Category Archives: Southern United States

Prison Health News: Spring 2013 Issue! (Plus, other recent issues)

You can download it as a pdf for reading by clicking here, or the printable version by clicking here. See the end of this post for helpful printing instructions.

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Plus: Winter 2013 was one of my favorite issues of Prison Health News, with an article by Khalfani Malik Khaldun on how folks in solitary confinement in Indiana survive medical neglect, an interview with Joshua Glenn of the Youth Art and Self-Empowerment Project, a tribute to our mentor John Bell who recently passed away, and several articles on navigating mental health. Download it here. And don’t miss Summer 2012!

Prison Health News is a print newsletter read by about 5,000 people who are locked up in prisons and jails across the United States. It is produced by a Philadelphia-based collective of writers and editors and includes the work of imprisoned artists and writers. Our readers are living inside a system that denies them prevention tools and treatment information about HIV, hepatitis, and other health issues. They are dealing with medical neglect, daily humiliations driven by intense stigma, and the destruction of their communities by mass imprisonment.

Prison Health News is a project of the HIV/AIDS services organization Philadelphia FIGHT. Volunteers answer the many letters to us from people in prisons and jails asking for resources and health information.

To help distribute Prison Health News, contact:

Institute for Community Justice, Philadelphia FIGHT
21 S. 12th Street, 7th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19107
Office: 215.525.0460
Fax: 215.525.0461

Instructions for printing Prison Health News on your home printer:

1. Download the printable version here.

2. Use Letter size (8 1/2 x 11) paper. Make sure that the printer is not set to reduce, or “scale” the document. On my Mac in Preview, I go under “File” and click on “Page Setup,” then make sure “Scale” is set to 100%. I don’t think it’s much different for other computers and programs.

3. In the printing options, select “Odd pages only.” Press print.

4. Half of the pamphlet will print. After it finishes printing, take the whole pile, flip it over, and insert it back into the printer. It usually has to be flipped over lengthwise, but you might want to make sure by using a test page.

5. In the printing options, select “Even pages only” and press print.

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Prison Health News: Spring 2011 Issue Available for Download!

The spring issue of Prison Health News has been out for a few months — but it is such a good one, I hate to see it go!

You can download it as a pdf for reading by clicking here, or the printable version by clicking here. See the end of this post for helpful printing instructions.

This issue’s got

  • “Recovery from Injustice”: An Interview with Ronnie Stephens by Suzy Subways
  • Nutrition Behind the Walls: If You Are Stressed, Get Sick, or Have Diabetes by Teresa Sullivan, Laura McTighe, and Kimberly Rogers
  • NO JUSTICE!: When Sex Work Brands You as a “Sex Offender” in New Orleans by Deon Haywood and Laura McTighe
  • Surviving Solitary Confinement by Bro. Tee (Terrance E. White)
  • How HIV Meds Work, Part 1 by AIDS InfoNet

plus, addresses for Advocacy and Support Resources and Informational Resources!

Continue reading

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ADAP Crisis: More people on waiting lists for HIV meds than ever before

“We die — you make money!” That’s what we shouted at the stock exchange in 1997, during ACT UP New York’s 10th anniversary Wall Street action. How is Wall Street doing today? It’s hard to tell. The Campaign for America’s Future reported in April that “multiple federal agencies have disbursed $4.6 trillion dollars in supporting the financial sector since the meltdown in 2007-2008…. This is an astonishing 32% of our GDP (2008) 130% of the federal budget (FY 2009).”

OK, so how are people living with HIV and AIDS doing? Well, The Body reports that as of July 1st, 2,090 individuals in 12 states are now on waiting lists for lifesaving medications through the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP). Since its founding more than ten years ago, ADAP has always been in crisis. But this is the longest the waiting list has ever been.

According to a July 1 New York Times article, Arkansas and Utah have dropped people from the program, cutting off meds they were already receiving. New Jersey plans to cut eligibility on August 1st, removing 600 of the 7,700 people in ADAP in that state. The article goes on to say, “Louisiana capped enrollment on June 1 but decided against keeping a waiting list. ‘It implies you’re actually waiting on something,’ said DeAnn Gruber, the interim director of the state’s H.I.V./AIDS program. ‘We don’t want to give anyone false hope.’”

