A Joint Statement from Counter Narrative Project, HIV Prevention Justice Alliance, Positive Women’s Network – USA, TransLatin@ Coalition, Treatment Action Group, the US People Living with HIV Caucus and Venas Abiertas
no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well…
you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land…
no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your body is left aching
because prison is safer
than a city of fire… – excerpted from “Home” by Warsan Shire
May 1, 2017: Emigrating entails hardship and sacrifice: leaving loved ones, a community and valued possessions behind; sometimes learning a new language and a new culture. Throughout history, people have courageously made these difficult and sometimes heartbreaking choices for their own preservation, to seek or to provide a better future for their loved ones. Yet today, tens of millions of people, driven by the same aspirations and values this country claims to cherish, live in agonizing fear for their safety–because a minority of the United States elected to its highest office a demagogue who found his path to victory in scapegoating and marginalizing them. He has already translated his dangerous, divisive rhetoric into policies that run contrary to the U.S. Constitution and to the most basic of the values it enshrines. Continue reading “This May Day, Join the HIV Community Movement for Expanded Sanctuary”→
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.
January 20, 2017: Today, a thin-skinned, authoritarian narcissist who lost the popular vote by almost 3 million votes is being sworn into the highest office in the United States, and arguably the most powerful position in the world. He has shown utter contempt not only for women, Muslims, Latinx and Black people, immigrants and the LGBT community, but also for the Constitution and its most basic protections, including freedom of the press; democracy; facts; and human decency.
November 18, 2016: Transgender Day of Remembrance—or Transgender Day of Resilience, to give full credit to the power, strength, creativity and determination our brothers and sisters of trans experience have shown in the face of relentless persecution—is observed November 20 of each year.
On this solemn but critically important day, and every day, Positive Women’s Network – USA commits to hold and uplift our transgender siblings and to do all within our power to protect them from the outpouring of hate, encircle them in love and give a platform to their voices.
This year, TDOR falls just 12 days after an election that threatens to roll back decades of progress for many communities—immigrants, LGBTQ, people of color and women—but which is particularly foreboding for the transgender community. As people of trans experience have increased their visibility in a struggle for equal rights and protection under the law, they have also faced hate crimes, including murders. Far too often, our trans family are further brutalized even in death, misgendered in the news. In fact, pervasive misgendering by police departments and media sources make it difficult to keep an accurate count of murders of transgender individuals, and can also impede investigation of incidents as hate crimes.
Separately from threats of physical violence, simply accessing health care, housing, education and employment opportunities can be like navigating a minefield for people of trans experience.
Please read the following statement from Jada Cardona, a Latinx woman of trans experience living in New Orleans, Louisiana, which was written prior to last week’s election.
Transgender People in the South Need Meaningful Change
by Jada Cardona, Executive Director of Transitions Louisiana
Being transgender in the Southern United States has its unique set of challenges. We can consider it positive movement when we haven’t lost any footing but unfortunately, there is not much forward progress. Despite last week’s election, we refuse to go backward.
1. Affordable access to gender-affirming, non-discriminatory health care.
Since the adoption of the Medicaid expansion, we have been left out of the loop, as none of the states in the Deep South has expanded their Medicaid programs to be in line with ACA recommendations. More and more, young transgender women are resorting to underground silicone to have their bodies feminized. Hormones are super expensive and are not available to young transgender women. In fact, if you are living with HIV and are not adherent to the HIV meds, in some areas you risk being cut off of hormone treatment. There are no gender care clinics or after care clinics here in Louisiana. Getting gender reassignment is dangerous whenever you have to travel out of state (closest in Georgia) and have to recover in cheap motels instead of at home. Gender affirming care is still a dream on the horizon and not available in the South.
In a needs assessment survey of transgender Americans released by Positively Trans this spring, only 67% of Latinx respondents and 75% of African American respondents reported having health care coverage. Just 70% of respondents earning less than $12,000 a year had coverage. And 53-82% of respondents who reported having possibly or certainly been denied care because of their gender identity or HIV status had gone six months or longer without health care since their HIV diagnosis. Given the South’s failure to expand Medicaid, it is highly likely that the numbers in the South are even higher than these figures.
Further, 8% of respondents to the survey living in the South had never had an HIV viral load test. Viral suppression was also a full 10% lower among respondents in the South than elsewhere (71% compared with 81%).
