On #NWGHAAD, PWNers Assert and Celebrate #BodilyAutonomy

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March 16, 2017: For National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (#NWGHAAD), PWNers from coast to coast hosted and participated in events, in person and online, raising awareness and educating our communities about HIV and its impact on women and girls and asserting the bodily autonomy of women living with HIV.

From the Women Living Conference in Atlanta (PWNer Shyronn Jones shares her experience there in this blog) to a special event focused on the theme of bodily autonomy in Philadelphia, PWN-USA members and regional chapters took advantage of the occasion to speak out, share our stories and advocate for our rights. You can see the events PWN-USA members and chapters hosted, participated in and/or presented at here. And check out the slideshow above! Continue reading “On #NWGHAAD, PWNers Assert and Celebrate #BodilyAutonomy”

On #NWGHAAD, We Celebrate #BodilyAutonomy

March 10, 2017: Today is National Women & Girls HIV Awareness Day. In honor of the approximately 300,000 women living with HIV in the United States, please join Positive Women’s Network – USA in asserting and celebrating the bodily autonomy of all women and girls living with HIV, including women of trans experience.

NWGHAAD 17 graphic v2-01Yesterday, we presented Bodily Autonomy: A Framework to Guide Our Future in a special webinar (watch the recording here!) Today at 12 PM EST/9 AM PST, we continue the conversation on Twitter using the hashtags #NWGHAAD and #BodilyAutonomy with special guests from HIVE, SisterSong, Desiree Alliance, The Well Project, Positively Trans, Arianna’s Center and Prevention Access Campaign. We invite you to join the conversation online! You can also access our complete #NWGHAAD #BodilyAutonomy social media toolkit here, complete with sample social media posts and shareable graphics.

The Bodily Autonomy Framework is available here (Download the printer-friendly PDF version of this framework here.)

Women and girls living with HIV across the U.S.: Today, and every day, we honor you. Allies: Thank you for your continued support and commitment to upholding the rights of women living with HIV.

I Am My Sisters’ and Brothers’ Keeper

An Open Letter from Positive Women’s Network – USA in Observance of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD)

February 7, 2017: From the moment the winner of the 2016 U.S. presidential election was announced, many of us of African descent have experienced disappointment, anger, outrage, and anxiety. A communal reaction to what some have dubbed a referendum against the human rights and dignity of people of color left some of us in physical shock, while confirming what others already knew to be true: This country, built on the genocide and enslavement of our ancestors and elders, continues to be plagued by deeply entrenched racism.

Now, three weeks into an administration that is quickly transforming the nation into something more closely resembling a neo-fascist totalitarian state than a democracy, 45 has made good on campaign promises by waging war on immigrants, Muslims, women, and poor people in a rapid-fire succession of assaultive policies intended to distract and create an environment of “shock and awe.” This traumatic environment, characterized by unbridled intolerance and suppression tactics, have left some folks confused and resigned to a seemingly daily assault on institutions, policy advances, and programs that have at times supported our journey from “bondage” to “freedom.” Yet our survival during this time, as always, depends on our ability to resist, love, and protect each other. We cannot stop now.

Continue reading “I Am My Sisters’ and Brothers’ Keeper”

Women of PWN Dismantling Racism

December 19, 2016

To the Positive Women’s Network Sisterhood and Allies –

At the 2016 PWN Speak Up Summit in Ft Walton Beach, white women living with HIV committed to study and challenge racism, within ourselves and in our communities. We promised to do this work even when it makes us uncomfortable. We want and need to stand with our Black and brown sisters living with HIV in the struggle for dignity, justice, and rights for us all. 

image-4The election of Donald Trump and Mike Pence has shaken this country to its core. As women living with HIV, we are gravely concerned about our ability to maintain our health and health care, housing, childcare, wages, and support services. As white women living with HIV, we are also frightened for the safety of our Black and brown sisters, cisgender and transgender, for our own Black and brown children, and for all members of non-white and non-Christian, non-heterosexual communities. As this wave of white supremacy crashes over our country, we commit to stand together and to fight alongside our Black and brown sisters and communities. 

Starting in January 2017, our newly formed group- Women of PWN Dismantling Racism, will initiate an antiracism curriculum by and for white women living with HIV. We will host webinars for all women living with HIV where we can meet, hear, learn, and support each other. As we do this, we will continue, on our own and through PWN, to monitor events in Washington, hold all our elected officials accountable and take action to fight anything that negatively affects marginalized communities or our Black or brown sisters in any way. We will continue fighting for justice for women living with HIV, our families and our communities.