OK, so how are the drug companies doing? A September 2009 Kaiser Family Foundation chart shows us that the pharmaceutical industry is doing quite well, thank you very much, while other industries are tanking due to the recession. I’m not exactly sure what 19.3% profitability means, but I’m told it translates to very fucking profitable, and try to chase our asses to our private island resort to get some of your money back, suckers!

I worked at a pharmaceutical advertising agency for a year to pay off my credit card debt and learn medical copyediting. They threw money at me — a $45,000 salary to make zerox copies and put them in a binder. Why is the pharmaceutical advertising industry so rich? Why does it even exist?

What if, like every single other country in the world except for New Zealand (according to ABC news), drug companies weren’t allowed to advertise to consumers? What if instead of spending $5 billion in TV, radio, magazine and newspaper ads each year (says Nielsen Media Research, cited in the ABC news article above), they simply lowered their prices? What if corporations weren’t allowed to sell lifesaving medications at a profit? Imagine that.

Advocates from the Fair Pricing Coalition have negotiated rebates and better prices from drug companies for ADAP in recent years. But their hard work and success have not been able to prevent the current ADAP crisis. Activists from every major AIDS advocacy organization are issuing action alerts this week. Currently they are asking everyone to call the president. Go to the Bilerico Project to take action: http://www.bilerico.com/2010/07/president_obama_address_the_adap_crisis.php

Check out the AIDSConnect.net blog for ideas on how to build a lasting and powerful movement to fight for our community’s right to the medications that keep people with HIV and AIDS living strong.

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US Social Forum workshops not to be missed!

So the US Social Forum starts tomorrow in Detroit!

I had a life-altering, mind-blowing experience at the first-ever USSF, in Atlanta in 2007, and wrote this open letter to the AIDS movement and the Left: https://aidsandsocialjustice.wordpress.com/2010/01/05/open-letter-to-the-left-and-the-aids-movement-two-ships-passing-on-our-winding-way-to-a-new-dawn/

This will be the second-ever USSF. I’ll be blogging about sessions I go to that are inspiring. But I probably won’t post anything here til after I get home, exhausted as my aching bones get at conferences, and me without a laptop.

Here are some sessions I’d recommend for AIDS activists and all social justice activists who are blessed to be going to Detroit!

– Suzy

WED, 10am-noon, Cobo Hall: O2-42
Join in the Whirlwind: A Cooperative Panel on Research and Movement Building
Team Colors Collective

WED, 1-5:30pm, Cobo Hall: D2-08
The Take Back the Land Movement: Realizing the Human Right to Housing in the US
Take Back the Land (Miami), Survivors Village (New Orleans), Chicago Anti-Eviction Coalition

WED, 1-5:30pm, Cobo Hall: W2-67
US Social Forum Queer People’s Movement Assembly
co-hosted by The Transgender, Gender Variant and Intersex (TGI) Justice Project, which works on prison issues, along with other groups including Queers for Economic Justice, SONG: Southerners on New Ground, and more groundbreaking LGBT groups Continue reading

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Che Gossett on AIDS activist Kiyoshi Kuromiya’s legacy and the intersections between all movements for liberation

At Movements For Change, an event in honor of Kiyoshi Kuromiya on June 10th in Philadelphia, student activist Che Gossett incited a room of sleep-deprived AIDS activists to shouts and tears, reminding us why we are doing this work and inspiring us toward new ways of doing it. The event was hosted by longtime activist Chris Bartlett at the Church of St. Luke and The Epiphany, where ACT UP Philadelphia meets each Monday night at 6pm, and strategized for the future while remembering Kiyoshi, a beloved member of ACT UP who died 10 years ago.

“Kiyoshi believed in intersectionality long before that was a term people used,” Chris said in his opening remarks. “He brought what he learned from the Civil Rights, Gay Liberation and other movements to all of the work he did, and wherever people struggled for human rights and dignity, he was there.”

Che generously shared the text of their talk with us here. Enjoy!


“The white middle-class outlook of the earlier [homophile] groups, which thought that everything in America would be fine if people only treated homosexuals better, wasn’t what we were all about…We wanted to stand with the poor, with women, with people of color, with the antiwar people, to bring the whole corrupt thing down.”[1] Kiyoshi Kuromiya

This quote, especially the call to stand with the poor, women, people of color, anti-war people and for a radical alternative is what, in my understanding, animated Kiyoshi’s life. To me, it represents the core of his legacy and stands as an imperative for discussions of the future.

