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A Review of “Obama’s” National HIV/AIDS Strategy: Will it Benefit Black People?

by Cleo Manago

(Taken from a posting on Facebook)
(Jul 15, 2010) – On Tuesday, Jul 13, 2010, president Obama presented the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) for the United States. According to his administration, the NHAS is a concise plan for moving the country forward in the fight against HIV and AIDS with three primary goals: reducing HIV incidence, increasing access to care and optimizing health outcomes, and reducing HIV-related health disparities.

The NHAS is a good first start for America. What I appreciate about the strategy is its’ unprecedented existence. No other administration has created a White House Office of National HIV/AIDS Policy, or has had so many progressive people in its midst. (The NHAS is now available to the public: http://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/default/files/uploads/NHAS.pdf).

Theoretically, this is a history making initiative. However, upon close review, NHAS content features elements that are not necessarily signs of innovation or a framework shift in terms of how HIV services may roll out or be resourced. It appears that the strong [white] gay identity bias (to be explained in more detail later) will continue to skew attempts at culturally diversifying how HIV services are framed, funded and prioritized.

Though diverse groups in America are impacted by HIV/AIDS, blacks, by a large percentage, are more impacted than all other groups in the country. Yet, deciphering this could be a challenge as presented in this NHAS excerpt, “While anyone can become infected with HIV, some Americans are at greater risk than others. This includes gay and bisexual men of all races and ethnicities, black men and women, Latinos and Latinas, people struggling with addiction, including injection drug users, and people in geographic hot spots, including the United States South and Northeast, as well as Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. By focusing our efforts in communities where HIV is concentrated, we can have the biggest impact in lowering all communities’ collective risk of acquiring HIV.”

This NHAS passage also abstracts the disproportionate depth of HIV in black communities by bundling everyone as “Communities where HIV is concentrated.” This passage, “While anyone can become infected with HIV, some Americans are at greater risk than others. This includes gay and bisexual men of all races and ethnicities…” muddles the fact that – by leaps and bounds – black men, specifically, are the most HIV impacted group in the United States. Yet, what is not abstract is how much the NHSA affirms gay identity, despite that many homosexual and bisexual men of color don’t identify with or as gay. Over the last 30 years, this gay identity bias and barrier has been a contributing factor to diverse black men at HIV sexual risk not seeking HIV services or internalizing prevention messages.

While Obama’s White House is committing resources and efforts to initiatives like HIV/AIDS and healthcare, the explicit context of race and culture continues to be overlooked.

The first HIV/AIDS services paradigm in America was designed by white gay men, and ultimately was very effective for that community. Despite the relative success of the white gay community at saving itself from HIV/AIDS, a once frequently deadly disease, the disease has since gotten blacker and blacker. To date, there are no published examples of similar HIV success among African Americans. Even after three decades. Not to mention, gay identified men – black and white – have controlled and directed this epidemic, and blamed its failure to blacks simply on “homophobia.”

The organization identified as the Black AIDS Institute once featured an article stating, “Homophobia Causes AIDS (http://www.blackaids.org/ShowArticle.aspx?articletype=NEWS&articleid=168&pagenumber=1).” Yet, if this was true, given the still very present existence of the rabidly anti-homosexual white right-wing – Pat Roberson, Rush Limbaugh, the legacy of Jerry Falwell and most republicans – the white gay community should still have an HIV problem – equal if not similar to African Americans. But they don’t.

Frequently, within the black HIV industry, while black gay identity and “pride” (in being gay identified) are often encouraged, engagement of the symptoms of social injustice toward black communities and self-concept, cultural affirmation, repair and restoration are very rarely included as HIV problem-solving strategies. The white gay community understood one thing: in order to eradicate the numbers of new HIV cases they had to empower their community, while at the same time address the self-esteem damage done by homophobia, discrimination, hatred and oppression. Their primary HIV prevention strategy was (because, ultimately, most finally knew how HIV was transmitted) to publicly and actively resist social injustice toward their community, and affirm [white] gay identity. As a result, it has been comparatively (to all others) very successful at managing HIV/AIDS.

Unfortunately and concurrently, the white gay community has had little interest in resisting [white] racism within its community or society as a whole, just homophobia. And the black gay-identifying movement and approach (including within HIV services) has taken on that same paradigm; not an approach that is directly relevant to black culture, history, circumstance, problem-solving, diversity, process and under-engagement of relevant black issues. “Gay” acceptance is often more important than issues directly relevant to diverse black life, culture, history and healing. As a result, many black gay identified HIV leaders have become ill-equipped to address black community issues, to counter the risk behavior inducing impact of internalized racism, institutionalized racism, black male or female trauma and white biases internalized by [black] America.

Essentially identity politics have superseded capacity to effectively engage diverse black subgroups and communities facing disproportionate HIV threats. The NHAS, while strong on affirming gay identity, fails to affirm black specific culture, diversity and relevance.

The gay paradigm creates little to no encouragement for same-gender loving (SGL) and bisexual African American healing and cultural affirmation. Being limited to “gay” has created HIV issue disenchantment among Black men who have sex with men (MSM). As a result, black homosexual subgroups have emerged in an attempt to connect more with the rhythms of black life and culture. Many black homosexual and bisexual males do not have an affinity with gay identity and culture, seeing it as white or culturally unrelated. There are “homo-thugs,” men on the “down-low,” and more in the affirmative men who identify as same-gender-loving (SGL) or bisexual. If more space was created for homosexual and bisexual black males to be fluid and “black” regarding their identity, more would likely self-identify.

In the late 1980s, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discovered that the term or label “gay” was a barrier in getting black and Latino men to identify as men who had sex with men, and disclose HIV risk factors. As a result, the now widely used term MSM, or men-who-have-sex with men was derived. Initially, white gays and black homosexuals who internalized the gay politic balked at the term, claiming it was homophobic. The fact of the matter was the term MSM was more neutral in terms of identity, inclusive and culturally responsive to the diverse ways of being among homosexual and bisexual black men.

A footnote excerpt from the NHAS states: “Throughout this document we use the terms “gay and bisexual men” and “gay men” interchangeably, and we intend these terms to be inclusive of all men who have sex with men (MSM); even those who do not identify as gay or bisexual.” In other words, even if you are not gay, or don’t identify as gay, or don’t want to, we are referring to all homosexual and bisexual men as gay regardless. This is not helpful to African Americans and is an example of an institutionally racist barrier to life and ways of being very present within black communities.

Sure, many of us are used to simply calling all homosexuals gay. In the black community this is not the result of an identify poll taken in the community, but because SGL black people have rarely been rationally engaged in a Black community context. While the powerful white gay community vigilantly profiles its gay idenity politics and ideas, this does not necessarily represent all homosexual and bisexual Black people.

Without these considerations or an examination of the relationship cultural barriers have to HIV risks among Black women and men, the NHAS will likely have limited impact on advancing the Black HIV landscape. As a result it may be discreetly shelved by many Black organizations.

While the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) for the United States does represent a potentially progressive step forward, its’ lack of specific strategies for African Americans has resulted in some response. National organizations are in the process of generating recommendations to the president as an addendum to the historic NHAS. All African Americans interested in getting involved or contributing somehow to this effort are earnestly invited to do so. If interested in contributing call The National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS (NBLCA) at 800-992-6531,  or the Black Men’s Xchange National at 888-472-2837

July 16, 2010 Posted by | African-American News, Black Gay Men, Black Gay Men Health, Black Men, Black Men Health, Blogroll, Caribbean, Caribbean Community, community, Elderly LGBT, Health, HIV, HIV Status, LGBT community, LGBT Rights, LGBT Seniors, Male Health, Mental Health, Obama, Politics, Public Health | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

HIV/AIDS orgs respond to Obama’s HIV/AIDS Strategy

Following release of National HIV/AIDS Strategy

By Antoine Craigwell

(Wednesday, July 14, 2010) – Paul Kawata, executive director of the National Minority AIDS Council, posted on the social networking site, Facebook, a letter signed by 180 national and community organizations at the forefront of the fight against HIV and AIDS. This letter was in response to the announcement and release of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) yesterday.