We invite you all to be part of our kickoff webinar on January 17, 2017, 5:30 – 7 PM EST (2:30 – 4 PM PST) as we provide an overview of the curriculum goals and welcome those who want to participate in and support this work.  Please click here to register for the webinar.

In Sisterhood, Solidarity, and Action –

Women of PWN Dismantling Racism

 

 

Five Weeks Until Huntsville! Register NOW for the HIV Is Not a Crime II National Training Academy

HIV_not_a_crime II smallApril 11, 2016: The HIV is Not a Crime II Training Academy will be held at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, May 17 – 20, 2016 – you can still register to be part of this transformative advocacy training experience!

Join co-organizers PositiveWomen’s Network – USA (PWN-USA) and the SEROProject — two networks of people living with HIV – and help build a diverse, intersectional movement against HIV criminalization in the South and across the United States.

Plenary and session topics will include:

  • ·      Intersections of race, gender and sexuality in HIV criminalization
  • ·      Centering the rights of sex workers and other over-criminalized groups
  • ·      Updates and tips from active state-based campaigns against HIV criminalization
  • ·      Supporting leadership of people living with HIV in the movement to end HIV criminalization

HIV is a human rights issue; criminalization of people living with HIV is a social justice issue. The Training Academy will unite and train advocates living with HIV and allies from across the country on strategies and best practices for repealing laws criminalizing people living with and vulnerable to HIV.

Heinous violations of the rights of people living with HIV like the recent, active case of Corey Rangel in Michigan are made possible by a landscape in which laws are on the books making it a crime to live with a health condition. Come to Huntsville and learnstrategies from advocates opposing these unjust laws!

The training academy will convene in the Deep South — the region most heavily affected by not only HIV, but many other symptoms of a history steeped in injustice and trauma.

Register for HIV Is Not a Crime II TODAY! 

There’s also still time for your organization to become a sponsor of the training academy, and/or send a participant to this important event. For more information, please contact Sean Strub, SERO Project, at sean.strub@SEROproject.com; or Naina Khanna, PWN-USA, at nkhanna@pwn-usa.org.

Questions? Please contact Tami Haught, SERO Organizer and Training Coordinator, at: tami.haught@SEROproject.com.

Stay tuned to the training academy’s website and social media for more information as the event approaches.

www.HIVIsNotaCrime.com
Twitter: @HIVIsNotaCrime
Facebook: /HIVIsNotaCrimeConference
#HIVIsNotaCrime

HINAC countdown memes 1 spitting

The Epidemic Among Black Women Requires More than Rhetoric


PWN-USA Statement for National Black HIV Awareness Day

by Vanessa Johnson and Waheedah Shabazz-El

Black Americans have endured an exceptionally brutal history which complicates our present and challenges our future. Torn from our native land–the continent that gave birth to humankind–we have been systematically dehumanized to serve as chattel in a foreign land. Even now, the United States offers Black Americans citizenship only at a substandard quality of life and without an opportunity for reparations and healing. Given this history, and our understanding of HIV as an epidemic that thrives on inequality and injustice, an HIV epidemic among Black Americans should hardly come as an unexpected surprise.

National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD) is anything but a celebration. It is a grim reminder of how far we still have to go, and how hard we still have to fight. Black lives will matter when our nation confronts and conquers the hypocrisy of those who claim to cherish all life yet place greater value on fetuses than on living, breathing Black children and adults.

Throughout this epidemic, HIV has shined a bright spotlight on the wide range of injustices confronting Black Americans: intergenerational poverty, mass incarceration, institutionalized racism, inadequate access to health care, inferior educational opportunities, disproportionate targeting by police, a racist criminal justice system, and more. If there is anything that the HIV community has universally accepted, it is the understanding that HIV is more than just a medical condition. The federal response to this epidemic serves as a very window into the soul of one of the richest nations on earth — a nation which continually leaves Black Americans in its wake, drowning in the torrents of a largely preventable disease. Merely half a century after the end of segregation, in a nation whose economic basis is founded on Jim Crow laws and which turns a blind eye to the systemic injustices facing people of color, we cannot feign surprise that there continues to be an epidemic of HIV among Black Americans and that Black people living with HIV face worse health outcomes on average.