My talk is supposed to be about the future of gay rights, but how do we talk about a future that, as defined by homo-normative groups and political formations like the HRC [Human Rights Campaign], neither centers nor sometimes even includes those categories Kiyoshi mentions — women (trans and non trans), the poor and people of color?   How can we hold a mirror up to a future in which we are not reflected?   How is it that we, as queer and transgender people of color are evacuated and disappeared from a future we helped to create?

The Lawrence v. Texas legal decision that struck down sodomy laws has been heralded by gay rights groups, yet it is haunted by the racial violence of its past — the legal basis for the police invasion of Lawrence’s apartment was not “consensual sodomy,” but a false report of a weapons disturbance — the Harris County police dispatcher was called and told, “There’s a nigger going crazy with a gun.”[2] How is it that this racialized past now exists as a sign of a post-racial queer future? In which gay rights are the new civil rights, and the civil rights battles of the 60s have been won?   How did we move from gay and trans liberation to queer neoliberalism?  From gay anti-capitalism to the depoliticized neoliberal gay market niche?  How did we get from the gay anti-imperialism of the Gay Liberation Front, the Philadelphia chapter of which Kiyoshi and Basil O’Brien created in May of 1970[3], to homonationalism — the marriage and military rhetoric — of today?  Why, instead of fighting US imperialism, and standing in solidarity with anti-occupation struggles and against political repression, such as the recent Israeli military attack on the Gaza aid flotillas — are queers rushing to join wars rather than protest police and state violence? Continue reading

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What Is Prevention Justice? Why a Mobilization?

— Suzy Subways, Editor, Solidarity Project

November 2007 • Issue 7

Rumor has it that this World AIDS Day, December 1, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will announce that its estimated number of new HIV infections in the United States each year is higher than 40,000 for the first time since the late 90s – and it may be much higher. Meanwhile, in May, the CDC scaled back its previous goal of reducing annual new HIV infections in half to reducing them by only 10% a year. Is the government giving up on us? Instead of budget cuts that pit our communities against each other, why not add money for interventions that we already know are effective but have no federal funding streams, like syringe exchange and comprehensive sex education? What about studying new ways to fight the epidemic?

The Prevention Justice Mobilization (PJM), initiated by CHAMP in collaboration with SisterLove, the Georgia Prevention Justice Alliance, the Harm Reduction Coalition, the National Women and AIDS Collective, the New York State Black Gay Network, ACT UP Philadelphia, the Center for HIV Law and Policy, and AIDS Foundation of Chicago, is a dynamic force of activists from many communities. We are starting a new conversation in our AIDS service organizations, social justice circles, support groups and homes, and we are telling the CDC at its annual conference in Atlanta in December: We are not going to allow ourselves, as individuals and groups at risk, to be blamed for the consequences of government failures to prevent HIV. To end this epidemic, we have to change the way this country works.

“When people change and systems do not, HIV still thrives,” explains Dázon Dixon Diallo, MPH, a lead organizer of the Prevention Justice Mobilization and founder of SisterLove, based in Atlanta, the first and largest women’s AIDS organization in the Southeast. “We’ve been working under this assumption that HIV transmission is about individual risk behavior, and that’s where all of our resources and our best thinking have gone. But what’s missing from that is an understanding that HIV happens in a larger context. You can be vulnerable to HIV just because of who you are in the world. If you are poor, a person of color, LGBT, disabled, homeless, mentally ill, or dealing with substance abuse, injustices also exacerbate the transmission of HIV. Where are the resources to address those injustices?”

People in groups with higher HIV rates are often no more likely to engage in risk behaviors such as unprotected sex than other groups. But the disparities are just getting worse. Black women today are 23 times more likely to have AIDS than white women, and Latinas are five times more likely. Among white men who have sex with men (MSM), HIV rates have reached 21%, while Continue reading

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Georgia Prevention Justice Alliance: Will Parrish and Jeff Graham

— Suzy Subways, Editor, Solidarity Project

November 2007 • Issue 7

*Activist Snapshots #1*

Will Parrish says he habitually shared needles with other users before activists started the Atlanta Harm Reduction Center, the city’s first and only syringe exchange program, in the early 90s. “We would keep the syringes in a jar, and we would pick the one that we thought was sharpest, because it wouldn’t hurt,” Parrish says.

