Young Women Living with HIV Deserve Support and Leadership Roles in HIV Community

PWN-USA Statement for National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

APRIL 8, 2016: Young women living with HIV have unique needs that often go unaddressed. HIV stigma, discrimination, ageism, complexities of treatment regimens, and economic challenges present a unique set of barriers to care and service delivery that can result in isolation, depression, and poor health outcomes. Navigating disclosure, dating, sex, employment, education, and parenting may be entirely different for young people living with HIV than for older adults. For those born with HIV, the realities of being a long-term survivor at age 20, 30, or 35 may have particular physical and psychological implications. In the United States, mass incarceration, community violence, and growing economic inequality may be affecting young generations impacted by HIV in unprecedented ways.

“When we talk about the needs of women, social support is critically important to our overall wellbeing,” says Grissel Granados, a young woman born with HIV who currently works as an HIV and STI testing coordinator in Los Angeles, and who released a documentary last year, We’re Still Here, exploring the complexities and challenges of growing up with an HIV diagnosis. “Even as we have seen funding cut for women’s support groups, communities of women have found ways to come together anyway. However, for young women living with HIV, it is much harder for them to create community with other young women–being that they are so few in numbers in any given city, young women don’t even know each other. There are not enough young women participating in larger HIV spaces because their needs are not being addressed and because they are not seeing themselves. As a larger community of HIV advocates, we need to make sure that we are intentional about including young women and supporting spaces that can bring young women together, even if it’s just to build a network for social support.”

In honor of this year’s National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NYHAAD), Positive Women’s Network – USA (PWN-USA) calls for a national commitment to addressing the needs and upholding the rights of young people living with and vulnerable to HIV. Advocates for Youth has just released a NYHAAD Bill of Rights, proclaiming:

1. The right to live free from oppression,
2. The right to education,
3. The right to prevention,
4. The right to care and treatment, and
5. The right to live free from criminalization, discrimination and stigma.

“It’s an aspiration of mine to see something like this NYHAAD Bill of Rights in full motion because our young people are worthy to walk in this world with all provided tools, absolute support and love,” says Tranisha Arzah, a PWN-USA Board Member born with HIV who works as a peer advocate in Seattle. “If we demand these rights, with the full support of the larger community, young people can not only thrive but lead the way toward a future where barriers to prevention, treatment and care like stigma and discrimination no longer exist.”

PWN-USA wholeheartedly endorses this bill of rights. As we move well into the fourth decade of the HIV epidemic, we further call on the HIV community to endorse and actively promote leadership by young people living with HIV. We believe that if this epidemic ever sees its end, it will be because of effective, supportive and strategic intergenerational leadership building on the lessons of the past while looking toward a radical and visionary future.

PWN-USA is fully committed to empowering and supporting young women living with HIV to organize and strategize; to demanding and upholding their rights to healthcare, including sexual and reproductive care, that works for them and meets their unique needs; and to ensuring their meaningful participation in decision-making spaces.

We urge young women to present at and/or attend 2016 SPEAK UP! A National Leadership Summit for Women Living with HIV, where they will be welcomed, embraced, and where they can educate other women on their needs, concerns and vision.

Please join us on Twitter today at 4 PM ET/1 PM PT for a dynamic Twitter chat with Advocates for Youth about Article 5 of the NYHAAD Bill of Rights: The Right to Live Free from Criminalization, Discrimination and Stigma. Follow the hashtag #NYHAADChat and join the conversation. See you online!

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.

National HIV/AIDS Strategy and Federal Action Plan Are Inadequate!

Both documents represent missed opportunities to fully address the HIV epidemic in the U.S.

As researchers, government officials, policy experts and advocates gather for the National HIV Prevention Conference, a diverse coalition of networks of people living with HIV (PLHIV), and our key partners and allies, from all over the U.S. have joined together to express our deep dissatisfaction and disappointment regarding the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS): Updated for 2020 and the accompanying Federal Action Plan.

We have repeatedly attempted to engage in dialogue with and share our recommendations for the NHAS, but have been met with little interest from the Administration. The development and implementation of a National HIV/AIDS Strategy that included greater and more meaningful involvement of PLHIV and community partners would hasten progress in the effort to end HIV as well as be a powerful legacy for President Obama and subsequent administrations.

The Federal Action Plan is an underwhelming update and trumpets what has already been accomplished rather than providing specifics about what must be done. For example, citing the July 2014 issuance from the Department of Justice’s Best Practices Guidance informing state Attorney General’s about HIV criminalization concerns, while important, is not new.

