Touching new Starbucks ad is about a trans teen changing his name

James grabs the Starbucks cup with his name on it

James grabs the Starbucks cup with his name on itPhoto: YouTube screenshot/Starbucks UK

A new Starbucks ad follows a trans boy as he starts going by his new name.


The ad will air on television in the U.K. and online, and it’s part of a partnership with the U.K. transgender youth organization Mermaids. The chain will sell limited-edition mermaid cookies to raise up to £100,000 ($130,000) for the group.

In the ad, which is part of the “What’s your name?” campaign for Starbucks, a trans teen named James keeps on getting called by his deadname – at the doctor’s office, on his student ID card, by family.

At the end of the ad, James goes to Starbucks, where an employee asks him what his name is.

“It’s James,” he responds, and the employee writes it on the cup.

People on Twitter loved the ad. Some transgender people reminisced about the first time they used their name at Starbucks.

At Starbucks, writing your name on a cup and calling it out is a symbol of our warm welcome. Starbucks welcomes you, whoever you are. Find out more at 

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Rachel Harper@Harperexpress

This was from 2 years ago at Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam. It was such a beautifully written confirmation of who I am.Fab to see @Mermaids_Gender being supported👍

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When will the mermaids cookie be available to buy? Also love this campaign so much, especially as I did this myself when trying to find a new name. Thank you @Mermaids_Gender

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leo the hamster dad 🐹@sipping_theT

As someone who is trans I can’t express how much this campaign means. Loved to know when the cookie is available!

At Starbucks, writing your name on a cup and calling it out is a symbol of our warm welcome. Starbucks welcomes you, whoever you are. Find out more at 

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Michael Odhiambo, an HIV adherence counsellor, examines an HIV-positive patient at the IOM treatment centre in Nairobi in November.



After 40 years, despite breakthroughs in the treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS, Canadian scientists working in Kenya are still up against a stubborn roadblock: How do you encourage people to get tested for HIV?

“On paper, we have the means of dealing with the epidemic. But in practice, it is very different,” said Larry Gelmon, an associate professor at the University of Manitoba and director of the university’s program in Kenya. “We have the solutions. The research issues [now] are how do you get those solutions to the people who need them?”

Scientists from Winnipeg are gathering in Nairobi this week, marking the 40th anniversary of a research partnership, initially established between the University of Manitoba and the University of Nairobi before the world became aware of HIV/AIDS to try to control sexually transmitted infections in Kenya. That partnership, called the University of Manitoba-University of Nairobi Collaborative Research Program, grew to include researchers from the United States, Belgium and other Canadian universities, and it turned its attention to HIV/AIDS as the disease swept Africa in the 1980s.

The group’s work is far from over. In 2018, 25.7 million people were living with HIV in Africa and 1.1 million were infected that year, accounting for two-thirds of new HIV infections globally, according to the World Health Organization.

Over the decades, Dr. Gelmon said, the focus of the research collaborative has shifted from learning about HIV in the 1980s to trying to find a way to create a vaccine in the 1990s, which was unsuccessful. Since then, he said, it has focused on the social and cultural issues hindering the prevention and treatment of infection.

With the right medications, people with HIV can now live long lives. Although the death toll has plunged in Africa and around the world, the WHO estimates 470,000 people in Africa died of HIV-related causes in 2018 – more than 60 per cent of the estimated 770,000 deaths globally that year.

“A lot of the stigma and prejudice that prevented people from getting tested 30 years ago is still happening,” Dr. Gelmon said, adding that even though treatment is now available, many are hesitant to be treated because they do not want others to know they are HIV-positive.

For sex workers, anti-retroviral medications can be taken before having sex as a pre-exposure prophylactic to protect themselves, he added, but they are often reluctant to carry the pills for fear others will assume they are infected.

“So, to a large extent, the research that we’re doing now is how do you get people to get tested? How do you encourage them, if they’re on treatment, to stay on their treatment?” he said.

This involves various qualitative, operational research projects aimed at trying to figure out the best way to implement treatments and preventative measures beyond the laboratory and clinical settings. For instance, the group is working with sex workers in Nairobi to provide peer education, conduct HIV testing and hand out condoms in the places where they work, such as bars, clubs, hotels and bus stops.

Researchers are also working on new methods to prevent infection that are accessible and could be readily adopted. For example, building upon decades of the group’s research, Keith Fowke, head of the University of Manitoba’s department of medical microbiology and infectious diseases, is testing the use of a low daily dose of aspirin to block inflammation, as a way of preventing HIV target cells from getting into the genital tract.

Taking a pill every day would not be ideal for everyone, Dr. Fowke said. But for women at high risk of exposure to the virus, particularly sex workers, the common anti-inflammatory drug could turn out be an affordable, socially acceptable prevention tool they could add to their arsenal, he said.

Meanwhile, researchers have not abandoned their efforts to develop a vaccine or a cure.


What’s the Skinny on Bone Health for People With HIV?

Researchers have called for revised treatment guidelines to address the higher risk of fracture in the HIV population.

Bone mineral density (BMD) loss alone doesn’t explain why people with HIV have a higher rate of bone fractures compared with the general population. Considering this along with the various established ways of mitigating the risk of broken bones, including therapies to treat and prevent osteoporosis and switching antiretroviral (ARV) regimens, the Danish authors of a new systematic review and meta-analysis recommend more proactive guidelines for preventing bone loss and fractures among HIV-positive individuals.

Along with cardiovascular disease (CVD), cognitive impairment and cancer, bone loss is among the numerous health challenges becoming increasingly important for people with HIV and their clinicians to focus on as the first generation of people living with the virus progresses into old age.

