Want to get a sense of what to expect or a chance to review policy priorities before you arrive in DC?
Join the US People Living with HIV Caucus, a national coalition of PLHIV networks and individuals, for an orientation webinar to AIDSWatch 2016! The HIV Caucus will provide an overview of the agenda and program, share some opportunities for networking, and discuss the AIDSWatch 2016 policy platform.
“What would improve your ability to stay in care?”That is the fundamental question women with HIV sought to answer in a community-based participatory research project. 14 women living with HIV (WLHIV) from across the US surveyed other WLHIV in their communities to assess what is and is not working well for women in the context of Affordable Care Act implementation, changes to Ryan White service delivery and the updated National HIV/AIDS Strategy.
“One thing that struck me is how many women need counseling and mental health assistance, but don’t know how to go about getting it,” said Pat Kelly, PWN-USA Board Co-Parliamentarian and one of the community-based researchers on the project.
In honor of National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, we invite you to join Positive Women’s Network – USA for a webinar presenting the key findings of this research project: Securing the Future of Women-Centered Care. Discussion will focus on implications for the future of the Ryan White program.
January 20, 2016: Registration for the much-anticipated HIV is Not a Crime II Training Academy, to be held May 17 – 20, 2016, at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, is open!
HIV is a human rights issue; criminalization of people living with HIV is a social justice issue. The Training Academy will unite and train advocates living with HIV and allies from across the country on laws criminalizing people living with and vulnerable to HIV, and on strategies and best practices for repealing such laws. “It’s time for us to advance the discourse around intersections between HIV criminalization, racist policing, drug policy reform, and sex worker criminalization,” says Naina Khanna, Executive Director of Positive Women’s Network-USA, which is co-organizing the Training Academy with Sero Project. “We can best do this by building a grassroots movement for policy change, led by the communities most impacted by these issues.”
Have an idea for a workshop? We are now accepting abstracts!
There will be three tracks, focusing on:
1) Effective and Accountable Leadership,
2) Rights, Policy and Justice
3) Campaign Planning, Strategy and Messaging
Workshops will help advance informed and effective grassroots organizing and coalition-building, providing participants with concrete tools and resources to enact local, state, and federal strategies in their communities.
The deadline for abstract submissions is Friday, February 26, 2016 by 5:00 pm CST (6:00 pm EST, 3:00 PST). You will receive notice of acceptance on Friday, April 1, 2016.
As a reminder, scholarship applications are due Feb. 5 and can be found here.
Are you interested in providing financial support for this important event? Please contact Sean Strub, SERO Project at firstname.lastname@example.org or Naina Khanna at Positive Women’s Network – USA at email@example.com for more information. Questions? Please contact Tami Haught, SERO Organizer and Training Coordinator, at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
January 4, 2016: After a very successful inaugural HIV Is Not a Crime National Conference last year, the SERO Project and Positive Women’s Network – USA are pleased to announce that the HIV is Not a Crime II National Training Academy will be held May 17 – 20, 2016, at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. The second national conference is designed to support repeal and modernization of laws criminalizing HIV non-disclosure, perceived or potential exposure and transmission.
HIV is Not a Crime II will unite and train advocates living with HIV and allies from across the country on laws criminalizing people living with HIV and on strategies and best practices for repealing such laws. Skills-building training, with an emphasis on grassroots organizing, advocacy, coalition-building and campaign planning, will leave participants with concrete tools and resources to work on state-level strategies when they return home.
Scholarship applications are available here and must be submitted with a letter of support by February 5, 2016. Please note that only complete applications will be reviewed. Your application will be evaluated and scored by volunteer reviewers on the Scholarship Committee, and you will receive an email response to your application by March 11, 2016.
Please stay tuned for more details in the coming weeks and months.
Are you interested in providing financial support for this important event? Please contact Sean Strub at the SERO Project or Naina Khanna at Positive Women’s Network – USA for more information.
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 email@example.com 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 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!
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.
Contact: Suraj Madoori, 708-590-9806, firstname.lastname@example.org or Jennie Smith-Camejo, 347-553-5174, email@example.com
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:
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.”
November 12, 2015: After a very successful inaugural HIV Is Not a Crime National Conference last year, the SERO Project and Positive Women’s Network-USA are pleased to announce that the planning process is underway for a second national conference to support repeal and modernization of laws criminalizing HIV non-disclosure, perceived or potential exposure and transmission, to be held in June 2016.
HIV is Not a Crime II, to be held in June 2016, will unite and train advocates living with HIV and allies from across the country on laws criminalizing people living with HIV and on strategies and best practices for repealing such laws. Skills-building training, with an emphasis on grassroots organizing, advocacy, coalition-building and campaign planning, will leave participants with concrete tools and resources to work on state-level strategies when they return home.
