World AIDS Day Joint Statement from the Hispanic Black Gay Coalition and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice
HIV does not affect all Americans equally. People of color, primarily Blacks and Latinos, are disproportionately represented among the 1 million people living with HIV in the United States. At some point in their lifetimes, an estimated 1 in 16 Black men, and 1 in 32 Black women will be diagnosed with HIV. This represents a rate that is 8 times greater than Whites. People of color who are diagnosed with HIV are also less likely than Whites to be linked to medical care and treatment.
In July 2015, the White House released an updated National HIV/AIDS Strategy with an express goal of reducing HIV-related disparities and health inequities. The White House and public health officials remind us that socioeconomic factors, such as poverty, limited educational opportunities, lack of or inadequate health insurance, limited access to culturally competent health care, and language barriers contribute to disproportionately high HIV transmission rates in communities of color. Undocumented immigrants – many of whom fear disclosing their immigration status – are less likely to access HIV prevention services, to get an HIV test, or to seek adequate treatment and care if they are living with HIV.
More than thirty years into the epidemic, HIV stigma and HIV phobia remain potent forces fueled by misconceptions about the routes, risks, and consequences of HIV transmission. Far too many people still think that HIV can be spread through kissing, sharing a drinking glass, or touching a toilet seat. HIV stigma can be compounded by discrimination related to substance use, sex work, mental health, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, ethnicity, and immigration status. HIV misconceptions and HIV stigma must be eliminated to diminish barriers to prevention, testing, and care.
More than thirty states have criminal laws that penalize people living with HIV for conduct that would be indisputably legal if they did not get tested or know their status. These laws provide opportunities for law enforcement to target individuals with stigmatized identities – including transgender women of color and gay men of color – for criminalization and prosecution. Given these facts, it is not surprising that, each year, an estimated 1 in 6 people living with HIV pass through a correctional facility.
In the legal arena, we must ensure that prosecutors and law enforcement officials have an accurate understanding of HIV. The existence and enforcement of HIV criminalization laws risks creating a powerful disincentive for coming forward for HIV testing, thus, significantly undermining public health goals of promoting HIV screening and treatment. Taking the test shouldn’t mean risking arrest.
World AIDS Day, held annually on December 1, is an opportunity for all of us – regardless of our HIV status, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, and immigration status – to come together to reflect on what each of us can do to fight prejudice and over-criminalization. As President Obama noted recently, “the arc of the moral universe may bend towards justice, but it doesn’t bend on its own.” For all of us, the civil rights struggle continues.
Hispanic Black Gay Coalition (HBGC) is one of few non-profit organizations in Boston dedicated to the unique and complex needs of the Black and Hispanic LGBTQ community.
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice (LCCR) safeguards the civil, social, and economic liberties of residents in Greater Boston and throughout Massachusetts.