Thursday, July 31, 2008

Bush Signs Sweeping AIDS Bill - Repeals Ban on HIV-positive Immigrants and Visitors

Bush signs sweeping AIDS bill

Landmark measure repeals ban on HIV-positive immigrants and visitors
By LOU CHIBBARO JR, Washington Blade | Jul 30, 3:00 PM

President Bush signed a sweeping global AIDS relief bill at a White
House ceremony Wednesday afternoon that includes language repealing
the U.S. ban on HIV-positive foreign visitors and immigrants.

The bill-signing ceremony took place less than a week after the House
of Representatives voted 303 to 115 to approve a Senate-passed version
of the legislation, which reauthorizes the highly popular U.S. foreign
aid program known as the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief

The Senate passed the bill one week earlier by a vote of 80 to 16.

First Lady Laura Bush and Mark Dybul, director of the U.S. global AIDS
office, accompanied the president at the bill signing ceremony.

The president, along with a large, bipartisan majority in the House
and Senate, agreed to include a provision in the PEPFAR bill that
repeals a 1993 U.S. immigration law prohibiting HIV-positive visitors
from entering the country. The 1993 law to be repealed by the PEPFAR
bill also bars most foreign nationals with HIV from being eligible for
legal immigrant status.

However, as the president prepared for Wednesday's bill signing
ceremony, the White House had yet to disclose whether he and his
Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, Mike
Leavitt, would approve one more administrative action needed to end
the U.S. ban on HIV-positive visitors and immigrants.

In 1987, HHS used its existing legal authority to add HIV to a list of
communicable diseases that disqualifies HIV-positive visitors from
entering the country as well as foreigners with HIV from being
eligible for immigrant status.

The PEPFAR bill that Bush signed allows the 1987 administrative policy
to remain in place unless HHS or one of its component agencies, such
as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, reverses the

An HHS spokesperson last week agreed to make inquiries into Leavitt's
position on the issue of repealing the HIV ban, but the spokesperson
did not get back with additional information by press time.

A White House spokesperson did not respond to a request for the
president's position on the HHS administrative ban.

"The legislation Congress has passed will move us from the emergency
phase to the sustainability phase in fighting AIDS, tuberculosis and
malaria," said Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), after the
House voted to approve the PEPFAR bill.

"It will authorize $48 billion over five years to provide life-saving
HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention for men, women and children in the
poorest countries of the world," she said.

Pelosi also noted that the bill would eliminate the HIV travel and
immigrant ban, a policy that Pelosi and Democratic leaders, along with
many Republican lawmakers in the House and Senate, have long opposed.

"Congressional backing for the repeal of this unjust and sweeping
policy that deems HIV-positive individuals inadmissible to the United
States is a huge step forward for equality," said Joe Solmonese,
president of the Human Rights Campaign. "The HIV travel and
immigration ban performs no public health service, is unnecessary and

The 1993 immigration law and the HHS policy directive putting the HIV
visitor and immigrant ban into place allow for some exceptions. But
groups like Immigration Equality, which advocates for immigrants who
are gay or who have HIV, have said the exceptions are limited and have
helped only a small number of HIV-positive foreign nationals seeking
access to the U.S.

Under the 1993 law and the HHS policy, foreign nationals seeking to
visit the U.S. can obtain a temporary waiver from the ban, which
allows short-term visits for tourism or business purposes. Foreign
nationals seeking a waiver must register their names and HIV status
with U.S. consular offices in their home countries in a process that
immigration activists say could violate privacy rights. Waivers also
place certain limitations on HIV-positive visitors.

The law and policy allows foreigners with HIV to be eligible for
immigrant status if they can demonstrate that an immediate family
member, such as a spouse, parent or child, who already has legal U.S.
immigrant status or citizenship, is dependent upon them for care and
support. Activists say U.S. immigration officials rarely grant this
exemption and that it is off limits to same-sex partners whose
relationships are not recognized under U.S. law.

Some Capitol Hill insiders have speculated that the Bush
administration might decide to leave the HHS policy in place,
preferring to let the next president decide whether to repeal it. That
would leave the ban in place until at least late January.

