Category Archives: Activism

#WithoutShame: Storytelling about HIV

To combat the spread of HIV and stigma, we need honest discussions that go beyond politically correct ways of representing today’s realities about the virus without oversimplifying and shaming. That is what these two digital stories offer. Watch and listen.

btp_logo_printReal life storytelling is a powerful way to raise awareness about HIV and stigma. Stories not only convey information but they also communicate values that relate the storyteller and the listener in more nuanced ways. The Banyan Tree Project, run by the folks at The Asian & Pacific Islander Wellness Center, has utilized this human resource and extended it to Twitter chat.

Viewing Stories on Twitter #BTPChat

They launched a digital storytelling initiative to combat HIV-related stigma in Asian and Pacific Islander communities. For those of you that don’t know, digital storytelling is a workshop-based practice in which participants write their own first-person scripts, record narration, select and scan images, add music, and make 3-4 minute digital videos- in this case, about one’s experience with HIV. The digital stories are uploaded on the project website and have been shared in panels, conferences, and other community discussions to provoke dialogue and community change.

This is how I learned about the Banyan Tree Project (BTP) and watched the two digital stories posted below. BTP organized 5 weekly Twitter chats with guest including TheBody.com and the USA Positive Women’s Network, among others, and framed questions based on digital stories they shared.
You can follow and participate in the chats by following @BTPMay19 and using the hashtag #BTPChat.

June 6, 2012, there will be a #BTPChat about HIV and Youth with the Youth, the Arts, HIV & AIDS Network (@YAHAnet). It starts at 5pm Eastern /2pm Pacific Time and runs for an hour.

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Image from @yahanet

HIV and Gay/Bi Men #BTPChat

Last week’s topic was about men who have sex with men and HIV with the National Minority AIDS Council (@NMAC AIDS). Tony’s digital story initiated the chat. Sharing his experience of grief and denial, Tony emphasizes the need for community support which includes the important role of family and friends.

(All videos from the BTP can be watched on their website)

Following the video, @BTPMay19 tweeted these questions for us all to respond.

1) Tony says “Know your status, get tested, seek treatment, find support.” What do gay/bi men need in order to do this?

2) Tony most likely contracted HIV decades ago. How has the gay community’s perception of HIV changed over the last 30 years? #BTPChat

To-the-point answers (you have to be, it’s twitter!) from various HIV outreach professionals and activists rolled out. I’m REALLY generalizing here but comments ranged from issues of disclosure and stigma, the need for everyone (not just poz folks) to have updated info on the manageability of HIV; and the urgency of different ways to frame HIV facts that resonate with different communities.

In the second video “Side Effects”, a sexual health educator candidly explains what led to his choice to have sex without a condom. He reveals that he’s secretly on post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) and works through his guilt.

The #BTPChat question posed were:

1) PEP/PReP can protect against HIV exposure. What do you think this means for gay/bi men relationships?

2) What challenges do gay/bi men still face when getting tested/treated for HIV?  #BTPChat

Also, one of the guest moderators, @NMAC AIDS, asked if this storyteller is a hypocrite and if outreach professionals would use this video when teaching prevention? Again, I’m writing a very simplified overview but I think it’s fair to say that most twitter participants felt this story was the kind of frank discourse needed to tackle taboo subjects like drugs and unsafe sex. Every participant seemed to express support for PEP/PReP stating that it offers more options for different relationships and circumstances. Comments did touch upon the inaccessibility of PEP/PReP due to high costs. It was also emphasized that such treatment must be coupled with promoting regular testing and condoms use in appropriate circumstances. Other participants mentioned that condom stigma needs to be taken more seriously by activists.

Post-Thoughts?

The creation and (careful) distribution of these digital stories have potential to make people rethink assumptions about HIV issues and stereotypes of people living with the virus. These are not HIV experiences typically represented in national public discourse. You will not find them in H&M or state-funded sex ed classes. In some ways, they uphold harmful stereotypes that reduce people with STDs and infections as deviant and careless. The storytellers admit to dissent, recklessness, negligence and guilt. But that is the power of these stories- honest talk that keeps it real.

They expose the trickiness of discussing HIV-related topics without subconsciously casting moral judgment. People are slutty, people are negligent and irrational, people use drugs and take part in abusive relationships (be it with themselves or another).

However, these digital stories are not innately effective at combating HIV stigma and posing discussion. They require careful framing.  Dialogue needs to be monitored and kept tailored for particular audiences in order to respect the storyteller and effectively combat myths and stigma that might be decoded by the audience. I think the people at APIWellness who run #BTPChat do a great job at this and I hope they continue to twitter #withoutshame.

What are your responses to these digital stories and the #BTPChat questions?

How I Contracted HPV and What I Did About It

This post is written by Tashia Amenerio, founder of the non-profit HPV Awakening.  She writes from her personal experience why she is pushing for HPV be reportable- meaning sexual partners must legally inform each other of their status- and why she urges you to sign the petition to get the FDA to approve HPV testing for men.

(Un)Knowing HPV

Graph from the CDC. Fourteen million will become newly infected with HPV this year. This means that almost every sexually active person in the US will acquire HPV at some point in their lives.

Graph from the CDC. Fourteen million will become newly infected with HPV this year. This means that almost every sexually active person in the US will acquire HPV at some point in their lives.

When diagnosed with HPV, life as you know it is over. You face disturbing contradictions within the medical community . On the one hand, there are those who describe it as “this generation’s AIDS”. On the other side, you are faced with medical “experts” who don’t know their head from a hole in the ground and tell you that HPV is nothing to worry about.

Here is the kicker: Most HPV strands, like most cold or flu strands, really don’t do much of anything but chill out in your body having a viral party of genome development. The issue(s) arise when you get people who are knowingly infecting others with cancer causing strands- a crime of which I’m personally all too well aware. And then you have others who are unknowingly transmitting the STI. A major reason for this is because it is not standard practice to get tested for HPV- and there are no official tests made publicly available for males- despite the fact that HPV is the most prevalent STI in North America right now.

So What Can We Do?

www.hpvawakening.org.

www.hpvawakening.org.

Well, I started a nonprofit HPV Awakening Inc. I lecture all over the Florida and have done a few media interviews. I sit here now writing you about my experiences and I’ve launched a petition that needs 100,000 signatures by May 28th, 2013, so that it can go to the White House to get HPV male testing approved by the FDA. Sign the petition.

