BHRC Legislative Agenda

Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition

2022 Maryland General Assembly Legislative Agenda

Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition (BHRC) has four overarching priorities for community mobilization and policy advocacy from 2021-2025: 1) gain community reparation from over a century of harm, and freedom from criminalization; 2) end state-sanctioned surveillance policies that reduce opportunities and access for people who use drugs; 3) increase access, autonomy, and power for people targeted by drug war and anti-sex worker policies; and, 4) create and strengthen community-run spaces grounded in Harm Reduction. In 2022, BHRC will continue to advance these priorities by working towards the following legislative actions:

Amend paraphernalia statutes and decriminalize safety 
SUPPORT WITH AMENDMENT: Criminal Law – Drug Paraphernalia for Administration – Decriminalization 
(Senate Bill 509 and House Bill 481)

Maryland law criminalizes people who use drugs for possessing life-saving and disease-preventing tools. In 2016, the Maryland General Assembly voted to expand syringe services programs, creating an exception to paraphernalia laws for affiliates of a program. However, this has not sufficiently prevented police from using paraphernalia as pretext for stopping, searching, and seizing possessions based on suspicion of drug use. Maryland’s paraphernalia laws must be amended to send a clear message to community members and police officers that the possession of supplies used to improve health and wellness is not a crime. 

In April 2021, the Maryland General Assembly passed Senate Bill 420 to decriminalize possession of paraphernalia for personal use including delivery and distribution. Governor Hogan vetoed the bill in May 2021. During the December 2021 special session, the Senate voted to indefinitely postpone a vote on a veto override of SB 420. 

SB509 and HB481 being introduced in 2022 do not include necessary clauses regarding decriminalizing possession of large quantities of paraphernalia for delivery and distribution. Secondary distribution increases access to these life-saving supplies, which is particularly necessary to serve people who are isolated due to stigma, COVID-19, limited mobility, etc. We seek an amendment to the bill that will expand protections to include delivery and distribution.

Increase access to naloxone and protections for overdose responders
SUPPORT: Criminal Procedure – Medical Emergency – Immunity (aka “Good Samaritan Expansion”) (House Bill 190

Maryland must clarify its 2015 Good Samaritan law to protect victims of overdose or medical emergencies with the same immunity from arrest, charge and prosecution as those calling 911. The immunity protections should also be expanded to include misdemeanors, distribution charges, and outstanding warrants. Evidence demonstrates the efficacy of non-coercive policies and supportive community-based interventions to reduce overdose risk, build trust, strengthen community, and facilitate positive change. These interventions should be authorized and supported for those most targeted by the drug war, including people near scenes of overdose and people incarcerated for drug-related charges. 

SUPPORT WITH AMENDMENT: Health Records and Reporting of Overdoses – Limitations on Use in Criminal Investigation or Prosecution (House Bill 786 and Senate Bill 568)

BHRC supports SB568 because it is an essential fix to existing law that shields victims of drug overdoses from having their private medical information shared in the course of a criminal investigation. In 2018, Maryland enacted a law requiring EMS report overdose information to mapping applications, but banned the use of this mapping data in the course of a criminal investigation or prosecution. Despite the clear intent of the law, some law enforcement and prosecutors have interpreted this much more narrowly. They see this as only a ban on data obtained directly from the mapping application, and not a ban on the same data from separately maintained, emergency medical services records. This loophole undermines the intent of the initial law and perpetuates the culture of fear around reporting overdoses that already exists in communities across the state. If passed, this legislation would strengthen the impact of the existing Good Samaritan law.

SUPPORT WITH AMENDMENT: Statewide Targeted Overdose Prevention (STOP) Act of 2022 
(Senate Bill 394 and House Bill 408)

BHRC supports the STOP Act because it is intended to  increase access to naloxone for both individuals and community-based organizations free of charge. If appropriately implemented, this bill will increase the sense of responsibility agencies feel about responding to overdose by requiring that EMS and certain programs and hospitals develop a process to ensure active availability of naloxone for their clients and patients. 

