May 11, 2017: This Sunday will mark the fourth Mother’s Day that Tracy Johnson has had to spend separated from Michael, her youngest son. That’s how long he has been incarcerated under Missouri’s archaic and draconian HIV criminalization laws, following a trial marred by racism and homophobia.
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”→
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.
Yesterday, 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.
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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 email@example.com.
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.
By Waheedah Shabazz-El, PWN-USA Director of Regional Organizing
“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
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.
“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 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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
The 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.
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
Counter Narrative Project
Positive Women’s Network – USA
HIV Prevention Justice Alliance
National Center for Lesbian Rights
To sign your organization on to this statement, click this link or use the form below