President-elect Joe Biden has promised to “advance LGBTQ equality” by reversing decades-old criminalization of HIV exposure and transmission laws that have no “scientific basis” and contribute to stigmas.
Biden said he supports legislation like U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee’s REPEAL HIV Discrimination Act, which seeks to “modernize” laws and policies in 26 states that have HIV exposure laws and characterize the “blood, semen and saliva” of people living with HIV as a “deadly weapon” – though as pointed out in the bill, HIV cannot be transmitted through saliva.
Currently, 37 states have laws that criminalize HIV exposure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Lee’s bill calls for Congress to implement new policies that would require the attorney general, secretary of health and human services, and the secretary of defense to review state and federal laws, including military policies, addressing regulations and criminal charges surrounding the exposure or transmission of HIV.
The California Democrat’s legislation also points to how the United Nations has adapted its language to encourage the de-stigmatization of HIV by enforcing only “intentional transmission,” where an individual can be charged for acting “with the intention to transmit HIV, and does in fact transmit it.”
The bill argues that updating policies such as these would then take into consideration scientific advances like antiretroviral medications, which allow the virus to run on almost “undetectable levels” and make the transmission rate “near zero” – which is not taken into account under current criminal laws.
States like California and Washington have passed legislation to reduce the penalty from knowingly transmitting HIV from a felony charge to a misdemeanor.
While opponents to reducing charges argue there is an increased likelihood that knowingly transmitted HIV is spread from person to person, supporters say such law revisions would decrease discrimination – a sentiment echoed by former President Obama in 2010.
“While we understand the intent behind these laws, they may not have the desired effect and they may make people less willing to disclose their status by making people feel at even greater risk of discrimination,” Obama said in a National HIV/AIDS Strategy.
“In many instances, the continued existence and enforcement of these types of laws run counter to scientific evidence about routes of HIV transmission and may undermine the public health goals of promoting HIV screening and treatment,” the statement continued.
Biden has selected members of his future administration that reflect his intended commitment to LGBTQ communities in choosing two lesbian officals to serve in his administration — including Karine Jean-Pierre, former chief of staff for Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, who has been selected as deputy press secretary, and Pili Tobar, a former aide to Senat Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who will serve as deputy White House communications director, according to NBC News.
Biden also a made a historical first in appointing Pete Buttigieg as the first openly gay man to his Cabinet to serve as transportation secretary. (Richard Grenell, who served as President Trump’s acting director of national intelligence from February to May of this year, was the first openly gay man appointed to any Cabinet position.)