June 19, 2007
"AIDS CARE, NOT POLITICS — STOP THE BILL NOW!"
State Capitol protest targets Spitzer, Mayersohn on eve of key votes on forced HIV testing bill that hurts rape survivors, fuels AIDS stigma
CALLING OUT SPITZER: HW protesters outside the Governor's office
Women and AIDS activists from Housing Works and the New York City AIDS Housing Network carried out a high-profile demonstration at the New York State Capitol today to protest proposed legislation that would force rape suspects to take HIV tests.
Thirty Housing Works clients chanted "AIDS care, not politics — stop the bill now!" in a rolling picket from Governor Spitzer's office on the second floor of the Capitol to the Assembly chamber on the third floor and back.
"This bill doesn't focus on the rape survivor receiving medical care," said Housing Works client Maxine Carter, who was diagnosed with HIV in 2003. "We need medical care and housing, not forced testing."
"The protest was very effective," said Eric Bartley, Housing Works state peer educator. "We got a lot of media coverage so we could explain the specifics of the bill. This sounds like a bill that would help victims, but once you understand it, it becomes obvious that this is a bill that is actually harmful."
Myra Johnson, also a client of Housing Works, protested because she believes strongly that mandatory testing increases stigma.
"I'm a survivor of rape. But still, I'm against any type of mandatory testing," said Johnson, who was diagnosed with HIV in 2002. "Everybody should have a choice."
Rolling-picket protest drew TV cameras, reporters and blog coverage
The bill (A.4861 A/S. 3470), which passed the State Senate and is under consideration in the State Assembly, fails to provide treatment for rape survivors that can prevent HIV infection, misleads rape survivors about critical health decisions regarding preventing and treating possible exposure to HIV and fuels stigma against people living with HIV/AIDS.
Despite the fact that dozens of women's health and AIDS groups vehemently oppose the proposed legislation, Gov. Eliot Spitzer and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver both support it, presumably to score political points off of voters' fears of AIDS at the expense of rape survivors and people with HIV/AIDS.
Spitzer told reporters today that he couldn't comment on the demonstration because he "didn't hear it or see it." He also said his position on the bill hasn't changed; he remains for it.
Respected organizations that have signed on to a letter opposing the bill include the National Organization for Women (NOW), New York chapters of Planned Parenthood and the YWCA, the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC) and Housing Works.
The Albany Times-Union printed an op-ed piece written by Housing Works staffer and rape survivor Alandra Mitchell outlining her opposition to the measure on Monday.
And reporters from a number of media outlets attended today's protest — it was covered Monday afternoon in the New York Daily News political blog "The Daily Politics" and in the Albany Times-Union "Capitol Confidential" blog. POZ.com will also be providing coverage.
POZ editor-in-chief Regan Hofmann says she strongly opposes the bill. "Governor Eliot Spitzer and others who support this bill are endangering the health of women who have been raped," Hofmann said. "I urge the governor and Assembly members to reconsider their support for this proposal and instead, give women the treatment they need to save their lives in the aftermath of a horrible attack."