In other cases, we see that mandates are not met. President Obama’s Executive Order, issued in July 2015, required the development of recommendations for increasing employment opportunities for PLHIV.  Yet such recommendations are not evident in the Federal Action Plan. There also are no assigned roles for key federal agencies (including those responsible for HIV care and prevention) to identify and address employment needs, nor capacity building to support community-based efforts to do so.

We are disappointed to note that once again, as was the case throughout the Bush presidency, key stakeholder groups that are disproportionately impacted by the epidemic have been entirely omitted or miscategorized, including sex workers, immigrants and people of trans experience.

The Federal Action Plan also fails to set forth any mechanisms for involvement by people living with HIV, including PLHIV networks, in achieving critical goals, including universal viral suppression.

We are tired of having our vital concerns and expertise ignored or dismissed and being invited to participate at tables already set for us, with an entire menu already planned, and usually at the last minute. Since the first NHAS was released in 2010, we know our involvement, usually uninvited — perhaps sometimes unwelcome — has constructively helped to shape improvements in HIV prevention, care and treatment.

NHAS 2020 calls for “greater and more meaningful involvement of people living with HIV”. It is time to back up that rhetoric with specific steps to more proactively engage and more efficiently utilize the expertise of networks of people living with HIV.

We call for PLHIV to be seen as the subject matter experts on our lives—not merely as “patients,” “clients” or “consumers”—and to be included in meaningful and specific ways in the ongoing implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy.

If we as a nation truly seek to end the epidemic, it will require more than biomedical interventions. It will require leadership by and partnership with the networks of PLHIV and every key population of people living with or at risk of acquiring HIV.  Among our most pressing priorities are the following:

  • We must include sex workers in every conversation, acknowledging that criminalization of sex work and the related policing of transgender people are directly linked to consistently worse health outcomes for communities affected by this criminalization.
  • We must provide culturally relevant access to testing and healthcare for immigrants without criminalization and penalties, not only through Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facilities, but also through the providers that serve these communities.
  • We must provide strong leadership against state and military laws that target PLHIV and provide for review of previous prosecutions.
  • We must collect better housing data for those under the age of 18 who are living with or at risk of acquiring HIV and we must measure housing needs by assessing housing instability and not just homelessness.
  • Rather than simply address discrimination with current laws, we must research and acknowledge HIV stigma to address it systematically with federal agencies, partners and federal grantees.
  • PrEP is an important prevention strategy within a limited range of communities but for many transgender people and sex workers “test and treat” and “treatment as prevention” approaches, including PrEP, divert resources away from approaches that we know work, such as comprehensive peer-led prevention programs and advocacy to remove legal barriers, criminalization and policing of condoms and medications.
  • We must immediately remove transgender people from the MSM (men who have sex with men) category to truly measure and address the epidemic in this community.
  • Finally, we must act quickly and comprehensively to address the social and structural factors which continue to drive the incidence of HIV and health disparities in communities of color, particularly black gay men and black women, who remain severely disproportionately impacted by HIV.

We, PLHIV and our networks, as well as those allied with us, deserve and demand a better and more inclusive National HIV/AIDS Strategy that includes meaningful engagement for PLHIV networks and key population stakeholder groups to partner with the Interagency Working Group created in the Executive Order.

We demand to have meetings with the Office of National AIDS Policy, the Federal Interagency Working Group, the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to discuss NHAS 2020 and its accompanying Federal Action Plan and the Community Action Framework that was developed without adequate community input.

This statement is supported by #PersistentAdvocates living with and affected by HIV.

This statement is reposted with permission from hivcaucus.org.

plenary action1
A strong show of support and solidarity for sex workers left out of the NHAS and Federal Action Plan, organized by advocates including PWN-USA, at the opening plenary for the 2015 National HIV Prevention Conference in Atlanta, December 6.

Key Constituencies Impacted by the HIV Epidemic Hold Counter Conference to Raise Issues Inadequately Addressed by National HIV Prevention Conference & National HIV/AIDS Strategy

**MEDIA ADVISORY FOR MON. 12/7 & TUES. 12/8**

Contact: Suraj Madoori,  708-590-9806, smadoori@aidschicago.org or Jennie Smith-Camejo, 347-553-5174, jsmithcamejo@pwn-usa.org

ATLANTA: This week, as representatives of multiple federal agencies and organizations working in HIV prevention and care convene in Atlanta for the 2015 National HIV Prevention Conference (NHPC), advocates and activists representing key constituencies disproportionately impacted by the HIV epidemic will be gathering blocks away to highlight issues that are largely ignored by the NHPC. Among the issues that will be addressed at the People’s Mobilization on the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (also known as the “Counter Conference”) are the intersection of criminalization of HIV with mass incarceration and the War on Drugs; lack of integration of reproductive justice and sexual health; prevention funding, housing and healthcare access for people living with HIV in the South; increasing employment opportunities for people living with HIV, and upholding human rights for transgender people, immigrants and sex workers.

