The Persecution of Kate Barnhart

From Out in New Jersey

DA Prosecuting LGBT Activist with Brain Tumor

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 prosecuted by New York 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 the new 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 the New York City 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 all 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.”

The case against her is far from over. Barnhart will have to endure more court appearances as a result of a peaceful protest. District Attorney Vance, for some reason, has put her in his crosshairs.

This matter will be closely followed say activists because as Mark Milano put it, “We are all Kate.”


  1. gopher on September 20, 2010 at 3:19 pm

    The people of the State of New York should get rid of Attorney Vance for violating the Bill of Rights the Attorney was sworn to uphold. Cruel and Unusual punishment, the freedom of speech of Barnhart, double indemnity clauses, all come to mind. If Vance can’t see that Barnhart was exercising her constitutional rights, then she does not deserve her point in the office of District Attorney. Those rights apply everywhere in the United States, including on the front steps of Aetna.

  2. meg hessenbach on September 20, 2010 at 6:02 pm

    Barnhart has a right to protest — however, because she did not cooperate w/ police, Vance also has the responsibility to take her case — especially given her prior conviction. You can’t just dismiss a case because you like/agree w/ the defendant. It’s funny that the same people who screamed for Caroline Guiliani’s case not to be dropped (it was not) are now slamming a very sensible DA for handling this case reasonably. She was offered a disorderly conduct and could have walked out of court w/ the whole thing behind her – which is the most lenient outcome for someone who’s been convicted before of this. If you don’t want to end up in this position, protest all you want but disperse when the cops come. If you want to get arrested, fine, but don’t whine about the consequences. He gave her a sweet deal, and for whatever reason, she’d rather waste taxpayer dollars to come to court and have her own spotlight. I was sympathetic a few months ago, but now I feel like you’ve all lost perspective.

  3. meg hessenbach on September 20, 2010 at 6:03 pm

    Gopher – your right to protest gets more complicated when you prevent the cops from doing their job. You must understand the difference. Look at the protest on this site – it looks like 40 or 50 people protested Vance’s office and NO ONE WAS ARRESTED!!!!!

    Obviously he’s not out to get protesters.

  4. James Salsman on September 21, 2010 at 10:28 am

    Call Deputy District Attorney Eric Kratzville at 212-335-9141 and email his boss, D.A. Cyrus Vance, Jr. c/o his secretary Marlene Turner: turnerm at