I have contacted several local media stations and sites. And I have tried moving my civil court case Tashia Ameneiro vs. Zamil Xavier Lopez to a criminal one in order to have the state acknowledge the fact that HPV cancer strands should be taken as serious as AIDS/HIV strands.

The Miami Dade DA has kindly informed me that, well, HPV isn’t mentioned in the Florida statute at all. Thus they can’t help me. This is in spite of the fact that my case is backed with the full support from the local police department that filed my report (Miami Gardens), and they are willing to facilitate the investigative work!

So here is where you the reader come in. What can you do? Well, if you have ever been diagnosed or know someone that has been- I can relate. It sucks and it isn’t easy. And fun (insert EXTREME sarcasm) questions and situations follow diagnosis.

From Why Me? To What I Will Do About It!

In my case, I had been a virgin with no sexual experience prior to my ex, so I didn’t have to go through the questioning phase of Who? But I did have to go through the constant questioning phase of Why? After I received my diagnosis and contacted my ex he kindly informed me that he had known but since it hadn’t directly impacted me he hadn’t cared.

But that wasn’t the only “Why”. The “Why me?” phase kicked in and it kicked in for several of my friends too. Because once you get sick, it isn’t just you. It’s you and those that care about you, or who know you in a caring light- family, acquaintances, associates, co-workers and strangers you disclose to- that are impacted.

I remember one conversation in particular with a friend of mine that went through a bad life phase (attempted suicide and was a bug chaser at one point in time) sitting on the stairs while we shared a smoke (a short lived habit I picked-up during that “Why be and Why bother” phase). He was crying because he couldn’t understand how “Good people like [me], who never do anything risky end up getting sick and people like [him], who have tried every way possible to be ill and die didn’t.” Easy answer: “I don’t know what a ‘good’ person is, but sometimes Shit Just Happens.” It is a matter of what you do with the situation that counts.

I finished the cigarette and realized that some habits aren’t worth starting or maintaining just to stay wallowing in self-pity.

For those of you that are still reading, I say Yay! Thank you in sharing in my past misery. It really does love company.

Please sign the petition to get HPV male testing approved by the FDA. Go to We The People to sign.

Have a Merry Masturbation!

What better way to summon the season of twitterpating than by celebrating May Masturbation Month! Here are some fun facts about Annual– now International- Month of Masturbation and some great links to help you…participate.

Dr. Jocelyn Elders. Image from US National Library of Medicine

Dr. Jocelyn Elders. Image from US National Library of Medicine

1) The true poster child of Masturbation Month is former US Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders. Following a speech at the 1994 UN World AIDS Day, Elders was asked about masturbation as a way to discourage youth from engaging in partnered sex. She responded, “I think it is something that is part of human sexuality and a part of something that perhaps should be taught” (EmpowerHer, 2010). Gasp! The result: Elder was forced to resign from government.

But this sex shaming and conservative wrath backfired with a whole month dedicated to public talks, workshops, dancings, plays of all thing Masturbation! Thanks to Good Vibrations, the guru of sex toy shops. National Masturbation Month aims to encourage people to talk freely about it, to end the guilt associated with it and dispel the notion that it is “second-best” to “real” sex (Good Vibes’ official statement).

2) The celebration of #radical self-love has taken place every year since. The ever-so-climatic Masturbate-A-Thon is its biggest fundraiser. It encourages people to collect pledges and raise funds for sex-positive non-profits. Masturbate-A-Thon was originally hosted in San Francisco by Good Vibration and has spread to other cities like Portland OR, Washington D.C., London, England, and Copenhagen, Denmark. For it’s 14th Anniversary, the Thon will be held in Philly, PA, and funds will be used to benefit local LGBTQ inclusive sex-ed organizations, Pleasure Rush! and ScrewSmart. These guys established a CrowdRise fundraiser to help raise $3,000 from 1 May to May 27th, 2013, in order to help pay for the end of the month party, festively named Creamium.

Both Pleasure Rush! and ScrewSmart believe that the Philly Masturbate-A-Thon 2013 has the power to deliver the following:
-Reduce stigma and shame around sexuality.
-Promote sexual health Create a community of dialogue around the importance of pleasure. -Give you an excuse to jerk off for hours!” (Crowdraise).

Masturbation Month Poster made and sourced from The Buzz, Good Vibrations Magazine, www.GoodVibes.com

Masturbation Month Poster made and sourced from The Buzz, Good Vibrations Magazine, www.GoodVibes.com

3) In honor of International Masturbation Month, the Center for Sex & Culture (CSC) in conjunction with Shilo McCade’s “I Masturbate…” photo exhibition (summary about the photo project), is facilitating a writing class on the power of masturbation. Participants will spend a few hours writing response to photos and sharing stories about orgasms, self-love, and other aspects of sexuality. Proceeds support the CSC.

4) Ever heard of Betty Dodson? She is only the Queen of Masturbation and a pioneer in sexual liberation. Here is a great article by a woman who attended one of Betty’s 5-hour masturbation workshops and learned new types and ways of orgasm.

5) The student run news source, The Interloper @ USC is running its first ever masturbation writing contest. Winner gets a vibrator. You can read the first story: You Are Sleeping Inside Me.

6) Think you’re a master of masturbation? Test your knowledge with this 14 question quiz!

Taboo History Brief: Why we should celebrate

Image from article by William Bell @ BlogHer.com

Image from article about Masturbation Month by William Bell @ BlogHer.com

Masturbation Month is growing in profile but it stems from a long history of societal hush-hush syndrome. In fact, masturbation didn’t receive any attention on prime time television until Seinfeld brought up the taboo topic in 1992. In the episode (wikilink), George Constanza is caught by his mother masturbating. He confesses to Jerry, Elaine and Kramer and the conversation results in the four entering a contest to determine who can go for the longest period of time without masturbating.
No one wins. What’s interesting is that while the topic is quite blatant and insinuates that everyone masturbates (often!), the word “masturbation” could not actually be spoken. NBC thought the topic wasn’t suitable for TV, so the taboo is described in a series of hilarious euphemisms.

