Rebuilding Momentum to Stop HIV

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December 23, 2013

In the blog series Momentum: 2013, A Year of Equality we ask Lambda Legal’s experts to discuss the impact of the previous year and the continuing work necessary to keep equality moving forward.

We are at a turning point in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and the momentum is building to propel us to the next plateau. With all of the biomedical treatment and prevention tools now at our disposal — pre-exposure prophylaxsis (PrEP), medications that reduce infectiousness to near zero, post-exposure prophylaxsis (PEP) — people are starting to talk with real optimism about the possibility of reaching an AIDS-free generation in the not-too-distant future. However, as Lambda Legal has recognized since the beginning of the epidemic, we will not realize that dream unless we empower people to take advantage of these life-saving tools by validating their sexual identities, celebrating freedom ofsexual expression, and eliminating the stigma and discrimination that surround HIV.

This past year, we have reached some important milestones along the road to improving the lives of people living with HIV and eliminating the stigma that prevents people from learning their HIV status, seeking care, and remaining in treatment. Alabama and South Carolina, the last two states to segregate prisoners based on HIV status, integrated their prison populations; organ donations from one HIV-positive person to another were legalized; and last week, Congress passed a bill that requires the military to conduct a review of its HIV-related personnel policies, which marks the beginning of a process to bring those policies in line with current medical science and the National HIV/AIDS Strategy.

To be sure, much remains to be done. Progress in 2013 with respect to reforming the HIV criminalization laws has been less substantial than in other areas. But even in this arena, there are signs that we are moving forward: the military is now being required to ensure its HIV-related disciplinary policies are evidence-based and medically accurate; earlier this year, Lambda Legal was part of a successful effort to reverse the conviction of a Minnesota man unjustly prosecuted for sexual conduct under a provision of law pertaining to “sperm donation;” and there is a very real possibility that the Iowa law under which Lambda Legal client Nick Rhoades was prosecuted will be amended in the upcoming legislative session. With the growing national consensus that HIV criminalization laws do more harm than good, the momentum is definitely in our favor on this front as well.

And Lambda Legal plans to be there every step of the journey forward. If the country has learned anything from the roll-out this year of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) — which has the potential to shift the course of the epidemic by providing better access to care to hundreds of thousands of people living with HIV — itis that passage of a law is only the beginning.Back in 2012, Lambda Legal provided support to those arguing on behalf of the ACA’s constitutionality, we are now helping to shape the regulations that require that health insurance be provided in a nondiscriminatory fashion, and in the coming years, we will be monitoring the law’s implementation to ensure that itspromise of inclusion and equitable care for those with pre-existing conditions becomes a reality for people living with HIV.

Though the world long ago realized that HIV/AIDS is not a “gay disease,” make no mistake that the LGBT community will always have a substantial stake in this battle — and that we will all need to do our part. This past year, when it was announced that gay and bisexual men accounted for 63% of all HIV infections and that young gay and bisexual men were the only group for which rates of infection are on the rise, the leaders of 35 LGBT groups — including Lambda Legal’s own Kevin Cathcart — issued a clarion call to the LGBT community to re-engage and re-energize itself to fight HIV/AIDS. Momentum is created by action, and Lambda Legal is taking the actions necessary to create momentum in our community around HIV/AIDS — now you can do your part by making our work possible!

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