Living with HIV and not disclosing it to sexual partners is no longer a crime that can lead to time in prison or fines totaling thousands of dollars thanks to a new law signed by Gov. J.B. Pritzker that finally decriminalizes HIV in the state of Illinois.
Alex Cooper of Plus (an HIV advocacy site) reported that Pritzker was happy to approve the law this week when it reached his desk, saying that existing Illinois policies were archaic and blatantly discriminatory.
“They don’t decrease infection rates, but they do increase stigma,” he said. “It’s high time we treat HIV as we do other treatable transmissible diseases.”
LGBTQ activists and health care providers celebrated the bill’s passage, claiming it was a “significant step” in the fight to end some of the stigma endured by those living with HIV.
In an interview with Plus, Coleman Goode, a community organizer at AIDS Foundation Chicago, said, “for people living with HIV, it finally takes the stigma away, that people living with HIV are dangerous. It finally makes HIV, like every other disease, not criminalized. So, this is a very monumental moment, especially with it only being the second state in the country to completely repeal the harmful law.”
In an unusual twist, the normally conservative state of Texas was the first state in the nation to change its HIV laws, decriminalizing transmission of the disease back in 1994.
In a statement from the American Civil Liberties Union Illinois, the Illinois HIV Action Alliance said, “the criminalization of HIV has harmed communities in our home state for decades. It has done nothing other than spread fear and stigma, and it discouraged people from getting tested or knowing their status. This legislation was passed to bring an end to these harms and modernize how we approach this public health issue. We are very relieved to see this destructive law has finally been stricken from the books.”
According to Illinois Senator and lead sponsor of the bill, Robert Peters, laws criminalizing HIV status are rooted in racism, discrimination and fear.
“It was used to abuse people in our state, targeting people living with HIV and disproportionately affecting LGBTQ+ people, women and Black and Brown communities,” he said.
In addition to the HIV decriminalization bill, Pritzker also signed several other important bills supporting the Illinois LGBTQ community, including HB 3709, which allows same-sex couples to receive state fertility treatment coverage; and SB 139, which instructs state county clerks to grant new marriage certificates should a person request a correction to the gendered language on their original marriage certificate.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that in 2020, 37 states had laws in their books that criminalized HIV exposure. With Illinois coming off that list, that means more than 70% of the nation still criminalizes the spread of HIV.