Cycles of Stigma

Cycles of Stigma: How Prohibition Makes Sex Work and Drug Use Even More Dangerous
by Maximilian Eyle

June was Pride Month in America, and this year’s theme in New York City was “Defiantly Different”. It represents a chance to push back against the stigma surrounding LGBTQ identities and lifestyles while celebrating the diversity of self-expression that exists within the LGBTQ community. When we talk about stigma in this context, it is usually regarding a lack of acceptance of the individual’s sexuality on the part of the family or by society. What is less frequently acknowledged is that the manifestation of this stigma often sets off a chain reaction as the individual struggles to cope with the trauma of their sexual identity being denied or ridiculed.

When we think about where LGBTQ culture shines brightest, big cities come to mind. Metropolitan areas like New York City act as magnets for members of the LGBTQ community nationwide due to the more progressive mentality toward sexuality and the greater availability of support resources. The stigma associated with non-heteronormative lifestyles in many areas of the U.S., particularly rural communities and small towns, often makes it unpleasant and even unsafe to live openly there.

As these stigmatized people seek a new life in a more accepting environment, they often carry heavy burdens. Some are material, like the struggle to survive financially in an expensive and foreign environment like New York City. Others are emotional, like the memories of having been spurned by friends and family where you grew up. Though there may be less anti-LGBTQ sentiment in a metropolitan area like New York, many who come to such a large city find themselves unable to survive financially.

For members of the transgender community, their ability to conceal their sexual identity can be more difficult than for gays or lesbians. When faced with this added barrier to entering the “traditional” workforce, some will inevitably turn to sex work as a means of survival. The National Transgender Discrimination Survey studied this and other issues among 6,400 transgender adults nationwide between 2008 and 2009. It found that, “An overwhelming majority (69.3%) of [transgender] sex workers reported experiencing an adverse job outcome in the traditional workforce, such as being denied a job or promotion or being fired because of their gender identity or expression.”

Because prostitution is illegal in the vast majority of the United States, legal and social repercussions face those who choose this line of work, needlessly stigmatizing them and making their lives less safe. They are forced to enter the black market, put themselves at risk for arrest, and are limited in their ability to receive access to contraception, STD testing, and other essential healthcare resources. Though heterosexual prostitution is also stigmatized, the taboo tends to be greater for gay or transgender sex workers.

If the person has been arrested for drug use, finding a traditional employment path will be particularly difficult if not impossible. Again we see the damaging influence of stigma appear – this time in the context of drug use. The War on Drugs has conditioned society to regard substance use as a moral failing, much like many anti-gay groups view LGBTQ lifestyles as morally wrong. Our justice system advances this perspective by incarcerating and punishing these individuals, adding the inescapable and institutionalized stigma of a criminal record.

Just as prohibiting sex work makes it even more dangerous, the most dysfunctional and destructive aspects of drug use are usually products of prohibition rather than of the substance itself. Consider overdoses, which almost always result from the user’s inability to know the content, purity, or strength of what they are ingesting. In the U.S., where nearly 65,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2016, users are buying their drugs on the black market. They cannot know what they are consuming, and their purchases fuel a black market worth over $100 billion annually. In Switzerland, where the government started giving opioid users access to pharmaceutical heroin and other opioid substitutes dispensed in a clinical setting, their overdose rate dropped by half and the rate of HIV infection dropped by 65%. Furthermore, the rate of new users there has declined. This harm reduction practice puts users in contact with medical staff without the pressure to change their lifestyle or usage.

The long history of stigmatizing members of the LGBTQ community increases the rate of trauma and abuse. (77% of transgender sex workers experienced harassment during childhood after expressing their transgender identity.) The continued discrimination that is present as transgender people enter the workforce forces them to find alternatives in the black market, bringing with it further stigma and legal peril. The consequences of this are dire. The attempted suicide rate of transgender sex workers is over 60%.