Protect sex workers and their communities from increased criminalization
OPPOSE: Baltimore City – Board of License Commissioners – Licensee Hours of Operation
(SB 222 and HB 372)

BHRC supports efforts to reduce police control, and defeat proposals that perpetuate stigma against people who use drugs and sell sexual services. HB372/SB222 with amendments would institutionalize and increase police surveillance on establishments licensed to provide adult entertainment and sell liquor. This policy would not improve public health and safety, but it will push vulnerable people further into the margins. People who rely on the employment and services offered in this historic part of Baltimore do not deserve further punishment by the State.

Promote low-barrier access to health care for people who use drugs and sell sexual services
SUPPORT: Trans Health Equity Act of 2022 (SB682 and HB746)
SUPPORT: Abortion Care Access Act of 2022 (SB890 and HB937 / HB952)
SUPPORT: Perinatal Care – Drug and Alcohol Testing and Screening – Consent (HB1335 and SB843)
SUPPORT: Pregnant Incarcerated Individuals – Substance Abuse Assessment and Treatment (HB1120)

BHRC supports efforts that increase access to quality services within supportive spaces. This includes expanding access to non-judgemental resources that can provide abortion care, perinatal care, gender-affirming surgeries, and other essential services.

Promote systemic accountability and invest in healthier communities
SUPPORT: Justice and Public Health Prioritization Council (HB1058)
SUPPORT: Police Immunity and Accountability Act (HB1012)

BHRC supports efforts to reduce the reach and authority of policing and carceral systems that uphold our racist drug war. This includes redirecting resources from incarceration to health care and holding law enforcement officers accountable for their actions.

Decriminalize drug possession and drug use
SUPPORT: Use or Possession of a Controlled Dangerous Substance – De Minimis Quantity
(HB1054 and SB784)
SUPPORT: Cannabis Legalization and Reparations for the War on Drugs Act (Senate Bill 692)

BHRC supports efforts to gain community reparation from over a century of harm, and freedom from criminalization. Maryland must prioritize the health, dignity, and safety of people who use drugs, including systemic community healing after decades of over-policing and mass incarceration due to the war on drugs. Decriminalization of drug possession is the most effective action to reduce stigma associated with drug use because it enables people to feel safer about discussing their drug use with loved ones, service providers, and support networks. BHRC supports decriminalization and legalization efforts that include steps toward increased fairness and social equity, such as expungement provisions, housing assistance supports, and business licensing mandates. We see this as the start of a greater movement towards reparations for communities targeted by the War on Drugs. 

Educate policymakers about the need to authorize Overdose Prevention Sites (no legislation in 2022)

Overdose Prevention Sites (OPS) are legally sanctioned indoor spaces where people can consume their own drugs with immediate access to life-saving interventions, medical care, emotional support, and non-judgemental therapeutic relationships. Maryland has lost more than 10,000 people to overdose over the past 7 years, a number that continues to climb due to conditions arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. Decades of evidence show that community-run OPS reduce overdose fatalities and disease transmission, and are uniquely able to engage historically marginalized people who are most at risk of overdose.  In November 2021, BRIDGES Coalition voted to support a proposal from State legislative champions to not bring the OPS bill to the Maryland General Assembly in 2022, and to re-introduce it in 2023 after state elections are complete. 


On My Demon Time, I Might Boycott Onlyfans

By Sheri

From the wise words of Beyonce on the remix of ‘Savage’ by Megan Thee Stallion, ‘on her demon time she might start an onlyfans’, I advise you not to. Yes, that’s right we should not listen to Beyonce this time because Onlyfans does not listen to sex workers.

