Howard Brown supports bill to decriminalize HIV in Illinois
Last week, the Illinois HIV Action Alliance (IHAA), Senator Robert Peters, and Representative Carol Ammons introduced SB655, legislation that would repeal outdated and stigmatizing laws criminalizing people living with HIV (PLWH). Under current Illinois law, PLWH can be criminally prosecuted and incarcerated for having consensual sex without the use of a condom, sharing needles, or for donating blood, tissue, semen or organs. These laws are outdated and do not account for the modern technology used to rigorously screen all blood and tissue donations for HIV, nor do they account for advances in medicine making HIV a treatable and manageable chronic condition. Furthermore, there is no requirement of HIV transmission for criminal prosecution, so PLWH can be arrested and incarcerated with no HIV transmission actually taking place.
HIV criminalization laws are also ineffective. There is no evidence showing that localities that have HIV criminalization laws have reduced rates of HIV transmission. Instead, these laws often actively work against public health efforts to end the HIV epidemic by increasing fear around HIV testing. These laws treat HIV differently than any other communicable or chronic disease and only serve to increase stigma, fear, and misinformation around HIV.
HIV criminalization laws also disproportionately impact Black and Brown people, who are overrepresented among PLWH and are already over-policed and criminalized. As we continue to advocate for racial justice and health equity, it is long overdue to repeal criminalization laws that only serve to increase stigma and harms experienced by marginalized and underserved communities.
Disease transmission is a public health issue, not a crime. In order to realize the priorities and goals of the Getting to Zero statewide initiative to end the HIV epidemic by 2030, we must combat stigma and lead with scientifically proven public health prevention and care strategies. To end the HIV epidemic in Illinois, it is imperative that we repeal every state law criminalizing people living with HIV.