WASHINGTON – In a critical acknowledgment of the discrimination surrounding HIV/AIDS, the Obama administration today, in its newly released strategy, emphasized the government’s responsibility to enforce nondiscrimination laws and made clear that education about the transmission of HIV is crucial to fighting the stigma that many living with HIV face. The administration’s strategy is aimed at reducing HIV infections, redirecting resources to alleviate health disparities of those infected with HIV and increasing the accessibility and quality of health care.
“The Obama administration deserves credit for introducing this strategy to combat HIV and AIDS and for recognizing that HIV/AIDS is not only a public health issue, but also a civil rights issue,” said Laura W. Murphy, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Unfortunately, in this country and around the world, there remains a huge information gap about the true facts of HIV, and many living with the disease face unwarranted discrimination every day. Fighting discrimination is a crucial part of any strategy to combat HIV/AIDS.”
The new strategy reaffirms the need for evidence-based HIV prevention approaches, including condom distribution and needle exchange programs. The strategy also recognizes that HIV impacts different communities differently and specifically urges that resources be redirected to address the fact that many communities, including gay and bisexual men, transgender people and African-Americans, have a much higher mortality rate from AIDS. While the administration’s strategy contains many important and positive initiatives, it does fail to address the continued problem of inadequate funding and scarce resources to fight HIV/AIDS.
The administration’s strategy correctly calls on states to end counterproductive laws that criminalize behavior by people living with HIV, and urges states to reconsider laws that criminalize consensual sexual activity by those living with the disease. There are currently 32 states with these kinds of laws on the books, including criminal laws that single out people with HIV for spitting or biting, despite the fact that HIV cannot be transmitted through saliva.
"We are pleased that the administration has recognized that discrimination and stigma continue to be real barriers in the fight against HIV/AIDS, and that resources must be directed to the vulnerable groups who need it most," said Rose Saxe, Senior Staff Attorney with the ACLU AIDS Project. "The fight to end discrimination and improve public education has a long way to go, but this is an important step."
Much of the discrimination surrounding HIV and AIDS occurs in our nation’s prisons, where HIV positive prisoners are sometimes segregated from the greater prison population, forced to wear armbands declaring themselves HIV positive and are frequently denied equal participation in prison jobs, programs and re-entry opportunities that facilitate their successful transition back into society. As the administration’s strategy is implemented, the ACLU urges the administration to work to eliminate these harmful and discriminatory practices.