Gay man refused tattoo because he’s HIV-positive

A gay man says he was refused service at one of the UK’s biggest tattoo studios – because he is HIV-positive.

George Westwood, a 19-year-old Sociology student at the University of Birmingham had gone to the Vida Loca studio in Bolton, Greater Manchester, to get a tattoo representing his journey with HIV.

The student told the business about his HIV status as a courtesy after paying his deposit, only for them to refuse to serve him because of it.

Although his tattooist apologised, she said that her manager would not let her carry out the procedure – and that he would have to collect his deposit back.

Westwood told PinkNews: “I rang them and told them about my status and the tattoo artist said she wasn’t sure if she was going to be able to do it, so she would speak to her boss.

“I received a phone call [on May 26] to say, ‘No, we can’t do it.’ I wasn’t offered any explanation and [told] that I should just go and collect my deposit.”

The 19-year-old student was left shocked and upset at the refusal.

George Westwood was diagnosed in February (Credit: George Westwood)

“I was just expecting a ‘thanks for letting us know,’ I didn’t think there was anything wrong with it. But I got a completely different response to what I expected.

“It did upset me, it did shock me – I nearly cried at work.”

He added: “I feel like I’ve made so much progress in such a short space of time, and it feels like all that progress has been thrown back in my face.”

Westwood says that the incident has highlighted why he wants to raise awareness around the condition.

He said: “It’s something so trivial – it just doesn’t need to happen.

“People need to think about and realise how much progress we [HIV-positive people] have made. It’s not what people think it is, and it’s definitely not what it used to be and people living with it do lead healthy normal lives.”

Now, Westwood hopes that talking about his illness will challenge the misconceptions around it and wants to emphasise that the condition cannot be passed on if effectively treated.

In response to a complaint made by Westwood, Vida Loca tattoo studio said: “We have to take into consideration the risks involved with blood transfer as we are using needles that have to be disposed of.”

“In the last month alone, we’ve had accidents where tattooists have caught themselves with used needles, so we have to think about the risk involved and as careful as hygienic as we are accidents still happen. Hope this explains why we cannot go ahead with this tattoo,” the response, which PinkNews has seen, continued.

However, Dr Michael Brady, medical director at Terrence Higgins Trust, said: “There’s absolutely no reason to treat someone living with HIV who wants a tattoo any differently. Although HIV can be transmitted through shared needles, there are no documented cases of HIV transmission due to tattooing.

Tattoo enthusiasts at 2013 Sydney Tattoo Body Art Expo (Getty)

“Any reputable tattoo parlour should already be taking precautions to protect their customers against infections, including using fully sterilised equipment and single-use, disposable needles.”

According to the health section of its website, this is the procedure that the studio complies with.

Under the 2010 Equalities Act, it could be illegal in some cases for a business to not serve someone with HIV under the same terms as someone without the disease.

In an email statement to PinkNews, Daniel Watson, owner of the Vida Loca tattoo shop, said: “It’s the artist’s choice who they do or don’t tattoo, and in this circumstance I fully support her decision.

“There are many factors which led her to this decision. One of them mainly being we are not covered by our insurance to tattoo someone with HIV. Then the risk of her catching herself with the needle during or after the procedure. Or another member of the staff that cleans down the station catching themselves with the infected needle.

“There is also risk for the customer receiving the tattoo. If their immune system is low due to the treatment they will be receiving the chance of infection would also be very high. Why risk all this just so one person could get a tattoo.”

Westwood was diagnosed with the disease in February, after being referred to a clinic when a self-testing kit came back positive.

“But I’ve come out of it a stronger person, now I’m just trying to raise awareness and educate people.“It’s been quite an emotional journey quite challenging,” he said.

“Even in the gay community there’s a massive taboo about HIV, we don’t talk about it, we don’t touch it.”

However, Westwood says he is still going to get a tattoo. It will be a line tattoo of a sunrise over the sea to signify new horizons and the journey he has been on with HIV.

In March, PinkNews reported of a HIV-positive man who was refused service at a dentist’s practice in the East Midlands.

The man launched a funding appeal to take legal action against the practise.

The practice apologised and has since changed its policy on treating HIV-positive patients.

Stigma against the illness is common, with the Terence Higgins Trust estimating that one in five Brits would not wear a red ribbon on World AIDS Day, due to fear others would think negatively of them.


Elton John Aids Foundation Seeks Letters of Intent for HIV/AIDS Projects

The Elton John Aids Foundation is accepting Letters of Intent from organizations working with people who are most affected by HIV in the Americas, defined as the United States, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, or Central or South America.

