows it, including the U.S., and protecting the human rights for all persons is part of the city government's official business.

The full-text of the letter:

Update on Stoning Sentence of Ashraf Kalhori

I am writing to thank you for acting to save Ashraf Kalhori from execution by stoning.

I am glad to inform you that Ayatollah Shahroudi has acted to stop the execution of Ashraf, the 37 year old mother of four, who was sentenced to stoning for having had extramarital sex.

On her behalf, I sincerely thank every one of you for signing the petition and helping to save her life.

Earlier this week, I submitted the petition to the office of the Judiciary Chief, Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi requesting remittal of her sentence. The petition included the signatures of more than a hundred Iranian women rights activists and over four thousand signatures collected online.

It is a wonderful feeling to see people coming together to save the life of another human being. I should also say that it is a great pleasure for me, as her lawyer, to share my happiness with all of you who were with us and supported the effort to save her.

However, the fate of Ashraf is not clear yet, and I am asking you to please continue your efforts and keep your voices loud until we make sure that she is safe. Furthermore, we must demand a change in the law that makes stoning illegal as a "sentence" for any crime.

I would like to thank you again for acting on time. I will continue to keep you updated on issues of stoning.

Warm Regards,
Shadi Sadr

Of course, I'll share all updates from Ms. Sadr, once she makes them available.

Friday, August 11, 2006

SF Registers for DoD 9/11 Freedom Walk; NY, NJ, CT Not Participating

To commemorate the fifth anniversary of the tragic events that took place on American soil on September 11, the Defense Department one month from today is organizing Freedom Walks across the country.

The first Freedom Walk, held in Washington last year, was subject to much controversy over the tight restrictions placed on the agenda and goals of the event by the Pentagon, not to mention excluding pro-peace activists from the walk.

I'm all in favor of people participating in demonstrating their public support for the troops, and you can count me as someone who backs our servicemen and women, but I'm also a citizen who wants to see our troops in Iraq brought home on a reasonable time-table.

This is why I've registered to organize a Freedom Walk in San Francisco. As of today, only four walks are scheduled for California, none in my home town.

If the Pentagon allows me to organize a Freedom Walk in San Francisco, I intend to pull together a march and rally on September 11, starting at City Hall then proceeding a few block north up Polk Street to the Federal Building on Golden Gate Avenue.

I see no reason why San Francisco shouldn't be permitted by DoD to participate in the September 11 walks, and that we'll be able to express support for the troops, call for them to come home, and demand things like the resignation of Rumsfeld.

Take a look at the map of where walks are planned in twenty-four states and the District of Columbia. Notice that many other states lack a Freedom Walk for September 11, including, believe it or not, New York, where the World Trade Center used to stand, and New Jersey and Connecticut, states where many of those killed on that tragic day lived.

Says something about the public's support for this Pentagon effort one month from today, when three of the hardest-hit states on September 11 are not yet on board for the Freedom Walks.

I'll let you know when the Pentagon responds to my registering as the San Francisco organizer for Freedom Walks.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

UN's Annan Ducked Gay Iranians Question; UK MPs Debated Issue

United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan, back in January, was asked about human rights practices in Iran at a press conference given by the UK's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai, and Annan at the London Conference on Afghanistan. An excerpt from the transcript:

QUESTION (Voice of America Persian Service):

Last night the P5 spoke in unison against the nuclear programme of the Islamic Republic of Iran. At what point do you think, Mr Secretary General, that the United Nations will use its good offices to bring about one voice in support of the people of Iran, especially the bus drivers, over 110 of them were arrested last Saturday and their leader is still in prison, and for the homosexual rights in Iran, and for women’s rights in Iran?


I think it is very clear that as the United Nations our policy has been to promote human rights and rights of individuals to live in dignity and to have freedom to go about their activities. I have had the opportunity myself to intervene in some of these cases, I intervened in the case of Ganji, and it is an issue that I often raise when I do have an opportunity. Obviously each society has to go through changes and the pace differs from country to country. We heard a lot about reform in Iran under the previous President, the pace maybe has not been as fast as you would like, by the implication in your question, which is also right, but we will continue to promote these rights which are universal and should not be alien to any country, any culture and any religion.