Jakob Starup-Linde, PhD, of the department of endocrinology and internal medicine at Aarhus University Hospital in Denmark, led a research team that conducted a systematic review of 142 published studies that compared fracture risk between people with and without HIV. The investigators also conducted a meta-analysis of 87 of those papers. Their findings were published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes.

Compared with HIV-negative control subjects in the studies analyzed, people with HIV had a 1.5-fold increased risk of any fracture and a fourfold increased risk of a fracture related to fragility—that is, bone breaks not caused by traumatic injuries.

Reductions in BMD, the study authors found, explained only 15% of the increased risk of fragility fractures. “These findings,” they wrote, “underline a bone deficiency in PLHIV [people living with HIV] besides what is reflected in BMD.”

In the studies included in the analysis, BMD was assessed at the hip, lumbar spine or both using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry, otherwise known as a DEXA scan.

After HIV-positive study participants started ARV treatment for the first time, they experienced rapid declines in BMD. During the first year, this decline was comparable between those taking tenofovir disoproxil fumarate (TDF), the older version of tenofovir, versus those taking regimens that do not include that drug. However, during the second year of treatment, the decline in BMD stabilized in people with HIV as a whole, while among those on TDF, there was a 0.67% decline at the lumbar spine and a 0.35% decline at the hip.

TDF, sold under the brand name Viread, is also used as a treatment for hepatitis B virus (HBV). The drug is included in the ARV combination tablets Atripla, Complera, Delstrigo, Symfi, Symfi Lo, Stribild, Cimduo and Truvada. It has long been established that TDF is associated with declines in BMD as well as detrimental change in biomarkers associated with kidney function. Nevertheless, because of the drug’s otherwise high level of tolerability as well as low toxicity and high potency compared with other ARVs in its drug class, TDF was for many years the most commonly prescribed HIV medication.

Gilead Sciences, which manufactures TDF, has in recent years rolled out a new version of the drug, called tenofovir alafenamide (TAF), which is associated with lower bone loss as well as improved kidney health. TAF, which is sold under the brand name Vemlidy as an HBV treatment, is included in the Biktarvy, Genvoya, Odefsey, Symtuza and Descovy combo tablets.

Recently, another group of researchers conducted an analysis of 11 trials and found that TAF’s bone-related superior safety over TDF was significant only when TAF and TDF were paired with a “booster,” either Tybost (cobicistat) or Norvir (ritonavir). (Boosters are medications that have no therapeutic function but boost the levels of other ARVs in the blood.)

Nevertheless, the new systematic review and meta-analysis found that over 48 weeks, treatment with TAF or abacavir (sold as Ziagen and included in the Triumeq combo pill) was indeed superior to TDF in terms of preservation of BMD. (This analysis did not differentiate those outcomes based on whether individuals took a booster.) The gap in bone loss progression between TDF and TAF continued to widen through 96 weeks of treatment and then stabilized through 144 weeks. As for TDF versus abacavir head-to-head, the difference in BMD seen at 48 weeks remained stable through 96 weeks of treatment.

“Other factors than HIV may explain the increased fracture risk in PLHIV,” the study authors noted. They pointed to the high rate of HBV and hepatitis C virus (HCV) coinfections among people with HIV and noted that each hepatitis virus has been established as independently associated with an increased risk of bone fractures.

“Awareness of osteoporosis in hepatitis B– or C–coinfected PLHIV is therefore warranted,” the investigators concluded.

Possibly because of the reduction in muscle mass that the virus can cause, people living with HIV are also at an increased risk of falls as they age, which may in turn put them at risk of fractures. Fall-driven fractures in old age in turn put people at an elevated risk of developing frailty, which itself puts indiviudals at high risk of death.

Osteoporosis treatments, the review and meta-analysis indicated, can have a significant impact on BMD in people with HIV. The drug alendronate (Fosamax), for example, increased BMD at the lumbar spine by 3.5%, although its effect on the hip was unclear.

While there has been less research into zoledronate (Reclast), available evidence indicates that its BMD-boosting effects among people on ARVs can last through seven years of follow-up. A single dose of that drug neuralized the decrease in BMD that people starting ARVs for the first time otherwise would have experienced.

Among those taking TDF, zoledronate provided better protection against BMD loss compared with switching to a regimen that did not contain that ARV.

In response to an additional analysis they conducted of numerous global guidelines for bone care among people with HIV, the paper’s authors urged more prompt diagnosis and treatment of osteoporosis in this population. Driving their concern was the fact that the increased rate of fractures seen in HIV-positive people compared with their HIV-negative peers starts at a relatively young age. The overall disparity is only expected to widen as increasing numbers of individuals with the virus surpass age 60. Additionally, among those study participants with the virus who were younger than 40, their BMD percentage decrease over time was similar to the rate of decline seen in their older counterparts.

Given how the BMD of people with HIV as well as their FRAX score—a standard measure of osteoporosis-related fracture risk—underpredict their risk of fractures, the paper’s authors recommended that osteoporosis prevention for this population should possibly begin when individuals have a T-score higher than -2.5. (A T-score indicates the density of an individual’s bones compared with the density of those of a healthy 30-year-old.)

The paper’s authors made a comparison to the stepped-up bone-health prevention efforts that are recommended for people treated with glucocorticoid medications. As is apparently the case with HIV, glucocorticoids such as hydrocortisone or prednisone increase the risk of fracture beyond what reductions of BMD are expected to do. For individuals taking glucocorticoids, osteoporosis treatment is recommended when they have a T-score of just -1.0 or -1.5.

