Health advocacy group reopens after arson attack
11th June 2012 · 0 Comments
By Sue Sturgis
(Special from Facing South) – A New Orleans nonprofit that works to address the HIV/AIDS crisis among women of color is regrouping after its offices were destroyed by arson last month, opening a temporary office earlier this month in a nearby church.
The attack comes amid a spate of violence against women’s health organizations across the South.
On May 24, someone broke into the building where Women With a Vision (WWAV) rented office space, setting it on fire. No one was injured in the blaze, but the group lost most of its office equipment and outreach material.
“They really got the room of the office that they thought was at the heart of our work, and so we do feel like it was intentional,” said WWAV Executive Director Deon Haywood.
WWAV was founded in 1991 by a grassroots collective of African-American women in response to the spread of HIV/AIDS in communities of color. The organization provides education and resources to individuals engaging in high-risk behaviors including injection drug use and unsafe sex practices.
WWAV also advocates for the human rights of sex workers, calling for an end to the local district attorney’s use of a centuries-old “crimes against nature” law to charge people arrested for sex work with felonies and to force them to register as sex offenders.
“We’ve had some issues with people not liking our work, or feeling like why are we helping certain populations of people—you know, formerly incarcerated people, people struggling with addiction, or poor or low-income women of color, and the transgender community,” said Haywood.
The burning of WWAV’s office comes amid escalating terroristic violence at women’s health organizations, including a recent string of burglaries and fires at clinics in Georgia, which recently enacted a law banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. In the past year there have also been attacks on women’s clinics in Texas, Florida and Wisconsin, while the offices of an outspoken pro-choice Texas lawmaker were firebombed earlier this year.
Last week friends and allies of WWAV gathered to clean out the charred office. Today WWAV will resume office hours at First Grace United Methodist Church, just a few doors away from its previous space.
“We are fighters, we are warriors here at Women With a Vision, and we will continue our work,” Haywood said.
This article was originally published in the June 11, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper