A message from our Executive Director

Passage of HB369 a troubling step backward in fight to remove HIV stigma.

Our long struggle to remove the stigma from HIV and people living with the disease suffered a setback in the final moments of the state legislative session yesterday with the surprise passage of House Bill 369.

Sponsored by Rep. Justin Fawson and Sen. Todd Weiler, HB369 raises the penalty for people convicted of a sexual offense if they are infected with HIV, hepatitis B or hepatitis C, and if they knew they were infected at the time of the crime.

We, Equality Utah and other partners worked hard to prevent this unnecessarily punitive proposal over the past two weeks – and we were successful in removing some even more horrifying aspects – but the amended bill passed both houses last night and now goes to the Governor for his signature. We’ll be working overtime to encourage him to veto it.

HB369 is draconian and will only further stigmatize people living with HIV and hepatitis. What’s more, it may encourage people to avoid knowing their HIV status – something we’ve worked for years to prevent – which could lead to disastrous public health consequences.

We’ll be joining with Equality Utah and others to raise these dire public health concerns with Gov. Herbert and we’ll be looking to you to help us reinforce that message with calls, emails, texts and letters.

As troubling as HB369 is, the original proposal was even worse – it sought to penalize anyone with HIV who did not disclose their status before engaging in sex. We were successful in getting that provision removed, but the fact that it came up at all shows how much more we need to do to educate our policy makers.

There is still incredible misinformation and stigma associated with HIV. It is truly disheartening that we continue to see efforts, like this misguided legislation, to further demonize and stigmatize those people living with HIV.

People can and do live very healthy and productive lives, even with HIV. But it is more important than ever that people get tested early and then be connected quickly to medical services. At the Utah AIDS Foundation, the time from the first HIV diagnoses to the first medical appointment is as short as two weeks – one of the fastest referral times in the country!

And it is critical for all of us to continue working hard to ensure that anyone and everyone living with HIV receives the love, care, and dignity they deserve.

HB 369 is a wake up call that we need to ramp up our efforts to educate our elected officials about the realities of HIV and those who are living with it.

On a more hopeful note, Equality Utah was successful this year in passing new legislation to remove Utah's ridiculous "No Promo Homo" laws, which have hampered honest and accurate education in Utah's classrooms for almost two decades. Learn more about their success here: Utah legislature passes historic bill repealing anti-LGBT state public education law.

Thank you, Equality Utah, for your efforts to make Utah a better place for all of us!