The authors also recommended that HIV primary care include routine DEXA scans and that health care providers offer their patients information about how to promote healthy bones through lifestyle choices. Such bone health–promoting behaviors include quitting smoking, reducing the use of alcohol, eating a healthy diet that includes sufficient calcium and vitamin D and exercising regularly. Physicians should also screen for risk factors associated with falls, including low blood pressure after standing up (orthostatic hypotension).

For those age 40 or older with a T-score at the spine or hip below -1.5, the researchers suggested switching off of regimens that contain TDF. If there are other fracture risk factors, zoledronate or alendronate treatment to prevent osteoporosis should be initiated. Zoledronate, in particular, is not just more effective at treating bone loss compared with switching ARVs, it also doesn’t need to be taken routinely like alendronate and thus doesn’t run the risk of being compromised by an individual’s lack of adherence to the regimen.

“In conclusion,” the study authors wrote, “fracture risk is increased in PLHIV and is not sufficiently explained by BMD reduction. New fracture predictors are needed in PLHIV, and BMD and bone microarchitecture should be investigated further. As the fracture risk is increased, we recommend optimization of current guidelines with earlier initiation of osteoporosis prophylaxis and treatment.”

Author:  Benjamin Ryan


Everything you need to know about conversion therapy in Canada

What the practice is, where it’s banned and what the government is doing about it

In the final moments of the last decade, as most Canadians drafted a list of new year resolutions, newly re-elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was doing the same. Mid-December, his office issued a series of mandate letters to recently appointed cabinet members—marching orders for the country’s top political decision-makers.

Tucked neatly in the middle of Minister of Justice and Attorney General David Lametti’s to-do list: “…Ban the practice of conversion therapy and take other steps required with the provinces and territories to end conversion therapy in Canada.”

Before the Crown’s chief lawyer weigh in on this issue, here’s everything you need to know about conversion therapy in the country.

What is conversion therapy?

Sometimes called “reparative therapy” or to some, “reintegrative therapy,” conversion therapy is an organized, sustained effort to change someone’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

The practice takes many forms: Participants might be encouraged through prayer and counselling to reject their feelings of same-sex attraction or their gender identity. They may roleplay romantic relationships with the opposite sex, or be forced to dress and behave in the most traditional expression of their assigned gender. In the most extreme forms, abusive punishments are meted out: People are given electric shocks or are forced to vomit if they become aroused when shown homosexual imagery.

In recent years, films like Boy Erased and The Miseducation of Cameron Post introduced the practice to a wider audience. The films were inspired by real-life cases of adolescents who were brought to camps and told their sexuality or gender identity was a disorder, sin or disease that must be fixed, cured or healed.

There is international consensus in the medical community that you cannot change your sexuality or gender identity, and any attempts to do so can be traumatizing. In 2015, the Canadian Psychological Association said that conversion therapy leads to “anxiety, depression, negative self-image and a feeling of personal failure.” In 2012, the World Health Organization classified conversion therapies as “unjustifiable practices that should be denounced and subject to adequate sanctions and penalties.” Similar statements have been made by dozens more professional organizations, as well as by survivors of the practice.

As Peter Gajdics, a writer and survivor of conversion therapy in Canada, puts it: “The truth of the matter is that practitioners of conversion therapies—whether religious-based or, as in my case, secular—prey on the vulnerable and those in need of relief from suffering by turning the desire to belong into a desire to change one’s sexuality.”

Is conversion therapy really happening in Canada?

That’s a question Canadian researchers and advocates are trying to answer more accurately.

“From studies conducted in the U.S., we know that as many as 20 percent of LGBTQ2 people have experienced conversion therapy and, until recently, similar data were not available in Canada,” says Travis Salway, a professor at Simon Fraser University. He is working with the Community-Based Research Centre (CBRC) to learn more about conversion therapy’s reach in Canada, and says community-led projects like CBRC’s Sex Now Survey and the Trans Pulse Survey are working to eliminate this blind spot. Taking from previous Sex Now results, he estimates as many as 20,000 Canadians have experienced some form of conversion therapy.

“20,000 is a low-ball estimate, too,” Salway says.

If we close conversion therapy camps across the country, we solve the problem, right?

Unfortunately, no. While stories from camps and other day programs are poignant examples of conversion therapy, advocates have recently begun using the term SOGIECE (sexual orientation and gender identity and expression change efforts) to describe a much broader set of practices that do just as much harm.

What is SOGIECE?

Pronounced “soj-eese,” the term stands for “sexual orientation and gender identity and expression change efforts.” Think about a teenager confiding in a coach or teacher about their sexual orientation, only to then be advised on how to “stay straight.” Or a counsellor who, after learning about a client’s true gender identity, advises them against exploring it further. Neither of these examples involve a conversion therapy organization but can be just as damaging.

“SOGIECE occurs in many different contexts: Doctor’s offices, church basements, in camps and in our own homes, and any legislation needs to stop the harm in any and all situations,” says Erika Muse, a trans writer and activist from Hamilton.

Muse, a survivor of conversion therapy herself, began speaking about her experiences when she became involved in developing a bill that would ban the practice in Ontario. As the province’s elected officials debated the legislation, she spoke about an eight-year-long struggle to receive treatment to ease her transition, such as puberty blockers and other hormonal interventions. Rather than receive the care that she asked for, Muse says doctors and psychiatrists who saw her gender identity as a mental health challenge to overcome delayed prescribing her treatments.

