I met amazing women today: erasing stigma at AIDS 2012

by Susan Mull July 22, 2012

What is an AIDS-free generation?  Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton clearly stated that it will be a time when no child is born with the virus, teenagers and adults will all be at lower risk, and everyone with HIV will have treatment. Hillary Clinton continued to say, “The U.S. is committed to and will continue to work for an AIDS-free generation.  This is a fight we can win.”  Who needs coffee when you can start your day being inspired by Hillary Clinton?  Before she closed she even mentioned the AIDS Memorial Quilt and the solace and comfort it has brought to people around the world. Many of us carry on our work in honor and in memory of those who have passed on.

We know that when key groups are marginalized, disparities widen.  We know that we will not have an AIDS-free generation without women!  What happens if you are part of a black diaspora community?  In the United Kingdom, 47 out of every 1,000 women of color are living with HIV.  What happens if you are a trans woman?  Andrea Lamour-Harrington stated that police sometimes don’t even investigate crimes that are inflicted upon trans women.

In August of 2011, the CDC announced a revision to their reporting system’s way of reporting sex at birth to allowing the transgender population to be accurately accounted for when identifying HIV infection in our transgender population.   1.2 million people in the United States live with HIV and close to half of those living with HIV  in the U.S. are African American.  In the next global village classroom we learned of anti-sodomy laws in Jamaica legitimizing systemic discrimination.  These laws have been on the books since 1864. There are sections in this Jamaican law that say two men arrested for having anal sex can be sentenced to seven years hard labor!

Louisiana has had laws on the books for 208 years that describe “crime(s) against nature.”  In 1982, in New Orleans, these laws were given new life in arrests of male sex workers. When laws justify homophobia you know we all have so much work to do!  Deon Haywood spoke of the legal journey and experience for women of color in New Orleans who found themselves to be on a violent sex offender registry, even years after they turned their lives around, years after they were no longer engaging in sex work or using drugs.  A class action suit was filed and they won!  Their human rights had been violated and they won!  In Louisiana, a conservative state, they won!

I felt like I won today as well.  I grew up in a family whose ancestors were Lutheran pastors.  The church has remained way too silent in this epidemic.  We all learned when working with ACT UP that “Silence equals death . . .”  I found a booth in the global village today that was giving people tattoos of a cross and a red ribbon.  Some attendees are praying and fasting, for it is Ramadan. The whole inter-faith community had a pre-conference.  This means people who read the Torah, or the Bible, or the Koran, or other texts got together and valued and cherished each other’s opinions.  While we strive to eradicate the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS, we must fight to eradicate racism and the ugly ways discrimination rears its head all over the world.  Homosexuality is a crime in some countries.  It should be a crime to be so intolerant.

Dr. Cornell West exhorted us yesterday just to focus on love a whole lot more.  I visited The Well Project.  Globally, women make up more than half the total number of people living with HIV.  With people like Deon Haywood speaking today I felt like I was listening to “sheroes.”  Deon rocks!  She is a true civil rights leader!  I met amazing women today.

Susan is a PWNer living in Philadelphia.

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