From Che Gossett:
[Correction: The word limit is 2,000 words, not 5,000 words.]
Anti-prison activists at the US Social Forum wrote this resolution together. For more information about the People’s Movement Assemblies, see http://pma2010.org/
Anti-Prison People’s Movement Assembly
When: Thursday, June 24th, 1-5:30pm
The problem: The United States is a prison empire, founded on the legacy of slavery, which uses racist mass incarceration, widespread criminalization, torture and the targeting of political dissidents to try to solve its fundamental economic and social problems. It locks up more people than any other country on the planet. The prison system is a central node in an apparatus of state repression; it destroys our communities and weakens our resistance and movements for justice. Repression is a tool used to maintain state power, and the prison population represents the most oppressed sectors of society: people of color, the poor, First Nations communities, immigrant communities, working class women, queer and transgender people, and radical organizers from many communities.
Because we share a vision of justice and solidarity against confinement, control, and all forms of political repression, the prison industrial complex must be abolished. We envision a movement and a society free of racism, Islamophobia, sexism and homophobia.
The work to dismantle the prison industrial complex and build stronger communities includes:
• Supporting the efforts of diverse anti-prison organizations as part of a shared movement against repression in all its forms, including political, racial, gender, sexuality, economic, disability and age, legal status, HIV status, national origin, immigration status, and alleged gang affiliation;
• Fighting for the full civil and human rights of currently and formerly incarcerated people and affirming the rights of currently and formerly incarcerated people to speak in their own voice on all matters pertinent to their existence and well-being;
• Eliminating the stigmas that inhibit currently and formerly incarcerated people and their love ones from speaking out;
• Supporting leadership and leadership development of currently and formerly incarcerated people, and ending all forms of discrimination based on legal status for formerly incarcerated people;
• Organizing for the immediate release of all political prisoners and prisoners of war from grand juries, jail, detention, trial or prison;
• Demanding the immediate end to the death penalty, life without parole, solitary confinement, mandatory minimums, the incarceration of youth in adult facilities, behavior modification/communication management units, all forms of torture, the war on drugs and the criminalization of youth, immigrants and gender nonconforming people;
• Promoting physical, mental and emotional health and healing inside and outside of prisons, including humane models of and access to health care and substance abuse treatment that do not expand the prison industrial complex; Continue reading
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!
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
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.” 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.” 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, 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
Prison Health News is a print newsletter read by thousands of 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, most of whom have been in prison and are living with HIV, 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.
Who We Are…
We are on the outside, but many of us were inside before… and survived it. We are formerly incarcerated people and allies talking about health issues and trying to bring about a positive change for all people who are in prison now or ever have been in the past. This newsletter is about all of us.
We will be talking about health issues. For example, what is good nutrition? Where can you get services and information on the outside? We want to take your health questions seriously and break down complicated health information so that it is understandable.
We’re also here to help you learn how to get better health care within your facility and how to get answers to your health questions. Don’t get frustrated. Be persistent. In prison, it’s often hard to get what you want, but with health information, it doesn’t have to be impossible. Join us in our fight for our right to health care and health information.
Prison Health News is a project of Reaching Out: A Support Group with Action and the Institute for Community Justice, which are based at the HIV/AIDS services organization Philadelphia FIGHT. Volunteers at the AIDS Library (also at FIGHT) answer the many letters to us from people in prisons and jails asking for resources and health information.
Writing/editing collective: Benjamin Green, Che Gossett, Cliff Wms, Hannah Zellman, James, Jeanette Moody, Laura McTighe, Loretta Miles-Melendez, LuQman Abdullah, Najee Gibson, Roy Hayes, Sara Alvarez, Samuel Withers III, Suzy Subways, Teresa Sullivan, and Waheedah Shabazz-El.
The Summer 2010 issue will be available online in a few days (early June!) on the Institute for Community Justice website, where you can also read back issues, subscribe, and find out how to submit articles. There is also a contact list of organizations around the country that work with us on distribution and to support and advocate for people incarcerated in their cities and states. If you are in Philadelphia and would like to participate in the writing/editing collective, you can contact me at mizsubways (at) gmail.com.
