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MSMGF launches online resource for grassroots HIV advocates

The new website will provide access to advocacy toolkits, trainings, and technical assistance in English, French, Spanish, and Vietnamese.

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MSMGFThe Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF) has launched a new webpage for the Speaking Out Initiative, an international collaborative program to fight HIV among men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender people by supporting grassroots activists to reduce stigma, discrimination, and violence faced by these groups in their respective countries. Launched on this year’s International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia (IDAHO), the new webpage increases access to Speaking Out’s advocacy toolkits in multiple languages and provides detailed information on how activists can bring Speaking Out to their own region.

The new website can be accessed at www.msmgf.org/speakingout.

“We are thrilled to launch the Speaking Out website on this year’s IDAHO,”said Dr. George Ayala, executive director of the MSMGF. “Today, people all over the world will stand together in solidarity against homophobia and transphobia. The more we learn about the HIV epidemic, the clearer the connection between stigma and discrimination and the spread of HIV becomes. We cannot increase access to HIV services without addressing the impact of homophobia and transphobia, and that is what the Speaking Out Initiative strives to do.”

The Speaking Out Initiative begins with an in-depth assessment of local advocacy capacity, followed by a collaborative effort between the MSMGF and local activists to adapt the Speaking Out toolkit to local conditions and languages. The adapted toolkits are used to conduct multiple levels of tailored trainings for local advocates, followed by an invitation for Speaking Out graduates to develop homegrown advocacy initiatives that are eligible for small grants funding from the Speaking Out program. Speaking Out is currently running in Central America, Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

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At present, the MSMGF is funding two locally conceived and executed advocacy initiatives, called “Breakthrough Initiatives,” led by graduates from the Speaking Out training in Honduras. The first Breakthrough Initiative involves an advocacy campaign to include sexual orientation and gender identity in the Honduran HIV anti-discrimination law, and the second focuses on advocacy for the inclusion of LGBT rights in the Honduran government’s public policy Social Protection Programs.

“The Speaking Out Initiative is part of a larger effort to equip grassroots organizations with the information and resources they need to hold governments and policy-makers accountable for doing quality, rights-based HIV work. This includes addressing homophobia, transphobia, and other social drivers that fuel the epidemic. From laws that criminalize homosexuality, deny gender identity protections, and punish HIV non-disclosure to policies that make it impossible for LGBT-led organizations to register legally – homophobia and transphobia remain major obstacles to health and rights for our communities,” said Dr. Ayala.

Data from the 2012 Global Men’s Health and Rights Study (GMHR), a multilingual survey of over 6,000 MSM from more than 160 countries, showed that only one third of MSM surveyed could easily access condoms, lubricant, and HIV testing. The survey revealed that homophobia was significantly associated with reduced access to HIV services, and that community engagement and comfort with health service providers were each significantly associated with increased access to HIV services.

“When LGBT people everywhere continue to suffer violent attacks and discriminatory treatment, it is crucial to expose and address the problems of social discrimination and HIV in our communities,” said Omar Baños, MSMGF policy field initiatives manager. “This webpage is an important opportunity for anyone working on MSM and transgender advocacy to connect with local and regional partners on a grassroots level to exchange ideas and get involved in the Speaking Out Initiative.”

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The new Speaking Out webpage provides a unique opportunity for advocates to explore opportunities and strategies for advocacy work in hostile environments. The website features downloadable PDF versions of the Speaking Out toolkits in English, French, Spanish, and Vietnamese, as well as detailed information about the process of toolkit adaptation, implementation, and trainings in each region. The webpage also showcases video testimonials from MSM and transgender advocates sharing their experiences about the challenges faced by MSM and transgender people around the world.

“On this International Day Against Homophobia and Transphobia, we must remember how damaging homophobia and transphobia can be,” said Dr. Ayala. “Through the Speaking Out Initiative and new Speaking Out webpage, we will continue to work to increase awareness and support local MSM and transgender people to lay claim to their rights and get involved in the fight against homophobia and transphobia. Our victory over HIV depends on it.”

The Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF) is a network of AIDS organizations, MSM networks, and advocates committed to ensuring robust coverage of and equitable access to effective HIV prevention, care, treatment, and support services tailored to the needs of gay men and other MSM.

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Duterte pledges to work with Congress to pass SOGIE Equality Bill; still not considered urgent

Though Pres. Rodrigo Duterte vowed to work with Congress to push for the passage of the SOGIE Equality Bill, the bill was still not certified as urgent. And aside from planning to finally formalize the formation of an LGBTQIA commission he earlier pledged, the president is said to be eyeing a national conference – something the LGBTQIA community has already been doing sans government support.