The legal system’s practice of legislating morality via the criminalization of drugs as well as sex work only serves to exacerbate the potential dangers of these behaviors by limiting the available resources and adding to the stigma felt by drug users and sex workers. Compassion, not punishment, should be the underlying philosophy behind our public policy. The social and legislated stigma felt by people who are drug users, sex workers, LGBTQ, or a combination thereof, is a cruel burden that must be lifted before we can truly hope to help the most at-risk members of our communities.

Maximilian Eyle is a native of Syracuse, NY and a graduate of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He works as a media consultant and writes each month about a variety of issues for Spanish-language papers across New York State. Maximilian has a love of Hispanic culture and learned Spanish while living in Spain where he studied and worked as an English teacher. He can be contacted at maxeyle@gmail.com.

Please Make Syringe Access a Google Business Category

by Maximilian Eyle

Have you ever wanted to find a great Chinese restaurant near you? How about an HIV testing center in your area? Fortunately, Google’s Business listings make finding these options very easy, with their basic information listed along with their location on a map. You can compare reviews, check if they are open, and more. This is accomplished by having businesses select from a long list of categories which define when and where it will appear in search results. These categories include everything from equestrian facilities to Syrian restaurants, Christian bookstores to yoga studios. Some of my favorite categories from the A section alone include Abrasives Supplier, Adult Day Care, and Angler Fish Restaurant. But if you travel down to the S listings, you will find that Syringe Exchange, Syringe Access, and other related terms are missing. How did a sophisticated registry from one of the world’s largest tech companies come to include such categories as “Nut Store” and “Shinto Shrine” while omitting one of the most important harm reduction resources available to us?

The history of Syringe Access Programs (SAPs) is an important one. The first government-approved SAP opened in the Netherlands more than 30 years ago, and they have since spread across Europe, North and South America, and parts of the Middle East. In the U.S., the Center for Disease Control emphasizes the importance of sterile syringe availability as a critical tool for reducing the dangers of injecting drugs. The idea behind it is simple: by providing people who inject drugs with sterile syringes, we can prevent the spread of HIV and other infections that are transmitted via needle sharing. SAPs also provide a resource for safely disposing of used syringes so they are less likely to be discarded in a public space. By 2002, SAPs had already removed 25 million used syringes from across the U.S.

Van Asher, Harm Reduction Services and Syringe Access Program Manager at St. Ann’s Corner of Harm Reduction, has seen the impact of these programs first hand. “When SACHR began in 1990, there was a 60% HIV incidence rate among the city’s 250,000 people who injected drugs. As a result of [SAPs} and other similar program efforts, the HIV incidence rate in New York City has dropped to under 3% among people who inject drugs.” Furthermore, when a person who injects drugs is in touch with an SAP, they are more likely to receive overdose prevention education and other important harm reduction information. There is also a fiscal incentive to promoting SAPs in addition to the obvious public health motives. HIV/HCV and other infections transmitted through needle sharing can be very expensive to treat. The CDC reports that every dollar spent to expand access to sterile syringes would generate a return on investment of $7.58 due to disease treatment savings and other factors.

There is an ever-expanding list of business types in today’s world, and the purpose of this article is not to denounce Google. But in the face of today’s opioid epidemic, with overdoses rising to the number one cause of death for Americans under 50, listing Syringe Access Programs as a defined category within Google’s business search structure would be an easy and effective means of connecting people with harm reduction resources. By adding a couple lines of code, Google could tangibly help save lives. We hope they will take that step.

Maximilian Eyle is a native of Syracuse, NY and a graduate of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He works as a media consultant and writes each month about a variety of issues for Spanish-language papers across New York State. Maximilian has a love of Hispanic culture and learned Spanish while living in Spain where he studied and worked as an English teacher. He can be contacted at maxeyle@gmail.com.

The dangers of living in an Echo Chamber

by David Alfredo Paulino

As a society, the internet has been regarded as the great equalizer, it allows us to acquire most if not all the information in the world in the blink of an eye. Now in 2018, while that is most certainly the truth there seems to have been some complications with the internet and the kinds of information that one can receive. The internet has been transformed into informational camps created to house different tribes. The most famous of the tribes are the right, the left, conservatives, liberals, progressives…etc.

One would have thought that as a society this kind of tribalism would have been left in the past, since I thought that we have come to the realization that tribalism leads to a rigid and homogenous kind of environment. To stay in a rigid and homogenous environment stunts growth, maturity, and learning. 22 years ago, in 1996, MIT researchers, Marshall Van Alstyne and Erik Brynjoflsson thought of the potential negative aspect of such a connected world, “Individuals empowered to screen out material that does not conform to their existing preferences may form virtual cliques, insulate themselves from opposing points of view, and reinforce their biases”. Both researches were able to foresee the kind of environment that would be created.

It seems that people are just too scared to just listen to others just for the sake of being proven wrong, because if they are proven wrong then that means that their way of thinking was wrong and so on and so forth. Social media has become this echo chamber where we only hear and see the same kind of information that we are used to already seeing. The danger of living in that kind of environment is that it creates a box that one hides themselves in, and it also supports the mindset that everything one needs is inside this box and everything outside of it is wrong. This kind of thinking does not support diversity if anything it fragments and divides us.

Currently, it seems that nobody can have a peaceful discourse without a giant uproar or a screaming match between two parties. We now speak to disrupt and get our point across rather than listening and understanding each other. Just because one listens and tries to understand the other parties does not mean that you necessarily agree with them. This is how conflicts happen and inevitably wars begin.

Just because you do not agree with somebody does not mean that that person should not be able to express their opinion. This is regarding to many talks having to been cancelled due to students organizing and causing disruptions. If anything, those that do not agree with said speaker should attempt to have a conversation about why they may think that they are wrong. Denying the other side is essentially part of the problem, it does not allow for the diversity and inclusion of the other. This is not to lay blame at a specific realm of thought, if anything having everyone’s reluctant to understand the other side is problem.

This homogenous environment stunts our growth and our potential prosperity as a society. I would love to continue this kind of conversation if any are willing through twitter, follow @Alfredo_David1, so that we may try to understand each other a bit more.

My name is David Alfredo Paulino. I graduated from SUNY Cortland with a international studies major with a concentration in Global Political Systems and my minors are Anthropology, Latin American Studies, and Asia and the Middle East. I was born in Manhattan, NYC, but I currently live in the Bronx with my Mother, little sister, and Stepfather. Although I was born here, most of my fondest memories come from my frequent visits to the Dominican Republic, and always being there. I even stayed there for a year. Due to my constant going back and forth, I grew to love the atmosphere there and sometimes I yearn for it more than the actual city.

In the same boat

Latin America
by Johan Gonzalez

Being photojournalist in Venezuela is both a challenge and a huge responsibility for me, during the crisis and economic depression that is devouring the country. Today, Venezuela has fallen victim to corrupt politicians and a complacent opposition. Starting from today what I write will be dedicated to the most relevant themes centering corruption and human rights issues in Latino America. Moreover it will be an opportunity to analyze the different impact around bad political practice and thirst for power.

The political landscape of Latin America has excelled centered on the corruption scandal that has been released after the arrest of Marcelo Odebrecht, CEO of construction Brazilian Odebrecht S. A in June 2015, who was accused of paying bribes in exchange for multimillion dollar contracts in different Latin American countries.

As a result of his arrest and senior executives Brazilians shone a light on corruption, revealing document called the “informer doomsday”, consisting of statements of 77 former executives of the company, which give testimony in the corruption case which was undertaken by Odebrecht. Such confessions have shaken hundreds of politicians from their slumber, from left and right of Brazil, Venezuela, Peru, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Argentina and El Salvador, for their respective implications.

In turn, research conducted by the United States Department of Justice, reveal payment of $788 million carried out in paid installments to senators, MPs and former ministers, such as Jorge Glas, former vice president of Ecuador who was sentenced to six years in prison. The same happened with the Poder Judicial Brazil and Peru who have been punished with jail Lula Da Silva and Ollanta Humala, while Alejandro Toledo has orders to US extradition to Peru since last year.

