We look forward to welcoming over 250 women living with HIV to Fort Walton Beach next week. Some are seasoned advocates who have long been involved with PWN-USA and who attended SPEAK UP! 2014; for others, this may be the first conference ever, and an introduction to advocacy. We welcome both and everyone in between, regardless of your experience with advocacy.
To help orient participants to the Summit, we have scheduled two special orientation webinars for registered participants for this week! Click on a day/time below to register for that webinar. If you cannot participate in either webinar, a recording will be available on our website by the end of the week.
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.
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.
Senate Bill 779 has been moved out of the Texas State Affairs Committee and assigned to the Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. With only two weeks left in the state legislative period – which will not occur again until 2017. That is NOT good news…as I have written previously:
“…the state of Texas is on the verge of taking a giganticleap backward. There is a state bill, Senate Bill 779, that proposes to amend the state Health and Safety Code to allow for HIV test results (which are currently confidential) to be subpoenaed during grand jury proceedings – and for a defendant’s medical records to be accessed without their consent to establish guilt/innocence and also potentially to be used to determine sentencing. Essentially, this bill proposes to criminalize having HIV.”
We MUST oppose this. And we need YOUR help, whether you
have HIV or not! This is a human rights issue. We need YOU to
stand with us, PLEASE!!!
The following text of the post derived in its entirety from the Texas HIV/AIDS Coalition (thank you, Venita!); republishing here for easier sharing. Please help now!!!
Senate Bill 779 Talking Points
“Senate Bill 779, introduced by Sen Joan Huffman, would remove the confidential nature of HIV test results and allow them to be used as evidence in a criminal proceeding. SB 779 is targeted solely at people living with HIV as stated by the Sen. Huffmanin the Senate State Affairs Committee when the bill was introduced. SB 779 was passed by the Senate and has now been assigned to the House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee. We need your help defeating this bill! Please call and email the members of the committee listed below. We also need folks willing to travel to Austin to testify against this harmful bill in the next two weeks.
SB 779 is bad for the estimated 76,000 Texans living with HIV and for Texas for the following reasons:
1. Using HIV test results in any criminal prosecution makes it appear that HIV is the crime rather than the actual crime being investigated. We need public health solutions to fight HIV and not criminal prosecutions.
2. Criminalizing people because they are HIV positive continues to perpetuate fear, stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV. Texas does not have an HIV specific criminal statute. Prosecutors should charge the actual crime and not the health status!
3. Treating a medical condition as evidence of a crime is at direct odds with public health campaigns to get as many people as possible tested and, if HIV positive, into treatment. Tests results can’t be used against you if you don’t get tested.
4. There is no evidence that HIV related prosecutions increase disclosure, reduce the spread of HIV or deter the rare acts of intentional transmission.
5. Laws should reinforce science-based public health messages. SB 779 could also be applied against persons charged with crimes involving spitting and biting. There is simply no need to prosecute someone for attempting to transmit HIV through spitting or biting, because that is not how HIV is transmitted.
6. It violates the privacy rights of people living with HIV by permitting confidential medical information to be used in a criminal proceeding. Issuing a protective order at a later stage does not prevent the violation of privacy.
7. HIV is a chronically manageable disease and should not be treated as a deadly weapon. Defining HIV as a deadly weapon further stigmatizes the disease and those living with it.
8. Although the bill is supposed to target cases of intentional transmission; it is overbroad and would apply to any person living with HIV involved in a criminal prosecution.
Texas House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee Members
Nikki Giovanni wrote a poem called “The New Yorkers.” This is the beginning of that poem:
“In front of the bank building after six o’clock the gathering of the bag people begins. In cold weather they huddle around. When it is freezing they get cardboard boxes.”*
Stop! I immediately thought of HOPWA (Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS) and the truth we were striving to share with members of Congress on April 14, 2015. Four hundred advocates from thirty states and Puerto Rico were about to converge on Capitol Hill as part of AIDSWatch 2015. One of my peers said, “You cannot stay adherent to medications if you are homeless.” Another said, ”There are currently fifty thousand households served by HOPWA while 1.2 million people in America live with HIV.”
We had so many issues to bring to the attention of Congresspeople. These are some of the issues:
1) there are fifty thousand new HIV infections each year;
2) young people under the age of twenty-five accounted for one in five new infections in 2012;
3) in more than one thousand instances, people with HIV faced charges under HIV-specific statutes in the United States and these charges are not based on science;
4) syringe exchange prevents the transmission of HIV and there is a federal ban on syringe exchange programs!
I had an opportunity to attend a visual journaling class the Sunday after AIDSWatch 2015. I wanted to make sure that my collage pages reflected hope, with power, truth, and a clear civil rights message. We were led in meditation by our leader and then each of us began searching what would manifest our goals for the art we were creating.
I immediately found a magazine that had nine southern states as part of a beautiful graphic and I knew that was mine! One other page included the statistic “1 in 5,” and yet another page had young people at the microphone. My collage page for my journal was to tell the story of AIDSWatch with hope and determination. I have experienced so much profound joy on my journey, so the words “Experience Joy” dominate the top of my page.