Grants will be awarded to organizations working to improve the health of people living with HIV or at risk or otherwise affected by HIV; uphold the rights of people living with and affected by HIV; address the social and economic needs of people living with and affected by HIV; and/or strengthen the skills and strategies of organizations and activists addressing HIV.

First-time applicants are invited to apply for grants of between $20,000 and $100,000 in the first year. EJAF will also consider requests of up to $300,000  from organizations with a national focus or working in multiple countries and that have a proven ability to implement large-scale programs.

Priority will be given to organizations that are led by and based in the communities being served; advocate for improved government health policies and funding; are piloting or scaling innovative programs to promote health and rights; can show a history of activism, creativity, and urgency in working to address and curtail the HIV epidemic; and are grounded in evidence about where and among whom HIV infections are happening and evidence about the best interventions to help people avoid infection or, if HIV-positive, to live healthy lives.

LOIs must be received no later than June 30. Upon review, selected organizations will be invited to submit a full proposal.

For complete program guidelines, an FAQ, and application procedures, see the EJAF website.


Ignorance About HIV Is Not an Excuse to Be Disrespectful

Tim Hinkhouse

Tim Hinkhouse (Credit: Selfie by Tim Hinkhouse)

I am thinking that this will be my year, and here is why. This is an election year for the Oregon governor, and I am optimistic about my chances of her granting me clemency and giving me a shot at freedom. I have the support of the Cascade AIDS Project, and their deputy director said that a letter would be drafted and sent on my behalf to the governor. This will hopefully demonstrate that HIV reform needs to happen, and she can make the change that starts with me. Hopefully I will hear shortly after this November election cycle?

I recently received my results from my last blood draw. I had a nurse send me the numbers for my viral load, and thankfully, it is still undetectable. My CD4s are close to 850, which is a great thing for me. I am grateful that Genvoya (elvitegravir/cobicistat/emtricitabine/tenofovir alafenamide) is working for me. Have you had a chance to take this miracle once-a-day pill to treat your chronic HIV? As long as I have been taking it, there haven’t been any noticeable side effects. Ask your doctor about taking this pill if you are tired of remembering to take a multi-pill cocktail to treat your HIV every day.

For those of you reading this who are newly diagnosed with HIV, as of March I had been living with HIV for 28 years, and it would not have been possible if it weren’t for the strides made by science to understand this illness and make medicines that will suppress the virus. Back in 1997 when my CD4s were in decline, I was forced to decide to start taking the meds available at the time with all of their side effects or else die in a prison hospital bed.

I made the obvious choice and started taking Crixivan (indinavir), which worked to keep me alive, but the side effects were messed up. Lasting side effects from this cocktail medicine changed my physical appearance. It is called the “Crixivan Hump” and sits nicely at the top of my neck and makes me feel like Quasimodo. This makes me self-conscious about myself when I want to take my shirt off when it is nice outside.

When people ask me about it, I just want to crawl under a rock and hide, but I have to put on a brave face and stand up for myself being in prison. Talk about people being judgmental. Holy cow! Judge much? It is already bad enough that I am living with an illness that has a close-minded stigma attached to it. Society judges you on your appearance, just like the men I am surrounded by every day that already have hatred in their hearts, especially for HIV-positive people.

One of life’s lessons that I still have to learn is complete self-acceptance and to really love myself. The deeper I dig into my soul and look at who I have always been, the more I am taken to a place of pain, suffering, loneliness, and self-doubt. We are our own worst critics, which is something I have learned over my life.

What are the important life lessons that have opened your eyes to the things you needed to change? Care to share with me? I am a work in progress, and I am open to your comments.

Recently, I was moved back into a cell from an 88-man dorm. The cell I live in with another man is the second one from the end. There are 26 cells on the bottom tier and the same on the second tier. I am in #25, which is mere steps from the yard door, which brings in fresh air each time it is opened.

I have never spoken a word to my neighbor next door. I have no understanding about his culture or beliefs, but I do understand discrimination. Ever since I moved in and he heard that I had HIV, he has talked to the orderlies that pass out cleaning supplies each morning. He explains that it is “his religion” to want to always get the dust mop and wet mop before I get the chance to clean my cell. I am second in rotation to clean when the orderlies start at my end of the tier every other morning. Because I have HIV, I should be skipped over, and the orderlies are supposed to perpetuate this stigma? NO WAY!

I explained it in a way they all understood. That is a blatant act of disrespect, which comes with repercussions. If they don’t like that, they can talk to the guards. I stood up for myself and offered to educate them with my knowledge, which they didn’t want. Ignorance is not an excuse to be disrespectful.

Stay healthy & stay safe.


Participants in concurrent trials a challenge for HIV research



It may put him or her at risk.

