On March 4, Reproaction organized a discussion called HIV Stigma, Discrimination, and the Law at the University of Missouri – Columbia. The Missouri HIV Justice Coalition and Como for Progress served as cosponsors. The discussion was a part of an undergraduate public health course that was opened to the public. Twenty-five students and community members attended the discussion, and they helped make it incredible. Both of the featured speakers, Professor Michelle Teti, a researcher and professor at the University who has spent the last 20 years centering people living with HIV in her work, and Cale Mitchell, executive director of Spectrum Health Care, shared the floor with me as we engaged with attendees on the relationship between stigma, discrimination, and the law.
We emphasized the impact criminalization of HIV and AIDS has had in Missouri, and how these outdated laws were formed out of fear and hysteria. For example, we now know that HIV cannot be transmitted through saliva, but biting is still listed as a means that can be used as evidence someone living with HIV tried to knowingly transmit the disease.
These laws don’t just affect people living with HIV and AIDS, but their families and communities as well. There is no evidence that these outdated HIV laws have positively impacted transmission rates. As written, they actually deter people from getting tested, and thus decrease treatment options. These laws treat HIV like it is a guaranteed death sentence instead of a disease that can be treated to the point that it is undetectable, and thus no longer transmittable. We should all be doing our best to end HIV stigma that reinforces criminalization, and the best way to begin is to proactively educate ourselves about sex and sexually transmitted diseases.
We are grateful to Professor Kristin Flynn-Peters for opening up her classroom and granting us an opportunity to educate her students and the public on the significance of an accurate understanding of HIV and AIDS.
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