As New Orleans approaches the 10 year Commemoration of Hurricane Katrina, many are already competing to define the narrative of what post-Katrina New Orleans looks like. Because of this “anniversary year” and the attention the city is sure to receive nationwide, there is already a rush to define the narrative of post-Katrina New Orleans as one of ‘resilience’ that fails to explore the complex lived realities of people in New Orleans today. On June 18th, Women With a Vision (WWAV) and other local organizations partnered with the African American Policy Forum to host a town hall on the state of Women of Color in New Orleans. As the city’s only Black woman, queer-led organization (that was founded a quarter century ago by 8 Black women social workers from New Orleans), Women With A Vision made a specific call to center the narratives of Black women and the issues they continue to face and issued a call for Black women to testify at the town hall.
The discussion at the event was separated into three panels: Economic Violence in Post-Katrina New Orleans, State Violence and the Criminalization of Black Women and Girls, and Gender-Specific Violence. The issues discussed include: Intimate partner violence, housing discrimination, police brutality and the killing of Black women, the school to prison pipeline, the foster care system, violence inflicted on transgender Women of Color at the hands of the state, and much more (Women With A Vision live tweeted the event from our Twitter account @WWAVInc using #BreakingTheSilenceNOLA if you are interested in following along with the panel discussion).
WWAV’s Executive Director Deon Haywood participated in the second panel, State Violence and the Criminalization of Black Women and Girls, and testified about the ways in which the state operates to the disadvantage of Black women and girls, and transgender Women of Color in particular. Haywood also discussed the 98% success rate of WWAV’s sex worker diversion program, CrossRoads, as well as WWAV’s success in changing the “Solicitation of Crimes Against Nature (SCAN)” law in Louisiana. This law disproportionately criminalized gay cisgender men and trans women who were accused of being sex workers. WWAV’s efforts resulted in over 800 innocent people being removed from the Sex Offender Registry who had been convicted under the SCAN law.
Other panelists during the event included organizers from local groups such as the Greater New Orleans Fair Housing Action Center, BreakOUT!, the Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies, and several other organizations who work work issues impacting Women of Color. From outside of New Orleans, Dr. Kimberle Crenshaw of the AAPF, National Organization for Women President Terry O’Neill and many other organizations’ representatives served as commissioners at the event (the commissioners were people who represented organizations that aren’t necessarily doing the work on the ground, but have a vested interest in improving the lives of Black women and girls and have the best access to legislators and funding to affect that change). Many of the panelists shared their personal experiences with criminalization, intimate partner violence, HIV, housing discrimination, and economic violence and how these experiences have informed their work today.
While spaces like this town hall are necessary in breaking the silence and stigma and in naming the ways Women of Color and Black women specifically face varying forms of violence, it is necessary that we recognize the trauma that these women have faced and work to create safe environments for them to name and work through these experiences outside of public forums. Women With A Vision’s programs are all based on a holistic harm reduction framework that recognizes the lived experiences of women with stigmatized and intersectional identities and we have continued to advocate for these women on a policy level such as the NO Justice campaign, as well as personal level with client services such as the diversion program. For more information on WWAV’s programs, visit our website http://www.wwav-no.org
This Town Hall is just one of many happening around the country since 2014 developed by the African American Policy Forum. To date, these town halls have occurred in Boston, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and now New Orleans.