WHAT: People’s Mobilization on the National HIV/AIDS Strategy: A Counter Conference to the NHPC focused on issues facing communities inadequately addressed by the National HIV/AIDS Strategy & Federal Action Plan
WHEN: Monday, 12/7, 10 AM-4 PM; Tuesday, 12/8, 10 AM-4 PM
WHERE: National Center for Civil & Human Rights, 100 Ivan Allen Blvd. NW, Atlanta
Possible press conference to be announced.

“The LGBT Institute shines a spotlight on issues that don’t often get a platform,” says Ryan Roemerman, Executive Director of the LGBT Institute at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, which is hosting the Counter Conference. “Our hope is that we can help organizers amplify their message that a strong focus on intersectionality, human rights, and social justice are necessary when creating and implementing strategies to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic.”

The NHPC and the Counter Conference come just days after the Obama Administration’s Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) released its highly anticipated Federal Action Plan to implement the National HIV/AIDS Strategy 2020 (NHAS) unveiled this July. While the Action Plan does show some progress in areas long championed by advocates, including discrimination, data collection for transgender women and incorporating trauma-informed care in healthcare services for people living with HIV, advocates say it does not go far enough even in these areas, and falls woefully short in others. For example, sex workers—a population extremely vulnerable to HIV—are mentioned nowhere in the Action Plan. There is still no mandate for reproductive and sexual healthcare services to be provided to people living with HIV in primary care settings. Testing, prevention and treatment for immigrants appear to be addressed only in the context of detention centers. And indicators for addressing homelessness among people living with HIV are so limited as to miss those unstably housed. Of great concern is that the Action Plan contains no clear mechanisms for the involvement or leadership of people living with HIV in the monitoring and evaluation of NHAS. Advocates have also critiqued the Strategy’s sex-negativity and ONAP’s failure to engage with the community in the process of developing the Strategy (see links below).

The Counter Conference seeks to include people living with HIV in the national conversation around prevention happening at the NPHC–the conference, at about $500 per person, is far too expensive for many to attend, especially considering the vast majority of people living with HIV live at or below the poverty level. “The National HIV/AIDS Strategy’s success rests on universal viral suppression, because that will drastically reduce the rate of new HIV acquisitions. But only about 30% of people living with HIV are currently virally suppressed. It will be impossible to get to universal viral suppression without working hand in hand with networks of people living with HIV, representing the most impacted communities. We understand how to look at barriers to engagement in care – from unaddressed trauma, unstable housing, economic and food insecurity to discrimination in healthcare settings,” says Naina Khanna, Executive Director of Positive Women’s Network-USA, a national membership organization of women living with HIV and a Steering Committee member of the US People Living with HIV Caucus.

Throughout the day on Monday and Tuesday, attendees of the Counter Conference will participate in sessions in forum and workshop settings presented by people living with HIV and allies.

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Partners and collaborators for the Counter Conference include: ACT UP/NY, AIDS Foundation of Chicago, Counter Narrative Project, Drug Policy Alliance, HIV Prevention Justice Alliance, Human Rights Watch, the LGBT Institute at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, Positive Women’s Network – USA, SERO Project, Southern AIDS Coalition, Southern AIDS Strategy Initiative, TheBody.com, Transgender Law Center and the Positively Trans Project (T+), Treatment Action Group, SisterLove Inc., U.S. People Living with HIV Caucus, Women With A Vision. For more information and to RSVP, please visit this link: http://events.aidschicago.org/site/Calendar?id=101682&view=Detail
For more information on advocate critiques of the NHAS 2020 Federal Action Plan, please visit these links:
http://www.bestpracticespolicy.org/2015/12/02/silence-is-still-death-for-sex-workers-the-nhas-implementation-plan/
https://pwnusa.wordpress.com/2015/12/02/pwn-usa-statement-on-the-federal-action-plan-for-the-national-hivaids-strategy-2020/

PWN-USA Statement on the Federal Action Plan for the National HIV/AIDS Strategy 2020

**FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE**

Contact: Jennie Smith-Camejo, jsmithcamejo@pwn-usa.org / 347-553-5174

December 2, 2015 – Yesterday, on World AIDS Day 2015-a day to remember the millions who have died of HIV-related causes over the past three decades, honor long-term survivors, and to strategize the way forward toward an HIV-free generation-the White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) released the Federal Action Plan of the newest version of the US National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS, or Strategy), outlining key steps various federal agencies will take toward addressing the domestic HIV epidemic.  President Obama is the first US President  to create and implement a comprehensive plan to address the domestic HIV epidemic, and Positive Women’s Network – USA (PWN-USA), a national membership body of women living with HIV, applauds the Obama Administration’s continued commitment to address the HIV epidemic and its disparities.

“The federal action plan demonstrates some commitments to improving the health and quality of life of people living with HIV,” says Naina Khanna, Executive Director of PWN-USA. “We are particularly pleased that action steps are mentioned to address some critical needs for highly impacted populations, including the integration of behavioral health and supportive services with primary care, and activities that will support identification and healing from trauma and interpersonal violence (IPV) experienced by people living with HIV. We are also encouraged that the Department of Justice will advise states to modernize or repeal HIV-specific laws that unfairly criminalize people living with HIV. These are advances that advocates, including members of PWN-USA and allies we collaborate closely with, have been fighting for for years.”

Indeed, the plan reflects progress in several crucial areas that PWN-USA has long championed. It calls for implementation science and translational research for prevention and treatment in transgender women, and specifically promises a pilot study of IPV services in behavioral health settings for trans women. Under the plan, an inventory of federally funded trauma-informed programs as well as lessons learned from federally-funded grantee prevention and care programs for women and girls will be created; IPV screening capacity in clinics receiving grants from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) will be expanded; and crucially, IPV-related services will be implemented in primary health settings, including health centers serving people living with HIV. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) will do outreach and provide technical assistance to the states in addressing employment discrimination against people living with HIV. The plan also shows an expanded commitment to research and development of new prevention modalities for women and men, including treatment as prevention and a focus on connecting at-risk populations to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

PWN-USA commends ONAP for its progress on these critical issues. However, there are still shortcomings in the implementation plan that we hope to see actively addressed over the next five years. For example, while the plan calls for creating an online mapping tool to show women living with HIV where Title X and Ryan White-funded clinics are located, we firmly believe sexual and reproductive healthcare services should be fully integrated into primary care settings for all people living with HIV. Also, while NHAS 2020 discusses discrimination of many types, e.g., employment, healthcare, housing, and the provision of prevention services, the emphasis is on enforcement of federal laws rather than prevention of discrimination. A change in internal policies and practices of institutions, organizations and programs coupled with enforcement will ensure stronger protections for all people living with HIV, including trans women, who face the highest levels of discrimination in employment and housing. We remain concerned at the lack of clear mechanisms for the involvement and leadership of people living with HIV in the ongoing implementation, monitoring and evaluation of NHAS.

Equally concerning are key populations that are either left out completely–like sex workers–or for whom the plan does not do enough. Paradoxically, the plan appears to call for testing, prevention and treatment of immigrant populations only in the context of detention facilities rather than addressing systemic barriers to prevention, care, treatment for immigrants, as well as problematic policing practices that might place immigrants in detention facilities in the first place.

“This federal action plan represents real progress toward ending the disparities in health outcomes among people living with HIV and, more broadly, toward ending the epidemic,” remarks Khanna. “It clearly shows the effectiveness of–and need for–advocacy from people living with HIV. We still have a long way to go, and as people living with HIV, we must continue to hold all the concerned agencies and the next Administration accountable for keeping the promises of the NHAS–and filling in the gaps that remain.”

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Reproductive Rights Must Be Part of Our Battle

Positive Women’s Network – USA Statement on
World AIDS Day 2015

Dec 1, 2015 – Just four days ago, an atrocious act of terror was perpetrated against Planned Parenthood, an essential source of healthcare for working and low-income women, men and young people in the US. As women living with HIV who have benefited from the healthcare and education services provided by Planned Parenthood, we condemn this brutal violence. We grieve for the loved ones of Jennifer Markosky, Ke’Arre Stewart and Garrett Swasey. And we mourn the devastation of women’s sense of safety, bodily autonomy, and threats to well-being for healthcare providers committed to delivering woman-centered care.