Well, Mr. Annan, could you be a little more vague about the human rights of gays in Iran, please? Seven months after Annan ducked answering the important question of when UN committees would address human rights abuses in Iran, the matter of Iranian gays still needs the UN's attention.

Two months ago, in a broader debate about human rights issues in Iran in the House of Commons, gay Iranian matters were on the agenda:

6 Jun 2006 : Column 57WH

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): I apologise for not having heard the whole debate, but I did watch the speech made by my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs. Ellman) on television.

So far, the one group that has not been mentioned is lesbians and gays. Many gay men have been executed in the past year. Indeed, execution comes not just through the courts but through officially or unofficially sanctioned death squads roaming villages, trying to find young gay men and executing them. That is outrageous and extraordinary. Has the Foreign and Commonwealth Office had an opportunity to raise that specific issue with Tehran?

Mr. Hoon: Certainly there is concern about the situation faced by homosexuals and we are monitoring the situation carefully. We are not aware of any individuals being executed in Iran over the past two years solely on the grounds of homosexuality, but clearly there are other ways in which homosexuals are seriously affected by how the law operates there.

Chris Bryant: I would be very worried if the FCO genuinely believed that no one had been executed solely because of their sexuality. Trumped-up charges are brought before courts regularly, and it is the work of many organisations in this country to reveal the true outrages going on in Iran. The FCO should look into the issue much more carefully.

Mr. Hoon: I chose my words carefully, and I do not see any need to resile from them. Charges are brought for other matters, but I accept the force of what my hon. Friend was suggesting and the issue is of concern to us.

Referring to the Iranian judicial system, we have concerns about court hearings not always being held in public and about the principle of due process not always being respected. Cruel punishments such as flogging, stoning and amputation remain on the statute book. In a prominent recent case, the Iranian authorities executed two youths—one aged 17 and the other 20—on 13 May this year. They were hanged in Lorestan province barely a month after their alleged crime. The case raises important questions. How could a fair trial be completed in such a short time? Were the two able to exhaust every avenue of appeal open to them? Why does Iran continue to execute under-18s, in violation of international law?

The UK Government and the European Union have, naturally, posed those questions to the Iranian Government, but the case highlights important inconsistencies between Iran’s stated policy of ending such executions and its actions. The international community clearly has a duty to respond to such developments, which undermine basic principles of human rights, and we are committed to addressing that issue.

Regardless of the sexual orientation of any person executed in Iran and by any method, I am gravely concerned with the news two youths were hanged in May this year. The bottom line issue for me is the death penalty, to whom and how it is applied in Iran, and elsewhere, including the USA, and the gay human rights advocates should be paying close attention to the issue, and loudly speaking out against executions.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Al Jazeera: Muslim Cleric, Burn or Throw Gays off High Places?

This interview failed to capture the attention of the American media and many in the gay community, so I'm sharing it here. The tape and transcript of the interview come from the Middle East Media Research Institute.

Following are excerpts from an interview with Dr. Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi, which aired on Al-Jazeera TV on June 5, 2006:

Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi: Kerry, who ran against Bush, was supported by homosexuals and nudists. But it was Bush who won [the elections], because he is Christian, right-wing, tenacious, and unyielding. In other words, the religious overcame the perverted. So we cannot blame all Americans and Westerners.

But unfortunately, because the Westerners - Americans and others - want to flatter these people on account of the elections, a disaster occurs. In order to succeed and win the elections, he flatters these people, rather than saying to them: No, you are sinning against yourselves, against society, and against humanity. This is forbidden. Instead of leveling with them, people flatter them to win their votes. This is the disaster that has befallen humanity [...]

Interviewer: How should a homosexual or a lesbian be punished? We mentioned the story of the people of Sodom and how Allah punished them, but how should someone who commits this abomination be punished today?

Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi: The same punishment as any sexual pervert - the same as the fornicator [...]

The schools of thought disagree about the punishment. Some say they should be punished like fornicators, and then we distinguish between married and unmarried men, and between married and unmarried women. Some say both should be punished the same way. Some say we should throw them from a high place, like God did with the people of Sodom. Some say we should burn them, and so on. There is disagreement [...]

The important thing is to treat this act as a crime.

Interviewer: There is an issue that some people may find strange. If homosexuals and lesbians belong to the same category - an inclination towards the same sex - why are there different punishments for men and women, for homosexuals and lesbians?

Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi: A punishment for who?

Interviewer: For homosexuals and lesbians - the punishment for a woman who favors women, and for a man who favors men.

Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi: Lesbianism is not as bad as homosexuality, in practical terms [...]

Interviewer: Should a man be punished for having homosexual tendencies?

Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi: Yes, he should.

Interviewer: Or maybe he should be punished only for committing this sin?

Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi: He should be punished just like a fornicator. What is fornication? It is a sexual perversion. A perversion cannot possibly be innate [...]

Interviewer: Some Arab authors have begun to discuss this openly, in newspapers and in their books. Homosexual characters appear in some Arab films. In addition, homosexuals gather in public, and show up at parties in a loathsome manner.

Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi: Not in all countries, only a few...

Interviewer: In many Arab countries.

Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi: Perhaps you in Morocco have that...

Interviewer: Not only in Morocco. Also in other countries, which I won't mention.

What is the position of Islamic law on this public display?

Yousuf Al-Qaradhawi: This is the calamity of societies. When sin and abomination are concealed, they don't cause much harm [...]

But the calamity becomes widespread, when it stops being a secret and becomes public [...]

We are not hostile towards these people. On the contrary, we pity them. But we do not want to give them an opportunity, like the Westerners, who consider this a normal phenomenon, and it has become widespread, I'm sad to say.

Heck, if considering burning men or throwing them off cliffs as a legitimate punishment for the "crime" of being gay is not hostile, what is?

The gay community really could use our own international commission to monitor this act of religious intolerance, along with other examples of hateful antigay comments from leaders of all religions anywhere in the world. If ever such a commission is formed, I hope it also mobilizes people to stand against such intolerance.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

SF Supes: State Dept Must Condemn Female Stoning Deaths in Iran

At the San Francisco Board of Supervisors' meeting today, Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, an all-around good guy and veteran progressive advocate who just happens to be Iranian American, introduced this resolution for consideration by his colleagues.

The supervisors now have one week to weigh the merits of it, and the resolution will come up for debate and vote at the next full board meeting, August 15. If you live in San Francisco, contact your supervisor and ask him or her to vote for this crucial resolution.

For people who don't reside here, please ask your local city council or state and federal elected officials to pass similar resolutions, or lobby them to issue statements calling on the U.S. State Department to immediately deplore the potential female stonings and other pending executions in Iran.

I wish to call everyone's attention to the efforts of Lily Mazahery, an Iranian American lawyer advocating to save the lives of women in Iran facing death by stoning.

Mazahery has launched a web site about these women, and has also interviewed the lawyer for Ashraf Kolhari, and the transcript of their talk is posted here.

Please feel free, and I emphatically encourage you, to cut and paste the Supes' resolution, or the information from Mazahery's site, on your own blog or web site. Get the word out that now is the time to open our mouths and say, in loud and clear voices, "No stoning of women!"

Here is Mirkarimi's resolution:

Resolution urging the United States Department of State to condemn the Islamic Republic of Iran’s execution by stoning of Abbas Hajizadeh and Mahboubeh Mohammadi and the impending execution by stoning of Ashraf Kolhari and Malak Ghorbany.

