Nothing about us without ALL of us: Sex workers must be included in the new National HIV/AIDS Strategy

Sex workers have too often been deliberately excluded as a community of greatest need in our federal HIV response. Sex workers have been advocating for their inclusion since the first National HIV/AIDS Strategy was created in 2010, but their advocacy has thus far been met with silence.

Calls for inclusion have been led by sex workers with Desiree Alliance, Best Practices Policy Project, New Jersey Red Umbrella Alliance, The Outlaw Project and The Black Sex Workers Collective since 2010. Recently these organizations have publicly resubmitted their request for the inclusion of sex workers in the National HIV/AIDS Strategy through an open letter to Harold Phillips.

This letter requests that sex workers be included in the National HIV/AIDS Strategy update, to be released by World AIDS Day this year, and it makes additional recommendations on limiting new HIV cases, increasing access to care and improving health outcomes, reducing HIV-related disparities and ensuring a coordinated response to the HIV epidemic.

We at AIDS United stand together with sex workers to advocate for the inclusion of sex workers in the National HIV/AIDS Strategy. As an organization dedicated to ending the HIV epidemic, we know that we cannot end the epidemic without centering those most vulnerable to HIV. We once again call on Harold Phillips, director of the Office of National AIDS Policy, to include sex workers in the next iteration of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy.

As we have stated in our previous article “Ending HIV means ending sex workers’ invisibility,” sex workers share so many of the same experiences that many people living with HIV have experienced — especially in the epidemic’s earliest days. Sex workers are losing jobs, unable to get medical care and treated as invisible or stigmatized.

As we stand for the meaningful involvement of people living with HIV in HIV-related policy and health care, we must also call for the inclusion of sex workers as people most impacted by the epidemic and central to our historic fight against HIV.

We who know this history must never let it be repeated.

Sex workers need to be explicitly included in the updated National HIV/AIDS Strategy. To achieve this, those of us who stand up for the rights of all people living with HIV must stand with sex workers, loud and proud, and call for their inclusion in the National HIV/AIDS Strategy.