Farmworker Justice Recognizes National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

September 27th marks the observance of National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. The special focus of the day is to bring more awareness to the burgeoning problem of HIV/AIDS in the gay community and to encourage individuals to seek testing, treatment and care. In many farmworker communities this is a day that passes much as any other, with a focus on the work at hand, and the many obligations that accompany long hours spent in the field. HIV and AIDS aren’t subjects that are easily or frequently discussed in the open.

There is no data regarding the number of LGBT individuals in the farmworker community. However, outreach workers, clinicians, and researchers who provide health care and public health interventions to farmworkers know from experience that LGBT people exist within the community, and that many face enormous challenges in accessing care, finding support, and feeling safe.  LGBT “invisibility” within the farmworker community stems from strong cultural and religious taboos regarding sex in general, and sexual and gender minority identities specifically. It is common for LGBT persons to hide their identity in order to protect themselves from shaming, assault, and isolation from their families and communities.

The stress caused by hiding one’s identity and dealing with stigma has been associated with higher rates of depression, suicide attempts, drug and alcohol abuse, and unsafe sexual behavior in LGBT people. LGBT farmworkers who are “out” to their employers risk job termination or demotion, and harassment from co-workers. A 2009 story by the California Report, a public radio show, illustrated the challenges faced by openly LGBT farmworkers. A transwoman farmworker related her experience in the fields while transitioning from male to female. Her boss started verbally harassing her; later her boyfriend, who also worked at the asparagus packing house where she worked, was attacked by other supervisors. Finally, she was demoted from supervisor to the assembly line. Unfortunately, this story is not unusual for openly lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender farmworkers working in the fields.

These challenges create additional barriers for LGBT farmworkers seeking preventive measures, testing, or ultimately HIV/AIDS treatment and care. National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day presents an important opportunity for outreach workers to step into their communities and offer this critical information on prevention, testing and treatment to all farmworkers.

Recently Farmworker Justice issued a brief detailing the challenges faced by LGBT farmworkers in their communities.

Recognizing National Latino AIDS Awareness Day: Committing to Act

A letter from Bruce Goldstein, President of Farmworker Justice:

Today marks the eleventh anniversary of National Latino AIDS Awareness Day (NLAAD). Launched by the Latino Commission on AIDS and the Hispanic Federation, the NLAAD campaign fosters community mobilization and collaboration among Latino serving organizations to raise HIV awareness nationwide. The theme for 2014 is “To End AIDS, Commit to ACT” or “Para Acabar con el SIDA, Comprometete a Actuar”.

Population-based data on HIV/AIDS and farmworkers remains limited; however, from our work and from the statistics collected on Latinos in the United States we know that HIV remains a serious health concern for migrant and seasonal farmworkers. Farmworkers are particularly vulnerable to poverty, sub-standard housing, and social isolation. These factors, in addition to language barriers and limited access to culturally sensitive health care, put farmworkers at significant risk for contracting HIV. It is imperative that the impact of HIV/AIDS in the farmworker community not be overlooked, and that adequate and appropriate prevention, treatment, and care programs are implemented.

Farmworker Justice has been acting to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in farmworker communities since 1998. We have supported the HIV programs of farmworker and Latino serving organizations situated throughout the U.S. by providing community mobilization trainings, educational tools and capacity building assistance. Our commitment was further strengthened in 2011 when the Farmworker Justice Board of Directors signed a resolution stating that HIV was a priority for our organization. As President of Farmworker Justice, I feel we play an important role in HIV prevention in the farmworker community by not only educating and training farmworker health organizations, but also increasing the awareness and involvement of non-HIV organizations in order to reach as many farmworkers and rural Latinos as possible. As a partner in the Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative, we have been working together with other national civil rights organizations, both Latino and African American, to decrease the stigma and misconceptions of HIV in all our communities.

Farmworker Justice is proud to continue in our commitment to end the AIDS epidemic and as President, I encourage all of our partners, supporters and friends to “commit to act” with us in honor of NLAAD and throughout the year.

Shedding Light on Black and African American Farmworkers

February is Black History Month and today, 7 February is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NBHAAD). In light of these events, Farmworker Justice would like to bring attention to the Black and African American farmworkers who harvest our crops on a daily basis. When people think of farmworkers, they most often think of Mexicans or Latinos. And while the majority of farmworkers are indeed Mexican, a small percentage of farmworkers are Black or African American. As most of us in the farmworker community have come to realize, up-to-date data on farmworkers is difficult to come by. However, the National Agricultural Worker Survey from 2001-2002 found that 4% of those interviewed self-identified as Black or African American (out of 6,472 workers interviewed). More recent data from the US State Department shows that in 2012 the government issued 65,345 H-2A visas to foreign workers and 1,135 were from an African country and 58 were from Haiti (the only Caribbean country that had H-2A workers). Although Black/African American farmworkers are a small percentage of the larger farmworker population, they do make up a larger portion in certain regions like Florida or other eastern states.