Will Parrish at his desk at Recovery Consultants of Atlanta

Now four years in recovery and an outreach worker at Recovery Consultants of Atlanta, Parrish credits the Atlanta Harm Reduction Center for keeping him HIV negative. Now, he agitates with a brand new activist group, the Georgia Prevention Justice Alliance (PJA), to demand that the county legalize and fund syringe exchange.

“We have one syringe exchange program in Atlanta that has operated for the past 13 years,” Parrish says. “I was there when they first showed up, and they needed people to look out for when the police would come around.” While volunteering as an outreach worker about five years ago, he says, “I got locked up myself because I had a bag of unopened syringes. I spent 15 days in jail.”

While the center is still an underground effort, he says, it has a better rapport with the local precinct now. “They don’t arrest the workers, but it’s left to their discretion whether they’ll arrest the users.” This shaky but relatively workable trust relationship would have to be built anew, precinct by precinct, if the program expanded to other neighborhoods.

Georgia is consistently in the CDC’s top ten states of reported HIV and AIDS cases, and Atlanta is the state’s epicenter. The PJA’s briefing paper argues that one-third of HIV and nearly all hepatitis C transmissions in the county could be prevented with improved access to clean syringes. But the county has ignored the overwhelming body of research showing that syringe exchange is highly effective in reducing the spread of HIV and viral hepatitis among injection drug users and their partners, without increasing injection drug use, drug-associated crime, or the number of discarded syringes.

Outreach worker Mona Bennett, who has worked with Atlanta Harm Reduction since its founding, distributes clean syringes and collects used ones for proper disposal.

“It’s unconscionable that these volunteers, who are well-respected in local communities by neighborhood and religious leaders, and even local police, have to risk arrest every day,” says longtime AIDS activist Jeff Graham.

“The PJA started in March 2007, and we’ve come quite a ways already,” Graham says of the new activist group, Continue reading

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The AFIYA Center: La Cisha Crear and Marsha Jones

— Suzy Subways, Editor, Solidarity Project

November 2007 • Issue 7

*Activist Snapshots #3*

When La Cisha Crear and Marsha Jones heard about the Prevention Justice Mobilization, the Dallas activists knew they had to get involved. “Our vision was already based on an HIV prevention justice model,” Crear says. She and Jones haven’t yet quit their day jobs as prevention outreach counselors at Mosaic Family Services, but for the past several months, they’ve been building a new, community-based HIV prevention organization for women of color, called the AFIYA Center.

“I attended the SisterSong ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’ conference, where I was exposed to the reproductive justice model,” Crear says. “If you read Dorothy Roberts’ book, Killing the Black Body, you see that, for women of color, the struggle has always been for the right to control our own bodies. The mainstream reproductive rights movement elevates abortion above everything else, but for women of color it’s about the right to have or not have a child.” Crear is also a member of the All African People’s Revolutionary Party, a pan-African liberation organization that has member groups in Africa, Europe, North America, and the Caribbean. Jones graduated from the African American HIV University, a two-year intensive education and training program on HIV science, prevention education, presentation development, and community mobilization, along with three six-month internships.

La Cisha Crear (left) and Marsha Jones of the AFIYA Center in Dallas

The pair are putting their diverse backgrounds to work at a time when AIDS has become the leading cause of death among Black women ages 25 to 34, and women of African descent are 23 times more likely to have AIDS than white women. But their approach to prevention comes with a sense of thoughtful urgency that is not narrowly focused on the virus. “AFIYA is a Swahili word for health and wellness,” Crear explains. “Our approach is women’s total health and well being. We have clients for whom getting an HIV diagnosis may not be the worst thing that’s happened to them. Yesterday, that woman may have been on a three-year waiting list for housing and couldn’t get food stamps or transportation. If we can address those issues before someone becomes HIV positive, we may prevent them from becoming positive.”