“Sessions were not therapeutic, but abusive,” she says. “They led to trauma about my body and a lack of faith in myself. I left feeling violated and hurt.”

How can the federal government enact change if education, healthcare and childcare are the responsibility of the provinces and territories?

Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada David Lametti responds to a question during Question Period in the House of Commons on June 17, 2019 in Ottawa.The federal government is urging all provincial governments to put an end to conversion therapy as it looks at changes to the Criminal Code. Credit: The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld

Elected officials have tried to pass the buck before. In March 2019, the Trudeau government rejected an 18,000-signature petition to ban conversion therapy for minors tabled by NDP MP Sheri Benson. Their reason: Conversion therapy was deemed a provincial and territorial issue.

Many activists disagree. “There is no question that conversion therapy prohibition falls within the federal government’s mandate,” says Nicholas Schiavo, the founder of No Conversion Canada, a national, non-partisan coalition dedicated solely to banning the practice. “Canada’s constitution spells out the government’s responsibility to protect every individual without discrimination. Despite being a leader on some LGBTQ2 issues, Canada is lagging behind its peers in protecting individuals from this abuse.”

Schiavo adds that all levels of government have important roles to play when it comes to ending SOGIECE in Canada. Municipal governments can amend existing, or create new, bylaws around safety and business regulations relating to SOGIECE. Provinces and territories can ensure no licensed health practitioner or mental health provider can provide SOGIECE. They can also change laws to allow social workers to intervene to prevent SOGIECE-related harm in a minor’s life.

Perhaps most importantly, the federal government can make amendments to the Criminal Code of Canada to ensure that anyone who practices conversion therapy, no matter where it is conducted, will be committing a criminal offence and face fines or jail time, Schiavo says.

Where is conversion therapy currently banned in Canada?

What other countries are tackling the issue of conversion therapy, and how?

A number of countries have taken legislative action against conversion therapy, and many more are tackling the issue at a regional level.

“Conversion therapy bans are not novel—there are dozens of jurisdictions around the world who have already taken action to outlaw this barbaric act,” Schiavo adds.

Malta, for instance, has one of the most far-reaching laws. Anyone who tries to “change, repress or eliminate a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression” will be fined or jailed. This includes a provision that enshrines in law that sexual and gender variations should never be portrayed as a disorder, disease or shortcoming.

Another example is German legislation that makes it clear that parents or legal guardians who attempt to “cure” their children could face punishment for gross violations of their duty of care.

What if someone willingly undergoes SOGIECE?

This is an argument commonly used by organizations running SOGIECE. For example, Vancouver-based Journey Canada says it does not practise conversion therapy because it focuses on reducing same-sex actions, not same-sex attraction.

But this is just a rhetorical side-step that ignores what the program is promoting: that a healthy life, relationship and family can only be built between a man and a woman. In 2018, the organization ministered this message to more than 9,100 people in 39 cities across Canada, according to its annual report.

What if someone’s religion supports SOGIECE?

Places that ban SOGIECE have had their laws tested in courts as a violation of religious freedom or freedom of expression. However to date, all of these laws have been upheld—including by the U.S. Supreme Court.

While the Canadian constitution does protect a person’s right to religion and free expression, there are limits. Think back to 2018, when Canada’s Supreme Court ruled in favour of “proportionate and reasonable” limits to religious rights in order to ensure open access for LGBTQ2 students at an evangelical university.

Moreover, many faith leaders are among those who condemn conversion therapy—including the more than 350 Canadian pastors who have signed on to the pledge “Pastors Stopping the Harm.”

Pressure from coaches, teachers or parents sounds pretty informal and discreet. Is a ban really going to help?

While bans are important, necessary parts of reducing the reach of organizations that conduct SOCIEGE, their limitations should be considered.

For instance, bans do little to help the thousands of SOGIECE survivors who are struggling today.

“Providing support and funding for survivors is a necessary part of any legislation,” Erika Muse says. “Many of us are traumatized, our lives significantly wounded or halted, and we need help moving forward and becoming whole again.”

One of the reasons people are pushed by their parents or other authority figures into SOGIECE is because to them, the idea of living a happy, healthy life is incompatible with their understanding of other sexualities or gender identities. To fight that flawed perception, governments can support campaigns or groups that affirm sexual and gender minorities.

To be most effective, Canada needs to attack this issue from all sides—with bans limiting the reach of SOGIECE through legal interventions, support for survivors to aid in recovery and publicly funded campaigns to help people see that there is nothing to fix when it comes to queer people. Because there is nothing broken.



Everything you need to know about conversion therapy in Canada

The Lost Men: Gay Men Who Survived the Plague and AIDS Survivor Syndrome

Imagine being in the prime of your life and living a fun and newly liberated existence and then in a matter of years having that stolen from you as you watch your friends die one by one constantly  wondering if you will be next. Living through that pain, fear and heartache day in and day out for over a decade. Now fast forward 25 years later.  Despite surviving the living hell on earth that you endured there are very few who understand or even comprehend what you feel except for a small majority of fellow survivors.  You are constantly haunted by those black days and the ghosts and memories of those you loved and  lost.  You are filled with a guilt of having survived while all those around you were snatched from this world.

This is AIDS Survivor Syndrome.

AIDS Survivor Syndrome describes the spectrum of sustained trauma survivorship. It is psychological state resulting from living through HIV/AIDS pandemic affecting those who made it through the plague unscathed and those who became HIV-positive in the 1980s and 1990s, when having HIV was considered a terminal diagnosis.