To help distribute Prison Health News, contact:
Institute for Community Justice
21 S. 12th Street, 7th Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19107
|An 1890s photo of Carlisle Boarding School graduates. Carlisle, the first Native American boarding school, was opened by Captain Richard Pratt in 1878.|
“Many of the problems of alcoholism and drug abuse now prevalent in Indian country can be traced back to the physical, emotional and sexual abuse suffered at the hands of our keepers in the BIA [Bureau of Indian Affairs] and mission boarding schools,” Lakota journalist and boarding school survivor Tim Giago wrote in the Huffington Post. Government-sponsored boarding schools have created a legacy of trauma among Native American peoples in the United States. The Boarding School Healing Project documents the abuse and demonstrates how it has led to high rates of childhood sexual abuse, family violence, violence against women, alcoholism, and drug use in Native communities. In addition to the homophobia the schools enforced in children from cultures traditionally welcoming of gay and gender-nonconforming people, most of these symptoms of trauma are the same factors that make Native communities vulnerable to HIV. A look at the brutal history of these boarding schools can teach us a lot about the ways that social injustice fuels the epidemic – and how to fight back.
“Kill the Indian, Save the Man”
In the late 1800s, the U.S. government debated how to remove Native Americans from their land – “extermination or civilization,” as one former commissioner of Indian Affairs put it – and it paid Christian churches to run boarding schools as a “civilizing” alternative, Cherokee activist Andrea Smith writes in her book, Conquest: Sexual Violence and Native American Genocide. Army captain Richard Pratt opened the first of the schools in 1879, arguing that they would “kill the Indian and save the man” by destroying the cultural link between children and their communities. Until the 1930s, Native children were forcibly taken from their families at age 5, and parents who resisted were jailed.
For 100 years, from the 1880s through 1980s, about 100,000 Native people grew up at the schools. Abuse was rampant, and children were physically punished for speaking Native languages or practicing their religion. “I want people to know how we were beaten with leather straps, shorn of our hair, and used as child slave-laborers at these boarding schools,” Giago writes. “My eight-year-old sister, along with dozens of Lakota girls the same age, was raped at the mission school …. [she] told me about her abuse on her deathbed and I, along with her three children, finally understood why she had become a violent, alcoholic woman for so much of her life.”
“I agree that the effects are intergenerational on families, primarily in the area of sexual, mental, physical, and emotional abuses,” activist Charmaine Whiteface told the Native Press. “My parents both attended a Catholic boarding school and experienced, as well as saw, all these types of abuses. They refused to speak the Lakota language to us and only wanted us to be ‘white.’ There was alcoholism and major physical, emotional and mental abuse in our home. They knew no other way: They were terrified of being Indian. If it were not for my grandmother who taught me in secret, I might not have even a little knowledge about my culture.”
|“The effects are intergenerational on families, primarily in the area of sexual, mental, physical, and emotional abuses.”|
Canada forced Native children into residential schools until the 1970s, and abuses there are better documented. According to the Truth Commission into Genocide in Canada, churches and government are responsible for the deaths of more than 50,000 Native children. Survivors tell of witnessing church and school officials murder their classmates through beatings, hangings, electric shock, and other forms of torture. Many children starved because the schools were run on chronically low budgets. Until the 1940s, students were intentionally exposed to tuberculosis. Survivors say they were forced to play and share beds with children dying of the disease. There is testimony that babies born to Native girls raped by church officials were killed and buried on school grounds. The Canadian government issued an apology this year, but activists say that nearly half the survivors will be left without compensation, and witnesses will not be allowed to give the names of perpetrators or describe any misconduct. Continue reading
The United States has twice the HIV prevalence of Mexico, so it isn’t surprising that the need to cross the border for work has increased Mexican communities’ vulnerability to HIV. But the reasons for HIV’s increase in some places in Mexico – indigenous, rural communities far from the border – may not be so obvious. “The state of Oaxaca has the highest HIV rate in Southeastern Mexico,” Oaxacan queer activist Leonardo Tlahui says. “One of the primary factors is immigration. The Mixteco people [one of Oaxaca’s largest indigenous groups] have a high population of immigrants to the United States.” He explains that migrating to a country with double the HIV rate makes immigrants more vulnerable to HIV, and that increased vulnerability is then shared with their home communities since most of the immigrants return home to Oaxaca.
