Laws criminalizing HIV get in the way of ending the HIV epidemic

Tuesday marks HIV is Not a Crime Awareness Day. The day was pioneered by the Sero Project and several partner organizations.

AIDS United caught up with Tami Haught, who uses she/they pronouns, and is the co-managing director at the Sero Project. The Sero Project’s mission is to center and uplift people living with HIV at the decision-making table, particularly around HIV criminalization issues. 

Haught shared that Feb. 28 was chosen as HIV is Not  a Crime Awareness Day due to its proximity to both National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day and National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. They noted how HIV criminalization disproportionately impacts both of these communities.

Haught explained that HIV criminalization is amplified by other forms of discrimination and marginalization, such as racism, homophobia and transphobia. In particular, the people who are the most policed — Black and Brown communities, Black women, women of trans-experience, sex workers, and immigrants — are at the highest risk for prosecution. These are some of the same people disproportionally impacted by the HIV epidemic. 

Because of this, HIV criminalization will continue to impact public health efforts to prevent and treat HIV. 

Haught says “ending the epidemic will not happen when people continue to fear prosecution due to their HIV status. There is a serious need to focus on breaking down institutional barriers for the most marginalized communities. It is critical to continue educating legislators on HIV decriminalization and its inclusion in local ending the epidemic plans.”

Attacks on people living with HIV have not disappeared, with six states introducing HIV criminalization laws this year. To track the various HIV criminalization laws, the Sero Project has created an interactive state map. Check out what laws are like where you live. 

The Sero Project has also created a media toolkit to help amplify the issue of HIV criminalization and to address the importance of language justice. It is also available in Spanish.

Ending the HIV epidemic is not possible without ensuring people living with and vulnerable to HIV are able to seek the care they deserve without fear of retaliation. When people fear their department of health and their medical records being used against them, they don’t seek testing, treatment or care. That’s why AIDS United, the Sero Project and our allies are working for the ‘Repeal Existing Policies that Encourage and Allow Legal (REPEAL) HIV Discrimination Act.