These grim numbers highlight the urgent need for access to health care that is affirming for people of all genders and affordable.
2. Inclusion of gender identity in non-discrimination and equal opportunity laws and policies.
The Positively Trans needs assessment survey shows that 65% of respondents earned $23,000 or less annually, with a full 43% earning less than $12,000. Extreme poverty related to discrimination in education and employment settings forces some transgender people to resort to survival sex work or other survival strategies as they worry about where they will be sleeping and what are they going to eat.
This marginalization also increases risk of HIV acquisition for people of trans experience. Homelessness, lack of socially acceptable employment opportunities, and mental health challenges resulting from internalized oppression are killing our transgender sisters and brothers. The suicide rate is alarming and no one seems to be addressing the root causes of the problems.
Employment may grant an unprecedented level of self-efficacy necessary to build better lives. Non-discrimination laws must include protections for gender identity, and employers must be trained to comply with these laws both in the employment process and on the job.
Housing discrimination also remains an enormous barrier to stable employment and health care.. Homelessness can make it all but impossible to secure or hold down a job, as well as making it much more difficult for people of trans experience living with HIV to stay engaged in care. Non-discrimination laws and policies around housing must protect gender identity and must be enforced. Additionally, transgender individuals should have equal access to affordable housing opportunities.
Despite these challenges, I must point out that there is some growth that has been happening in our lives. For instance, we are more visible than we have ever been. People are now listening to our stories, and some organizations like PWN have embraced us. It is wonderful to know that there are some people who are committed to changing the political climate to one of inclusion and love. As we continue to change hearts and minds by sharing our truths, we demand that our neighbors, public and private institutions, and policymakers put down their prejudgments and recognize us as equal, so that we can finally get the respect that we need to thrive and supersede all that is against us in this world.
November 15, 2016: Today, we grieve. Tomorrow, we fight.
Resistance in the face of terror is nothing new for our communities.
Our bodies are transgressive: Black, brown, and otherwise pigmented; queer; HIV-containing; border-crossing.
Our bodies and those of our ancestors have mostly migrated – some by choice but many by force – to a country that does not love us. 60 million people told us that last week. But our ancestors have been organizing in the face of hate, bigotry, terror, and loss for hundreds of years. We will not stop now.
Combatting racism, misogyny, xenophobia, transphobia, and patriarchy is an everyday reality for women living with HIV in the U.S. We are not strangers to living in fear or to having our rights violated. We know full well that justice has always been a fantasy for many of our members because Lady Justice’s blindfold is just for show; the heavy fingers of bigotry and resentment have weighed on the scales of justice throughout American history.
Regardless of the election’s outcome, we would have had to continue to fight vociferously for the safety, health, dignity and equality of ourselves and our loved ones. With a different outcome, our work likely would have been defined by an offensive strategy: pushing for progress and accountability to campaign promises. What transpired with last week’s election sets us back on the defensive, threatening decades of progress for women, people of color, those of us living with chronic health conditions and disabilities, queer and trans people—that is, just about everyone in this country who is not a white male.
For now, we commit to encircle and uplift those who will be increasingly targeted in the face of a Trump administration – for being brown, Black, queer, Muslim, immigrant, indigenous, non-English-speaking, womyn, and trans and gender non-conforming. Our next steps cannot be a reform agenda. Our tactics must be radical, revolutionary, and intersectional – building and centering leadership and strategic investment where it is most needed. Civil rights were not granted through an election; they were won in the streets.
Still, it is not enough to protest in the streets while we allow the institutions we work for and that purport to serve us to perpetuate the same oppressions we are fighting in our governmental institutions. We must actively work to combat racist, misogynistic and patriarchal practices within institutions and organizations, while we fight state-sanctioned violence.
And at the same time, we commit to radical self-care, because our preservation, health and dignity itself is revolutionary. As the great Audre Lorde said: “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
Elections have consequences, and we fear the worst from this one; but that only means we must fight harder, smarter and more relentlessly than ever before. In the coming weeks, months, and years, we must work intersectionally and in solidarity. We cannot work narrowly on one issue; more than ever, we need to fight for a broad progressive agenda, inclusive of ensuring that our very rights to healthcare, food, housing, land, movement, migration, and even to participate in democracy are protected. Our fates are intertwined. Only through fierce solidarity will we be strong enough to withstand the attacks on our communities and our very right to exist.