A spokesperson for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the presumptive
Democratic presidential nominee, said Obama opposes the ban and would
take action to end it if he's elected president.

A spokesperson for the campaign of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the
presumptive Republican presidential nominee, did not return a call
seeking McCain's position on the issue.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

First Muslim Congressman Named Vice Chair of LGBT Equality Caucus

Folks, this is HUGE!! Keith Ellison has been highlighted as a
mainstream moderate Muslim voice by every major Muslim organization in
the United States. His support for LGBT rights, now in SUCH a public
way, will be VITAL in building bridges and creating dialogue with the
mainstream Muslim community!

Subhanallah! I could've never imagined that this would happen!


Keith Ellison is Proud to be Named Vice-Chair of Bipartisan
Congressional LGBT Equality Caucus

"I am proud to join Congresswoman Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Congressman
Barney Frank (D-MA) today in launching the Congressional LGBT Equality
Caucus," Congressman Ellison said.

The mission of the Caucus is to promote lesbian, gay, bisexual, and
transgender (LGBT) equality. The Caucus will work toward extending
equal rights, repealing discriminatory laws, the eliminating
hate-motivated violence. The Caucus is dedicated to the improved
health and well-being for all, regardless of sexual orientation or
gender identity/expression.

"I am honored to join this caucus because of my lifelong commitment to
fighting all discrimination. I believe when my gay, lesbian, bisexual
or transgender neighbor suffers from discrimination, then I suffer,
and so does our whole community. Every member of our society
contributes to the health, wealth and generosity of our community.
Only when we recognize, protect, and, celebrate that will we realize
all our citizens' potential," Ellison concluded.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

A Jihad for Love Comes to Chicago, Los Angeles, Denver, Austin, San Diego and Many More Cities!


Fourteen centuries after the revelation of the holy Qur'an to the Prophet Muhammad, Islam today is the world's second largest and fastest growing religion. Muslim gay filmmaker Parvez Sharma travels the many worlds of this dynamic faith, discovering the stories of its most unlikely storytellers: lesbian and gay Muslims.

Produced by Sandi DuBowski (Trembling Before G-d) and Sharma, A Jihad for Love was filmed in 12 countries and 9 languages and comes from the heart of Islam. Looking beyond a hostile and war-torn present, it reclaims the Islamic concept of a greater Jihad, whose true meaning is akin to 'an inner struggle' or 'to strive in the path of God' - allowing its remarkable subjects to move beyond the narrow concept of Jihad as holy war.

Los Angeles, CA Outfest July 17, 2008

Santa Rosa, CA

Rialto Cinemas Lakeside July 17, 2008
Wilmington, DE Theatre N at Nemours July 18 - 24, 2008
Lake Worth, FL Lake Worth Playhouse July 18 - 24, 2008
Columbus, OH Wexner Center for the Arts July 25 & 26, 2008

Chicago, IL

Siskel Film Center July 25 - 31, 2008
Los Angeles, CA Laemmle Sunset 5 August 1 - 7, 2008
Palm Springs, CA Camelot Theaters August 1 - 7, 2008
Denver, CO Starz Denver August 1 - 7, 2008

Tempe, AZ

Valley Art Theatre August 1 - 7, 2008

Huntington, NY

Cinema Arts Centre August 5, 2008

Austin, TX

Landmark Dobie Opens August 8, 2008

San Diego, CA

Landmark Ken August 8 - 14, 2008

San Francisco, CA

Landmark Lumiere August 22 - 28, 2008

Berkeley, CA

Landmark Shattuck August 22 - 28, 2008

Philadelphia, PA

Landmark Ritz at Bourse August 22 - 28, 2008

Milwaukee, WI

Milwaukee LGBT Film Festival September 4 - 14, 2008

Washington DC

Landmark E Street September 5 - 11, 2008

Seattle, WA

Landmark Varsity September 5 - 11, 2008
Fresno, CA Fresno Reel Pride September 17 - 21, 2008
Berkeley, CA JCC of the East Bay September 18, 2008

Atlanta, GA

Landmark Midtown Art Cinema September 19 - 25, 2008

Tampa, FL

Tampa Int'l Gay & Lesbian Film Festival October 2 - 12, 2008

Minneapolis, MN

5th Minneapolis Arab Film Festival October 16 - 19, 2008

Charlottesville, VA

Virginia Film Festival November 1, 2008

Director, Parvez Sharma and Producer, Sandi Dubowski - are making personal appearances in many of the cities!

