Saturday, May 28, 2016

An Open Letter to Sen. Sanders Challenging the Characterization of Meeting with HIV/AIDS Activists


So Warren Gunnels (Sanders' senior policy director) deleted his tweet, which is something, I guess. I must admit, it's no fun being personally attacked by a campaign that leads millions of millennials, and one that I've often praised for raising many of the progressive issues I've long fought for (lost in all this was that we thanked Sanders in Kenyon Farrow's opening statement, saying "We commend you for your leadership and advocacy on single payer universal health coverage—something AIDS activists have been calling for since the 1980s.").

This is all so sad, and so unnecessary. We actually had a good meeting with Senator Sanders (see HealthGAP's press release, and my and others early posts about it), and then it all blew up into a shit-show when Bernie's team used us (in their press release) and then abused us (launched personal attacks, firmly hitching their train to AHF's slime machine). Our coalition will issue another press release on Tuesday that will reflect on the actual meeting we attended (not the one Gunnels dreamed up), and we will thank the Senator for some of the promises he made.

Our only goal, from the day Clinton made her AIDS gaffe, was to push all the campaigns to make some firmer promises in the fight against HIV/AIDS -- to turn lemons into lemonade. I hope the Sanders campaign will re-engage with us towards that end.

After Tuesday, we'll pivot back to the Clinton campaign (that process hasn't really stopped). They have promised us a meeting with their senior policy folks to discuss our harder asks. We will raise bloody hell if that meeting doesn't happen in the weeks ahead. We will also ask her campaign to reopen a dialogue with the Trans United Fund over their unfilled questionnaire.

And finally, we have to keep fighting against outrageous drug prices, especially HIV, PrEP and HepC drugs. Personally, I don't believe for one second this is an issue that Michael Weinstein and AHF are serious about. Most AIDS activists support workable government price controls like those used throughout Europe. Senator Sanders, can we save you from Weinstein, and discuss how to create a real revolution on drug prices?



Contacts: Mikola De Roo, 347-585-6051,; Anthony Hayes, 646-591-4893,; Elizabeth Koke, 347-473-7459,


May 27, 2016

Dear Senator Sanders:

We are grateful that you took time to sit with us this week to discuss a broad range of issues related to the fight against HIV/AIDS. Our group represents a larger coalition of over 70 organizations and advocates from across the country who hope to use this opportunity to push forward the national conversation, which is sorely missing, about HIV/AIDS. While we were optimistic following what we felt was a productive meeting, our optimism quickly turned to disappointment when your campaign issued a news release misrepresenting the meeting with HIV/AIDS leadership entitled “Sanders Backs California Ballot Initiative to Rein in Drug Prices at Meeting with HIV/AIDS Advocates.” As 19 representatives of the coalition, nearly half of whom are either based in or affiliated with organizations in California, we are deeply concerned as this may now appear as if we were exploited for short-term political gain leading up to the imminent California Presidential Primary Election.

Your campaign’s release title and the bulk of its content mislead readers and the press to believe that our May 25 meeting was primarily focused on your endorsement of a California ballot initiative on HIV drug pricing. By extension, it also implies that our national HIV/AIDS coalition also fully endorses this initiative. Both these characterizations are inaccurate.

During the meeting, we raised the issue of the California ballot initiative with you toward the tail end of the discussion, not to support or endorse it, but to relay to you that a number of stakeholders in California have serious concerns about the initiative. There is no general consensus in the HIV/AIDS community in support of the California ballot initiative, which is why we requested that you meet with those stakeholders. Prior to our meeting, numerous California organizations have tried to reach your campaign with these concerns, without any success.