I’m Sheri, a sex worker and policy advocacy intern for Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition and I know first hand what it is like to be mistreated by Onlyfans. Onlyfans is often used as the butt of the joke when money is tight and people need to make extra cash, fast. Contrary to popular belief, onlyfans is not a joke and can take just as much energy and time, if not more, as a 9 to 5 job. Some people are starting to catch on to this but Onlyfans, unfortunately, does not agree. 

Onlyfans was started in 2016 by British tech investor, Timothy Stokley. He created it to give online influencers and entrepreneurs a chance to monetize their content. Because of the subscription-based algorithm of the site, sex workers flocked to it as a way to sell their content online. Between the media, memes, song lyrics, and Covid-19, Onlyfans boomed in usage. How you might ask? Because of sex workers. Let’s be real, no one is logging into their Onlyfans account to watch someone cook vegan mac and cheese at 11 pm. Sex workers keep Onlyfans relevant and the company repays us by taking a whopping 20% of our earnings and deleting our accounts. Many sex workers, including myself, have had their accounts deleted and money stolen. Some have been deleted because of advertising escort or in-person services and some have been deleted simply because the company is anti-sex work.

Onlyfans has strict rules about not advertising meetups because of SESTA and FOSTA, a group of bills that are supposed to curb online sex trafficking but  ultimately hinder sex workers from being able to do their jobs to the fullest extent. The bills are worded  so more sex workers are harmed from them than survivors of sex trafficking  are helped. Onlyfans hides behind these bills as a reason to delete accounts but sex workers deserve better treatment from the company we helped build. Onlyfans has vehemently denied all accusations of deleting accounts without violation of their terms and conditions but sex workers know the truth. Even the accounts who did violate the terms, as I did, still did not deserve it. 

Timmy, you have messed with the wrong whore because I am now boycotting Onlyfans and if you all support sex workers, you should too. Join me in the #boycottonlyfans movement until SESTA and FOSTA are amended to stop negatively impacting sex workers’ online presence or until Onlyfans refunds all the sex workers whose accounts were deleted. I challenge sex workers to participate as well, if able. While sex workers stop their content, tip them directly via CashApp or whatever their preferred payment options are. Book in-person services, watch live cams, or subscribe to your fave sex workers on their other platforms. We deserve rights and an equal opportunity to conduct our business online however we please. Spread the word and do not cross the horny picket line!

Over 100 Maryland Medical and Public Health Professionals Urge Senator Ferguson To Pass H.B. 481

To Address Overdose Epidemic, Maryland Lawmakers Must Pass Paraphernalia Decriminalization Bill 

BALTIMORE, MD––Today, amid continually record-breaking overdose deaths, 120 Maryland medical and public health professionals––including physicians, nurses, and social workers who work closely with and treat patients with substance use disorder––sent a letter to Senate President Bill Ferguson urging him to call a vote on H.B. 481, the Drug Paraphernalia Decriminalization bill. 

H.B. 481, sponsored by Delegates David Moon, Jon Cardin, and 24 others, would amend the classification of certain items used to ingest drugs, effectively decriminalizing the possession of items such as syringes. Decriminalizing paraphernalia is proven to reduce the risk of contracting a bloodborne illness such as HIV and does not increase drug use rates. 

“Senator Ferguson has until this Friday, April 1, to encourage the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee to move H.B. 481 forward with sponsor amendments and call for the third and final reading followed by a vote on the Senate floor. We have the 29 votes needed to pass this bill; all we need is for Senator Ferguson to call the vote. If this bill does not pass the Maryland General Assembly by this Friday, Governor Hogan will have until the session ends on Monday, April 11, at 11:59 p.m. to veto the bill, which will likely not allow legislators enough time to override the veto during session,” wrote the signers.

“This bill will help curb the growing numbers of people suffering in the shadows, dying from overdoses, and being harmed by preventable infections related to injecting drugs. Removing criminal penalties for paraphernalia for personal use increases legal access to sterile equipment which reduces the transmission of infectious diseases and risk of overdose, [saving] lives and money,” continued the signers. “This legislation will help ensure Marylanders continue to have access to life-saving services on their road to greater wellness and not be derailed by traumatizing arrests, police interactions, and jail time for possessing the tools they need.”

