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Reinaldo Arenas

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Born: 1943
Died: 1990

"Mine is not an obedient writing. I think that literature as any art has to be irreverent."
-Reinaldo Arenas

reinaldo_arenas.jpgReinaldo Arenas is an official honoree today for LGBT History Month 2013, which this year has several HIV-positive honorees.

Reinaldo Arenas was a gay Cuban poet, novelist and playwright, whose writing often brought him into conflict with the Communist government. His fictional and nonfictional works discuss the "secret history" of post-revolutionary Cuba, modern colonial dissent, LGBT identity, criticisms of the Catholic Church and other controversial topics.

Despite his short life and on-and-off imprisonment for his views, the author managed to produce a significant body of work, which has received numerous international awards and literary acclaim since his death.

In 1970, the Cuban government labeled Arenas as a "social misfit" and sentenced him to work at a labor camp cutting sugar cane, from where he began to publish his work abroad. In 1974, he was imprisoned as a "counterrevolutionary" for doing so, and survived in jail by helping fellow inmates write letters to wives and lovers, while continuing to smuggle his writing to an international audience. He was released from prison in 1976. In 1980, the author fled from Cuba to the United States, where he continued to write freely until his death.

Arenas committed suicide in 1990 after a long battle with HIV/AIDS. At the time of his death, the writer had five novels under contract as well as a recently finished autobiography, Before Night Falls, which became a New York Times bestseller in 1993 and was adapted into an Academy Award nominated film in 2000.

Go to for more about Arenas and the other honorees.

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As the Twitter hashtag #firstworldproblems underscores, many of the problems we face as people who live in developed countries often seem trivial when compared to those faced by people in developing countries.

That said, our problems are often not so trivial. On the one hand, I'm grateful for having health care insurance that pays for my HIV meds. On the other hand, I'm angry that my insurer forces me to use a specialty mail order pharmacy to provide those HIV meds.

Larry Kramer recently noted his bad experiences with this trend, which is growing in the wrong direction. My opinion is supported by a lawsuit against Blue Cross of California (d.b.a. Anthem Blue Cross) by the advocacy group Consumer Watchdog for just this very thing.

I used to go to a retail pharmacy and be done with it. Now, I have to call every month and be subjected to the most annoying of routines ("that's a tablet to be taken orally" they say and I think "I know, I've taken meds before!"), which wastes 30 minutes that I'll never get back.

Yes, boo-hoo #firstworldproblems and all that. The idiocy of the process is hella horrible, but that's not really the issue (although, as I said, it's hella horrible).

Insurers say it saves them money, but advocates say the savings are at best minimal and at worst a penny wise and a pound foolish. Any tiny savings realized now may be dwarfed by the costs later when patients who are forced to receive their meds this way are harmed in the process. Yes, harmed.

Mix ups in prescriptions, lack of knowledge by service representatives and delays in receiving shipments are just some of the problems with mail order pharmacies that jeopardize health. None of us living with HIV should be subjected to such problems unnecessarily.

The straw that broke my back on this topic happened last week. I was down to a two day supply of meds. I admit that I should've called to refill a day or two earlier, but you know what, I'm human (and you know what, if I could just go to a retail pharmacy, it wouldn't matter).

So, I call. Rush delivery, great. Three days pass, no delivery. I call again Friday night. "It was canceled." WTF? "Rep from wrong department wasn't authorized, so we canceled order." And you were going to tell me when? "Yeah, you should've been called." Yeah.

So, can I get a rush delivery? "No, too late for that." Oh, I see. So fuck me then. When can I get a delivery? "Tuesday." Tuesday? That means being without my meds for at least five days! "Sorry." Yeah.

I spoke to a supervisor to file a formal complaint, although I expect nothing to come from that. I hope that lawsuit in California begins to turn the tide in our favor.

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At My Age

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HeartToday was my first doctor's visit of 2013. Flu shot, check. Draw blood, check. Get scripts, check. So far so good. Then the nurse asks, "How old are you again?" I say, "42" (said as if I was asking, not answering, a question).

