We Stand with Michael Johnson: HIV Is Not a Crime

HIV and Justice Organizations Stand with Michael Johnson and All Black Gay Men, and Condemn Laws Criminalizing HIV-Positive Status

As organizations committed to human rights, social justice, and dignity for people living with and vulnerable to HIV, we release this statement in solidarity with Black gay men who have been organizing a response to the criminalization of Michael L. Johnson.

michael_johnsonAfter only two hours of deliberation by a jury in a trial that was fraught with misinformation about HIV transmission, misunderstanding about gay hookup culture, and inadequate legal counsel, a nearly all-white jury quickly convicted Michael Johnson, a 23-year-old Black gay man in St. Charles, MO, finding him guilty on five felony counts and sentencing him to 30 years in prison.

HIV criminalization is yet another tool used to police and incarcerate bodies that are too often poor, Black or brown, or queer-identified. In this case, Michael will be incarcerated for the next 30 years for allegedly exposing sexual partners to HIV, a condition that is chronic and manageable with proper care and treatment. This is atrocious. As a point of comparison, killing someone while driving under the influence of alcohol carries a sentence of 7 years in Missouri.

St. Charles is less than a half-hour’s drive from Ferguson, MO, a city that has made international headlines due to racist police brutality and a scathing record of racial bias in law enforcement.

HIV criminalization laws are widely understood to be based on hysteria, misinformation, and outdated science as it relates to HIV transmission.  Expert-led professional associations including the HIV Medicine Association, the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, and the American Medical Association have taken positions supporting the repeal or modernization of these laws, and President Obama’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS passed a resolution in 2013 calling for HIV criminalization laws to be reviewed and repealed.

This particular prosecution and the media hysteria around it were fueled by homophobia, HIV stigma, and anti-Black racism embedded in portrayals of Black male hypersexuality.  Michael Johnson is not the first Black gay man to be incarcerated under these laws, and it is unlikely he will be the last.

Black lives and Black leadership matter.  We stand in support of the agenda released today by Black gay men:

  1. Support Michael Johnson while he’s in prison, continue to raise awareness about his case, work to support any potential appeals or strategies to reduce his sentence or overturn this ruling altogether.
  1. Continue to dialog with Black gay men around the country in person and through social media about the importance of opposing such laws.
  1. Repeal the laws that criminalize HIV exposure, nondisclosure, and transmission, in Missouri and nationwide.
  1. Challenge our allies in Black progressive organizations, criminal justice reform, HIV prevention and treatment, and the LGBT movement to take more of an active role in challenging HIV criminalization.
  1. Develop more capacity for Black gay men’s grassroots organizing.

When people with HIV are prosecuted under HIV criminalization laws, no justice is achieved. Stigma, fear, and, in many cases, racism, win. And independently of HIV, criminalization, incarceration, and police brutality disproportionately impact Black and brown communities, LGBT folks, and people living in poverty.

Black gay men cannot and must not be removed. With the recognition that anti-Black racism, homophobia, and HIV stigma are at the heart of the epidemic and the verdict in the Michael L. Johnson case, we as an HIV community must commit to centering Black leadership and to ensuring that the police state does not factor into addressing the HIV epidemic. Incarceration and prisons are never the solution.

We echo and amplify the love from the open letter to Michael L. Johnson to all Black gay men; we will continue to stand with all of you in this fight for Michael’s freedom.

To Michael: we love and will continue to support you.

To Black gay men across the nation: we commit to fight by your side in service of justice, love, and liberation.

In solidarity,

 

ACT UP Boston

Advocacy Without Borders

The Afiya Center

African American AIDS Activism Oral History Project

AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts

AIDS Alabama

AIDS Alabama South

AIDS Arms, Inc

AIDS Foundation of Chicago

AIDS Project of the East Bay

AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA)

APLA Health & Wellness

AIDS Resource Center Ohio

AIDS United

AILES

Alabama HIV/AIDS Policy Partnership

American Run to End AIDS (AREA)

Amida Care

Arkansas RAPPS

Believe Out Loud

Berkeley Builds Capacity

#BlackLivesMatter

BlaQueerFlow: The Griot’s Pen

The Body Is Not an Apology

BOOM!Health

C2EA (Campaign to End AIDS)