The full text of the petition can be found below and linked here

To: Senate President Bill Ferguson

On Thursday March 10, Maryland’s House passed HB481 to decriminalize paraphernalia, and soon this proposed policy will again be in your hands.

We are a group of concerned medical professionals and public health experts who care deeply about the health and wellbeing of all Maryland residents. Through our professional experience, we know how crucial decriminalizing paraphernalia is for the health and safety of people who use drugs.

We are urging you to bring HB481 for a Senate floor vote before April 1, 2022. We are confident that there are enough Senators ready and willing to both vote in favor of this essential piece of life-saving legislation and override a potential veto from Governor Hogan.

This bill will help curb the growing numbers of people suffering in the shadows, dying from overdoses, and being harmed by preventable infections related to injecting drugs.

Removing criminal penalties for paraphernalia for personal use increases legal access to sterile equipment which reduces the transmission of infectious diseases and risk of overdose. This in turn saves lives and money.

The science is clear.

  • Every scientific and medical organization to study the issue has concluded that access to drug use tools, including sterile syringes, reduces the spread of HIV, hepatitis, other blood-borne diseases, and soft tissue and skin infections.
  • Studies of Canadian programs to distribute safer smoking kits found they significantly reduced risky behaviors like supply sharing that spread MRSA, HIV, Hepatitis B and HCV.
  • Access to sterile supplies is associated with increased treatment uptake. Programs that distribute these supplies provide a bridge to treatment, medical care, and other services for drug users. Furthermore, evidence has shown that when there is less fear of punishment or arrest by police, individuals feel safer accessing treatment services.

This legislation will help ensure Marylanders continue to have access to life-saving services on their road to greater wellness and not be derailed by traumatizing arrests, police interactions, and jail time for possessing the tools they need.

Thank you for your attention to this critical matter.

Anne BlakeSt. ClairBaltimore CityMDRN, MSN
Meredith ZoltickWashington DCMSN/MPH, CRNP
OmeidHeidariBaltimoreMDPhD, MPH, CRNP
KaityStewartWashingtonDCCNM PMHNP-BC
JasleenSalwanBethesdaMDMD, MPH
TracyAgeeBaltimoreMDRN, Nurse Practitioner
NatalieSpicynBaltimoreMDMD, MHS, AAHIVS
NicoleAkparewaMiddle RiverMDRN, MSN/MPH
NishantShahBaltimoreMDMD, MPH
LoreMb  MD
MaryDegreziaHalethorpeMDPhD, ACRN, CNE
Marik MoenMoenBaltimoreMDPhD, MPH, RN
JillCrankBaltimoreMDCRNP, MSN/MPH
MollyGreenbergBaltimoreMDMPH, RN
ElizabethGalbrechtBaltimoreMDMSN, CRNP
MeredithKerrBaltimoreMDDNP, CRNP, FNP-C
AngelaMasonBaltimoreMDMPH, BSN, RN
ViraDavidBaltimoreMDMaster in Socio-Economic Development
MollyGreenbergBaltimoreMDMPH, RN
EmilyComstockBaltimoreMDDNP, CRNP, ACRN
MaxRomanoBaltimoreMDMD, MPH
CaseyLyonsOklahoma CityOKMPH
LydiaSantiagoGwynn OakMDLCSW-C, CAC-AD
LisaHoffmannBaltimoreMDRN, MPH
JillCrankBaltimoreMDCRNP, MSN/MPH
MikelaSheskierBaltimoreMDBA, ADT
ValeriaMooreOwings MillsMDMPH
SrishtiRoyBaltimoreMDCertified Peer Support Specialist
KathleenRidgewayBaltimoreMDMSPH, PhD candidate
ClaireKnezevicBaltimoreMDPhD, DABCC
BrittWalshBaltimoreMDLCSW-C, CPH
AmyHechtBaltimoreMDMedical assistant, counselor
DianeDiane HorvathEllicott CityMDMD MPH
TerryProchnowTall TimbersMDRN
ClareDonofrioBaltimoreMDMPH, LCSW-C
ChloeRiceLinthicum HeightsMDLcsw-c
TanviAvasthiBaltimoreMDRN, CNM, WHNP-BC
DanielleDansoBaltimoreMDPharmD, RPh
EricaHerdeckerSeverna ParkMDRN
ChristineCarlsonEllicott CityMDRN


