Black Women Rock! Black Girl Magic! Writing our own narrative…

Texas Black Women’s Health Initiative 10 Year Anniversary Virtual Conference

Join us on November 10th for the Texas Black Women’s Health Initiative 10 Year Anniversary Virtual Conference! This conference will commemorate 10 years of educating people and working to reduce stigma and the disparity of HIV/AIDS among Black identified women in Texas.

Who we are?

Texas Black Women’s Health Initiative (TxBWHI) is a collective, regionally-located team created to mobilize with a focus on HIV education, prevention, and care retention by influencing: policy, systems, programs, projects, cultures, and practices to reduce HIV-related disparities in communities of Black women. 

What is the Texas Black Women’s Health Initiative (TxBWHI)?

It is a unique initiative supporting Black-identified women and their communities from a woman’s perspective by elevating their power of visibility, addressing stigma and increasing wholeness for a healthier life.  We accomplish our goals through many unique initiatives such as tea parties, hair and health shows and “rock the red carpet” events, as well as leadership development projects; engaging students at historically black colleges and universities to build capacity for peer-to-peer education and faith-based outreach and education.

Why should I attend the conference?

Knowledge is Power! This conference is for anyone wanting to learn about TxBWHI initiatives and join us as we continue to be intentional about building on current knowledge to support Black women, Trans women, their families, and their communities in reducing health disparities. 

AND DID WE MENTION FUN? We’ll have interactive sessions, music, and engaging presenters!

This year’s mini conference will focus on:

  • HIV/AIDS Reproductive Justice in the world of COVID 19, including domestic violence.
  • The impact on COVID 19 in the Black community, navigating health care systems and what we can do to help.
  • Connecting with young leaders and planning for success.
  • Testing your knowledge of data and more.
  • Protecting your mental health, signs of depressions, and how to cope.
  • How to get moving at all levels of fitness and mobility and how to eat for health.
  • How you can partner with us to make all of our communities stronger and healthier.

Join Us! For more information and to register for the Texas Black Women’s Health Initiative 10 Year Anniversary Virtual Conference go to: https://achievingtogethertx.org/txbwhi-conference/.

Vote Your Values

While it is difficult to ignore that it is voting season, it is important to remember that voting takes time and we all need to make a voting plan, particularly this year with COVID-19 changing the voting landscape and limiting the number of polling locations and number of people allowed inside of polling locations. While Election Day is Tuesday November 3, luckily in Texas we have almost two weeks of early voting, giving us all space and time to vote safely and conveniently. Did you know that early voting started in Texas on October 13 and runs through Friday October 30?

When reflecting on the importance of voting this year, it is important to honor our past and vote for the future we want. One hundred years ago, Congress ratified the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. Fifty-five years ago, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law prohibiting racial discrimination in the voting process. This year, we at Achieving Together are honoring the struggles of our forebearers and heeding their call to fully participate in our democracy, demanding that our voices and values are heard. We encourage everyone to do the same.

While it is easy to say we’re going to vote, it can often be confusing and time-consuming, not only waiting in line, but figuring out where to vote, determining the best candidates for the job, and getting to the polls. Officials are expecting record turnout this year, so we at Achieving Together are encouraging everyone to make a voting plan and vote early.

Looking for resources to help you make a voting plan?

  • Vote411.org by the League of Women Voters can help you determine your voter registration and can create a personalized ballot for you based on your street address. You can make all of your selections and then either write them down or print it out and take it to the polls with you.
  • Concerned about transportation to the polls? Many major cities in Texas are offering free rides to the polls through local public transit systems, including Houston, Austin, Dallas, Ft Worth, San Antonio, and more. Rideshare services are also offering free rides to the polls this year as well, including Uber and Lyft.
  • Concerned about taking time off of work to vote? Did you know that Texas law allows employees to take a “reasonable” amount of paid time off to vote? While “reasonable” is not defined, it is intended to not punish employees who cannot vote outside of working hours. Learn more here: https://www.texasemployerhandbook.com/2015/10/voting-rights/
  • Other questions? Votetexas.gov addresses a wide array of issues related to voting in Texas.

Now that you’ve got your voting plan in place, what are you waiting for? Put on a mask, grab a photo ID,  and tag us with your “I Voted/Yo Voté” selfies on social media so we can inspire each other to vote our values!

Facebook: @AchievingTogetherTx

Twitter: @achievetgthrtx

Instagram: @achievingtogethertx

If you know of additional voting resources from your area, put them in the comments or send them to us at joinus@achievingtogethertx.org and we can add them to this post.