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Courtesy of the Office of Sen. Bong Go

President Rodrigo Duterte vowed to work with Congress to push for the passage of the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) Equality Bill that would protect the rights of members of the LGBTQIA community against discrimination.

This came after a meeting with select members of the LGBTQIA community, including Gretchen Diez, a transgender woman who was recently in the news after being barred from entering a female restroom.

As relayed by Sen. Christopher “Bong” Go, who organized the meeting, also discussed during the meeting was the possibility of creating a commission for LGBTQIA Filipinos pending the enactment of a SOGIE law.

This is – however – not a new pledge, but a delayed one, with Duterte promising the formation of the same in December 2017.

During the gathering that was also joined by 1st District of Bataan Rep. Geraldine Roman, Go also said that the government plans to coordinate with LGBTQIA groups to create a national LGBTQIA convention in September, when advocates from different regions will be represented to raise their concerns and come up with policy proposals to promote and protect their welfare.

It is worth noting that this, too, is not a new solution; in the past, the country’s LGBTQIA community already held such a gathering, with the latest, 4th LGBTQIA National Conference, co-hosted by Bahaghari Center for SOGIE Research, Education and Advocacy Inc., Outrage Magazine and Cebu City-based Bisdak Pride Inc. with funding support not from the national government, but from UNDP and the offices of Rep. Roman and Sen. Chiz Escudero, among others.

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In fact, the national gathering’s 2013 iteration, the 3rd LGBT National Conference, produced “Being LGBT in Asia: The Philippines Country Report” in 2014; it was funded by UNDP and USAID. The report – written by Michael David C. Tan – reviewed the legal and social environment faced by LGBTQIA people in the Philippines. By doing so, it already cited many of the issues besetting members of the LGBTQIA community; and the solutions that may be considered for the same.

“The (LGBTQIA) advocates… are looking forward to the passage of a law that will protect them from discrimination before the President’s term ends,” Go said in a statement.

But following the meeting, it was not immediately made clear if Duterte is certifying the SOGIE Equality Bill as urgent.

The SOGIE Equality Bill, re-filed by Senator Risa Hontiveros in the 18th Congress, seeks to penalize discrimination against the LGBT community by a fine of P100,000 to P500,000 or imprisonment of six to 12 years subject to the discretion of the court.

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Mental health talk series on women, LGBTQ+ slated starting Aug. 23

SPARK! Philippines is organizing a three-part mental health talk series called SPARK! Conversations, to be held on August 23, September 6 and 27 at Commune Cafe + Bar, Makati City.

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Photo by Camila Quintero Franco from Unsplash.com

SPARK! Philippines is organizing a three-part mental health talk series called SPARK! Conversations, to be held on August 23, September 6 and 27 at Commune Cafe + Bar, Makati City.

The mental health talk series is specifically targeted towards women and members of the LGBTQ+ community who have suffered from mental health issues due to social factors such as gender based violence, socioeconomic disadvantage and income inequality. With the passage of the Philippine Mental Health Law, this mental health talk series aims to promote efforts to improve the awareness and encourage discussions on mental health in the Philippines, especially on women and the LGBTQ+ community.

The three-part series of SPARK! Conversations Mental Health Talk Series will focus on the topics of:

  • Single working mothers and the structural disadvantages they tend to experience, such as financial insecurity and lack of social support
  • Supporting the supporter, the struggles that the support system of people who have mental health disorders go through especially in balancing what they can offer to others while also looking after their own needs
  • Members of the LGBTQ+ community and the mental health challenges that they face due to discrimination, societal pressures and stigma that they come across every day

The series is held in partnership with Vanguard Assessments and the Austrian Embassy Manila with the support of J. Amado Araneta Foundation and Philippine Business Coalition for Women Empowerment.

For more information, contact Kassandra Barnes at ktbarnes@sparkphilippines or 09177287961.

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Catriona Gray bats for anti-discrimination law that actually works

Catriona Gray reiterated her support for members of the LGBTQIA community, with an Instagram post that pushed not only for an anti-discrimination law, but one that actually works/is properly implemented.

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Screencap of Catriona's Gray's IG post

Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray reiterated her support for members of the LGBTQIA community, with an Instagram post that pushed not only for an anti-discrimination law, but one that actually works/is properly implemented.

https://www.instagram.com/p/B1JxnVEg0A0/

On Tuesday, a transgender woman was prohibited from using the female toilet in Farmer’s Plaza in Cubao, Quezon City. But the trans woman was eventually also handcuffed, and then detained.