New York Academy of Medicine. New York State Expanded Syringe Access Demonstration Program Evaluation. January 15, 2003.

National Institutes of Health Consensus Panel, Interventions to Prevent HIV Risk Behaviors (Kensington, MD: National Institutes of Health Consensus Program Information Center, February 1997).

P. Lurie, A.L. Reingold, B. Bowser (eds). The Public Health Impact of Needle Exchange Programs in the United States and Abroad: Summary, Conclusions and Recommendations (1993).

Maryland Board of Pharmacy News. Fall 2017.

Australian Commonwealth Department of Health and Aging. Return on Investment in Needle and Syringe Programs in Australia

Schackman, Bruce R., et al. The Lifetime Cost of Current Human Immunodeficiency Virus Care in the United States. Medical Care. 44 (11):990-997 (2006).

Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, Population and Public Health Program. Safer Crack Use Kit Distribution in the Winnipeg Health Region. October 2012

Paraphernalia Will Be Decriminalized in Maryland

One month ago on May 26, 2021, Maryland Governor Hogan made yet another policy decision demonstrating his dedication to the racist war on drugs. On this day, he vetoed SB420 which would have decriminalized possession of paraphernalia for administration (aka personal drug use).  

In his official letter to Senate President Ferguson (link), Governor Hogan made exaggerated, inaccurate, harmful claims. Claims which stirred the fears that uphold our society’s implicit and explicit biases against people who use and/or sell drugs. 

Will we fight back? Of course.

Will we win? Absolutely.

As we know from decades of prior activism, it is necessary to take a pause for reflection, especially when hurt and tired. At BHRC, we have taken this past month to process our grief and regenerate power for the long haul. We have witnessed the love and the outrage from harm reduction advocates and allies across the state (and country) pouring in. As we enter the summer season, we are feeling a deeper sense of clarity on what to do next, and let me tell you, our power is strong! 

It is important to remember that our community’s social justice policy advocacy efforts convinced the majority of Maryland elected officials to vote in favor of paraphernalia decriminalization. In voting for the bill, Senate President Ferguson stated that the drug war needs to end. Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chair Smith stated that Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition’s strong messaging (i.e. incessant calls and emails by you!) convinced him to support this policy.

SB420 was the only bill passed by our 2021 Maryland Legislature designed to significantly curb the epidemics of overdose and over-policing in communities targeted by the drug war. It passed during an historic virtual legislative session, only days after legislators made astounding strides in police reform. This is remarkable. Maryland’s harm reduction advocates — you — are truly amazing.

Now it is up to the 2022 Maryland Legislative to override this devastating decision early next year. We must ensure the State recognizes the will of the elected body and those who put these people in power. So, what do we have planned?

  1. Service delivery: We will not stop providing high quality harm reduction services, including life-saving paraphernalia, via our community outreach programming and safer drug use supply distribution.
  2. Policymaker engagement: We are planning our policy strategy with 2021 bill sponsors and legislative champions, Delegate David Moon and Senator Jill Carter. 
  3. Public education: We are developing public education opportunities and tools to deepen collective understanding of decriminalization as one of the means of ending the racist war on drugs.
  4. Community organizing: We are working with our partners via our organizing bodies — MHRAN and BRIDGES Coalition — and other social justice spaces, such as the People’s Commission to Decriminalize Maryland to keep gaining momentum.
  5. Uniting across movements: We are standing in solidarity with advocates and communities also impacted by Governor Hogan’s post-session vetoes, such as life-saving immigration and parole reform legislation. We will continue to support these measures in the coming years. 