While our coalition is frustrated by your campaign’s release about the initiative, which was only touched upon briefly during our time together, we are eager to continue the dialogue around the other critical issues that were the focus of the meeting, especially:

◾your commitment to ending AIDS as an epidemic in the U.S. by getting to below 12,000 new annual HIV infections by 2025;

◾ending the global epidemic by 2030 by increasing the U.S. global AIDS funding commitment by $2 billion dollars per year;

◾groups at high risk for HIV infection, including transgender persons and those incarcerated;

◾creation of an expert task force to develop a national plan;

◾increased funding for HIV/AIDS research;

◾and a campaign to fight HIV discrimination, criminalization, and stigma.

In order to refocus our attention back to the critical issues raised in the meeting, our coalition will release the full meeting notes early next week, which will allow for greater transparency with our coalition partners, as well as the broader HIV/AIDS community. While we believe your campaign’s press release misrepresented the overall purpose and outcome of the meeting, we hope to continue engaging with your campaign.


Tranisha Arzah, Peer Advocate, BABES-NETWORK YWCA

Jaron Benjamin, Vice President for Community Mobilization, Housing Works

Marco Alonso Castro-Bojorquez, Activist & Filmmaker

Guillermo Chacón, President, Latino Commission on AIDS; Founder, Hispanic Health Network

Thomas Davis, Health Education Specialist, Los Angeles LGBT Center

Kenyon Farrow, U.S. & Global Health Policy Director, Treatment Action Group (TAG)

Donnie Hue Frazier III, Prevention Training Specialist, APLA Health & Wellness

Ramon Gardenhire, Vice President of Policy & Advocacy, AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC)

Naina Khanna, Executive Director, Positive Women’s Network – USA

Kelsey Louie, MSW, MBA, CEO, Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC)

Hilary McQuie, Director of U.S. Policy & Grassroots Mobilization, Health GAP

Nadia Rafif, Director of Policy, Global Forum on MSM and HIV

Michael Emanuel Rajner, BSW, HIV/AIDS Activist and Social Worker

Venita Ray, Public Affairs Field Specialist, Legacy Community Health

Bamby Salcedo, President and CEO, The TransLatin@ Coalition

Andrew Spieldenner, Ph.D., United States People Living with HIV Caucus

Peter Staley, AIDS Activist

DaShawn Usher, Community Education and Recruitment Manager, New York Blood Center’s Project ACHIEVE; Chair, Young Black Gay Men’s Leadership Initiative (YBGLI) Vice-President, Impulse Group NYC

Phill Wilson, President and CEO, Black AIDS Institute

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Black Queer History: Charles Law

We talk about Rustin, Baldwin, Hemphill and a host of other Black Queers who have been instrumental throughout our history. These figures had/have the courage and tenacity to connect Blackness to Queerness and spoke on intersectionality before it was coined by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw. We often miss others like Law, Walter "Charles law." Charles Law was important to weaving the fabric of a now vibrant Black queer community.

He is from right here in Houston, TX and I rarely hear him mentioned among the Black Queers that
gather and evoke the thoughts and musings of our ancestors of the middle to late twentieth century. I suspect that respectability politics played a role in the erasure of his place in our Black Queer/LGBT history. After all, he had two obituaries following his untimely death in 1993 after years of work
being the one the FEW out, visible, Black gay men working in LGBT activism. To your right is a snapshot of what was written by folks from the LGBT side of his work. "Charles was one of the most intelligent and loving leaders in the Houston Gay and Lesbian community. He was memorialized in a family service on June 5, 1993 in which is academic, musical and Church related achievements and contributions to Houston's Black and Larger communities were remembered. What was not noted, however, were his founding leadership in the Houston Committee (a Black gay men's professional organization in the 1970s); his service as an Executive Committee Co - Chair for Town Meeting I in 1978; and his presentation of the finest speech delivered at the National March on Washington for Gay and Lesbian Rights, 1979. Nor was the inspiration he gave to his many Lesbian and Gay friends mentioned. When we gather to reach consensus, defend our freedoms, redress our grievances, recall our history or share our experiences, let us remember Dr. Charles Law and his services to our community."

