At a ceremony last night, longtime activist, author and playwright Larry Kramer received the first-ever Larry Kramer Activism Award, named for him by GMHC. Kramer helped found GMHC (Gay Men's Health Crisis) in his living room, and his landmark play The Normal Heart tells the story of its founding in the early days of the AIDS epidemic in New York City.
Said Kramer in his acceptance speech:
"Genocide is the deliberate and systematic extermination of a national, racial, political, or ethnic group. Such as gay people. Such as people of color. To date, around the world, an estimated 78 million people have become infected, 39 million of whom have died. When we first became acquainted with HIV there were 41 cases. The main difference between the Larry Kramer who helped to start Gay Men’s Health Crisis in his living room in 1982 and ACT UP in 1987 and the Larry Kramer who stands before you now is that I no longer have any doubt that our government is content, via sins of omission or commission, to allow the extermination of my homosexual population to continue unabated.
"It is talk like this that got the original GMHC board to boot me off and out. It is also talk like this that enabled ACT UP to succeed in getting us our own treatments. These treatments are not good enough but have been good enough to extend our lives. Unfortunately they still come with side effects and they reward their greedy manufacturers with more money than they would make locating the cure that would end this plague."
Mark Ruffalo and Joe Mantello spoke before Kramer came to the podium.
Watch the speech (Kramer begins at 9:30) and read the transcript, AFTER THE JUMP...
Experimental stem cell gene therapy that could act as functional cure for HIV infection has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to move into early human test trials. Unlike other treatments that use healthy stem cells from uninfected donors, this form of therapy uses cells harvested from a positive person’s own body. The stem cells are genetically manipulated to develop into white blood cells that are missing the key cellular receptors that the HIV virus uses to insert its genetic code into healthy cells. The modification effectively models a HIV-positive person’s white blood cells after the cells of people who have a natural resistance to HIV.
After introducing the modified white blood cells into a positive person’s bloodstream, researchers reason, the cells would naturally proliferate, effectively revitalizing their immune system to be able to fend off the virus indefinitely. A small testing pool of 12 volunteers have undergone the therapy in controlled trials being conducted by Calimmune, a California-based pharmaceutical research firm.
The preliminary results have been promising, with uncompromised white blood cells remaining present in test subjects’ bloodstreams for up to four years. In theory, later versions of the treatment would result in permanent rejuvenation of healthy cells after a single round of treatment.
The FDA’s authorization of further tests means that a larger group of people will be able to participate in a future study exploring the therapy’s efficacy. As of now trials are planned for California’s City of Hope medical research center with funding help from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
“This kind of work is too important to just try one method at a time and sit back and wait to see if it is effective,” CIRM board chair Dr. Jonathan Thomas explained to Imperial Valley News. “We have a mission to find treatments for patients in need. By trying several different approaches, taking several shots at goal at the same time if you like, we feel we have a better chance of being successful.”
Thomas Miguel Guerra, a 30 year old man thought to have knowingly exposed a former partner to HIV, has entered a plea of “no contest” in a court hearing for his violation of California’s health code. Guerra is due to be sentenced on the 13th of April and is facing up to six months in prison along with a $1,000 fee. Previously he’d been ordered to cease any and all activity on online social networks commonly used to find sexual partners.
Guerra’s sentencing will be a first for San Diego, said a representative for the Attorney General’s office. While the city had never tried someone for forcible HIV exposure through sex, the representative explained, the Office was confident in its case’s ability to establish a story proving that Guerra knew what he was doing by having unprotected sex with his partner.
Establishing credibility for cases like this is exceedingly difficult given the events at hand. According to Guerra’s former partner, he first entered into a relationship with Guerra in 2013. In an effort to assuage the man’s concerns Guerra assured him that he was, in fact HIV negative. By May of 2013 the man, who had previously been HIV negative, learned that he was newly positive and insisted that the only man he’d been intimate with was Guerra.
Typically this is where these cases fall apart, as Guerra could easily claim that his partner was exposed to the virus from outside of their relationship. The man, however, claims to have been contacted by another man via Facebook informing him that Guerra was positive. The man dug deeper into Guerra’s life and soon found:
"Texts where he's stating he's negative to people then bragging to others about giving people his 'positive load. It's crude, it's...I don't know how someone could treat another individual like that."
Guerra is thought to have knowingly exposed at least 24 other men.
Today is the release of Madonna's 13th studio album, Rebel Heart.
It's also the 33rd year she has been pushing out records, making political and social statements, and generally "causing a commotion" as one of her early tracks so aptly described it.
Part of that commotion was to challenge notions of sexuality and gender, and to battle social oppression. As her music evolved, so did her message, but I think you'll see that in the 26 examples to follow, she has always been there for the LGBT community, more than any other artist of her caliber.
Said Madonna in an early interview for her 1992 documentary Truth or Dare (which is clipped in the video above):
"What I think to be a big problem in the United States and that's homophobia - there's a big section in [Truth or Dare] devoted to that....These things exist in life. I'm only presenting life to people. I'm not presenting anything that probably they're not exposed to in everyday life but maybe they don't want to deal with it. You know, if you keep putting something in somebody's face eventually maybe they can come to terms with it."