Many research organisations use biometric systems to identify study participants, but these systems do not communicate with each other and can therefore, not identify instances when participants enrol in multiple studies.

It is problematic when participants are enrolled in more than one clinical trial concurrently or sequentially, because the ethical conduct of clinical research is founded on two essential principles.

Firstly, potential participants must understand the risks and benefits and make the decision whether or not to participate, free from coercive influence.

Additionally, researchers are under the obligation to maximise the potential benefits for participants while minimising the risk of potential harm, and to protect their privacy, with the understanding that their personal information, if disclosed, could potentially be used to harm them.

Secondly, research integrity requires that clinical studies are conducted in such a way that methods used and the findings are verifiable and that the resulting data is accurate, reliable, and can be used in decision-making.


When participants do not adhere to research protocols, they may view the tangible benefits of being in a trial, such as reimbursement for time and travel, or medical examinations, as a commodity to be shared with others or to be maximised by participation in multiple trials.

When a participant in one trial at a given site enrols in the same or different trial at a different site, it may put him or her at risk, either by receiving two medications that are incompatible or by giving more blood than they should safely give.

In addition, co-enrolment could lead to research data that is not correct. For example, medication from one trial might affect the results in the other trial. A trial that could have proved the value of a new medication may be discredited, and the intervention not approved.

This would result in a waste of money, the effort of researchers and the risk and time devoted by participants in the trial.

Moreover, researchers ask people to volunteer in order to gain knowledge that can help the community, so when research cannot be interpreted, the community is cheated out of the answer they deserve.

To prevent co-enrolment, biometric identifiers – such as face, fingerprints, iris or retina – can positively identify patients and control access to resources. In clinical trials, personal identifier information (identity cards, private names, birthdates, family members’ names, photographs, is stored separately from the study data.

Each person is assigned a code number and the link to identifiers is carefully guarded. Biometric identification is applied to make sure that a person is who they say they are. Biometric measurements are encrypted to protect privacy.

Such data can be linked to participants’ identifiers only by a small number of people who work at the study site.


Networking databases across clinical trial sites would help in the prevention of co-enrolment, but to protect privacy, this must be based on the use of code numbers that cannot be traced back to individuals by outsiders.

Already, some countries including France, Switzerland, UK and South Africa are using national registries accessible to different clinical sites to protect volunteers from the risks posed by co-enrolment in multiple studies. This requires each clinic to use the same coding system, and to share the codes (but not other data such as pictures, fingerprints, names).

However, it is difficult to completely guarantee data privacy, either because of increased abilities of computers to invade systems and decode them, or due to legal or extra-legal methods that might be used to force study staff to reveal codes.

Such breeches of confidentiality could result in harm from loss of privacy, including repercussions from revealing a person’s disease or risk status; or legal trouble for people in situations such as immigration without proper documentation or certain sexual behaviours that are illegal in some countries.

Successful use of biometric systems to prevent co-enrolment would be dependent on high levels of access control, collecting as little personal data as required, and using fail-safe systems such as remote storage of codes and methods of ‘wiping’ the record if it is stolen.

A shared biometric participant enrolment system holds great potential to reduce co-enrolment and protect the integrity of clinical trial data.

As the search for a safe, effective HIV vaccine, and for improved HIV biomedical prevention and treatment tools intensifies, a robust system that will enable tracking of participants across different sites while protecting participants’ privacy is needed.




Study Will Assess Safety of HIV-to-HIV Kidney Transplantation

The HOPE in Action Multicenter Kidney Study will examine the safety of HIV-to-HIV kidney transplantation.
The first large-scale study probing kidney transplantations between people with HIV has launched at clinical centers around the country, announced the National Institutes of Health. The HOPE in Action Multicenter Kidney Study will examine the safety of these transplantations by evaluating kidney recipients for potential transplant-related and HIV-related complications following surgery.

The study is the first study of its type in the United States to receive Institutional Review Board approval. Researchers will follow the outcomes of 160 kidney transplants. All study participants will be living with HIV; 80 will receive kidneys from donors who had HIV, and 80 will receive kidneys from HIV-negative donors and serve as controls.

People living with HIV have a higher risk of endstage liver and kidney diseases from damage caused by HIV and its comorbidities, such as hepatitis B and C, hypertension, diabetes, and toxicities associated with antiretroviral drugs.

“A kidney transplant can mean a second chance at a normal life for a person with endstage renal disease who may otherwise needs hours-long dialysis sessions, multiple times per week,” said Christine Durand, MD, assistant professor of medicine, Johns Hopkins University, and principal investigator of the study, in a statement.

While transplants like these have been successfully accomplished in South Africa since 2008, they were illegal in the US until the implementation of the HIV Organ Policy Equity (HOPE) Act in 2013. The act allows US transplant teams with approved research protocols to transplant organs from donors with HIV into qualified recipients with HIV and endstage organ failure. Researchers expect this will shorten the wait time for those with HIV waiting to receive a transplant.

Throughout the study, researchers will closely monitor participants for signs of organ rejection, organ failure, failure of previously effective HIV treatments, and HIV-related complications. They will also track participants’ psychological and social responses, changes in their reservoirs of latent HIV, and the potential development of HIV superinfection.

“Not only is the quality of life improved for patients who undergo kidney transplantation, they also have fewer complications and longer lifespans compared to those who remain on dialysis,” said Daniel Rotrosen, MD, director, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases’ (NIAID’s) Division of Allergy, Immunology, and Transplantation, which will oversee the study, in a statement. “An important question is whether those living with HIV will also receive these same clinical benefits.”

Those participating in the study are also eligible to co-enroll in a separate NAID-supported study, Impact of CCR5 Blockade in HIV+ Kidney Transplant recipients. The phase 2 study will evaluate the safety and immune response to the anti-HIV drug maraviroc in kidney recipients with HIV and determine if the drug reduces rates of kidney rejection in the patient population.

Author: Jaime Rosenberg


Being Hurt Does Not Justify Disclosing Someone’s HIV Status On Social Media

Yesterday a woman who is a well known social media comedian with almost 100 000k followers on Facebook who goes by the name Mai TT came on social media to do a Facebook live, where she was crying because someone had sent her pictures in her inbox about her ex-husband’s wedding.

In her emotional Facebook live video, watched by over 70 000 viewers, she broke down and opened up about her harrowing journey, how she had met her ex husband as a single mother, how she helped her ex mother in law who was very poor, how she was ill-treated by her ex-mother in law, and most shockingly, how her ex-husband infected her with HIV, also obviously disclosing that he was HIV positive.

She also went on to give the full name of the husband’s new wife, claiming that she was 100 percent sure the new wife had no idea her husband was HIV positive.

As the names where disclosed, I went on the Facebook profiles of both the named ex-husband and the new wife, and lo and behold what I saw was not what I expected from what I had heard in the live video.

I saw a healthy looking goodly young man and I saw pictures of man who seems to dot on his daughter.

In pictures of his new bride, I saw a very beautiful young woman who looked equally innocent.

I just saw a happily newly married young couple, wearing beautiful matching African attire, yes I mention the African attire because it was the highlight of the story.

Now all over social media, I saw this young couple being vilified and called names. I saw the young man being called murderer and all sorts of names.
I couldn’t help but wonder, hang on a minute, there is something really wrong with this.

I am all for women’s rights. I sympathize with Mai TT. She sounds deeply hurt. Watching the video was truly disturbing.

But I think it was very wrong of her to disclose another person’s HIV status to the world.

If the ex-husband had knowingly infected her with HIV, why not report him to the authorities for such a cruel crime.

Why wait on his wedding day, to disclose such information to the world, not the police.

I have to be very honest in this, her retaliation was equally bad.

Some years ago, after I split up with my ex-husband, he opened a blog about me and in an act of revenge, he chose to mock my relative who was HIV positive. He also put up her pictures and full name, revealing her HIV status.

It was truly evil and at some point Vimeo and Google intervened and took down the content, as it was defamatory and damaging.

I have seen this trend with Zimbabweans on social media, when they are hurting, they retaliate and use social media to do the worst.

I have been through this where someone came on social media to expose my relatives HIV status, and it was a very cruel calculated act of revenge that can never be justified.

Now back to the story of the Mai TT, I find it very hard to totally sympathise with her though I do to some extent. I feel very sorry for her. It’s hard to see your ex husband moving on and happy when you are not. Shes obviously a woman hurting.


She has lived positively with HIV for years, knowing that it was her ex-husband who allegedly infected her.

She chose not to report her ex-husband for allegedly knowingly infecting her because she loved him, (her own words) and forgave him.

She then went on to brand herself as a comedian, in which her theme in her comedy is loving her HIV infected husband, whom she even refers to in her comedy as Baba TT.

She does comedy skits about her husband being a serial womaniser whom she stands by, honouring him even in his cheating.

She has gone on to make the most of her story through her comedy, receiving Awards and praise from most of her followers.

So in reality, her story has worked quite well for her.

So I don’t understand why today she has chosen to come out and publicly shame her ex-husband on his wedding day that he infected her with HIV.

I may be wrong but it sounds to me like a perfect case of a bunny boiler, that if she can’t have him no one else should.