For Gray, this “only highlights further… the Philippines’ need for implementation of the #SOGIEEqualityBill.”

Gray added: “LGBTQ+ rights are HUMAN rights – mga karapatang pangkaligtasan at kalayaan mula sa diskriminasyon, karahasan at pagmamalupit batay sa pagkakakilanlan.

But because the unfortunate incident happened in a city with an existing anti-discrimination ordinance (ADO) that supposedly legally prohibits discriminatory acts to be committed against members of the LGBTQIA community, Gray noted that “ibig sabihin, walang saysay ang isang bill na hindi maipatupad sa isang komunidad.

Gray mentioned two recommendations that for her ought to also be considered with the development of any anti-discrimination policy.

First, “‘accessible forms of information for the public such as educational drives, programs and awareness campaigns’; para mas maintindihan natin ang mga pangangailangan ng LGBTQ+ community at para malaman natin ang mga bagay na maaari pa nating magawa bilang mga kaalyado o mga taong may awa sa kapwa.

And second, “a SOGIE workplace policy; para sa lahat ng mga pampublikong tagapaglingkod at mga taong may impluwensiya sa komunidad.”

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Gusto ko ring pagtuunan natin ng pansin ang katotohanang wala dapat makaranas ng anumang uri ng pagpapahiya at pang-aabuso (emotional, physical o sexual), LGBTQ+ man o hindi,” Gray said.

She added that “the whole argument of shifting the blame to the victim for reasons of being trans to justify abuse – is still victim blaming and IS NOT RIGHT. The blame should be on the perpetrators who should be held accountable and corrective actions should be taken… to help prevent future similar incidents from happening. Ang LGBTQ + ay nakikipaglaban para sa kanilang mga karapatan – ang karapatan sa kaligtasan, proteksyon at pagkakapantay-pantay – ay laban din natin.”

Gray has been vocal about her support for the LGBTQIA community in the past. Let June, for instance, she stated that “religion is never an excuse to hate, put down or act indifferent to the suffering of others. I believe God is love, and I will treat everyone – no matter who they are, to best of my ability, with love.”

Despite her outspokenness, however, it is worth noting that when Gray posted about LGBTQIA people in June, it was because of her endorsement of @sanmiglightph (San Miguel Light), an alcoholic drink. Though still not widely discussed particularly in the Philippines, members of the LGBTQIA community are at higher risk for alcoholism (and polysubstance abuse, in general).

Also, last July, Gray backed Manny Pacquiao during his fight against Keith Thurman. The boxer cum senator is infamous for referring to gay people as “mas masahol pa sa hayop (worse than animals).”

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Trans woman handcuffed, detained for using female toilet

Use of toilet befitting their gender identity continues to be a big issue for members of the trans community. If a trans woman uses the male toilet, for instance, she may be harassed/molested; and if she uses the female toilet, apparently she could also be jailed.

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Screencap of a photo provided to the media by the group of Gretchen Custodio Diez

A trans woman, Gretchen Custodio Diez, was handcuffed and then detained late Tuesday after she used the female toilet of a mall in Cuba, Quezon City.

It is worth noting that Quezon City is supposed to be a “Gender Fair City”, with its own anti-discrimination ordinance (ADO) that eyes to prevent discrimination of members of the LGBTQIA community.

Use of toilet befitting their gender identity continues to be a big issue for members of the trans community. If a trans woman uses the male toilet, for instance, she may be harassed/molested; and if a trans woman uses the female toilet, something like this could happen.

In an Instagram post, singer/songwriter and former National Youth Commission (NYC) chairperson Ice Seguerra said that being barred from using a comfort room is one of his biggest fears.

In his post, Sueguerra said: “Honestly, this is one of my biggest fears whenever I’m out. Lalo na pag nasa Arabic countries ako. Pag sa pambabaeng banyo, ilang beses na akong pinalabas. And kung sa panlalaki naman, ang daming tanong, lalo na kung may mga Pinoy.

To avoid an incident like this from happening, Seguerra said that “kapag may ASEAN events akong dinadaluhan nung nagtatrabaho ako sa NYC, hindi ako umiinom ng tubig buong araw kasi natatakot ako mag-banyo. This is a real concern. Na hanggat hindi mo pa narararnasan, isasawalang bahala mo lang. Concern na hindi ko kailanman inisip na pagdadaanan ko rin pala.

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Seguerra also noted that many people may think this is a superficial issue, but “hindi mababaw yung pagtititnginan ka ng mga tao lalo na yung papalabasin ka. Parang kinakain ako ng lupa sa tuwing nangyayari yun and what’s worse is I don’t feel safe. All of these feelings and more, AND NOW THIS… just because gusto lang namin magbanyo.”

