PWN-USA Launches 2 New Training Series

March 17, 2016

PWN-USA is excited to announce our launch of two new web-based training series this month: a 4-part communications training series and a 3-part policy training series, open to all women living with HIV and HIV advocates.

Click below to read more about each series and register for upcoming trainings!

Communications Training Series

Policy Training Series

Open Letter to the Entertainment Industry from the HIV/AIDS Community

February 11, 2016

Dear Entertainment Industry Leaders:

The undersigned organizations committed to addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic are writing to call upon you, as entertainment industry leaders, to continue to defend and support the rights and dignity of entertainment industry workers living with HIV and to help promote greater public education on HIV. Read the full letter here.

 

PWN-USA Members Represent on World AIDS Day 2015!

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PWN-USA members were on the move this World AIDS Day, representing at events from coast to coast! (Don’t see your event and/or photos here? Please contact Jennie at jsmithcamejo@pwn-usa.org with relevant info and/or photos and she will add them!)

PWN-USA New York City–our newest affiliated regional chapter!–participated in the Brooklyn “Saving Our Homes, Saving Our Lives” charity awards benefit to raise awareness of the challenges facing low-income and formerly homeless people living with HIV, as well as in a World AIDS Day event at Harlem’s legendary Apollo Theater organized to show support for Governor Cuomo’s plan to end AIDS epidemic in New York by 2020.

PWN-USA South Carolina members attended a screening of the film Wilhemina’s War at the Nickelodeon Theater in Columbia, SC, sponsored by the South Carolina HIV/AIDS Council. PWNer Stacy Jennings also starred in a play, “Sex HIS Way,” with a plot line about women and HIV.

PWN-USA Colorado member and Board Chair Barb Cardell was quite busy on and before World AIDS Day, shuttling from one event to another, speaking at a concert hosted by the Boulder County AIDS Project, a breakfast in Fort Collins for the Northern Colorado AIDS Project, a lunch in Denver for the Colorado AIDS Project, and a World AIDS Day candlelight vigil and community education event hosted by the Pueblo County Health Center. (She somehow also found time to be interviewed for this awesome article by former PWN-USA Communications Director Olivia Ford for thebody.com.)

PWN-USA member Lepena Reid in Florida rivaled Barb for being in the most places in a single day, assisting the Florida Department of Health in testing over 190 people on December 1, representing PWN-USA at a historical black church in Tampa alongside students from University of South Florida, Pastors on Patrol, local ASOs, National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, Purple Up for Domestic Violence, Delta Sigma sorority; and at a dedication of the AIDS Memorial Park in Tampa with the mayor, the AIDS Institute, the Department of Health, other ASOs and government officials. (See photos in slideshow above.)

PWN-USA Philly, not to be outdone, represented PWN at a World AIDS Day event at Temple University, addressing the gathering on the subject of HIV criminalization (see photo in slideshow above).

In San Francisco, PWN-USA Bay Area members attended the amfAR Cure Summit at University of California at San Francisco (UCSF), where researchers explained progress toward a cure for HIV that will be furthered with a $20 million grant just received from amfAR, bringing attention to populations (such as women) too often left out of clinical trials.

In North Carolina, PWN-USA Strategic Communications Action Team member Alicia Diggs participated in a press conference with the North Carolina AIDS Action Network in Durham (see photo in slideshow above).

PWN-USA Louisiana member Rachel Moats shared her story in an article that came out on December 1 in Women’s Health magazine to fight stigma.

PWN-USA Georgia members were very active in fighting stigma across the state, representing at a World AIDS Day event at Morehouse College in Atlanta and at another at the Betterway Foundation in Columbus, GA. (See photos in slideshow above.) Members and allies participated in a special event in honor of World AIDS Day at Shy Temple Memorial Church in Atlanta on December 4, including a writing workshop led by author Khafre Kujichagulia, a candlelight vigil and a balloon release (see photos in slideshow above). One of the chapter’s newest members, Danielle Atkins (a.k.a. Ghetto Rose) even performed in a World AIDS Day commemoration event at Tavernpointe Kitchen and Bar in Atlanta. And on December 1, a breathtakingly beautiful documentary about another new PWN-USA Georgia member, Patricia Semiens, was released. Watch it here and share widely!