The text of the letter below:

Honorable Barack H. Obama
President, United States Of America
The White House
Washington, DC

Dear President Obama,

On behalf of the180 national and community based organizations (see list below) on the front lines of this epidemic, thank you for your leadership and commitment to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Each of us stands here in the footprints of so many heroes we’ve lost to HIV/AIDS. Our friends who fought so hard in the early days could probably never imagine a President holding a reception at the White House to honor the HIV/AIDS community. Most would have loved to be part of this event. We miss them and will never forget the sacrifices they made so that we can be here today.

In the first 18 months of your administration the travel ban on those living with HIV was removed, restrictions on the use of federal funds to support needle exchange were removed, the Ryan White Care Act was reauthorized, and $30.4 Million was set aside as part of the Prevention and Wellness Fund for HIV/AIDS Prevention. However, we’ve also had our challenges in ensuring adequate funding for PEPFAR and other international HIV/AIDS initiatives.

As you implement the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS), we ask that the first thing you address is the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) funding crisis. We appreciate the $25 million to see us through September 30, 2010. We are concerned that is not a long-term solution and will only get us through a limited period. As of Jul 8, 2010, 2,291 individuals are on waiting lists. This number does not include individuals in states that don’t keep waiting lists, have significantly reduced the drug formulary, or have significantly changed the income eligibility levels. On Jul 1, Georgia became the 12th state to close enrollment and start a waiting list. Ohio changed its income eligibility levels so that more then 1,000 HIV/AIDS patients will lose their benefits. New Jersey also changed its income eligibility levels so that 947 HIV/AIDS patients will lose their benefits. Without an immediate solution, other states will follow.

As you consider solutions, please make it [funding for ADAP] multi-year funding through 2014, support states that don’t keep waiting lists but have closed enrollment or that are on the brink of a waiting list, ensure that all the necessary drugs are covered, and [the] integration of a permanent solution into health care reform.

We look forward to the reviewing the National HIV/AIDS Strategy and the opportunity to work with your administration to ensure its implementation across the country. Thank you for your support and leadership.

Sincerely,

2 God B The Glory, Inc     A Brave New Day     A Family Affair

ACT UP Philadelphia     Action for a Better Community    Advocates For Youth

African American Hispanic Health Education Resource Center

AID For AIDS Nevada      AIDS Alabama

AIDS Alliance for Children, Youth & Families

AIDS Care Services, Inc.   AIDS Community Research Initiative of America

AIDS Foundation of Chicago    AIDS/HIV Services Group (ASG)

The AIDS LIFE Campaign   AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin

AIDS Project of Central Iowa     AIDS Resources of Rural Texas

AIDS Treatment Activists Coalition (ATAC)      Albany Damien Center

Amanda Beck-Myers     Ananias      Anxiety Disorders Association of America

Asian Media Access     Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum

Asian & Pacific Islander Coalition on HIV/AIDS

Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center

Aspirations Wholistic Tutorial Services     Baton Rouge AIDS Society

Bienestar Human Services    Black AIDS Institute

The Black Women’s Health Imperative     Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS

Paul Browne       CAEAR Coalition      CALOR

Camden NJ Area Health Education Center (AHEC)

Camillus Health Concern, Inc.    CARES     CareSouth Carolina

Cascade AIDS Project        Central City AIDS Network, Inc.

Central Illinois FRIENDS of People with AIDS

CenterLink: The Community of LGBT Centers

William H. Chastang Consumer Advocate/Outreach Coordinator

Christie’s Place, Inc.        Citywide Project/Citywide Ministries

Coai, Inc.       Community Access National Network

Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP)

Community Information Center, Inc.        Comprehensive Health Education

Connecticut AIDS Resource Coalition         DeKalb Prevention Alliance, Inc

Desert AIDS Project         Gregory W. Edwards, EdD

Eternal Hope Community Development Corporation, Inc.

Family Heath & AIDS Care Services International     Family Health Project

Family Planning Association of Puerto Rico        F.L.A.S., INC.

Fort Worth Northside Community Health Center, Inc.

Greater Love Tabernacle    Gregory House Programs    GROUP Ministries, Inc.

Harlem United Community AIDS Center      Harmony House, Inc.

Hawaii Island HIV/AIDS Foundation     Hermanas de Luna y Sol    HEROES

HIV/AIDS Alliance for Region Two, Inc.

HIV/AIDS Services for African Americans in Alaska    HIV-AIDS UETS

HIV Care Program       HIVictorious, Inc.

HIV Planning Council Santa Clara County      Housing Works

Illinois Alliance for Sound AIDS Policy       Iris House

Johns Hopkins Local Performance Site

PA/MidAtlantic AIDS Education and Training Center

Monica Johnson, NMAC Board Member

Lambda Legal     Lark Lands, M.S., Ph.D.       H.O.P.E.

The LaStraw, Inc.      Latino Commission on AIDS

Latino Community Services

Helen Lemay, Distinguished Teaching Professor Emerita, Stony Brook University

Liberty Research Group

Don Little, MPH, Former Chair of the Oklahoma Native American AIDS Coalition

The Living Room     LMPHW Specialty Clinic

Love Heals, the Alison Gertz Foundation for AIDS Education

Lower East Side Harm Reduction Center

Kentucky HIV/AIDS Advocacy Action Group

Michigan Positive Action Coalition (MI-POZ)

Minnesota AIDS Project

Minority AIDS Council of Orangeburg, Bamberg, and Calhoun Council, Inc.

Missoula AIDS Council             M OCHA Center Inc.

Multicultural AIDS Coalition, Inc.       he NAMES Project/AIDS Memorial Quilt

Native Health             National African American Drug Policy Coalition, Inc.

National AIDS Fund         National AIDS Housing Coalition

National Association of People with AIDS

National Association of Social Workers

National Latino AIDS Action Network          National Minority AIDS Council

National Native American AIDS Prevention Center

NCLR/CSULB Center for Latino Community Health, Evaluation and Leadership Training

New Jersey Women and AIDS Network        New Destiny Recovery Ministry

New York AIDS Coalition          New York City AIDS Housing Network

Nightsweats & T-cells, Co          North Carolina Harm Reduction Coalition

Oklahoma City Indian Clinic         One Heartland       One Love Project

Open Door Clinic        Leonardo Ortega, NMAC Board Member

David G. Ostrow, MD, PhD              Partnership Project

Choyce Perkinds, Advocate For AAHHERC           Positive Efforts, Inc

Project Aware at Stanley Street Treatment & Resources

PROCEED, Inc.      Project HANDLE, Neighborhood House         Project Lazarus

Project Link of South Florida, Inc.       Proyecto SOL Filadelfia

Puerto Rico Community Network for Clinical Research on AIDS (PR CoNCRA)

Andre Weatherby Rawls     Recovery 2000, Inc.       Redemption Outreach Intl

Regional AIDS Project

Genevieve Rohan, FNP-C, AAHIVMS and Tegest Hailu, MD, AAHIVMS, Hailu/Rohan Family Practice

SAYFSM          Vanessa Sasso, Seattle HIV/AIDS Planning Council

Shanti

S.H.A.P.E. (Stop HIV/AIDS and Addiction through Prevention and Education)

Carlton R. Smith, Baltimore Black Pride, Inc. Founder, Churches United Against AIDS; Board chair

South Carolina Campaign to End AIDS (SC-C2EA)

South Central Educational Development, Inc.   South Jersey AIDS Alliance

South LA Access Center        Southern AIDS Coalition (SAC)

Southwest Louisiana AHEC         Stanley Street Treatment & Resources

Street Works       St. Luke AME Church/ Treat Me Right Inc.

Suburban HIV/AIDS Consortium (SHAC)

TACTS-THE Association of Clinical Trials Services

Tampa-Hillsborough Action Plan           C. Taylor

Ti-chee Native AIDS Prevention Project          Rose Todd-Stanford

Total Health Awareness Team            Treat Me Right Inc.

Treatment Access Expansion Project          Treatment Action Group

Two Spirit Society of Denver            U Can Do It 2!

Evelyn Ullah, NMAC Board Member            Us Helping Us

Valley AIDS Information Network Inc.

Vermont CARES        VillageCare

Volunteers of America Greater Baton Rouge

West County Health Centers, Inc.             Who’s Positive          Willis Center

The Women’s Collective      Women’s Health Center

Women Together For Change           Women Watch Afrika, Inc

July 14, 2010 Posted by | African-American News, Black Gay Men, Black Gay Men Health, Black Men, Black Men Health, Caribbean, Caribbean Community, community, Elderly LGBT, Health, HIV, HIV Status, LGBT community, LGBT Immigrant rights, LGBT Rights, LGBT Seniors, Male Health, Obama, Politics, Public Health | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christians must oppose all discrimination: Bishop Singh.