WHEREAS, In May of 2006 it was reported that Abbas Hajizadeh and Mahboubeh Mohammadi were executed by stoning for committing adultery and that more than 100 members of the Revolutionary Guards and Bassij Forces participated in the stoning; and

WHEREAS, Ashraf Kolhari and Malak Ghorbany have been sentenced to death by stoning for committing adultery; and

WHEREAS, Kolhari was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment for participating in the murder of her husband, and she was sentenced to execution by stoning for adultery as a married woman; and

WHEREAS, Kolhari had an extra-marital affair after her divorce request was rejected by the court, reportedly on the basis that she has children; and

WHEREAS, Kolhari is a 37 year-old mother of four children, and Ghorbany is a 34 year-old mother of two young children; and

WHEREAS, Article 83 of the Iranian Penal Code states that the penance for adultery by a married woman with an adult man is execution by stoning; and

WHEREAS, Article 72 of the Iranian Penal Code and Article 4 of the Implementation of Execution Law state that if a person confesses to adultery and repents that the case must be referred to the Parole Commission and that the Judge can ask for pardon by the Supreme Leader; and

WHEREAS, Ashraf Kolhari has reportedly written to Ayatollah Shahroudi, the Head of Judiciary, asking for forgiveness, but there has been no report on Shahroudi considering the request for a pardon; and

WHEREAS, In December 2002 Ayatollah Shahroudi issued a ruling to judges ordering a moratorium on execution by stoning, yet the practice has continued despite the Islamic Republic of Iran’s promise to ban such violent and inhumane forms of punishment; and

WHEREAS, The United Nations Human rights Committee has made clear that treating adultery and fornication as criminal offences do not comply with international human rights standards; and

WHEREAS, Iran is a member of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which has officially called for the banning of stoning and other cruel and inhumane methods of execution; and

WHEREAS, The Board of Supervisors of the City and County of San Francisco has expressed its opposition to the death penalty repeatedly, including endorsing a moratorium on executions in the United States in Resolution No. 632-00 and a moratorium on executions in California in Resolution No. 116-00; and

WHEREAS, On July 22, 2006, the Iranian Embassy in France announced that Malak Ghorbany’s case is being re-evaluated and her original sentence is expected to be revised; and

WHEREAS, That the Iranian government is reconsidering Ghorbany’s case because of international pressure has proven that symbolic statements such as this resolution can have a concrete impact; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the Board of Supervisors of the City and County of San Francisco urges the U.S. State Department to issue a strong condemnation against the Islamic Republic of Iran for its practices of civil and human rights abuses, executions of minors, homosexuals and adulterers, and executions by the barbaric and violent means of public stoning; and, be it

FURTHER RESOLVED, That the Board of Supervisors condemns the criminalization of private, adult consensual sexual relations.

A big thank you to Ross Mirkarimi, the other Supervisors, the many City Hall staffers and the Mayor, who have all expended political capital and energy on behalf of ending all executions in Iran and the USA. Let this resolution from San Francisco be the first of many across the land.
BBC: Germany Grants Asylum to Iranian Lesbian

Finally, some positive news to share about Iranian gays and lesbians. From a report on the BBC web site:

A court in Germany has accepted an Iranian woman's bid for asylum on the grounds that she is a lesbian.

The 27-year-old woman said she would face persecution and isolation if she was sent back to Iran.

The court decided she should stay in Germany and said its ruling set a binding precedent for similar cases [...]

The woman, whose name was not released, had travelled to Germany in September 2003 where she had applied for asylum.

She said she faced the death penalty if she returned to Iran, where homosexuality is against the law.

The Stuttgart court also heard that she faced punishment in Iran because she refused to wear a headscarf.

Let's see if any mainstream news media in America pick up on this story, which I am sure will hit the gay press.

UK TV Video: Iraqi Gays, Child Prostitutes Targeted for Death

The report from the UK's More4 News station about the often deadly problems faced by gays and children forced into prostitution for survival in Iraq, which was written up over the weekend in The Observer, has now been posted on the TV station's web site.

Exiled gay Iraqis living in London are interviewed, details about gays and minors executed by the militias, along with photos of the gays before they were murdered, are part of the TV report.