Although some progress has been made, Black Americans are still fighting for access to the most fundamental human rights – including water, food, employment, education, and the right to vote. We continue to be locked out of meaningful civic participation, fair representation and decision-making from the local level to the highest halls of federal government.

This rings particularly true for Black American women, whose plight and leadership in this epidemic continue to be minimized. Despite the advances made to reduce new infections, Black American women still acquire HIV at an alarming rate–representing 60% of new infections among women–and remain the majority of women living with HIV in this country. Although Black women comprise nearly two-third of the domestic HIV epidemic among women, Black women living with HIV are still not a priority in the newly-released National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS 2020).

As an advocacy organization, Positive Women’s Network-USA (PWN-USA), the premier voice for women living with HIV in the United States, will not stand idly by in silence while women of African descent continue to bear the brunt of this disease and policymakers’ indifference to its effects on our community. We demand that our government invest in effective HIV prevention for Black women, as well as in women-centered, whole-person, universal health care that addresses the barriers to engagement and retention in care for women with HIV. Medicalization of HIV will continue to fail in addressing the needs of women living with and vulnerable to HIV when they do not have adequate access to basic resources to stay healthy.

The HIV epidemic in this country will end when America commits to the underlying conditions which enable HIV to thrive, such as racism and poverty. We demand a laser focus on upholding the full health, rights, and dignity of Black women living with HIV over the next five years of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy’s implementation.

“We Gonna Be Alright”: An HIV Activist at the 1st National Movement for Black Lives Convening

By Waheedah Shabazz-El, PWN-USA Director of Regional Organizing

 

Introduction

Waheedah Shabazz-El.
Waheedah Shabazz-El.

“Unapologetically Black” was a major theme amongst more than 1,500 Black activists and organizers in attendance at the 1st National Movement for Black Lives Convening, held July 24-26, 2015, in Cleveland, Ohio, at Cleveland State University. I arrived of course as a Stakeholder and an HIV Activist representing PWN-USA, Philadelphia FIGHT, and HIV Prevention Justice Alliance (HIV PJA) — intent on helping to shape the landscape of the new Black Movement through identifying critical intersectional opportunities for movement building. Highlighting the implications of HIV Criminalization Laws and how they tear at the very fiber of the Black Community.

Something else happened for me as I disembarked the transit bus and approached Cleveland State University, something rather enchanting. I was eagerly greeted by young adults whom I had never seen or known, with unforeseen energy of reverence, respect, and appreciation. Warm smiles, head nods, door holding, bag reaching; along with verbal salutations of “good morning beautiful,” “good morning Black woman,” “good morning sister,” and “Black Love.” All this just for showing up, just for being there, just for being Black.

I soon realized there was another transformation going on here, because in my mind I was arriving as this “kick ass activist.” However, I was being seen and greeted through a prism of unanticipated reverence. I was being greeted as an elder — a tribal elder. Yes I showed up. Yes I was there. Of course I was Black – but beyond that, I was being bestowed the honorable identification as a Black Tribal Elder. A Black Tribal Elder who (now in my mind) had been summoned here to help shape the foundation for real Black Liberation.

Each person that greeted me was cheerful, kind, and jovial, yet maintained an unspoken seriousness which I came to understand to be a greeting from a deeper place inside each of us. It was utterly amazing. Our spirits were meeting, touching, embracing, and speaking in unison, saying to each other: “We are here to be free.

 

Day One, July 24

Waheedah with PWN-USA-Ohio Co-Chair Naimah Oneal.
Waheedah with PWN-USA-Ohio Co-Chair Naimah Oneal.

Day One of the conference and I was already hyped. Feeling grand and safe and appreciated, it was time to get down to work. Registration was seamless (since folks at the front of line called my name); then we were off to the opening ceremony. Greetings, salutations and introductions of the founders of the movement, local leaders and honoring of family members of young lives taken much too soon. The highlight of the opening ceremony for me was when Black Lives Matter cofounder Alicia Garza took us on a poetic history journey honoring the city of Cleveland for their leadership in the history of the Black struggle: From Ohio’s long and rich history as a hotbed of Underground Railroad activity to the 1964 Cleveland schools’ boycott to protest segregation to the 1st National Movement for Black Lives Convening.