Cascade AIDS Project

CLAGS: The Center for LGBTQ Studies

The Center for Sexual Justice

The CHANGE (Coalition of HIV/AIDS NonProfits & Governmental Entities) Coalition

Chicago Black Gay Men’s Caucus

Desiree Alliance

End AIDS Now

End Discrimination & Criminalization Org

Fresh Anointing Ministries/Living Positive HIV/AIDS Ministry

Friends For Life

Full Of Grace Ministries

Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD)

Global Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS-North America (GNP+ NA)

Harm Reduction Coalition

Hawaii Island HIV/AIDS Foundation

Health Initiatives For Youth (HIFY)

Hepatitis, AIDS, Research Trust

HIPS

HIVE/UCSF

HIV Disclosure Project

HIV Justice Network

HIV Medicine Association

HIV Prevention Justice Alliance

House of Blahnik, Inc.

Housing Works

Houston HIV Cross-Network Community Advisory Board

Howard Brown Health Center

Intimacy & Colour

Iowa Unitarian Universalist Witness/Advocacy Network

Justice Resource Institute

Legacy Community Health

LinQ for Life, Inc.

LIVES WORTH SAVING INC

Louisiana AIDS Advocacy Network

Men’s Health Foundation

Metropolitan Community Church

Missouri HIV Criminalization Task Force

MrFriendly

MyFabulousDisease.com

National Black Justice Coalition

National Center for Lesbian Rights

National LGBTQ Task Force

NIA Women in Public Health

NO/AIDS Task Force (d.b.a. CrescentCare)

Northern Nevada HOPES

Ohio AIDS Coalition

One Struggle KC

Positive Iowans Taking Charge

Positive Women Inc. New Zealand

Positive Women’s Network – USA (PWN-USA)

PWN-USA Bay Area

PWN-USA Louisiana

PWN-USA-Ohio

PWN-USA Philadelphia Chapter

PWN-USA San Diego Region

POZ VETS USA INTL

Project Inform

Queerocracy

Sandshouse

SERO Project

SisterLove, Inc.

SOCIAL ACTION AND REHABILITATION CENTRE-SARC TRUST

Sophia Forum

Southern AIDS Coalition

Southern HIV/AIDS Strategy Initiative

Steps to Living on Facebook

Stopping  da Stigma

Sweet Georgia Press, LLC

Tougaloo Pride

Transdiaspora Network

Transgender Law Center

United Church of Christ HIV AIDS Network, Inc. (UCAN)

US People Living with HIV Caucus

Unity Fellowship of Christ Movement

Unity Fellowship Church Movement

Victim of HIV Criminalization

Visual AIDS

The Well Project

W King Health Care Group

The Women’s Collective

Women Together For Change

Women with a Vision

(List updated May 19, 2015)

Click this link to sign your organization onto this statement

Resources:

Commentary: Stop Locking Up Black Men for HIV, by Keith Boykin

On Uplifting Voices, Social Justice and Listening to HIV Criminalization Accusers, by Mathew Rodriguez

‘Tiger Mandingo’ is guilty because Missouri law ignores three decades of science, Jorge Rivas

Guiding Principles for Eliminating Disease-Specific Criminal Laws, Positive Justice Project

HIV Criminalization: What You Need to Know, Sero Project

 

Resources and Reproductive Justice for Young Women Living with HIV

By Grissel Granados

In my opinion, the greatest needs of young women living with HIV include, but are not limited to, adequate medical services that are responsive to our sexual and reproductive health needs.

As a young woman living with HIV, I had a terrible experience related to my sexual and reproductive health. Once, I was denied a birth control refill and was told that I would be okay without it since I should be using condoms with my partner anyway. I stormed out of that clinic and was out of care and medications for several months because I refused to go back to that place that insulted me.

grissel granados
Grissel Granados.

Young women must be able to access HIV care with providers that are able to treat women holistically, instead of just looking at viral loads and CD4 counts. The full sexual lives of young women must be acknowledge by providers. Doctors need to ask about young women’s sexual practices without making assumptions. Case managers and therapists must support young women in being able to explore their sexuality in a healthy way, since many young women live in fear of their own sexual selves. I have met young women born with HIV who have grown up in such fear of themselves as sexual beings that they cannot even fathom dating, much less having healthy children someday.

