Utah AIDS Foundation responds to HIV bill passed by Utah Legislature

The Utah AIDS Foundation sent a letter to supporters from its executive director, Stan Penfold, in response to the passage of HB369, which increases the penalty of a sex offense if the perpetrator is HIV-positive or has hepatitis B or C.

Penfold was at the first hearing for the bill and answered questions raised by the committee’s members.

Passage of HB369 a troubling step backward in fight to remove HIV stigma.
The Utah AIDS Foundation’s 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 will 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.

HB369 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.

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