Breaking the Invisibility: Our Health, Our Future

National Hispanic/Latinx Health Policy Agenda 2020-2024

Hispanics/Latinx represent the nation’s fastest-growing minority and ethnic population, as well as the fastest-growing aging population in the U.S. Despite the growing population, Hispanics/Latinx are disproportionately affected by health disparities. Hispanics/Latinx experience a lack of access to health services, fueled by high uninsured rates, as well as stigma, structural and social barriers, and lack of income and education, in addition to other risk factors such as racial, cultural, linguistic, and immigration status. These health disparities are often invisible and need to be addressed by sound federal policy and a comprehensive health policy agenda designed for the Hispanic/Latinx population through an inclusive process and participation of Hispanic/Latinx leaders.

Throughout a two-year process, national Hispanic/Latinx steering and planning committees convened work groups charged with communicating their perspectives on national issues, analyzing challenges, and providing recommendations on topics such as prevention, access to health care, stigma, and immigration and migration.

In March of 2020, The Hispanic/Latinx Health Leadership Network, which is a collaborative effort of health community leaders, held a two-day National Hispanic/Latinx Leadership Summit focused on HIV, viral hepatitis, STIs, stigma, and other health disparities impacting Hispanics/Latinx. This was the first ever community driven health policy agenda-setting summit of the National Hispanic/Latinx Health Leadership Network, convening over 150 Hispanic/Latinx serving organizations, public health leaders, elected and appointed officials, researchers, and community members. Summit participants included:

  • Maria Roman, VP, Translatin@ Coalition, Los Angeles, CA
  • Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, U.S. House of Representatives, 26th District
  • Harold J. Phillips, Senior HIV Advisor and Chief Operating Office of Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America Office of Infectious Disease and HIV/AIDS Policy, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  • Dr. Eugene McCray, Director, Division on HIV/AIDS Prevention, (DHAP), Centers for Disease Control
  • Dr. Elena Rios, President, National Hispanic Medical Association
  • Arianna Lint, CEO & Founder, Arianna’s Center/Translatina FL

The summit was a call to action for unity to develop a national health policy agenda and community actions to address the health challenges of Hispanic/Latinx communities. The agenda focused on health policy and encouraged broad community engagement to address national health issues affecting Hispanic/Latinx communities. The process of setting the national health policy agenda and identifying national key issues consisted of providing summit participants the opportunity to take part in roundtable conversations focused on issues impacting Hispanics/Latinx such as HIV, viral hepatitis, substance use, social stigma, and other health disparities. One of the overarching goals is to create visibility during the U.S. Presidential election process and in the nation.

In September of 2020, after approximately 2-years of work from over 200 organizations and about 400 community leaders from throughout the U.S. and Puerto Rico, the National Hispanic/Latinx Health Leadership Network announced the release of the first ever community driven federal health policy agenda titled Breaking the Invisibility: Our Health, Our Future.

Breaking the Invisibility: Our Health, Our Future, outlines federal recommendations focused on eleven national issues impacting Hispanic/Latinx communities:

  1. Prevention
  2. Research and Data
  3. Access to Care
  4. Migration/Immigration
  5. Puerto Rico
  6. Stigma
  7. Substance Use
  8. Mental Health
  9. Plan to End HIV in America by 2030
  10. Challenges in the South of the United States
  11. Leadership

In order to break the invisibility of the health challenges faced by Hispanic/Latinx communities, an action plan must be developed and implemented at the federal level. In addition, the summit leadership encourages the development of local level agendas (state, county, city-level) and action steps that increase awareness, improve access to services, improve equity in resources, and improve the overall health of the Hispanic/Latinx community.

For more information on Breaking the Invisibility: Our Health, Our Future:

Champion for Change

The month of September 15 to October 15 is National Hispanic Heritage Month in the United States. Organizers chose this time period because it reflects the independence days for many Latin American countries, including Mexico’s famous Grito de Dolores on September 16. First recognized by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968 as a week of recognition, President Ronald Reagan expanded it to a month in 1988. People of Hispanic or Latinx heritage represented approximately 38% of Texas’ population in the 2010 census, but that population is “expected to become the largest population group in Texas as soon as 2022.” 