The panel connecting HIV to the Movement for Black Lives was next and entitled “The Black Side of the Red Ribbon.” Panelists Kenyon Farrow, Deon Haywood, “young” Maxx Boykin from HIV PJA, and myself were given the opportunity to bring Black AIDS Activism into perspective and shared our motivation and years of experience working alongside (the Black side) of other community members in the fight to address the HIV dilemma and the stigma surrounding it.

Later that evening, July 24, we were addressed as a mass assembly by several of the recent families who have lost loved ones to police brutality and state violence. Family members of Eric Garner, Rekia Boyd, Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, and Tamir Rice and Tanisha Anderson — both local victims of police murder. There was also cousin of the late Emmett Till.

 

Day Two, July 25

Day Two was more of the same “Black Love,” “good morning Black Man” and an opening plenary, yet something a bit different occurred. The Movement for Black Lives made its first essential internal transformation without any resistance. The challenge was eloquently articulated by a delegation of transgender and gender-variant participants who were invited to the stage: “The Movement for Black Lives must be a safe place for all, and inclusive of all gender identities and sexual expressions.”

The delegation introduced a list of logistic challenges that were overlooked, which included: an application with more than two gender choices; trans*-related workshops spread out on the schedule and not all in the same time slot; conference badges that allowed preferred name and pronoun preferences; and use of gender-neutral restrooms. In addition, the delegation offered some “not-so-gender-specific” language. Instead of referring to one another as brother and/or sister, we could use the word “Sib” (short for sibling) a more inclusive term. On the website, the Movement for Black Lives Mass Convening was framed as a space and time that would be used to “build a sense of fellowship that transcends geographical boundaries, and begin to heal from the many traumas we face.” So the transformation is to build a sense of siblingship, instead of fellowship.

Waheedah and panelists at "HIV Is Not a Crime, Or Is It?"
Waheedah and panelists at “HIV Is Not a Crime, Or Is It?”

“HIV Is Not a Crime, Or Is It” was the title of the panel I participated in later in the afternoon on Day Two, and it was a blast – aka a huge success. An expert panel with Marsha Jones, Kenyon Farrow, Bryan Jones, and I fiercely articulated how HIV Criminalization laws disproportionately affect and break down the very fiber of Black Community: their implications on Black Women, their children and Young Black Gay Men, and the impact the laws were having on public health within our Black Community.

 

Day Three, July 26

In the closing strategy sessions, HIV criminalization was kept on the agenda of the Movement for Black Lives. Ending HIV is a must and it will take a movement, not a moment, to take on the issue of ending yet another way of policing Black communities – this time through legal discrimination of people living with HIV.

All in all, the Movement for Black Lives was a gathering where we connected to Black love, Black leadership and Black power, Black culture, Black art, and the Black aesthetic in music. The convening included an amazing workshop on “Building Black Women’s Leadership.” The Movement for Black Lives’ journey continues as we commit our energy toward deepening and broadening the connections that were made at the convening. Again: It’s a Movement not a moment.

Black women, Black men, Black youth, Black elders, Black artists, Black straight people, Black queer people, Black trans* people, Black labor, Black Muslims, Black Christians, and Black Panthers. We laughed together. We cried together, and cheered for one another. We challenged each other and shared life experiences. We shared resources, studied together, and created new networks. We debated. We danced. We chanted. We partied together. We healed. I left there pumped with pride, chanting continuously in my head:

I

I believe

I believe that

I believe that we

I believe that we will

I believe that we will win! And #wegonnabealright.

 

Waheedah Shabazz-El is a founding member of PWN-USA and serves as PWN-USA’s Regional Organizing Director. She is based in Philadelphia.

PWN-USA Salutes Progress and Identifies Opportunities for Women in the New National HIV/AIDS Strategy

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact: Olivia Ford, oford@pwn-usa.org / 347-553-5174

July 31, 2015 –Yesterday, the White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) unveiled the newest version of the US National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS, or Strategy), updated to 2020. Positive Women’s Network – USA (PWN-USA), a national membership body of women living with HIV, applauds the Strategy’s stated commitment to address the effects of past and current trauma in HIV care, and its expansion of priority populations which now include Black women, transgender women, youth, and people in the Southern states.

5things_nhas2020_crop
Credit: AIDS.gov.