And More4 News' correspondent Jennifer Copestake also shows a frightening clip from earlier this year, broadcast on Al Jazeera TV, in which a leading Iraqi Muslim cleric endorsed killing and burning gays. I blogged about this back in May.

Click here for the video report, then scroll down for the link to the segment.

If I had my way, this important news account would air on American TV news channels, from local broadcasts to the networks and also all of the cable news channels.

(Photo credit: More4 News. Video image of an Iraqi homosexual being attacked.)

Monday, August 07, 2006

Iran Bans Nobel Peace Laurete Ebadi's Human Rights Group

More bad news on the human rights front from Iran:

Iran has banned a rights group led by the country's 2003 Nobel Peace laureate, Shirin Ebadi. The Interior Ministry said on August 2 that Ebadi's four-year-old Center of Human Rights Defenders failed to obtain a valid operating permit and warned that any related activities could be prosecuted. The center has been an ardent voice for human and minority rights in Iran since its inception. Ebadi, who has been among the Iranian leadership's fiercest critics [...]

Read the full story here.

A reminder is in order at this point. Mrs. Ebadi last year condemned Iran's hanging of two gay teens in Mashad, and she called for an end to the country's practice of executing minors:

Nobel Peace laureate Shirin Ebadi on Saturday condemned the hanging of two teenagers accused of raping younger boys in northeastern Iran, a punishment that also prompted protests by the international community and rights groups [...]

Click here to read the entire Associated Press wire story.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Caption for a photo that ran in the Washington Blade:
At least three men suspected of being gay were gunned down March 20 in the Iraqi city of Ramadi. U.S. forces say they are concerned about the rising number of anti-gay killings in Iraq. (Photo by Bilal Hussein/AP)

UK Observer: Gays Flee Iraq's Death Squads

In a conversation the other day with Andy Humm, the subject of gays in Iraq being targeted by militias came up and we didn't know the status of any organized efforts by gays in the West to help their brothers and sisters in the war-torn country.

Lo, and behold, thanks to a link on the Blade's blog to a fantastically informative story in The Observer across the pond, we're all getting a status report on current conditions for gays and under-age male prostitutes in Iraq, and gays who've fled:

Hardline Islamic insurgent groups in Iraq are targeting a new type of victim with the full protection of Iraqi law, The Observer can reveal. The country is seeing a sudden escalation of brutal attacks on what are being called the 'immorals' - homosexual men and children as young as 11 who have been forced into same-sex prostitution.

There is growing evidence that Shia militias have been killing men suspected of being gay and children who have been sold to criminal gangs to be sexually abused. The threat has led to a rapid increase in the numbers of Iraqi homosexuals now seeking asylum in the UK because it has become impossible for them to live safely in their own country.

Ali Hili runs the Iraqi LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) group out of London. He used to have 40 volunteers in Iraq but says after recent raids by militia in Najaf, Karbala and Basra he has lost contact with half of them. They move to different safe houses to protect their identities, but their work is incredibly dangerous.

Eleven-year-old Ameer Hasoon al-Hasani was kidnapped by policemen from the front of his house last month. He was known in his district to have been forced into prostitution. His father Hassan told me he searched for his son for three days after his abduction, then found him, shot in the head. A copy of the death certificate confirms the cause of death.

Homosexuality is seen as so immoral that it qualifies as an 'honour killing' to murder someone who is gay - and the perpetrator can escape punishment. Section 111 of Iraq's penal code lays out protections for murder when people are acting against Islam [...]

Graphic photos obtained from Baghdad sources too frightened to identify themselves as having known a gay man, and seen by the Observer, show other gay Iraqis who have been executed. One shows two men, suspected of having a relationship, blindfolded with their hands tied behind their backs - guns at the ready behind their heads - awaiting execution. Another picture captured on a mobile phone shows a gay man being beaten to death. Yet another shows a corpse being dragged through the streets after his execution.