It’s Bigger Than You and Me: Institutional Racism and Sexism

The AFIYA Center – and women’s AIDS organizations like SisterLove, Women Alive, and WORLD that paved the way for them – are up against deep-rooted systems of racism and sexism. A November 2006 National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC) report on AIDS and health disparities in Black America by Dr. Robert Fullilove of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health reviews extensive data and observes that HIV rates in both urban and (mostly Southern) rural Black communities are “a function of the same set of forces that create residential segregation, the concentration of poverty in segregated communities and the geographical concentration of health disparities.”

SESA WO SUBAN “Transformation”

Dr. Adaora Adimora, associate professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, digs even deeper for the structural roots of racism and its links to HIV risk. In a July 2006 Sexually Transmitted Diseases article titled “HIV and African Americans in the Southern United States: Sexual Networks and Social Context,” she and her colleagues report “extensive economic injustice and racial discrimination…such as preferential hiring and job advancement of whites, blacks’ inability to obtain mortgages, and academic tracking of black youth in schools.” This institutional racism was linked to HIV risk in several ways. Poverty and unemployment disrupt stable relationships, and discrimination can affect health planning and services. Looking at STD rates, the researchers found that “Southern counties with high syphilis rates tended to have worse race relations, with exclusion of minorities from positions of influence such as the county commission or board of health, lack of employment opportunities for minorities, lack of minority-owned businesses, and in some cases, evidence of systemic economic oppression.” Continue reading

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Open Letter to the Left and the AIDS Movement: Two ships passing on our winding way to a new dawn

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

[Note: I am a queer, white, HIV-negative person who uses female pronouns and has non-transgender privilege. These ideas are the result of conversations with many people, but I wrote this as an independent AIDS community journalist and a leftist, and I don’t speak for any group. Many thanks to my mentors who gave me feedback yesterday! It has changed a lot.]

The US Social Forum blew my mind, it grew my mind like a wild weed, it heard my voice and it rendered me inaudible—I talked and cheered and chanted so much that I couldn’t speak above a whisper from Saturday morning until today. It gave me a feeling like, the Left is finally getting its shit together. I got a sense that people of color—especially immigrants, indigenous people, women of color and queer people of color—were like, “the Left is ours,” and were bringing the most innovative strategies and concepts to be seen in years, rocketing the whole thing into another dimension.

The speech by Andrea Smith of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence at the plenary on Liberating Gender and Sexuality: Integrating Gender and Sexual Justice Across Our Movements—and the audience of hundreds’ overwhelming response to it—was one of the most inspiring moments of my life. Not only did Smith question the domestic violence movement’s reliance on the state to protect us, her organization’s work offers all our movements the building blocks of an alternative.

I’ve been an activist for 17 years (mostly on access to higher education and queer and AIDS issues), and I feel like this is what many of us have been hoping for, yet not daring to imagine. Could the Left really be shedding its massive layers of racism, sexism, and homophobia? But the most inspiring moments always leave room for us to grow. This is a moment of great possibility for the AIDS movement and the Left. I won’t make a list of reasons why the AIDS movement had moments of feeling marginalized at the USSF, but to illustrate this, I will say that HIV/AIDS was not mentioned once at the plenary on gender and sexuality.

For those of us in the AIDS movement, this kind of silence tugs at old wounds, because Reagan did not say “AIDS” out loud until 1987, by which time an average of nine Americans had died of AIDS for every day that he had been in office. Now, we have lifesaving medicines in the US and other rich countries, but about 8,500 people around the world die of AIDS every day, and according to the NAACP, every day 72 African Americans contract HIV.

My goal with this letter is to point toward the light the Left offers the AIDS movement now, and ways the Left can learn from the AIDS movement now. The Social Forum illuminates both, because without women of color at the center, neither will ever find its way—and without the innovative new strategies emerging now, we would all just be talking.