But HIV is no longer a death sentence, people marry and go on to live happy long lives. So this young man can’t be expected to be single for life just because he has HIV.

I hate to say this, but I believe she’s still madly in love with her ex-husband, as she always portrays in her comedy skits.

She’s hurt but she loves him, this is why she chose his wedding day to ‘expose’ him. I believe she did this so the young man and his new bride will be shamed and attacked by her many followers, which is what has happened. I believe this was her act of revenge.

She has actually contributed in stigmatising people with HIV in Africa, that they should not marry and can’t find happiness. Because if her ex husband had not married, we would have never heard about his HIV status.

I think it’s such a shame and I sympathise with all parties involved, especially the new wife, who is one of the main victims in this story.

I also sympathise with the child involved, for she had to sit in the car and listen to her mummy tell the whole world that both her parents are HIV positive.

There is a reason why medical conditions are strictly confidential. No one should have their medical condition revealed to the world without their consent. No one should have their spouse’s medical condition revealed to the world without their consent.

There are proper channels to go through if you have been infected by someone knowingly. Just blurting it out on social media to the world is not acceptable, especially when there is no evidence and it’s just your word of mouth.

In conclusion, I’m very disappointed by this woman I saw as a role model to many Zimbabwean girls and women. Zimbabwe has over 1 million people living with HIV, and I think it’s about time the country has some laws and regulations about revealing other people’s statuses on social media. Being hurt is not a good enough reason to disclose someones HIV status to billions of people on Facebook.

Author: Jean Gasho


Who will stop mental illness??

Patients at Butabika Hospital undergoing therapy. They deserve an opportunity and second chance at life (FILE PHOTO)

BUTABIKA: On March 21, 2017, Beatrice Namukobe was admitted to Butabika Hospital for the mentally ill on recommendation by the police after she allegedly killed a five-year-old boy.

She escaped from her asylum and in a repeat of the crime; she allegedly killed another three-year-old girl using a knife. Unfortunately for her this time, a mob waylaid her and lynched her.

When she killed the first child, the police believed she had a mental problem and referred her to Butabika for treatment.

Namukobe represents a growing case of mentally ill persons in Uganda; some so obvious and visible but majority of cases are subtle with patients scattered in workplaces, in families or schools like time bombs waiting to explode.

Like Namukobe, there are many patients with mental problems that are ignored, some are taken to treatment centres like Butabika Hospital, but when they escape, it ends there.

Common problem

Dr Caroline Birungi, a Psychiatrist and lecturer in the department of Psychiatry at Makerere, says mental illness which is the condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feelings, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning is becoming a common problem in Uganda.

Dr Birungi says that 35% of Ugandans – about 11.5 million people – suffer from some form of mental illness, with depression being one of the most common.

“But barely half of these people seek medical attention from health centers in a country where people only associate mental illness with advanced and manic psychosis,” said Dr Birungi.

“However, even in the most seemingly obvious cases of the disorder, police and other institutions of health do not seem to have the capacity to detect patients,” she adds.

She explained that mental illness in Uganda affects over one-third of the population but that less than half of these individuals seek intervention because of the lack of mental health services, including providers of care, such as nurses; psychotropic medicines; psycho-social interventions; and psychotherapies, misinterpretation of symptoms.

She said the country’s mental health services are still significantly underfunded (with only 1% of the health expenditure going to mental health), and skewed towards urban areas and the total personnel working in mental health facilities are 310 (1.13 per 100,000 population) with only 0.8% of the medical doctors and 4% of the nurses had specialized in psychiatry.

A WHO report March 2017 ranks Uganda among top six countries in Africa with the highest cases of mental disorder and the report adds 1.7 million or (4.6%) Ugandans suffer from depressive disorders and 1.07 0r (2.8%) Ugandans suffer from anxiety disorders.

The report estimates that by 2020, mental disorders will be the second most diagnosed and recognised illness second only to cardiovascular diseases.

In the case of Namukobe, it is said she confessed killing her first victim and told the police she would repeat the act if she is released.

Reading is considered one of the forms of therapy for patients of mental illness (COURTESY PHOTO)

Although she was referred to Butabika for diagnosis and treatment, she later fulfilled her ‘promise’ before she got killed by a mob, itself a possible case of a ‘collective mental disorder’.

“Most of the common causes of mental illnesses are genetic passed on from a parent/s to the child. They are also caused by one’s personality and people who are at risk of suffering from mental disorders because of their personality are the kind that cannot stand disappointments, are short tempered and are difficult to deal with,” Dr Sheila Ndyanabangi, the head of control of substance abuse at the Ministry of Health says.

