Modernizing HIV Laws In Florida

 

The Project:

Florida’s current HIV-specific laws perpetuate stigma, work against common sense public health policies, and encourage people to stay unaware of their HIV status. Consequently, many people remain untreated, allowing the HIV transmission rates to continue to grow. These outdated laws make HIV status a felony. People living with HIV (PLWH) can be found criminally liable for up to 30 years in prison if they do not disclose their HIV status to consensual partners before any type of sexual contact, even if transmission is impossible. The law disregards the level of risk of such contact and ignores all advances in treatment and prevention that are available to PLWH to prevent transmission of HIV to their sexual partners. PLWH who are in treatment become “undetectable,” which means there is no detectable virus in their body fluids and they will not transmit HIV to a negative sexual partner. For more than three decades these laws have been disproportionately used to unfairly target the LGBTQ community, racial minority groups, trans people, and women. We want to shift the current trends of transmission in Florida and tackle any barriers that prevent people from getting tested and into treatment. We are advocating for common sense policies to modernize HIV-specific laws to reflect 21st-century medical advances and reduce HIV transmission.

Equality Florida’s HIV Advocacy Project consists of a statewide public education campaign to inform residents of the dangers and injustice of our state’s HIV-specific laws, emphasizing how these laws are a disincentive to people seeking testing and treatment, and they promote new transmissions and work against public health. We ensure that people living with HIV/AIDS inform this project and that we consistently employ strategies aimed at modernizing HIV laws to finally put an end to the unjust legal treatment and stigmatization by the government.

We will begin the conversation about Modernizing HIV Laws with Equality Florida Institute’s 270,000 members. From there, we will broaden our Public Education Campaign to include our known allies and partners to eventually launch a Public Education Campaign aimed at informing residents throughout Florida of the importance of modernizing HIV-specific laws.

As part of our Education Campaign, we focus our outreach to communities of color, with a special emphasis on black and Latino faith-based communities. We promote awareness of modernizing HIV laws and the disproportionate impact of HIV criminal laws on people of color, especially black transgender women. 

 

The Need:

Public Health Threat 

HIV criminalization laws discourage people from getting tested and seeking treatment. These laws may actually reduce the number of people who disclose their status and undermine shared responsibility of safe sex between consenting adults. Having an HIV-specific law does not deter people from non-disclosure, and it provides a disincentive for testing since many people wrongly believe that not knowing their HIV status exempts them from these HIV-specific laws. 

Unjust Prosecutions & Unfair Sentencing 

Unlike most crimes, HIV-specific laws do not require intent to harm in order to prosecute and convict a defendant. Similarly, the law does not require evidence of disclosure and ignores current science, actual transmission, or harm to impose extremely disproportionate punishments in relation to the crime. HIV status is used as a sentence enhancement tool, adding jail time to people who are facing other charges. 

Stigma & Oppression

Disclosing HIV status further stigmatizes individuals, as their confidential health information might be shared by potential partners, creating an environment of fear of rejection and public shaming. The existence of HIV-specific laws has been used as a coercive tool by people who threaten people living with HIV with arrest, which forces many people to stay in abusive controlling relationships. Felony convictions ruin people’s lives forever, preventing them from accessing basic services. These laws stigmatize ALL people living with HIV, furthermore, these laws turn sex workers into felons and can affect someone’s immigration status. 

Call to Action 

Equality Florida needs you! Make your voice be heard and join us in our efforts to modernize the current outdated and unfair HIV-specific laws in the State of Florida. Sign the pledge publicly supporting Equality of Florida modernization program.

If you or someone you know has been affected by Florida’s HIV-specific laws please tell us about it.

HIV-Specific Laws in Florida 

Florida has one of the strictest HIV criminalization laws in the country. There are many reasons why the current laws need to be updated. 

What’s Wrong with Current HIV-Specific Laws? 

  • Prevents people from getting tested 
  • Promotes new transmissions 
  • No evidence of disclosure necessary 
  • Harsh sentencing - up to 30 years 
  • Disregards medical advances 
  • Used as a sentence enhancement 
  • Does not require transmission 
  • Targets minority groups and sex-workers 
  • Disregards prevention methods (i.e. condoms, PrEP, TasP) 

 

Consequences of Criminalization?

  • Media sensationalism
  • Felony convictions (ruin lives)
  • Prison/jail time
  • Employment/housing/public aid denied
  • Loss of parental rights
  • Restrictions on voting and traveling
  • Stigma & violence
  • May affect someone’s immigration status

Biomedical Approaches to Prevention

The fight against HIV is more promising than ever with medical advances and technology allowing people living with HIV to live long healthy lives as compared to their HIV negative counterparts. PLWH can safely have children, have loving sexual relationships, and their life expectancy has increased to almost the same as the general population. Consequently, the law should reflect these advances and be revised. The following are some of those medical advances that should be considered by the law.

TasP

  • Since 2008 the World Health Organization announced that HIV treatment successfully prevented HIV infection. Since then, the efficacy of treatment was studied* and confirmed to prevent infection among partners with different HIV status. Hence the birth of Treatment as Prevention (TasP) as one of the most effective HIV prevention methods. An HIV+ person in anti-retroviral therapy who achieves an undetectable viral load is rendered incapable of transmitting HIV to a negative person, even if they have condomless sex.

PrEP

  • For years the only HIV prevention approach was to use condoms. This is no longer the case. Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis is an HIV prevention method, a once-daily pill, used by HIV negative people to successfully remain negative. PrEP has been approved by the FDA since 2012 after carefully reviewing clinical studies on its efficacy. Currently, the only pill approved for PrEP is Truvada, but new options for medication are been clinically studied and awaiting approval.

PEP

  • Post-Exposure Prophylaxis is another HIV prevention method that applies anti-retroviral medication after exposure to HIV. This approach is only effective if medication is provided within the first 72 hours after exposure, and it’s only used during emergency situations like sharing needles or unprotected sex with an infected person who is not on treatment, accidental medical exposure, and victims of sexual assault.

U=U (Undetectable=Untransmittable)

  • On September 27th, 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention publicly recognized that people living with HIV (PLWH) who are in treatment and are undetectable pose no risk of sexually transmitting HIV to a negative partner. To be “undetectable” means that a person’s anti-retroviral HIV medication has suppressed that person’s viral load to the point where they are physically unable to transmit HIV to a sexual partner.
  • After years of research and the nearly unanimous recommendations of health professionals and HIV advocates, the CDC joins 76 other countries that have signed on in support of the U=U Campaign and language.
  • This is a historic milestone for acceptance and equality of all individuals regardless of HIV status. PLWH suffer rejection, discrimination, demonization, and shaming for their status, many times are reduced to feeling toxic and completely dehumanized to an illness. This announcement should serve as a catalyst for PLWH to live healthier, more inclusive lives with their families and friends and within their communities.
  • Ultimately we recognize this can potentially have life-saving implications with a positive impact on people seeking testing and treatment which in turn reduces the “community viral load,” and prevents new transmissions.

 


 
 
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