In 2015, HIV is still a disease of disparities. We know and believe that health care is a human right. I was drawn to Twitter during our Monday morning forum at AIDSWatch, and found myself typing these words:
#pwnspeaks@Susancares2x We are HUMAN GEOGRAPHY! That means as constituents our words matter, our words are paramount, our words save lives
”We are HUMAN GEOGRAPHY! That means as constituents our words matter, our words are paramount, our words save lives!”
Race matters. African-Americans account for one half of all new infections. How can black women living with HIV get quality care if it is not mandated that providers, AIDS service organizations, clinicians, and public health departments get anti-racism training? We need to ask questions like: Are the Southern Poverty Law Center and the NAACP training and sending out attorneys to help in each of the nine southern states that are now the epicenter of the AIDS epidemic in America? Who is standing up for transgender women? Who is standing with and fighting for the end of discrimination against LGBTQ youth?
“One ounce of truth benefits like ripples of a pond.” We had so much truth to tell on Capitol Hill. The stigma is so great in nine southern states that many get an AIDS diagnosis on their first visit to a clinic. Where are the leaders from faith communities? Thirty four years into this epidemic we are still asking, “Where are our allies?”
What kind of truth would I tell our Senators and Representatives from Pennsylvania? I decided I had to speak about syringe exchange and comprehensive sex education. Young people in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, can get $3.00 bags of heroin in rural areas and are desperate for a needle exchange program. Congress must end the federal ban on syringe exchange programs in the fiscal year 2015.
As a teacher, I have tried to share bold truth for years, regarding comprehensive sex education. One of our big “asks” as we spoke to the staffers of our Senators and Representatives was to eliminate the federal abstinence-only programs. They have never worked. Some seventh graders have openly stated that they have already had sex with three partners. They are desperate for truth from us. They are so valuable, so precious. Condoms need to be available in high schools. This is where I reiterate, “Young people under the age of twenty-five are twenty per cent of the new HIV infections each year.”
This work is arduous. As I look at my visual journal, I see that I included phrases like, “Follow your dreams,” “Feed your soul,” and “Seek adventure and respect each other. “ My dream has no fairy tale ending; rather it has an ending so bold that it’s happening as I write.
We, the people with HIV and AIDS, will end this epidemic. We are intrepid. HIV is not a crime. The Pennsylvania team spoke about Barbara Lee’s bill, the HR 1586 and asked our representatives to co-sponsor this bill, the REPEAL HIV Discrimination Act, because HIV criminal laws are often based on long-outdated and inaccurate beliefs rather than science. We had to explain to one staffer that if your viral load is undetectable it is not possible for another person to get HIV from you. What will you get from me? You will get authentic, bold, unrelenting truth!
The HIV epidemic is primarily an epidemic of women of color. We are waging a fierce civil and human rights battle! This is where I quote Nikki Giovanni once more: “For awhile progress was being made . . . then . . . hammerskjold was killed, lumumba was killed, and diem was killed, and malcolm was killed, and evers was killed, and shwerner, goodman, and chaney were killed, and liuzzo was killed, and stokely fled the country, and leroi was arrested, and rap was arrested . . .”
It is not OK that people still die of this disease! It is not OK that stigma exists and keeps people from being tested! It is not OK that children’s lives are lost because we don’t have comprehensive sex education in schools. It is not OK that there is a federal ban on syringe exchange. It would be worse if there had been no AIDSWatch 2015.
We, the activists and advocates, spoke mightily on Capitol Hill. On April 13, and April 14, 2015, we hope we spoke words so powerful that they may still be reverberating. Our work is unfinished. As Elizabeth Taylor once said, “We must win for the sake of all humanity.”
Susan Mull is a PWN-USA member, poet, writer, educator, and longtime activist based in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
*All quotes from Nikki Giovanni’s poetry are from the book Selected Poems of Nikki Giovanni.
Far too often, women living with HIV are talked about, instead of talked to, at the tables where decisions are made about our lives.
PWN-USA’s mission is to shift that balance: to prepare and involve all women living with HIV, in all our diversity, including gender identity and sexual expression, to be at those decision-making tables.
In March 2012, Positive Women’s Network – USA held our first-ever Summit to build advocacy skills and leadership capacity among 50 women living with HIV from the U.S. South. Following the Summit, participants reported they were better prepared to engage in policy discussions about topics ranging from HIV criminalization to Affordable Care Act implementation. Over a third of Summit attendees went on to attend the International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C. For most, it was their first-ever International AIDS Conference.
This year, Positive Women’s Network – USA (PWN-USA) is building on that success. We are thrilled to announce SPEAK UP! A National Summit for Women Living with HIV! 200 women living with HIV from across the United States will gather in Fort Walton Beach, FL, from September 17-19, 2014. We invite you to help make this historic event a reality.