In a statement posted on her Facebook page, Quezon City Mayor Joy Belmonte stated:

Nakatutok ako sa kaso ni Gretchen Custodio Diez, isang transwoman, na umano’y sapilitang pinalabas sa isang comfort room para sa mga babae ng Farmers Plaza at dinala sa QC Police District 7.

“We condemn this kind of discrimination towards members of the LGBT+ community. Ang Quezon City ay ang unang lungsod na may Gender Fair Ordinance upang protektahan ang karapatan ng mga miyembro ng LGBT+. Sa batas na ito, ipinagbabawal ng lungsod ang lahat ng uri ng diskriminasyon, at binibigyan ng proteksyon at paggalang ang dignidad at karapatang-pantao ng lahat, lalung-lalo na ang LGBT+.

Malinaw na hindi sumusunod ang Farmers Mall sa nasabing ordinansa kung saan lahat ng government offices, private, at commercial establishments ay dapat magtalaga ng ‘All-Gender Toilets’ para sa lahat (Section 5: Affirmative Acts, 1 Affirmative Acts in Employment, Part D).

Ipinag-utos ko sa Business Permit and Licensing Department (BPLD) na siguraduhin na susunod, sa lalong madaling panahon, ang lahat ng business establishments sa ating Gender Fair Ordinance.

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“We assure the members of the LGBT+ community that Quezon City will always protect their rights and be a home for their sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression. We do not support any kind of violence and discrimination in our city. Sa ating LGBT+ community, protektado ang karapatan ninyo sa QC.”

Image may contain: 6 people, people sitting and text

The legal team of Diez is still considering what steps to take, considering that the mall ended up as the complainant against her even if she did not violate anything.

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Support needed for foster carers of LGBTQ young people

Carers reported particular dilemmas in supporting young people in care to feel confident in expressing their LGBTQ identities while simultaneously protecting them and helping them to protect themselves from bullying.

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Photo by Sharon McCutcheon from Unsplash.com

More support is needed for fosters carers looking after LGBTQ young people.

This is according to new research led by the University of East Anglia (UEA). The study, titled ‘Providing a secure base for LGBTQ young people in foster care: the role of foster carers’, was written Gillian Schofield, Jeanette Cossar, Emma Ward, Birgit Larsson and Pippa Belderson, is published in Child and Family Social Work.

The first ever study of LGBTQ young people in care in England found good examples of foster carers being available and sensitive, and offering acceptance and membership of their family. However, there was also evidence of foster carers struggling in some areas in relation to meeting the needs of LGBTQ young people, whether because of their lack of knowledge, skills and support or because of ambivalence, discomfort or, in a few cases, homophobia or transphobia among foster family members.

Although there were some positive descriptions of the support available from social workers, most carers felt alone with the question of how best to support LGBTQ young people. This lack of support also meant that negative attitudes and approaches could go unchallenged.

The research, conducted by UEA’s Centre for Research on Children and Families, focused on the nature of foster carers’ experiences and perspectives on caring for LGBTQ young people. It involved interviews with 26 carers, who described the importance of offering LGBTQ young people not only the nurturing relationships that all children in care need, but helping young people manage stigma and other challenges associated with minority sexual orientation and gender identity.

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The findings – published in the journal Child and Family Social Work as part of a special issue on fostering teenagers – are from a wider study of the experiences of LGBTQ young people in care, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and led by Dr Jeanette Cossar from UEA’s School of Social Work. This also included a survey of local authorities in England and interviews with 46 LGBTQ young people who were or had been in care.

Gillian Schofield, Professor of Child and Family Social Work at UEA and lead author of the foster carer paper, said the experiences and needs of LGBTQ young people in care had been overlooked in England, both in policy and research.

“LGBTQ young people in foster families are likely to have many of the same needs as other fostered adolescents, but they also face additional challenges,” said Prof Schofield. “Their emotional, psychological and social well-being depends on how they manage, and are supported in managing, both the difficult histories they share with other children in care and their minority sexual orientation and gender identities.

“Understanding caregiving roles and relationships for LGBTQ young people in care has important implications for recruiting, training, matching and supporting foster carers to care for LGBTQ young people effectively, to ensure their needs are met. Our work highlights one of the key areas in fostering that professionals supporting young people in foster care and training and supporting foster carers need to be better informed about.”

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For LGBTQ young people, trust in caregivers was often said by carers to have been damaged by previous adverse experiences that included abuse, neglect, separation and loss. For some this had been compounded by moves linked to rejection of their sexual orientation or trans identity by birth, foster or adoptive parents.