“This new version of the Strategy corrects a number of the omissions pointed out in our gender audit of the initial version of the Strategy,” says Naina Khanna, Executive Director of PWN-USA. The new NHAS maintains the previous version’s overall goals of reducing new HIV cases and HIV related health inequities, improving health outcomes, and achieving a more coordinated national HIV response. In light of stark statistics and ongoing calls from advocates for federal recognition of the impact of HIV on Black women and Southern residents, the Strategy now includes a metric to measure progress toward reducing new HIV cases among these two overlapping groups.

However, the Strategy does not explicitly address disparities in health outcomes for Black women already living with HIV, whose death rates dwarf those of their white counterparts. Transgender women, who face astronomical HIV rates and high vulnerability to violence, are on a short list for indicators to be developed to measure progress in serving them under the new Strategy, but no such indicator exists as of the Strategy’s launch.

Following years of advocacy by PWN-USA leaders, the 30 for 30 Campaign, and others, the work of the Federal Interagency Working Group on the Intersections of Violence Against Women, HIV, and Gender-related Health Disparities has been integrated into the steps and recommended actions of the new Strategy. The Strategy also includes language committing to explore trauma-informed approaches to women’s HIV care.

Nevertheless, despite copious evidence that sexual and reproductive rights of people living with HIV are routinely violated, there is still no mention of reproductive health or rights, and sexual health of people with HIV is only marginally addressed, in the new NHAS.

A federal plan for putting the Strategy’s commitments into action is expected before the end of this year. PWN-USA encourages ONAP to take advantage of this opportunity to strengthen the Strategy’s effectiveness, including but not limited to: incorporating explicit language and metrics around sexual and reproductive health and overall quality of life for women living with HIV; developing indicators to support HIV prevention and care for transgender women; addressing root causes of poor health outcomes among Black women living with HIV; and developing a plan to address mental health, including high rates of depression as barriers to quality of life for women living with HIV.

We commend ONAP for its efforts to ensure greater responsiveness to the needs of women, transgender women, and youth in the new National HIV/AIDS Strategy, and look forward to working in partnership to support implementation over the next five years.

More Information:

30 for 30 Campaign Applauds Inclusion of Women’s Health Needs in New National HIV/AIDS Strategy

Full text of the Strategy

Infographic: National HIV/AIDS Strategy: Updated To 2020 – What You Need To Know

Infographic: National HIV/AIDS Strategy: Updated To 2020 – 5 Major Changes Since 2010

President’s Executive Order — Implementing the National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the United States for 2015-2020

Organizational Sign-on Statement in Response to Michael Johnson Sentencing

Joint Statement on the Sentencing of Michael L. Johnson
Counter Narrative Project, Positive Women’s Network (PWN-USA), HIV Prevention Justice Alliance, National Center for Lesbian Rights

On Monday July 13, 2015, Michael L. Johnson was sentenced to 30½ years in prison (a concurrent sentence) after being convicted of “recklessly infecting a partner with HIV” and “recklessly exposing partners to the virus.” We are outraged by this sentencing and Johnson’s incarceration. This represents a failure of the justice system and a blatant manifestation of structural violence in the lives of Black gay men.

michael_johnsonThe State of Missouri was able to convict Michael Johnson without having to prove that he had any intent to infect his sexual partners nor demonstrate that he was in fact the person who transmitted HIV to his sexual partners. We are outraged by the criminalization, arrests and imprisonment of those prosecuted under HIV criminalization laws. We will continue to fight for Michael, to repeal HIV criminalization laws, to dismantle the Prison Industrial Complex, and to end the stigma and violence perpetrated upon people living with HIV by these laws. With this mission in mind, we are calling for the following:

The Right for People Living with HIV to choose if, when, and how they disclose
HIV disclosure is not safe under every circumstance. People with HIV may face risks ranging from loss of employment to personal humiliation, custody battles, and violence resulting from disclosure. In addition, the burden of proving disclosure rests on the person living with HIV, not her/his partner. While we are committed to helping create a world where disclosure of HIV status is safe, we reject the notion that disclosure of HIV status should be coerced by the State. Laws criminalizing alleged non-disclosure do not make it easier to disclose, and do not protect people from acquiring HIV.