As women living with HIV, many of us have used and still depend on the vital health care services Planned Parenthood provides, including access to HIV testing, screening for sexually transmitted infections, pap smears, and the means to determine if, when and how we have children. We will continue to fight for these services.

Make no mistake. Attacks on Planned Parenthood are assaults on women’s rights to health, dignity, and self-determination.

While brutal violence like the recent incident in Colorado is typically met with condemnation by leaders of all political stripes, a large number of elected officials have waged a relentless war on Planned Parenthood specifically and women’s health more generally in recent years. The growing movement to deny essential healthcare to working and low-income women—accompanied by simultaneous and persistent efforts to decimate programs critical for working and low-income families – including food stamps, Medicaid, and paid parental leave — marks a deep disdain for women. These leaders would not only deny us the right to make decisions about whether, when and under which circumstances to have children – they also seek to deny the support that makes having and sustaining families a feasible reality.

A new study shows that states with higher funding for social services have much lower rates of HIV incidence and of AIDS deaths—signaling that, if the U.S. is serious about “getting to zero,” we have to be willing to challenge the reactionary idea that the working classes and the poor fare better when forced to “pull themselves up by their bootstraps.”

We must also be willing to challenge the rhetoric espoused by those who call themselves “pro-life” while tacitly or explicitly encouraging hatred, dehumanization of women, and violence. As women living with HIV, we know all too well the power of language to affirm or to dehumanize; to show respect or to stigmatize and criminalize. Hostility toward sex education, sexuality and reproductive rights is detrimental to us all—yet is evidenced by the fact that our government released a National HIV/AIDS Strategy in which the word “reproductive” does not even appear.

Women living with HIV—like all women—deserve access to affordable healthcare including the full spectrum of sexual and reproductive services–and yes, abortion and contraception services–that meet all of our health and family planning needs. Since the beginning of the epidemic, the sexual and reproductive needs and desires of women living with HIV have been ignored and dismissed by those in power. On this World AIDS Day 2015, we must take a stand to assert that women with HIV deserve not only life-saving medications, but the right to self-determination—and the full spectrum of healthcare services and options to make that right a reality.

Economic Violence in Post-Katrina New Orleans: Reflections from “Breaking the Silence: A New Orleans Town Hall Hearing on Women of Color,” Part One

By Penny DeNoble

I have been incredibly excited about making my transition to New Orleans, as I had become really homesick over the last year and a half, desiring to return to the City of my birth.

There is something about New Orleans … the people, the sights, the smells, the sounds, and the rhythm and energy of the City; unlike any place else in the world!

penny_denoble
Penny DeNoble.

Another reason for my homesickness and desire to leave Denver, CO, is because I grew lonely and fatigued at looking at so many faces that didn’t look like me, and desired to be in a community that does, especially in a community of Black women.  In the two months that I’ve been here, I have been able to find and join in a few events that have fed that need in my soul; to hear and learn about and participate in actions that highlight the state of trans women, Black women and girls in New Orleans, and to assist me in finding my place as to where I can serve and give something back to the community.

On June 18, 2015, I had the great privilege of attending a Summit entitled “Breaking the Silence: A Town Hall on Black Women.”  The intention around this Town Hall – which is a part of a National Series spearheaded by Kimberle Crenshaw, Executive Director of the African American Policy Forum – is to address challenges Black women in New Orleans experience on a daily basis, and then identify opportunities that local decision-makers can take back to their organizations and effect policy change.

After holding moments of silence for the nine martyrs who lost their lives to unspeakable terror and violence on June 17 in Charleston, we began.

The Town Hall was divided into 3 very rich panels:

  1. Economic Violence in Post-Katrina New Orleans;
  2. State Violence and Criminalization of Black Women and Girls; and,
  3. Gender-Specific Violence

The one panel I will focus my thoughts on today is Economic Violence in Post-Katrina New Orleans.  In future blogs, I will address the other two panel topics.

The women who were on this panel were: Ashana Bigard, housing and education advocate; Cashauna Hill, housing advocate; and Dr. Adrienne Dixon, education advocate.

This is a critical time in New Orleans in the recovery and building process, and it has been identified that so many crucial voices have been left out of the recovery and building conversation. Marginalized Black women and girls and other women of color have fallen out of the recovery intervention equation.  The idea that racial and economic justice would trickle down to women and girls through dads, brothers, and sons is an ideal.  The idea that women and girls are strong enough to wait for racial and economic justice to get to us is a myth. Women are verbalizing that the way forward is to lift up the truth of Black women’s stories and come forward to say that Black women and girls matter.

