US: Bill introduced in Illinois to reform HIV criminalisation law

Advocates and Legislators Introduce Bill to Decriminalize HIV in Illinois

Legislation was introduced in Springfield today to end criminal penalties against people living with HIV (PLWH), which serve only to stigmatize and discriminate against PLWH. Current Illinois law makes legal behavior – like consensual sex – illegal, and adds harsh penalties for ordinarily minor crimes such as sharing injection-drug equipment. Under current law, PLWH face the threat of arrest, prosecution, and incarceration even if they do not transmit HIV to another person.

“The truth is HIV criminalization does not improve safety or public health in Illinois – instead, it often has the opposite effect. Not a single study throughout the country shows HIV criminalization has reduced HIV transmission in any jurisdiction where it exists. We have also seen through the decades how HIV criminalization laws disproportionately impact women and the Black community. It is time to repeal this destructive law,” said State Senator Robert Peters, Senate legislative sponsor.

“A person living with HIV/AIDS already encounters difficult health disparities. However, the damage that Illinois’ HIV criminalization law has on people living with HIV is even more than the lifelong impact of the criminal justice system, especially for people of color and the LGBTQ+ community. It is harm that happens every day, slowly, to our community’s mental and emotional health by being singled out and stigmatized,” said Christian F. Castro, steering committee member of the Illinois HIV Action Alliance (IHAA).

“As a national network of women and people of trans experience living with HIV, Positive Women’s Network – USA is thrilled at this opportunity to end the discriminatory and unjust HIV criminalization law in Illinois. HIV criminalization laws are often justified as somehow protecting women; in reality, they are too commonly used by abusive partners to control and coerce women and trans folks living with HIV. They have done nothing to reduce HIV transmission over the past 45 years but they have done much to promote stigma and cause suffering to people living with HIV, their families and their communities,” said Breanna Diaz, Policy Director, Positive Women’s Network – USA.

“The Illinois Public Health Association (IPHA) recognizes that these outdated, dangerous and discriminatory laws disproportionately impact Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other persons of color. To ensure an equitable state for Black and Brown individuals and to promote science-based and proven HIV public health strategies of testing, prevention and engagement in care, it’s essential lawmakers repeal Illinois’ HIV criminalization law. Illinois’ HIV criminalization law is rooted in fear and racial biases, and we certainly know that criminalization increases stigma and harms in marginalized communities,” said Chris Wade, Illinois Public Health Association.

Senate Bill 655 would amend the Criminal Code of 2012, repeal the statute creating the offense of criminal transmission of HIV, and make conforming changes in the AIDS Confidentiality Act, the Illinois Sexually Transmissible Disease Control Act, the Illinois Vehicle Code, the Criminal Code of 2012, and the Unified Code of Corrections.

Advocacy organizations who have joined the Illinois HIV Action Alliance coalition and have signed on to support SB 655 include: ACLU of Illinois, African-American Lesbian Professionals Having A Say (A.L.P.H.A.S.), AIDS Foundation Chicago, Angii’s Angel’s, Brothers Health Collective, Calor, Central Illinois Friends, Chicago House and Social Services, Chicago Recovery Alliance, Community Renewal Society (CRS), Equality Illinois, Howard Brown Health, Illinois Public Health Association, Lambda Legal, Legal Council for Health Justice, Peoria Proud, Prairie Pride Coalition, Pride Action Tank (a project of AFC), QC PRIDE, INC., Rush University System for Health, Sinai Infectious Disease Center, Sex Workers Outreach Program (SWOP), The Sero Project, TPAN, Transformative Justice Law Project, and Women Connection (a project of AFC).

You can read the language for Senate Bill 655 here