She says, "I was just checking your chart and you've never had an EKG. I like to have a baseline, especially at your age." The "at your age" stung a bit, but quickly faded. She was right, of course. I am "at your age" and ever increasingly needing to monitor the effects of aging.

Some HIV meds can contribute to cardiovascular disease. The virus has been tied to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, although the reason isn't clear. Add to those factors the risk factors that everyone faces, heart health is not to be taken lightly by those of us living with HIV.

The assistant who administered the EKG made the experience as easy as possible, including a "40-Year-Old Virgin" joke for good measure. "Him screaming 'Kelly Clarkson' was so funny," she said. I agreed.

(You see, they stick little doodads on you for a bunch of wires from the machine that have to be yanked off, and us hairy folks go "Ow!" when that happens, which brings to mind the scene from that movie when Steve Carell is getting his chest hair waxed, but, as they say, I digress.)

Thankfully, all is good with my heart, for now.

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askmetellme.jpgPublic Health Solutions (PHS) launched its first video in its "HIV Big Deal" series of prevention videos in 2006. "The Morning After" tells the story of Josh, a gay man who believes he needs to get an HIV test.

A study by the nonprofit PHS showed that the video had an impact on behavior among at-risk men who have sex with men. As a result, PHS launched the second video in 2008. "The Test" follows Josh on his HIV test journey.

Then in 2011 PHS launched the third video. "Ask Me, Tell Me" follows Josh as he wrestles with issues of disclosure and safer sex. At the time, they had launched a Spanish-language excerpt. At last, here is a full-length Spanish-language translation.

Watch the video:

(For full disclosure, I participated in the development of the "Ask Me, Tell Me" videos.)

Go to "HIV Big Deal" for more information.

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In 2001, I approached Troy Masters and Paul Schindler, publisher and editor-in-chief, respectively, of LGNY (Lesbian & Gay New York) with a crazy idea: Will you help me launch a bilingual Spanish/English periodical for LGBT Latinos?

After much consideration, Troy and Paul agreed. And so we gave birth to LGNY Latino. Unfortunately, LGNY Latino never found its footing. It was at that time they guided the rebirth of LGNY into Gay City News, which remains a vibrant part of LGBT media.

I was and will always be grateful to Troy and Paul for taking the leap of faith they did with LGNY Latino. I believed -- and still believe -- that producing content specifically for LGBT Latinos is necessary.

presspassq.jpgSo I was extremely satisfied to read the recent top story in Press Pass Q (the newsletter for LGBT media professionals) on more LGBT publications providing Spanish-language content.

Spotlighted in the article are The Rainbow Times in New England and Adelante in Los Angeles, as well as She Magazine and Genre Latino in South Florida.

Also highlighted in a sidebar is Fuerte Men, an online-only publication based in Pittsburgh. (I'd like to give a shout out to another online-only outlet that was not in the article: xQsí Magazine. Thanks for including me in your article earlier this year on HIV stigma.)

Here's an excerpt from the article:

Through interviews with several editors and publishers of LGBT media outlets with Spanish language content, everyone agrees: The needs of the minority within a minority - gay Hispanics - differ from the larger, mainstream Anglo LGBT community.


"The cultural norms for the Hispanic community revolving around sexuality and gender identity are largely influenced by a deep sense of familial pride, religious beliefs, and a fear of dishonoring their family and community," said Puerto Rico-born Gricel Martínez Ocasio, publisher of The Rainbow Times [TRT), a monthly based in Northampton, Mass.

Por ejemplo, "Coming out in the Hispanic world to your Hispanic family is a very different process," said Martínez Ocasio. "If you are lucky, your parents will accept you fairly fast. If not, you will go through a grieving process that could even include being kicked out of your home. We have published in-depth stories, one that included a Hispanic youth who was abandoned by his family at the early age of 14."

Other stories of particular interest to Spanish-speaking readers cover HIV/AIDS prevention and services, immigration and its connection to marriage equality, and legal issues around family creation and adoption.

