On February 28, people across the US participate in HIV Is Not A Crime Awareness Day — an annual commemoration to shine a light on those who have been criminalized based on their HIV status.
First observed last year by Sero Project alongside the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, this day offers us a chance to shine a light on the issues those living with HIV face in the legal system. It also gives us the opportunity to call out yet again the painful stigma those with the virus face, and recommit to our work to eradicate that stigma and the virus’s spread.
Someone’s HIV status should never be considered criminal. Yet, in more than 30 states, people are imprisoned because of their status. Enough is enough.
These outdated and discriminatory laws stem from fear, not science or reason. They were born decades after the ravages of the AIDS epidemic impacted so many LGBTQ people — particularly Black and Brown men who have sex with men (MSM) — communities of color, and poorer individuals.
We’re not just talking in hypotheticals here: There are incarcerated folks nationwide suffering in silence due to their status. According to the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, someone living with HIV could serve over 35 years for spitting at a police officer in Texas … eight years if their partner says they never disclosed their status even without clear evidence of transmission … and more. These are just a few of the unjust prison sentences carried out nationwide.
That’s why it’s on all of us to use our voices to uplift the stories of this current legal reality, and spread awareness in any way we can. Here are a few ways you can do that right now.
- Share this article with the people in your life to help them better understand why this day is so important.
- Take to social media to spread crucial facts about these laws using the hashtags #HIVIsNotACrime and #HINAC, and follow organizations leading the work in this space for more information.
- Visit the Center for HIV Law & Policy for deeper dives into the roots of these laws and a state-by-state breakdown of the current legal landscape.
- Consider registering for the Sero Project’s HIV is Not A Crime V National Training Academy, which gives you the resources to dispel and help dismantle these stigmas.
- Get involved with local HIV-focused organizations and start advocating on the state, local, and federal levels for an overhaul of these laws.
Beyond educating ourselves on these laws, there is still much work to do in our collective global effort to stop the spread and hateful stigma against those living with the virus. There is no fighting these laws without taking direct aim at unfounded fear at the virus’s root.
That includes something personal: our sexual health. To play our part in stopping HIV’s continued spread, we need to stay informed and safe. Here are a few ways.
- Getting tested regularly for HIV (and other STIs!)
- Exploring prevention methods like PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) and PeP (post-exposure prophylaxis) to see if they are right for you.
- Practicing safer sex as often as possible with your partners
- Build an open, honest relationship with a trustworthy medical professional or clinic.
- Educating yourself about what “status neutral” means and how that can impact partnered sexual contact.
- Reviewing additional resources and support offered by DC Health.
It will take all of us to see a real impact in places where these laws are still on the books but by doing what we can in our communities we have a chance to help overturn them and continue to dismantle the stigma and spread of HIV.
This HIV Is Not A Crime Awareness Day, let’s come together and make a change. For more information, visit sexualbeing.org.