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DACA – to Be or not to Be

DACA – to Be or not to Be – that is the Question!
by José Enrique Perez

The saga of DACA continues. Trump said no more DACA. Then, many lawsuits were filed. Most courts have ruled that USCIS should continue accepting renewals. However, on April 24, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia held that DHS’s decision to rescind DACA was “arbitrary and capricious” and vacated the termination of the program. The court held that its decision meant that DHS must accept and process new DACA applications, as well as renewal DACA applications – however, it stayed its order for 90 days to give the government a chance to respond.

The decision of the court differed from previous court rulings because it would affect new applications – i.e. initial applications from individuals who have never applied for DACA previously but who are eligible to apply. However, the court’s decision is on hold for 90 days. In the interim, the government has the chance to better explain its decision to rescind the program. That means that the court may reconsider its decision before the 90 days is over, and before its decision to allow new applications would go into effect.

As a result of the decision being on hold for 90 days, there are NO new changes to the program as of now. It is still being implemented on the terms of the prior court rulings.

So, in lay terms, what does it really mean? DACA is still good or not? Is it better now? To be or not to be? Yes, DACA is no longer dead. A federal court in Washington, DC that ruled that the Trump Administration ending of DACA was unlawful unless they came up with a better argument as to why they ended it. For the third time, a federal judge have reprimanded Trump Administration for ending DACA, and called the Administration out for how it ended it. Trump Administration has 90 days to explain to the court why it ended it and if the allegation is still the same, new applications will be accepted.

I did not want to end this article without writing about the new policies that the Trump administration has implemented that will undermine the independence of immigration judges and weaken due process in the immigration court system – including steps to impose numerical quotas on immigration judges and attempts to curtail procedural safeguards – threaten the integrity of the immigration courts. We will talk more about this in the next articles.

You should remember that this article is not intended to provide you with legal advice; it is intended only to provide guidance about the current immigration issues and other immigration policies.

I represent individuals in immigration cases. If you have any questions or concerns about an immigration case, you can call me at (315) 422-5673, send me a fax at (315) 466-5673, or e-mail me at joseperez@joseperezyourlawyer.com. The Law Office of Jose Perez is located at 120 East Washington Street, Suite 925, Syracuse, New York 13202. Now with offices in Buffalo and Rochester!!! Please look for my next article in the June edition.

SACHR: A Haven for Healing

by Maximilian Eyle

For nearly 30 years, Saint Ann’s Corner of Harm Reduction (SACHR), has been an active force in the South Bronx. They work with drug users, the homeless, and other at-risk groups in need of assistance. The organization’s founder, Joyce Rivera, formed the organization during the early 1990s in an effort to help reduce the spread of HIV and other dangers threatening the community. Unlike other programs that demand abstinence, SACHR’s mission is concerned with harm reduction. “We do not wait for people to choose to quit life-threatening behaviors,” a SACHR spokesperson explains. “Instead, we create a safe haven where participants can consider their personal choices and begin to move toward manageable changes.”

SACHR offers so many resources and services that it can be difficult to keep track. One of their primary programs is that of needle exchange. When drug users share needles, the risk for HIV, HEP-C, and other infections grow considerably. This was a major contributor to the AIDs epidemic years ago. By providing free, clean needles to those who need them – SACHR is able to ensure that those who choose to use drugs are doing so with less risk to themselves and others. This has been shown to be one of the most effective strategies against the spread of HIV and other diseases. In addition to these measures, SACHR offers mental health counseling, free meals, acupuncture, yoga, HIV and HEP-C testing, showers, and laundry services to those in need.

Overdose treatment using Naloxone is also an important part of SACHR’s outreach efforts. Program Coordinator Nelson Gonzalez regularly trains people in how to administer the overdose-reversing medication and distribute kits to those who want it. “The opioid crisis is a new thing for America, but an old thing for the South Bronx,” says Gonzalez. He himself has been working in the harm reduction field for 20 years. A recent press release from the organization critiques how this issue is regarded in the media: “The media will quickly profit from a drug related celebrity death through obituaries and sometimes sensationalist reporting, e.g., the opioid related deaths of Philip Seymour Hoffman, Prince, John Belushi, and others. But not one obituary will recall the lives of the 1,300+ reported overdoses that claimed the lives of ordinary New Yorker’s in 2016.”