For more information check out the following sites:

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

US Ban on Visitors with HIV Could End Soon

From the Associated Press

US ban on visitors with HIV could end soon


WASHINGTON (AP) — A two-decade ban on people with HIV visiting or
immigrating to the United States may end soon through a Senate bill
aimed at fighting AIDS and other diseases in Africa and other poor
areas of the world.

The U.S. is one of a dozen countries — including Sudan, Saudi Arabia,
Libya and Russia — that ban travel and immigration for HIV-positive

Even China, said Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., recently changed that
policy, deciding it was "time to move beyond an antiquated, knee-jerk
reaction" to people with HIV.

"There's no excuse for a law that stigmatizes a particular disease,"
Kerry said Tuesday at a speech to the Center for Strategic &
International Studies HIV/AIDS Task Force. Even people with avian flu
or the Ebola virus have an easier time than those with HIV when it
come to applying for visas, he said.

Kerry and Sen. Gordon Smith, R-Ore., are trying to repeal the ban,
first implemented in 1987 and confirmed by Congress in 1993. The two
have attached their measure to legislation — which the Senate may pass
this week — that would provide $50 billion over the next five years to
fight AIDS and other diseases in Africa and other poor areas.

Foreign citizens, students and tourists can apply for a
difficult-to-obtain special waiver for short-term visits, but an
HIV-positive person has little chance of obtaining permanent

Under current law, HIV is the only medical condition explicitly listed
under immigration law. The Kerry-Smith provision would make HIV
equivalent to other communicable diseases where medical and public
health experts at the Health and Human Services Department — not
consular officials at U.S. embassies — determine eligibility for

Those with HIV seeking legal permanent residency would still have to
demonstrate they have the resources to live in this country and would
not become a "public charge."

The HIV ban was "adopted during a time of widespread fear and
ignorance about the HIV virus," said Allison Herwitt, legislative
director of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay and
lesbian civil rights group.

Among the consequences, experts on HIV and AIDS who are themselves
infected have been unable to attend conferences in the U.S. Students
and refugees in the country who may be at risk of infection have been
reluctant to seek testing or treatment.

"Health care professionals, researchers and other exceptionally
talented people have been blocked from the United States," some 160
health and AIDS groups said recently in a letter urging Congress to
end the current policy. "Since 1993, the International Conference on
AIDS has not been held on U.S. soil due to this policy."

Herwitt said some HIV-positive people seeking visas lie on their
applications and then don't bring their medications. "It's not only
wrongheaded and discriminatory, but can also cause people to not tell
the truth."

Both President George H.W. Bush and President Clinton sought to ease
the policy and in 2006 the current President Bush asked the Homeland
Security Department to streamline the waiver process. Congress so far
has not gone along.

There's still opposition.

Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., may offer an amendment to eliminate the
Kerry-Smith provision from the Senate bill. Sessions cited
Congressional Budget Office estimates that the new immigrants coming
in under the relaxed policy could cost the government more than $80
million over a 10-year period. "Most people just don't want to talk
about that."

Sessions said the Health and Human Services Department already has
considerable flexibility to grant entry visas.

The measure would offset the costs of new immigrants by raising the
price of applying for a visitor's visa by $1 for three years and then
$2 for the next five years.

The House version of the Africa AIDs bill does not have the travel and
immigration provision, but advocates said it will be included in the
final version of the bill that goes to the president.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., is sponsoring companion legislation in the House.

The Africa AIDS bill is S. 2731.

Worlds AIDS Day in Muslim Countries