Special kudos to The Rainbow Times and Genre Latino for spotlighting HIV/AIDS content. I sincerely hope that such efforts continue and expand nationwide.

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latinousa.jpgLatino USA has been heard on public radio since 1992, anchored by award-winning journalist Maria Hinojosa. The weekly radio program reports on the underreported stories of Latinos.

I had the pleasure of listening to a recent Latino USA episode that included two segments I wanted to share.

Hinojosa spoke with Andres Duque, formerly of the Latino Commission on AIDS and currently Blabbeando blogger and Twitter activist extraordinaire with his English-language blog feed and also his Spanish-language Noticias LGBT feed.

They discussed LGBT rights in Latin America, exploring how hate crimes are increasing while LGBT people are increasingly being elected to public office. (Click here to listen to this segment.)

The episode also included a segment on Empoderate, a unique bilingual health center in Washington, DC, that provides HIV/AIDS services to LGBT Latino youth.

Out of the more than 30 LGBT youth centers nationwide, it is one of only a few that specifically caters to Spanish speakers. (Click here to listen to this segment.)

Kudos to Latino USA for recognizing that the stories of LGBT Latinos and Latinos with HIV are indeed among the underreported stories of Latinos nationwide.

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Rapper of the Black Eyed Peas was interviewed in 2011 by Elle magazine, which I just saw. He shares various quirks and pet peeves, but this one stopped me cold:

The-Voice-UK-William-BBC.jpgELLE: If you walked into a woman's house, what one item would convince you that you weren't compatible?

W: If she had condoms in her house, that would just fuckin' throw me off. That's just tacky.

ELLE: Well, okay, I could see if she had a candy bowl full of them on the coffee table. But if she's got a few in a drawer, wouldn't that simply suggest she's health-conscious?

W: I just think, like, if you're into someone and you guys get to that level, then that's something you should converse about together and say, "Hey, maybe we should get some."
Did just say that women need permission from men before they can have condoms? Y'all let me know if I'm wrong. Needless to say, I couldn't disagree more. Having condoms is healthy and sexy. Having condoms is not immoral.

I can't speak for women, but I can certainly speak for myself. As a gay man with HIV, I use condoms. Using condoms does not make me a slut or a pervert. And I don't need permission to use condoms to protect others and myself from harm.

(Hat tip to Lifebeat on Twitter.)

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POZ-045.jpgIn 2010, Olympic champion Greg Louganis told People that he wanted to be on Dancing With The Stars. According to People, he danced as a child and was teased about it. "It would be a blast," Louganis told the magazine.

Somewhere along the way, a Facebook page -- "We want Greg Louganis on Dancing With the Stars" -- was created to encourage the popular celebrity-driven show on ABC to cast Louganis in the next season.

The supporters of the Facebook page got POZ to tweet in support. They even got Perez Hilton to lend his support.

Coming out twice -- as gay and as HIV positive -- is never simple, and it was exponentially more difficult for Louganis. Breaking the Surface, his autobiography, gives a heartwrenching account of the troubles he faced in the coming out process.

I admit that I'm not a regular viewer of DWTS, but I do know that the show appeals to many LGBT folks. And some LGBTs have actually appeared on the show (Chaz Bono, Carson Kressley, Margaret Cho, Lance Bass).

That said, to my knowledge, no openly HIV-positive celebrity has been on DWTS. Louganis would make a great addition to the cast on his own merits, but being a representative of the HIV/AIDS community would make his addition to DWTS that much more special.

So, how about it DWTS? This upcoming season of Celebrity Apprentice will have three celebs fighting to earn prize money for HIV/AIDS groups. DWTS, you have an opportunity to one-up Celebrity Apprentice. Wouldn't that be its own reward, DWTS?!

To read the POZ cover story of Louganis, click here.

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his_way_out.jpgPastor Phillip Lee, founder and executive director of the "ex-gay" His Way Out Ministries of Bakersfield, Calif., wrote an op-ed in the Sunday, Dec. 4, edition of The Bakersfield Californian linking gays with AIDS. Lee is HIV positive and claims to no longer be gay.

