Equality Florida Launches New HIV Advocacy Project
Experienced educator and HIV Counselor, Alejandro Acosta, named Equality Florida’s New HIV Project Coordinator
The launch of Equality Florida’s new program comes as Florida continues to have the highest rate of new HIV infections in the country.
This new program will be led by Alejandro Acosta, an experienced educator, trainer, and enthusiastic public speaker. He brings 17 years of experience in education to the role, most recently working in the public health sector specializing in HIV prevention and education. He successfully implemented a CDC-sponsored HIV testing & education program in public high schools in Broward County Public Schools, which is considered one of the leading and most affirming districts in the nation for LGBTQ safety, support, and resiliency. In addition, he has trained faculty on Sexual Health and LGBTQ Inclusion.
“I am so proud to join the team at Equality Florida to combat the spread of HIV in Florida. Laws that criminalize HIV status, limited access to healthcare, and pervasive stigma exacerbate the discrimination already faced by the HIV+ population,” said Alejandro Acosta, Equality Florida’s new HIV Project Coordinator.
“Once you’re HIV+ your life changes in many ways,” added Acosta. “I don’t worry too much about my health. I visit the doctor every 3 months and with treatment my life expectancy is normal. But I do worry about bad policy that makes access to treatment harder, discourages people from learning their status or creates laws that are outdated and based on fear and stigma, not science.”
Florida is the 3rd largest state in the nation, but it ranks #1 when it comes to new HIV infections. Over the past three years, (20 14-2016) five of the seven counties (Broward, Duval, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade and Orange) saw the largest increase. In 2016, 4,972 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in Florida, which was a 6% increase from 2015. This does not count the more than 20,250 estimated HIV+ people who are unaware of their status. These figures are conservative as stigma and misinformation continues to be widespread.
Gay and bisexual men and transgender women of color are at a particularly high risk of contracting HIV, and Equality Florida is committed to addressing this public health crisis through the new HIV Advocacy Project.
Florida is one of 32 states and two US territories that still criminalizes HIV status. These HIV-specific laws work against public health policies, perpetuate the stigma of HIV, and discourage people from knowing their HIV status. People living with HIV (PLWH) can be found criminally liable for up to 30 years in prison if they do not disclose their HIV status to consensual partners before any type of sexual contact, even if transmission is impossible. The law disregards the level of risk of such contact and ignores all biomedical advances that prevent PLWH from transmitting HIV to their partners. PLWH who are in treatment become “undetectable”, which means there is no detectable virus in their body fluids and they will not be able to transmit HIV.
“HIV is still an LGBTQ issue,” said Hannah Willard, Senior Policy Director for Equality Florida. “It is also an issue of racial, economic, and reproductive justice and it is exactly the kind of work Equality Florida is committed to as we fight to secure full equality for all Floridians. By prioritizing HIV advocacy, we are reclaiming an issue that has as much relevance to the communities we advocate for as it did at the height of the AIDS epidemic.”
Equality Florida has already taken an active role within the Florida HIV Justice Coalition, a broad-based coalition working towards modernizing HIV laws in our state. The coalition is made up of people living with HIV, advocates, and allies as well as a diverse group of organizations including The Sero Project, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, Lambda Legal, SAVE, and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Equality Florida’s work has been made possible in part through a grant from the AIDS United Foundation. Equality Florida’s HIV Advocacy Project has been made possible in part through a grant from the AIDS United Foundation.
“I look forward to working with community partners to modernize public policy to better address the epidemic and tackle the stigma of people living with HIV,” added Acosta. “We need policies that encourage members of our community to get tested and treatment in order to fully combat the spread of HIV in our state.”
For more information about the project, visit: www.eqfl.org/HIV_
More about Equality Florida HIV Project Coordinator, Alejandro Acosta:
Alejandro Acosta brings his personal experience and empathy as a person living with HIV. In his role, he will create the Public Education Campaign as well as present our program to stakeholders. In addition, he will collect the stories and maintain communications about the project to the general public as well as our members and donors.
During his 17 years as an educator he strongly advocated for rights LGBTQ students and faculty. He later became a teacher trainer for Sexual Health Education and LGBTQ Inclusion within Broward County Public Schools. This led him to successfully implementing a CDC program for HIV testing within public high schools, with a focus on Black & Latino males. During this time, he traveled across the nation sharing best practices with other school districts. Finally, he was an HIV Counselor and Tester for one of South Florida’s most prominent Latino-focused HIV prevention nonprofits.
He holds a M.A.E.E. from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez. Alejandro is an energetic and knowledgeable public speaker with sensitivity and the candor this delicate topic needs. The past years have been focused on HIV Prevention and Public Health. He presented his work with CDC at the 2016 HIV Prevention Convention in Atlanta, GA. For the Florida LGBTQ Safe to Be Me Conference he spoke on LGBTQ inclusion and policy changing. Additionally, he was a speaker Broward’s Teen Youth Summit on the topic of Internet & education. He is currently certified as an HIV Counselor & Tester by Florida’s Department of Health.