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Black and Pink hosts gathering of LGBTQ prison abolitionists
by Tarina Hargrays

On Aug. 4, Black and Pink Chicago hosted its second national gathering at Chicago's Teachers Union Center. The event brought out LGBTQ prison abolitionists from around the country to speak about their experiences and the prison system as well as raise money for the Black and Pink organization.

The event, which was free to the public, began with a celebration dinner. Attendees were able to mix and mingle, have a little fun in the photo booth, as well as visit booths to buy raffle tickets and prison abolition T-shirts. Guests who were incarcerated at any time in their lives were able to buy the merchandise and tickets for half-price.

As guests began to take their seats, emcee Sasha Taylor took the stage to greet them. Taylor, who was recently incarcerated in 2008, is a 41-year-old, transgender female from San Antonio. Since then, she has been crowned with six titles that include Miss Wild & Wicked, Miss Texas for Life and Miss Corpus Christi Latina. Aside from her numerous titles, Taylor also works at BEAT AIDS as a health intervention specialist.

After wowing the crowd with her glamorous personality and fashion sense, Taylor gave over the mic to the event's speakers. The first speaker was former political prisoner Lauren Whitehorn. Although Whitehorn could not make it due to traveling troubles, she and her partner, activist Susie Day, were able to speak to guests via Skype. The two discussed topics from falling in love in prison to finally getting out and reclaiming their lives, which received several rounds of applause from guests.

Following Whithorn and Day's speech, formerly incarcerated and transgender female Eisha Love took the stage. Love was arrested in 2012 on Chicago's West Side for defending herself against a man with whom she had gotten into a physical altercation. She was indicted on attempted first-degree murder without lawful justification with intent to kill. She then spent nearly four years in the maximum security male Division IX of the Cook County Jail. Her story, with the help of a friend, went viral in a manner Love would have never imagined. ( Editor's note: A series on Love ran in Windy City Times in 2015. )

"I still can't believe that I got this platform to speak. I'm lost for words," said Love, who went on to admit that reliving the story tends to make her emotional. She then spoke about how the overwhelming support she received while locked up is what got her a lawyer and what got her through the entire ordeal. "It made me who I am today."

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The night continued with spoken-word performances from Alan Schultz and Monica Cosby, theatrical dance performances from Youth Empowerment Performance Project and several other speakers.

Activist and former political prisoner Ricardo Jimenez also made an appearance. Jimenez is known for receiving a 90-year sentence for his role in FALN, a political group that fought for complete independence for Puerto Rico. However, Jimenez was released early in 1999 after President Bill Clinton extended a clemency offer to him.

In his speech, Jimenez discussed the trials and tribulations people of color have experienced during their fight for equality, as well as coming out as a gay man while being tied to his former organization. Jimenez mentioned how hard it was for him separating his gayness from what he was fighting for, saying, "My sexuality did not define my politics; my politics was defined by the colonial situation of my country." However, he said that when he finally came out some people did not see it that way, and questioned his role as a man. In response to that, Jimenez went on to say, "it's not about tolerance; it's not about you accepting me. It's about you including me in society because I am apart of this society; I sacrificed my life for this nation."

Similar to Jimenez's speech, one of the more emotional and powerful segments of the night was one called "Prisoner Voices." This was when incarcerated Black and Pink members' voice recordings were played for guests to hear how their lives have been impacted by the support of the organization.

Tracy Johnson—mother of Michael Johnson, a gay Missouri man who was convicted of 30 years in prison for exposing a partner to HIV—spoke at the gathering on behalf of her son.

After discussing her son's upbringing, she mentioned that he was dyslexic, indicating that his reading skills were partly to blame for his mishaps. She also urged attendees to know their HIV/AIDS state laws. Johnson said that her son didn't know what he needed to about Missouri's HIV laws, adding, "If you don't know your laws, you will never know how to fight your laws."

She went on to say that, "It's not against the law to be sick" and that she looks at HIV as if it were any other life-threatening disease. She closed her remarks by saying that her son's case is "new" again due to an appeal, and could not disclose specific details. ( Editor's note: Michael's conviction was reversed last year; see http:// www.windycitymediagroup.com/lgbt/Johnson-HIV-conviction-reversed/57516.html . )

Shortly after, Black and Pink's Outgoing National Director Jason Lydon took the stage to discuss what the organization means to him and its members. With Lydon aiming to raise funds, guests agreed to donate $6,200 to Black and Pink.

The night concluded with Black and Pink presenting its awards to organizations and individuals for their work in the LGBTQ community. Among the recipients were Su'ganni Tiuza, who received the Kuwasi Balagoon Award; Trans Pride Initiative, who received the Pay It No Mind Award; Afrika Lockett, the recipient of the Out of Control Award; Sero Project, who got the Mike Riegle Award; and Brandon Pierce, with the Exceptional Newspaper Submission Award.

For information about Black and Pink or to donate, visit BlackAndPink.org .

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