AIDS Survivor Syndrome is not PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).  It is a “syndemic” of psycho-social health issues that exists on a spectrum. It varies by degrees of intensity, and it affects those who survived the worst decades of HIV.  The sustained accumulation of trauma from living through the early decades of the disease distinguishes AIDS Survivor Syndrome from the more commonly known Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), in which trauma typically involves a single event or events of limited duration. PTSD is misdiagnosis or a partial diagnosis at best.

What signs and symptoms define AIDS Survivor Syndrome?

· Depression
· Lack of Future Orientation
· Panic from Unexpected Older Age
· Suicidality
· Sexual risk-taking
· Self-destructive Behavior
· Substance Abuse
· Social Withdrawal & Isolation
· Persistent Negative Thoughts like Deep Regret and overwhelming Shame
· Survivor’s Guilt
· Cognitive Impairment Such as Poor Concentration and Loss of Immediate memory
· Loss of Ability to Enjoy Life or Anhedonia
· Deep Sadness
· Emotional Numbness
· Anxiety & Nervousness
· Irritability or Flashes of Anger
· Difficulty Falling Asleep or Staying Asleep
· Nightmares
· Personality Changes
· Feeling Tense, “On Guard” or Hypervigilance.
· Low Self-Esteem & Self-Worth
· Sense of Hopelessness
· Irritability
· Self-Stigma

Many older gay men who came though the plague years unscathed suffer from severe survivor guilt and anger which  is common among survivors of natural disasters, combat, and epidemics. It refers to the feeling that many survivors have that they have done something wrong in surviving when others did not.. This is something that a community as a whole needs to be aware and understand because only with support and understanding can this condition be treated.  The demonization of the older LGBT community by the younger community also adds extra weight to the depression and other issues that long term AIDS Survivor Syndrome sufferers experience.

There are few published studies looking into AIDS Survivor Syndrome. However, in recent years, LTS themselves have begun to come together and share about their lives in the aftermath of the epidemic’s darkest years. The evidence that a particular condition has been affecting them is too overwhelming to ignore. Unfortunately, few published studies means few health care providers or therapists are aware of the signs that an individual is experiencing. So we as a community must be aware of this condition and lend support to those suffering this syndrome, like myself.

I have seen my darkest days.  Friends dying one by one.  And to this day I wonder why I was spared when others were not. And there are many more gay men out there like myself who although we survived those black years we will always be haunted by them and have to live with the memories until the day we die and see our friends once again.

Author: Will Kohler  


The Lost Men: Gay Men Who Survived the Plague and AIDS Survivor Syndrome

Dr. Frank Plummer


Mourning the loss of Dr. Francis Plummer, OC OM FRSC, (MD/76)

The University of Manitoba community is in mourning with the sad news that Dr. Francis Plummer, OC OM FRSC, (MD/76), a world-renowned scientist, academic and HIV/AIDS researcher, has passed away at the age of 67 in Nairobi, Kenya, where he was visiting in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Manitoba/Kenya research collaboration.

UM alumnus Dr. Francis Plummer was a University of Manitoba Distinguished Professor of medical microbiology, Distinguished Professor Emeritus and former Canada Research Chair in Resistance and Susceptibility to Infections. He served as senior scientific advisor of the Public Health Agency of Canada, director general of the Centre for Infectious Disease Prevention and Control in Ottawa, and as scientific director general of the National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg.

“The work of Dr. Frank Plummer has had a tremendous impact on global public health, and he was a prime example of dedication and passion in one’s profession,” says Dr. David Barnard, UM president and vice-chancellor. “He was admired and regarded highly by academics and researchers around the world, and his legacy of seeking to develop an HIV vaccine remains one of the landmarks of infectious disease prevention.”

Perhaps the most widely known scientific contribution from Dr. Plummer is how he unravelled the mystery surrounding a particular group of women in Kenya who possessed natural immunity to HIV-1, the virus that leads to AIDS. The research focused on their immune systems and genetics to identify the basis for this resistance, and the project provided vital new information for HIV vaccine and drug development. Today, global interventions and campaigns have been built on his work.

Dr. Digvir Jayas, vice-president (research and international) and Distinguished Professor of the University of Manitoba, notes: “Dr. Frank Plummer was an outstanding scientist who contributed to many firsts in the HIV/AIDS research field. His contributions have had a cumulative global impact on saving the lives of tens of thousands of people for decades and also improving the lives of HIV-positive people around the world. He leaves a legacy to be celebrated and cherished by the UM and HIV/AIDS research community.”

Dr. Plummer’s honours were numerous and impressive, including having been made an Officer of the Order of Canada and given the Order of Manitoba. His awards include the McLaughlin Medal of the Royal Society of Canada, the Prix Galien Research Award, the Canada Gairdner Wightman Award for his groundbreaking research in Africa in understanding HIV transmission and his leadership at the Canadian National Microbiology Laboratory with pivotal roles in SARS, influenza and Ebola epidemics, and the Killam Prize from the Canada Council for the Arts. Dr. Plummer was also the most recent recipient of the prestigious Flavelle Medal by the Royal Society of Canada in 2018, for a decade of outstanding contributions to biological science.

“Frank Plummer’s contributions to public health on a global scale were immense. Today we lost a giant,” says Dr. Brian Postl, dean, Rady Faculty of Health Sciences and vice-provost (health sciences) and a fellow classmate of Plummer at UM. “Back in medical school, Frank was clearly a creative thinker and amongst our accomplished MD Class of 1976, distinguished himself as a true leader and visionary.”

Dr. Keith Fowke, head, medical microbiology & infectious diseases, was a student of Dr. Plummer, who remembers him as a mentor. He says: “Frank’s work was highly innovative and saved hundreds of thousands of lives. He was an outstanding and world-class researcher who was a dear colleague, mentor and friend to many of us lucky enough to work with him, and beside him. He will be dearly missed by us all in the academic and scientific community.”

Dr. Allan Ronald, Dr. Frank Plummer and Dr. Keith Fowke at a January 2020 event marking the 40th anniversary of the University of Manitoba's research partnership with the University of Nairobi. // Image from Jo Kennelly


Research at the University of Manitoba is partially supported by funding from the Government of Canada Research Support Fund.


Mourning the loss of Dr. Francis Plummer, OC OM FRSC, (MD/76)

I Felt Uncomfortable Exercising As A Queer Woman – Until Now

It’s midday on a bracingly cold Saturday in mid January, the kind of day when you want nothing more than to stay in bed with some snacks and a good book. Instead I’m squatting to the beat in a neon-lit studio in east London while Kylie’s Greatest Hits blasts on the speakers and a drag queen Mariah Carey prowls around taking selfies in the mirrors.
It might sound like my Friday night out got a bit out of hand, but I’m not still up from the night before. I’m at Drag Diva Fit, a weekly exercise class on a mission to make fitness less of a drag with a little help from some of pop’s biggest divas. Attracting a diverse crowd of hen parties, older women and groups of queer friends, the class is probably more suitable as a one-off, wholesome alternative to brunch or the pub than as part of a serious exercise regime, but I’m here to find out if it’s something I could see myself doing on a regular basis.
I recently reached the middle of my 20s and during the ensuing quarter-life crisis, I decided it was time to make some lifestyle changes before my four coffees a day, toast-heavy diet, inability to say no to a pint and mostly sedentary existence led to my early demise. One of those changes, predictably, was to get some Regular Exercise.
The problem is, I’ve often felt a bit uncomfortable in conventional fitness spaces. It’s not that I don’t enjoy exercising (not to be a show-off but I was actually vice captain of the Emmanuel College Year 7 netball team) or that I’m unwilling to commit the time, money and energy it takes to stick with a fitness routine, it’s more that as a visibly queer woman I tend to feel a bit out of place among all the high ponytails and Stella McCartney x adidas leggings in your average gym or fitness class. Public spaces can feel unwelcoming for people who look or feel ‘different’, particularly those which combine rigid gender binaries, communal changing rooms and the pursuit of physical perfection with strangers, Lycra and visible exertion.
It’s not uncommon for LGBTQ+ people’s experiences of fitness spaces to run the gamut from mild discomfort to outright homophobia, with one study discovering that 63% of UK participants believe team sports environments to be more homophobic than general society. For queer women, who have to contend with misogyny alongside this, it can be enough to put you off fitness for good. It’s no surprise that research by Public Health England and the National LGB&T Partnership found that LGBTQ+ people are statistically a lot less likely to stay fit, with 56% of queer women and 64% of those who identify outside the gender binary not exercising enough to maintain good health.
Queer trainers Kole Fulmine and Michelle Amosu are well aware of the problem. Both are non-binary and have come across their fair share of casual homophobia and misgendering in mainstream gyms and fitness classes, experiences which inspired them to set up their own class, Queer Circuits.

Sharing our pronouns at the beginning of class might seem like a pretty small departure from convention, but the knowledge that this is a space that recognises the particular needs and anxieties of LGBTQ+ people is enough to make it a far more relaxing and enjoyable experience.

“I think from a very young age many of us have been put off being physical because of an inherent shame,” they say over email. “That feeling of being wrong because you don’t see anyone like you in a space that is supposed to make you feel better about yourself can compound anxieties around exercise or moving one’s body in public, which is a shame because in our eyes, there isn’t a better space to encourage feelings of euphoria and excitement. The wellness industry has a lot of work to do to make queer people feel accepted, so we set up Queer Circuits with a very clear manifesto: a safe space for our community to feel represented and encouraged. We don’t body shame, we don’t judge, and we try and ensure that there is a shared energy in our sessions, that no one feels afraid to ask questions or call something out.”
The weekly Sunday morning class on Hackney Downs is fewer than 10 minutes from my doorstep so I don’t really have any excuse not to try it out, even if it starts before I’ve usually got dressed at the weekend. With zero drag queens in attendance, it’s not really any different from a standard outdoor class, apart from a couple of minutes at the beginning where we all share our names and pronouns. It might seem like a pretty small departure from convention, but the knowledge that this is a space which recognises the particular needs and anxieties of LGBTQ+ people is enough to make it a far more relaxing and enjoyable experience than I’ve typically had in classes like this, despite discovering muscles I didn’t know existed over the course of the hourlong session.

While it’s good to finally find an intensive class that I could commit to regularly, I’m keen to combine it with something a little less strenuous too, so I head to Queer Yoga at Clapton social enterprise Supply Yoga, which aims to tackle disparity in access to wellness, with queer instructor Elle Bower Johnston.
“It’s important for the yoga industry to not only talk of ‘accessibility’ and ‘safe spaces’ but to do the deeper work of making their studios actually feel safe for a wider group of people,” Elle explains in an email. “Studios need to hire more queer teachers, more POC teachers, more fat teachers. It’s important to start to walk the talk and make changes around who gets represented as belonging in the yoga world.”
For Elle, yoga’s capacity to encourage people to feel more grounded and at one with their bodies is especially helpful for LGBTQ+ people. “Yoga offers us a chance to meet ourselves exactly as we are, to offer ourselves care and compassion, and get to know our bodies from the inside out rather than from external validation,” she explains. “These are skills that every human could use, but they’re particularly empowering for the queer community.” I’ve never set foot inside a yoga studio before I visit Supply for one of the monthly Saturday afternoon sessions, but Elle does a great job of putting the class at ease with a relaxing tone and ethos of self-love. By the end of the session I’m basically a Lululemon ambassador.
The three classes I’ve attended might have been very different from one another but they all proved one thing: There is a space for the LGBTQ+ community in the fitness world, and there are trainers and instructors who care about making queer people feel comfortable, understood and accepted enough to enjoy staying fit. It might take a bit of work to seek them out but these spaces do exist, and I’m excited to make use of them in the future.

