National Day of Action to End Violence Against Women Living with HIV = Success

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October 23, 2015, was our second National Day of Action to End Violence Against Women Living with HIV (WLHIV)–and what a success it was! Thanks to an outpouring of support from our members, communities, allies and organizations working both in HIV and with intersectional issues:

  • Our Day of Action was endorsed by 92 organizations from around the world (see below) as well as an additional 84 individuals
  • Numerous and diverse organizations and individuals participated in our lively and informative Twitter Chat, co-hosted by the National Network to End Domestic Violence (@nnedv), SisterLove Inc. (@SisterLove_Inc) and The Well Project (@TheWellProject), the morning of October 23, using our hashtags #EndVAWHIV and #PWNspeaks
  • Our Flashblog to #EndVAWHIV includes 18 contributions, including the stories of WLHIV impacted by violence and trauma, as well as posts on the topic and intersectional issues from organizations and individuals dedicated to working with WLHIV and domestic violence survivors, several of which were also featured on and
  • At least 6 diverse organizations posted statements of support for the Day of Action on their websites
  • Countless individuals and organizations changed their Facebook and Twitter profile pictures to our official Day of Action logo
  • Across the country, people heard and discussed the stories of overcoming violence of 5 PWN-USA members in the Kaiser Family Foundation film, Empowered, part of the Greater Than AIDS campaign (see video below)

The goal of our Day of Action is, of course, not only to raise awareness–a critical first step–but also to put forward solutions. One of the major initiatives PWN-USA is working toward is routine implementation of trauma-informed model of care for WLHIV, especially in clinics receiving federal Ryan White Program funding. We are also working to repeal laws that place WLHIV at disproportionate risk of violence, including laws criminalizing HIV, which discourage testing and treatment while perpetuating damaging stigma by sending the message that people living with HIV are dangerous, as well as laws criminalizing sex work and drug use.

PWN-USA called for the first National Day of Action to End Violence Against WLHIV last year in the wake of the brutal murders of Cicely Bolden and Elisha Henson, both of Texas, following disclosure of their HIV status. Nationally, 55% of WLHIV have faced intimate partner violence–and women with a history of trauma are more vulnerable to acquiring HIV. Click here for more facts about violence against WLHIV, or read this excellent article on

PWN-USA thanks the following organizations for partnering with us and/or endorsing our second National Day of Action to End Violence Against Women Living with HIV on October 23, 2015:

  • 30 for 30 Campaign
  • A Sister’s Gift Women’s Center, Dallas
  • ACT UP London
  • African Services Committee
  • AIDS Alabama
  • AIDS Foundation of Chicago
  • AIDS Project Los Angeles
  • AIDS United
  • Albanian Association OF PLWHA
  • APLA Health & Wellness
  • AS – Center For The Empowerment Youth Of People Who Are Living With HIV And AIDS
  • Aspirations
  • BABES-Network YWCA
  • Being Alive!
  • Bill’s Kitchen, Inc.
  • Caracole
  • Cascade AIDS Project
  • Center for Health and Gender Equity
  • Chicago Women’s AIDS Project
  • Christie’s Place
  • Colorado Organization for Latina Opportunity and Reproductive Rights (COLOR)
  • Counter Narrative Project
  • CoyoteRI
  • emPOWERed Legacies
  • Federal AIDS Policy Partnership Structural Interventions Workgroup (FAPP SIWG)
  • Fierce Caucus and Black Womens Caucus of Union Theological Seminary
  • FORCE Baltimore
  • Forward Together Oakland
  • G III Associates
  • Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC)
  • Global Justice Institute, Metropolitan Community Churches
  • Global Network of People Living with HIV, North America
  • GMFA The Gay Men’s Health Charity (London)
  • HAART Inc., Baton Rouge
  • Healthy & Free Tennessee
  • Hektoen Institute of Medicine
  • HIV Disclosure Project
  • HIV Prevention Justice Alliance
  • HIVE
  • Housing Works Brooklyn
  • Houston AIDS Research Team Cross-Network HIV CAB
  • Howard Brown Health Center
  • In Our Own Voice: National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda
  • International HIV Partnerships
  • International Network of People Who Use Drugs
  • Justice for All Coalition
  • Lambda Legal L.A.
  • Latino Commission on AIDS
  • Lee’s Rig Hub
  • National Female Condom Coalition
  • National HIV/AIDS Disability Project
  • National Network to End Domestic Violence
  • National Press Club,Nepal
  • National Working Positive Coalition
  • Older Women Embracing Life, Inc.
  • Our Story Inc.
  • Pediatric AIDS Chicago Prevention Initiative
  • Philadelphia Center
  • Philadelphia Department of Public Health Ambulatory Health Services PrEP Program
  • Positive Living Women Malaysia
  • PowerSource Tucson
  • PWN-USA Colorado
  • PWN-USA South Carolina
  • PWN-USA San Diego
  • PWN-USA Bay Area
  • PWN-USA Louisiana
  • PWN-USA Ohio
  • PWN-USA Michigan
  • PWN-USA Philadelphia
  • PWN-USA Georgia
  • ReShape
  • Ribbon Consulting Group
  • Sero Project
  • Sexuality Information and Education Council of the US (SIECUS)
  • SisterLove, Inc.
  • SisterReach, Memphis
  • SisterSong
  • Southwest Boulevard Family Health Care Kansas City
  • SKUC (Slovenia)
  • The Afiya Center
  • The Empowerment Program Denver
  • The Praxis Project
  • The Sophia Forum
  • The Well Project
  • The Women’s Collective Washington, DC
  • Transgender Law Center
  • Tunisian Association of Positive Prévention
  • Women & Life
  • WORLD (Women Organized to Respond to Life-Threatening Diseases)
  • Women With A Vision, Inc.
  • Women’s HIV Program at UCSF

