Category Archives: Washington, DC
You knew it was coming. It’s been almost 30 years since the International AIDS Conference was in the U.S. — and this year, it will be in the nation’s capital just a few months shy of an election that many see as a referendum on access to healthcare. The worldwide media will be there. AIDS policymakers from all over will be there. And AIDS activists will gather to make as big a splash as we can.
The thing I love about this protest is not just how big and gorgeous it’s going to be — with 5 branches representing unique struggles that make up the AIDS movement — but that it unashamedly tackles the real problems, the complicated mess of profiteering and stigmatizing and controlling human beings that has caused and perpetuated the AIDS crisis. Please go to www.wecanendaids.org immediately to find out how you can get on the bus, meet up with the convergence in D.C., and get more involved. Read the captivating platform here and find contact info for transportation from your city here. For more information about the 5 branches of the protest, click here.
1. Fight Pharma’s Corporate Greed: People over Profits, Health Care and Treatment Access for All.
2. Tax Wall Street: Use a Robin Hood Tax to Fund AIDS Treatment, Prevention and Health Care, Provide Jobs, and Fight Climate Change at Home and Around the World.
3. Promote Sound Policies: Public Policy Based on Science and Human Needs; Lift the Federal Ban on and Fully Fund Syringe Exchange Programs.
4. End the War on Women: Reproductive Justice and End Gender-Based Violence
5. Respect our Human Rights and Promote Harm Reduction: End the War on Drugs and Drug Users; Confront HIV Criminalization, Stigma, Mass Imprisonment and Anti-LGBTQ Violence and Discrimination.
Today I got on the bus with ACT UP Philly and participated in the World AIDS Day action at the White House, where we sang hymns and chanted for the $50 billion that Obama promised to fight global AIDS. A crew of African women who have formed an ACT UP Maryland chapter performed a skit to show us what it looks like when dying people go to the doctor and the doctor says, “We have no meds for you.” A Washington, DC, pastor offered a prayer and a poignant reminder of the epidemic here at home, telling us that he had attended five AIDS funerals for people in his life during the past year.
Before the global AIDS protest, we met up in the morning outside City Hall in Washington DC to demand housing for people with AIDS. Mayor Fenty has recently closed some shelters, and now even more people in the city with America’s highest HIV rate are dying in the streets.
Check out the photos from the protest/funeral at the White House, taken by Kaytee Riek, by clicking here.
Sex workers in Washington, DC, and Brazil develop creative strategies to fight stigma, violence, police repression, and HIV
By Darby Hickey
SEP. 2007 • Issue 6
The “DC Madam” is in the news again. Some sex workers on the streets of the nation’s capital may be glad that Deborah Jeane Palfrey (accused of running an illegal escort service for 13 years) has helped reveal the hypocrisy of moral crusader David Vitter, the Republican Senator from Louisiana, who has admitted to being a client of the service. At the end of April this year, Deputy Secretary of State Randall Tobias – the man responsible for implementing the policy that forces all organizations to denounce prostitution in order to receive U.S. global AIDS funds – also resigned after being linked to the alleged prostitution service. Although it may be a joy to watch Vitter and Tobias tumble, many DC sex workers want to know why Palfrey is getting so much media attention while most sex workers regularly face violence and police arrest.
You won’t hear about sex workers organizing for their rights in DC in the media frenzy surrounding Palfrey’s case – but they are organizing. Transgender women, African-American exotic dancers, online escorts, male street-based workers and sex workers from many different fields are coming together to push for change in the District and to support broader activism by people trading sex for money and other things they need for survival.
Washington, DC: Safety in the Streets
In 2005, community members and organizations such as Different Avenues, HIPS (Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive), La Clinica del Pueblo, and HIV/AIDS groups, organized to form the Alliance for a Safe & Diverse DC to work against proposed repressive legislation targeting people in public spaces. Although the legislation passed, the organizing effort built community among those involved. People were determined to keep up the fight for the rights of some of the most marginalized communities in our city. One of the most alarming aspects of the law was to create “prostitution free zones” where police could arrest anyone in the jurisdiction they believed were there for the “purpose of prostitution” – even if they weren’t breaking any law. Basically, the legislation gave legal backing to long-standing practices of police profiling of certain individuals and communities. For example, these techniques pushed transgender sex workers out of a downtown stroll into a much more dangerous area located on the literal edge of the city where they are not only robbed, raped, shot at and more, but also have greater difficulty interacting with health outreach teams.
To help support our claims about the negative impact of the legislation, the Alliance for a Safe & Diverse DC started the Community Research Project. The Project is examining ways that DC’s prostitution policies affect communities, including trans people, the homeless, and women of color. Community based research in this case means research directed and conducted by members of the affected communities, rather than by academics. Our diverse research team will use anthropological and sociological techniques in gathering surveys, observing police activity, and conducting interviews to get as much information as possible. Very little research has been done on the impact of prostitution policies and issues in the United States, and little of that sparse research has been led by people who engage in commercial sex.
We wanted to do this research to show lawmakers that they should make decisions based on evidence-based research and careful thought rather than knee-jerk reactions. By continuing to pass new anti-prostitution laws without having more information, they are not making good policies and are even contradicting their own efforts – like HIV prevention. The District has among the highest HIV rates in the country, but increased criminalization and harassment by police of suspected sex workers drive the workers further underground, further from services like health outreach and HIV counseling and testing. Police harassment also decreases sex workers’ ability to negotiate condom use or even to carry prevention materials, since police sometimes seize the materials or use them as an excuse to arrest someone on prostitution-related charges. Continue reading
SEP. 2007 • Issue 6
If you’re part of a sex worker activist project and would like to learn from others doing this work, contact the following groups for insight and inspiration:
Different Avenues is a peer-led organization working for the rights, health and safety of people at high risk for HIV, and fighting violence and discrimination. The organization works across labels and identities to envision a world where our communities live with justice and well-being. The majority of its constituents are youth and young adults, people who are homeless or just trying to get by, and people who formally or informally exchange sex for things they need. Most of its work is local, but Different Avenues also does its best to support national and global movements for social justice.