The other big need for young women is to have space. Granted, the numbers of young women living with HIV are small; however, space must still be created to build relationships with other young women living with HIV. It is not acceptable to have absolutely zero resources for young women when it comes to social-emotional support. Young women feel stigma as it is already by living with HIV; it is not OK to isolate them further by not providing spaces that are supportive of their unique needs and experiences.

Grissel Granados is the coordinator of the Los Angeles Integrated Center for Care and Supportive Services at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. She has spoken, presented, and advised on youth and the HIV response, as well as sexuality and sex positivity in youth work, locally and internationally. Granados was recently appointed to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS. She was born with HIV in Mexico City.

I’m Feelin’ Like a Criminal: Why the Law Won’t Stop the Spread of HIV

By Loren Jones, PWN-USA Board Member

loren_jones (1)
Loren Jones.

Some of us, due to our chance assignment from birth to certain races, genders, and classes, have pretty much been outlaws all our lives. And now, here we go; another notch on the cowgirl list of broken laws (in more than 30 states): “HIV positive and living as assumed normal.”

HIV criminalization laws are driven by irrational knee-jerk fear. The kind of fears and ignorance that led us to the path of becoming “positive” to begin with. Fear of living life alone. Fear of being one more variety of strange, nasty, weird, and untouchable is even stronger than the fear of death for some of us. People face the same types of stigma and violence from these laws that they face on the streets.

Shame never helps you learn. It only makes people hide deeper and farther from sight.

When I received my diagnosis in about 1985, while single, homeless, and hanging with a group of similarly marginalized outlaws living by our own code of right, wrong, and loyal, I immediately made the decision not to tell. Mostly for the same reasons that a lot of people don’t tell others they’re living with HIV: I could not afford to lose what little I had, in terms of companions and lovers, such as they were. Besides, I was healthy, and really did not trust a society or medical profession that didn’t really like people like us anyway.

None of us were perfect then. And we are not now. But we didn’t, and still don’t, blame each other for much. After all, I was there, you were there, and we were all there in the moment. Yeah, we should have known better. There were always STIs. But life is a crap shoot anyway. And if the violence don’t get you, something else will. I have and still do risk a lot for what I call my friends. And that has included my body.

We are not evil, horrible people. Nor were we or are we insatiable, uncaring whores and killers. We don’t deserve to go to jail for living with HIV. We go to jail too much as it is.

I have grown with the science. Truly, as I knew better, I did better. Education, and making every human being feel valued and well-loved as who they are, is still the answer to stopping the spread of HIV. The law will never be.

Loren Jones is a resident of Berkeley, California, a co-founder and Board Member of PWN-USA, and a Senior Member of PWN-USA’s Bay Area Chapter.

More Articles by Loren Jones

Women, Violence and HIV

Involving local, state, and global commissions in Violence Against Women

 

More Resources

Criminalization Information

The Red Flags of My Past (and Future): Real Links Between Trauma and HIV

By Heather

It wasn’t until February 10, 2015, that I truly realized the profound connection between trauma and HIV. I always knew about a correlation, but what did that really mean to me? It meant everything I had read regarding past traumatic experiences having an effect on one’s ability to develop and maintain healthy relationships with themselves and others was real. This means that individuals living with traumatic pasts, regardless of whether it was child abuse, sexual abuse, or domestic violence, may partake in risky behaviors as a result, sometimes unknowingly. I understood all of this, but how did it pertain to me and my diagnosis?

My life was filled with traumatic events that included homelessness, molestation, discrimination, rape, domestic violence, and child abuse. However, I never actually thought about how these past events “caused” my diagnosis. Yes I was insecure, sexually confused, depressed, and feared abandonment, but I had overcome all of these things. I made the best of my past experiences and put them to good use helping others. I sought out Mental Health therapy and worked through it all. I started college, was doing wonderfully in the military, and had met the man of my dreams. I had no idea that my past was still a huge part of my decision-making process, because I thought I had overcome those obstacles. I was wrong.

Like I stated before, on February 10, 2015, the link between my past and my diagnosis hit me square in the face. I was forced to look back and understand it all. I was sitting at home, it was late, and my husband and children were asleep. I was awake because I wasn’t feeling well and my cough was keeping me from resting. My husband’s phone started to beep over and over again, and I got tired of hearing it, so I picked it up to turn the ringer to silent mode. Upon picking it up I realized that it was his email, and looking further at the unknown Outlook email, I thought maybe it was his boss trying to get a hold of him. This was normal for him because he is a land surveyor, and when it rains he is called out (even in the middle of the night) to get water samples. So I opened his email to see if it was his boss, and what I saw was further from that.

The inbox of his email was overloaded with emails from him to other men seeking sexual connections. I read and re-read the emails, going back and forth. I could not believe what I was reading or seeing. My husband of 10 years had been secretly sleeping with men, several men, on countless occasions.

I was shaking beyond belief. I was in such shock that tears were not even possible. I walked over to him in our bed, woke him up, and asked him for a divorce. He asked me why and I showed him his phone. He had no words, nothing. He walked out of our bedroom and went outside, smoked a cigarette and then came back. I didn’t know what to say or do. I felt alone trying to pick up the pieces and to figure out what just happened.

After several days of thinking, piecing things together, and looking back to our past, I realized that I had overlooked several red flags prior to and during our marriage. This is where my past affected my diagnosis. You see, before I started to date my husband I was his boss in the military. I remember in 2004 our Commanding Officer asking me to bring him in to talk, and then he disappeared for two weeks. When he returned, he simply explained to everyone that he had had a family emergency, but all was well. Later that year we started dating, and in 2005 he moved in with me and my two daughters from a previous marriage. We were happy and in love, but looking back opened my eyes to things I saw and failed to respond or react to.

I noticed that initially he never went to sleep with me, and he stayed up late on the computer. One night I snuck downstairs and saw what he was looking at. He was on Craigslist looking at pictures of transgender individuals. Another time he left his email open and he had been meeting some girl named Sara, and when I called Sara’s number a guy answered the phone saying <i>he</i> was Sara. After that incident I Googled his name and found several websites with his profile seeking men, transgender, transvestite, and transsexual individuals. Then in 2007 I was diagnosed with HIV. Even after the diagnosis I failed to do anything about any of it.

I lived like this for 10 years, seeing things and knowing things that should have raised some red flag in my mind. Even when I was pregnant with our first child, I found out I had an STD, and I still looked past it.  My husband even admitted that he knew he was HIV positive and knowingly gave it to me, along with several other things from his past that I did not know, but now I knew the truth about everything.

How did I not see all of the signs and red flags? What kept me from making a sound decision? Why would I continue to let these things go on and turn a blind eye? Was it my past? This is when I made the actual connection. The abuse in my childhood and adulthood had an effect on my HIV risk-taking behaviors. I was unable to see the signs because my complex traumatic experiences affected my ability to develop healthy relationships. My physical health, emotional response, behavior, cognition, and self-concept and future orientation were also greatly affected.

I shut down entirely when I was faced with stressful situations, and became unresponsive and detached. I had difficulty identifying, expressing, and managing my emotions, and was unable to voice my feelings. I internalized stress reactions and became depressed because I remained emotionally numbed to threats in my environment. This caused me to be vulnerable and victimized over and over again. I continued to engage in the high-risk behavior of having unsafe sex with individuals that I knew were harmful to me. I had lost the ability to think clearly, reason, and problem solve and then act accordingly. I did feel shame and guilt, and had low self-esteem and a poor self-image.  Even though I didn’t trust my relationship with him, I felt powerless to change the circumstances. I felt incompetent as a woman, and I felt like I was destined to face negative situations for the rest of my life. I was damaged and hopeless, and pretty much operating in survivor mode.  All of these complex traumatic effects are directly linked to me ultimately being diagnosed with HIV.

So where do I go from here? First, I need to understand that trauma affects others in the same way it affected me. What people don’t know is that my husband faced similar traumatic childhood experiences, which affected his risky behaviors too. Just like me, he had limited ability to develop healthy relationships and make good life decisions. Can I judge him for his faults? Do I leave and abandon him when he has been struggling with the same issues I have? Can people change?