Carers described needing to be sensitive to the difficult choices facing young people about how open they wanted to be about sexuality or gender, especially when they were anxious about being rejected or moved. They reported particular dilemmas in supporting young people in care to feel confident in expressing their LGBTQ identities while simultaneously protecting them and helping them to protect themselves from bullying.

Carers talked with pride of the way in which young people treated them as parents, and often recognised the additional element of security that accepting young people’s LGBTQ identity contributed to a sense of family belonging. Where foster carers had helped LGBTQ young people to feel fully accepted as family members, this gave them greater confidence in other areas of their lives. However, it was also important for foster carers to promote positive relationships between young people and their birth families.

A number of implications for practice emerged from the interviews with foster carers, and were supported by other data from the project from young people and social workers.

Prof Schofield said: “At the initial assessment, training and preparation stage, it will be important for fostering agencies to explore prospective foster carers’ values and attitudes in relation to LGBTQ issues.

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“Key also to ensuring high quality foster care will be the quality of the work of supervising social workers and children’s social workers. Foster carers in this study felt that they needed social workers to offer better information, for example in relation to LGBTQ support groups or gender identity services.”

Carers also needed clearer policies and better support to manage the day-to-day decisions within the care system, whether regarding decisions over sleepovers or managing inter-professional meetings such as statutory reviews. Better training for social workers about the experiences and needs of LGBTQ young people and their carers is also essential, both in qualifying and post-qualifying programmes.

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Trans women case study shows sperm production is possible but not certain

A study found that one transgender woman was able to produce viable sperm after a few months of discontinuing her puberty-halting medication, whereas a different patient on hormone therapy could not produce sperm during the time she could psychologically tolerate being off her medication.

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Photo by Cecilie Johnsen from Unsplash.com

Scientists at Magee-Womens Research Institute (MWRI), collaborating with clinicians at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital and UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh report two cases in which young transgender women attempted to recover their fertility after starting and stopping gender-affirming medications.

The study, published in Pediatrics, found that one transgender woman was able to produce viable sperm after a few months of discontinuing her puberty-halting medication, whereas a different patient on hormone therapy could not produce sperm during the time she could psychologically tolerate being off her medication.

“We were interested in examining the timeline for getting viable sperm after stopping masculinity-suppressing medication,” said lead author Hanna Valli-Pulaski, Ph.D., a research assistant professor at MWRI. “Going on and off gender-affirming medications can cause psychological distress in this population and it’s important patients have a discussion with their health care provider before starting or stopping any treatment.”

The research team examined medical records of two transgender women who tried to preserve their sperm after stopping hormone therapy and compared their semen quality against eight other transgender women who elected to preserve their sperm before beginning therapy. All of the study participants came through the Fertility Preservation Program in Pittsburgh between 2015 and 2018 as young adults.

One of the patients who elected to preserve their sperm after beginning therapy had been taking the drug Lupron–a sex hormone blocker that halts puberty when taken in adolescence–for six months. She elected to stop taking Lupron to attempt sperm cryopreservation.

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Five months later, she was able to produce a sperm sample comparable to those collected from the eight transgender women who saved their sperm prior to undergoing treatment.

Although this one case shows that it’s possible to recover sperm after starting gender-affirming therapy, stopping medication for even just a few months can be psychologically distressing, Valli-Pulaski said. For male-to-female transgender individuals, facial hair can start to sprout and the voice begin to deepen after just a few months of stopping medication. It’s possible to reverse these effects, but it would take time.

What’s more, a second case included in this study showed that fertility doesn’t always return quickly after going off gender-affirming drugs.

This patient had been taking estradiol and spironolactone for more than two years. Four months after stopping treatment, she was still unable to produce viable sperm, and at that point, she decided to stop trying for fertility preservation and proceeded with gender reassignment surgery.

The sperm production results of the two study participants provide valuable information that clinicians can share with future patients wishing to have biological children after beginning gender-affirming therapy, notes Valli-Pilaski.

“Right now, there’s not much information available about fertility preservation for transgender patients,” Valli-Pulaski said. “If you have any data, it’s important to share so that patients, researchers and clinicians can learn from it.”

Additional authors on the study include Emily Barnard, D.O., Stephanie Rothenberg, M.D., Marie Menke, M.D., of UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital; Cherie Priya Dhar, M.D., Selma Witchel, M.D., Gerald Montano, D.O., of UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh; and Kyle Orwig, Ph.D., of Magee-Womens Research Institute.

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