Ashana shared that the City of New Orleans has brought in outside contractors who have charged massive amounts of money and who have given their opinions and conclusions of post-Katrina recovery solutions, vs. inviting Black women and women of color to the table who are from the City, and are EXPERTS in and on their communities. For many reasons, numerous women and families have been displaced and are unable to return home to help re-build their neighborhoods and communities.

Although salaries in the city have remained the same, rent and groceries have tripled and lack of economic opportunities makes it difficult for women to be stable in housing.

She also shared about Parish housing authorities establishing ordinances that discriminate against people of color for housing opportunities. A perfect example she gave was of the St. Bernard Parish that engaged in a campaign to limit housing opportunities for Blacks in the Parish.  These policies made it very difficult to find or keep housing and these civil rights violations on the part of the Parish unfolded over the course of more than seven years.  This ordinance restricted the rental of single-family residences to those related by blood to the owner of the property (keeping in mind that the racial makeup of the Parish is 88.29% White and 7.62% Black).  Even after settling with the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center and the U.S. Department of Justice, the Parish and the Parish Council were repeatedly held in contempt by a federal judge for violating the voluntary agreement.  They were also found guilty of repeated actions to delay construction on multi-family housing developments in the Parish.  It was noted by the Department of Justice that racial discrimination has been a clear and consistent theme throughout the course of the legal battle.  So after years of litigation and $2.5 million later, St. Bernard Parish is building low- and moderate-income homes.

Everyone should have an opportunity to choose where they want to live regardless of their race.

Cashauna provided statistics stating that 83% of those receiving housing assistance in the state are women.  Further, a 2009 report by the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center found that Housing Choice Voucher holders in Orleans Parish were 99% African American, and that they were facing severe discrimination. Criminal background checks keep Black women and women of color out of housing, especially if landlords and rental companies enforce different standards of criminal background checks on potential Black, Brown and White renters.

Cashauna also shared that women she advocates for have shared that they are constantly threatened to be evicted if they do not trade sexual favors in exchange for housing, especially and including undocumented women.  They voice that they are harassed and discriminated against on a regular basis.  This harassment makes them more vulnerable to eviction and often puts them in situations where they may turn to survival sex for retention of housing.

This speaks to the fact that Black women and women of color feel under-protected in these situations and may often feel like there is no resolution or help for the challenges they face.  These situations show the potential incidence of high-risk behavior for these women, and could place them in the category of populations at high risk for acquiring HIV.

Additionally, the City, by order of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), has eliminated public housing units for 3,000 families and only 670 of these units have been replaced.  These uncensored bodies, which include HUD, City and Parish Housing Authorities, and private developers, are in fact participating in public and private-funded gentrification.  These bodies have made the decision about who can and can’t come home with the elimination of these 11 public housing units.  This elimination of housing units and these appalling housing policies disproportionately impact Black women and women of color, especially considering what I said earlier: that women make up 83% of people in New Orleans who use subsidized housing and Blacks are 32.4% of Louisiana population, and 59.7% of Orleans Parish population.

This is another issue that shows the connection between safe and affordable housing and HIV.  The effort to expand access to subsidized housing and other housing supports is crucial to vulnerable people living with HIV, because safe and affordable housing is healthcare.

I grew up in The Magnolia Projects, in 3rd Ward, and had close and extended family members living throughout the same housing project.  Not only were there family members, but there were many other families in the Magnolias that treated me like family.  There was always someone or someplace I could go to if my relatives were not around to let me in, feed me and/or give me a place to sleep.  Today, the Magnolia Projects are no longer there and neither is my family.  They, along with so many others throughout Orleans Parish, were demolished after Katrina and my family members that lived in New Orleans subsidized housing have been scattered to Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Houston, Atlanta, and Long Beach, CA.

Many of these housing units did not experience any storm damage, but the City made the decision to totally flatten them anyway.  What sits on the land now throughout Orleans Parish are some of the housing projects that remain empty or with mixed-income housing that have high-end rents or condos and townhouses for sale, that are in the higher $200,000s and low $300,000s, that often have workout gyms, recreation and community centers, and retail shops on their premises.

I have had the good fortune of being able to purchase a duplex home in the 7th Ward neighborhood.  I am glad to be a part of the neighborhood and as I live in one of the units, I have made a commitment that I want to be able to provide a safe and pleasant living environment for a mother and her children on subsidized housing in the other unit.