These illnesses are in form of mood disturbances, brain infections or injuries, epilepsy, schizophrenia and psychotrauma. “In our environment, factors like rampant infections in form of malaria, HIV/AIDS are sufficient contributors,” Dr Birungi says.

Head of control of substance abuse at Ministry of Health, Dr Sheila Ndyanabangi (FILE PHOTO)

“Injury to the brain as a result of accidents can be an offset of mental illnesses. Drug abuse in form of alcohol, marijuana, cocaine among others also leads to these disorders,” she added.

Dr Muhammad Mulongo, the DHO Bulambuli says the worst hit areas with mental illnesses in the country are northern Uganda and West Nile because they experienced war for a long time and that in a research conducted in 2004 among people living in camps in the northern Uganda, 30 per cent of IDPs had symptoms of moderate severe depression because of alcohol, drug abuse and stress.

“And People with HIV/AIDS are at a higher risk for mental health disorders, they actually have an increased risk for developing mood, anxiety, and cognitive disorders,” said Dr Mulongo.

He added that people living with HIV are twice as likely to have depression compared to those who are not infected with HIV and that some forms of stress can contribute to mental health problems for people living with HIV, including: having trouble getting the services you need, experiencing a loss of social support, resulting in isolation, experiencing a loss of employment or worries about whether you will be able to perform your work as you did before, having to tell others you are HIV-positive, managing HIV medicines, going through changes in your physical appearance or abilities due to HIV/AIDS, dealing with loss, including the loss of relationships or even death and facing the stigma and discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS.



Doctors condemn minister over HIV/AIDS stigma, say his remarks explain poor govt HIV/AIDS support

A HEALTH lobby group has challenged political leaders to lead the fight against stigmatising people living with HIV/AIDS rather than perpetuate the problem.

In a statement, the Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) condemned remarks made by Deputy Minister of Finance and Economic Development Terrence Mukupe on a local radio station during a debate.

“For the purposes of denigrating and casting the listenership of Star FM against the person of Mr. Tendai Biti, Deputy Minister Mukupe asked Mr. Biti if he had taken his Anti-retroviral (ARVs),” the doctors lobby group said.

“ZADHR reiterates that political leaders must be torch bearers in the fight against HIV/AIDS and associated stigma and discrimination.

“Hon. Mukupe’s utterances casts aspersions in this fight.”

Mukupe’s comments, the lobby group said, could be a microcosm of government’s attitude towards HIV/AIDS.

“With such utterances from a deputy Minister of the Ministry of Finance it piques people’s minds on how the health sector is generally underfunded.

“We believe the lack of appreciation of issues such as the impact of HIV/AIDS on the socio-political landscape of the country generally drive the poor financing of the sector. Hon. Mukupe in this instance personifies such failures,” the group said.

ZADHR added: “Stigma and discrimination remains a threat to the fight against HIV/AIDS and as ZADHR we call upon all leaders, political, religious and community alike to take a stand against this vice.”

Mukupe in a heated argument with former Finance minister Biti asked if the People’s Democratic Party leader had taken “his ARVs”.

He was responding to Biti’s claims that the deputy treasury chief was “drunk or on drugs”.


Vancouver Pride StandOut awards announce 2018 Pride grand marshals

Squamish councillor, archivist and sign language teacher among honourees

Zoée Montpetit (not pictured, award accepted on Montpetit’s behalf), Orene Askew, Serene Carter, Alex Sangha and Marisa Pahl are among the winners of the 2018 StandOut awards. Credit: Angelika Kagan/Xtra


An LGBT archivist and the crew of an Indigenous youth-led documentary will head the Vancouver Pride parade as grand marshals, the Vancouver Pride Society (VPS) announced during the StandOut awards on May 24.

Ron Dutton, a retired librarian, has personally collected over 750,000 documents related to BC’s LGBT community dating back to the 1700s. A team of Indigenous youth led by William Flett produced the short film A Mile in our Moccasins, examining HIV stigma and discrimination.

A third grand marshal will be announced in coming days.

In a departure from previous years, the VPS left behind the traditional award ceremony format, and hosted a cocktail party-inspired ceremony at a local hotel.

“This year we wanted more of a party vibe,” explained Vancouver Pride Society co-chair Michelle Fortin, adding that the change follows community input and recent budgetary constraints.

The society is struggling with a deficit that forced it to cancel the popular Davie Street Party for this year’s Pride celebration.

Here are the winners of this year’s StandOut Awards:

Alex Sangha

Business Leader

“Anything is possible if we work together in the business community,” said Sher Vancouver founder Alex Sangha. “I think all parts of society need to support each other. This includes queer businesses.”

Sher Vancouver has provided counseling for South Asians and immigrants who identify as LGBT since 2008, and hosts a monthly peer support group for queer South Asian youth.