An HIV prevention policy that relies on disclosure of HIV status fails to account for the fact that data shows a person is more likely to contract HIV from a sexual partner who is unaware of their HIV positive status and that effective care and treatment for people living with HIV reduces the likelihood of transmission to almost zero. The best approach for those who are HIV-negative or of unknown HIV status is to practice self-efficacy and care – an approach which could include prevention strategies such as: (1) Learning how HIV and other STDs are transmitted and effective ways to prevent contracting the virus (2) Taking PrEP (3) Using condoms (4) Getting tested with partners for HIV and other STDs (5) Engaging in lower risk sexual activities (6) Identifying support and resources to leave unhealthy relationships that don’t support protecting oneself (7) Confronting insecurities that lead oneself to seek validation by engaging in higher risk sexual behavior.

Today, HIV is no longer a near certain death sentence. With timely diagnosis and proper treatment HIV has become a manageable chronic disease similar to diabetes. People living with HIV can and are living long, healthy, and wonderful lives. And yet, the stigma remains. The truth is that criminalization of HIV is not really about our fear of HIV itself but the stigma that is attached to it. Those of us who are not living with HIV fear that if we contract HIV that we will suffer a lifetime of discrimination and rejection. Given this fear, those of us who are HIV negative should understand why someone who is living with HIV would not disclose her or his HIV status. Therefore, the real target is HIV stigma, including institutionalized stigma which manifests in laws and policies such as HIV criminalization.

Advocacy Against HIV Criminalization is Advocacy Against Mass Incarceration
HIV is a human rights issue, and criminalization of people living with HIV is a social justice issue. Resisting the Prison Industrial Complex means understanding how inequities in the HIV epidemic and sentencing disparities within the criminal justice system interface with laws that criminalize people with HIV. HIV criminalization laws serve as a means of expanding the categories of people subject to imprisonment, by virtue of an immutable characteristic-positive HIV status. In effect, this creates a biological underclass. HIV criminalization does not provide solutions nor will throwing people into prison lower HIV acquisition rates.

HIV criminalization is another manifestation of a broader agenda which has attempted to control the bodies, the sexuality, and the desires of queer and trans people and cisgender women, especially those who are low income and/or from communities of color. This is the same agenda that plays out in attempts to control women’s access to abortion and contraception and reproductive decisions. This not only includes denying low income women abortion services through Medicaid but the criminalizing of pregnant women who are drug users. The sexual and reproductive rights of communities of color, LGBTQ folks, and women has been policed and criminalized throughout the history of this country. Policies based on restricting our body autonomy, stirring up homo- and transphobia, and spreading HIV-related fears have never been and will never be just or sound public policy.

Alternatives to Criminalization: Towards Restorative Justice and Healing
We acknowledge the HIV epidemic has caused immense pain to many in our communities. As a society, we must be intentional about supporting and providing healing for those who have been affected by HIV. We firmly believe that HIV criminalization does not serve to meet these ends. Prisons will not save us. Criminalization is never a solution. Instead, we call for a wholistic approach based on restorative justice principles. Rather than resorting to criminalizing sexuality of people living with HIV, we should treat HIV as an issue of public health, individual health, and human rights and dignity. We must ensure that everyone who is living with HIV (and those who are not) have access to quality and affordable healthcare. As stated above, data shows that suppressing the viral load of a person living with HIV through effective care and treatment reduces the chances of HIV transmission to zero, even if condoms are not used. If states like Missouri are seriously concerned about reducing HIV transmission, they would do better to focus their resources on ensuring their residents living with HIV have access to high-quality, nonstigmatizing, trauma-informed, affordable healthcare. Instead they perpetuate a political agenda that cuts lives short and violates human rights, especially for people of color and those living in poverty, by refusing to expand Medicaid.

Even more importantly than individual actions, we must push for societal changes to the norms and stereotypes that inhibit sexual autonomy and encourage higher risk behaviors. We must advocate for sex education that challenges dominant paradigms around gender norms and heteronormativity. Thus, comprehensive sex education rooted in modern medical science, sex positivity, and harm reduction, and inclusive of all sexualities and genders is crucial. We must address systemic discrimination that places people at risk for housing, food and employment insecurity. We must advocate for sex education that challenges dominant paradigms around gender norms and heteronormativity. We must address systemic discrimination that places people at risk for housing, food and employment insecurity. We should demand media accountability on pathologized portrayals of Black, brown, and queer bodies and sexuality.

We should demand media accountability on pathologized portrayals of Black, brown, and queer bodies and sexuality.