Life after nonprofits

INCITE’s second book, The Revolution Will Not Be Funded: Beyond the Non-Profit Industrial Complex, sold out all copies at the Forum, and its panel by the same name filled up so quickly that organizers had to post a sign on the door saying, “Please do not open – Fire Hazard!”—and still people squeezed in. Southerners on New Ground (SONG, a multiracial LGBT/queer group) held a workshop where participants also discussed the limits of the 501c3 model (for example, competition for funding between community groups; letting funders set your agenda; allowing college graduates to serve as front lines in communities they know nothing about or are themselves gentrifying; big nonprofits setting movement goals; grassroots groups not being taken seriously; self-perpetuation being valued over service and honesty, etc.) and exciting new ways to do what SONG called “free organizing.” There were also “hybrid models,” with some aspects of both the 501c3 and the free, such as a working board of directors with no staff, or having members vote on organizational decisions and pay dues. (For questions to ask yourself and help stimulate more ideas, see http://www.southernersonnewground.org/?p=53)

One attendee talked about her childcare collective, which charges only $75 every five months (for groceries). An activist from Louisville said that her community trusts her group more now that they’re not backed by a white funder from outside the community. An activist from LA told how the Garment Worker Center is moving from a paid-staff model to all volunteers, with mentoring from Brooklyn’s Sista II Sista.

In the AIDS movement, we know how the move from street action to institution-building meant that we had built the capacity to provide lifesaving services to our communities. Plus, AIDS organizations are the biggest employer of LGBT people in the US—and in some places, a provider of jobs to many people in our community who have a hard time finding work in a discriminatory environment due to their experience with prison, homelessness, drug use, or sex work, or because they’re trans or gender non-conforming or living with HIV.

But our institutions are now turning on their creators—people living with HIV—and turning them into passive “consumers” of services, as if your local AIDS service organization were the local mall and HIV is no longer political. And “AIDS, Inc.” took us off the streets, cooled off our activism. Who among us hasn’t feared losing our jobs if we speak at that demo, or been told protests are a relic from the past? At the Campaign to End AIDS, a major national mobilization in 2005, Sean Strub, the PWA founder of POZ magazine, listed the major AIDS advocacy organizations that had failed to endorse or support the campaign, and railed against the lack of HIV positive inclusion on nonprofit boards. [note: “PWA” means “person/people living with HIV/AIDS”]

SONG members pointed out that whether or not we choose to find new ways of serving and organizing our communities, we’ll be forced to anyway, because our community-based nonprofits are dying. This especially speaks to the AIDS movement. Small HIV prevention and support organizations that Black, Latino, gay and other communities started 20 years ago are closing their doors all over the country because the federal money is being cut back to just cover medical care and HIV testing, not vital programs like condom distribution, street outreach, counseling, buddy programs, language interpretation, and housing. (For more info see http://www.poz.com/articles/401_11463.shtml)

The most inspiring and transformative HIV/AIDS program I’ve ever witnessed, Philadelphia’s TEACH Outside, has been on the chopping block several times this year. Run by John Bell, who was a leader in ACT UP for years and is an HIV positive, African American Vietnam vet in recovery who spent years in prison, TEACH Outside is a class for people living with HIV who are newly released from incarceration. John Bell teaches how to live healthy with HIV and strategies for dealing with life on the outside, mentors students in activism, and tells them to call him anytime—but the biggest challenge for students is dealing with the double stigma of prison and HIV. I asked him once if the program is more than just a class, and he said, “It has to be. Because people aren’t just unfeeling beings. Even though people have been incarcerated they’re still human beings. To allow that person to become a working member of society, we’re going to have to actually address the totality of their being. The emotional side, the spiritual side, the intellectual side.”

Philadelphia’s Project TEACH classes keep facing the axe because they are “psychosocial programs,” not medical programs. So what are we going to do about the totality of the human being when the government will no longer fund it? Let’s figure it out. The AIDS community should aim to be among those at the forefront of this effort, because our communities may have the most to lose, with lives depending on our services.

Protecting each other

We can also learn new ways to protect our communities from violence. At another Social Forum panel, the Young Women’s Empowerment Project (a youth leadership organization grounded in harm reduction and social justice organizing by and for girls and young women ages 12-23 impacted by the sex trade and street economies) from Chicago talked about defending each other from street violence without relying on the police, who offer their own forms of violence. Some of the ways they suggest creating conditions in which violence against women is unacceptable include solidarity among women (sisterhood in the hood), safe housing, allies who can deal with pimps, and self-defense training. However we do it, finding new ways to protect each other from violence is an urgent need for the AIDS community, because the police do not protect people who are most at risk for HIV, like trans and gender non-conforming people, sex workers, and drug users. And the link between HIV and violence—which messes with people’s ability to protect themselves from HIV—means that protecting our communities from violence is HIV prevention work.