For this training academy, organizers will also emphasize movement building with other decriminalization and criminal justice reform groups. “It’s time to look at the whole context of mass incarceration, racist policing practices, drug policy, sex work policies, and the ways that LGBT and immigrant folks are disproportionately vulnerable in criminalization proceedings, as we consider strategies for repeal and modernization,” says Naina Khanna, executive director of Positive Women’s Network – USA.
Advocates say last year’s conference invigorated on the ground rights-based advocacy led by communities living with and impacted by HIV. “Last year’s HIV is Not a Crime Conference was great because it brought together advocates and people working on changing HIV criminalization laws to brainstorm best practices for people to take home to implement a plan for their state. This was incredibly helpful for us in Tennessee, and really gave us the boost we needed to work on our plan to change the laws here,” states Larry Frampton of Tennessee AIDS Advocacy Network.
“The HIV Prevention Justice Alliance is thrilled to be part of this process again that prioritizes PLHIV, builds power, and ultimately pushes the momentum from the first HIV is Not a Crime conference and this past year in a concerted organizing effort to end these laws across the U.S. in 2016,” says Suraj Madoori, manager of the HIV Prevention Justice Alliance.
“I thought last year’s conference was one of the best discussions in HIV in a long time. It was very powerful to participate in a conference organized by people living with HIV and to hear about their personal experiences around disclosure, prosecution and criminalization,” commented Marsha Martin, Director of the Urban Coalition for HIV/AIDS Prevention Services (UCHAPS). “We have to take on criminalization if we are going to bring about an end to the epidemic. That’s why continuing conferences like this one is so important–and necessary.”
“HIV is Not a Crime II will provide an opportunity for people living with HIV and their closest allies to define their priorities and agenda, educate and mobilize each other and their communities, and further strengthen the community of PLHIV advocates. Michael Callen, one of the authors of the Denver Principles, used to say there was a ‘special magic’ when people with HIV worked together to organize and that is as true today as it was 30 years ago,” states Sean Strub, Executive Director of SERO Project.
Get involved in making the HIV is Not a Crime National Training Academy a success!
The planning partners are currently seeking volunteers for five workgroups, as well as financial support for the conference. To read about and join a working group, click here.
Are you interested in providing financial support for this important event? Please contact Sean Strub, SERO Project or Naina Khanna at Positive Women’s Network – USA for more information.
Last month, PWN-USA and the Women’s HIV Program (WHP) at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) submitted a letter to the Health Resources and Services Administration HIV/AIDS Bureau (HRSA HAB), administrators of the federal Ryan White Program, recommending key National HIV/AIDS Strategy implementation steps to advance trauma-informed care. (Read the full text of PWN-USA and WHP’s letter to HRSA HAB here.)
50 organizations from around the country signed onto the letter in support of these requests for action to support implementing trauma-informed practices in clinics receiving federal Ryan White funding:
30 for 30 Campaign
AIDS Foundation of Chicago
Albany Damien Center
Association of Nurses in AIDS Care
Bedford Stuyvesant Family Health Center
Black AIDS Institute
Borinquen Behavioral Health
Boulder Community Health
Cascade AIDS Project
Colorado Organizations Responding to AIDS (CORA)
Community AIDS Resource and Education Services of Southwest Michigan
Counter Narrative Project
Hartford Commission on HIV/AIDS
HIV Prevention Justice Alliance
HIVE at UCSF
International Community of Women Living with HIV, North America
Iris House, Inc.
Khulumani Support Group
Legacy Community Health
Let’s Kick ASS (AIDS Survivor Syndrome)
Michigan Coalition for HIV Health and Safety
National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD)
National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, Inc.
National Working Positive Coalition
Pediatric AIDS Chicago Prevention Initiative
Positive Iowans Taking Charge
PWN-USA Colorado Chapter
PWN-USA Louisiana Chapter
PWN-USA Michigan Regional Chapter
Ribbon Consulting Group
Sex Worker’s Outreach Project
Southern AIDS Coalition
Southern HIV/AIDS Strategy Initiative (“SASI”)
Treat Me Right, Inc.
US People Living with HIV Caucus
Wayne State University Prevention Services
Women with a Vision, Inc.
The Women’s Collective
PWN-USA thanks all of these organizations for their help in emphasizing the importance of trauma-informed care in the National HIV/AIDS Strategy and in holding HRSA HAB accountable for prioritizing it in the implementation steps.
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.
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.