Join us this summer for exciting opportunities to engage in these activities and continue the fight to decriminalize paraphernalia in Maryland!

Much love,

Rajani Gudlavalleti
director of mobilization
Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition

BHRC’s Position on Amendments to SB420 (Paraphernalia Decriminalization)

Monday, March 29, 2021

Proposed policy Criminal Law – Drug Paraphernalia for Administration – Decriminalization (House Bill 372 and Senate Bill 420) has the potential to become law this year, increasing public health and safety. Over the past week, the Maryland House of Delegates passed HB372 (91-39) and the Maryland Senate passed SB420 with amendments (31-16). Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition (BHRC) and our community is proud of the work towards decriminalization thus far, especially the efforts of bill champions Senator Jill Carter and Delegate David Moon.

If passed as written, House Bill 372 would: 1) redefine “controlled” paraphernalia to support public health and reduce drug war tactics that target drug users; 2) repeal existing portions of law that criminalize possession of paraphernalia for personal use; and, 3) reduce or eliminate penalty for possession of paraphernalia for delivery or sale. If passed as amended, Senate Bill 420 would not include #3 above, continuing to criminalize possession of paraphernalia.

BHRC does not agree with the amendments to SB420 and urges the Maryland legislature to move HB372 without amendments. We deeply value Senator Carter for working tirelessly for this policy, and understand the challenges posed by Senators Ready, Cassily, and Hough. However, the amendments to SB420 would allow for police involvement and prosecution of people carrying paraphernalia if said officers determine the supplies are for delivery, distribution, or sale. These amendments would continue to put the health and safety of our workers and our communities at risk.

Just last Thursday March 25, a participant of an authorized syringe service program in Baltimore City was arrested and jailed for attempting to bring items considered paraphernalia to a loved one in another county who needed these life-saving supplies. This SSP participant was, and continues to be, punished for trying to help someone achieve greater safety and serve public health goals. Regardless of whether or not the charges are dropped, this person has had their life turned upside down, spent multiple days risking exposure to COVID and not been able to attend to their loved ones. 

This story is too common in Maryland, and this is why we need to decriminalize possession of paraphernalia under any circumstance right now. If distribution, delivery, and sales of paraphernalia are not protected, our state’s public health is under threat.  

If the Senate Judicial Proceedings (JPR) Committee does not agree to the House version, members of JPR and the House Judiciary Committee will need to decide on a version of the bill in conference committee. This would further delay the process and clog the urgent agenda of these busy committees. 

Maryland must decriminalize paraphernalia now and ensure that, as Delegate David Moon says, “the syringe does not come with jail.” We are requesting that JPR support HB372 as written to ensure that the logic of the law is sound and that there are no major loopholes to re-criminalize people for carrying life-saving supplies. 

Hand Washing for the People

By Dave Fell

In mid-March of this year, the city of Oakland, CA partnered with Alameda County to provide assistance to unsheltered residents of the area. According to a post on the city’s website dated March 13th, this partnership managed to install 42 portable toilets and wash stations at 19 new encampments (not counting the additional 20 encampments already receiving health and hygiene services, pre-pandemic). (1)

At the same time, the neighboring city of Berkeley, CA set up at least 20 hand washing stations at parks, libraries, and homeless encampments around the city. According to Deputy City Manager Paul Buddenhagen, the monthly cost for the stations is roughly $2,000. The city even created a virtual map for constituents showing the locations of the hygiene resources. (2, 3)

In Baltimore, however, the response of leadership was much less urgent. In April, The Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services (MOHS) posted a list of items it needed help procuring, and at the top of that list was “mobile hand washing stations” so that unhoused or intermittently housed folks can stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic by regularly and thoroughly washing their hands and bodies. This is when I fired off that first email, beginning a long and frustrating correspondence with a small, underfunded, and understaffed city agency.