These are questions that many people have asked me, and I am not sure I have that answer. I think we all have faced a different struggle and we all heal differently. We each need to figure out what that answer is for ourselves because only we know how to move forward and make that change. Both my husband and I are just starting this journey of recovery, but it IS only the beginning. The one thing I do know is that CHANGE is possible, even if the transformation process seems impossible.

More Resources

Information on Trauma and Women with HIV

PWN-USA Congratulates UCSF Women’s Health Clinic on Landmark Study of Women, Trauma and HIV Disclosure
Healing Trauma and Ending Violence Against Women Are Crucial for Improving HIV Health Outcomes: Moving From Recommendations to Action – Fact Sheet (PDF)

Bringing Visibility to Same-Gender-Loving Women This National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

By Penny DeNoble, PWN-USA Member

penny_denoble
Penny DeNoble.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015, is the 10th annual National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day.

As social, community, and government groups across the nation prepare to bring awareness to the susceptibility that women have to acquiring HIV, I want to bring attention to and create visibility for a group of sisters who are classified as being a part of a sexual minority group, that are often overlooked in our acknowledgement.

I am a Black woman who lives with an HIV diagnosis, and I’m also a same-gender-loving woman.

Same-gender-loving women are rarely brought up in conversation when we speak about women who are living with HIV.  We are often made to feel like we have to remain in the “closet” of shame about our sexual orientation and HIV status.  Mind you, I was involved in a heterosexual relationship when I received my diagnosis nearly 29 years ago, but since then I have been involved solely in same-gendered relationships.

The process of sharing my status with female partners, educating them about HIV, and keeping them safe has been of great importance in my relationships.  Even when I was frightened beyond my wildest imagination and didn’t share initially, I recognized the importance of it and took on the challenge.

Sometimes homophobia and AIDS-phobia in our social networks make it a very frightening effort to easily share, not only our sexual orientation but also our HIV status, with those important to us.

On top of this, it is a very thought-provoking experience to have open communication about HIV risks.

Although researchers pinpoint that while sex between women is almost surely not responsible for HIV transmission, it is still very important that lesbians receive appropriate messages and education about risk factors, how to protect themselves from HIV and to debunk the myths about female-to-female transmission.

It is vital that lesbians not be maltreated or discriminated against by healthcare providers and that there are no barriers to access to healthcare.  We as advocates for the sexual and reproductive rights of women must be sure this population of women is receiving tailored interventions for great health outcomes also.

As with the lack of data-collecting sources involved with women in general, the inclusion of lesbians and women who have sex with women in data collection and analysis will help to combat the invisibility these group of women have confronted within previous research.  The surveillance of HIV cases reported among women who have sex with women has not been adequate.

So on this 10th annual National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, may we recognize the importance of empowering HIV-positive lesbians through education and skills, and loving and supporting social networks, on how to craft a way of being our authentic selves in the world of HIV advocacy.

Penny DeNoble is a current resident of Denver and a longtime member of PWN-USA-Colorado. Penny looks forward to relocating to her native New Orleans in the coming months.

When Ignorance Kills, Nobody Wins: Advocates Reflect on an HIV-Related Murder Case

By Morénike Giwa Onaiwu and Venita Ray

Elisha Maxine Henson was a Texas mother with a big love for family, especially her two sons. A stay-at-home mom with a bright smile, Elisha enjoyed riding motorcycles and was a member of a local church. Elisha was well liked and had many friends. Previously employed in the fast food industry, Elisha was living with HIV and was very open about her HIV status. Unfortunately, as a result of her openness, she experienced stigma in the small town where she lived.
Earlier this week, 23-year-old Justin Welch pled guilty to the first-degree murder of 30-year-old Elisha, who was strangled to death on April 26, 2014. Welch was sentenced to 50 years in prison. In a May 2014 police interview, Welch admitted to the murder and expressed anger and fear that he had been exposed to HIV through sexual contact with Elisha.