One photograph is of the mutilated, burnt body of 38-year-old Karar Oda from Sadr City. He was kidnapped by the Badr Brigade in mid-June. They work with the Ministry of Interior and are the informal armed wing of the Supreme Council of Islamic Revolution in Iraq, who make up the largest Shia bloc in the Iraq parliament. Oda's family were given an arrest warrant signed by the Ministry of Interior which said their son deserved to be arrested and killed for immorality as a homosexual. His body was found ten days later [...]

Ibaa Alawi has also fled Iraq. A former employee at the British embassy in Baghdad, Alawi met Tony Blair on one of his surprise visits to Iraq. He said Blair was concerned about the safety of the Iraqis working there and praised their bravery. 'Tony Blair said the British government was thankful for our efforts and knew we were putting our lives at risk working for the British embassy in Baghdad.'

Alawi is upset the same government is not willing to help him out. He believes the Home Office will refuse him asylum because it would have to face up to the level of chaos in Iraq, and how much influence is being waged by radical Islamists - and face the fact that, for some, there is still no freedom in Iraq.

· Jennifer Copestake's film on homosexual executions in Iraq will be shown on More4 News on August 7 at 8pm.

The site for More4 News is a treasure-trove of video reports from their very-far-flung reporters, but, so far, this UK news site hasn't yet posted the report on gays in Iraq. Once they do, I will link to it.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

BAR: S.F. AIDS Inc Fears Stats Dropping Because of Funding Cuts?

Is the thinking within AIDS Inc so concerned more with executive salaries, jobs and consulting gigs than with drops in AIDS stats that the Bay Area Reporter, in an excellent editorial today, must ask these sort of questions?:

Yet it's been a challenge to get officials from AIDS service organizations and HIV prevention agencies to comment on these latest AIDS statistics. We certainly understand – and reported – that these new numbers DO NOT mean that AIDS is over, or that AIDS cases will dramatically decrease this year. You cannot simply double 205 to predict AIDS cases for the rest of the year, for example. And that is not what we're saying and it's not what the health department report is saying. What these quarterly reports represent, however, is a snapshot of the epidemic at certain periods throughout the year. We know that numbers will continue to come in that will be added to the 2006 figures, and even the 2005 figures because of the reporting delay.

But why the skittishness on the part of AIDS and HIV prevention agencies? Aren't they happy the numbers are down? Don't they want the epidemic to end? [...]

In year 25 of the AIDS epidemic, with both new HIV infections and diagnosed full-blown AIDS cases on the downward slope, such questions must be answered, and the best way to start the dialogue is by insisting that the S.F. health department and AIDS groups convene town hall meetings. But at this moment in time, no public community forums are planned.

The BAR not only published an editorial on this subject, but the paper also ran an extremely informative news story, written by editor Cynthia Laird, on the latest AIDS stats:

The latest numbers for diagnosed AIDS cases in San Francisco show a decline for the first half of 2006, though health department officials emphasized that reporting delays by hospitals, doctors, and clinics likely mean the figures will increase in future reports.

According to the Department of Public Health's Quarterly AIDS Surveillance Report, the number of reported AIDS cases for the first six months of the year stands at 205. Of those, only 43 AIDS cases were actually diagnosed this year, according to the report. There have been 93 deaths reported so far this year [...]

Kudos to Laird and the BAR for bring valuable attention to AIDS epidemiology from the department of health.
Reporters Without Borders: IGLHRC Says July 19 "Great Success"

Tala Dowlatshahi, an Iranian American writer with Reporters Without Borders, has written a fascinating article about gay and lesbian Iranians and the July 19 vigils and actions over the hanging last year of two gay teens in Mashad. When she contacted me, she made it clear one issue she wouldn't deal with in her article was the division between vigil organizers and leaders at Human Rights Watch and IGLHRC. I put her in touch with Doug Ireland and pointed her to his dozens of articles regarding Iran's gay community and the Islamic republic's repression against people with same-sex feelings and inclinations.

Dowlatshahi this morning sent me the link to her story, which I strongly urge you to read, if only to glean her unique perspective on the many conflicting and highly controversial aspects to gay Iranians.

The most surprising part of her reporting is the fact that the head of IGLHRC, who reluctantly agreed to hold a vigil at Iran's U.N. mission, only to back out days before it was to happen, and who certainly didn't expend time or her group's resources publicizing or engaging activists anywhere to organize vigils for July 19, is exclaiming now the events "were a great success." Not only that, but IGLHRC also says the actions last month illustrate how the global community is working on sexual liberation in Iran. Huh?

If this is how IGLHRC honestly feels about the July 19 vigils, why did the executive director exhibit much disrespect for the organizers, goals and demands of the vigils, and will IGLHRC do anything constructive for next year's third-annual international day of commemoration?

From Dowlatshahi's terrific article:

Earlier this month the international community came together to commemorate IDAAHOPI (International Day of Action Against Homophobic Persecution in Iran). Demonstrations took place from Brussels to Chicago, Tehran to Dublin, Moscow to New York, and Florida to the United Kingdom to condemn the 19 July 2005 executions of Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni in the Iranian city of Mashhad. The two young men, both in their late teens, were hanged after the father of a thirteen year old boy who had sex with them charged the boys with rape by knifepoint [...]

Although recent events have placed Amhadinejad and Bush on opposite sides of the fence, the one sure thing they agree on is their campaign to clampdown on the gay and lesbian community. In January this year, Human Rights Watch issued a report condemning the United Nations ban initiated by the Iranian government and strongly supported by the U.S. to stop gay and lesbian groups from gaining consultative status at the United Nations [...]

Lavaat (sodomy) is considered a crime punishable by death as written in the Iranian penal cde. Lesbianism is punishable by 100 lashes. If the act of lesbianism is continued, the death penalty can apply on the fourth occasion under articles 127, 129 and 130. In some cases, women having relations with other women are forced into mental hospitals, beaten by family members or become victims of honor killings.

Under the auspice of Islamic jurisprudence, the Iranian Office of Promotion and Prohibition of Vice is saddled with the responsibility of repressing moral deviance within the Islamic Republic and has been the main persecutor in these sex crime allegations. The warden of good vs. evil, the Office was created as a draconian arm of the Islamic Republic to monitor the public and private activities of Iranians and to ensure moral respectability under Sharia law. The Office has responded swiftly and since 2003, toughened up its death penalty laws, increased public hangings this past year, and opted to uproot all gay underground activities with the intention to sexually sterilize Iranian society [...]

For lesbian women who face grave judgments by community members if they are unmarried and have no prospects for marriage, the Internet becomes a haven and escape for them to dialogue with other women who share similar sexual interests. But often these Internet sites are swiftly shut down or monitored. I tired logging on to the Khanaye Doost (House of Friends), a popular website dedicated to Iranian lesbian women. I only received the prompt: Sorry, Khanaye Doost no longer exists [...]
My friend Hashem, a fashion designer who lives in New York with an American boyfriend, often shares tales with me about his travels to Iran and daily Iranian gay life. He tells me of secret chai (tea) houses in Tehran that are known as hangouts for gay men.

"There's an underground that's really active. Men arrange dates online through secret coded language that the government won't be able to understand. We then meet up at chai houses at all hours of the day where only men are allowed. Sexual glances are often exchanged through teacups." [...]

Paula Ettelbrick, Executive Director of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission in New York told me that the demonstrations commemorating the 19 July anniversary were a great success and showed how the international community is coming together to advocate for the right to sexual freedom in Iran [...]

Ms. Ettelbrick hopes future activities will focus on how to encourage dialogue about these issues within Iran and to promote better understandings of Iranians among the international community, gay or straight [...]

I agree here with Ettelbrick's call for more dialogue and suggest she start the process of more communication and engagement on these concerns, with members of the global gay community who coordinated the July 19 actions.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Castro's Niece is Pro-Gay; HRW Expands Gay Unit

The Castro family of Cuba just can't keep themselves out of the news these days, can they? While Fidel's grappled with failing health, the political ramifications of his medical problems, turning over power to his brother Raul, the dictator's niece Mariela was advocating for equal treatment and respect for gays in Cuba.

From the Montreal Gazette, published July 29:

Mariela Castro preaches revolution, though not the kind her uncle Fidel has ever embraced.

As the head of Cuba's National Centre for Sexual Education, Castro is a vocal supporter of rights for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and the transgendered. That support brought her to Montreal yesterday, to speak at the International Conference on LGBT Human Rights, being held in conjunction with the First World Outgames.

Castro, 43, is the daughter of Raul Castro, Cuba's defence minister and the first in line to succeed 80-year-old dictator Fidel Castro, who has ruled the country for 50 years [...]

"When he wants to vilify an opponent, the first thing Fidel Castro will call him is a maricon (faggot)," said Toronto film editor Ricardo Acosta, a gay man who was expelled from Cuba in 1980 as part of a massive deportation that became known as the Mariel boatlift.

"Perhaps her intentions are good, but until people can express themselves freely in Cuba and have freedom to associate, I won't believe things have changed for gays and lesbians [...]"

"There is no official repression of lesbians and gays in Cuba," she said flatly through a translator. "What remains are social and cultural reactions that must be transformed, the same as in many other countries."

Gays, lesbians and transgendered people still face arrest, she conceded, but that reflects problems with bigoted police.

Cuba's constitution bars discrimination on the basis of sex, race or age, but does not specifically prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual identity. Cuba decriminalized sodomy in 1979 [...]

Life for gay Cubans has certainly improved over the decades, with room for further protections. One thing I'd like to learn more about from Mariela Castro and the gay community in Cuba, relates to the current situation for our brothers and sisters, including those living with HIV or AIDS. I want to hear the voices and read the words of Cuban gays. We need more exchanges with gay advocates and our allies from beyond the USA's borders, especially activists in our hemisphere.

On the subject of respect for the human rights of Cuba's gay, here's what the State Department's 2005 international human rights survey had to say:

Societal discrimination against homosexuals persisted, as police occasionally conducted sweeps in areas where homosexuals congregated, particularly along sections of Havana's waterfront.

The government restricted persons found to be HIV-positive to sanatoriums for treatment and therapy before conditionally releasing them into the community. Even after their release, some persons with HIV/AIDS said the government monitored their movements with a de-facto chaperone to prevent the spread of the illness. HIV/AIDS sufferers also asserted that state medical professionals frequently failed to respect confidentiality, with the result that their condition was known widely throughout their neighborhoods. Some persons with HIV/AIDS said the government only offered them jobs incompatible with their medical condition.

Looking at the slightly larger picture of what Human Rights Watch is doing to expand it's work on behalf of gays worldwide, there's some good news from the head of HRW's gay unit, Scott Long. From Long's email:

Two quick notes. We have a new part-time associate shared between the LGBT Rights Program and the Europe-Central Asia Division, Iwona Zielinska, who begins tomorrow. I'll share her full contact details as well as schedule as soon as we've had the chance to work those out with her and let her settle in for a day or two, but we are obviously very grateful to have her with us.

Second, and very excitingly, after gifts from several dedicated funders, we've just received approval to hire another researcher in the LGBT Rights Program. We should be sending out a job announcement in the next week, and I hope you can help us circulate it to achieve a wide and diverse hiring pool as, after numerous recent successes, our important program continues to grow.

HRW's gay liaison, believe it or not, doesn't have a blog, even though he loves to write and authored a terrific blog for a week from Moscow in May, but not on HRW's site. I believe it would help global gay activism and engage more people if Long finally created a blog and routinely communicated with us, about things like their expanded programs and how folks can contact a government official to advocate on behalf of gay human rights. How about starting a blog, Scottie?