Another endeavor I am anticipating is being a part of the City-Wide Katrina 10-Year Anniversary Day of Service, on August 29th, 2015.  The Mayor of New Orleans hopes to have 10,000 people gather in New Orleans, during the week of August 24th-29th, to be a part of the Day of Service.  I have volunteered to help build a Habitat for Humanity home for a family in my 7th Ward neighborhood.  I look forward to putting in “sweat equity,” to help a family achieve their dream of homeownership!

Ashana mentioned how this economic violence also has a great impact on the health outcomes of Black women and girls and women of color because the stress, unsafe and unhealthy living and housing conditions all have an impact on women’s quality of life and general wellbeing.  There is an intersection between poor health and homelessness.  Health outcomes for Black women and women of color can be disastrous, especially women with an HIV diagnosis.  These women may suffer illnesses at three to six times the rates of others and have a higher death rate and have dramatically lower life expectancy.

Dr. Adrienne shared that before Katrina, there were 7,000 teachers in the Orleans School District, and 80% of them were women.  Post-Katrina, the majority of these teachers were fired, forced to retire, and/or were unable to return.  This factor has had a huge impact on the number of Black women in the City.  These experienced members and pillars of Black communities have now been replaced with Teach-for-America associates, who are predominantly young and white, have no history in the communities where they work, and do not serve as role models for Black girls. This greatly impacts Black girls’ success and ability to navigate an educational system that wasn’t created with their mental, social, emotional and educational well-being in mind.  She states that New Orleans teachers have been displaced and disgraced.

With the establishment of a 100% charter school system in New Orleans, educational institutions are given free rein on determining what their policies and practices are and who can be accepted into their schools.  Keeping in mind that Black students make up 44% of the public school body, but receive 67% of out-of-school suspensions, 68% of expulsions and arrests, and Black girls were 23% of those arrested.  Black girls often report they are reprimanded for being “loud” or “defiant” when they were simply trying to express themselves in ways that were natural to them. Cashauna reported that once the students are arrested, many families of these students are then kicked out of their public housing, often leaving them homeless, and shelters aren’t an option for many families because a mother isn’t able to keep all of her male and female children with her.  These policies demonstrate how Black girls and their bodies are marginalized, pushed out and over-policed just by being them, and are victims of economic violence in the area of housing and educational opportunities.

Some of the solutions members of this panel suggested were the establishment of Community Accountability Boards that look at a wide range of community disparities, and use the findings to shape policies to guarantee that all voices are heard, and needs factored in when making recovery and revitalization decisions that impact all citizens in the City of New Orleans.  This also includes undergoing comprehensive fair housing training.

The inclusion of the voices of marginalized Black women and girls and women of color is a critical solution – they are valued as contributing members of the City, their voices are important, their unique and critical stories and needs must be taken into account in discussions about the recovery of the City.

Another solution that was presented was for charter schools to be more inclusive in engaging community members where they’re located, to give them a sense of ownership and to give them opportunities to help create procedures for the school and bodies they serve, with the hope of eliminating the school-to-prison pipeline connection. The voices of community members in residential neighborhoods, they feel, is crucial to improving the process of enrollment and encouraging the hiring of seasoned female educators of color.

The same is true for women living with HIV.  These women are the EXPERTS on their lives and the virus, and they have a vested interest in ensuring the health and wellbeing of women are taken into consideration when decisions are being made about our lives.  This includes inviting us to the table to hear our personal stories about our lives.  The ending of the HIV epidemic will not be in reach without women being at the table and our meaningful involvement in vision and mission setting, and the development of policy and programs that take women living with HIV and their experiences into account.

I hope that local and national policy-makers will hear, regard and include the community’s solutions in their programs and policies to legislate change for marginalized Black women and girls and other women of color in New Orleans (and in communities infected and affected by HIV/AIDS).

Until next time …

#blackwomenandgirlslivesmatter

#AllWomenAllRights

Updating the National HIV/AIDS Strategy: Vote for the Recommendations Most Vital to Women with HIV!

Can you believe it’s been almost FIVE YEARS since the first National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) was released in July 2010?

The NHAS is a plan created under President Obama to comprehensively address the domestic HIV epidemic. The first NHAS included four main goals: 1) reducing the number of new HIV infections 2) increasing access to care for people living with HIV 3) addressing population-level disparities in prevention, care and treatment and 4) improving coordination of HIV programs and funding across federal agencies.

The first NHAS addressed some issues which are really important to women with HIV, including repealing HIV criminalization laws and expanding employment opportunities for people with HIV. But it missed the boat on others – failing to mention sexual and reproductive healthcare for people with HIV, failing to talk about the high rates of trauma and violence that impact women with HIV, and not meaningfully addressing the specific needs of transgender women.