Half a million indigenous people from Oaxaca (roughly one-seventh of the state’s total population) live in the United States, according to Rufino Dominguez, a founder of the Binational Front of Indigenous Organizations (FIOB) in Oaxaca. Interviewed by David Bacon for a Truthout.org article called “The Right to Stay Home,” Dominquez said, “There are no jobs here, and NAFTA [the North American Free Trade Agreement] made the price of corn so low that it’s not economically possible to plant a crop anymore. We come to the U.S. to work because we can’t get a price for our product at home. There’s no alternative.”
Treaties and Lovers
Two years after the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) launched its 1994 offensive in the state of Chiapas as NAFTA was implemented, the EZLN won a potential victory for indigenous land rights with the San Andres Accords, an agreement it negotiated with the Mexican government. But in 2002, the government gutted the accords, and now, indigenous activists say that large corporations are buying their peoples’ land. As more young people come to the U.S. to work and send money home, families are separated for years at a time, and individuals far from their partners become vulnerable to HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.
For a new study called “Migration and ruralization of AIDS: reports on vulnerability of indigenous communities in Mexico” [“Migración y ruralización del SIDA: relatos de vulnerabilidad en comunidades indígenas de México”], researchers from Mexico City and California interviewed migrant workers and indigenous women in poor rural areas. Before a young man leaves as a teenager, the researchers report, he often partners with a girl who is also too young for legal marriage and hopes for pregnancy so that she will remain faithful while he is away. Some of the women said that, although they understand the likelihood that migrants have other sexual partners, it is very difficult to ask the men to use condoms when they return. It doesn’t help that Oaxaca’s archbishop condemns the use of condoms [“Condena el arzobispo de Oaxaca el uso del condón”] to prevent HIV.
One Zapoteca indigenous woman in Oaxaca, age 23, told the researchers, “I am here with my in-laws while my husband is in the United States, and he sees that somewhere they pick up other women. Now it is long that my husband hasn’t come, like five years. He already entered [the U.S.] for six years [once before]… When he returns, he always comes looking for another pregnancy.”
In a 2008 poster presentation at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) about HIV risk behaviors of Mexican migrant workers, Melissa Sanchez and other researchers reported that migrants, often struggling with unsafe working and living conditions, generally had more sex partners while in the U.S., and had more sex while using drugs or alcohol. A related study found that migrant men in California were 13 times more likely to have sex with another man than they were before leaving Mexico. Condom use increased while away from home, but migrants were unlikely to get tested for HIV for fear of deportation.
Sanchez also told TheBody.com that young men are being targeted for sex work at day-labor pick-up sites where they wait for construction work. “There are actually Web sites developed now where they give tips to people who want to approach Mexican-migrant, job-pick-up-site workers and actually recruit them,” Sanchez said. “They are told, ‘Go after three o’clock, when there is a clear indication that there is no work coming for the day.’ They target young, young men, thinking, ‘Well, they’re going to be more naïve, they’re perhaps more desperate to make some money given that they’re not going to get a landscape job during the day.'”
