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 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 These outdated laws make HIV status a felony.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 biomedical advances that prevent PLWH from transmitting HIV to their partners. PLWH who are in treatment become “undetectable,” which means there is no detectable virus in their body fluids and they will not be able to transmit HIV. In over three decades these laws have been disproportionately used to unfairly target LGBTQ members, racial minorities, transgender people, and women. We want to shift the current trends of infection in FL 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 the rate of transmission.

Equality Florida’s HIV Advocacy Project will consist of a statewide public education campaign to inform residents of the danger and injustice of our state’s HIV criminal laws, emphasizing how these laws are a disincentive to people seeking testing and treatment, promoting new HIV transmissions, and work counter to good public health initiatives. We will 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 state.

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 will focus our outreach to communities of color, with a special emphasis on black and Latino faith-based communities. We will 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 undermines shared responsibility of safe sex between consenting adults. Having an HIV-specific law does not deter people from non-disclosure and provides a disincentive for testing (unknown hiv status = no prosecution.)

Unjust Prosecutions & Unfair Sentencing

Unlike most crimes, HIV-specific laws do not require intent to harm in order to prosecute 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 relationship 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 stigmatize individuals, their confidentiality might be compromised since nothing prevents potential partners of sharing that information with whomever they want. The existence of the law has been used as a coercive tool by people who threaten HIV+ individuals with arrest. Conviction of felonies ruin people’s lives forever. These laws stigmatize ALL people living with HIV. Furthermore, these laws turn sex workers into felons and might affect someone’s immigration status.

Call to Action

  1. Equality Florida needs you! Join us in our efforts to combat the spread of HIV In the Sunshine State. Sign the pledge publicly supporting Equality Florida's HIV Advocacy Project.
  2. If you or someone you know has been affected by Florida’s HIV-specific laws please tell us about it.

Biomedical Approaches to Prevention

The fight against HIV is more promising than ever with medical advances and technology allowing HIV+ people 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. 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 uninfectious and incapable of transmitting the virus 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 the efficacy of PrEP. 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 uses anti-retroviral medication after been exposed 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.

- 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 near unanimous recommendations of health professionals and HIV advocates, the CDC joins 56 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 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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