As Good Vibrations writes, “Almost everyone masturbates, but all too few of us are willing to admit to enjoying this simple pleasure – mostly because of the taboo against masturbation in our society, which has its roots in historical misconceptions that have survived to the present day.” During the 18th, 19th, and 20th century in Europe and America, masturbation was believed to be a debilitating wastes on energy that could result in exhaustion, impotence, insanity, epilepsy, etc. People obsessed over ways to prevent and treat the destructive urge.

For example, Dr. John H Kellogg advocated that circumcision should be performed with no anesthesia in order to deter children from “self-abuse” (cracked.com). Yes, this is Kellogg of the Kellogg’s cereal. Grape-Nuts, and later Corn Flakes, were invented to prevent “fire in the blood”. As early as the 1800s, masturbation experts believed that certain foods stimulated the urge, so people were recommended certain diets that eliminated instigators like pickles, candy, and eggs, and designed non-stimulating alternatives like cold breakfast cereal.

For more investigation into the rabbit hole of bizarre anti-masturbation treatments, Cracked.com offers a great article that covers all methods from Boy Scouts’ cold showers, to leeches, and spiked penile rings, bondage belts, and clitoridectomy.

So Happy Masturbation Month Everyone!

Let’s be thankful that our notions and acceptance of the deed has evolved from spiked penis restraints to Masturbate-A-Thon fundraisers! It’s great that there are many more sex positive resources out there that help normalize masturbation for us all. In some ways, it is a political act. It’s the ultimate safe sex, it increases awareness of your body and own sexual response, it relieves cramps, and it’s fun! So celebrate!

Do you have any fun facts or masturbation resources to share? Please comment below.

It’s always nice to know if you like what you’ve read. Please let us know by tweeting this or liking us on Facebook.  

Special thanks to Good Vibrations, BlogHer, EmpowerHer, and Bitch Mag for the images and information.

 

The “Condom Girl”: Condom Policing is Gender Policing

“What do you do when you’re detained by powerful officials, everything you say is presumed deceptive, arbitrary “evidence” is held against you, and you’re treated like a moral deviant? And what if its 2013, you’re a woman, and the “evidence” is that you possess condoms?”- Clay Nikiforuk 

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Say no to condoms as legal evidence. Image from Photobucket.

In March 2013, Clay Nikiforuk was detained at the Quebec/Vermont boarder under suspicion of being a sex worker.  The evidence: about 8 condoms and some sexy underwear.  Hours of questioning passed over the possible relationship between her lingerie and condoms. Clay was eventually allowed into the US, but found out two weeks later that she had been flagged as a suspected sex worker.  A series of consequences followed including limited visa permits, about $1000 in extra travel fees, and more police interrogations.

It’s easy to point at the sexist double standard here.  If a young, stereotypically “masculine” man traveled with a pack of condoms and nice underwear his moral integrity would not be questioned.  But there is something else at play than slut-shaming alone. Condom policing reinforces standards of what is appropriate female and male sexuality (a.k.a. heteronormativity).  And wrapped up in those messy assumptions are racial and class stereotypes.

We have posted other monologues about condom policing before.  The NYPD’s tactic of condoms-as-evidence systematically results in gender-based violence.  The victims are overwhelmingly non-white transsexual women. This discrimination occurs daily.  The news media picks it up from time to time- maybe once a year by questioning whether condoms-as-evidence of sex work is constitutional.  In fact, a bill to stop this legal practice has been struggling to pass congress for nearly a decade.

But when condom policing happens to a white, educated young woman (read privilege) the media takes up the issue in a new way- through innocence.  Clay writes a response to the media’s representation of her story on Rabble.ca.

“I wasn’t featured nationally in Metro as “Uneducated girl is accused of sex work” but rather as “UBC student.” I didn’t join CBC’s Daybreak show as “Sex worker/adulteress treated as second class citizen” but rather, “Woman files complaint after border crossing nightmare.” So long as I was positioned as privileged, and, sometimes by proxy, innocent, my story had shock value. Because when bad things start happening to innocent, educated white people, they could happen to anyone — or rather, other privileged people. And that is very, very scary.”

“….I’ve stopped answering the point-blank question of whether or not I am, was, or ever will be a sex worker. I like to entertain the half-mad fantasy that no matter whom one has consensual sex with or why, one is irrevocably a human deserving respect and rights. The point is: when sex and sexuality are criminalized, people are made illegal and their rights made moot.”

“….If I were a sex worker, I might have “deserved” the treatment I received, or my detainment might have “made sense.” If I were from a minority group or were not as educated in the English language, my story might not have provoked the shock and outrage that it did. And rather than receiving the reaction “That should never happen to anyone,” often the reaction I still get is “That should never have happened to you.”

Read the entire article at Rabble.ca  For more information on the campaign to stop condoms as evidence by police and in court, check out The Red Umbrella Project and End the Use of Condoms as Evidence.

A Mark in History of Marriage Equality: Family Story by John & Stuart

LGBTQ-Logue 005.

You know, the sense of the historic moment hanging over these cases is incredible, and the atmosphere is really electric…As my husband said, it really feels like our very lives are before the court. But there’s no mistaking this historic moment. The momentum leading up to these hearings is incredible. Every day, when we turn to the headlines, there’s some new polls showing increasing majority support nationwide for equal marriage rights.- Stuart Gaffney, interview on Democracy Now!

Stuart Gaffney and John Lewis speaking on Democracy Now 26 March 2013

Stuart Gaffney and John Lewis speaking on Democracy Now 26 March 2013

That is a quote from Stuart Gaffney, media director at Marriage Equality USA, describing what it felt like, both as a married gay man and an activist, to be in the Supreme Court watching the arguments about the constitutionality of DOMA.  For those who don’t know, DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) is a federal law enacted in 1996, that denies federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples.

Our LGBTQ-logue pays homage to this historic moment (the Supreme Court discussing the systemic discrimination of sexual orientation is landmark!) by hearing the family story of Stuart Gaffney and his husband John Lewis, together for 25 years.  You can watch a full interview with them at DemocracyNow.org

What follows in an excerpt of Stuart and John’s family story that was originally written for the Marriage Equality Quilt for National Freedom to Marry Day (PDF) in Feb. 2007.

Stuart and John’s Story…

is significant because it directly connects with the history of laws banning interracial marriage until the Supreme court deemed them unconstitutional in 1967.  This issue came up in the Supreme court when Justice Scalia asked attorney, Theodore Olson, when it became unconstitutional to exclude homosexual couples from marriage.