(Pastoral letter issued by Bishop Benedict Singh, Bishop of Georgetown, Guyana, on Jan 4, 2001, and reprinted in The Catholic Standard, a publication of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Georgetown Guyana, on Jul 9, 2010; editor Colin Smith.)

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Jesus Christ,

The Constitution of Guyana was amended by parliament on 4th January. One section of the amended Constitution of Guyana prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and marital status. Some Christians are vigorously opposing this element in the amended Constitution on the grounds that it is an “official endorsement and national approval of sexual perversion”.

When dealing with questions that generate strong emotions, we need to be careful and precise with our choice of language. First, we must note that what is at issue here is not discrimination against homosexuality but discrimination against PERSONS who are homosexuals. We need to remind ourselves that as Christians we are called to oppose every kind of discrimination against persons. We are called to reach out to all minorities and especially to those who find themselves in a minority they did not choose…..

Most of us, whether we find ourselves sexually attracted to the opposite sex or our own sex, did not choose one or the other: we simply discovered that is how we are. Homosexual persons are sexually attracted solely to their own gender. There is strong evidence that their orientation is fixed early in life (in many cases before birth), and it is totally outside of their control. Experience has taught us that no therapy or counseling can change it….

As Christians, we are called by the Lord to love our neighbour. They are our brothers and sisters, children with us of the one Father. We do not show them that we regard them as brothers and sisters if we do nothing to remove the discrimination which they undoubtedly suffer.

In society at large – and in our church – there are homosexual men and lesbian women who lead useful and virtuous lives. Many of them show an active concern for justice and for the plight of the needy which is an example to all of us. In the face of the discrimination they encounter, some of them can be described as truly heroic.

Some allege that to outlaw discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is to “open the flood-gates “to all kinds of “corrupt and ungodly sexual practices”. Undoubtedly, if this amendment stands as it is and its effects are worked out, we Christians will have to define and proclaim our beliefs and moral standards with regard to sexuality and we will not fear to do so.

We do believe that God himself is the author of marriage in which a man and a woman “are no longer two but one”. We believe that that act of sexual intercourse is the highest expression of that unity. So we hold that the intimate sexual act may only be exercised between a man and a woman joined in the unbreakable union of marriage. Further, we believe that all Christians are called to actively promote the values of marriage and the
family among people of every race and religion and sexual orientation.
But our support for marriage and the family is not helped by discrimination against any person. It is not sufficient to merely refrain from active discrimination. We have to show others that we love and respect them as
persons. For these reasons, Christians should not oppose the wording of this amendment.

Finally, we should not allow ourselves to react to the attempts of others to bring more justice to our society with fear or irrational emotion. The Spirit of God is with us and he will enable us calmly and serenely to proclaim our faith and that justice which is an integral part of that faith.

Bishop Benedict Singh

July 13, 2010 Posted by | African-American News, Black Gay Men, Black Gay Men Health, Black Men, Black Men Health, Caribbean, Caribbean Community, community, Elderly LGBT, Guyana, Health, HIV, HIV Status, Immigrant rights, Jamaica, LGBT community, LGBT Immigrant rights, LGBT Rights, LGBT Seniors, Male Health, Mental Health, Politics, Public Health | , , , , , | Leave a comment

U.S. President announces national HIV/AIDS strategy

By Antoine Craigwell

(Tuesday, July 13, 2010) – Finally, U.S. President Barack Obama announced a National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) as a way of addressing the rising numbers of people in the U.S. who are HIV positive and living with AIDS.

President Obama meets with Jeffery Crowley, ONAP director.

Announcing the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, coordinated by the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP), the president said in a letter, “Thirty years ago, the first cases of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) garnered the world’s attention. Since then, over 575,000 Americans have lost their lives to AIDS and more than 56,000 people in the United States become infected with HIV each year. Currently, there are more than 1.1 million Americans living with HIV. Moreover, almost half of all Americans know someone living with HIV.”

The country is at a crossroads with HIV as a domestic epidemic demanding a renewed commitment, increased public attention, and leadership, the president said. He said he challenged the Office of National AIDS Policy at the start of his administration to develop a national strategy with three goals: reducing the number of people who become infected with HIV; increasing access to care and improving health outcomes for people living with HIV; and, reducing HIV-related health disparities.

“To accomplish these goals, we must undertake a more coordinated national response to the epidemic. The Federal government can’t do this alone, nor should it. Success will require the commitment of governments at all levels, businesses, faith communities, philanthropy, the scientific and medical communities, educational institutions, people living with HIV, and others,” Obama said.

ONAP in its vision statement said: “The United States will become a place where new HIV infections are rare and when they do occur, every person, regardless of age, gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity or socio-economic circumstance, will have unfettered access to high quality, life-extending care, free from stigma and discrimination.”

But leaders at the forefront in the fight against AIDS, especially in the Black community, suggest that the Strategy does not go far enough.

Phill Wilson, president and CEO. Black AIDS InstituteIn a press release, Phill Wilson, president and chief executive officer of the Black AIDS Institute, on his organization’s Website  said that the National AIDS Strategy represents a new day in the country’s nearly three-decade-long struggle against AIDS.

“For the first time, we finally have a national plan in place to guide our fight against the epidemic and to hold decision-makers accountable for results,” said Wilson.

Wilson pointed to the hypocrisy in the U.S.  AIDS policy toward other countries, which imposed as a condition to  receive AIDS assistance that they were required to have a national AIDS strategy, but America never had one.

“With no plan in place to mandate coordination between different government agencies or to ensure accountability, it is hardly surprising that we have an HIV/AIDS epidemic 40% worse than previously believed, with 1 in 5 Americans infected with HIV don’t know they have the disease, half or more of people diagnosed with HIV are not receiving regular medical care, and HIV rates in some communities worst than those found in some of the poorest countries on the planet,” Wilson said.

The new strategy provides a promising opportunity for Americans to get real about the shortcomings in its national response to the epidemic, he said. At a time when AIDS deaths are largely preventable, the government has provided only minimal leadership in making knowledge of HIV serostatus an essential social norm in the most heavily affected communities. And even though the face of AIDS in America is typically Black or brown, most people with HIV are forced to seek medical care from health providers who neither look like them nor understand the challenges they face. The new strategy provides a blueprint for changing some of these realities, and it is an opportunity we must energetically grasp, Wilson said in the release.

But, he said that while he praises the president for placing Black America front and center in his national HIV/AIDS strategy, AIDS in America today is a Black disease, which accounts for about 13% of the national population, with Black people making up half of all new HIV diagnoses. The AIDS death rate among Black males is eight times higher than for white males, while Black women are 19 times as likely to die as whites, he said.

Pointing to the limitations of the AIDS Stratefy, Wilson said, “If the new AIDS strategy is to succeed, it has to work for Black people. In reporting results, the Obama administration needs specifically to report outcomes for Black people. Only if prevention and treatment programs work for Black America will we win our national fight against AIDS. Unfortunately, the new strategy does not sufficiently address the issue of resources. Already, we are seeing many AIDS drug assistance programs impose caps or waiting lists for life-saving drugs. There are over 3000 people on ADAP waiting lists. This month, the President authorized a one-time funding increase for ADAP of $25 million, but this amount, while welcome, represents only about 7% of amounts needed this year alone to ensure the program’s continued solvency.

“At a time when we are largely losing the fight to prevent new infections, prevention programs currently account for only 3% of federal AIDS spending. To put available prevention weapons to effective use, experts estimate that annual prevention spending needs to increase from $750 million to $1.3 billion for at least each of the next five years. This new strategy offers a sound, evidence-based approach to better results, but it will be worth little more than the paper it is written on if we don’t follow through with essential resources.

“In difficult economic times, it is often necessary to make painful choices. As a country, though, we need to transition from AIDS “spending” to AIDS “investments.” By investing in cost-effective AIDS programs, we are investing in America’s families and helping young people remain productive contributors to society for future decades.”