Corruption and Repression in Oaxaca
|“It was agreed I would sign a document with the government promising…to cease activities concerning HIV/AIDS in Oaxaca.”|
In 2001, the Frente Común Contra el SIDA (Common Front Against AIDS), a community organization in Oaxaca, began buying bus tickets for people living with HIV in the countryside to see their doctors at the clinic of COESIDA, the state AIDS council, in Oaxaca City. While meeting this need, activists got to know the people they were serving. The stories they heard – many of the people weren’t getting their medication regularly, were told to come back next month for medicine, or were given only one or two antiretrovirals rather than the standard combination of three – shocked the activists. According to the Frente’s website, this revelation set in motion a clash with COESIDA that culminated in the Frente’s closure amid threats and violence by government thugs in 2006. Continue reading
Twenty years ago, when 30,000 people with AIDS were at risk of dying homeless on the streets of New York City, AIDS housing activism was born. “In 1988, activists took over the Human Resources Administration Commissioner’s office [in New York City] to demand they honor an injunction to take a plaintiff living with AIDS out of a shelter and put them into single-room occupancy housing,” Charles King, cofounder and CEO of Housing Works, explains. In 1990, Housing Works grew out of ACT UP/New York to provide housing, job training and other services while organizing homeless people with AIDS to fight for their rights and survival.
Now, a coalition of activist groups led by the New York City AIDS Housing Network (NYCAHN), Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), and Housing Works – the HASA For ALL campaign – is fighting to expand the city’s unique guarantee of rental assistance, a nutritional allowance, and transportation for people living with AIDS to all low-income New Yorkers living with HIV.
The HASA For ALL battle began in 2006, when activists successfully pressured the city’s health department to release data on the health of homeless adults. AIDS was the primary cause of death for women in the shelters and the second leading cause of death for men, accounting for 11 percent of all shelter deaths. But people with AIDS weren’t supposed to be in the shelters. A 1998 lawsuit brought by activists guaranteed medically appropriate, same-day emergency housing assistance to homeless people with an AIDS diagnosis through the city’s HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA).
|About 700 AIDS activists demonstrate in support of HASA For ALL at New York’s City Hall, September 25, 2007 (photo courtesy of Housing Works).|
According to Sean Barry, co-director of NYCAHN, the problem is that “people who didn’t have an AIDS diagnosis and didn’t qualify for HASA because of that are dying because the bad conditions in the shelters worsen their health so quickly – before they can go through the bureaucratic process to get HASA benefits once they do get sick.” Housing Works estimates that 7,000 low-income people living with HIV would benefit from HASA For ALL, including an estimated 800 individuals in the shelter system.
“It took me two years to get on HASA,” Alan Perez, coordinator of the Legislative Action Group at GMHC, says. “I had to stop taking my meds just to get on it. A lot of people are doing something to get sick, especially people who are in the shelter system. They should be in permanent housing.”
The irony that people with HIV who are doing relatively well are making themselves sick just to get needed help is not lost on activists. They developed a cost-benefit analysis revealing that, despite an estimated $68 million per year price tag, HASA For ALL would save the city money in shelter and hospital costs, keeping people with HIV healthy – and preventing as many as 66 new infections each month.
Assisting People With and Without HIV
The idea is a sort of “prevention for positives” approach, but activists appreciate that HIV negative community members need permanent housing as well to protect themselves from HIV and the many other hazards of being homeless. Young trans and gender non-conforming people, as well as men who have sex with men (MSMs), are especially vulnerable, explains Johnny Guaylupo, intake outreach coordinator at Housing Works. Continue reading
— Suzy Subways, with reporting by Pedro Soto
November 2007 • Issue 7
*Activist Snapshots #4*
On October 13 and 14, San Francisco Bay Area activists hosted Transforming Justice, the first national gathering to begin developing shared understanding and strategy to end the criminalization and imprisonment of transgender and gender non-conforming people.1 “Prisons are not where we belong, and it’s not what we deserve,” says Kelani Key, a member of the Trans/Gender Variant in Prison Committee (TIP) and an organizer for the event, which drew almost 200 people.
A Transwoman with AIDS Dies in Immigrant Detention
The intersection of these issues was made painfully clear by the death of Victoria Arellano on July 20. Arellano, a 23-year-old transwoman, was swept up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in May and denied AIDS treatment while in detention for her immigration status. Arellano repeatedly asked to see a doctor but, says Coral Lopez of Bienestar, a Latino AIDS service organization in Los Angeles, “Only once, they gave her Tylenol to reduce the fever.”
