Recap: White House's Harold Phillips Participates in HIV Is Not a Crime Awareness Day Activities

Content From: HIV.govPublished: April 18, 20233 min read

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Harold J. Phillips, MRP, Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP), continued his efforts to advance the National HIV/AIDS Strategy’s (NHAS) call to repeal and reform outdated state HIV criminalization laws. These efforts are to reduce HIV-related stigma and discrimination and included several activities on the second annual HIV Is Not a Crime Awareness Day on February 28. The annual observance is intended to spotlight and support work by community partners on the ground to repeal or modernize laws that criminalize or control actions that can potentially expose another person to HIV.

During a visit to Los Angeles, Mr. Phillips took part in an HIV Is Not a Crime Awareness Day event on the lot of Paramount Studios hosted by the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF), Gilead Sciences, and the Sero Project. The event included a performance of a one-act play, UNJUSTExit Disclaimer, which shines a light on HIV criminalization laws and their ramifications. After the performance, Mr. Phillips took part in a panel discussion and emphasized the important role of private employers in the nation’s efforts to end HIV, specifically recognizing Paramount Studios and Gilead for their work on HIV criminalization issues. He also shared a message to “take action against stigma, discrimination, and criminalization—follow the criminalization issues domestically and globally.” Additionally, he promoted the CDC’s new HIV Criminalization Legal and Policy Assessment Tool (PDF, 1.45MB).

Mr. Phillips also participated in a webinar on legal, health, and equity considerations related to HIV criminalization. During a roundtable discussion, he discussed the Biden Administration’s continued commitment to ending the HIV epidemic and the importance of working toward reforming outdated HIV criminalization laws and regulations which contribute to HIV stigma and discrimination. Mr. Phillips was joined by other panelists for the roundtable, including:

  • Jonathan Mermin, Director, NCHHSTP, CDC
  • Robert Suttle, Chair, Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation Council of Justice Leaders
  • Brad Sears, Associate Dean of Public Interest Law and Founding Executive Director of The Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law
  • Vineeta Gupta, M.D., J.D., LL.M, National Director of The Network for Public Health Law

During the webinar, CDC introduced the forementioned new HIV Criminalization Legal and Policy Assessment Tool (PDF, 1.45MB). Per the CDC, “the tool enables an objective assessment of a jurisdiction’s laws, regulations, and executive orders that control HIV surveillance and prevention. It can also help identify opportunities to strengthen legal and policy protections for people with HIV—protections that are also likely to benefit public health more broadly—by aligning them with evidence-based best practices.” You may read about the CDC’s Tool here. Mr. Phillips also discussed the tool in this HIV.gov blog.

These February activities build on prior efforts, including a July 2022 meeting that ONAP hosted to bring together state prosecutors, health departments, and community organizations to discuss moving this important reformation work forward. Read the article about the meeting here.

Thanks to scientific advancements, including antiretroviral therapy, the risk of transmitting HIV through sex to an HIV-negative partner is nearly zero. Despite this progress, people with HIV living in more than 30 states can be criminally charged because of their status, even when there is no risk of HIV transmission. As the NHAS notes, such laws and prosecutions discourage HIV testing, increase stigma, and exacerbate disparities. Additionally, HIV criminalization laws are based on outdated premises that do not reflect the significant advances to treat and prevent HIV transmission, such as effective therapeutics that can suppress the virus to the point of it being undetectable, and therefore untransmittable, known as U=U.