Paul Kawata, executive director of the Washington-DC based National Minority AIDS Council (NMAC), in a statement said, “This is a historic time on many fronts. On the one hand, President Obama has made history today by being the first President ever to create a truly national strategy to deal with the HIV/AIDS epidemic. The ideas contained in this plan are aggressive and would certainly go a long way toward combating what continues to be one of our nation’s most troubling public health emergencies.”

Kawata said he purposefully used the word ‘plan’ to demonstrate that without the funds to carry out the president’s ambitious agenda, it significantly short of a strategy.

“The blueprint is most certainly there,” he said. “But now our collective attention must shift to resources.”

He said that while the president can rightly lay claim to a historic and much-needed moment in the HIV/AIDS movement, history continues to be made each day as more people living with HIV/AIDS continue to join the ranks of those waiting to receive life-saving medicines. Tragically, this has become an issue of resources as well—an issue that has become an all-too familiar refrain in the battle against this disease, he added.

“We must look at this plan as a solid first step in achieving our ultimate goal: eradicating HIV/AIDS. Now the conversation must turn to implementation—and how we fund such an audacious goal. To ignore the difficult topic of HIV/AIDS funding would be tantamount to placing the president’s strategy in a shredder,” said Kawata.

But, Jeffery Crowley, ONAP director, in a statement posted on the ONAP Website said, “Today, Secretary Sebelius also announced that $30 million of the Affordable Care Act’s Prevention Fund will be dedicated to the implementation of the NHAS. This funding will support the development of combination prevention interventions. It will also support improved surveillance, expanded, and targeted testing, and other activities.”

Among the many items the Strategy calls for is a three-step process of reducing HIV-related disparities and health inequities, which include reducing HIV-related mortality in communities at high risk for HIV infection, adopting community-level approach to reduce HIV infection in high-risk communities, and reducing stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV.

The Strategy said that regarding the third step of this process, in the earliest days of the HIV epidemic, fear, ignorance, and denial led to harsh, ugly treatment of people living with the disease, and some Americans even called for forced quarantine of all people living with HIV. Although such extreme measures never occurred, the stigma and discrimination faced by people living with HIV was often extremely high. Even today, some people living with HIV still face discrimina­tion in many areas of life including employment, housing, provision of health care services, and access to public accommodations. This undermines efforts to encourage all people to learn their HIV status, and it makes it harder for people to disclose their HIV status to their medical providers, their sex partners, and even clergy, and others from whom they may seek understanding and support.

Time and again, an essential element of what has caused social attitudes to change has been when the public sees and interacts with people who are openly living with HIV. For decades, community organizations have operated speaker’s bureaus where people with HIV go into schools, businesses, and churches to talk about living with HIV. In the 1990s, both major political parties had memorable keynote speakers at their presidential nominating conventions that were living with HIV.

With Americans with Disabilities Act, the Fair Housing Act, the Rehabilitation Act, and other civil rights laws commemorating their 20th anniversary this year, these laws have proven to be vital for the protection of people with disabilities including HIV. The Strategy calls for a greater commitment to civil rights enforcement and that to be free of discrimination based on HIV status is both a human and a civil right, “We know that many people feel shame and embarrassment when they learn their HIV status. And, there is too much social stigma that seeks to assign blame to people who acquire HIV. Encouraging more individuals to disclose their HIV status directly lessens the stigma associated with HIV. As we promote disclosure, however, we must also ensure that we are protecting people who are openly living with HIV.”

Working to end the stigma and discrimination experienced by people living with HIV is a critical compo­nent of curtailing the epidemic, said the Strategy document. People at high risk for HIV cannot be expected to, nor will they seek testing or treatment services if they fear that it would result in adverse consequences of discrimination. HIV stigma has been shown to be a barrier to HIV testing and people living with HIV who experience more stigma have poorer physical and mental health and are more likely to miss doses of their medication. An important step is to ensure that laws and policies support current understanding of best public health practices for preventing and treating HIV.

“While we understand the intent behind such laws, they may not have the desired effect and they may make people less willing to disclose their status by making people feel at even greater risk of discrimination. In some cases, it may be appropriate for legislators to reconsider whether existing laws continue to further the public interest and public health. In many instances, the continued existence and enforcement of these types of laws run counter to scientific evidence about routes of HIV transmission and may undermine the public health goals of promoting HIV screening and treatment,” the Strategy document said.

To reduce stigma and discrimination experienced by people living with HIV, the Strategy document recommends that communities be engaged to affirm support for people living with HIV: Faith communities, businesses, schools, community-based organizations, social gathering sites, and all types of media outlets should take responsibility for affirming nonjudgmental support for people living with HIV and high-risk communities. The promotion of public leadership of people living with HIV: Governments and other institutions (including HIV prevention community planning groups and Ryan White planning councils and consortia) should work with people with AIDS coalitions, HIV services organizations, and other institutions to actively promote public leadership by people living with HIV. The promotion of public health approaches to HIV prevention and care: State legislatures should consider reviewing HIV-specific criminal statutes to ensure that they are consistent with cur­rent knowledge of HIV transmission and support public health approaches to preventing and treating HIV. And, strengthening of enforcement of civil rights laws: The Department of Justice and federal agen­cies must enhance cooperation to facilitate enforcement of federal antidiscrimination laws.

July 13, 2010 Posted by | African-American News, Black Gay Men, Black Gay Men Health, Black Men, Black Men Health, Caribbean, Caribbean Community, community, death, depression, Economy, Elderly LGBT, Health, HIV, HIV Status, LGBT community, LGBT Immigrant rights, LGBT Rights, LGBT Seniors, Male Health, Mental Health, mental illness, Obama, Politics, Public Health | Leave a comment

U.S. HEALTH CARE REFORM of 2010

President signs Health Care Reform Bill into law

Key Improvements for People Living with HIV and AIDS in

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010

Health Care

On March 23, 2010, President Obama signed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 (“PPACA”) into law. Shortly thereafter the House and Senate amended the statute through the reconciliation process and we now have a final health care reform bill.  PPACA is the most comprehensive reform to the United States’ health care system since the passage of Medicare and Medicaid in 1965. While PPACA does not offer everything the HIV community had hoped for in health care reform, it does create tremendous opportunities for improving access to care and treatment for many people living with HIV and AIDS. The most important new health care access opportunities for people with HIV and AIDS are as follows:

Medical symbol

Public health insurance (Medicaid/Medicare) improvements

  • Eliminates the Medicaid disability requirement and provides access to Medicaid to individuals and families with income below 133% of FPL in 2014 (currently income below $14,403 for an individual and $29,326 for a family of four)
  • Eliminates the Medicare Part D “donut hole” by 2020, provides a $250 rebate for donut hole costs in 2010, and requires pharmaceutical companies to provide a 50% discount on brand-name drugs in the donut hole beginning in 2011
  • Counts ADAP contributions toward the Medicare Part D’s True Out of Pocket Spending Limit (“TrOOP”) starting in 2011

Health Care

Private health insurance improvements

  • Increases access to private health insurance by reducing discrimination based on health status or gender – prohibits pre-existing condition exclusions and lifetime limits on coverage in 2010, and charging higher premiums based on gender or health status in 2014
  • Increases scope of coverage through a new mandatory benefits package that among other benefits includes prescription drugs, mental health and substance abuse treatment, preventive care and chronic disease management in 2014.
  • Increases affordability through subsidies for people with incomes up to 400% of the federal poverty line (“FPL”) (income up to $43,320 for an individual and $88,200 for a family of four)
  • Creates an individual mandate requiring uninsured individuals to purchase insurance beginning in 2014Health Care - Doctor and infant

Other key reforms

  • Invests in prevention, wellness and public health activities
  • Invests in efforts to reduce health disparities
    • Supports the clinical workforce with an emphasis on the needs of underserved communities

Health Care advocate protesting

Moving Forward with Future Reform Efforts

Despite the impressive progress that PPACA will make toward improving health care for people living with HIV and AIDS, the future is certain to bring continued challenges in health care access, quality, and cost.  Many of PPACA’s most important reforms, including the Medicaid expansion, will not occur until 2014. Thus, advocacy will be necessary both to encourage new reforms, and to provide health care access for those who are uninsured or underinsured during the transitional period before the reforms fully take effect.  PPACA will provide unprecedented opportunities to improve health care access, affordability, and quality for the HIV/AIDS community.  It is crucial that we fully take advantage of PPACA and continue to work toward a future of high quality, equitable, and sustainable health care for everyone in the United States.