The overall risk of female-to-male transmission of HIV is extremely low and the risk of HIV transmission for a male receiving oral sex from a woman living with HIV is virtually zero. However, despite the lack of risk, inaccurate information and stigma surrounding HIV are pervasive, often resulting in negative consequences, as in this case and sadly in others.

Immediately after news of Henson’s murder became public, there was a national outcry from advocates around the country, including Positive Women’s Network – USA, a national membership body of women living with HIV. In addition to issuing a statement of solidarity with the family and condemning HIV-associated stigma and violence, Texas HIV advocates engaged in a variety of advocacy efforts to support the grieving family, to encourage responsible, non-stigmatizing media coverage, and to demand justice from the legal system. In the months that have followed, advocates have followed the case with interest and have continued to raise awareness about the devastating consequences of both HIV stigma and violence perpetuated against women living with HIV, declaring a National Day of Action to End Violence Against Women with HIV to honor Elisha, Cicely Bolden, and others.  Sadly, three out of four women living with HIV experience violence; this rate, which is far greater than the rate of violence for HIV-negative women, is unacceptable.

The price of stigma and violence is too great to bear. At only 30 years of age, Elisha is dead, leaving her two young sons, mother, siblings, and friends to mourn her absence. Welch will serve a minimum of 25 years of his 50-year prison sentence. Rosalind Smith, who has been charged as an accomplice, has yet to go to trial for her role; it has been alleged that Smith helped dispose of Henson’s body.  This is an example of senseless violence and unnecessary loss for an act that had virtually zero risk of HIV transmission.

Several months after the tragic day that Elisha was killed, many lives have been negatively impacted and will continue to be affected for years to come. The consequences of HIV stigma are deadly, and only through eradicating stigma and fostering understanding of transmission risks, compassion, and acceptance of people living with HIV will we avoid further tragedies, death, and loss.

We can’t bring Elisha, Cicely, or any of the victims of HIV-related deaths back, but we can work to prevent this from happening again.  We must acknowledge the insidious ways that HIV stigma contributes to the devaluing of the lives of women with HIV – and the potential deadly consequences of stigma coupled with misinformation about HIV transmission. We challenge everyone, regardless of HIV status, to get accurate, up-to-date information about HIV, and to share that information with others. We also challenge everyone to take an active role in eliminating HIV stigma by talking back to stigma in our daily lives, including our places of work, family, friends, doctors, and even in the media. We all have a role to play in eliminating violence against people living with HIV.

Facts, Not Fear: In Ohio and Everywhere, HIV Is Not a Crime

By Naimah Oneal, Regional Co-Chair, PWN-USA-Ohio

Naimah Oneal  PWN-Ohio JPG
Naimah Oneal.

My name is Naimah Oneal; I am a mother, grandmother, auntie and lastly I am a woman living with HIV.  I must say that I am truly living with HIV by living my life.  I went back to school after my husband died and became a licensed social worker with my Master’s degree in Social Work.  I feel that I am a strong woman who understands that discussing one’s HIV status is important, but I have a problem with  this nation’s and particularly Ohio’s laws has they relate to HIV criminalization.

People are being imprisoned for decades, and in many cases have to register as sex offenders, as a consequence of exaggerated fears about HIV. Most of these cases involve consensual sex or conduct such as spitting and biting that has only a remote, if any, possibility of HIV exposure. A man with HIV in Texas is serving 35 years for spitting at a police officer; a woman with HIV in Georgia received an eight-year sentence for failing to disclose her HIV status, despite the trial testimony of two witnesses that her sexual partner was aware of her HIV-positive status; a man with HIV in Michigan was charged under the state’s anti-terrorism statute with possession of a “biological weapon” after he allegedly bit his neighbor;  and most recently, in Ohio, a women is being charged with felonious assault for having sex with a partner.

My concerns are as follows:

First: In the US and the world, women have a hard time negotiating their sex lives.  Whether you are single, married or a sex worker, women are being abused and are often the receivers of violence at the hands of their partner.   When a woman is also living with HIV, it just adds a layer of potential for women to further be abused. Recently, a woman in Texas was murdered for being HIV positive. As a side note: no one should ever be killed for being HIV positive.

The virus has been around for the past 30-plus years; no longer are people dying at anywhere near the rates they once were. Further, large studies have shown that if a person living with HIV is on treatment, their chance of transmitting HIV is practically zero.

hinac_small
Logo from HIV Is Not a Crime: The Grinnell Gathering — the first-ever National Conference on HIV Criminalization.

Second:  HIV is not a crime. The current laws are not about transmission, but about demonizing people for having the virus and making people who don’t know their status victims. If you’ve never been tested then how can you know you’re not living with HIV?  People living with HIV, including myself, live in fear of a system that at any minute could charge us with a crime, for simply having HIV.

I believe that there are also people  who are having unprotected sex — putting themselves and others at risk for STIs, including HIV — but will never get tested  because of most states having HIV related laws  dating back to the 1980s, not base in today’s vast  knowledge.   As long as they have never been tested and don’t know their HIV status, then they can’t be charged with a crime. When the world lives in fear of a virus that can only be seen with a microscope, only the virus is wins: HIV IS NOT A CRIME.

Third:  The media needs to take responsibility for offering correct information to assist in ultimately reducing the community viral load (a measure based on the level of HIV in a population as opposed to just one person’s body). I feel that everyone has a role when it comes to ending HIV in my lifetime. The media is in a position to help create an environment and tools for people to be able to disclose their HIV status without fear. As in the recent news report out of Columbus, the stories presented are often so one-sided, putting the weight of sexual responsibility on the person that knows their status when it is two people that are having sex.  People should be discussing and asking about their sex partners’ sexual history with language that asks direct questions to obtain direct answers. Asking someone if they are “clean” is not a direct question.  If I have just had a shower then I am clean. “Clean from what?” would be my question. Teaching people correct information should be one of the media’s goals, and can be an important part of media outlets helping to reduce the community viral load.

Last: I feel that most states that have HIV criminalization laws should change the language to be rooted in the current science, not the fears of the past.  All people have a right to not live in fear of a community that is misguided, misinformed, and hell-bent on finding someone to blame for this virus.   People like Elisha Henson, an HIV-positive woman from Texas, should not ever have been murdered. HIV IS NOT A CRIME.

Naimah Oneal is a Regional Co-Chair of PWN-USA-Ohio.

PWN-USA Applauds Release of Daily HIV Prevention Pill Guidelines as Move Toward Sexual and Reproductive Rights

May 15, 2014 — Yesterday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) took a major step towards advancing sexual and reproductive health, rights, and choice, by releasing guidelines for the use of a daily HIV prevention pill: Truvada as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for those who may be at risk for acquiring HIV.

Prevention justice for women means access to a range of HIV prevention options and tools which put the choice to reduce risk directly in the hands of women and which expand sexual pleasure, sexual health, and reproductive and family planning choices for people living with and vulnerable to acquiring HIV. PrEP provides an opportunity to reduce the impact of social inequities and inequitable power dynamics within relationships.

These new CDC guidelines are important for women: Not only are these the first such national guidelines issued anywhere for PrEP use, but according to a study by Gilead, the maker of the medication, nearly half of PrEP prescriptions in the U.S. to date have been issued to women.

Anna Forbes, who staffs the U.S. Women and PrEP Working Group (a national advocacy coalition of women’s health advocates, health care providers and researchers) commented: “Those women’s PrEP prescriptions are being written mostly by nurse practitioners and infectious disease specialists. Women can’t always insist that their male partners use condoms. Education about PrEP and this CDC guidance will enable health care providers to offer PrEP to women looking for another HIV prevention option — one that they can control. That’s a step forward for women.”

An article published earlier this year in the journal Women’s Health Issues, and written by Forbes and several PWN-USA leaders, discusses the importance of considering the lived experiences of women with HIV to maximize the effectiveness of emerging HIV prevention technologies.