Demanding Accountability
HIV criminalization laws are intricately tied to histories of racism, sexism, and homophobia. These forces in the present continue to enact injustice and perpetuate these laws. For this reason, we call for greater engagement of LGBT and racial justice organizations and leaders in HIV decriminalization advocacy. We know various local, state, and national organizations and individuals have already stepped up to the plate, but more boots on the ground are needed to fight back against these laws. LGBT and racial justice organizations must take more leadership around this issue by resourcing advocacy, defense litigation, attempts to repeal these laws at the state level, and drawing attention to HIV criminalization as a practice grounded in homophobia, racism, and sexual and reproductive oppression.

We are heartbroken at what has happened to Michael Johnson, but we are no less determined to fight for him, fight for his freedom, and the freedom of all our brothers and sisters incarcerated under HIV criminalization laws. We are also equally committed to standing in solidarity with all movements committed to ending oppression from the dominant culture of policing and criminalizing vulnerable communities. Together we become more powerful. We must resist. We will resist. We resist.

Black is not a crime.
LGBTQ is not a crime.
HIV is not a crime

Signed:
Charles Stephens
Executive Director
Counter Narrative Project

Naina Khanna
Executive Director
Positive Women’s Network – USA

Suraj Madoori
Manager
HIV Prevention Justice Alliance

Tyrone Hanley
Policy Counsel
National Center for Lesbian Rights

To sign your organization on to this statement, click this link or use the form below

We Stand with Michael Johnson: HIV Is Not a Crime

HIV and Justice Organizations Stand with Michael Johnson and All Black Gay Men, and Condemn Laws Criminalizing HIV-Positive Status

As organizations committed to human rights, social justice, and dignity for people living with and vulnerable to HIV, we release this statement in solidarity with Black gay men who have been organizing a response to the criminalization of Michael L. Johnson.

michael_johnsonAfter only two hours of deliberation by a jury in a trial that was fraught with misinformation about HIV transmission, misunderstanding about gay hookup culture, and inadequate legal counsel, a nearly all-white jury quickly convicted Michael Johnson, a 23-year-old Black gay man in St. Charles, MO, finding him guilty on five felony counts and sentencing him to 30 years in prison.

HIV criminalization is yet another tool used to police and incarcerate bodies that are too often poor, Black or brown, or queer-identified. In this case, Michael will be incarcerated for the next 30 years for allegedly exposing sexual partners to HIV, a condition that is chronic and manageable with proper care and treatment. This is atrocious. As a point of comparison, killing someone while driving under the influence of alcohol carries a sentence of 7 years in Missouri.

St. Charles is less than a half-hour’s drive from Ferguson, MO, a city that has made international headlines due to racist police brutality and a scathing record of racial bias in law enforcement.

HIV criminalization laws are widely understood to be based on hysteria, misinformation, and outdated science as it relates to HIV transmission.  Expert-led professional associations including the HIV Medicine Association, the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, and the American Medical Association have taken positions supporting the repeal or modernization of these laws, and President Obama’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS passed a resolution in 2013 calling for HIV criminalization laws to be reviewed and repealed.

This particular prosecution and the media hysteria around it were fueled by homophobia, HIV stigma, and anti-Black racism embedded in portrayals of Black male hypersexuality.  Michael Johnson is not the first Black gay man to be incarcerated under these laws, and it is unlikely he will be the last.

Black lives and Black leadership matter.  We stand in support of the agenda released today by Black gay men:

  1. Support Michael Johnson while he’s in prison, continue to raise awareness about his case, work to support any potential appeals or strategies to reduce his sentence or overturn this ruling altogether.
  1. Continue to dialog with Black gay men around the country in person and through social media about the importance of opposing such laws.
  1. Repeal the laws that criminalize HIV exposure, nondisclosure, and transmission, in Missouri and nationwide.
  1. Challenge our allies in Black progressive organizations, criminal justice reform, HIV prevention and treatment, and the LGBT movement to take more of an active role in challenging HIV criminalization.
  1. Develop more capacity for Black gay men’s grassroots organizing.

When people with HIV are prosecuted under HIV criminalization laws, no justice is achieved. Stigma, fear, and, in many cases, racism, win. And independently of HIV, criminalization, incarceration, and police brutality disproportionately impact Black and brown communities, LGBT folks, and people living in poverty.

Black gay men cannot and must not be removed. With the recognition that anti-Black racism, homophobia, and HIV stigma are at the heart of the epidemic and the verdict in the Michael L. Johnson case, we as an HIV community must commit to centering Black leadership and to ensuring that the police state does not factor into addressing the HIV epidemic. Incarceration and prisons are never the solution.