Unfortunately, neither US nor foreign-born Black/African American farmworkers have escaped mistreatment and abuse at the hands of their employers. Before sugar cane was mechanized, many Jamaican farmworkers came over to work in the sugar cane fields and were often cheated out of wages or gravely mistreated (see “In the Kingdom of Big Sugar” by Marie Brenner). More recently Farmworker Justice and Florida Legal Services reached a settlement in a case against a Florida potato farmer that was charged with labor trafficking violations for employing homeless, drug-addicted men from the streets of Jacksonville, FL. The majority of workers in this case were African American.

When we talk about HIV and farmworkers, we also tend to supplement the scarce farmworker data available with data on HIV among Latinos. However, on National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, Farmworker Justice would like to shine a light on the HIV/AIDS rates in the Black/African American community in the United States as a reminder that not all farmworkers are Latino. A study done over 20 years ago in 1988 found a very high HIV/AIDS rate among farmworkers in Belle Glade, FL. This is one of the few studies done on HIV in the farmworker community where the majority of participants were Black/African American. However, it is impossible to make any assumptions about current rates of HIV in Black/African American farmworkers based on a study done over two decades ago in the early years of the HIV epidemic.

However, we do know that African Americans are the racial/ethnic group most affected by HIV/AIDS in the United States. African Americans represent approximately 12% of the US populations but account for almost 44% of all new HIV infections. The CDC reports that 1 in 16 African American men and 1 in 32 African American women will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime. There are many reasons why African Americans are at such high risk of HIV infection including poverty, discrimination, stigma, limited access to high-quality health care, homelessness, fear, lack of education on HIV/AIDS, and negative perceptions of HIV testing, to name a few. All of these reasons are also issues that farmworkers deal with on a daily basis too.

So, what can we do?

The theme for this year’s NBHAAD is “I Am My Brother’s/Sister’s Keeper: Fight HIV/AIDS” which means that we all need to be part of the solution to the HIV epidemic. Being part of the solution means getting tested for HIV regularly, getting educated on HIV/AIDS, becoming involved by raising awareness and fighting stigma, and getting treated if you are HIV positive.

For more information:
“In the Kingdom of Big Sugar” by Marie Brenner
Farmworker Justice Press Release: Florida Potato Grower Charged With Labor Trafficking Agrees to Settlement Agreement with Farmworkers Comes After Accusations that Grower and Contractor Preyed on Vulnerable Homeless Men
Castro KG, et al. Transmission of HIV in Belle-Glade, Florida - Lessons for Other Communities in the United-States. Science 239(4836):193-197, 1988.
HIV Among African Americans Fact Sheet
National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day

World AIDS Day: More than half of young HIV-infected Americans are not aware of their status

About one in four (26%) of all new HIV infections is among youth ages 13 to 24 years. About four in five of these infections occur in males. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), most youth are not getting tested for HIV.

About 60% of youth with HIV do not know they are infected and so don’t receive treatment, putting them at risk for sickness and early death. Undetected, these youth can also unknowingly pass HIV to others.

National Latino AIDS Awareness Day: United to End AIDS

A letter from Ramon Ramierz, Chair of Board of Directors.  National Latino AIDS Awareness Day (NLAAD) was established in response to the impact of HIV and AIDS in the Hispanic/Latino communities and serves as a national community mobilization and social marketing campaign that unites Latinos in efforts to raise HIV awareness. This year’s theme “Hispanics United to End AIDS!

National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day: Because All of Us Matter

The National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, was founded to renew the commitment to struggle against the disease and to remind gay men to protect themselves and their partners. The CDC estimates that men who have sex with men (MSM) accounted for 49 percent of people with the virus in the United States during 2008.

Talk HIV on National HIV/AIDS Aging and Awareness Day

National HIV/AIDS Aging and Awareness Day guest blogger is the National Hispanic Council on Aging.

It’s easy to avoid certain issues, and sweep any related conversations under the rug because many find it an uncomfortable topic to talk about. When it comes talking about HIV/AIDS and its impact on our aging communities, we cannot afford to let silence, stigma, and lack of awareness take over.

Farmworker Justice Statement on the XIX International AIDS Conference:

On the Eve of the official opening of the XIX International AIDS Conference in Washington, DC, Farmworker Justice would like to formally reaffirm our commitment to fighting HIV and AIDS in farmworker and Latino communities in the U.S.

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