African, Caribbean and Black Canadian HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

Join the Afro-Canadian Positive Network and YouthCO for African, Caribbean and Black Canadian HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on February 7, 2020!

This year’s theme is Stigma Creates Barriers! All of us can play a role in stopping HIV stigma and racism, and lift the barriers this creates when it comes to HIV. Stigma and racism make it hard to talk openly about HIV and our health, and without being able to have these conversations, we can miss out on the ways that community, peer support, medications to treat and prevent HIV, and information about sexual health can make a difference. Join us for this HIV awareness event and help us stop stigma and end prejudice towards those of us living with HIV. This free event is open to all people interested in learning more about HIV!

We will have food, activities, music, and performances that help celebrate African, Black and Caribbean cultures!

We will have transit tickets available at the event. If there are other ways we can make this event accessible for you, please let us know! If you have any questions leading up to the event, please email Jean @ or Sarah @

Youth living with HIV and their invited friends, families, partners, and allies are welcome to join YouthCO on February 8 for a celebration of self- and community- care, called Love Positive Youth!

About Afro-Canadian Positive Network:

  • We believe in fundamental human rights for all individuals (immigrants, refugees, and Canadians of African backgrounds) impacted by HIV/AIDS.
  • We envision a society that treats all individuals with respect, dignity and social justice.
  • Our central values include support, empowerment, education and advocacy.

We are a dedicated and supportive team of survivors, who are struggling to overcome barriers of language and stigmatization, to unite and uplift each other.  We establish networks for peer education and collaborative knowledge-sharing, in our particular culturally appropriate context (and languages, as Swahili, Amharic and English).

This event takes place on the ancestral land of Coast Salish peoples, including the Katzie, Tsawwasen, Stö:lō, WSÁNEĆ, Kwantlen, and Stz’uminus nations.

February 07, 2020 at 1pm – 1pm
Surrey City Centre Library – Room 120

Anti-gay conservatives launch petition to ban Super Bowl ad starring Drag Race queens

A new Super Bowl advert featuring drag queens is causing outrage among conservative groups.

One Million Moms, who are deemed a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, have argued that the advert for Sabra hummus which stars Drag Race legends Miz Cracker and Kim Chi is not “family-friendly” for the sport event.

In a 15-second teaser video, Cracker is seen saying: “I hope this doesn’t give me helmet hair” as she attempts to put on an American football helmet, while sat next to a bemused Kim. It’s a fun and inoffensive advert.

But the group of angry mothers aren’t too pleased with the advert, and have now started a petition to get it removed from the Super Bowl advertising lineup – they currently have over 22,000 signatures.

“An ad promoting drag queens is not what we had in mind when urging the NFL to keep the Super Bowl LIV commercials and halftime entertainment family-friendly,” said One Million Moms of the petition.

“Sabra Dipping Company LLC is choosing to push an agenda of sexual confusion instead of promoting its actual product. The PC-inclusive ad blurs the biological distinctions between male and female.

“Normalizing this lifestyle is contrary to what conservative, Christian parents are teaching their children about God’s design for sexuality. Thanks Sabra! Now parents have to explain to their confused children!”

A separate petition started by LifeSite News is also calling for the advert to be removed, and has currently gained over 20,000 signatures. They claim that drag queens are “part of a morally and scientifically dangerous ideology”.

Jason Levine, the chief marketing officer for Sabra, explained that the advert is meant to show that hummus “is for everyone” and that they wanted to get a diverse group of famous faces to demonstrate this.

“Hummus is for everyone and pairs well with nearly every food you eat. Whatever your passion, however you live, love, eat and enjoy life, this plant-based food is a winner,” he said.

“We’re bringing a diverse group of personalities to the table and demonstrating just how incredibly versatile, relevant and relatable hummus is today. We think we’ve got something for everyone.”

Check out the advert that’s got One Million Moms riled up here .




Education Department Whistleblower Forced Out After Exposing Push Against Trans Athletes

Exclusive: Dwayne Bensing says he faced retaliation for reporting the department’s fast-track treatment of a case affecting transgender students.

In December, the Education Department began termination proceedings for an employee who acted as a whistleblower over the department’s treatment of transgender students, HuffPost has learned.

Dwayne Bensing, a lawyer for the Office of Civil Rights within the department, says he was retaliated against after he leaked emails to a reporter at the Washington Blade. The emails indicated that Department of Education employees were violating protocols on how they handled an investigation surrounding transgender students.

In early January, Bensing, who had worked for the federal government for more than five years, filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel, an agency that handles the protection of government whistleblowers. Bensing claims the government violated the Whistleblower Protection Act in disciplining him for the disclosure.

“They care more about harming students than they do about protecting their career civil servants,” Bensing told HuffPost.

