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Day 2 of the Women's HIV/AIDS Advocacy and Leadership Summit: How to Work With Media Outlets and HIV Criminalization 101

October 26, 2011

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Kellee Terrell

Kellee Terrell

This is part of a series of articles about the 2011 Women's HIV/AIDS Advocacy and Leadership Summit, which was held Oct. 13-16 in Baton Rouge, La.

So, the official first day of the Women's HIV/AIDS Advocacy and Leadership Summit has arrived. (It is organized by the Campaign to End AIDS [C2EA].) After registration and breakfast, we all congregated in the conference room to hear the keynote address by Deon Haywood. Deon is the executive director of the New Orleans-based organization Women With a Vision, Inc. (WWAV). (She was also named an outstanding HIV/AIDS advocate of 2010 in our article "HIV/AIDS Community Spotlight: People Who Made a Difference in 2010.")

WWAV was co-founded by Haywood's mother and several other black women in 1991 as a social service organization "to promote wellness and disease prevention for women and their families living at or below the poverty line." Most important, it was founded to provide resources for women who are left out of the traditional prevention mix: women living at or below the poverty line, sex workers, women with substance abuse issues and transgender women.

Recently, WWAV took on the issue of how Louisiana's outdated crimes against humanity law had been reinstated. Under that law, sex workers have to register as sex offenders for a maximum of 10 years and have the words "sex offender" printed on their photo identification cards. Luckily, thanks to Haywood and other activists' hard work, this past June, Governor Bobby Jindal signed into law a bill that effectively moves prostitution convictions back to the level of a misdemeanor.

During her keynote speech, Deon talked about the tireless work that she and other advocates put forth to get the bill passed; what's it's been like to work for WWAV; and the systematic oppression that women in the South encounter that exacerbates the HIV epidemic in the region.

One of the most important questions she brought up in her speech was, "How mad are you about AIDS?"

I was really glad that she asked the group that question, because in my opinion, this summit is all about channeling that anger into being a leader who advocates for change. Also, let's keep it real, we have a lot to be angry about.

HIV criminalization, one of those infuriating issues, was the topic of the first session.

The panel included Deon; Brook Kelly, the HIV human rights attorney for Positive Women's Network; and Beirne Roose-Snyder, the managing attorney for the Center for HIV Law and Policy. The ladies went into great detail about the issue and how it impacts women living with HIV. Beirne talked a lot about how many of these ridiculous laws are not even grounded in science or common sense. Based on some of these laws, it's possible to be thrown into prison for decades for spitting on a police officer or biting someone in a bar brawl. She also talked about cases in which women were found guilty even when they disclosed and used condoms -- all because the partner, who may now be an ex, went to court and lied.

Beirne told the crowd, "The courts have this belief that no man would want to have sex with an HIV-positive woman if she disclosed, and we all know in this room, that just isn't true."

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This article was provided by TheBody.
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