Monday, May 9, 2016

Death To Respectability Politics

I often speak about respectability politics, against it to be more specific. I rail against the politics of respectability because it simply is about appeasing the mainstream and viewing life through the dangerous White gaze lens.

According to Abagond: "The white gaze is looking at the world through a white person’s eyes. In America it is everywhere. It is in history books, on billboards, on television, in films, in fashion magazines, on the Internet. It is the world as told by white people for white people...

Most White Americans do not see it that way: they are just presenting the world as it is, the way anyone would who was being fair, honest and open-minded. Any twist it might have is purely a personal one.

They fail to see how the colour of their skin colours their view of the world. That is for two reasons:
  • Many live in such a white world that their white gaze is rarely challenged and so they do not even notice that it is there. Only certain black voices make it through into that world, mostly those of Rented Negroes.
  • Whites like to believe “I do not see race” and “we are all the same”. In a colour-blind world there is no white gaze. They believe, want to believe, in a colour-blind world, which means the white gaze should not be, therefore must not be."
For this reason we (Black people) have been conditioned via respectability politics to take on the mantle of westernized, Eurocentric attitudes and sensibilities in order to get crumbs and little slices of respect from the dominant group in this society, White people.

"Funny how it's divisive to point out problems in our communities that make marginalized people feel unsupported and unwelcome -- but it's not divisive to, you know, have those problems."
- Greta Christina

"Isn’t it bad enough that everything about who we are is devalued and denigrated by the mainstream LGBT and Straight communities?!" - APW

Respectability politics can kill, it has killed and will kill countless Black folks who are told that they cannot be themselves. We automatically start by devaluing ourselves within our own community of orientation, the Black community. It is as if we are fulfilling the crabs in a barrel stereotype, like we are in a forced competition with ourselves. Respectability politics reinforces tone policing, sexism, hate, fear and a host of other redundancies that hold us back as a collective. We can't express anger, have to dress a certain way and present an overall image that will improve things just enough for us to work three times harder in order to be twice as good as our White counterparts. This is so contradictory to me that we as Black people in general are automatically groomed in that manner and then achieve some level of success only to be told not to be too expressive or too intersectional. We become shells of ourselves, one dimensional to the point that we even view our own intelligence as a threat to ourselves and others.

We are talented beyond binaries, we are intersectional beings that are unique and we must be respected for it! Respectability politics needs to die a swift death, so that we can thrive and not just survive. It needs to die because unsolicited directives about how we should express our individuality is no longer acceptable. This is where we have to cease the tone policing and disrespectfully crossing boundaries that don't need to be crossed. The need to "play the game" has long passed its prime, we simply need to walk to the beat of our own drum and celebrate differences. We can still be unified, unique and learn from others with different perspectives. If we shake the fear of things outside of our social norms that have instilled within us by respectability politics, we can then listen actively and learn something new about ourselves.  To put it another way, actively listening/watching others is the key to becoming more self aware, which allows us to see the intersectionality within ourselves and as a collective.

"As a Black man I see the images that illustrate that there are two ways to live get educated or live a street life. We get beat down by those who look like us when we show signs of intelligence and are belittled for being educated." - APW

"We have the RIGHT to ask questions of not only the dominant group (White folks), but we CAN & SHOULD question folks within our own ranks. usually the response to questions and gripes include getting defensive, brushing off, and subsequently degrading the person and inquiry."

When we see our true selves, the need for respectability dies, it dies because we are no longer seeing life through white gaze and simply focused on educating ourselves. It dies because we will refuse to
play by rules intended to subjugate our Black bodies for crumbs.That piece of a pie from the system built on the sweat and blood of our ancestors through colonization, enslavement, and financial oppression will look molded and decayed. That clamor for respect, equality and acknowledgment from the mainstream will cease along with previously sought approval from the dominant group. No longer will we avoid calling White folks out on their privilege at the risk of no longer being invited to the party or their table. Yes, calling out White privilege is cute, but know that it is more important to make sure Black folk know and understand that our Black lives matter.