Taking inspiration from each other’s movements

In the HIV/AIDS movement, we need to make sure that women of color and queer people of color are at the center, and also that HIV positive people are at the center. We need to take inspiration from this moment in the Left and be reminded that we can’t afford to compromise on taking the time to build new leadership among people directly affected by the issues, even when our time is urgently demanded to push for policy that can save millions of lives around the world. A strong movement is a social force that shifts policy in its wake or renders government decisions irrelevant by taking care of its own community’s needs.

We also need for the Left to understand that our leaders are still dying. And it’s mostly the people of color in our movement who are dying, for many reasons related to intersecting forms of oppression, but also because people with both HIV and hepatitis C have even more complex health challenges and treatment options than those with HIV alone. In other words, neither the Left nor the AIDS movement can afford to sleep on the issue of hepatitis C.

AIDS is now the leading cause of death among Black women aged 25 to 34. Nearly half of Black men who have sex with men are HIV positive. I’m not saying that people with HIV aren’t living full, healthy lives, with stigma being their most pressing HIV-related problem. But ACT UP Philly still has too many funerals. Within a few months several years ago, the New York City HIV/AIDS housing movement lost three beloved leaders—Joe Capestany and Joe Bostic of the New York City AIDS Housing Network (NYCAHN) and Keith Cylar, cofounder of Housing Works.

But it’s also a movement full of life. Have you ever been to a global AIDS conference? The Zapatistas’ Other Campaign (La Otra Campagna) was there last summer in Toronto. Korean activists were marching through the conference site against the impending US-Korea Free Trade Agreement. South Africans demanded treatment, Indian activists in bright colors chanted, “Big Pharma – Quit India!” and a Russian activist speaking at the closing plenary said, “Down with the imperialism of the pharmaceutical companies!” It was like the Social Forum, without the standing ovation (activists had to demand that people with AIDS be allowed to speak at the global AIDS conference).

And where else but the AIDS community have you seen heterosexual ex-drug users bond so closely with the most fabulously gender-bending queers? (This is not a rhetorical question, I’m sure it happens elsewhere, and I’d love to hear about it!) The AIDS movement at its best links together some of the most pressing issues of our time: homelessness, prison, the war on drugs, gender, sexuality, immigration, and displacement.

But if you want to tackle one thing, I’d say the Left can start with stamping out any tendencies toward HIV denialism, the idea that HIV does not really cause AIDS. While handing out flyers for the AIDS march at the Social Forum, my friend encountered some folks who said things like, “Well, if they would just stop taking those medicines that make them sick….” These comments were fairly insulting to my friend, who is HIV positive. This foolishness would not take root in the Left without our (the Left’s) willingness to let our intelligent distrust of pharmaceutical companies go uncomplicated by any understanding of the privilege many of us experience—not having to deal with HIV, and not living in communities whose health is compromised in so many ways by systemic racism, poverty, homophobia and transphobia. For more information about HIV denialism, please see AIDSTruth.org or the website of South Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign.

A moment of possibilities

Partly to push visibility of AIDS issues in the Left, and in the tradition of marches at the global AIDS conference, AIDS activists at the Social Forum decided to march up from the basement of the Atlanta Civic Center, through the lobby filled with people milling around t-shirts and literature, out the doors and past the tables outside. It was a fun, chaotic moment that people responded to with excitement and support. We stopped across from the Health Tent, where among the activists who joined us was Panama Vicente Alba, a longtime New York City labor and police brutality activist and former Young Lords Party member. I was thrilled and surprised to see him get on the mic (at the invitation of NYCAHN), because I’d never thought of him as an AIDS activist.

NYCAHN’s Jennifer Flynn enlightened me to the fact that Panama has been an AIDS activist for more than 15 years. “Needle exchange exists in the Bronx because of Panama,” she said, and I was struck by how within my own mind I have such a separation between my lefty world and my AIDS activist world that it has gotten me to where I’m putting people into boxes. Jennifer also pointed out that the Young Lords were well known for tackling tuberculosis, and for their understanding of how government neglect in communities of color leads to epidemics.