Listen to Clip 

For the entire Supreme Court argument on March 26, 2013, listen here.

John and Stuart’s very own family story draws parallels of racial discrimination and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in marriage law.  As an interracial couple, Stuart’s parents- mother Chinese-American and father English/Irish American- faced the same barriers that Stuart and John face today. Read below:

For nearly as long as we can remember, we each wanted to meet someone to fall in love with and start building a life together. For us, it happened in 1987, when we met at a neighborhood election party. When we met, John felt as if he had already known Stuart forever. To this day, when we visit old places from Stuart’s childhood, John feels like he was there with Stuart. And even before our second date, Stuart had already told his best friend from college, “I’ve met my future husband.”

When we married at San Francisco City Hall on February 12, 2004 after 17 years together as a loving and committed couple, we felt for the first time in our lives that our government was treating us as equal human beings. Subsequently, the court ruled that our marriage was null and void. Since then, we have been working to educate our fellow Californians about the importance of equal marriage rights.

This is not the first time our family had found itself in the center of a historic civil rights struggle for equal access to marriage. Stuart’s mother, who is Chinese American, and father, who is white, were only able to marry over 50 years ago, because the state’s ban on interracial marriage was overturned. Stuart’s mother remembers how one of her classmates at the University of California had to leave the state to marry her white fiancé before the law was changed.

After their wedding, Stuart’s parents traveled across America and lived in many different parts of the country. When they moved to Missouri, they were disturbed to learn their marriage was illegal and void in Missouri because that state still prohibited marriages between Chinese-Americans and whites.

But everywhere Stuart’s parents went, they educated people about interracial relationships by their very presence as a loving couple. We too have traveled across America as part of the coast-to-coast Marriage Equality Caravan to do the same — to show that our common humanity is the basis for marriage equality across the land.

Like our parents before us, we simply want the freedom to marry the person of our choice and to have the same rights, recognition, and responsibilities for our family that all other loving and committed couples enjoy. Today, all of our parents want nothing more than for their son and son-in-law’s marriage to be legally recognized, just as their other children’s marriages are.

To read their story in full, visit the website Marriage Equality USA.

HPV Awakening

The US faces an HPV epidemic, yet there is still little known about the virus.  A Florida-based grassroots organization, HPV Awakening, is fighting to expand research about the virus to provide resources for treatment and prevention.  Public awareness is in desperate need of an energy boost.

Graph from the CDC

Graph from the CDC

HPV is the most prevalent and rapidly spreading STI in the USA according to a February 2013 report (PDF) by the CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention). Based on the most recent data on STIs in 2008, the report finds approximately 80 million Americans are infected with some form of HPV- which makes up 71% of all STI infections in the country.  And it is spreading fast, as most people with HPV do not know they are infected.  Fourteen million will become newly infected this year. This means that almost every sexually active person in the US (regardless of sexual orientation, number of partners, age, income, etc.) will acquire HPV at some point in their lives.  In other words, we are officially in an HPV crisis.

Sounds pretty serious, eh?  In most cases, HPV will go away by itself before it causes any health problems- particularly in young people.  The problem is that there are many variations and strains of HPV- 40 of which are related to cancer- and there remains much unknown medically about the virus and how to detect it.

For example, there is no certain way to tell who will develop health problems from HPV and who will not.  For men, there is currently no FDA-approved HPV test, which means that men who have clear STI screenings with negative results should not consider themselves HPV-free or at zero-risk.  The only form of testing a male can have is through an anal pap smear (used to check for anal cancer), and only if he has been the recipient of anal sex, not directly as a method to check for HPV.  For women, there are test to directly detect the virus, but they are not mandatory- you still have to specifically ask for them, despite how prevalent HPV is in the USA.   In 2009, the FDA approved DNA testing for HPV yet blood donations and samples are not screened.

What is HPV? Human Papillomavirus is an infection of the skin and mucous membranes.  There are over 100 strains of HPV of which 40 are identified as sexually transmitted infections.  It is often called “genital warts”, because when a strain causes warts (not all do) and symptoms are visible it appears as tiny cauliflower-like clusters on the genitals.  These HPV types can also infect the mouth and throat.  Other strains are cancerous and some are a direct cause of cervical, anal, and oral cancer.  On average, about 15,000 women get diagnosed yearly with cervical cancer and about 80% of these cases are cause by HPV.

In most cases, HPV shows no symptoms yet remains highly contagious, and unfortunately, condoms do not offer 100% protection.  However, they are by far safer than going without protection.  It is generally stated by health organizations that condoms provide approximately 70% protection against HPV.

How does it spread? Penetrative sex or exposure to bodily fluids, like semen, is not needed to contract HPV.  It is transmittable by skin-to-skin contact during oral, vaginal, anal, and manual sex.  It is most commonly transmitted from direct genital-to-genital contact (touching two sets of genitals together without a protective barrier).  Some strains can be transmitted from kissing.

The CDC recently reported that HPV is contactable from mother to child through vaginal birth.  Yet there is still much unknown about the virus.  For example, the only studies released for HPV cases in children are from oral cancer cases.  As the non-profit organization, HPV Awakening points out, no information has been released about whether or not children are being examined for anal, cervical or other cancers caused by HPV.

How is it diagnosed? HPV is detected from examination of warts and from tissue samples taken during a gynecological or urological exam. For women, a PAP smear does not test for the virus itself, but may detect precancerous condition that are caused by HPV.  There are DNA tests that can be done with or without a PAP smear.  These tests can determine if the type of HPV is a high-risk stain.  For men, there is currently no FDA-approved HPV test, which means that men who have clear STI screenings with negative results should not consider themselves HPV-free or at zero-risk.

Is it curable or treatable? No. Warts can be removed.  However, the virus may still remain in the body and can be transmitted to partners, and/or cause long-term health problems like cervical cancer.

Unfortunately, neither public awareness nor medical understanding of HPV matches these severely high statistics. Few people, both teens and adults, think about how a condom is only 70% effective against the virus or that a clear STI screening does not indicate that they are HPV-free.  Blood banks do not screen for HPV.

And HPV is considered a “none-reportable” STI.  This means that the US government and the CDC do not feel that individuals have a legal obligation to be informed by a partner that they have had a history of or currently have an “active” case of HPV.

