Today, February 28, marks the inaugural observation of HIV is Not a Crime (HIVNAC) Awareness Day, which is launched by The Sero Project with The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation (ETAF) as a collaborating partner. The date for HIVNAC is symbolic, as it marks the end of National Black History Month and the beginning of National Women’s History Month—two demographics that are disproportionately impacted by both the HIV epidemic and HIV criminalization.
The day will increase awareness of laws around the country that criminalize HIV and the efforts underway and already in effect in states around the country, including Illinois, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, and Virginia where laws have been modernized or fully repealed. The work of HIVNAC is highlighted in the Administration’s efforts to address the repeal or modernize criminalization laws.
President Biden released the updated National HIV/AIDS Strategy (2022-2025) (NHAS) on World AIDS Day 2021. NHAS calls for repeal and reform of state HIV criminalization laws as a strategy to reduce HIV-related stigma and discrimination and the complex barriers they pose for people with or who experience risk for HIV. In his World AIDS Day remarks, the President noted that there are still many states “that have HIV criminalization laws that do not reflect an accurate understanding of HIV. We have to follow science, and that means eliminating the laws that perpetuate discrimination, exacerbate disparities, discourage HIV testing, and take us further away from our goal.” Dr. Jonathan Mermin, Director of the National Center for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention at the CDC echoed this sentiment.
Dr. Mermin notes, “So much has changed since the 1980s, we have a cure for hepatitis C, highly effective HIV treatment, new regimens for tuberculosis, marriage equality is in full force, and syringe service programs are becoming mainstream, but we still have major epidemics and massive disparities that continue to challenge our sense of whether our country is just. Social and economic barriers directly prevent access to services and impede efforts to prevent and treat HIV. Ending the HIV epidemic will require community support, political will, and national action. HIV criminalization laws impede these efforts.”
Additionally, a White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP) virtual listening session focused on HIV criminalization laws and included members of the HIV and legal communities. During the session, the discussion surfaced a variety of issues, concerns, and potential opportunities for further exploration at the federal and state levels.
As efforts to modernize and repeal HIV laws in more states continue, HIVNAC Awareness Day is an important opportunity to elevate awareness of their discriminatory effects. To learn more, visit https://www.hivisnotacrime-etaf.org/.
For additional resources, see the blog on ONAP’s virtual listening session in January 2021, the Dear Colleague Letter about the HIV Criminalization Commentary published in the Lancet in 2021, and CDC’s list of HIV and STD criminalization laws.