President Obama listening to medical professionals

Prepared by staff of the Health Law and Policy Clinic of Harvard Law School and the Treatment Access Expansion Project. For more information contact Robert Greenwald at.rgreenwald@taepusa.org

March 31, 2010 Posted by | African-American News, Black Gay Men, Black Gay Men Health, Black Men, Black Men Health, community, Economy, Health, HIV, HIV Status, LGBT community, Male Health, Obama, Politics, Public Health | Leave a comment

The rights of a gay person are human rights.

This is a letter to the editor of Stabroek News, a daily newspapers in Guyana, in response to a letter to the editor by Abu Bakr, published on Sunday, Mar 14, 2010.

Dear Editor:

The letter published by Abu Bakr in your Sunday, Mar 14 edition deserves a direct response. It is unfortunate that this discussion has degenerated into a sexualizing of the issues. I am taking a stand for the human rights denied Mark and many like him who have no voice, or whose voices are drowned out in the cacophony of denial. There are many who have fled the country, such as Vermal from Soesdyke, whose story of sexual abuse, taunted, beaten and imprisoned in his home, was turned into a play performed on stages around the U.S., or those who still suffer in silence, forced to conform and dare not speak up. If Bakr and Williams are standing on preserving a homophobic and bigoted status quo, then I hope they realize the tenuousness of their position.

While Bakr’s letter contains numerous flaws, his arguments are illogical and inconsistent. There are two glaring non sequitur arguments. First, he stated that instead of apportioning blame to the community or the stepfather for Mark’s demise, that I should be held responsible and submit to guilt. Aside from being absurd, Mark came to see me for compassion, understanding and acceptance. Had I retreated behind a wall of dogma and fundamentalism, he would have been let down by at least one more person he trusted. With the altruism that Christianity calls forth from each of us, would I not be betraying him by asking him to deny himself and to embrace something that is against his nature, how is accepting yourself an “inversion of values”? The story of Mark, the pathos and the emotive aspects associated with it was intended to illustrate the point, that as one case, it was an exercise in compassion and acceptance, when the community and society had failed, and the ultimate tragic consequences. Also, if at the time I was aspiring to a deeper Christian way of life, how hypocritical would I be, that in my formation, I could not extend the compassion, understanding and acceptance that Jesus practiced and advocated to the marginalized of society, of which gays and lesbians are confined? Is Bakr implying that, as with many who profess one thing and do another, in that period of formation; I should squander my authenticity?

Despite the abuses and the negativity of those who preach or act in the name of Christianity, a friend, a deceased priest, once said that each person is called to strive for and achieve greatness. Bakr correctly suggests that I am inviting Guyanese to progress rather than to be lagging behind the rest of the world. And, to bring relevance to this discussion, since Guyanese are descendants of Africans, the examples of the struggles for rights and the violence against gays in Africa, ought to expand otherwise myopic or provincial views. Bakr claims a “gay militancy,” when is a call for acceptance and inclusion of human nature a militancy and not a human right? With the advances in gay rights, which several countries have recognized as synonymous with human rights and enacted appropriate laws to enshrine those rights, and with progress in Guyana, however little there is, is Bakr so jaded or disillusioned to the human condition to warrant such absolute denial?

UN Secretray General Ban Ki-Moon

Keeping to the aspirations of a better human condition, to which we are all called, in the context of global HIV and AIDS, in which many gays and lesbians are affected, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, on World AIDS Day last December, called on member countries to decriminalize homosexuality, “This goal can be achieved only if we shine the full light of human rights on HIV. That means countering any form of HIV-related stigma and discrimination… I urge all countries to remove punitive laws, policies and practices… In many countries, legal frameworks institutionalize discrimination against groups most at risk…”

Second, Bakr sought to draw comparisons to Africa, by saying that 29 countries on the continent outlawed homosexuality. He does not develop his argument or refute the evidence that homosexuality was practiced and accepted as part of the traditions before the colonialists arrived. He trundles out a list of countries, whose governments facing their respective crises, have chosen instead to demonize or pick on the vulnerable, and have declared that homosexuality is alien to the continent, and then undermines himself, “The ethnographic evidence contradicts their assertion.” He also confirms the position that India accepts homosexuality, inclusive of inter-sexism. However, the point he misses is that homosexuality exists in human nature and as a member of a civilized society he is denying acceptance and recognition, not as one commentator, F. Skinner, suggests, to suppress it.

David Kuria Mbote, director of the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya, in an opinion “You can’t wish away African gays,” published on Mar 10 in the Daily Nation, a Kenyan publication, responded to an article written by Fr. Dominic Waweru, published on Mar 8, in which he said that the attacks on young people on suspicion of being gay was “only too comprehensible”. In his article Mbote said, “It should be noted that compulsory heterosexuality has never converted any one from homosexuality, but in the context of modern diseases, the African community continues to place itself in a curiously unintelligent position. By affirming what is globally known to be an alternative and legitimate form of sexual expression for a minority within any population to be unAfrican, they are saying that the African falls beyond the ambit of what is human. Instead of giving tacit approval to violence against gays, churches should be in the forefront preaching reconciliation and love to even those who they regard as “sinners”. Gay rights activism has reached a point of no return even in Africa, events in Malawi, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Zambia, and Mtwapa notwithstanding. It’s unfortunate that the Church stands at the vanguard for this extremely unjust violation of rights of gays, lesbians, transgender and intersex Kenyans.”

Archbishop Desmond Tutu

Two days later, the distinguished Nobel laureate Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu of South Africa in an opinion article “In Africa, a step backward on human rights” published on Mar 12, in the Washington Post, said clearly, “Hate has no place in the house of God. No one should be excluded from our love, our compassion, or our concern because of race or gender, faith or ethnicity — or because of their sexual orientation…In my country of South Africa, we struggled for years against the evil system of apartheid that divided human beings, children of the same God, by racial classification and then denied many of them fundamental human rights. We knew this was wrong. Thankfully, the world supported us in our struggle for freedom and dignity. It is time to stand up against another wrong. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered people are part of so many families. They are part of the human family. They are part of God’s family. And of course they are part of the African family. But a wave of hate is spreading across my beloved continent. People are again being denied their fundamental rights and freedoms.”

Addressing the wrongs committed against gays and lesbians in African countries, the Archbishop said, “That this pandering to intolerance is being done by politicians looking for scapegoats for their failures is not surprising. But it is a great wrong. An even larger offense is that it is being done in the name of God. Show me where Christ said, “Love thy fellow man, except for the gay ones.” Gay people, too, are made in my God’s image. I would never worship a homophobic God… My scientist and medical friends have shared with me a reality that so many gay people have confirmed, I now know it in my heart to be true. No one chooses to be gay. Sexual orientation, like skin color, is another feature of our diversity as a human family. Isn’t it amazing that we are all made in God’s image, and yet there is so much diversity among his people? Does God love his dark- or his light-skinned children less? The brave more than the timid? And does any of us know the mind of God so well that we can decide for him who is included, and who is excluded, from the circle of his love?”

Bakr, Williams and those who share repressive views would do well to remember that Guyana’s buggery laws, which are part of the Penal Code, were enacted in colonial days and remain unchanged, even though Guyana achieved independence and republic status with its own constitution, which guarantees the rights and protections of all its citizens. On Mar 11, the U.S. State Department released its annual human rights report, “Sexual Orientation/Gender Identity References, Human Rights Reports for 2009, 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices.” In the introduction, against the backdrop of the 2009 Anti-homosexuality bill pending in the Ugandan Parliament, the report referred to the 1950’s colonial law against homosexuality, which the Ugandan High Court in December 2008 ruled as unconstitutional and that the rights of all persons are protected. This is a report that advises other nations, companies, and individuals of the quality of human rights in a particular country, so that appropriate decisions could be made regarding the level or degree of involvement, including investment, in that country. On Guyana the report says, “Sodomy is punishable with a maximum sentence of life in prison. There are no laws concerning female-to-female sex. On September 18, Health Minister Leslie Ramsammy publicly called for a Caribbean-wide discussion on the laws, stating that “many homosexuals suffer because of the stigma and discrimination attached” to their sexual orientation.”

Against these undeniable truths, what would Bakr, Williams and the others now say?