Yet rather than acknowledging our unfamiliarity and unawareness of HPV we, the general public, continue to reinforce great social stigma with being diagnosed with an STI.  And thus, the ignorance continues.  This is precisely why the non-profit group HPV Awakening exists: to educate the general public and push for more investment in medical research.

WebHPV Awakening Inc.: was founded by Tashia Ameneiro shortly after she was diagnosed with HPV at 25 years old.  She contracted the virus from her first sexual partner who had known he was a carrier but did not tell her.  It wasn’t long after that Tashia found herself trying to coop with a severe lack of public resources compounded with social stigma for being diagnosed with an STI.  The impact of being diagnosed led her and her friends (Virginia Pena and Yvette Rodriguez) to launch HPV Awakening- A nonprofit to counteract social stigma through public education.

The Miami-based organization is the first established non-profit in North America to address general HPV that is not limited to one cancer form or another caused by HPV.  They run workshops, lectures, and info booths at universities, schools and community events to raise public awareness about HPV and how to protect one self.  They have partnered with major community-based organizations, such as the Village South/WestCare – Project IMPACT, hosting the First Cervical Cancer Day at FIU in January 2013 to provide a wide range of free health information to the public. HPV Awakening has also partnered with several student organizations such as VOX, WSSA (Women’s Studies Student Association), The Vagina Monologues, and One Billion Rising.

Along with improving public awareness, HPV Awakening is also putting pressure on the FDA and greater medical science community.  They are pushing to make HPV caner strands “reportable” and get HPV male testing approved.  They are also trying to expand medical and social research about the virus and the impact it has not only physically, but mentally and emotionally.

They need your support:  As with all social causes, people’s support is essential to their survival.  HPV Awakening functions through the hard work of just Tashia, her mother, and a few friends.  They currently have no funding or sponsorship.  All the things they have managed thus far have been done through their own pockets and free-time.  They need support from everyone and have set up a donation bank on their website.

They desperately need funding for basic things like printing information pamphlets, free condoms to distribute, website management and sponsorship to attend relevant events like Gay Pride Fest- Miami Beach, AFO, and Exxxotica Expo.

They welcome any support.  This includes actions as simple as sharing their facebook page or more involved help such as volunteering at their events and donating money to help them stay afloat.

HPV Awakening can be contact through through email @ Tashia@hpvawakening.org, phone 786 260 2092, and social media: facebook and twitter and experienceproject.

Here is an interview of HPV Awakening founder Tashia with NotiMujer

Found on  http://hpvawakening.org/

Walking While Trans: police profiling and abuse of LGBTQ communities of color in Queens

LGBTQ 003.  In this entry of our LGBTQ-Logue Initiative, posting mementos of sexual justice issues, we share narratives from participants in a study about the gender-based violence that police regularly commit against LGBTQ and gender nonconforming people.

Illustration by Molly Crabapple.  Posted with permission. Found on Vice Mag.

Illustration by Molly Crabapple. Posted with permission. Found on Vice Mag.

In response to the rise of complaints about hate violence and police abuse against LGBTQ people in Jackson Heights, especially among people of color, the community-based organization Make the Road NY (MRNY) and the Anti-Violence Project (AVP) conducted a preliminary study to ascertain the extent of the problems with police. Between 2011 and 2012, MRNY and AVP collected over 300 surveys with LGBTQ and gender nonconforming people in Jackson Heights.  Interviews were conducted by outreach workers and volunteers through street, bar, and nightclub outreach, as well as within support groups and community meetings.

They found that LGBTQ, and transgender respondents in particular, reported higher rates of police stops compared to non-LBGTQ respondents.  Transgender residents of color were the most likely to experience police harassment and physical abuse when stopped.  46% of transgender respondents reported some form of physical abuse from police compared to 28% of non-LGBTQ respondents.  Narrative evidence obtained through interviews reveals the kind of physical harassment experienced such as handling, pushing, shoving and sexual harassment.

These are not just selective, one-off narrative accounts.  On the contrary, they are shared because they reflect general tends respondents experience with the NYPD in Queens.

Carolina describes being intrusively searched by police:

About 2 years ago something terrible happened when I was out in Jackson Heights. My girlfriend and I were on our way to a club when the police stopped us.  It was about midnight. The police stopped us and asked for our IDs.  My girlfriend had hers but I didn’t have mine with me at the time. At that moment the police started to frisk me and search my pants.  Because I dress very masculine they started telling me to ‘shut up you fucking dyke.’ They started to feel my breasts and search in that area (they were male cops and they’re not suppose to do that). They then proceeded to put me against the wall and told me to spread my legs.  They searched me between my legs like I was a criminal. I told them that I didn’t consent to their search.  But they said that they were ‘the authority’ and that they could do ‘whatever the fuck they wanted’ with me. I felt humiliated because I knew that even if I said something no one would believe me.  Also, because of my immigration status I was afraid to say anything and get deported.- Lesbian woman, Jackson Heights (MRNY 2012, pg. 20)

Another interviewee, Juan, reported being drag by her hair down the block.

I was walking down the street with my partner on 34th Avenue and a police car pulled over and told us to get near the car.  When the police officer saw that I was dressed as a woman he pulled my wig, held my hair and dragged me down 34th Avenue for 1 or 2 blocks. – Gay Latino man who cross dresses at night, Queens (Ibid: pg. 20).

Other narratives reflect violence committed by police and the unjust treatment carried out while in custody.

I was getting out of a club and heading to a friend’s house in a cab.  When I got to her apartment, I found that the police were stopping her and asking her to produce ID. They were talking to her in English. I intervened and told the officers that she didn’t speak English and that her ID was in her apartment, which we were in front of. I told them that I could get her ID from her apartment. The officers told me to shut up and arrested both me and my friend. The police used a lot of force while arresting us and said some homophobic and transphobic remarks in the process.  They put us in the back of their car and started laughing at us with other police officers who were also there.  I asked one of the officers to please open the window a bit more because we were out of breath, to which he responded by pepper spraying my directly in my face and mouth. Since we were trapped in the back of the car, the pepper spray also started asphyxiating my friend. I started kicking the car door and asking them to please let us out.  They opened the door and dragged me out of the car and started beating me up outside the car, while using transphobic and homophobic remarks. It was a very confusing, demeaning and unjust experience, I ended up being in jail for two days without representation and was intensely harassed by officers while I was in custody.- Transgender Latina woman, Queens (Ibid: pg. 18).