Elizabeth Hill, a spokesperson for the Department of Education, says it has not received the complaint yet and thus cannot comment on it, though HuffPost provided a list of allegations within it.

Dwayne Bensing was an attorney at the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights until early January. 

Bensing’s saga started last summer, after the Alliance for Defending Freedom (ADF) ― an anti-LGBTQ hate group, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center ― filed a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. The complaint challenged a Connecticut policy that allows transgender athletes to compete on the team that aligns with their gender identity, saying it gives an unfair physical advantage to athletes who were born male but now identify as female.

In August, Bensing discovered that the department planned to move forward with this complaint; something that surprised him given that it typically takes months of deliberation to determine the course of action on legally controversial complaints. He soon found internal communication indicating that attorneys were unsure of the legal theory for taking up the investigation even as they were initiating it. The emails also indicated that the head of the civil rights office, Ken Marcus, pressured employees to expedite the investigation. After realizing that leaders at the Department of Education were implicated in the situation, Bensing shared the emails with the Washington Blade reporter.

“It was just more than abnormal; it was against everything we do,” Bensing told HuffPost of the process outlined in the emails.

When Bensing was confronted by his bosses about disclosing the emails a month later, he confessed, explaining he was concerned about “partisan overreach,” “abuse of power” and the “violation of law and procedures,” according to documents reviewed by HuffPost. By September, he had been sidelined and given administrative duties. In December, Bensing received a letter from officials proposing his removal from his position and from federal service.

“Your duties require that you regularly handle sensitive, deliberative information that may also contain personally identifiable information,” wrote Randolph E. Wills, deputy assistant secretary of education. “As a result of your unauthorized release of this information, I have lost trust in your judgment and ability to perform your assigned duties.” (Bensing says he was careful not to disclose any personally identifiable information in this instance.)

Wills’s letter conceded that Bensing had a history of excellent performance reviews and no disciplinary record, but he wrote that Bensing’s “failure to express any remorse leads me to believe you lack the potential for rehabilitation.”

Bensing was told he would have the opportunity to respond before a “deciding official” made a final call on his employment within 30 days. Bensing, now an attorney at the ACLU of Delaware, submitted his resignation three days later.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rescinded guidelines about transgender students’ use of school bathrooms in 2017.

The Whistleblower Protection Act holds that employees have the authority to disclose government information if they believe they are witnessing a violation of rules, laws or regulations, gross mismanagement or an abuse of power. The only exceptions are when the disclosure is specifically prohibited by law or required to be kept secret by executive order in the interest of national security.

Denise Alves, a lawyer for the American Federation of Government Employees union, represented Bensing after he first faced discipline in September. In a December letter, she argued that Bensing’s actions fell squarely within the Whistleblower Act’s legal protections.

“Mr. Bensing engaged in protected activity by disclosing information demonstrating what he reasonably believed evidenced violations of law, rules, and regulations and an abuse of authority by OCR management,” Alves wrote to management, according to documents provided to HuffPost.

A Spike In Retaliation

Bensing is one of dozens of whistleblowers who have come forward in the Department of Educationduring the Trump administration.

Complaints of whistleblower retaliation increased 775% between fiscal year 2016 and 2018, according to a budget request from the Department of Education’s Office of Inspector General. In September 2019, the Education Department proposed a five-day suspension for a budget analyst who had leaked information to The Washington Post ― a punishment far less severe than what was proposed for Bensing.

As an employee of the Department of Justice during the Obama administration, Bensing helped craft the joint Department of Justice and Department of Education guidance designed to protect trans students from discrimination. It called on schools to allow transgender students to use the bathrooms and facilities that align with their gender identities. But in 2017, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded the guidance.

Bensing was one of a small group of employees, part of the department’s LGBTQ affinity group, who met with DeVos the day she rescinded the guidance. The group had requested the meeting after hearing rumors that the guidance faced imminent rescission. During the meeting, Bensing pleaded with DeVos to keep it in place, asking her to consider the experience of Gavin Grimm, the transgender teen who had stood before his Virginia school board and asked for protection only to be called names. (HuffPost previously reported on this meeting, but was not aware Bensing had been a participant.)

DeVos did not heed Bensingand the others’ pleas, and she announced the rescission of the guidance later that day. After the meeting, she sent a handwritten note to Bensing, thanking him for his willingness to stand on behalf of vulnerable students.

When DeVos rescinded the guidance, she said that the issue was one for localities to decide. Accordingly, the organization targeted by the ADF complaint, the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference,has its own policy that accommodates transgender athletes.

“Nowhere has it said treating these students according to their gender identity is a violation of Title IX,” Bensing told HuffPost, in regards to the initiation of the ADF investigation. “This was a major shift in the interpretation of Title IX, which is in violation of recent court precedent.”

Internal emails reviewed by HuffPost indicate that attorneys were pressured to hurry the opening of the investigation by high-level officials, even when there was confusion about “the precise legal framework to apply” and the timeliness of the complaint.

Additionally, Bensing recalls seeing internal memos in which attorneys expressed confusion about whether the Department of Education has jurisdiction over the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC), as it does not appear to directly receive federal funds (HuffPost has not reviewed such memos). But the Education Department’s letter announcing the initiation of the investigation says it has jurisdiction over CIAC to the extent that the group has authority over federally funded schools’ athletic programs. The letter also clarifies that the mere opening of an investigation does not mean the complaint necessarily has merit.

Bensing says that he would act as a whistleblower again, despite the consequences he faced, out of concern for vulnerable transgender students.

“This wasn’t some ambiguous thing to me,” Bensing said. “I knew these students and cared for them.”