The short version is that I linked MOHS up with a close friend who manages a hardware store in the city, and as a team we decided on and ordered (on the city’s dime) a number of “camp showers” to be put up in strategic locations throughout Baltimore. The plan was that MOHS, with assistance from the Department of Public Works (DPW), would install and maintain these camp showers. 

Very simply, a camp shower is a (somewhat) strong vinyl bag that holds 5 gallons of water. Attached is a hose and a little showerhead with an on/off switch. Just affix it a tree branch or a street sign, provide some soap, and there you have it: a DIY hand washing station. (It should be noted that the pre-fab style of wash station that you may have seen at Artscape or your favorite EDM festival were either out of stock or seriously price-gouged, ruling out that option).

Mission accomplished! The city’s got it from here, right? 

(pause for uproarious laughter)

No, the city don’t got it. 

Remember, if you want to derail a simple, inexpensive action aimed at helping the unhoused population of Baltimore, just insert a bureaucrat into the process! A mere four days after MOHS paid for and picked up the camp showers from my friend’s hardware store, I was told that a “consultant” had been hired to inspect the way MOHS operates. 

This “consultant” did little more than kick the can down the road and waste time by requiring a proposal for the hand washing station project that would then have to be supported by every member of City Council! They claimed to have received a lot of push back on this idea and wanted to “make sure that resources are provided appropriately with the full support of all agencies and communities involved.” 

Ok, so let me understand–you want unhoused Baltimoreans (who are already at the converging point of multiple systemic crises) to wait patiently while people who have homes, running water, soap, income, and food spend weeks deciding whether the homeless will be allowed to wash their hands during the deadliest public health pandemic in our lifetime? A pandemic in which one of the strongest lines of defense is HAND WASHING?

We ended up clawing back the camp showers from MOHS, and installed and maintained a few ourselves (with some inspiring results), but ultimately this was not even close to a permanent solution, and as a loosely affiliated group of activists, we didn’t have coffers of money to fund something more robust, so the project fizzled.

Now that October has come and the COVID-19 pandemic is still in full swing, I can’t help but remember what Mayor Jack Young told the Baltimore Sun all the way back on May 5th:

“We’re going to always take care of our homeless population, no matter what.” (4)

He was responding to questions about why on earth there was a major leadership and staff shake up at MOHS just as the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning to grip Baltimore.

Mayor Young is straight up lying, because there has been grassroots energy advocating for public hygiene resources since March and absolutely nothing has been done by the City of Baltimore to make this common sense solution a reality. In fact, more effort was put into blocking the project!

It was a no-brainer for Oakland and Berkeley, because in those places real, substantial homeless outreach is not unprecedented like it is here. Every resident of Baltimore deserves health, dignity, and protection from death, disease, and despair. 

But for now, we will build our own (stronger, more permanent) hand washing stations. We will install them and we will stand next to them and make a hell of a lot of noise until city leaders recognize that THIS IS THEIR JOB! 


  1. https://www.oaklandca.gov/resources/covid-19-support-for-unsheltered-residents
  2. https://www.berkeleyside.com/2020/03/13/berkeley-sets-up-22-hand-washing-stations-to-help-the-homeless-and-others-from-getting-coronavirus
  3. https://berkeley.maps.arcgis.com/apps/View/index.html?appid=715bb83772db4b85b64c44fc5dbce21f&extent=-122.3410,37.8350,-122.2143,37.8973
  4. https://www.baltimoresun.com/maryland/baltimore-city/bs-md-ci-homeless-services-shake-up-20200505-6tiozav2sfcwvom7vtc6qwvf5e-story.html

When COVID-19 Harm Reduction is Met with White Feminist Islamaphobia

By Smitha Mahesh, with Rajani Gudlavalleti

Content Warning: Islamophobia, sexism, racism

As usual, I am scrolling through Twitter, to get the latest tea on celebrities and politicians and refresh my soul with a feed filled with daily pictures of big fluffy bunnies, corgis, and pandas. 