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.

###

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/

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.

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

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

 

Introduction

Waheedah Shabazz-El.
Waheedah Shabazz-El.

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

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

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

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

 

Day One, July 24

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

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

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

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

 

Day Two, July 25

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

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

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

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

 

Day Three, July 26

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

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

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

I

I believe

I believe that

I believe that we

I believe that we will

I believe that we will win! And #wegonnabealright.

 

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

Organizational Sign-on Statement in Response to Michael Johnson Sentencing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Signed:
Charles Stephens
Executive Director
Counter Narrative Project

Naina Khanna
Executive Director
Positive Women’s Network – USA

Suraj Madoori
Manager
HIV Prevention Justice Alliance

Tyrone Hanley
Policy Counsel
National Center for Lesbian Rights

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

#HIVisNOTaCrime in Texas or Anywhere: Urgent Help Request

This piece is adapted from a version originally posted on Advocacy Without Borders’ blog.
WE NEED YOUR HELP. BADLY.
I have written before about HIV criminalization, here and here. Most recently, though, when I have written about it I have shared how it is currently affecting my state, Texas and I have also shared about a collaborative call where the problem and an action plan was discussed. Now I am talking about it again. Because what many of us consider our worst nightmare has come to pass.

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 gigantic leap 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. Huffman in the Senate State Affairs Committee when the bill was introducedSB 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 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
Chair – Rep. Abel Herrero (District 34 – Nueces)
Vice Chair – Rep. Joe Moody (District 78 – El Paso)
Rep. Terry Canales (District 40 – Hidalgo)
Rep. Todd Hunter (District 32- Nueces)
Rep. Jeff Leach (District 67 – Collin)
Rep. Matt Shaheen (District 66 – Collin)
512-463-1021
Rep. David Simpson (District 7 – Longview)
512-463-0750
Thank you.”
Here is a direct link to the committee page with all of the members’ contact info also (thanks Kristopher).
_________________________________________________
Sample Tweets You Can Send Out for #SB779 Advocacy
(*Be sure to include the Twitter handles of the members above!!!)
Ppl living w/#HIV deserve the same privacy as anyone else; vote NO on #SB779! #texlege #TXHIV #HIVisnotacrime
 
#SB779 violates the privacy & dignity of ppl w/#HIV! #TXHIV #texlege #HIVisnotacrime
 
#HIV does NOT = less than! #SB779 says otherwise. #TXHIV #texlege #HIVisnotacrime
 
#SB779 is a HUGE step BACKWARDS for #TX; oppose it! #texlege #TXHIV #HIV #HIVisnotacrime
 
 
#SB779 poses a #publichealth problem not just for ppl w/#HIV, but 4 ALL of #TX.  #texlege #TXHIV #HIVisnotacrime
 
 
#HIVisnotacrime, but #SB779 treats it as such. Oppose this unfair bill! #texlege #TXHIV #HIV
 
#TX does NOT need #SB779 to create more #HIV stigma & fear; vote NO! #texlege #TXHIV #HIVisnotacrime
 
#HIPAA exists 4 a reason; #SB779 violates privacy & should not pass in #texlege #TXHIV #HIVisnotacrime #HIV
Texans w/#HIV are NOT 2nd class citizens; oppose #SB779 now! #texlege #TXHIV #HIVisnotacrime
#Publichealth concerns need public health solutions, NOT criminal penalties! #SB779 #texlege #TXHIV #HIVisnotacrime #HIV
#HIV should be treated the same way we treat other communicable diseases; say NO to #SB779. #texlege #TXHIV #HIVisnotacrime
If #SB779 passes, we will lose years of progress made w/#HIV testing & treatment. #texlege #TXHIV #HIVisnotacrime
#SB779 invades privacy & criminalizes #HIV. #texlege #TXHIV #HIVisnotacrime
#HIV+ Texans have a right to the same privacy as Texans w/out HIV. #texlege #TXHIV #HIVisnotacrime
#Creating fear & shame will NOT help us #Get2Zero new #HIV cases in #TX. OPPOSE #SB779! #texlege #TXHIV #HIVisnotacrime
#HIV tests are private & only the person tested should reveal their test results; NO to #SB779. #texlege #TXHIV #HIVisnotacrime
Pls don’t penalize tens of thousands of law abiding Texans w/#HIV for the actions of a few; OPPOSE #SB779! #HIVisNOTacrime
oppose_sb779
Photo credit: Kristopher Sharp

AIDSWatch 2015 and the Trans* Experience

By Tommy Luckett

What do you do when you are invited into a space and seemingly forgotten once you are present?

If you happen to be one of three beautiful, intelligent, and outspoken transgender women of color named Tela La’Raine Love, Arianna Lint, or Octavia Yaz-mine Lewis MPA, then you SPEAK UP!

Tommy Luckett.
Tommy Luckett.

It was during the Monday morning’s training session at AIDSWatch 2015 in Washington, DC, when the statistics were given on the likelihood of African-American and Latina women contracting HIV. At that moment Arianna Lint stood up and shouted, “What about transgender women?” Her question was valid, because we of the transgender community know that transgender women of color are 43% more likely to contract HIV than our cisgender counterparts.

Another crucial mistake that was given as a fact was that “transgender” falls under the category of sexuality. It was during the Q & A session that my three trans* sisters stood up with a microphone in hand to explain the difference to the organizers. Being a person of trans* experience is how one identifies his or her own gender. Being a person of lesbian, gay, and bisexual experience is how one identifies his or her sexual identity. The two terms are not synonymous.

While they possessed the microphone, the question was asked by Octavia: “Why was the opportunity to attend AIDSWatch 2015 afforded to members of the transgender community when we were forgotten about once we had arrived and were counted as being in attendance?”

We found it problematic that the organizers deemed it necessary to have transgender representation, but did not allow members of the transgender community to be at the discussion table. In doing so, there was no breakout session planned that highlighted the issues related to being a trans* person living with HIV. Our cisgender organizers made the assumption that they knew what was best for us, but no one asked about our personal narratives.

In effect, our lived experiences were erased and either categorized along with men who have sex with men (MSM) or along with cisgender women. Neither of these assumptions were accurate, because my narrative is completely different from the narrative of cisgender women. Much like the women who in all sincerity have said to me, “You are a woman” or “I have an issue with saying you’re a trans* woman,” they are inadvertently erasing my gender identity. If we in the transgender community are stripped of our trans* identity, then what is the message that is sent out to those who know nothing of the trans* lived experience?

The message is that we cannot think or speak for ourselves, which has been proven to be untrue. We are among those of the brightest minds, and we demand our place at the table. The time for waiting on the respect we so deserve is over.

My sisters demanded that there be a space created for the transgender population in which anyone could attend, so the discussion of our lived experiences could happen. It was at that moment that Michael J. Kaplan stood at the microphone and made a very heartfelt, sincere, and public apology to the trans* population in attendance for what had transpired.

Trans* sisters at a recent organizing gathering in Chicago
Trans* sisters at a recent organizing gathering in Chicago.

Remember, all of this happened during the morning session, and at some point during lunch or perhaps a little after lunch had concluded, the organizers had a room available during the breakout sessions which included the 20 or so transgender women of color and some of our cisgender allies. Douglas M. Brooks, the Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy, came and introduced himself in our session and said hello to all of those in attendance. It was a monumental time in all of our lives, because our trans* identity was acknowledged and appreciated.

The goal of the space that was created for us was to come up with three asks from the organizers of AIDSWatch as to what we would like to see happen for the next year concerning the transgender population:

  • I hope to see more statistics given on the rate of infection in the transgender community.
  • I hope to see a breakout session that consists of transgender facilitators or moderators.
  • I also hope to see transgender people at the decision making table for the planning of next year’s AIDSWatch.

All in all, the camaraderie and fellowship that occurred at this year’s AIDSWatch is undeniable. I connected with fellow advocates in the fight to end the epidemic, and connected with some new ones. I spoke with my legislative officials and had great meetings. Hearts and minds were opened. Who could ask for anything more?

Tommy Luckett is a Little Rock, Arkansas-based PWN-USA member and an adviser with the network Positively Trans.