Click below to watch and share the Kaiser Family Foundation film, Empowered, featuring 5 PWN-USA members in conversation with Tonya Lee Lewis:

And watch PWN-USA Georgia member Danielle, AKA Ghetto Rose, perform a spoken word piece on her experience with domestic violence:

“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



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 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.

Reflections on How Far Women with HIV Have Come in the Past 16 Years: A Personal View

By Olga Irwin, Regional Co-Chair, PWN-USA-Ohio

Olga Irwin.

Olga Irwin studied at Youngstown State University and became a licensed social worker in 2009. She was diagnosed with AIDS in 1999. Since her diagnosis she has become involved in the HIV community – starting with joining support groups, which were only offered for gay men in her area. She found more support systems through the Internet, HIV clinics, and Ryan White case managers. Now Olga is a member of Ohio AIDS Coalition, Ohio Community Prevention Group, the Ryan White Care Advisory Board, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Campaign to End AIDS, and also the Co-Chair of Positive Women Network USA-Ohio.

While writing that bio above, for the Ohio Chapter’s page of PWN-USA’s website, and while going through all my Happy Birthday wishes on Facebook on February 16, I was just so overwhelmed with how much support and how many more opportunities are now available for women living with HIV.

I was so used to years of only knowing about a small group of women. I met these women through attending Healing Weekends that were held by Ohio AIDS Coalition. We kept in touch through phone calls and emails, and one of the women became my best friend for at least 13 years. We meet at our first Healing Weekend. We got involved with activities together, and helped each other through everything that life handed us.

This year, the day before Thanksgiving, she lost her battle of almost two years fighting 4th-stage lung cancer. I thought I would never make it through the loss of the first woman I met that had HIV – who was also my best friend. The women that I’ve met through the years all joined together and helped me though this time period, and are still helping me through it in many different ways.

Oh! Sorry about getting off track a little bit, but I could not forget to share how I got started meeting other women living with HIV. Back to my birthday. I personally thanked each birthday well-wisher on Facebook individually; it was over 200 wishes, which took two hours to do. Over the past years the wishes have been more and more; but this year they really uplifted me, because about 70-80 of the wishes were from women that I have met just recently through Positive Women’s Network – USA, and about another 30 were people I have met through other organizations, agencies, and associations with HIV. That is over half! I was in total shock at this.

National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on March 10 is so important, for the main reason that women have a chance to learn about the many different opportunities and services available out there now for women living with HIV to meet other women for support and to share information. In Ohio this year, the PWN-USA Ohio Chapter is having two all-day events for this day – because we as a group know how important and powerful it is for women to know that there are others out there who feel and have the same questions they do, and that they are not alone in this community.

One event will take place in Cincinnati on March 10 …


… and the other event will be held on March 13 in Columbus!


I do not live in an area that has Ryan White Part D programs, but know I would not have met the majority of the women I have met if it was not for the Ryan White Part D programs they were involved with. This program for them is the only source of healthcare that they are able to access. With the potential consolidation of Ryan White Part D into Part C, many services may be lost that would make it so much harder for women to receive care, and get the support they need to stay in care, so that they will then be able to accomplish many things as they live healthy, long lives.

Olga Irwin lives in Youngstown and is the Co-Chair and Strategic Communications Action Team Rep for PWN-USA’s Ohio Chapter.