We will fight as if our life depends on it, because it does. In the meantime, love each other fiercely and hold each other tight.
See you in the streets and in the halls of Congress.
In sisterhood and solidarity ~ Positive Women’s Network – USA
“White friends, I understand your grief, and I know it’s real. I am living with it too. We are grieving together-mostly for the death of a rosy vision that many of the people around us, people we know and love, never had the privilege of believing in. Now it’s time for us to stand in that discomfort and feel it. Really feel it. And think about it. And talk about it. Not just to each other, but to everyone. To other white people specifically.” Read more here.
We are heartbroken by the recent tragedy at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida which killed 49 people, the majority of whom were Latinx and other LGBTQ people of color.
As women living with and affected by HIV, many of us have been supported, mentored, and loved by the LGBTQ community when nobody else understood what we were going through. Our members include queer people, people of trans experience, lesbian and bisexual people, people of color, Latinx people, Black people, people of Muslim faith, people of immigrant experience, and people who are living with mental illness. The sense of shock, loss and despair is visceral and reverberates through our hearts and spirits.
We mourn for those who lost their lives seeking safety to celebrate their truths. We stand in solidarity with their loved ones and with all our community members who are experiencing the collateral harm of a lost sense of safety, held space and integrity in the wake of this unfathomable act of violence. We recognize that state-sanctioned violence against black and brown bodies as well as queer bodies takes many forms, including a spate of recent legislation criminalizing LGBTQ communities, and that discrimination, stigma, homophobia, transphobia and misogyny are not just uncomfortable experiences – they are literally killing people.
June marks Pride month throughout the country— a hard-won celebration of the diversity, vibrancy and resilience of the LGTBQ community. In this historically jubilant time to seek comfort in living out the full expression of our identities, we grieve. Yet, while we mourn and search for ways to heal, we also practice resistance.
We call for an increased commitment to actively fight against racism, homophobia and transphobia and the perpetual targeting of black and brown queer bodies by state-sanctioned and interpersonal attacks of violence. We disavow rhetorical responses to this tragedy that seek to divide us and that attempt to perpetuate further injustice and harm. Suggestions that entire religious communities, people with mental illness, people of color, or immigrants should be increasingly targeted, surveilled, policed or banned from this country – which was built on the backs of people of color — are unacceptable.
We must stand up and speak up for the right of every person to live openly as who they are without sacrificing safety, security, or dignity, challenging those who would rather demonize entire groups of human beings than address the deeper systemic problems that breed hate and violence. And even as we do that, we must thrive, celebrate our own courageous lives and the lives of those lost, and continue to love and support one another as we heal.
Going to the White House was truly something I never had on my radar to do for personal reasons. However, that was years ago when I felt that way. So fast forward and I was invited to participate in a roundtable discussion with members of the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP), the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and representatives from other agencies, alongside several phenomenal trans women and trans men who are recognized as experts.
The discussion started off with a synopsis of the things these lead organizations need to improve on when servicing the trans population. We who are of trans experience are already privy to this information and we voiced our frustrations about the inconclusive and nonexistent data of the trans community living with HIV.
We had to let these agencies know that the trans community is not being counted because trans women are seen as men who have sex with men (MSM) and trans men are counted as women. That is problematic, because these ASOs and CBOs that claim to provide services for transgender people seldom do. We also had to let them know that the trans women in attendance were more than beautiful women; we are also hardworking, dedicated, fierce, intelligent and persistent advocates who demand a place at the table. In essence, nothing about us without us. We made it blatantly clear that funds intended to bridge the gap in disparities suffered by the trans community living with HIV are not being used in that manner, but more for the leadership building of Black MSMs.
I know that we got our points across and were heard. As I told Douglas Brooks, Director of ONAP, that I thought my meeting with members of HRSA last year in Arkansas was a step in rectifying the situation, yet as a trans woman living with HIV in Arkansas, whatever surveillance measures are being used are not counting me. That is a huge problem for me. What we members of Positively Trans who were in attendance actually did was to share the preliminary results of our survey of trans* and gender-non-conforming people living with HIV in the South, since the southern region is often neglected from funding opportunities.
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.