Visibility and Education Can Make All the Difference

Visibility and Education Can Make All the Difference
By: Alejandro Acosta, HIV Project Coordinator


As the HIV Advocacy Project Coordinator for Equality Florida, I was truly amazed at the power of visibility and education our Lobby Days brings to the forefront of the Florida Legislature.

On January 22 and 23, I was joined by HIV advocates from across the state, some of who are living with HIV, in an effort to support the current bills in the House and Senate that would modernize the outdated HIV-specific laws in the state (HB 719 & SB 546). It was a jammed packed and dynamic two days that gave us the opportunity to speak directly to lawmakers about HIV, those who have the power to change the way the criminal justice system that marginalizes people living with HIV; and that was empowering in itself.

As we walked through the hallways of the Capitol Building, I thought about the voices of thousands of people we represent that could be impacted by modernizing these laws.

We spoke to Representatives and Senators about the current advances of HIV treatment and prevention, on how stigma continues to fuel the rate of HIV transmissions, about how people living with HIV continue to live fear, and how these laws have not been updated for almost 3 decades. Most of them had questions about HIV and many seemed supportive of what the bills are trying to do in regards to the law and HIV.

One question we asked each of the legislators we met was, if they knew anyone in their lives impacted by HIV. Although some of them indeed knew somebody, most of them did not. Once we left their offices, some of those legislators who had never met or spoken to someone living with HIV had met several of them at the same time.

We had a very diverse group of HIV advocates; men, women, people living with HIV, negative people, people of color, Latinos, gay, straight, young, seniors, single, married, medical professionals, and constituents from their districts. Just by doing that, being visible, we reaffirmed that HIV is not exclusive to gay men. We shared personal stories that brought a face to this important and often forgotten issue and educated some of them on using reaffirming language currently preferred to use when speaking about HIV. We noticed that even some of our most devouts supporters still use language that promotes stigma.

Overall this was a life-changing experience that I hope becomes a tradition not only for me, but for those who joined us, and the next batch of citizen advocates that join us next year to continue to fight for equality for everyone regardless of HIV status.

A special thank you to Kamaria Laffrey from SERO Project and the SERO project for offering their accommodations during Lobby Days!

To learn more about our HIV Advocacy project click here


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