Achieving Together’s Guiding Principles

Despite representing some of the oldest Texas’ residents, the Latinx population in Texas faces many barriers to equity, including access to affordable housing, healthcare, and education. Not only do the guiding principles of the Achieving Together Plan implore us to action in addressing these issues, the plan lays out a guide for addressing many of these barriers in order to successfully end the HIV epidemic in Texas. The plan stipulates that “addressing mental health, substance use disorders, criminal justice, and housing is essential to creating supportive and stable environments in which people can achieve their health and wellness goals.” In addition, the plan recognizes that “Community-guided planning and data that is inclusive of all population groups will support programs and interventions that are culturally appropriate and will help people find the right pathway to meet their health and wellness goals.” Only by recognizing our history and working together to create a shared vision of the future can we successfully end the HIV epidemic in Texas. Join us!

In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, Texas HIV Syndicate member Elias Diaz, from Eagle Pass, penned the following essay on his reflections as a community organizer and health advocate for his community.


Champion for Change
By Elias Diaz

I’m a mental health care provider, a public health advocate, and a community organizer. Going into politics wasn’t in the plan. Truth be told… I hate politics. I don’t identify as a politician. I’m not sure I ever will. 

Even after a victory, I raise up my head with pride, but can’t help but to feel the effects this battle had on my body. There were a million reasons not to do this, but I’ve never been one to back down from a fight. 

My fight is long and sordid. It’s never been for a political position, but rather to reclaim the power for my people.  It’s tears and it’s bloodshed. It’s swords and it’s stones. It’s conquest and colonization. It’s passion incarnate. 

My fight is like my language. The Nahuatl words hidden in my Spanish. The Spanish clinging to my English sentences. My English decorated with my accent. It’s the sound I’ve given to the little brown boy that lives inside me… the one that learned silence as his primary language in order to survive. It’s the same language that the voiceless child speaks inside the detention centers. It’s the silent song of the early martyrs of the HIV pandemic.

My fight is the unruliness in my hair. It’s rebellion against systems of oppression. The ones that limit opportunities for housing, promote mass incarcerations, and prevent our people from healing. 

My fight is like the pigment in my skin demanding visibility. Visibility for the most marginalized populations. It’s the need of the LGBQ youth to be seen by their families and their communities.  It’s power in presence; a changed gender marker. It’s resilience personified.

My fight is calloused hands and feet. It’s the long journey that my grandparents took to get to this journey. It’s crossing deserts, walking through canyons, and climbing sierras. It’s mental illness and it’s substance abuse. It’s wondering where to go next, wanting to stop, and knowing you have to keep moving. 

My fight is like the strength in my back. The same strength that powers the worker in the fields. It carries the burden of income inequality, lack of access to healthcare, and inequities in education. It is the resilience of the cactus that causes it to thrive in the harshest of environments. 

My fight is the fullness in my lips. They swell and burst with truth. It’s my unapologetic sexuality. It’s the dignity of the sex worker. The vibrant color of the desert flower.  

My fight is like my food. It’s spicy. It’s poignant. It’s full of boldness and flavor. It’s unrepentant. It demands preparation by looking at our past. It fosters collaboration across systems. It promises a seat the table for all. 

My fight is my religion. It is the sacred dance of my ancestors. It is irreverence in the face of fear. My fight is the confession of classism, colorism, and machismo. My fight is resurrection and evolvement time and time again. My fight is building sanctuary across our systems of care. 

My fight is my tradition. It has deep memories of rape and pillage, stolen land, and forced assimilation. It is hope and it is freedom.  

My fight is the greatest of revolutions. It is recognizing and honoring the fight in you. It is empowerment and it is truth. My fight is a battle cry for a heartbroken community. My fight is a call to action to those that have been broken by these systems to rise up and dismantle them. My fight is a charge against our way of doing things. My fight is a plea for you to rise up and be the champion for change that we have continuously prayed for. 


Elias Diaz made history in Eagle Pass after becoming the first openly LGBTQ candidate to get elected to public office in his area. His hard-fought election came after an eight-month long campaign that included a runoff election, postponement of the election due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and multiple personal attacks. Although Eagle Pass is registered as a blue city, the region is home to many residents whom Diaz says identify with “traditional conservative values.”

Diaz has been a longtime champion of marginalized communities. He has overcome a multitude of barriers including economic disadvantage, childhood domestic violence, and sexual abuse, and used his experiences to fight for social justice and equality for others. Diaz put himself through college in LA by starring in adult films. Pictures and videos of his sex work circulated on the internet during his campaign and were used against him in an attempt to demoralize him and question his ability to lead. Diaz remained transparent about his past and used the attacks to connect to inspire voters in his community to rise up against injustice and inequality. In the end, he beat his opponent by 517 votes, according to Eagle Pass Business Journal.