Today, the organization is expanding their facility and growing their outreach efforts. Founder Joyce Rivera continues to serve as the Executive Director and the organization is largely led and run by Hispanic women. I sat with her in her office as she explained the plans SACHR has for its upcoming expansion. Gesturing down the block, her eyes shined as she described how she had gone to elementary school in the very same neighborhood. SACHR represents her life’s work. Both she and the community are lucky to have each other.

Maximilian Eyle is a native of Syracuse, NY and a graduate of Hobart and William Smith Colleges. He works as a media consultant and writes each month about a variety of issues for Spanish-language papers across New York State. Maximilian has a love of Hispanic culture and learned Spanish while living in Spain where he studied and worked as an English teacher. He can be contacted at maxeyle@gmail.com.

DACA vs. Trump – 3rd Round

DACA vs. Trump – 3rd Round – DACA still standing
by José Enrique Perez

Phase out ordered by Trump, Congress negotiations, the Government Shutdown and now the Courts take over the fight. Certainly, the last few months have been a roller coaster for the Dreamers and DACA eligible immigrants.

In January, a court first ruled that DACA eligible immigrants could still apply to renew their status even if it has expired after Trump cancelled it. Then, another court ruled that ALL eligible DACA immigrants could apply to renew or apply as first time applicants. However, this case has not been decided in appeal yet. Then, the United States Supreme Court the last week of February decided not to take the DACA cases for review, which meant that the federal courts decisions maintaining DACA alive are the applicable law and Trump must follow it whether he likes it or not.

Specifically, on January 9, 2018, a federal judge in San Francisco, William Alsup, ruled in favor of the University of California and its president, former Homeland Security secretary Janet Napolitano. They sued to keep the program going after the Trump administration said in September that it would end it within six months. Alsup said Attorney General Jeff Sessions had wrongly concluded that DACA was put in place without proper legal authority. Trump’s Justice Department immediately said it would contest that ruling before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in California. But government lawyers also asked the Supreme Court to take the highly unusual step of agreeing to hear the case, bypassing the appeals court.

The United States Supreme Court declined to bypass the appeals courts in order to take up a DACA case. The Supreme Court’s decision keeps in place lower court decisions that allow current DACA recipients to continue to apply for status renewals. Significantly, it may well mean that a final decision on the case will extend past next November’s midterm elections, meaning that if this Congress does not take long overdue action on the Dream Act, the next Congress will. While the Supreme Court’s denial gives Dreamers a breath of relief while the case works its way through lower courts, Congress must still act immediately to pass the Dream Act.

Under lower court orders that remain in effect, the Department of Homeland Security must continue to accept applications from the roughly 700,000 young people who are currently enrolled in the program. The Supreme Court now leaves the DACA challenge pending, expected to be taken up by the 2nd and 9th Circuit courts.

The lower court’s decision does not allow Dreamers to apply for DACA if they have never before applied for the initiative, including Dreamers who are aging into eligibility, couldn’t afford the filing fees, or are newly eligible for the initiative. These Dreamers remain at risk of deportation, as do the DACA recipients whose protections have expired while they wait for USCIS to process their renewal applications.

You should remember that this article is not intended to provide you with legal advice; it is intended only to provide guidance about the current immigration issues and other immigration policies.

I represent individuals in immigration cases. If you have any questions or concerns about an immigration case, you can call me at (315) 422-5673, send me a fax at (315) 466-5673, or e-mail me at joseperez@joseperezyourlawyer.com. The Law Office of Jose Perez is located at 120 East Washington Street, Suite 925, Syracuse, New York 13202. Now with offices in Buffalo and Rochester!!! Please look for my next article in the April edition.