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National News
Section One
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National News

by Rex Wockner - SGN Contributing Writer

Great Nationwide Kiss-In planned for August 15
A GLBT 'Great Nationwide Kiss-In' is planned for August 15 at 11 a.m. Pacific time, 2 p.m. Eastern time. Organizers include Join The Impact, which organized the 50-state anti-Prop-8 marches last November, bloggers and SitIn4Equality.net.

Recently two men were arrested for kissing in Salt Lake City's Main Street Plaza, which the city sold to the Mormon church 10 years ago. There also was an incident in El Paso, Tex., where five Gay men were kicked out of a taco shop after two of them kissed. Police reportedly threatened to arrest them under the state sodomy law that the U.S. Supreme Court struck down in 2003.

The Salt Lake incident led to two large kiss-ins at Main Street Plaza and a smaller kiss-in at the Mormon temple in San Diego.

Writing at SitIn4Equality.net, blogger David Badash said: "I'll be damned if someone  citizen, neighbor, or the police  thinks they can tell me I can't hold my boyfriend's hand while walking down the street, or kiss him in public. ... Enough is enough. It's time we call these 'peace officers' out. It's time we showed them love can't be stopped. It's time for a nationwide kiss-in."

Kiss-ins have been organized in Athens, Ga. (College Avenue); Atlanta (Piedmont Park); Boston (Boston Common); Chicago (Oak Park Avenue and Lake Street in Oak Park); Cincinnati (5th and Vine); Denver; Edmonton, Alberta (Legislature); Erie, Pa. (courthouse); Fayetteville, Ark. (plaza near Town Center); Hot Springs, Ark.; Houston (Discovery Green); Iowa City (Donnelly's Pub); Irvine, Calif. (Steelhead Brewery); Little Rock; Los Angeles; New York City (Times Square); Parkersburg, W. Va. (City Park); Philadelphia (Love Park); Phoenix (Capitol); Portland, Ore. (Pioneer Courthouse Square); Salt Lake City (Washington Square); San Diego (Manchester Grand Hyatt); San Francisco (Union Square); San Jose (City Hall); Santa Barbara (Pardall Road); Tulsa (621 E. 4th St.); and Washington, D.C. (National Mall between 3rd and 4th streets).

Tentative plans have been announced in 24 other locations from Anchorage to the Northern Mariana Islands to Toronto. For the latest information, see the kiss-in Facebook group at tinyurl.com/no8h7q.

UPDATE: CA decimates AIDS test funding
In an effort to balance California's budget, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger used line-item vetoes July 28 to chop more than $50 million in funding from the state Office of AIDS, including critical funding for HIV viral-load testing.

Schwarzenegger decimated AIDS services across the board, leaving full funding in place only for epidemic surveillance and for the drugs that suppress HIV.

Although the cuts curtailed state funding for HIV-related education (an 80% cut), prevention (80% cut), counseling (70% cut), testing (70%), primary medical care (50%), home care (50%) and housing (20%), one cut stood out in particular: the termination of all funding for the Office of AIDS' Therapeutic Monitoring Program.

For some 35,000 Californians whose HIV care is paid for by the state, that program paid for viral-load testing and drug-resistance testing.

Viral-load testing is required in HIV care, as it is the only way to determine if a particular HIV drug cocktail is working in a given patient. Drug-resistance testing comes into play at various junctures, including when a drug cocktail that had been working stops working in a given patient. The two types of testing guide a doctor in prescribing a cocktail that keeps a patient's viral load undetectable.

Patients whose viral load is undetectable are very unlikely to develop deadly HIV-related infections and are dramatically less infectious than those whose virus is not suppressed.

"These were extraordinarily difficult cuts to make and they are cuts that will have consequences," said Al Lundeen, spokesman for the California Department of Public Health. "More people will become infected."

Office of AIDS Chief Michelle Roland, a doctor who treats HIV patients herself, said the Therapeutic Monitoring Program was funded only by state money and, therefore, the program no longer exists. Across the board, the office's HIV care and support programs now have about half of the funds they had previously, she said.

