#NHASeverywhere: the Williams Institute –Research on HIV Criminalization

Content From: HIV.govPublished: March 14, 20233 min read



For the next story in our #NHASeverywhere social media effort, HIV.gov is highlighting the Williams InstituteExit Disclaimer (the Institute) at UCLA School of Law at the recommendation of Harold Phillips, Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy. The Institute is the leading research center on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy. Founded in 2001, the Institute’s goal is to replace the prevalent bias against LGBT people in law, policy, and culture with independent research on LGBT issues.

As part of its mission, the Institute ensures that facts—not stereotypes—inform laws, policies, and judicial decisions that affect the LGBT community. For nearly two decades, the Institute’s research has been disseminated to judges, prosecutors, policymakers, the media, and other stakeholders to ensure that the decisions impacting the lives of millions of LGBT people and families are fact- and data-based.

#NHASeverywhere Story

Over the past seven years, the Institute has studied the enforcement of HIV criminal laws in 10 states. These laws—the earliest of which were passed in the 1980s when HIV emerged and very little was known about HIV and how it is transmitted or treated—make something a person does illegal based solely on their HIV status. HIV criminal laws can also expose people with HIV to harsher penalties because of their HIV status. Nathan Cisneros, HIV Criminalization Analyst at the Institute, noted that the Institute’s reports have “uncovered thousands of people who have been criminalized because of their HIV status.” He continued, “Our reports show over and over again that HIV criminalization disproportionately affects the most vulnerable populations, including black people, women, and sex workers, and especially people at the intersection of those identities.”

The Institute’s work aligns with several parts of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (2022-2025) (NHAS), including Goal 3 in the NHAS: Reduce HIV-Related Disparities and Health Inequities and Objective 3.1: Reduce HIV-related stigma and discrimination. “The NHAS rightly points out,” observed Cisneros, “that HIV criminal laws perpetuate stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV.” He hopes that the Institute’s work will “inform policymakers and advocates’ efforts as they work to modernize these HIV criminal laws” with the aim to “protect people living with HIV from continued discrimination and also from incarceration.”

The Institute’s executive director, Brad Sears, JD, shared some of their research findings during a June 2022 meeting convened by the White House’s Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) that assembled prosecutors, public health officials, and legal and infectious disease experts to discuss HIV-specific criminal laws and the prosecution of people with HIV. The meeting’s goal, noted ONAP Director Harold Phillips, was to ensure that state and local officials were aware of the latest scientific evidence about HIV transmission risk as they and other stakeholders work to address the NHAS’ call to repeal and reform outdated state HIV criminalization laws to reduce HIV-related stigma and discrimination.

You can learn more about the Williams Institute’s research on HIV criminal laws hereExit Disclaimer. Also, visitExit Disclaimer our Instagram page to see our reels featuring Nathan Cisneros from the Williams Institute.

In Spring 2022, HIV.gov launched #NHASeverywhere, a social media effort that spotlights the amazing work being done in communities across the country to help reach the NHAS goals. Each featured story highlights work that aligns with the NHAS, as an example of the collective efforts needed across the nation to end the HIV epidemic.

To learn more about the NHAS and its implementation throughout the country, follow our social media channels (FacebookExit Disclaimer and TwitterExit Disclaimer).