Say yes to HIV de­crim­i­nal­iza­tion laws

GA Voice - - Front Page -

This past week­end, leg­is­la­tion in Cal­i­for­nia was passed to up­date its HIV crim­i­nal­iza­tion laws. Since the ear­li­est days of the epi­demic, more than 33 states have passed some ver­sion of leg­is­la­tion crim­i­nal­iz­ing the lives of peo­ple liv­ing with HIV (PLWHIV).

In many states, th­ese laws car­ried felony of­fenses with high fines and even decades of in­car­cer­a­tion. Hav­ing a felony can ren­der you in­el­i­gi­ble for many safety net pro­grams, like hous­ing, food se­cu­rity and even vot­ing. When the Ryan White CARE Act (fed­eral re­sources pro­vid­ing med­i­cal care for PLWHIV) was passed in the early ‘90s, crim­i­nal­iza­tion laws were writ­ten in as a re­quire­ment to re­ceive th­ese re­sources. At the most ba­sic level, leg­is­la­tors, com­mu­nity mem­bers, nay-say­ers and even other PLWHIV be­lieved this would de­crease new in­fec­tions and keep this sex­ual virus at bay.

Two decades later, we now see the many neg­a­tive ram­i­fi­ca­tions of what th­ese laws have caused. This in­cludes dis­pro­por­tion­ate num­bers of Black and Latino men, women and trans-iden­ti­fied peo­ple liv­ing with HIV be­ing im­pris­oned, fined in civil­ian courts, not el­i­gi­ble for SNAP or to vote and even the worst cases placed at risk of height­ened lev­els of vi­o­lence or killed.

As a PLWHIV, th­ese laws have hov­ered over me as I es­tab­lished new re­la­tion­ships and even as a de­ter­rent of go­ing to medi- cal school when I first learned of my HIV sta­tus in June 2008. I was fear­ful of pass­ing the virus in a nee­dle stick or some­thing far­fetched at the time.

Sit­ting here in Oc­to­ber 2017, as a PLWHIV who is un­de­tectable or rou­tinely tak­ing my HIV med­i­ca­tion to pre­vent the trans­mis­sion of HIV to oth­ers, I am happy to see three states be­gin to right the wrongs. Those states in­clude Iowa, Colorado and now Cal­i­for­nia.

This past Fri­day, Gov. Jerry Brown low­ered from a felony to a mis­de­meanor the act of know­ingly ex­pos­ing peo­ple to an HIV­trans­mis­sion risk (e.g. PLWHIV giv­ing blood with­out telling the blood bank they are liv­ing with HIV). Till Fri­day, HIV was the only com­mu­ni­ca­ble dis­ease car­ry­ing a felony of­fense in Cal­i­for­nia.

Changes like this are needed as we think of new ways of coun­ter­act­ing new in­fec­tions. New biomed­i­cal re­search is con­tin­u­ing to show us, if we get PLWHIV in cul­tur­ally-com­pe­tent med­i­cal care and pre­scribed HIV med­i­ca­tions, we can sub­stan­tially de­crease trans­mis­sion. We must pair th­ese ap­proaches with in­creased free HIV test­ing ev­ery­where and out­side of 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. or 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. in un­der­served com­mu­ni­ties. Cre­at­ing bet­ter pol­icy ul­ti­mately al­lows peo­ple to be bet­ter. And we have to be in the busi­ness of im­prov­ing all com­mu­ni­ties.

What can you do? Be­come an ad­vo­cate and let ev­ery­one know HIV is not a crime.

“As a [per­son liv­ing with HIV], th­ese laws have hov­ered over me as I es­tab­lished new re­la­tion­ships and even as a de­ter­rent of go­ing to med­i­cal school when I first learned of my HIV sta­tus in June 2008.”

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