More Online Resources and Support for Women Living with HIV

PWN Members and Allies – Facebook group

Positively PWN-USA Ohio – Facebook group

PWN-USA Facebook Page

International place for people with HIV/AIDS, and the people who love us – Facebook group

AIDS 2012 Reflections: I am Empowered. I am Driven. I am Fierce.

AIDS 2012 Reflections: I am Empowered. I am Driven. I am Fierce.
by Kat Griffith


It is Thursday July 26th, 2012. I am traveling back home to Peoria, Illinois after over a week in Washington D.C. for the 2012 International AIDS Conference. I am sad to say that I did not even come CLOSE to doing, seeing, or learning all that I wanted to learn at AIDS 2012. That being said, I am full. Full of love for my fellow warriors, full of energy to battle my local community that continues to ignore the national movement and recognition that including those living with HIV strengthens their programs and gives them insight they would not otherwise have. And I am full of new information with which to drive points home when I am having conversations about HIV/AIDS. I am more armed with facts about the role of violence and trauma and the ways they intersect with HIV, I know more about the role and importance of drug users and sex workers in the conversation, and I know a lot more about condoms (doing a little inside cheer on that one!)!

I am full of hope after the “We Can End AIDS” mobilization march on Washington, that shut down the streets of Washington, and brought several thousand of us to the steps of the White House! There were people fighting for a Robin Hood Tax, people against criminalization, women pushing for an end to the War on Women, and the list goes on. All of the voices raised for ending the HIV epidemic are needed. They are essential in curbing the HIV epidemic.

Let’s think about that… we have the science and knowledge to end HIV (a cure notwithstanding)… lets assume we get all that we strive to do accomplished, but completely leave sex workers and or drug users out of the prevention dialogue. Where are we? In exactly the same place we were before. That is true of every person that has a voice in this fight.

I want to challenge you to think about something else. I work at the intersection of violence and HIV for women. One study I learned about revealed that 59% of women who had been raped in the study cohort experienced rape previously in her life. What does this tell me? We cannot solve one problem without addressing the underlying issues that brought that problem on. We cannot solve the HIV epidemic unless people are suitably housed. We have to end the war on drugs so that we can suitably and empathetically address drug addiction, or the fact that trans women engage in survival sex work due to discrimination and lack of employment opportunities in the workforce. And none of this will work if we do not address hunger, which can push women to make difficult and dangerous decisions in order to feed her children or pay her rent.

As I said, I am full. I am empowered. I am driven, and I am fierce. I also have NO intention of taking this journey alone. I stepped out of the closet, knowing full well that thousands of us will not or cannot.

For those of you with no voice, I have got your back.

Sore Arms, No Voice but a Full Heart. The “We Can End AIDS” March in Washington D.C.

Sore Arms, No Voice but a Full Heart. The “We Can End AIDS” March in Washington D.C.

by Barb Cardell

I came to DC totally prepared for the “We Can End AIDS” mobilization, I had my blue fabric to wave, my sensible shoes and even a water bottle. What I missed in the planning was a sense of how incredible and overwhelming it would truly be. My friend Teresa said “It took her breath away.” and I still feel breathless, slightly disoriented but ready for what ever comes next.

Every morning I wake up and feel as if my life has been taken over by Alice in Wonderland, “ I believe in six impossible things before breakfast.”

Today, I marched down the middle of New York Avenue, chanting with so many women and watched an original member of ACT UP along with other organizers tie dollar bills, pill bottles, clean syringes and even panties to the gates of the White House. Okay, breakfast was a bit late but it was a busy, amazing and advocacy affirming day.

There were five different arms in the march, all converging in Lafayette Park, across from the White House. We marched for Human Rights and Harm Reduction, Sound Policies, People over Pharma Profits, the Robin Hood Tax and my arm that called for Ending the War on Women.

We waved blue fabric and chanted that we were “Women Making Waves”. And we were, I walked, surrounded by many of my positive friends both from Colorado and the US Positive Women’s Network and I will admit that I was overcome with the beauty and power of the advocates that I have come to call my sisters.

I don’t know if President Obama was home, it is nice to think he was but it almost doesn’t matter. The march was more for us than for him. We are tired, so many long time advocates and persons living with HIV are exhausted and what this march did was energize us.

And for a moment I could see the end of it all, the end of AIDS, the end of discrimination and criminalization and the war on women’s rights and the companies that put profits over people’s lives. I could see it clear as day and I was overwhelmed that there may be a day, perhaps even close at hand where I won’t have to worry about losing another friend to this scourge of a disease…and so we picked up our sign and marched back down New York Avenue to join in the International AIDS Conference to bring that day to pass because, as we have heard so often this week, we are at a crucial moment in the epidemic and we all have a part to play.