Respectfully,

Antoine Craigwell

March 16, 2010 Posted by | African-American News, Black Gay Men, Black Gay Men Health, Black Men, Black Men Health, Blogroll, Caribbean, community, death, Guyana, Health, HIV, HIV Status, Jamaica, LGBT community, Male Health, Politics, Public Health | Leave a comment

Cry wolf: Uganda and the anti-homosexuality bill

Has the international gay community bought into a red herring- a national distraction?

by Antoine Craigwell, published Feb 13, 2010, OutInJersey.net

For centuries in Uganda, long before White men came, there were traditional kings, leaders of tribes, clans, and peoples, as the colonialists, those coming from England, or Scotland, knew very well. In this country steeped in tradition, there existed ample evidence that same-sex relations were practiced and were part of the culture. Wikipedia the online reference describes the rule of Danieri Basammula-Ekkere Mwanga II Mukasa, who was the Kabaka or king, from 1884 to 1888, and from1889 to 1897, and was the thirty-first Kabaka of Buganda. The king was known to have sexual relations with his pages and courtiers, and the colonists after their arrival, made efforts to impose their Christian morality and to stop him. The Church then became embroiled in a three-way struggle between the English Protestants, the French White Fathers and the Muslims to control the Bugandan court. In retaliation against the threats to his sovereignty, the king killed 22 of those who had converted to Christianity. Nearly 100 years later, in Oct 1964, Pope Paul VI canonized the group led by Charles Lwanga and his companions as the Uganda Martyrs. But, it was through various schemes and plots that Mwanga was eventually killed and the practice of homosexuality outlawed.

So it was, in the early history of Uganda, that the Christians battled with the civil authorities over traditional and cultural practices. Understanding Uganda’s societal structure requires an understanding of the cultural dynamics, which consists of three distinct ethno-religious groups: the traditionalists with tribes and kings; the Christians, many of whom have broken away from the established Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion (Episcopal) to embrace the evangelical movement; and the Muslims, who adhere to the precepts of their religion.

Not Admitted graphic designed by Sandra LubranoIt is from this religious and cultural cauldron that members of the Ugandan Christian evangelical movement emerged and joined forces with American Christians to exploit moral loopholes in four sections of the country’s Penal Code (pg 68 and 69). Sections 145 of the Penal Code states that anyone who allows or participates in any sexual act considered against the order of nature, including bestiality and homosexuality, would be punishable with life imprisonment. Section 146 imposes a sentence of seven years imprisonment on any one who attempts to commit any offence considered unnatural under Section 145. Section 147 states that anyone who indecently assaulted a boy younger than 18 years is liable to 14 years imprisonment and corporal punishment. Additionally, Section 148 stipulates that if anyone, in public or private, commits any act of gross indecency with another person, or participates in obtaining anyone to participate in any indecent acts; he or she would be subject to a sentence of seven years imprisonment.

To the Christian evangelists, while these laws violated the human rights of their own people, they were sanctioned and capitalizing on the Ugandan penchant for sexualizing all conduct or behavior perceived as inappropriate, sought to pin their hopes of furthering the cause of anti-homosexuality as a violation of morality.

The three Americans who came to Uganda in March of 2009 were recruited by the Uganda-based Family Life Network to speak at workshops on ways to change people from gay to straight, said Val Kalende, a Ugandan activist with the organization Freedom and Roam Uganda. Two of the Americans, Caleb Brundidge and Scott Lively, spoke in favor of keeping homosexuality illegal but giving those convicted an option of therapy to cure them of their gayness, suggesting in their address to the parliament, that homosexuality is learned and curable, Kalende said.

Back home in the U.S., the American evangelists know that the right to freedom of expression is enshrined in the Constitution, but in a country where vestiges of the shame of homosexuality and the animosity from the past still lingered, their action had the effect of pouring jet fuel on smoldering embers.

Kalende, who is 28 years old and a board member of SMUG, the Ugandan gay and lesbian organization, is a spokesperson for the Civil Society Coalition on Human Rights and Constitutional Law, and in an email response said that religious fundamentalists have been for a long time behind the war against gays and lesbians in Uganda.

“Their ideas took hold and that is why the anti-homosexuality bill is in our parliament today. U.S based religious groups should be held accountable for the effects this bill has caused and will cause if it passes into law. They do not have such laws in their country. I do not see why they come here to brainwash Ugandans with their bent gospel,” Kalende said.

But, said Kalende, the anti-homosexuality bill is a political populist gimmick to distract the attention of Ugandans from the real issues affecting the nation.

“Homosexuals have nothing to do with the hundreds of thousands of families that sleep without a meal or the millions of children who die unnecessarily every day from preventable or treatable diseases such as malaria, diarrhea, measles, or pneumonia; homosexuals are not the ones responsible for the lack of drugs and supplies at primary health care centers. It is easier to make people hate homosexuals than to create social change. The sponsors of this bill are playing escapist politics. They choose to blame homosexuals for the moral degeneration in the country when what they should be doing [is] to find the root causes of the problems and finding solutions,” said Kalende.

Anne Mugisha, a Ugandan lawyer, human rights activist and a member of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC), maintains a blog, and in one of her posts she quotes Dr. Sylvia Tamale’s presentation at a public dialogue on the anti-homosexuality bill at Makerere University, in Nov, 2009, “Anyone who cares to read history books knows very well that in times of crisis, when people at the locus of power are feeling vulnerable and their power is being threatened, they will turn against the weaker groups in society.”

On the other side of the coin, is the mixing of religious tenets and civil law, a comingling forbidden in the U.S. as it would violate the separation of Church and State, which the evangelists sought, one to influence the other, in Uganda. Realizing that they were fast loosing ground to a strengthening and rising gay and lesbian community asserting their rights in the U.S., American evangelists decided to utilize other means to export their brand of  anti-gay Christianity to vulnerable countries. The two terms of the Bush presidency, from 2000 to 2008, significantly advanced the Christian evangelists cause of strict morality beyond U.S. borders. This was apparent in the hogtying of African and other economically deprived countries dependent on U.S. aid, forcing all to conform to strict stipulations that American funding be contingent on compliance with abstinence only, anti-abortion, and anti-gay and anti-HIV treatment policies.

Members of the gay community world over are understandably horrified by the incidences of persecution of lesbians and gays in Uganda, as reported by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, SMUG; and from stories of individual gays and lesbians who have fled the country for fear of their lives. Moreover, while no one would or should attempt to minimize these incidences of persecution based on sexual orientation, it should be remembered that the hunting down and violence against homosexuals in Uganda mirrors, Jamaica, a country that has, with the government’s approval, persecuted those who are gay or lesbian. It is also important to note that Uganda and Jamaica were British colonies.

Nevertheless, as a country Uganda, with its deep religious divisions, is ripe and susceptible to American religious influence. In recent times, there has been a tendency for those in government to demonize or sexualize their political opponents with accusations of being gay or homosexual, or accusations of sexual immorality, as had been done to opponents of President Yoweri Museveni’s. Museveni seized power in 1986 and was elected president 10 years later.

A colonel in the Ugandan army, Kizza Besigye, challenged Museveni, and was charged with treason in 2001. After fleeing to the U.S., he returned to Uganda in 2005 to mount another challenge to the president, he was again arrested on treason and charged with rape; he was eventually acquitted of rape, but the treason charges are still being debated. With Besigye, who is a medical doctor, neutralized, Museveni assumed office again in 2006 for another term. The 1995 Uganda Constitution states that the president should serve no more than two terms, of five years each. Now, after fiddling with parts of the Constitution and with elections scheduled for 2011, as Museveni is attempting yet another term as president, one of his primary opponents, Olara Otunnu, has been accused of being gay.

Despite living in self-imposed exile in the U.S., Mugisha plans to return to Uganda as a candidate for public office, said, “The anti-homosexuality bill is intended to mask the true state of affairs, because if there is no focus on the length of his time in office, he [Museveni] would become the longest serving president.”

Since making her intentions known, she vehemently denied the calumnies being bandied about her, “I’m being accused of being a lesbian. I’m not a lesbian. I’m a mother of three children and I’m a heterosexual.”