Positive Women’s Network – USA believes that investing in our own leadership is important, and that building advocacy capacity in our communities is critical to achieving policies that uphold women’s rights. Participants will cover and arrange their own travel expenses tothe Summit; but we are committed to making the Summit accessible to women, regardless of income level. Can you take part in expanding the leadership circle of women living with HIV?
We’ll train advocates in community organizing, maximizing media opportunities, understanding data and surveillance, using a human rights analysis, research advocacy, advocating for Medicaid expansion, ending HIV criminalization, talking to legislators, and more! Each participant will receive valuable materials to add to her advocacy library to support her work.
$20 secures that packet of materials for one attendee
$40 funds a participant’s meals for one day of the Summit
$75 supports a registration scholarship for one leader
$150 pays for a leader’s lodging for the entire duration of the Summit
$500 helps us provide childcare, so that attendees with young families can be at the table
$750 will support a day’s audiovisual costs, to make Speak Up! A National Summit for Women Living with HIV a rich multimedia learning experience
Every day, PWN-USA inspires, informs and mobilizes women living with HIV to advocate for changes that improve our lives and uphold our rights. In 2013, we went through an extensive strategic planning process and listened to hundreds of stakeholders. Over 200 women living with HIV contributed to our newly launched vision, values, and goals. Check out our strategic plan today!
By Naina Khanna – Community Organizing is a long-term approach to achieving social change through collective action by changing the balance of power. In the process, the people most affected by an issue are supported to identify a problem and take action to achieve solutions. Let’s walk through an example.
You have recently seen that Sunshine Hospital, the main provider of HIV care to uninsured patients in your county, is taking longer to schedule appointments and return phone calls. Because of this, patients are not getting the care they need and may stop seeing their provider.
Step 1. Form a core group of people affected by the issue. For example, recruit people you have heard complain and ask them to bring others.
Step 2. Identify and agree upon an issue. An issue is a full or partial solution to a problem. At the first meeting, have people share information about what is happening. One person in the meeting shares that her friend on the hospital’s advisory board mentioned 4 social worker positions have been cut.
Some criteria for choosing your issue. The issue should:
* Be widely and deeply felt: that is, felt by many people in your constituency, and be a “gut” issue – something that people know in both their heads and hearts is wrong. You want to move people to action.
* Be easy to understand – it should make sense!
* Have a clear target and timeframe
* Set you up for the next campaign – you want to come out of this with more power, people, allies… and maybe even more money to organize in the future!
The group decides in this case that the staffing cut is an issue because 1 social worker cannot serve 200 HIV+ patients.
Stay tuned for Community Organizing 101: How to Run a Meeting continued in the next issue of our newsletter.
By Sonia Rastogi – The AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), is a safety net that provides life-saving medications to people living with HIV. Due to a funding crisis, as of September 2010, 3,441 people are on waiting lists to access medication. South Carolinians, Pat Kelly, founder of A Family Affair and founding member of PWN, and Bonetta Graves, coordinator at Wateree AIDS Task Force, discuss the need for action in their state where the ADAP waiting list is growing.
Pat and Bonetta spoke with SC Sen. Graham about the state’s growing waiting list at the ADAP Summit in D.C. but South Carolina will not invest more money. “If one-third of the HIV-positive people in South Carolina come out to rally … then the state would not be able to cut ADAP funding,” but right now legislators do not see the need says Pat.
It is vital to think about how the ADAP crisis affects the lives of HIV-positive people’s family members and children. Bonetta emphasized that for women, “there are a lot of things [they] are going to be cut off from,” without HIV treatment, including the ability to work and take care of their family.
TAKE ACTION! Step one: EDUCATION. Find out how you or your community is affected by the ADAP crisis: does ADAP provide your life-saving medication? “Somebody is going to have to pull their heads up out of the sand . . . to get started,” says Bonetta. Step two: EMPOWERMENT. “We need to start looking at medication from a human rights standpoint.” Pat says “We have a right to medication. … It is a right to health!” Step three: SPEAK OUT! Contact your local ASO or e-mail us at positivewomensnetworkusa(at)gmail.com.
When I went to jail in 2005, one of the biggest problems that I had was at the medication window. One day when going to get my HIV medications at the window, I looked at the pills in the cup and knew right away that they were the wrong medications. I knew that taking the wrong dose of my medication would make me sick. I was told that if I did not take the medication in the cup that I would be sent to the hole – solitary confinement. That scared me so much that I took the medications. If I knew then what I know today I would never have done this. I got so sick that they had to take me to the emergency room. I could have died.
John Bell at Philadelphia FIGHT saved my life. He is an advocate for HIV-positive people in the Philadelphia country jail system; he is the man my son called to help me; and he is the man who got me my life-saving medication the next day.
That is why today I am an advocate for people living with HIV/AIDS in the Philadelphia county jail system. I will never let what happened to me while in the county jail system happen to someone again. It is my job to make sure that people know their rights about taking medications while in jail. And when people re-enter into the community I continue to advocate for their needs as a teaching assistant for Philadelphia FIGHT’s Teach Outside program for people recently released from jail and living with the virus.