Immigration & HIV

According to the American Immigration Council, “one in six Texas residents is an immigrant, while another one in six residents is a native-born U.S. citizen with at least one immigrant parent.”

Until 2010, federal immigration law prevented people living with HIV from entering the U.S. However, “effective January 4, 2010, HIV is no longer a bar to entry into the United States for visitation or immigration purposes. This means that HIV status alone cannot be a reason for excluding, removing, or deporting a person from the United States.” 

Barack Obama signs the Ryan White HIV/Aids Treatment Extension Act at the White House, 2009.
Photo courtesy of: Gerald Herbert/AP

How do we support our fellow Texans living with HIV who might also be navigating the often confusing and fear-inducing immigration system?

Let’s first clear up a few acronyms you might have heard or seen.

INS: Immigration and Naturalization Service: formed during the Great Depression and oversaw immigration processes and enforcement until 2003 with the passage of the Homeland Security Act which created the USCIS (see below); no longer exists.

USCIS: United States Citizenship and Immigration Services: agency created in 2003 with the passage of the Homeland Security Act under the Department of Homeland Security; oversees both ICE and CBP (see below).

ICE: Immigration and Customs Enforcement: created in 2003 under the umbrella of USCIS and is tasked with enforcing immigration laws throughout the United States.

CBP: Customs and Border Patrol (aka Border Patrol): created in 2003 under the umbrella of USCIS and is tasked with enforcing immigration laws at and near the U.S. border and is responsible for patrolling the border areas of the United States. You may have had to stop at one of their checkpoints near the border to show proof of citizenship, or have seen their green and white vehicles patrolling near the border.

Achieving Together sat down recently with Stephanie Taylor, JD, an immigration lawyer with Hansen & Taylor, PLLC in Austin, Texas, to help us understand the concept of the “public charge” and how we can best provide HIV services and resources to our immigrant patients and consumers here in Texas. To better understand Public Charge, see the box after the interview.

Current Public Charge Rules and People Living with HIV

While the public charge does not currently affect federal HIV funding, there have been rumors and reports that it could in the future and that the current administration would like to include Ryan White into programs affected by the public charge determination. Can you please inform us where the public charge rules currently stand, what the future of those rules looks like, and how they might affect immigrants relying on federally-funded programs for healthcare, particularly Ryan White and other programs for people living with HIV?

The new 2019 Department of Homeland Security public charge rule was suspended during the declared national emergency related to COVID-19.  However, on August 12, 2020, this suspension was limited to New York, Connecticut and Vermont.  The rule applies everywhere else in the United States.  A timeline of the rule and litigation can be found here: https://www.ilrc.org/public-charge-timeline.

When determining whether or not someone is likely to be a “public charge” the new rule looks at whether the individual receives certain means-tested benefits.  The use of state, local and tribal funded non-cash programs and Ryan White programs (including the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, or ADAP) are not included in the rule and do not count towards someone being determined a public charge. Receiving public benefits does not automatically make an individual a public charge.  Therefore, there is no need to disenroll in services for most people who are subject to the public charge.

The new rule emphasizes consideration of negative factors in a person’s life circumstances when evaluating whether they are likely to become a public charge in the future. The new rule encourages immigration officers to consider age and ability to work, health conditions, income, ability to speak English, and whether or not the person has private health insurance.

Immigration Enforcement and HIV Service Providers

A lot of people working in the HIV field have concerns about Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) showing up at their clinics and/or offices. What should a clinic/non-profit/agency do should ICE show up? What are the rights of staff, and what is the best way to keep their clients safe?

The best thing that individuals and organizations can do to protect themselves against ICE is to be informed of their rights, including the right to remain silent and not identify themselves, and the right to not consent to search. The Immigrant Defense Project has excellent Know-Your-Rights materials and posters in many languages that can be found here: https://www.immigrantdefenseproject.org/ice-home-and-community-arrests/

We recommend that agencies print out these posters in multiple languages and hang them in waiting rooms, and disperse them freely to community members.

The Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC) has an excellent toolkit available online in English and Spanish: https://www.ilrc.org/public-charge

COVID-19 and Immigration

How might COVID-19 affect someone’s immigration status if they are undocumented and show up for healthcare? What are their rights and what ideally should people know ahead of time before presenting at a hospital/clinic if they are worried about their immigration status?