Part of that harassment involves arbitrary stops on suspicion of prostitution, which takes place in the form of a charge of “loitering for the purpose of prostitution”- a misdemeanor that allows for broad officer discretion.  The profiling of transgender women as sex workers is so common that there is a term for it: “walking while trans”.

Arrests can be made on the basis of how tight one’s clothing is and how many condoms are on the person, which will be used as evidence in court.  If convicted for prostitution, the person will lose social benefits like food stamps and subsidized housing.  As a result, transgender women are especially fearful that any condom in their possession will be used as evidence against them.

The survey participants commonly reported stops that seemed to be without basis but in which the police officers later justified the stop by charging the person with prostitution because condoms were found on their person.

Cristina explained how the police did not believe that her boyfriend was not a patron and the officers confiscated three condoms off of her.

One night I was with my boyfriend at a club in Jackson Heights, Queens.  At around 4am we left the club together and walked home. We were walking next to each other. At one point an undercover police van stopped next to us.  Eight undercover cops got out from the van and some of them threw me against the wall. While they were handcuffing me, my boyfriend was also through to the wall and they frisked him. They told me I was being arrested for sex work. I told them that I was not doing anything like that. After they frisked my boyfriend, they frisked me and found three condoms, after seeing the condoms they asked if I was sure that I was not working.  I told them that I was with my boyfriend and they said that he was not my boyfriend. I told one of the female cops to help me and that I was not doing anything wrong. She said that she couldn’t help me out. My boyfriend came to the 110th Precinct where I was held and spoke to the captain; he tried to explain that I was his girlfriend and that I was with him. But the captain said that he couldn’t do anything. I was taken to court and was accused of sex work.– Transgender woman, Jackson Heights (Ibid: pg 21).

Another interviewee describes being jumped by undercover cops and experiencing repetitive humiliation and harassment while in custody:

Last week, I went out dancing at a small night club on Roosevelt Avenue.  After having a good time and feeling ready to go home, I contacted my friends so that we could meet at a small taqueria before we all headed home.  Meeting up at the taqueria after a night out is routine for us because the tacos are really good, and it’s also the only way we know that our circle of friends is safe.

While on my way to the taqueria, I was approached by a dark colored car driven by a middle-aged male.  As the male pulled alongside me, he said something I couldn’t hear properly.  As I did not hear what the male was saying, I inched a little closer to his vehicle and he repeated, ‘Why are you so beautiful and yet alone?’ Before I knew it, two undercover officers jumped out of a van that was parked along the street and told me that I was under arrest.  When I asked the officer’s why they are arresting me, they told that I was ‘engaging in prostitution’.

They cuffed me and the officers questioned me further, took my purse away from me and placed me into the unmarked van.  Although I had nothing on me and did nothing wrong, they still took me, transferred me into another police van filled with about a dozen trans-women and then took us all down to the 115th Precinct where we were fingerprinted, written up and later transferred to the central booking.  My experience in the holding cell at central booking was terrible.  I was humiliated inside of the holding cell by the guards and the men who occupied the cell with me.  The guards would not all me anything other than bread and water to eat and I was not allowed to use the toilet when I needed to go.  Tears streamed down my face as for the first time I was encountering the daily harassment that transwomen face for just walking home.-Transgender Latina woman, Queens (Ibid: pg. 17).

And it doesn’t just happen at night after clubbing.  It also happens while doing routine daily activities such as walking the dog or grocery shopping.  Here is just one testimony of many from the MRNY study.

I am transgender.  I was walking to the store near my house on Roosevelt Avenue when two cops stopped and arrested me.  When I asked why I was being arrested, they replied, ‘Because you are pretty.’ They charged me with loitering for prostitution when I was only walking down the street.- Transgender Latina woman, Queens (Ibid: pg. 17)

This profiling and abuse has been documented extensively across the US by Amnesty International (2005), the PROS Network (2011) and Human Rights Watch (2012), to name a few.  All studies conclude that there needs to be more done within the legal system and law enforcement culture to address homophobic and transphobic attitudes and discriminatory policing against LBGTQ people.  Suggestions include LGBTQ liaison units to police forces and integrating LGBTQ issues into officer education and professional development.

There is also a bill to end the use of condoms as evidence of sex work.  Since 1999, a coalition of people in the sex trades, allies, and community-based organizations have been working to pass the No Condoms As Evidence bill into law in NY state.  In 2012, a report by the PROS Network and Sex Worker Project revealed how the use of condoms as evidence of prostitution is creating a public health crisis because it is deterring targeted populations from carrying condoms.  This is “deeply concerning”, writes Emma Caterine of the Red Umbrella Project, as people in the sex trade and gender nonconforming people are often most at risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections. “To combat this violence and promote safer sex, we must stop the use of condoms as evidence by both police and prosecutors (RH Reality Check, 2013).”

On April 23rd, 2013, Red Umbrella Project will be lobbying in Albany, NY to get the No Condoms as Evidence bill passed by representatives.  For more information on this bill and how you can get involved, check out their website.

Remembering Stonewall: Excerpts from the First Documentary Made on the Riots

LGBTQ-Logue 001.

“The archives of lesbian culture…created four years after Stonewall, owes, at least for my part, it’s creation to that night and the courage that found its voice in the streets. That night, in some very deep way, we finally found our place in history. Not as a dirty joke, not as a doctor’s case study, not as a freak- but as a people.” – Joan Nestle, Co-founder of Lesbian Herstory Archives (Remembering Stonewall, aired 1989 on PBS Radio).

Image sourced from wikipedia.org

image sourced from wikipedia.org

For some, modern history is indexed by the pre-Stonewall and post-Stonewall eras.  The 1969 Stonewall Upraising is marked as the first time the LGBTQ community resisted routine police raids and arrests at a time when it was illegal for queers to congregate in public.

All great movements require catalyst- whether it’s premeditated or unplanned- a bandwagon that cements conviction in the will of those affected by injustice; when people discover they are not alone.  What starts a movement will be determined by different (sometimes opposing) perspectives, most of which will never be recorded in popular history.  Stonewall is one of those seminal events in which thousands who were involved (directly and indirectly) have never had their experiences recognized in official documentation…until 20 years later. StoryCorps founder David Isay with Michael Scherker produced the first documentary of any medium about the Stonewall uprising.

