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Fire at Women With A Vision Offices is Arson, NOFD Says
by Mary-Devon Dupuy
Last Thursday, a two-alarm fire tore through the headquarters of Women With A Vision (WWAV), a well established nonprofit located at 215 N. Jefferson Davis Pkwy. Today, the New Orleans Fire Department said the classified incident is aggravated arson, though there are no suspects in the case at this point.
Since 1991, WWAV has been providing advocacy and education to New Orleans’ most disenfranchised populations. The nonprofit was founded as a reaction to the prevalence of HIV/AIDS within communities of color, specifically poor women and the transgender community.
One of the WWAV’s programs is called “NO Justice,” and it successfully repealed the Solicitation Crimes Against Nature (SCAN) law. SCAN required that Louisiana citizens charged with engaging in an “unnatural act” for compensation to appear on the sex offender registry and carry the label “sex offender” with them on their state issued identification cards. The law carried a potential felony charge and differentiated itself from standard solicitation of prostitution, which is a misdemeanor. WWAV continues to engage in legal advocacy on behalf of New Orleanians who have been stigmatized by legislation such as SCAN.
NO Justice is one of many WWAV programs, which also include “Micro Enterprise,” a initiative geared towards empowering poor women of color through economic opportunities. One of their main focuses is HIV/AIDS prevention and education as well as support for those living with HIV/AIDS.
Executive Direction Deon Haywood, who was also this year's Krewe du Vieux Queen, posted a video to the nonprofits website the day after the fire. Haywood believes that the fire was a very direct attack on the organization’s work and the people they fight to protect.
The fire broke out just before midnight on May 24, according to NOFD. The blaze originated in the second floor offices, and threatened apartments in the rear of the building, where one handicapped resident had to be rescued by firefighters. She was unharmed.
Watch Haywood walk through the charred building:
The Fire Department issued a statement that said the damage the fire caused showed signs of accelerant use and multiple points of origin. They have yet to identify a suspect, and the incident remains under investigation.
Haywood notes in the video that she has received a lot of criticism in the past for reaching out to formally incarcerated people, low-income women of color, the transgender community, and people struggling with addiction.
“We’ve pretty much lost a lot of our office equipment and all of our outreach material. We don’t have an office to operate out of right now. They really got the room that they thought was at the heart of our work, so we do feel like it was intentional.”
Well-known social justice lawyer Bill Quigley gave the HuffPost of a list of all the materials that were destroyed by the fire. Included are many educational tools used to instruct women on safe sex practices, including anatomical models, contraceptives and informational charts.
Haywood is relieved that at least, “everyone in the WWAV family is safe” although the activist fears for her clients.
“I am concerned about our clients not having a place to come. But the work will continue. It’s not going to stop us for speaking out for people who don’t have a voice.” If you’re interested in donating resources, time, or money, visit the group’s website to find a link to their pay pal account as well as a list of much needed supplies.
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