At the start of her professional career ten years earlier, the world was facing a new plague, and the devastation it would wreak in the years ahead was unfathomable. Madonna was deeply affected by it.
When I first came up, the whole AIDS epidemic was starting, and the gay community that I experienced from the beginning of my career was mostly — and overwhelmingly — concerned with staying alive. And, also, I felt really aware of the preciousness of life and time. The gay community and people who were HIV-positive were treated so badly, and I was very disturbed by things. But I also saw a lot of love and connection in the gay community at that time.
Like all progress that is made in all marginalized communities or groups, I think after time goes by and you earn certain rights or you break through certain barriers, you could sometimes, maybe, take it for granted what you have now that you didn’t have before. And then that would lead to a certain lack of community, in a way, caring in a way, that I saw before.
Madonna saw several of her mentors and friends (like Martin Burgoyne, pictured) fall to the disease and used her concerts and interviews as forums to combat the stigmatization and myths surrounding HIV and AIDS. So she spoke up. Many, many times.
Other times she fought homophobia by creating visibility for gay people in ways only she could — through performance and video, much of it driven by her understanding that to shock people was a way to generate headlines. Call it selfish, but it still had the end result of putting images in the media that were not there before — images of gay sexuality and power.
She has spoken about how her interest in combating oppression grew over the course of her career:
"I'm aware of sexism, I'm aware of racism, I'm aware of homophobia. I'm aware of all these things.When I started out I didn't go 'okay these are all these things, these subjects that I want to tackle, that I want to make a change about.' But that's sort of the way my life's gone and it's a responsibility that fell in my lap that I actually welcome."
She also spoke about outing and the power of people coming out of the closet (see clip above):
"It's an explosive issue. On the one hand I can see their point of view, the people that want to out people, in saying 'If you people in powerful positions would come out and say that they're gay then the masses or the people that don't understand or the people who have prejudices against homosexuals would get rid of their stereotypes that gay people are perverts or whatever....On the other hand, the other side of the argument is I'll come out when I'm ready to come out...People do have the right to say what they want to say. It's unfortunate that there aren't more outspoken people on gay rights that are in powerful positions. And it's unfortunate that saying somebody's gay is such a frightening thing in the world today, that it's such a frightening concept."
Speaking up for gay rights is not just using the power of the microphone but showing and telling.
Madonna has done much of it over the course of her long and storied career.
The final two virus strains thought to have made the cross-species jump from simians to humans and ultimately developed into HIV-1 have finally been identified. In order to understand the significance of the discovery, it’s important to understand where these two particular strains fall within HIV’s larger virological family tree.
Eight of the most broadly recognized strains of HIV are classified as HIV-2 and are commonly coded A-H. These various strains each sprung from individual human exposures to different strains of SIV (simian immunodeficiency virus) found in the sooty mangabey. As Robbie Gonzalez points out for io9, while there are many different strains of HIV-2, the virus is not commonly observed outside of West African countries and is markedly less virulent than HIV-1.
HIV-1, on the other hand, is far more common globally due to higher virulence and a larger volume of different mutations. Some of the variants like CRF19, an M-class strain, have proven themselves to be markedly more effective at infecting individuals at an accelerated rate. Unlike HIV-2 strains the M and N classes of HIV-1 are thought to have originated from human to chimpanzee contact in areas where the animals are sometimes hunted for consumption. The origin of the O and P classes, however, had proven much more difficult to trace back.
According to a study covered in the most recent issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a team of researchers from the French University of Montpellier have positively identified a link between the O and P classes of HIV and a form of SIV found in gorillas.
“Two fully sequenced gorilla viruses from southwestern Cameroon were very closely related to, and likely represent the source population of, HIV-1 group P,” the study’s abstract explains. “Most of the genome of a third SIVgor strain, from central Cameroon, was very closely related to HIV-1 group O, again pointing to gorillas as the immediate source.”
Pinpointing the organisms in which these two variants of HIV originated, explains the study’s lead virologist Martine Peeters, has allowed her team to more wholly understand the ways in which different HIV strains have had such different evolutionary paths.
In an interview with The New York Times Peeters lays out her team’s theory that gorilla-sourced strains of HIV were met with more biological barriers to entry--making it less prevalent in the human population--purely by chance:
“So why did the chimpanzee S.I.V. lead to a worldwide epidemic, while S.I.V. from gorillas morphed into a human virus that remained in one small country?
Both viruses then adapted to their new hosts. The human immune system can stop viruses like H.I.V. with a protein called tetherin, which links newly made viruses to the cell in which they formed. The “tethered” viruses are unable to escape to infect a new cell.
In their new study, Dr. Peeters and her colleagues found that the chimpanzee and gorilla viruses evolved different strategies for attacking tetherin. But only one got an excellent opportunity to spread.”
We could prevent the vast majority of new infections tomorrow by improving the health of people living with HIV today.
Improving health includes:
[I]n addition to antiretroviral therapy, HIV care should include risk reduction counseling on how to protect their partners, screening and treatment for other sexually transmitted infections, and treatment for mental health and substance use disorders.
All ya gotta do is TUG: Take PrEP; Use a condom; Get tested. End HIV.
Watch a video from the CDC on how we can prevent the vast majority of new HIV infections, AFTER THE JUMP...