Mariana Marroquin, a transgender activist who helped organize a vigil to protest Arellano’s death, says, “To be transgender, HIV positive, and an immigrant are three factors that bring terrible discrimination. What happened to Victoria was a very bad example for transgender people. Already, they don’t want to ask for help because they are afraid of being deported or detained.”
The striking news about Arellano’s story is the depth of solidarity that the male detainees around her showed, bridging the compounded stigma of transgender and HIV status. Lopez says, “All of her fellow inmates – Latinos in majority – went on hunger strike when she was almost dead, and they were screaming, ‘Hospital! Hospital!’” Although this action did get her to the hospital, she died there.
Building Leadership Under Lockdown
Transforming Justice brought together many people who are committed to that kind of solidarity. Organizers set a precedent by not allowing the possible difficulties of bringing together those directly affected by the issues to become an excuse for excluding them. From the beginning, organizers from the Trans/Gender Variant in Prison Committee, Critical Resistance, Justice Now, the Transgender, Gender Variant, and Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP), and the Transgender Law Center worked to ensure the leadership and participation of people most impacted by gender oppression and prisons. Vanessa Huang of Justice Now estimates that, of the participants, “At least half have been through jails, detention centers, and prisons and/or experienced police violence, and the majority who came were trans and gender non-conforming people.”
Even people who are currently imprisoned were able to participate. “From the start, members of TIP and TGIJP visited with people inside to inform the direction of Transforming Justice,” she says. “Trans and gender non-conforming people – mostly in men’s prisons, and a few in women’s prisons – wrote letters that participants who were not in prison were encouraged to respond to.” Continue reading
November 2007 • Issue 7
Levels of HIV Prevention Intervention (2004, PDF)
Anthony Morgan, now Director of Programs at the New York State Black Gay Network, explains the difference between individual- and structural-level prevention interventions. http://www.champnetwork.org/index.php?name=AnthonyM-10.27.04
Critical Analysis of HIV Prevention Research and Policy (2004, PDF)
CHAMP’s Walt Senterfitt presents an activist view on prevention research and policy. http://www.champnetwork.org/media/walt.pdf
Getting More Strategic About Interventions and A Sexual Networks Based Approach to HIV Prevention (2007, PDF)
Dan Wohlfeiler of the California Department of Public Health and Jennifer Hecht from the STOP AIDS Project in San Francisco discuss new ways to stop HIV from spreading in sexual networks online and in communities affected by mass imprisonment. http://www.champnetwork.org/media/SL-presentation-1.pdf http://www.champnetwork.org/media/SL-presentation-2.pdf
Long Way to Go in Helping African-American Women Battle HIV, Activist Says (2006, HTML)
TheBody.com’s interview with Carrie Broadus, director of Women Alive. http://www.thebody.com/african_american/movers/cbroadus.html
National Women and AIDS Collective (NWAC) (2007, online video)
A 4-minute Ms. Foundation for Women film profiling Vanessa Johnson and NWAC. http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&VideoID=12904507
The “Down-Low”: More Questions than Answers (2004, PowerPoint)
CDC researcher Greg Millett breaks down the “down-low” myth. http://www.pacha.gov/meetings/presentations/p0604/DL abridged5.ppt
We’re the Ones We’ve Been Waiting for: The State of AIDS in Black America…and What We’re Doing About It (2007, PDF)
The September 2007 Black AIDS Institute report by Gil Gerald and Kai Wright. http://www.blackaids.org/image_uploads/article_381/.pdf
Overview of Issues Facing Transgender, Gender Variant & Intersex Prisoners
TGIJP factsheet on human rights violations of trans, gender variant and intersex prisoners. http://www.tgijp.org/giraldo/protest.html
Fun, political, and community-building blog on gay men’s sexual health.