From ILRC: “All noncitizens should get the care they need. USCIS announced that testing, treatment, and preventive care (including a vaccine if one becomes available) for COVID-19 will not be considered in the public charge test. These services will have no negative impact, even if such treatment is provided or paid for by one or more public benefits (e.g., Medicaid). These services also will not impact noncitizens seeking an extension of stay or change of status. (See https://www.uscis.gov/greencard/publiccharge). Additionally, if a person subject to the public charge ground of inadmissibility lives and works in a jurisdiction where disease prevention methods such as social distancing or quarantine are in place, or where the person’s employer, school, or university shuts down operations to prevent the spread of COVID-19, they may submit a statement with their application for adjustment of status to explain how such methods or policies have affected the factors USCIS must consider in a public charge inadmissibility determination.”

Finally, Stephanie states that our LGBTQ noncitizen community members are often the most vulnerable and disenfranchised.  Encouraging them to get screened for immigration relief by a private lawyer or immigration non-profit is important. One of the six focus areas of Achieving Together Texas is to create supportive environments, part of which involves addressing the barriers to HIV prevention, care, and treatment created by the fear of deportation and by the inadequate services offered in immigration detention centers.

We have heard from HIV providers and community members across Texas that fears related to immigration and deportation have affected people accessing HIV prevention and care.  The information in this post provides some guidance to help organizations and individuals navigate through these issues.  What challenges have you experienced as community members and organizations?  Have you developed practices and solutions to continue to support and serve your communities while dealing with challenges related to immigration policies?

Public Charge
 
A question that often comes up when thinking about immigration and HIV services is the concept of the public charge. “Public charge is the language used by the government to describe someone who they think will become dependent on government assistance for their primary source of support to live in the U.S. Immigration officials apply a public charge rule to help decide whether to approve an application for a green card (i.e. legal permanent residence or LPR status) or when deciding who they will allow to enter into the U.S.” According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, in general, public charge is defined as someone who receives one or more public benefits for more than 12 months (total) within a 36-month period. 
In order for someone to be eligible for a visa or lawful permanent residency, they have to show they are “admissible” under US immigration law.  There are lots of different ways someone can be “inadmissible” and therefore ineligible.  For example, if you’ve been convicted of certain crimes, entered the US without lawful status, or have been deported, you would be inadmissible under each of those different sections of the law.  In addition to these examples, someone who “at the time of application for admission…is likely at any time to become a public charge” is “inadmissible.” This is often referred to as the “public charge” ground of inadmissibility.
The grounds of inadmissibility that apply to an individual depend on the type of visa and/or how they are getting their lawful permanent residency.  For example, the public charge rule does not apply to those applying for status based on being a crime victim (U Visa) or a trafficking victim (T Visa).  The public charge rule also does not apply to asylees or refugees.  Additionally, someone who already has their green card generally does not have to worry about the public charge ground of inadmissibility, except in limited circumstances. This law mainly impacts those seeking permanent resident status through family member petitions.
Someone who is undocumented should only worry about the public charge ground of inadmissibility if they have a way to get legal status.  A consultation with an immigration attorney can help you determine whether or not you need to worry about the public charge. 
For example, Natalie entered the United States when she was 4 years old.  When she was 18, she was deported.  She returned to the United States without a visa three years later.  She is now married to a US citizen.  Natalie is HIV positive and wants to apply for free treatment through Travis County.  Natalie is subject to several different grounds of inadmissibility.  The least of her worries in this scenario is the public charge ground. She is probably not eligible for a visa or lawful permanent residence for many different reasons that have nothing to do with public charge. Natalie should talk to an immigration attorney before she makes any decisions that could affect her access to healthcare.
To learn more about the history of the public charge: Read The History Of ‘Public Charge’ Requirements In U.S. Immigration Law

Stephanie Rodriguez Taylor is originally from Brownsville, Texas, and obtained her bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas at Brownsville. After graduating from the University of Texas School of Law, Stephanie received the Julius Glickman Fellowship in Public Interest Law which initially funded her work on criminal-immigration issues at American Gateways (formerly the Political Asylum Project of Austin). She is now in private practice in Austin, Texas at Hansen & Taylor, PLLC, a law firm dedicated to providing immigration legal services for working people and families in Central Texas. The firm operates on a sliding scale to ensure that everyone has access to high-quality legal services, regardless of their income.