This radio documentary premiered on NPR’s All Things Considered Weekend Edition in 1989.  It records multiple testimonies of the event including drag queens who stood up to police, a police marshal who led the raid, and young activists who founded the Gay Liberation Front on the third night of the Stonewall Riots.  You can listen and download the broadcast for free at Sound Portaits.org and read the entire transcript here.

The recording begins with participants describing what it was like to be “gay” in the 1960s, before Stonewall.

JOAN NESTLE, Co-founder of Lesbian Herstory Archives:  [T]here was regular weekend harassment, which would consist of the police coming in regularly….[I]n the Sea Colony, we had a back room with a red light. And when that red light went on it meant the police would be arriving in around ten minutes. And so we all had to sit down at our tables, and we would be sitting there almost like school children, and the cops would come in. Now depending on…which cop was on, if it was some that really resented the butch women who were with many times very beautiful women, we knew we were in for it because what would happen is they would start harassing one of these women, and saying, ‘Ha, you think you’re a man? Come outside and we’ll show you.’ And the woman would be dragged away. They’d throw her up against a wall and they’d say, ‘So, you think you’re a man, let’s see what you got in your pants.’ And they would put their hand down her pants.

SEYMOUR PINE, Deputy Inspector of the NYC Public Morals Squad: “[Before Stonewall] you tell [patrons in gay bars] to leave and they leave, and you say show me your identification and they all take out their identification and file out and that’s it. And you say, okay, you’re not a man, you’re a woman, or you’re vice versa and you wait over there. I mean, this was a kind of power that you have and you never gave it a second thought.

SYLVIA RIVERA, Transgender activist: The drag queens took a lot of oppression and we had to…we were at a point where I guess nothing would have stopped us…we were ladies in waiting, just waiting for the thing to happen.

Image from Gender Anarchy Facebook Page.  Original from The National Center of Lesbian Rights

Image from Gender Anarchy Facebook Page. Original from The National Center for Lesbian Rights

Those who witnessed and participated in the riot recount the electricity felt in the air as eight police officers arrived at the Stonewall Inn at midnight June 27th, 1969.  They describe fire, anger, joy, beatings- by police batons and high heels alike.

BIRDY, Protestor: My name is Robert Rivera and my nickname is Birdy, and I’ve been cross-dressing all of my life. I remember the night of the riots, the police were escorting queens out of the bar and into the paddy wagon and there was this one particularly outrageously beautiful queen, with stacks and stacks of…Elizabeth Taylor style hair, and she was asking them not to push her. And they continued to push her, and she turned around and she mashed the cop with her high heel. She knocked him down and then she proceeded to frisk him for the keys to the handcuffs that were on her. She got them and she undid herself and passed them to another queen that was behind her.

RIVERA: I remember someone throwing a Molotov cocktail. I don’t know who the person was, but I mean I saw that and I just said to myself in Spanish…’oh my God, the revolution is finally here!’ And I just like started screaming ‘Freedom! We’re free at last!’ You know. It felt really good!

Remembering Stonewall also offers rare insight and expression of how the revolutionary event impacted across personal lives and politics.  For example, Gene Hardwood, who at the time of this recording was in a 60 year partnership with Bruce Merrow, explained,

GENE HARWOOD: When Stonewall happened, Bruce and I were still in the closet, where we had been for nearly forty years. But we realized that this was a tremendous thing that had happened at Stonewall and it gave us a feeling that we were not going to be remaining closeted for very much longer. And soon thereafter, we did come out of the closet.

JINNY APPUZO: …In 1969 I was in the convent. And when Stonewall hit the press, it hit me with a bolt of lightening. It was as if I had an incredible release of my own outrage at having to sequester so much of my life. I made my way down, I seem to recall in subsequent nights being down on the, you know, kind of just on the periphery looking. An observer — clearly an observer. Clearly longing to have that courage to come out. And as I recall it was only a matter of weeks before I left the convent and started a new life.

PINE: For those of us in Public Morals [police division], after the Stonewall incident things were completely changed from what they had previously been. They suddenly were not submissive anymore. They now suddenly had gained a new type of courage. And it seemed as if they didn’t care anymore about whether their identities were made known.

We were now dealing with human beings.

As shown by Stonewall and earlier campaigns against police raids and entrapment, NYC has a fraught history of with the LGBTQ communities.  While great gains have been made, LGBTQ people, and particularly LGBTQ people of color, continue to be targets of police profiling and abuse.  This includes profiling transgender women as sex workers, “gender checks”, physical and sexual abuse, and detention of transgender people under dangerous conditions.  Check out LGBTQ-logue 003 for narrative accounts of LGBTQ interactions with the NYPD in present-day Jackson Heights, Queens.

More Condoms In Pop: The need to popularize safer sex

condoms need to be popularizedA recent study by researchers at Stanford Medical School reveals that a large portion of young women are irresponsible in bed, meaning they ain’t protecting themselves.  The year-long study collected data from 1,194 sexually active females aged 15 to 24 who visited Planned Parenthood clinics and were beginning contraceptive pills, patches, injections, or vaginal rings for the first time.  At the beginning of the study, only 36 percent of participants consistently used the “dual method” (relying on both hormonal contraceptives and the condom), which meant that STI and STD protection was compromised.  Getting pregnant seems to be the only risk to care about.

Surprised?  To be honest, I wasn’t either as I know many friends whose first time using birth control was when they entered a relationship with someone they trust, and that trust included believing (hopefully, with medical proof) that neither person carried STIs.

However, it gets worse: The study found that over 50 percent of young women did not resume condom use after they discontinued hormonal contraceptives.  That’s right, NO protection!

Less Youth are Using Condoms

Why is this happening?  And how can prevention improve?  According to Rachel Goldstein M.D., lead author of the study, the most influential factor of condom usage is the partner’s attitude toward condoms.  When a woman did not know how her partner felt about condoms or knew that he felt they were “very important”, she was more likely to be a dual method user than when her partner thought condoms were “not at all important”.  The researchers speculate that power imbalances within the relationship impact the woman’s ability to negotiate condom use. “It appears that her partner’s feelings may be more important than her perceived risk of a sexually transmitted infection or her own beliefs about dual method use,” said Goldstein.  This is an important point of concern.  There are many factors, including levels of mutual respect, emotional maturity, and self-esteem that need to be considered when counseling youth about healthy sex (Scarleteen offers great advice on negotiating condom use).  Of course, the study concludes that more counseling is needed to accompany hormonal contraceptive treatment that emphasizes the risks of STIs and STDs.