This isn’t the first time Sangha has been recognized by the Vancouver Pride Society; he was a grand marshal in the 2016 parade.

Alex Sangha is the founder of Sher Vancouver. Credit: Angelika Kagan/Xtra

Jeremy Dias


Jeremy Dias lives in Ottawa and couldn’t make the award ceremony, but the executive director at the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity said by video that his award was “not just a celebration of workshops and presentations or conferences, but a celebration of our culture, our community and our history.”

The centre promotes diversity in gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation nationally through services in education, health and advocacy.

Last week the Ottawa-based advocacy group announced it will build Canada’s first LGBT museum.

Jeremy Dias is the executive director for the Canadian Centre for Gender and Sexual Diversity. Credit: Courtesy Jeremy Dias

Zoée Montpetit

Social Activist

Zoée Montpetit is the founder of Queer ASL, a group that introduces American Sign Language and Deaf culture to queer and transgender learners in Vancouver.

Montpetit founded the group in 2009 when she found herself the only signing Deaf queer in the Victoria LGBT community. Today, Queer ASL is based in Vancouver and offers three levels of classes taught by Deaf queer and trans people.

“The very heart of Queer ASL is all about social justice and we are beyond honoured to accept this social activist award,” Montpetit said in a message.

Queer ASL founder Zoée Montpetit’s (not pictured) award was accepted on Montpetit’s behalf. Credit: Angelika Kagan/Xtra

Marisa Pahl

Friend of the Environment

The friend of the environment award, only in its second year, went to visual artist Marisa Pahl, who recently spoke to 50 environmental advocates and created a painting based on each story for a project called Future Oceans.

“I think the thing I’m most excited about is that this is a category that is recognized by the Vancouver Pride Society,” said Pahl. “It’s exciting to build more connections between environmental advocacy and [the LGBTQ] community.”

As a child Pahl dreamed of becoming an environmental lawyer or a marine biologist, but her time spent exploring other countries and wild places led her to instead pursue a career in art with an environmental twist.

“There is a lot of work to be done to make the outdoor community and environmental advocacy more inclusive of queer and Indigenous voices,” she said.

Marisa Pahl won the friend of the environment award. Credit: Angelika Kagan/Xtra

Serene Carter

Youth Award

Serene Carter is only 19, but she’s already working hard to create a better world for queer people of colour. She works for Out in Schools as a youth facilitator and talks to young people across the province about sexual orientation and gender identity policies and how to create inclusive classroom spaces.

“This award is a testament of how important it is to radically resist the prescribed outcomes for queer and trans youth of colour,” Carter said.

“It feels amazing to be acknowledged. And I think it’s a real testament to young queer youth of colour, and how our lives and stories are vital to queer spaces.”

Serene Carter won the Youth Award for her work as a facilitator for LGBT youth. Credit: Angelika Kagan/Xtra

Orene Askew (DJ O Show)

Kimberly Nixon Trans, Two-Spirit, Gender Non-Conforming Contribution to Community Award

Orene Askew, also known as DJ O Show, was elected to the Squamish Nation Chiefs and Council in December as one of its youngest members. In a major turnover, Askew is one of eight new councillors under age 40, and one of two who identify as LGBT.

“I’m in shock right now,” Askew said, as she stepped up to receive her award.

Askew also announced that the Squamish Nation will display its first Pride float through this year’s parade. Askew was not shy to take the credit for the float:

“There is a float because of me. I brought the idea to the table and the other councillors were very supportive,” she said. “We have a lot of LGBTQ people in our community and they feel voiceless, so I’m glad I’m at the table because I feel like I’m a voice for them.”

Askew is a DJ and motivational speaker who works with Indigenous youth.

“It feels amazing to be included,” she said. “That’s all we want. We want to be included and to be at the table. People’s acknowledgment of the territories is great, but now they are actually starting to work with us.”

Orene Askew won the Kimberly Nixon Trans, Two-Spirit, Gender Non-Conforming Contribution to Community Award. Credit: Angelika Kagan/Xtra


Gonorrhea, other sexually transmitted infections on the rise in Canada

Drug resistant gonorrheaDrug resistant gonorrhea culture are shown under a microscope lens. (THE CANADIAN PRESS /HO, Public Health Ontario)

TORONTO — Rates of sexually transmitted infections are continuing to rise across Canada, say public health experts, who point to a number of possible reasons for the uptick in cases of gonorrhea, chlamydia and syphilis.

“In general, all the sexually transmitted infections have been increasing in the last 20 years,” said Dr. Jason Wong, a physician epidemiologist at the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC), who tracks cases of sexually transmitted infections, or STIs.

