The Persecution of Kate Barnhart
The sidewalk outside of the Manhattan Criminal Court building was a surreal sea of Kate. Supporters in all sizes and shapes donned Kate Barnhart masks, effigies of the selfless and tireless patron of homeless youth and health care activist who is now being maliciously persecuted by District Attorney Cy Vance.
Waving signs that read “Only guilty of Needing Healthcare” and chanting “Health Care is a right!”, the demonstrators were demanding that charges be dropped against Barnhart who was arrested in September 2009 with 16 other activists during a sit-in at the offices of Aetna Insurance. The action was a peaceful event to call attention to Aetna’s practice of denying care to policy holders with life-threatening conditions. Though charges were dropped against the other 16 activists, the DA continued to prosecute Barnhart. After Judge Shawndya Simpson later dismissed the charges against Barnhart as well, the DA’s office threatened to re-arrest her. Under public pressure they chose not to re-arrest but did re-file the charges against her. The demonstration was day one of those court proceedings.
“This is pure harassment,” says Donald Grove, one of the 16 arrested with Barnhart at Aetna last year.
Although Kate Barnhart joined the Aetna action because her friend Mark Milano was denied chemotherapy, she also is fighting her own insurer, Oxford, to pay for treatment of a brain tumor. Sadly, her insurance company dropped her rather than pay for the treatment which could save her life.
Barnhart served as Director of Sylvia’s Place Shelter for 5 years and is currently the Executive Director of New Alternatives, also a program for homeless LGBT youth.
In a press release from NYC Chapter of Health Care NOW!, a national advocacy group for “Medicare for All” who arranged the rally, Barnhart said, “Fighting a brain tumor and lupus is hard enough, but I also have to fight my insurance company, and now, the District Attorney. What does someone like me have to do to get health care?”
Milano says the Aetna sit-in was crucial in obtaining the cancer treatment which Aetna had been denying him. “There is no doubt,” said Milano, “that what Kate did saved my life. Aetna didn’t care whether I got chemo or not. There is nothing criminal about what Kate did. We are here saying: ‘We are all Kate Barnhart. We are all fighting the system, fighting for Health Care for Americans. And we will stay here until every American has health care, and until Americans are allowed to protest without risking inordinate jail time and inordinate prosecution.’”
Author and activist Nathan James, also present at the rally, speculated as to the motives of this prosecution. “I think Cy Vance is making an example of Kate Barnhart, possibly because he may be getting campaign money from the big health insurers.”
Donald Grove went on to say, “All the care she gives to others, she spoke up when the health care system was failing her and her loved ones. Why should that make her the target of such harsh treatment by the DA? They need to go after the insurance companies that take our money but withhold care.”
Such is the state of healthcare in America in 2010 when a woman who has dedicated her life to helping others is persecuted simply for wanting to stay alive. The case against her is far from over. Sadly, Barnhart will have to endure more tiresome court appearances as result of that peaceful protest, and because District Attorney Vance, for some reason, has put her in his crosshairs.
This matter will be closely followed. Because as Mark Milano put it, “We are all Kate.” ~
Stumbled across Sean Kennedy's MySpace page today while researching another sad South Carolina tale of a teen beaten with a bat by his father. I'd posted about Sean Kennedy recently here when the verdict came in on his killer who punched Sean so hard it dislodged his brain. In a sad irony, his last blog post on May 10th was titled 'Goodbye' -- in reference to a brief break he was taking from the net due to his computer. Six days later he was dead; one and half months after that 21th b'day party.
The Myspace comments are still coming, and are a poignant reminder how homo-hate destroys so many lives.
This is from Sean's Last Wish, a website set up by the family to follow the case:
South Carolina is one of 18 states, including Georgia, which does not have a hate crimes law that specifically includes sexual orientation. Which is how this 49 yr old Anderson, SC man will get away with using a bat on his 18 yr old son to beat the "gay" out of him. So sad that in the Bible belt this is business as usual. And people wonder why so many LGBT youth end up selling themselves to survive.
But this SC Pride organization, where I also found Sean b'day flyer, isn't letting the bible belt bigots get away with anything. Go SC Equality!! Fuck those bastards!!
A gay pride organization said Thursday it plans to raise $5,000 to pay for an advertising campaign that proclaimed "South Carolina is so gay" after the state refused to pick up the tab.
| From Lucky Michaels photostream. See my photos from a recent Sylvia's Place event.
~~ As of 2007, Sylvia's Place is part of MCCNY's Homeless Youth Services. ~~
Please visit our new website: www.HomelessYouthServices.org
Sylvia Rae Rivera, 1951-2002, was a Stonewall Riots Veteran and LGBTQ/Drag Queen activist. Many will remember Sylvia as the Coordinator of the Food Pantry for Metropolitan Community Church of New York where she was a member. On her deathbed she insisted that Rev. Pat Bumgardner promise the church would create accommodation so that LGBTQ Youth could find a safe space to spend the night when all other options were exhausted.
Born from that promise is ‘Sylvia's Place’, an emergency night shelter for self identified Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual, transgendered, transsexual and questioning youth from 16 to 23 years of age. Its primary focus is to provide a safe space, a good meal, bathroom facilities and toiletries, a cot for the night and breakfast in the morning. The Care Workers provide a listening ear, affirmation, and a friendly voice of encouragement.
In the heart of Times Square, on an evening when the Sex in the City movie was having advanced screenings, an even more important event took place. SOX & the City -- a fundraiser for homeless LGBT youth. The producers of the film donated a lot of Sex in the City do dads so that Carrie and the girls were there in Spirit.
* No, Carrie & Miranda won't be there. At least I don't think ...*
I kinda got involved with Sylvia's Place ...
Thing is, I never actually followed up on it because the young people there tore my heart out. Seems like that would be reason enough to write a brilliant series of articles about the shelter. Still, I couldn't. Some of the reasons I understand, others I don't, or ... well, I'd rather not articulate on my blog. Still, I make all their events.
It's truly a great cause. Please come ... and spread the word. ~~
Below is a letter Kate Barnhart sent out awhile back. It kinda highlights the plight of these young people who so desperately need our help. The Johnson Center in Harlem is now open, but the need for funds is on-going. Not having a lot of money to donate, I gave my time and sweat during the painting of the center. Excuse the picture quality; camera phone you know.
Dear Friends and Supporters:
It was close to midnight at the shelter one night when my phone rang. The voice was familiar - a young man we knew, but hadn't seen in months - and panicky. "Kate, I'm trapped, he won't let me
leave!" I knew we didn't have much time, so I asked for his address. Just as he blurted it out, there was a crash as the phone was grabbed from his hand. Then came the smooth tones of an older man, a lawyer, who had been keeping this boy captive at his apartment using drugs to keep him docile. As he tried to convince me nothing was wrong, I scribbled a note to my staff:
"call the police."
Luckily, the police were able to get the young man out safely and bring him to our shelter.
Experiences like these have taught us that, for homeless LGBT youth, crises can occur at any time. Parents don't schedule an appointment to kick their kids out; young people running from violent pimps
But we need your help - the Johnson Center is almost complete, but
What you can do:
According to a report by the Empire State Coalition of Youth and Family Services, on any given day there are more than 3,800 young people under the age of 24 living without a home – and up to 13,400 or more over the course of a year. (photostream)
This is a simple, but powerful, illustration of the number of homeless LGBTQ kids in New York City on any given night (beans in the jar on the left), compared to the number of available beds for them (beans in the jar on the right).
Below are some pics from the opening of the Johnson Center.
also check out Queer Streets, a film which follows some of Sylvia's Place kids.