However, I think this is only one piece in the very complicated puzzle of sexual relations.  Plus, the research does not address why young women are not resuming condom use after discontinuing hormonal medication.

In fact, condoms are not very popular among young adults in general.  According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, the rate of STIs in people 15-24 years old is exceptionally high.  Two-thirds of all individuals who become infected with STIs in the United States are younger than 25 years old!  The reason for this is because young people simply are not using condoms and other barriers consistently or correctly to protect themselves and their partners.

Condoms Miss the Limelight

Now, most teens in North America have been exposed to sex ed and know why condoms exist, but this is obviously not the only means to ensuring healthy sex lives.  Indeed, sex pedagogy in North America is riddled with censorship (that’s a whole other post), and health counseling should accompany hormonal contraceptive use. Both these solutions, however, overlook a larger social problem.  The social stigma which has developed around STIs and diseases has produced negative attitudes and ignorance towards safer sex.  It’s fair to say that this negativity permeates in our popular culture.

Condoms and other safer sex practices have acquired an unsexy reputation from their very absence in romantic and steamy and sex positive representations.  Pornography, films, romance novels, or how-to articles in popular magazines rarely represent the condom and how it can actually increase sensuality, not dull it.  And this is something that needs to change because it limits our knowledge, attitude and imagination about what healthy sex can be.

This is not to say that viewers of media are passive recipients who are easily influenced by what is on TV.  But media can be interpreted as a cultural artifact that reflects beliefs, attitudes, prejudices of the times.  It is a matter of what sells, and unfortunately, the mainstream only works to reinforce the notion that safer sex is a chore.

One Solution: Safer Sex Porn!

There are some who have sought to exert control over the representation of safer sex through alternative media.  One honorable example is the 1990 video short, Current Flow, by Jean Carlomusto starring Annie Sprinkle and Joy Brown.  This explicit video was made in response to Cosmopolitan magazine publishing a piece which erroneously claimed that virtually no females could contract HIV.  The short is basically about a woman (Annie Sprinkle) masturbating on the couch with her vibrator. Suddenly her vibrator stops and we see a woman enter the room with a towel in one hand and a power cord in the other (not many battery-operated vibrators back then).  The woman seductively crawls over Annie and rolls out from her towel dental dams, latex gloves, condoms and lube for the dildo.  And the climax begins.

But this is not just any girl-on-girl porn, it also emphasizes “showing how”.  For example, a close-up of Annie Sprinkle getting eaten-out shows how to use a dental dam. Another shot shows Joy Brown washing the dildo before it is her turn to use it on Annie.  As Carlomusto writes,

“…in order to educate lesbians about safer sex we have to establish what it is.  Saying, ‘use a dental dam’ is not the same as saying ‘use a condom’, since many women don’t know what a dental dam is” (1992: 82).

Current Flow is the first of it’s kind. Sexy and safe lesbian porn made by and for lesbians. It was made at a particular time during the HIV/AIDS crisis when the Centers for Disease Control refused to investigate data on woman-to-woman transmission of HIV.  It was also a time when mass media and public health bureaucracies refused to produce explicit sex education or represent gay and lesbian sexuality.  While the information today is made more available and inclusive of a wider public, we still do not see safe sex represented as often as we see sex in the media.

Safer sex should be not be limited to public health messages or HIV/AIDS activism.  What would be powerful is normalization of safer sex in everyday media.  Imagine music videos- the soft porn of daytime television- including condoms in a sexy, bootylicious way…

Dull Feeling in Bed Begins with Dull Attitude

You might think that the reason there are few representations of positive condoms in popular culture is simply because condoms are genuinely unfun and decrease pleasure.  You might think that it is for this reason that younger people are using condoms less.  I would argue that this belief is grounded more in attitude than it is in actual reality.  Let me explain.

Some studies, such as “Sexual Pleasure and Condom Use” by Randolph et. al. (2007), have found that those who report sex with a condom as less pleasurable tend to be people who have not used condoms in a while or who don’t use them at all.  They found that more men than women tend to believe condom use is less pleasurable even without actual experience.  It is beliefs that influence experience with condoms and whether one wants to use them. It is true that many people reported that unprotected sex feels better than protected sex. Overall, people who are familiar with using condoms tend to report greater pleasure with protected sex than those who are likely to go without protection.   As Heather Corinna at Scarleteen writes, “The more you use them, the more they feel good, and it’s people who don’t use them at all that tend to complain about them most.”

In other words, it is the attitude that one has towards condoms that greatly affects satisfaction.  People who use condoms often do not express a decrease in overall pleasure because they learn what condoms suit them best and what ways they are most comfortable using them.

Know Your Condom

Which brings me to my next point.  Part of the process of popularizing condoms is to increase understanding of the different types and ways of using them.  Another study by Michael Reece and Debra Herbenick (2012) found that many people do not know how to use condoms properly and what can increase pleasure.  For example, putting a drop of lube inside the condom before rolling it on can improve application and increase sensitivity.  Also, the condom can be put on in sexy and tantalizing ways by you or your partner that make it a part of sex- not an interruption to it. Check out our post for some sexy tips on condom use.

Pediatrics and sex educators should know condoms too.  Reece and Herbenick suggests that prevention providers can play a valuable role in alleviating negative perceptions of condoms by recommending different condoms made for specific needs.  For example, for those men who feel condoms are too tight, a practitioner may recommend condoms which are designed with a more bulbous head or looser fit.  The point is that there are hundreds of thousands of condom types out there and there needs to be more access and understating of choice and care.

If it’s true that sexual pleasure with a condom is all in the attitude than it is all the more important that there be representations of safe sex in pop media.  How powerful would it be if Jake Gyllenhaal whipped out a condom during the famous sex scene in Broke Back Mountain!

What do you think?  Would safer sex in the media help increase positive attitudes towards safe practices?  What do you think should be done to get more youth practicing safer sex?

Source cited:  Jean Carlomusto & Gregg Bordowitz (1992).“Do It!  Safe Sex Porn for Girls and Boys Comes of Age.” A Leap in the Dark: AIDS, Arts and Contemporary Cultures.  Allan Klusacek & Ken Morrison, eds. Montreal: Vehicule Press.