HIV, Black Men & The New Prison Pipeline by Lisa Fager Bediako & Michael Hinson

African American AIDS Activism Oral History Project narrator Michael Hinson and Lisa Fader Bediako argue that HIV criminalization laws constitute a new prison pipeline for black men, on Global Grind.

Global Grind

HIV criminalization

This month (February 7th) marked the sixteenth annual observance of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD).  HIV/AIDS, once considered a “gay white man” disease, is still consistently on the rise in black American communities across the US. The Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports “of all racial/ethnic groups in the US, blacks have the highest HIV burden and higher proportions of new infections and deaths.” Although improvements in HIV treatment over the last 30 years have transformed HIV/AIDS from a death sentence to a manageable, chronic condition, a troubling trend is emerging: HIV criminalization.

Currently, 33 states and two territories have laws criminalizing HIV. HIV criminalization has often resulted in gross human rights violations, including harsh sentencing for behaviors that pose little or no risk of HIV transmission, including: A man with HIV in Texas who is now serving 35 years for spitting at a police…

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Naina Khanna on Tyler Perry

WARNING: Spoilers for Tyler Perry’s Temptation ahead, although if you’re reading this, you probably already know what they are.

When I heard that in his recent film, Temptation: Confessions of a Marriage Counselor, Tyler Perry gives his female lead HIV as moral punishment for pursuing an affair with a sexy tech mogul while still married to her upstanding, if boring, husband, I resolved to see it as soon as possible, so that I could write about it here. [And a confession of my own: in the interest of camp, I wanted to see Kim Kardashian’s big screen debut.] I’ve been too busy to get to the movies, but Naina Khanna of the Positive Women’s Network–USA has an op-ed at poz.com that probably says everything I could have said, and more. Khanna writes–as an HIV-positive woman of color herself–in damning terms about the violence, both cultural and medical, that Perry’s work does to women of color living with HIV:

For the estimated 300,000 women living with HIV in the United States, Tyler Perry’s Temptation preys on the worst of all that. For this, I charge him with at least 300,000 counts of self-doubt and recrimination, a million moments of fear and hopelessness, hundreds of failures to disclose, countless refused HIV tests, thousands of missed medical appointments, suicides, homicides, and setting us back in our HIV response for over than a decade.

I must confess to never having seen any of Perry’s work, but he is an extremely successful filmmaker as far as the box office is concerned, even as he regularly draws the ire of film and cultural critics alike. At an academic conference at Northwestern, appropriately titled “Madea’s Big Scholarly Roundtable,” black academics picked apart Perry’s work for all of the ways that it reinforces norms of heterosexual patriarchy and conservative Christianity, both of which seem to be on display in Temptation.

No doubt, HIV/AIDS is a serious disease, and one that disproportionately affects African American women. Representations of that reality should do justice to the complexity of HIV-positive women’s lives, struggles, and successes. The disease is not a blunt storytelling instrument of moral condemnation, and using it as such is an insult to the women whose everyday courage proves otherwise.

SEE ALSO:

AV Club’s write-up of “Madea’s Big Scholarly Roundtable”

Positive Women’s Network blog post on Temptation (Waheedah Shabazz-El, a founding member of the group, longtime member of ACT UP Philadelphia, and oral history narrator for this project, is quoted therein)

Kansas Quarantine Bill

Kansas Statehouse, Topeka. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

I hate to follow up a post about moving on from the ignorance of the past with something that strongly suggests a return to past ignorance, but the Kansas state legislature seems likely to pass a bill that would allow for the quarantine of people with HIV, along with hepatitis B and C, and tuberculosis. The bill itself eliminates the court order presently necessary for emergency personnel to have a patient tested for certain infections when the personnel have been exposed to said patient’s blood. Critics like D. Charles Hunt, Director of the Kansas Bureau of Epidemiology and Public Health Informatics, and Cody Patton of the AIDS service organization Positive Directions, Inc. say the law will put people with HIV at risk for intimidation and discrimination, especially in rural areas where people may be ignorant of how HIV is spread. Of course, HIV is not transmitted in the same way a tuberculosis, and emergency personnel using universal blood precautions are at essentially no risk of contracting the virus from an HIV-positive person. Even in the case of an accidental needle stick or scalpel cut, post-exposure prophylaxis is available, and dramatically reduces the probability of transmission. So it seems that ignorance about HIV is a problem in Topeka, too.

One thing that comes up consistently in oral histories is the problem of conspiracy theories around HIV and AIDS in black communities. These can take many forms, from the idea that the government created the virus to the suspicion that a cure exists but is being withheld because the epidemic has been immensely profitable for the pharmaceutical industry. Studies have shown that belief in such theories correlates to lower adherence to HIV medications, which in turn can quickly limit the range of medical options people have to treat their HIV disease. A friend in medical school told me that he has seen people–young people–on AZT as a treatment of last resort because non-adherence to their drug regimen rendered all of the newer, better, less toxic medicines ineffective.

Conspiracy theories about HIV among African Americans don’t come from nowhere–they emerge from the collective, historical memory of slavery, Jim Crow, “Mississippi appendectomies” (i.e. forced sterilizations), and the Tuskegee syphilis experiments, as well as the everyday racism that African Americans encounter in medical settings. But that doesn’t let the government off the hook for actually making them seem more valid with laws like this one.

Via Joe.My.God. and the Kansas City Fox affiliate.

ACT UP vs. Paul Ryan

by Dan Royles

Via Joe.My.God.: Two protesters interrupted Paul Ryan at the Family Research Council’s Value Voters Summit, shouting, “Corporations are not people! Take the money out!” Although one of the women identified herself only as a “concerned citizen,” the other told reporters that she represented ACT UP Philadelphia, and in classic ACT UP fashion, had a bag full of press releases at the ready.

In the mid-90s, ACT UP Philadelphia began recruiting lower income people of color into the organization while other chapters nationwide went into decline. Along with the shift in membership, which reflected the “changing face of AIDS,” the group intensified its focus on issues of economic inequality in the AIDS pandemic, both at home and around the globe. In 2000, protesters from ACT UP Philadelphia and sister group Health GAP followed Al Gore on the campaign trail, demanding that generic HIV drugs be made available to the developing world. Their efforts have led some to credit the group(s) in part for George W. Bush’s announcement of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) in 2003.