SAFE serves women, including transwomen, and distributes a Bad Date Sheet to help street-based sex workers avoid clients who have attacked other women or stolen their money. Workers call SAFE’s hotline or invite SAFE volunteers to visit them at home (where they feel safer talking than in the street) and give a detailed physical description of the attacker and what happened. Reports are anonymous and shared only with women. This keeps the information from johns and the police (who may arrest or dismiss a sex worker trying to report a rape), builds trust and community, and helps women define what rape is and be heard without being stigmatized.
2003 article about violence against transwomen of color and community response beyond the prison industrial complex
Rash of Violence Claims Lives of Two Transgender Women in D.C.
Tuesday, Aug. 19 was not a good day for Ruby Bracamonte. Her close friend of ten years, Bella Evangelista, a 25-year-old transgender woman, had been shot dead on a Northwest Washington, D.C., street early the previous Saturday morning. In local news reports, Evangelista, a popular performer in D.C. drag shows, was inaccurately described as “a man who dressed as a woman.” National media had ignored the killing. But the week was to get much worse.
Bracamonte organized a vigil for her dead friend. One hundred people marched to the site of her murder, where candles, flowers, stuffed animals and signs – one saying “Transgenders Unite!” and others calling for an end to violence – were assembled as a memorial to the Latina performer. On Wednesday, Aug. 20, the memorial was found destroyed.
That night, an African-American transgender woman, Punani Walker, 25, was shot and critically wounded in Northwest D.C. And by Thursday morning, police had found the body of another Black transgender woman, Emonie Spaulding, also 25, in Southeast D.C. She had been beaten and shot to death.
Ruby Bracamonte and other transgender activists held an emergency press conference that day at La Clinica del Pueblo, a local Latino community health clinic with which Bracamonte is affiliated.
“We are being killed,” Bracamonte told those assembled. “Our lives are being taken away, for the simple fact of who we are.”
Although transgender activists and police agree that the incidents are probably not related to each other, the murders have struck fear in the heart of transgenders living in D.C.
“Before, even if you dealt with ridicule, it was a worthwhile price to pay to be visible,” Bracamonte says. “We were trying to be open, outspoken, present in the community. Now people feel like that is compromised.”
Antoine Jacobs, 22, was arrested immediately after Evangelista’s death and charged with first degree murder while armed. Police have said that Jacobs paid Evangelista for oral sex and then felt he had been deceived after learning that she was a transsexual. Responding to this charge of deception – a common narrative following such murders – Bracamonte points out, “It is easy to say, ‘They should have told.’ In reality, we do. Most transgenders are very open and honest about who they are. In most [murder] cases, we find out that everybody knew. Bella lived in the neighborhood where she was killed. She was not in the closet.”
Still, Earline Budd, founder of Transgender Health Empowerment, a group affiliated with a local AIDS organization serving the Black community, says that she has talked to several teenagers who have been shot at, run down by cars or assaulted after not telling dates they were transgender.
“I’m 45 now, but when I was younger, I was shot at,” she says. “I’ve been through it myself.” Budd explains that when she was doing sex work in her early 20s she started regularly clarifying her gender identity for clients. “They’d ask, ‘You’re a guy?’ and I’d say, ‘No, I’m a woman, but I’m a transgender woman.’”
Budd sees her advice not as a justification for blaming the victim but as a safety measure, an attempt to do “what can we do, in today’s world, to be safe,” she says. “I don’t want the young people to experience that.” Implied in her words, however, is an understanding that transgender women should not have to explain themselves at every turn, and that so many should not have to be on the streets to begin with.
“Because of the stigma, and getting beaten up, many don’t finish high school,” Budd says. “We need some type of institution where lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students can feel comfortable and get an education.” She explains that transgenders are also discriminated against in housing, employment and healthcare.
Hate Crime Laws & Community Response
On August 26, Antwan D. Lewis, 22, was arrested for the murder of Emonie Spaulding after turning himself in. Punani Walker, who was shot in the chest and leg during a robbery, is now expected to fully recover. “We thought she wasn’t going to make it,” Earline Budd says. Walker gave a full description of her attackers, who are now suspects in several recent robberies of transgender women.
Budd and other activists spoke with the mother of Antoine Jacobs, Evangelista’s alleged killer, after his arraignment August 18. “She’s suffering because of what he did,” Budd says. Since the murder has been classified as a hate crime, if Jacobs is convicted, he would be subject to a sentence one-and-a-half times greater than for a non-bias related crime.
Some activists have mixed feelings about hate crimes legislation, however.
Lizbeth Melendez of LLEGO, the national Latino/a lesbian gay, bisexual and transgender organization, told Metro Watch, a local news radio show on DC’s Pacifica station WPFW, “Education will go so much further. [People of color] are the largest segment of the prison population. Why do we continue to put people in prison instead of being preventive?”
“Fifteen separate incidents – beatings, robberies, vandalism – have been reported to the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit of the police in the past two weeks,” Bracamonte says.
She herself has continued to face harassment – even on the way to her murdered friend’s vigil.
“There were a hundred people walking to the site of her murder,” she says. “A lot of people were out, and they were yelling at us: ‘Faggots, queers!’ We are always fighting to show people that we’re happy to be who we are and that we don’t want to hide.”