Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 42 / 19 October 2017
 

Political Notebook: Gay organ donor hopes to inspire others to donate

NEWS


m.bajko@ebar.com

Clark Williams
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Clark Williams found himself increasingly disillusioned by the election of Donald Trump as president last November. Not only was he vowing never to travel to states that backed the former reality television star turned politician, but the gay Democrat began disconnecting from Trump supporters he knew on social media platforms.

"I was becoming pessimistic and almost hateful. I didn't like myself, or the person I was becoming. I was buying into the argument of us versus them and blue states versus red states," recalled Williams, 52, who lives in Sherman Oaks in the San Fernando Valley outside Los Angeles. "I was paying a price for that. I realized I needed to do something truly selfless that had nothing to do with politics."

Without telling his husband or teenage daughter, Williams contacted the UCLA Kidney Transplantation Program to inquire about becoming a living donor. It was something he had been curious about for some time as well as something he could do anonymously.

"The person receiving my kidney could be a Trump voter or a person who hates gay people, who knows?" Williams, who formerly lived in San Jose and was a well known political leader in the South Bay, told the Bay Area Reporter in a recent phone interview. "The thought of it restores my faith in humanity during these really dark times. That is what I like about it."

As he learned more about becoming a living donor, Williams realized he had never heard of another person from the LGBT community volunteering in such a manner. And once he started disclosing his decision to be a donor to family members and close friends he would need to rely on during his six to eight weeks of recuperation, Clark found many people were confused about how he could be a kidney donor as a gay man but not able to donate blood.

Under a federal policy many health officials and LGBT leaders criticize as antiquated, men who have had sex with men can't donate blood unless they have been celibate for a year. With the advancement in treatments for, and the detection of, HIV, there is a growing movement to see the U.S. Food and Drug Administration revise its blood donation rule for gay and bisexual men.

There is no such prohibition, however, when it comes to gay and bisexual men donating their organs. By being public about his decision to become an organ donor, Williams hopes other gay men will seriously consider doing so themselves, as there is a tremendous need for living donors. Kidneys from a deceased donor tend to last 10 years in the recipient, while living organ donations can last up to 15 years.

According to the Organ Procurement & Transplantation Network, there are 104,424 people on the kidney transplant waiting list. Each year roughly 5,000 people die while waiting to be matched with a donated kidney.

"Why few gay people donate is because they are not aware they can become a live organ donor," said Williams, recalling how it was one of the first things he asked about when he called the UCLA program. "I disclosed to them right away I was gay and asked if it would be an obstacle to my donating, and they said, 'No.' I was surprised because I knew of the blood ban with the FDA."

Jennifer Terenzini, the living donor and paired exchange transplant coordinator at the UCLA clinic, told the B.A.R. that the policies diverge because people donating a live organ go through a more "stringent process" than those giving blood.

"A living kidney donor goes through a lot of education sessions, consultations, lab work and radiology testing," said Terenzini. "The process is not taken lightly."

Of the nearly 140 kidney donations it handles each year, the UCLA clinic does not track how many of the donors are gay. As part of the screening process, male organ donors are asked if they have engaged in sex with another man in the past year as part of the questionnaire all donors must fill out.

While that information is not disclosed to the organ recipient, they are informed that the kidney is coming from a donor who could put them at "increased risk for disease transmission." They can then decline the donation or accept it.

"The person getting Clark's kidney was not told it is coming from a gay man, just from a person with one of those risk categories," said Terenzini. "They are told here are the categories the person could be and asked do you want to accept that type of category or prefer not to accept that type of organ."

All kidney donors are screened for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases prior to donating. And they are asked not to engage in sex during the four weeks prior to donation.

Williams will be admitted to the hospital Tuesday, October 17 so doctors can remove his left kidney, which will be transplanted in the recipient within 24 hours. Barring any pain or nausea, Williams should be cleared to go home on the 18th.

Right up until the moment he is given anesthesia, Williams can change his mind. But he insisted to the B.A.R. he intends to proceed with the procedure.

"There is no reason why I am not going to have a nice, long, healthy life with my lone kidney. The body only needs one," said Williams, who had served as vice chair of the Santa Clara County Democratic Party and as co-chair of the LGBT Caucus of the California Democratic Party from 2011 to 2013.