Now, the White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) is soliciting input for the next National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which will be released this summer. This new Strategy (NHAS 2.0) will help to guide priorities for the domestic epidemic, likely for the next five years – which means it will go into the next Administration. It’s critically important that the voices of women with HIV and those who care about us are heard in this process.

The deadline to provide input ends this Friday, May 22nd. Here’s how to provide input:
1. Go to: https://nhas.uservoice.com
You can enter your email address to create a profile.
2. You will see that the opportunity to provide input is grouped into “feedback forums” according to the four goals of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy. You can click on any of the feedback forums to see which ideas have already been proposed.
3. Once you have access to a profile, you have two options:
a. Vote for a recommendation that has already been proposed
b. Propose a new recommendation
You can do both of these.
Note that you get 25 votes per feedback forum. You can vote for multiple recommendations, and you can also cast more than one vote per recommendation.

There are a lot of good recommendations already proposed in the forum. Also, a few weeks ago, PWN-USA released our own top five recommendations for the next National HIV/AIDS Strategy. In line with PWN-USA’s policy agenda and NHAS recommendations, here are just a few of the recommendations which have been proposed on ONAP’s forum that we think are really important. Click the links below to read more about each one. Starred (***) items are drawn from PWN-USA’s five top recommendations!

1. Reducing new HIV infections
a. Lift the ban on federal funding for syringe exchange
2. Increasing access to care & improving health outcomes for people living with HIV (PLHIV)
a***. Develop a minimum standard of care for PLHIV which includes sexual and reproductive healthcare, trauma-informed care, supportive services, and more.
b. Ensure gender-responsive, trauma-informed, coordinated and comprehensive care (this is very similar to the one above).

c***. Announce a national initiative focused on addressing inequity in access to care and poor health outcomes among Black women living with HIV

d***. Launch a national initiative to enhance culturally relevant prevention and care for transgender women
e. Ensure that PLHIV have access to healthy food: “Food as Medicine”
f. Increase and prioritize funding for services that link PLHIV into care
g. Preserve and support women-focused community-based HIV organizations
h. Integrate the work of the Federal Interagency Working Group on HIV and Violence against Women into the NHAS by instituting metrics on addressing trauma and violence

3. Addressing disparities and health inequities
a***. Fund research and development of women-controlled HIV prevention tools
b. Mandate comprehensive sex education in schools, and eliminate support for abstinence-only education
c. Eliminate state-level HIV criminalization laws

Are you excited yet? Ready, set, go vote before this Friday, May 22! (https://nhas.uservoice.com)

One Ounce of Truth: The Collective Power of AIDSWatch 2015

By Susan Mull

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.”*

Susan Mull.
Susan Mull.

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:

”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.

Sister Warriors

By Wanda Brendle-Moss, PWN-USA Member

This article originally appeared on March 4, on The Well Project’s A Girl Like Me blog.

Wanda Brendle-Moss.
Wanda Brendle-Moss.

As we approach National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on March 10, 2015, my mind is taking a magical mystery journey…

Start Date 1981, the beginning of what would be my 20 years as a Registered Nurse. There was a disease formerly known as GRID, now given a new name, HIV, Human ImmunoDeficiency Virus, and in the advanced stages called AIDS. I worked at North Carolina Baptist Hospital (Now Wake Health) a #1 rated Medical Center in my area. Even given that we were supposedly gifted with some of the medical community’s greatest minds…people admitted with this virus were dying.

For me as a new nurse (I was 27, a single mother of 2, having attended nursing school after the break up of my 1st of 3 marriages) there were several things that went through my mind. My son was about to become a teenager, so when we were all watching the news and the virus was given a name, explaining how it was spread, etc., I told my son that no matter what, he was to respect himself and whomever he chose to eventually have sex with by always, always using condoms.

The other thing that was happening at the hospital…being the “new kid” on the floor…Typically assignments that others did not want went to the new kid. And whenever one of “those men” was admitted, I typically would be their nurse, the difference being…I was unafraid. They were someone’s loved one…and my nursing philosophy to the day I stopped nursing was…every patient is someone’s father, brother, mother, sister, son, or daughter…and I treated them as I wanted my family members treated.

What struck me though was…Where were the women?? … Click this link to read the rest of this article, and view even more photos of Sister Warriors, on The Well Project’s A Girl Like Me blog!