HIV/AIDS Community Spotlight: People Who Made a Difference in 2011
December 13, 2011
The "Good" HIV Journalists
It's well known that our media doesn't do the best job at covering HIV in America. But thankfully, there are amazing journalists (other than TheBody.com's staff and bloggers, of course) who really get it. Some of whom are: Todd Heywood from the now defunct Michigan Messenger, who is busting the chops of his state's health department for its shady practices and questionable HIV criminalization laws. The Black AIDS Institute's editorial staff (Phill Wilson, Hilary Beard and company), which not only covers the HIV epidemic in the African-American community, but makes sure that that work appears in other newspapers and online publications. Housing Works' staff, for reporting on a range of NYC-related HIV, housing and policy issues. The staff at Windy City Times, for their phenomenal nine-month series AIDS@30, which highlighted a vast range of issues pertinent to the community. Kai Wright and the editorial staff at Colorlines for having a progressive, racially conscious and sex-positive approach to covering the epidemic. And the staff of the San Francisco Gate, for great overall coverage about HIV, but especially around the PrEP debate and the city's actions in curbing new HIV infections and getting people linked to care earlier. Thank you all for shifting the conversation this past year.
Last year, Haywood, the executive director of the New Orleans-based organization Women With a Vision, Inc. (WWAV), made our list with her work fighting HIV criminalization laws and sex worker discrimination. WWAV was cofounded by Haywood's mother and several other black women in 1991 as a response to the non-existence of HIV prevention resources for those women who were the most at risk: poor women, sex workers, women with substance abuse issues and transgender women. This year, Haywood deserves recognition as an honorable mention because of the success that she and other advocates in her state had getting outdated crimes against humanity laws overturned. Under those laws, sex workers had to register as sex offenders for a maximum of 10 years and have the words "sex offender" printed on their photo identification cards. This past June, Governor Bobby Jindal signed into law a bill that effectively moves prostitution convictions back to the level of a misdemeanor.
Dr. Robert Murayama and the APICHA Transgender Clinic
Asian & Pacific Islander Coalition on HIV/AIDS
"Forty-one percent of transgender people have attempted suicide and 20 percent of transgender people have been refused medical care," says Dr. Robert Murayama, the chief medical officer at the Asian & Pacific Islander Coalition on HIV/AIDS (APICHA). Murayama's major goal? Reversing those statistics.
That's why, this past November, APICHA, one of New York City's most progressive, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender)-focused health centers, has opened the doors to its Transgender Clinic. The clinic offers a full menu of health services for the transgender community, including mental health, hormone therapy and support during transitioning and beyond -- all within a primary-care model that promotes health and wellness, a first for area transgender clinics. It's important to note that APICHA's multilingual staff won't stop at providing medical services; they'll also be conducting transgender-specific sensitivity trainings for partner organizations in Asian and Pacific Islander communities.
Nelson Vergel, HIV wellness expert and founder of the Body Positive Wellness Clinic in Houston, has posed some pointed questions this year: See his
"Will You Be a Hero for the Cure?" and
"What Can We Do Now to Speed Up HIV Cure Research?" articles for examples.
Vergel's goal has been clear -- to keep the conversation about a cure for HIV on the community's mind. He also wants people to know that this push isn't just coming from him, but that there's a movement led by researchers and advocates who are doing whatever it takes to develop a cure. In the past year, in collaboration with other activists, Vergel has created a short video with top researchers breaking down the latest in the search for a cure (a full-length documentary is forthcoming), as well as a new survey to gauge HIV-positive people's willingness to participate in HIV cure research in the first place. Most important, in the spirit of "each one, teach one," he and his colleagues want all who encounter this information to spread it far and wide, so that as many people as possible can join the struggle for a cure. Will we live to see the cure? Only time will tell, but Vergel is hopeful.
Harlan Pruden and the NorthEast Two-Spirit Society
"There are only 2,000 members of the Onondaga Nation, 700 living on their reservation in upstate New York. Three years ago, among this great Nation there were three new cases of HIV," explains Harlan Pruden of the NorthEast Two-Spirit Society (NE2SS). "But when you're talking about the entire universe being 2,000 people, one is too many for a preventable disease." According to Pruden, this story is applicable for indigenous populations across the U.S. This year, NE2SS rolled out the findings of "Reclaiming Our Voices: Two Spirit Health and Human Service Needs in New York State." The report is the first ever to examine the health and service needs of Native LGBT or two-spirit (an umbrella term used by many contemporary Native people across the LGBT spectrum) communities in any U.S. state. Pruden was a coauthor of the report, and the statistics it reveals do not paint a pretty picture of the experiences of Native LGBT individuals. "If these numbers hold true for largely progressive New York state, I shudder to think what's going on in Bismarck, N.D., or Boise, Idaho," Pruden laments. "It's a great step forward that New York state has released this report -- people working in this community can now say, 'This is what we know is happening in New York; perhaps this is happening in our own community.' But if it's not married to a reallocation of resources toward those most vulnerable, it's nothing."
ADAP Advocates Across the U.S.
Just three years ago, as we wrapped up 2008, there were 53 people living with HIV on ADAP waiting lists in only three states -- and for a few months prior, the list had remained at zero. Fast forward to the end of 2011, in the midst of serious budget cuts and deficits: As of this writing, there are 4,155 people on waiting lists -- with a peak dangerously close to 10,000 this past September.
But there's good news: HIV activists are not taking this turn of events lying down. There has been a vigorous response across the country -- from large groups and small, individuals as well as national organizations. For instance, three Ohio residents living with HIV successfully fought the "murder by proxy" of lowering income eligibility for their state's program. Meanwhile, the National Minority AIDS Council launched its "ADAP Beyond the Numbers" campaign, which aims to put a range of faces on the ADAP crisis by providing ADAP clients with tools to share their own stories -- and build their own local advocacy campaigns. Three former journalism students also made adapting -- a short documentary film that highlights, through the stories of two ADAP clients in Illinois, the brutal and all-too-common Catch-22 between making ends meet and paying for HIV meds. And for the activist coalition Campaign to End AIDS, ADAP advocacy remains a vital part of its agenda in many states, particularly in the U.S. South.
This list just begins to paint a picture of the range of advocacy being done throughout the U.S. -- which no doubt played a part in the recent allocation of new funding for the program for next year. But as we enter 2012, the ADAP struggle continues.
With so much amazing HIV work being done throughout the world, we know that our list leaves off thousands. Who else rocked in 2011 and deserves recognition? Please drop us an e-mail or leave a comment below, telling us who and why!
Julie Turkewitz is a journalist with a deep commitment to exploring the roots of social injustice through writing, photo and video. She's written for The Baltimore Sun and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, worked in Thailand and Argentina, and spent the past two years writing about AIDS and homelessness for the nonprofit Housing Works. She lives in New York City. See her work here: www.julieturkewitz.com.
Olivia Ford is the community manager for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
Kellee Terrell is the former news editor for TheBody.com and TheBodyPRO.com.
Copyright © 2011 The HealthCentral Network, Inc. All rights reserved.
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