We echo and amplify the love from the open letter to Michael L. Johnson to all Black gay men; we will continue to stand with all of you in this fight for Michael’s freedom.

To Michael: we love and will continue to support you.

To Black gay men across the nation: we commit to fight by your side in service of justice, love, and liberation.

In solidarity,

 

ACT UP Boston

Advocacy Without Borders

The Afiya Center

African American AIDS Activism Oral History Project

AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts

AIDS Alabama

AIDS Alabama South

AIDS Arms, Inc

AIDS Foundation of Chicago

AIDS Project of the East Bay

AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA)

APLA Health & Wellness

AIDS Resource Center Ohio

AIDS United

AILES

Alabama HIV/AIDS Policy Partnership

American Run to End AIDS (AREA)

Amida Care

Arkansas RAPPS

Believe Out Loud

Berkeley Builds Capacity

#BlackLivesMatter

BlaQueerFlow: The Griot’s Pen

The Body Is Not an Apology

BOOM!Health

C2EA (Campaign to End AIDS)

Cascade AIDS Project

CLAGS: The Center for LGBTQ Studies

The Center for Sexual Justice

The CHANGE (Coalition of HIV/AIDS NonProfits & Governmental Entities) Coalition

Chicago Black Gay Men’s Caucus

Desiree Alliance

End AIDS Now

End Discrimination & Criminalization Org

Fresh Anointing Ministries/Living Positive HIV/AIDS Ministry

Friends For Life

Full Of Grace Ministries

Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD)

Global Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS-North America (GNP+ NA)

Harm Reduction Coalition

Hawaii Island HIV/AIDS Foundation

Health Initiatives For Youth (HIFY)

Hepatitis, AIDS, Research Trust

HIPS

HIVE/UCSF

HIV Disclosure Project

HIV Justice Network

HIV Medicine Association

HIV Prevention Justice Alliance

House of Blahnik, Inc.

Housing Works

Houston HIV Cross-Network Community Advisory Board

Howard Brown Health Center

Intimacy & Colour

Iowa Unitarian Universalist Witness/Advocacy Network

Justice Resource Institute

Legacy Community Health

LinQ for Life, Inc.

LIVES WORTH SAVING INC

Louisiana AIDS Advocacy Network

Men’s Health Foundation

Metropolitan Community Church

Missouri HIV Criminalization Task Force

MrFriendly

MyFabulousDisease.com

National Black Justice Coalition

National Center for Lesbian Rights

National LGBTQ Task Force

NIA Women in Public Health

NO/AIDS Task Force (d.b.a. CrescentCare)

Northern Nevada HOPES

Ohio AIDS Coalition

One Struggle KC

Positive Iowans Taking Charge

Positive Women Inc. New Zealand

Positive Women’s Network – USA (PWN-USA)

PWN-USA Bay Area

PWN-USA Louisiana

PWN-USA-Ohio

PWN-USA Philadelphia Chapter

PWN-USA San Diego Region

POZ VETS USA INTL

Project Inform

Queerocracy

Sandshouse

SERO Project

SisterLove, Inc.

SOCIAL ACTION AND REHABILITATION CENTRE-SARC TRUST

Sophia Forum

Southern AIDS Coalition

Southern HIV/AIDS Strategy Initiative

Steps to Living on Facebook

Stopping  da Stigma

Sweet Georgia Press, LLC

Tougaloo Pride

Transdiaspora Network

Transgender Law Center

United Church of Christ HIV AIDS Network, Inc. (UCAN)

US People Living with HIV Caucus

Unity Fellowship of Christ Movement

Unity Fellowship Church Movement

Victim of HIV Criminalization

Visual AIDS

The Well Project

W King Health Care Group

The Women’s Collective

Women Together For Change

Women with a Vision

(List updated May 19, 2015)

Click this link to sign your organization onto this statement

Resources:

Commentary: Stop Locking Up Black Men for HIV, by Keith Boykin

On Uplifting Voices, Social Justice and Listening to HIV Criminalization Accusers, by Mathew Rodriguez

‘Tiger Mandingo’ is guilty because Missouri law ignores three decades of science, Jorge Rivas

Guiding Principles for Eliminating Disease-Specific Criminal Laws, Positive Justice Project

HIV Criminalization: What You Need to Know, Sero Project