The growth of dating apps is one suspected culprit, though no studies have been conducted to prove a link between online hookups and the spread of STIs, said Wong.

“But logically, it’s easier to find sex and easier to find anonymous sex than it was before, which makes it harder for public health to track outbreaks when you don’t know who’s the contact for people that may have been exposed,” he said.

“The technology certainly serves to be a quicker interface to connecting with sexual partners.”

Wong also said more people appear to be having condomless sex, including those in the gay community, who once were at the vanguard of safe-sex campaigns in response to the HIV-AIDS epidemic.

“But with HIV treatment being really so effective now that it’s essentially a chronic disease, the concern around contracting HIV has really decreased a lot and that potentially is diving the reduction in condom use,” he said.

Last year, the province recorded 3,295 cases of gonorrhea, a dip from the roughly 3,700 a year earlier, but a major jump from 2012, when only 1,400 cases were reported.

On the other side of the country, Nova Scotia has also noticed a steady rise in gonorrhea and chlamydia cases since 2016, primarily in the Halifax area, said Dr. Trevor Arnason, regional medical officer of health for the central zone, which includes the provincial capital.

“In 2018, we are seeing slightly more than double the number of case reports than we’d expect based on the three previous years of data for the province,” he said. “Normally we would expect around 50 cases reported by the end of April, and there were over 100 reported cases across the province.”

About 85 per cent of those were recorded in and around Halifax.

There’s been a slow increase in cases of chlamydia in Nova Scotia since 2007, though no rapid jump in the number of infections as seen with gonorrhea, said Arnason, noting that syphilis cases have been declining since 2013, following an outbreak among men who have sex with men in 2009.

Along with reduced condom use, Arnason said there’s a concern about the growing number of people engaging in sex with multiple partners, possibly facilitated by social networking sites and dating apps.

“We know the vast majority of our cases are diagnosed in the under-30 age group and many of them are diagnosed at university or college sexual health clinics,” he said Monday from Halifax, which is home to several post-secondary institutions.

With young girls and many boys in Canada being vaccinated against human papillomavirus — a major cause of cervical cancer — and changes to guidelines advising that lower-risk women be tested less often for that malignancy than previously recommended, there is likely less screening for gonorrhea and chlamydia, Arnason said. Such STI testing was often performed at the same time as a Pap smear.

“Again, we don’t have any certainty, but there is concern that people are not getting tested as frequently and that is driving a long-term trend of increased transmission.”

Nationally, statistics confirm bacterial STIs are on an upward trajectory in jurisdictions across the country. Alberta, for example, recorded 4,763 cases of gonorrhea in 2017, up from about 3,700 the previous year.

In 2015, the latest year for which national figures are available, there were almost 116,500 cases of chlamydia, the most commonly reported STI in Canada, with females accounting for two-thirds of infections, says the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). Between 2010 and 2015, chlamydia rates increased by almost 17 per cent.

Gonorrhea is the second most commonly reported STI in the country. About 19,845 cases were recorded in 2015, a jump of more than 65 per cent from 2010. Males had higher rates than females, with the highest number of cases among those aged 15 to 29, PHAC says.

From 2010 to 2015, the rate of infectious syphilis in Canada increased by almost 86 per cent. In 2015, a total of 3,321 cases were reported, with nearly 94 per cent occurring among males; those aged 20 to 39 had the highest rates and men who have sex with men were among those at most risk.

While the three STIs can be successfully cured with antibiotics, untreated chlamydia and gonorrhea can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease in females, affecting fertility. Untreated, syphilis can cause damage to the brain, nerves, eyes, cardiovascular system, bones and joints. In extreme cases, it can be fatal.

And when it comes to gonorrhea, Wong of the BCCDC said doctors are keeping an eye out for a rare strain of the bacterium that’s become resistant to one of the standard antibiotics long used to treat the disease, which turned up in a Quebec woman last year — the first such case in North America. About a half-dozen cases have been reported worldwide, notably in Japan and elsewhere in Asia.

The Quebec woman had not travelled to Asia, but her boyfriend had been in Thailand and China and had unprotected sex in both countries, researchers reported.

As a result, Wong said public health officials are closely monitoring gonorrhea cases “because we do have some concerns that our treatments are not going to be effective anymore.”

Prevention is key, he said, stressing that condom use is among the best ways to protect against infection.

“It’s not just the bugs we have to think about, it’s networks of people and how they connect with one another and thinking about what we can do to prevent people from getting these infections or getting complications,” he said.

“But we’re also looking at what we can do on a population level that might suppress the potential that you would be exposed to these infections in the first place.”

Author: Sheryl Ubelacker