Before agreeing to be a donor, Williams, a stay-at-home dad, asked his 14-year-old daughter and husband to both sign off. Because of his decision, should they ever need a kidney transplant, they would be placed at the top of the waiting list.

"As I found out why he was doing it, I became really happy he was giving a kidney in need and saving a life. I didn't really understand that at first," said Caroline Williams , who would like to be a doctor. "When he told me, I was very happy and proud he is my dad."

His husband, attorney Jim Moore , who is also 52, said he was not surprised by Williams' decision.

"He is just exceptional in that way. He really sees himself as part of a global community," said Moore. "Honestly, I was on board right from the beginning. I know Clark is also remarkably thorough, and before he raised it with us, I know he would do the research into the ground."

He joked his only qualm is having to care for Williams after the operation, as he doesn't deal well with being sick.

"Even under normal situations, he is not a good patient. We are going to have our hands full," said Moore.

Williams' kidney donation will kick off what is called a Never Ending Altruistic Donor chain, as the recipient of his kidney had to find a friend or family member willing to also donate a kidney to a stranger. The string of donations will continue until a transplant recipient is unable to find a donor, thus breaking the chain. The record to date is 30 kidney donations.

"I am hoping it is a lot," said Williams, of the chain he is starting.

He won't find out the results for several months. And while he would like to meet the person receiving his kidney, it will be up to them to decide if they want to learn who the donor was.

"If they say yes, I would love to meet them," he said. "But I have to be OK with the fact I may never know."

To learn more about becoming a living kidney donor, visit https://kidneyregistry.org/.

 

Wiener dual endorses in East Bay Assembly race

Gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) has dual endorsed a straight former Obama administration official and a lesbian education leader in an East Bay Assembly race next year.

The moderate freshman state lawmaker decided to throw his support behind both Buffy Wicks, who worked on Barack Obama's campaign and later as a White House aide focused on passing his landmark Affordable Care Act health legislation, and Judy Appel , who serves on the Berkeley school board and is the former executive director of the LGBT nonprofit Our Family Coalition.

"I have great relationships with both and deeply respect their work and commitment to housing reform, investment in transit, and LGBT equality," Wiener, a former San Francisco supervisor, told the B.A.R. Tuesday.

In a Facebook post that afternoon, Wicks wrote she was "thrilled" to have Wiener's support.

"Scott has fought tirelessly for affordable housing, improving public transportation, LGBTQ rights and equity for all," wrote Wicks, who lives in Oakland with her husband Peter and their newborn daughter, Josephine . "If elected, I'll be honored to work alongside him in Sacramento to improve the lives of all Bay Area residents."

Appel told the B.A.R. in an emailed reply that she is "proud" to have Wiener's backing in the race.

"As a leader in the LGBTQ community for over a decade I have had the opportunity to work to make better the lives of LGBTQ people, particularly families and their children across the diverse demographics of our community, and I believe it is that commitment that has won me Sen. Wiener's support," wrote Appel, who has two children, Kobi , a sophomore at Sarah Lawrence College, and Tris , a junior at Berkeley High School, with her wife, Alison Bernstein. "I look forward to furthering my work with and for LGBTQ people once I get to Sacramento."

Appel and Wicks are seeking the 15th Assembly District seat, as the incumbent, Assemblyman Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond), is running to be the state's superintendent of public instruction. Six Democrats have so far formed campaign committees to seek the seat, including lesbian Richmond City Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles and bisexual East Bay Municipal Utility District board member Andy Katz.

Beckles has secured support from a number of progressive LGBT leaders in San Francisco, including gay former supervisors David Campos and Tom Ammiano , who also served in the state Assembly. The top two vote-getters in the June primary will advance to the general election next November.

The district includes the cities of Albany, Berkeley, El Cerrito, El Sobrante, Emeryville, Hercules, Kensington, Piedmont, Pinole, Richmond, San Pablo, Tara Hills, and a portion of Oakland. If an out candidate were to win, they would be the first out state lawmaker from the East Bay.

 

Web Extra: For more queer political news, be sure to check http://www.ebar.com Monday mornings at noon for Political Notes, the notebook's online companion. This week's column reported on lesbian former Santa Clara City Councilwoman Jamie McLeod-Skinner's bid for Congress in Oregon.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBT political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @ http://twitter.com/politicalnotes.

Got a tip on LGBT politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail m.bajko@ebar.com

 






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