I had slept on the fact of Panama’s deep involvement with the campaign to demand HIV treatment for people on waiting lists in Puerto Rico. He had been in New Orleans at the HIV Prevention Leadership Summit in May, one of the activists whose graceful and somber protest interrupted a Bush administration speaker to draw attention to the crisis in Puerto Rico. “We know that more than a thousand people are on waiting lists for HIV medicines,” Panama told me. “But the mayor of San Juan said nobody died. As long as Puerto Rico is a colony of the U.S., this is the political reality that exists. We need a third party, outside the colonial government, to allocate the funds.”

The moment Panama united the AIDS movement and the Left was for me a moment of the clouds parting and the stars emerging to show our ships the way forward. Let’s take the opportunity now, with the excitement the Social Forum has hopefully instilled in us, to chart our courses a little closer together, share our stories, and really listen to each other.

In solidarity,

Suzy Subways

Philadelphia

Editor, Solidarity Project, Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP), 2006 – present

Independent AIDS community journalist and active/inactive member of ACT UP Philly, 2004 – present

Assistant Editor, POZ Magazine, 2001 – 2004

Founding member, Student Liberation Action Movement (SLAM), City University of New York, 1995/96 – 2001

Member, New York Local, Love and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation, 1995 – 98

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Katrina’s Aftermath: Stranded Without Medication and Medical Care

by Suzy Subways

APRIL 2007 • Issue 4

A disaster that uproots large numbers of people causes an immediate public health emergency, and the effects continue to be felt if the damage isn’t quickly repaired. Soon after the hurricane, P. Gregg Greenough, MD, MPH and Thomas D. Kirsch, MD, MPH went a step further in an October 2005 New England Journal of Medicine commentary, observing that, “Given the ineffective response mechanisms that were in place, Katrina could become a public health catastrophe.” They cited potentially devastating sanitation and immunization problems, among other concerns. “The biggest health issue, however, was and will continue to be the inability of the displaced population to manage their chronic diseases,” they argued. “Katrina disproportionately affected the poorest residents of New Orleans, who did not have the health reserve or the access to care needed to absorb the blow of a breakdown of the local public health system. In the long run, the destruction of the public health and medical care infrastructure has the potential to be more devastating to the health of the population than the event itself.”

Before the hurricane, Charity Hospital’s respected HIV Outpatient (HOP) Clinic served about half of New Orleans’ 7,000 HIV-positive patients. Severely damaged by Katrina, the clinic closed for two months, then operated out of several temporary facilities. Rebecca Clark, MD, says, “Seventy percent of our patients experienced disruptions in their medications for a month or two.” This is far more than a temporary inconvenience, since it can lead to HIV drug resistance and dangerously weakened immune systems, increasing the risk of serious illness and death.

In its 2006 report Voices of the Storm: Health Experiences of Low-Income Katrina Survivors, the Kaiser Family Foundation, documented cases of lower CD4 cell counts due to medication disruptions. One resident of a group home said that her facility gave her only a three-day supply of her HIV medications when she was evacuated. An incarcerated man with HIV missed his medications when he was moved to another prison. An HIV-positive man with severe mental health needs lived on the streets for weeks after evacuation from his group home. These incidents illustrate what many people with HIV experienced when a major natural disaster was combined with a callous and inept government response.

Charity Hospital is now permanently closed. The HOP Clinic is back in its original location but shares the space with other clinics—and only half of its former patients have returned. Many no longer have homes to come back to.

In June 2006, members of the Survivors’ Village tent city marched on the affluent Garden District of New Orleans to protest plans to replace low-income public housing with “mixed income” developments. Photo by Nick Fuller Googins, NOLA Indymedia.

Housing Crisis Increases HIV Risk

Following the hurricane, serious barriers made it difficult or impossible for people to return to their homes or obtain new housing. The lack of affordable housing in New Orleans has created new gaps in HIV prevention services, as many providers themselves haven’t come back. Five of the city’s ten community-based HIV prevention contractors went under in the wake of the storm due to the hurricane’s destruction and to staff not returning. Residents who have made it back are dealing with housing instability and stress, heightening their HIV risk, says Noel Twilbeck, co-chair of the Louisiana AIDS Advocacy Network and executive director of NO/AIDS Task Force. “When people are living in stressful situations, they have a tendency to engage in risky activities,” he says. “There are people living in houses that still don’t have walls up, waiting for repairs.” Continue reading

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