There are preliminary plans, "which I must emphasize are not final," she said, to combine the remaining, mostly federal funding of various programs into a single allocation "that can be used flexibly to pay for care and support-related services like medical visits, lab tests, medical case management, etc."

"So, while there will no longer be a stand-alone TMP program, there will still be on average about half of the funds that have been available to pay for [our] whole array of services," she said. "Once we figure out how to get this money to the local fiscal agents, they will need to figure out how best to use the money to pay for the most essential services, among them laboratory testing."

"It's not quite as dire as no one will have access, but there will definitely be fewer services for people to access," Roland said.

If some patients no longer have access to viral-load testing or all patients have access to it less often, apart from the impact on an individual's health, "a population that is less successfully virally suppressed is more likely to transmit," Roland acknowledged. "We may see an increase in the HIV rate as a result."

Roland, who co-founded an ACT UP chapter in the 1980s, also lamented the massive reduction in funding for ordinary HIV testing to see if one has become infected.

"There will be fewer people who know their status," she said.

In the final analysis, if some California HIV patients lose access to viral-load testing, they could get sick and die, despite receiving HIV drugs paid for by the state. And, in the interim, they would be more infectious if, for example, a condom broke during sex.

Advocates expressed extreme alarm over the funding cuts.

"Expecting us to provide appropriate medical care to people with HIV and AIDS without the ability to do viral-load testing is like expecting a surgeon to remove a tumor without being allowed to do an X-ray or MRI to determine its location," said Lorri Jean, CEO of the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center. "It's outrageous."

Equality California called Schwarzenegger's elimination of monitoring testing "beyond immoral" and "amazingly stupid."

San Diego blogger Mike Tidmus, who has AIDS and frequently writes about HIV issues, said Schwarzenegger's move also doesn't make sense economically.

"If someone loses access to viral-load testing and their virus becomes active again, they're going to develop an opportunistic infection and end up in an emergency room or hospital bed, costing the state more money," Tidmus said in an interview.

The California Legislature's LGBT Caucus said it was "outraged by the governor's line-item vetoes to eliminate state funds that support critical HIV/AIDS-related programs."

"With the stroke of a pen, he has crippled the Office of AIDS, striking a totally devastating cut to a state-funded infrastructure that took more than two decades to build," the caucus said.

"Given that the governor has chosen to eliminate support for HIV/AIDS early intervention, treatment, education and prevention programs, we wonder how many new HIV infections the governor has projected for this year and next, and whether he really thought through the additional costs, in both fiscal and human terms, these cuts will have on people across this state."

Los Angeles' AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the U.S.' largest AIDS organization, said Schwarzenegger's "heartless act is not only deadly, but guaranteed to cost California taxpayers millions more in the future."

"With HIV testing programs sidelined and the state's ability to prevent new infections stymied, new infections in California will increase  each new infection can mean up to $600,000 in lifetime health care costs," said AHF President Michael Weinstein. "A 100% cut to the Therapeutic Monitoring Program is the definition of penny-wise and pound-foolish  with the ability to monitor the effectiveness of lifesaving AIDS drugs hampered, the state's already cash-strapped AIDS Drug Assistance Program will only end up spending more for drugs."

The CEO of The San Diego LGBT Community Center called the funding cuts "devastating."

"While we all know the state budget is more than a mess, and we knew some HIV/AIDS funding cuts were likely, the depth and scope of the governor's cuts are unfathomable," Delores Jacobs said.

"These cuts will make it extraordinarily difficult to determine whether the medications are working  viral-load testing  or even if someone is positive and might need to begin medications  HIV testing. The cuts also devastate one of the most promising intervention systems  early intervention services for those newly diagnosed  and eliminate all of the few remaining prevention opportunities."

"Governor Schwarzenegger's blue-pen frenzy dismantles a system of care that had become a model, not only for other states, but internationally," Jacobs said.

With assistance from Bill Kelley

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pictures - top: Delores Jacobs
above: Lorri Jean
bottom: Billie Jean King
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