The new CDC guidelines state that the use of Truvada as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is recommended for consideration for HIV-negative individuals who are:

  • in an ongoing sexual relationship with a partner living with HIV
  • gay or bisexual men who have had condomless sex or been diagnosed with an STI in the past six months, and who are not in a mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who recently tested HIV negative
  • heterosexual men or women who do not always use condoms when having sex with partners known to be at risk for HIV (e.g., injection drug users or bisexual male partners of unknown HIV status) and who are not in a mutually monogamous relationship with a partner who recently tested HIV negative
  • have within the past six months injected drugs and shared equipment or been in a treatment program for injection drug use

The AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition (AVAC) is hosting a webinar on Tuesday, May 20, at 10am ET, where representatives of the CDC will discuss these new guidelines. Register here for the webinar

Read more about PWN-USA’s perspective on prevention justice and the role of biomedical prevention in our 2012 publication: Bringing Gender Justice to HIV Prevention: A Blueprint for Women’s Action

PWN-USA Releases Groundbreaking Report on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights for US WLHIV

PWN-USA Releases Groundbreaking Report on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights for US WLHIV 

To read full report click here

Despite significant advances in treatment and reduction in infectiousness, people living with HIV continue to face discrimination in the health care system, justice system, public and private sectors; stigmatizing portrayals in the media; and high rates of prejudice among the general population. Laws, policies and practice have not changed to keep up with current science; many laws remain on the books from the early days of the epidemic when understanding of HIV transmission routes was scarce.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the case of women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), an expansive topic which lends itself to a plethora of exploratory subject areas related to desires, behaviors and perceptions.

In many ways this topic is the narrative to women’s lives; it encompasses puberty and sexual development, identity, body image, and self-esteem, romantic and sexual desires and relationships, reproductive health, fertility desires, and life during and after menopause. Women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights go beyond just individual experiences, and are grounded in a structural context. Specifically, SRHR are shaped by and simultaneously define cultural norms and expectations, governing laws and policy, and social constructs.

To better understand the ways in which women living with HIV experience their own sexuality, relationships, and reproductive desires and intentions, within this cultural, political and social context, Positive Women’s Network – United States of America, a national membership body of women living with HIV, created a research and analysis project designed and implemented entirely by women living with HIV.  UNSPOKEN: Sexuality, Romance, and Reproductive Freedom for Women Living with HIV in the United States articulates the findings of that project and details recommendations for further research, advocacy, and action.

This framework document – written, researched, and edited entirely by women living with HIV – outlines a review of existing policies that may impact the SRHR of women living with HIV; a review of the literature; and findings from a national survey conducted among HIV-positive women in the US during the summer of 2013. The authors of UNSPOKEN believe that understanding the actual lived experiences of sexual and reproductive rights for women living with HIV, in context, offers tremendous opportunity to increase engagement in care, to achieve better individual and public health, and, most importantly, to ensure that women living with HIV are afforded the opportunity to live a life of dignity, free of stigma, discrimination, and violence.

PWN-USA Survey Finds Violations of Sexual and Reproductive Rights of US WLHIV

This summer, as part of a project to assess the state of sexual and reproductive health and rights for women living with HIV in the US, PWN-USA launched a national survey. The survey was taken by nearly 200 women living with HIV.

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Among the findings from the survey:

    • Over 50% of US women living with HIV in care have not been counseled on viral suppression as an HIV prevention strategy
    • Women living with HIV face high levels of internalized stigma, which negatively impacts self-perception, enjoyment of sex, and intimate partnerships, and may lead to abuse
    • 69% of respondents had experienced nonconsensual sex and 72% had experienced intimate partner violence
    • Women living with HIV are resilient and resourceful, utilizing diverse strategies to improve health, perceptions of body image, and increase agency in sexual and romantic decision-making

Read the complete survey findings here

PWN-USA will release a full report next week documenting findings from a policy scan, a review of available literature, and analysis from the survey. The report, UNSPOKEN: Sexuality, Romance, and Reproductive Freedom for Women Living with HIV in the United States was written, researched, edited, analyzed and produced entirely by women living with HIV.

Today PWN-USA released a sneak preview with rich findings from the survey, analysis, and discussion! Read the survey findings and executive summary here, and stay tuned for the full report, coming next week.

In addition, authors of the report will host a special 90-minute webinar on Tuesday, December 3rd at 12:30 PT/3:30 ET to present report findings and answer questions.

The webinar will feature presentations by:

Vanessa Johnson
Shari Margolese
Cristina Jade Pena
Evany Turk
and more!

To register for the December 3rd webinar, please click here