The 50-year-old Otunnu is an advocate for children’s rights, especially those caught in conflicts zones. He was a former Ugandan ambassador to the United Nations and an UN Under-Secretary General whose resume reads like a Who’s Who of African diplomats. As a bachelor and since declaring his candidacy for president, Otunnu has been accused of being gay. Sources in Uganda claim that he is supposedly trying to find a wife to prove that he is not gay. However, of greater significance, should the anti-homosexuality bill continue and become law before the elections, then on the simple accusation – should Otunnu not find a wife to prove his heterosexuality – he would be arrested, imprisoned and disqualified; effectively as the opposition, he is removed from the electoral process. These accusations in Ugandan politics mirror those now facing Anwar Ibrahim, a former deputy prime minister and a political opponent to the incumbent prime minister in Malaysia. Ibrahim is facing his second battery of charges of sodomizing one of his aids; the only difference here between Uganda and Malaysia, that the latter is a predominantly Islamic country.

The opposition, led by Otunnu has been calling for greater accountability. Reports state that since Museveni has been in power, despite his many previous electoral promises, basic social services have not been met or those in existence have not been improved. There are calls from many people, including members of the opposition, for the investigation of several government ministers, who it is alleged have misappropriated and embezzled significant sums of money given to the country when it hosted the 2007 Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. Additionally, with the recent discoveries of oil, which promises untold riches for those in government, there has been no transparency in the bidding and contract award process especially for exploration, extraction, refinement, shipping and distribution.

In recent times Museveni has restored some of the traditional kingdoms, although only ceremonially, which were banned when Milton Obote (1966 to 1971) became president and maintained during the presidency of Idi Amin (1971 to 1979). With these restorations, Museveni now runs the risk of either the kings amassing power and influence to destabilize him, or he plans to employ the British tactic of divide and rule, to control the people: the Bugunda against the Baganda, both with longstanding animosities toward each other.

It is into this volatile mixture, which has become a confluence of circumstance, mostly created and stoked by the government that David Bahati, a member of parliament and a member the Family Life Network, a branch of the secretive Washington, DC-based The Family, presented the anti-homosexuality bill in Oct 2009 that is making its way through parliament. When Bahati first introduced the bill, the president said he would support it. But, under pressure from foreign governments, Museveni has softened his stance to include mouthing platitudes that he would refuse to sign the bill if passed. He has made no effort to stop it from proceeding in committees. People familiar with the political process in Uganda suggest that the president is likely to continue stoking the flames of the anti-homosexuality bill as a tool to discredit his political rivals, create public hysteria, and do nothing for the benefit of the mounting international pressure, and still to appear to have reconsidered his position.

February 15, 2010 Posted by | African-American News, Black Gay Men, Blogroll, community, Health, Jamaica, LGBT community, Politics, Uganda | Leave a comment

W.A.R Stories: Walter Rodney – a documentary

A life and death – celebrated.

By Antoine Craigwell

On Feb 8, a cold Monday evening, more than 200 people braved the freezing winds blowing off the Hudson River to pack a room at the Brecht Forum in Manhattan’s West Village for the New York premier of the documentary, “W.A. R. Stories: Walter Anthony Rodney,” which chronicled the life, work, passion, and death on Jun 13, 1980, of the world-renowned Guyanese historian and social activist.

It was from an idea that Clairmont Mali Chung said he  had that he was encouraged to traverse the globe, crisscrossing and tracing the routes and places where Rodney lived, and interviewed more than 43 people who knew or in some way were associated with him. Chung, an attorney, who wrote, directed, and co-produced the 90-minute documentary, said that all those who were interviewed recalled Rodney’s life and more importantly, the effect he had on them and on the places where he either visited or lived, including those places where he was rendered persona non grata by governments.

L to r, Gabriehu Aregai, Abbyssinian Carto, and Clairmont M. Chung. Photo: Andrea Williams

In the film, those who were interviewed included academics, Horace Campbell, Ph.D., professor of African-American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York; Rupert Roopnaraine, Ph.D., principal of the Critchlow Labor College, Georgetown, Guyana; Clive Thomas, Ph.D., professor of Political Science, University of Alaska Southeast; Issa Shivji, Ph.D., professor of Law, University of Dar-es-Salam, Tanzania;  the late professor Haroub Othman, Ph.D., University of Dar-es-Salam, Tanzania; and the late Vice-Chancellor Emeritus Rex Nettleford, Ph.D., professor of Cultural Studies, University of the West Indies, at Mona, Jamaica. Also included among the list of those interviewed were poets, U.S. poet and playwright Amiri Baraka and Working Peoples Alliance (WPA) member Eusi Kwayana, writers, and activists including, Karen DeSouza and Andaiye, members of the WPA, the political party in Guyana to which Rodney belonged.

The documentary captured the essence of the man – in the people he met, spent time with, who listened to him speak, and shared in his vision for the rights of workers, especially those of the African Diaspora. Many spoke not only of his academic brilliance, referring to his books, which were during his life, and have since become required reading in colleges on subjects of Black history, and placed as part of the canon of Afrocentric and conscious writers such as the late Guyanese Ivan Van Sertima, and Cheikh Anta Diop, but as his widow Patricia Rodney, Ph.D., recalled, his humanness. His daughter, Asha Rodney, spoke of the tenderness and delight he had in his family – being nimble with his hands to build a doll house for his children, and his brother Hubert Rodney, who spoke of his attempts at cricket and his passion for striving to correct the wrongs done, not just to one person, but to a people.

In the film, many pointed to Rodney’s ability to navigate the line between his scholarship and his ability to dance the ska, he was able to hang out with friends, often hosting numerous people where he lived, to meet, to discuss and share thoughts on issues affecting them, and still be disciplined in his work.

Section of the audience

The crowd that gathered for the screening, though small in number, was a promise of those expected to turn out to see the documentary at other occasions. The film revealed that whenever Rodney spoke at a meeting and wherever he went, from countries as far flung as Tanzania to Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of Congo; from Zimbabwe to Jamaica; from Montreal, Canada to Atlanta, GA in the United States; and to the intersection of Louisa Row and D’Urban streets in Georgetown, Guyana; people gathered to hear him speak of realism, practicality, pragmatism, and to hear him excoriate those who condoned and perpetuated wrong-doing. Undoubtedly, Rodney’s charisma and his grasp of the issues combined with his oratory, held many captive, and not only unnerved those in power, but also earned him their opprobrium and ultimately, his demise.

The documentary, with a few technical glitches, drew on archival material including footage from the Victor Jara Collective “Terror of the Times” and Menelik Shabazz “Time and Judgment,” and news clips from the Walter Rodney Archives, and from Guyanese and Caribbean publications, such as the Guyana Chronicle, The Catholic Standard, The Mirror, Dayclean, The Gleaner of Jamaica, Caribbean Contact, and the Trinidad Guardian. The music, which provided another sense of context was taken from the work of artists including Ras Camo, Rubix and Talib Kweli “Another Millionaire Dies Everyday,” Carl Dawkins “Dr. Rodney,” Lui Lepke “Dem kill Walter Rodney,” and the strains of Frederick Chopin, all fused together to produce a piece of work that truly captured who Rodney was, his impact on the people he met, and the patina of a legend that had begun to form about him in life, and which assumed greater significance for the party and the people with his death.

At right, Abbyssinian speaking with members of the audience. Photo: Amali Chung

Following the screening, Chung, Abbyssinian Carto and Gabriehu Aregai, author of “Dangerous Times: The Assassination of Dr. Walter Rodney,” hosted a panel discussion and was assisted from the audience by Nigel Westmaas, Ph.D., assistant professor of Africana Studies, Hamilton College. Westmaas, who was an advisor for the documentary, as he answered questions from the audience, placed Rodney in the context of his time. He pointed out that despite stories to the contrary, Guyana’s history is replete with several successful rebellions, occurring during slavery by slaves as in 1763 Slave Revolt in Berbice, and after slavery, in the 20th century. In response to a question from the audience, Chung said that while he was aware of the presence of the idea for and about Rodney in his consciousness for sometime, he decided in 2006 to bring it to reality, and completed filming in 2008. Carto and Aregai, who appeared in the documentary, each recollected memories of Rodney’s life and the dastardly circumstances of his death. Speaking separately, Carto and Aregai said that combined with the knowledge that some of the principal people who were instrumental in formulating a decision to have Rodney removed, and who are still alive and playing active roles in the political life of Guyana, fills them with unspeakable anger. Carto said that he is so angry with the former prime minister, Hamilton Green, now mayor of Georgetown, that he cannot bring himself to forgive him for the part he is alleged to have played in ordering Rodney’s assassination.