But of course, my joyous vibe came to a halt when I came across this: 

My first reaction was one of confusion. Then it transformed into disgust and ultimately into anger. To clarify and emphasize, I am a South Asian Hindu who does not wear face coverings for religious purposes — and I am deeply hurt and offended by this image, primarily in solidarity with I my fellow Muslim friends (especially women and femmes) who wear niqabs, hijabs, burquas, or any form of covering of their face. Everyone has the right to religious freedom and deserves the  choice to wear any other forms of religious or cultural covering on their face. 

I later find out that this tweet has been made by a bot and has since been removed. Unfortunately, the screenshot of the tweet made its way through other platforms of social media. But, alas I sat alone with my feelings, truly frustrated at viewing this tweet and not having any idea of who to talk about this — until Rajani spoke up. 

Rajani, a fellow Indian American woman, was angrily startled when she suddenly came across this image scrolling down her feed; but her lack of surprise was possibly more difficult for her to bear. Rajani is very familiar with the racial profiling, targeting, and community violence that has occured in the name of the same sentiments expressed in this image. In September 2001, she was a high school sophomore in California when the planes hit the twin towers in New York City. 

My entire life shifted from the moment those planes hit those buildings. I was 16 years old. A child from an immigrant family that was struggling to find stability amidst financial, health and emotional strains. A child confused at the racially charged conflation of Hinduism (my family’s religion), Sikhism, and Islam. Confused at my survival-mode desire to distance myself from these conflations. My deeply angry desire to take down all racist Islamaphobes. Mostly, I was confused at the feminist white femme friends who wanted to help “liberate” me. Honestly, it took me a good decade or so before I truly saw the horror of that manifestation of white feminism.

When Rajani brought up the offensive tweet and how it impacted her, I realized this is beyond two  women/femmes from Hindu families feeling frustrated by  ongoing Islamophobia. This is an example of White Feminism. 

White Feminism excludes Black, Brown and Trans women and femmes from conversations around our collective liberation. But how exactly does this work? White feminism on the surface does support forms of liberation and choice, but it abstains from supporting any form of agency. Whether that be the agency of sex workers to charge sexual performs/work that looks like sex, or the agency to cover your body as you wish. But why, you ask? Because White Feminism is, well, White: it excludes Black voices, Brown voices, Trans voices, or any voice from a racial/ethnic group that is not White. For instance, White feminism wholeheartedly supports freeing the nipple, but abstains from supporting women having the choice to wear hijabs, burqa, or any form of face covering, even if that choice is rooted in honoring cultural heritage. 

This mentality is demonstrated even on a larger level: policy. European governments, such as Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, and the Netherlands,  have systematically banned face coverings and yet they are allowing face masks during COVID19. Policy makers in these governments manipulate “women’s equality” to uphold their Islamophobia; framing full-face veils as a symbol of oppression of women as well as a threat to national security. In Hong Kong, authorities imposed a blanket ban on wearing face masks in protest. The collective mindset that criminalizes face masks  has led to a disproportionate restriction of rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. As we continue bracing through the COVID-19 pandemic, governments should recognize the racism and Islamophobia behind these types of policies. 

As a movement rooted in public health and social justice, Harm Reduction must explore and actively work to dismantle the -isms that create barriers to health, safety, justice and dignity for all people. Publicly providing and encouraging people to adorn Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), especially face coverings, may be met with similar racist and Islamaphobic sentiments. What will you do in that moment, harm reduction fam? How will you respond? How will you act in solidarity with Muslim women and femmes?

This conversation has not started here, nor does it end here. Below are some resources to read, digest, and discuss to continue this dialogue with your communities: