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JUNE 28, 2013
Supreme Court Rules on Two Marriage Equality Cases

On Wednesday, June 26, the Supreme Court ruled on United States v. Windsor (the case against the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA), and Hollingsworth v. Perry (the case against California’s Proposition [Prop] 8). Both decisions were victories for marriage equality, though not without questions. Overall, though, the Court voted to increase rather than restrict equality. The decisions to strike down the central provision of DOMA and uphold the California District Court’s ruling on Prop 8 show a movement in the direction of equality and justice unhindered by religious objection. Both decisions were five to four.

First, it was ruled that the language in the federal Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as between one man and one woman is unconstitutional and discriminatory. This means that the federal government must recognize legally married same sex couples just as heterosexual couples, and that they have all the same rights and privileges granted by the federal government. This has implications for couples who marry in a state with marriage equality but do not live there, as well as for bi-national same sex couples, so the Administration will have to clarify how those couples are affected.

Second, it was ruled that the supporters of Prop 8, which limited marriage in California to opposite sex couples, had no legal standing to appeal the District Court’s decision. The majority opinion states, "We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to. We decline to do so for the first time here." This decision only affects California, but it does mean that same sex marriages will resume there in about a month. This may set a precedent should similar battles arise in other states that have legalized marriage equality.

AIDS United whole-heartedly supports the strides made toward marriage equality and LGBT rights this week. It is an issue of human rights, with a very real impact on health in these communities. HIV is an especially stigmatized disease, and we see that these decisions are a step towards reducing stigma and discrimination again men who have sex with men (MSM) and other members of the LGBT community. It is well documented that HIV-related stigma is a barrier to seeking diagnosis and treatment, and a factor in risk-taking behavior like unprotected sex or sex with multiple partners. Recognition on the federal level of same sex relationships may have a huge impact on stigma and, therefore, on health. Researchers in Massachusetts, for instance, found a 13% drop in health center visits by gay men after the state passed marriage equality laws. This legal recognition at the national level is a huge step toward decreasing stigma, and a big step in the fight against AIDS.

To read more about possible steps forward after these decisions, click here. To read more about the important intersection of HIV, stigma and same-sex marriage, click here.

Now. Then. Now.

By Rob Banaszak, Director of Communications, AIDS United

“This is really happening…”

That’s what I was thinking as I stood on the sunsoaked steps of the Supreme Court on June 26, as SCOTUS’s ruling striking down DOMA came down. The air in front of the Court was thick with hope, and I was in awe of the hundreds of people of all ages, genders, ethnicities and sexual orientations (one of my companions was a straight friend), who were utterly committed to standing in mind-numbing, body-drenching heat be a part of history. I marveled at everyone who was furiously scouring the SCOTUS Blog on their smartphones, or who were eavesdropping on others reading out loud from the blog for news of the decision. I cheered with the crowd when the ruling came out. I must confess, however, that I was a little numb.

Of course I am overjoyed that the Supremes got it right this time! I am thrilled that LGBTQ people are one step closer to being treated as equal citizens under the law. I am excited that the term “gay marriage” is one step closer to being obsolete, as our society begins to recognize “marriage” as the union of two people -- regardless of gender and/or sexual orientation -- who love each other and want to get married.

To read Rob’s entire story, click here.

What the Supreme Court Decisions Mean to Us

By Aldona Martinka, Pedro Zamora Public Policy Fellow, AIDS United

Having just moved to Washington, D.C., to start my fellowship at AIDS United, I still ooh and aah at every building with grand columns and a fancy dome. I still read every statue and monument's plaque when I walk by, even crossing the street to do so. When people walk by with nice suits and looks of intent I imagine grand and important work for them. I could barely contain my excitement when a senator walked past me in one of the tunnels below Capitol Hill. I am still amazed by Washington, D.C.: The home of democracy in the Land of the Free.

Nothing I had experienced in my first ten days here, though, or even really in my life, had prepared me for my favorite DC experience so far. Standing in the sweltering heat, jostled by the jubilant crowd in front of the Supreme Court as news of DOMA's demise exploded through the many supporters of marriage equality. I am so happy for our sometimes misguided, but usually well-meaning, country. This decision reaffirms a commitment to equality that I sometimes question, and shows that, even here, you can't halt progress toward the right thing, you can only delay it. On June 26, the Supreme Court chose to embrace it, and led us by the hand (some of us kicking and screaming) into a still imperfect, but undeniably better, country. I feel so lucky to have been there.

To read more AIDS United staff reactions to the Supreme Court decisions, click here.

HOPWA Recommended for FY2014 Dramatic Cut in House Appropriations Committee and Pre-Sequester Flat Funding in Senate

By Nancy Bernstine, Executive Director, National AIDS Housing Coalition

On Wednesday, June 19, the House Appropriations Subcommittee for Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies (THUD) recommended FY2014 funding levels for the accounts within its jurisdiction, including Housing Opportunities for Persons With AIDS (HOPWA) and the range of low-income housing programs upon which people with HIV/AIDS rely. HOPWA was proposed for funding at $300 million, a startling reduction of $32 million from the FY2013 enacted level of $332 million or a reduction of $15 million from the post-sequester funding level of $315 million. The President’s FY2014 funding recommendation if $335 million.

The HOPWA program funded at its FY2012 program level provides housing and supportive services to over 61,000 households nationwide through grants in 137 formula jurisdictions and an additional 33 competitive grants. Reductions of this magnitude threaten the loss of housing assistance for more than 5,000 households currently served. The cruel irony is that of the 1.2 million persons with HIV/AIDS in the US, about half will need some form of housing assistance during the course of their illness and, as more jurisdictions become eligible for funding, shrinking dollars must be spread farther. Other low income housing programs with which HOPWA works as a gap filler, including HOME and the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), were also brutalized by the Subcommittee.

The Senate THUD Appropriations Subcommittee met on Tuesday, June 25 and approved HOPWA funding at $332 million, flat funding at the FY13 pre-sequester enacted level and $3 million below the President’s request of $335 million. This level was approved at full Committee on Thursday, July 27, signaling a message of strong support.

On Wednesday, June 26, the full House Appropriations Committee met and considered an amendment offered by Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA), Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Representative Mike Quigley (D-IL) to increase HOPWA funding by $35 million with no offset. This would have taken HOPWA up to $335 million, the level the President had requested in his FY14 budget. The amendment was rejected by the Appropriations Committee by voice vote.

Following the rejection of the first amendment, Representatives Lee, Schiff and Quigley introduced a follow-up amendment to restore $3 million to HOPWA with an offset from the HUD Administrative Support Office. This amendment was passed and approved by the Appropriations Committee with a voice vote. The $3 million means that an additional 500 families will be able to apply for and access support from the HOPWA program.

The House THUD Appropriations bill is expected to come to the House floor sometime after the July 4th recess.

Click here to read Representative Lee’s statement on the amendment.

U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Releases Hepatitis C Screening Recommendation

Earlier this week, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) released its Hepatitis C Virus Screening Recommendation, which aligns itself with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Action Plan for the Prevention, Care and Treatment of Viral Hepatitis. The USPSTF recommends screening for those at high risk for Hepatitis C infection, as well as a one-time screening for “Baby Boomers,” those individuals who were born between 1945 and 1965. Baby Boomers account for nearly two-thirds of all chronic Hepatitis C cases, so it is especially important to target this group for screening. 65-75% of those living with Hepatitis B or C are unaware of their infection; increased screening is key to identifying patients early and getting them into treatment. Furthermore, between 25-33% of Americans living with HIV are also living with Hepatitis C. Click here to read more about the recommendation.

Senate Passes Immigration Reform Bill

On Thursday, June 27, in a 68-32 vote, the Senate passed its comprehensive immigration bill, S. 744: The Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act. The bill includes the “border surge” amendment proposed last week by Senators John Hoeven (R-ND) and Bob Corker (R-TN). While this amendment garnered significant Republican support for the bill, its approval meant that no additional amendments could be included in the final Senate bill. While the passage of an immigration reform bill is an historic moment, AIDS United is concerned that the bill lacks measures to ensure health care and safety net program access critical for aspiring citizens. Under the final version of the Senate bill, aspiring citizens will be working, paying fees and taxes and paying into safety net programs for 15 years without being able to access these programs (including Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and Medicare). Furthermore, aspiring citizens would not be eligible for federal subsidies provided by the Affordable Care Act that help make private insurance more affordable for low- and middle-income individuals. The Hatch amendment, which forbade those undocumented individuals who received federally-funded services (including services through community health centers and the Ryan White Program) from accessing the path to citizenship, was not included in the final Senate bill.

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) intends for the House to pursue its own immigration reform strategy rather than take up the Senate bill, but more detailed plans will be released in early July after a brief Congressional recess. AIDS United will urge the House to pursue an immigration reform plan that ensures fair and equitable access to affordable health care options and safety net programs.

Members of Congress Participate in National HIV Testing Day

On June 27, 2013, National HIV Testing Day, Members of Congress took part in a successful testing day event on Capitol Hill with the help of Whitman-Walker Health. Click here to view a collage of Members getting tested. Pictured clockwise, starting from the top left: Representatives Barbara Lee (D-CA), Robin Kelly (D-IL), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Donald Payne Jr. (D-NJ) and David Scott (D-GA).

Announcements

What’s in YOUR HIV Prevention Toolbox?

Attention U.S.-based organizations (including those in the territories) serving lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer/questioning people!You have just TWO days left to make your video to help spread the word about HIV prevention to the young gay and bisexual men that your organizations serve! Participate in AIDS United’s Facebook video contest , “What’s in YOUR HIV Prevention Toolbox?” You could win up to $4,000!

Work with your U.S.-based LGBTQ organization’s staff and/or volunteers to produce a one-minute video that promotes HIV prevention tools and fits the theme, “What’s in your HIV Prevention Toolbox?” Entry submissions will be accepted via AIDS United’s Facebook page June 1 – 30, 2013. The videos from the three organizations with the greatest number of votes at 11:59 p.m. on July 31, 2013, will receive up to $4,000 as an incentive to begin addressing HIV in their regular work.

The “What’s in Your HIV Prevention Toolbox?” video contest is part of our m2MPower initiative, which seeks to halt the rising rates of HIV among gay and bisexual men and other men who have sex with men. The official contest rules and regulations are below. If you have questions you can email HIVtoolbox@aidsunited.org.

What are you waiting for? Start producing your video now! Click here to learn more.


Visit Your Member of Congress in Your District July 1-July 5

The House of Representatives and the Senate will recess for a constituent work week starting this Monday, July 1 until Friday, July 5. This work period provides constituents with an opportunity to contact and meet their elected officials while they are in their home states and districts. AIDS United urges everyone to meet with their elected officials and to let them know about the importance of responding to the domestic HIV epidemic. With all of the new Members of the House it is extremely important that people living with and impacted by HIV explain how their lives are affected by this disease. The Senate Appropriations Committee plans to vote on the federal spending bill that supports Fiscal Year 2014's domestic HIV/AIDS funding in early July, so these meetings are critical!

It’s important for constituents to explain that cuts to the HIV domestic portfolio are not acceptable; cuts to the funding programs for prevention, treatment, and care would have an impact on real people’s lives.

Constituents should also talk to their Member of Congress about the importance of health care reform for people living with HIV/AIDS or those who are vulnerable to HIV transmission.

Constituents can reach their Members of Congress by calling their district offices and scheduling a meeting with the elected officials or their district staff person. Agencies can invite the Member of Congress to visit their AIDS service organization and see their programs in action.

Contact information for your Representative in the House can be found here. A complete list of Senators’ contact information can be found here.


Dr. Laura Cheever Named Associate Administrator for HRSA’s HIV/AIDS Bureau

Dr. Laura Cheever has been selected as the Associate Administrator for the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) HIV/AIDS Bureau. Dr. Cheever has served as the Deputy Associate Administrator for the last ten years, and is responsible for leading the Ryan White Program and HRSA programming for PEPFAR. She has played a key role in developing federal guidelines for HIV care and treatment.


Healthcare.gov Launches New Website

This past week, Healthcare.gov launched its new website in preparation of the nearing October 1, 2013, date, which is when the insurance marketplaces are due to begin enrolling individuals and their families. The new website is much more consumer friendly and allows users to get a sense of insurance coverage options they might be eligible for come October 1. The new website has a 24/7 online chat feature as well as a 24/7 1-800 number that users can call if they have questions about the new marketplaces. Click here to visit the new website.


New Toolkit on Collaboration for the Social Determinants of Health

The Association of Academic Health Centers released an online toolkit to help leaders in health care recognize and understand the health impact of factors such as education, income, and housing, and take action to address them. For more information about the toolkit, please contact Mindy J. McGrath, MPH, Director of Government Relations, Association of Academic Health Centers: (202) 265-9600, mmcgrath@aahcdc.org . More information and resources on social determinants of health can be found on the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation by clicking here.


Email your Republican Members of Congress TODAY to Support the REPEAL HIV Discrimination Act!

Earlier this month was the 32nd anniversary of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) that first identified AIDS. Five patients in Los Angeles were treated for Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia and were the first to be identified in the MMWR with symptoms of what would later be known as AIDS. Thirty-two years later, we finally have the tools, scientific knowledge, and expertise to see the end of HIV.

Despite our wealth of knowledge now, 32 states and 2 U.S. territories still have criminal statutes based on perceived exposure to HIV. H.R. 1843, the REPEAL (‘‘Repeal Existing Policies that Encourage and Allow Legal”) HIV Discrimination Act, is bipartisan legislation that addresses the serious problem of discrimination in the use of criminal and civil commitment laws against those who test positive for HIV. This bill would modernize current criminal law approaches that target people living with HIV for felony charges and severe punishments for behavior that is otherwise legal or that poses no measurable risk of HIV transmission.

The time to sign is NOW. CLICK HERE to email your Republican Member of Congress and encourage her or him to sign on as a cosponsor to the bipartisan REPEAL HIV Discrimination Act! It is crucial to have significant Republican support for this bill before reaching out to Democratic Members. Without strong initial Republican backing, we will be unable to achieve full bipartisan support for this critical issue.


AVAC Accepting Applications for 2014 Advocacy Fellowships

AVAC, Global Advocacy for HIV Prevention, is now accepting applications until August 5, 2013, for their 2014 HIV Prevention Research Advocacy Fellowships. The goal of AVAC’s Advocacy Fellowship is to expand the capacity of advocates and organizations to monitor, support and help shape biomedical HIV prevention research and implementation of proven interventions worldwide. The Advocacy Fellowship is guided by AVAC’s conviction that effective and sustainable advocacy grows out of work that reflects organizational and individual interests, priorities and partnerships.

The Advocacy Fellowship provides support to emerging and mid-career advocates to design and implement advocacy projects focused on biomedical HIV prevention research and implementation activities in their countries and communities. These projects are designed to addresses locally identified gaps and priorities. Fellows receive training, full-time financial support and technical assistance to plan and implement a targeted one-year project within host organizations working in HIV/AIDS and/or advocacy.

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