From his op-ed:

"While AIDS is not solely a homosexual disease, the disease was confined almost exclusively to homosexuals in the beginning years of the epidemic in the United States. I personally witnessed this horrific tragedy unfold while living in San Francisco, having several personal friends die of AIDS at the beginning stages of what is now a pandemic. Tragically, the reality and threat of AIDS has not stopped men from engaging in unprotected sex and the continued risk-taking by many does not appear to result from a lack of awareness.

"There is, therefore, little to no evidence that homosexual practice can be anything other than a severe threat to the sanctity of life. That said, all efforts should and must continue to better understand and find a cure for AIDS and AIDS-related diseases. However, if the sexual behavior that is fundamental to most homosexual practice constitutes the primary means of transmitting such disease, then it only makes sense for society to do all it can to decrease such behavior, which ultimately protects the sanctity of life." has posted this statement from the newspaper's editorial page director Robert Price explaining the decision to run the op-ed:

"We thought Phillip Lee's perspective as a 'former homosexual' who happens to be HIV-positive, and who lost several friends to AIDS, gave him some standing on the issue, dubious and antiquated as his views might have been. We also thought our consistent editorial positions on gay rights would mean something here...

We do publish opinions we don't agree with ourselves. When we choose to do so, we are almost always pleased to see perspectives of dubious merit answered thoughtfully by others in the community, with the result being a more complete understanding of the issues. I am certain that is happening in this case...

We have already published several letters in response to Lee's op-ed (some also taking us to task for publishing it in the first place) and will publish several more, and we have invited GLAAD to write an op-ed on the subject. Our original thinking here was that we wanted to encourage some conversation on this topic. Well, I guess we succeeded."

The pastor's belief that AIDS justifies suppressing homosexuality--which I completely disagree with--is beside the point in this situation. Anti-gay forces have been using the "gay equals AIDS" equation since AIDS became a pandemic 30 years ago. And they still are today.

What I find little patience for in this situation is the decision by the newspaper to publish the op-ed in the first place.

Being HIV positive and having lost friends to AIDS makes Lee no more qualified to be allowed to advance his "gay equals AIDS" rhetoric than being HIV positive and having lost friends to AIDS would make someone qualified to be allowed to deny HIV causes AIDS.

I doubt that the newspaper would have allowed Lee a platform to deny HIV causes AIDS (at least I bloody well hope so). I see no difference.

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born_this_way.jpgLady Gaga has created the Born This Way Foundation, which will support programs that empower youth.

Here's an excerpt from the statement on her website:

The non-profit charitable organization will lead youth into a braver new society where each individual is accepted and loved as the person they were born to be. BTWF will focus on youth empowerment and equality by addressing issues like self-confidence, well-being, anti-bullying, mentoring and career development and will utilize digital mobilization as one of the means to create positive change.

"My mother and I have initiated a passion project. We call it the Born This Way Foundation. Together we hope to establish a standard of Bravery and Kindness, as well as a community worldwide that protects and nurtures others in the face of bullying and abandonment," said Lady Gaga.

Led and directed by Lady Gaga and her mother Cynthia Germanotta , BTWF will partner with the The John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and The California Endowment, which are both ranked among the top foundations in the country and focus on unique aspects of youth empowerment. The foundation will also partner with the The Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, one of the most cutting edge institutions in the country focusing on the power of the internet as a means to promote change. An advisory board will also be appointed and announced soon.

Additional details concerning the Born This Way Foundation will be announced shortly and the official launch will take place in 2012.
Despite all the recent LGBT civil rights advances, LGBT youth still need as much help as they can get. So, kudos to Lady Gaga for such forward thinking.

One caveat: Since Lady Gaga has already become a proven HIV/AIDS advocate, I do hope that her new foundation addresses the needs of HIV-positive youth, youth at high risk for HIV and youth needing evidence-based sexual education.

Click here to read a blog post by POZ staffer Trenton Straube on how Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" battles HIV.

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