During the film and even after, in the question and answer session, frequent mention was made of Rodney’s authorship, especially “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa,” “A history of the Upper Guinea Coast, 1545 – 1800,” and “Groundings with my brothers.”

Rose October-Edun, a member of the Guyana Cultural Association, commented that as a young woman in Guyana, she was as aware, as were those of her generation, that while many Guyanese were ignorant or unfamiliar with Rodney’s international stature and proficiency, there were people in Guyana, who through the filter of the political domination of the time were only slightly familiar with his work and activities; he was ever more popular abroad than he was at home. She admitted that she was a victim of the deliberate or unconscious channeling by the adults in her life who denied Rodney’s existence and stature, a charge she felt was true for many of her peers and those of subsequent generations; that any information of and about Rodney was purged from the news and from popular discourse. The documentary, she declared, has inspired her to make a project of learning as much as she could about a true revolutionary. Many in the audience called for the educational system in Guyana to embrace and promote Rodney’s books, so that this and future generations could be informed more accurately about their history.

At left, Clairmont Chung after the panel discussion

February 10, 2010 Posted by | African-American News, Black Men, Caribbean, community, Guyana, Jamaica, Politics, Tanzania, Walter Rodney | , , , | Leave a comment

Reflections: Mr. President Obama

Could this be true? America has a Black president

There is an emotional catch in my throat as I look and listen to all the commentaries and analyses, historical comparisons to Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delanor Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, who was spot on when he said the U.S. would have an African-American president in 40 years; and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who suggested a Black president in about 25 years, and contemporary parallels: the economic crises with Bank of America needing money to help them stay afloat; the three automotive industry giants needing money to keep more than half a million employees and subsidiary concerns, two of them forecasting being unable to stay in business come March; the second half of the promised $750 billion appropriated as a financial bailout of the finance sector: people are asking where has the first half gone, has it evaporated?There is no evidence financial institutions have resumed inter-bank lending, that businesses have been getting the advance credit they need to operate and produce, and an average 500,000 homes per month are going into foreclosure, there has been no mortgage renegotiation.

In recent days, there has been no mention of the issue of immigration. It was touching indeed to see his paternal grandmother who traveled from Kenya sharing the dais. Obama himself knew that without the strong support of the Hispanic community, who had grown to despise the Bush administration for the draconian immigration policies and renditions, the Berlin-like wall along the border between Mexico and the U.S.; that he would not have won.

Looking at television close up shots of the faces of people who had gathered on the National Mall, many men and women whose eyes welled with tears, many women their mascara running – haven’t they heard of waterproof mascara, or for many for whom the tears brim over their eye lids, like the waters of Lake Pontchartrain cresting the banks of the levees and inundating the basin below – sliding down their cheeks? Tears which hold not just the salt from their bodies, but the expectations commingled with longing, for all those who are Black in America, who struggled and endured ignominies and humiliations of every kind, yet did not live to see this day, when a Black man is president. The tears flow as many think of those Blacks who still endure slave like conditions, whose lives are inextricably bound to their white counterparts, and who dare not murmur a word or breathe a sigh of discontent or disagreement for fear of a disengagement or termination, which would reduce them to penury.

In a commentary on the eve of the Inauguration on BBC America’s Notes to Obama, national poet Maya Angelou said that she was not presenting a poem, she was presenting ruminations or reflections of what an Obama presidency means to and for her. She said that while the nation needs him, it is he who needs us more.

“We need him, the race needs him, the banks need him, and the economy needs him. He brought to us something we cannot live without, hope. He offers us the chance to have a great president, with whom we can identify, not as a Black president, but a president who would speak for the voiceless, for the poor black, poor white and for the disadvantaged Hispanic person.

I believe he needs us more than we need him. I believe that each of us has to do something more. I believe that we Americans deserve the most we can get. I will work alongside being of use and I will look for you working alongside, being of use,” she said.

During the Inauguration, when Obama took the oat of office, was there a hint of petty vindictiveness and partisanship, even subtle racism? Could it be that because Obama opposed John Roberts’ confirmation as Chief Justice, that Roberts felt to get back at Obama, to fumbled the words of the oat of office while the world looked on, as if to remind the President that he is still subject to the White establishment? Roberts’ subsequent apologies to the President, even re-administering the oat of office, have only highlighted the shadow of incompetence of the Bush administration, but which with tiny wisps and tendrils are trying to reach out to contaminate the new administration. What a mark on an historic and memorable day. Did anyone see the television close up of Obama’s expression during the fumbling? No doubt if it hadn’t been re-administered, constitutional lawyers would have had a field day on the legitimacy of the President.

As he promised, Obama has issued executive orders closing Guantanamo Bay within a year, which while keeping a campaign promise to the American people and assuaging the Islamic world, opens up other problems: reports suggest that some of the detainees would be brought at imprisoned at Levanworth prisons, which is on U.S. soil and places the detainees under the dictates of the Constitution: is there justification to holding them, how are the rules of evidence applied and exercised, what proof is there of involvement or collusion, except for some of the 250 detainees, who were held on hearsay or suspicion, and what about the Patriot’s Act? He has also ordered troops home within 16 months, and outlawed torture.

January 22, 2009 Posted by | African-American News, Black Men, Blogroll, community, Economy, Obama, Politics | 1 Comment

Reflections: Obama, a President

Interregnum: the between time

Obama, should remember only too well the Roman observation: how fickle the populace of Rome – who briefly rejoiced in the victories of Pompeii and before the last sound of praise could be heard in his honor, turned against and reviled him. If he cannot deliver on the promises, like every politician before him, he has made, he would be hounded out of office in infamy. He is a lawyer and like all of his profession, he has over the last several weeks, since the elections, when the campaigning was over and he became starkly aware that his rhetoric had now to become practical, began to cover himself with a disclaimer. Not wanting to seem as though he has stepped away from his promises of change, he has begun to temper the expectations he created in the people of what HE would do. In the later days of the interregnum, he has changed his tune, repeatedly he has cautioned that in the first 100 days of his administration, he may not be able to meet all the expectations people have of him, not that he has created in a people thirsty and desperate for a new American direction, and more importantly, being able to fulfill the promises he made to win; admitting to the possibility of making mistakes and missteps. His electoral victory was a demonstration of who could fool all of the people better; everyone saw through Sen. John McCain’s weak political strategies and rejected his posturing as a continuation of a Republican party steeped in the corrupt machinery born and developed since the Regan presidential era.

Many Black leaders, after the euphoria of the electoral victory and the prospect of a Black president in the White House had worn off, have admitted that he cannot achieve and accomplish all he promised. They recognized that they were fooled, but preferred to abandon their righteous anger of being deceived by one of their own, to celebrating the accomplishment of one of their kind; as opposed to the anger if John McCain would have won. Can anyone imagine what would have been the national reaction if McCain had won, the abject apathy of many Black people – many of whom would have said, “see I could’ve told you the White man would never allow a Black man to get higher,” “Did that Black man, Obama, think he is better than the Whites,” or the disgust and increased disrespect of the wider international community, who laughed at and mocked Americans for reelecting George Bush for a second term, what would they say should McCain have won the elections?

With the vapors of his electoral victory’s honeymoon quickly dissipating under the heat and starkness of the light of people looking for satisfaction, Obama has acknowledged that closing Guantanamo Bay may not be as immediate as he first thought, it would take the better part of the year. Why, this new administration has to find a way to either bring the inmates to a fair trial – grounds which so far are dubious – or to export them to other countries, many of whom the outgoing administration was looking for help, and as recent reports revealed, many stalled on committing to the Bush administration, but have now agreed to accept prisoners; he won’t be able to bring the troops home from Iraq as soon as he had originally planned, because now the Iraqi government has locked the Americans in a contract binding their presence up into 2011, yet some battalions may be withdrawn; there is doubt in Congress, where once he felt he was confident in bipartisan support, about passing his proposed $850 billion economic stimulus package, which has raised fears of at least a $2 trillion budget deficit, which would be visited on the next two generations; but held true to his word he would make torture illegal for the armed services.

January 22, 2009 Posted by | African-American News, Black Men, Blogroll, community, Obama, Politics | Leave a comment