Earlier this month, NSWP member group Women with a Vision celebrated a quarter century of movement-building in Louisiana. The group’s 25th anniversary was commemorated with a fundraising party, with live musical guests, in New Orleans.
The grassroots organisation was founded in 1989 by eight African-American women in order to address the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS on the African-American community and to improve the lives of marginalised women, their families, and communities.
“They saw that not one of the city's agencies had put the health and well-being of our community at the center.” Said the organisation. “If our people were to have the tools to protect and promote their health, the WWAV foremothers knew it was up to them. And so they met at dusk, after long days of work, to make harm reduction and wellness packets. Into the late hours, they walked the streets of the neighborhoods they were raised in, talking with those who had at best been forgotten, and at worst had been left to die. In this intimate space, they brought people into relationships and into care. They turned neighborhood bars into underground needle exchanges; they brought hope to people who had too little.”
Women With a Vision hit the spotlight when, in 2012, they successfully overturned a 19th-century law, which forced people who offered oral or anal sex for money to register as sex offenders -- disproportionately affecting poor women, people of color and trans individuals.
Since 1991, those convicted of the felony crime of “Solicitation of a Crime Against Nature” (SCAN) were added to the state’s sexual-offender registry, which means being required to carry an ID with “SEX OFFENDER” written on it in block red letters and decreased access to housing and other services. Women With a Vision lobbied to abolish the law and, in June 2011, the statute was amended with legislation eliminating the mandatory sex offender registration requirement for individuals convicted of SCAN signed into law. WWAV carried on pressuring the state and, on March 30th, 2012, defendants were ordered to cease and desist from placing convicted individuals on the registry and to remove the plaintiffs from the registry within 30 days.
Later that year, executive director Deon Haywood told the Sex and Justice conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan that, although the law had been challenged before, previous challenges had not come from the point of view of the people it affects.
“We started holding story circles where everyone talked about their experiences.” She said. “The people who live with this every day are the experts; they know what it is like to take your kid to daycare and have to show your ID that says “sex offender” and then your kid can’t get in and you lose your job because you can’t get daycare.”
“That’s what changed that law: putting people who were directly affected in front of the people who make those laws, because that’s who they should be answering to.”
Women With a Vision made the news again, for less happy reasons, just two months later, when their office was damaged in an arson attack in which most of their office equipment and educational materials were deliberately destroyed.
Nevertheless, the organisation recovered and continues its tireless work towards “aworld that encompasses health and human rights: a world without AIDS, a world free from the criminalisation of drugs and drug users, a world affirming of LGBTQ people's health and well-being, a world respecting women's rights and bodily autonomy, a world without state violence or domestic violence, and a world where all of us, young and old, can grow up to realise our hopes and dreams.”