Watch: Illinois Decriminalizes HIV Status, Introduces Other LGBTQ Protections

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday August 3, 2021

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker
Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker  (Source:Rich Hein/Chicago Sun-Times via AP)

The governor of Illinois has signed into law a slate of four bills that decriminalize the status of HIV-positive people and extend protections to the LGBTQ community.

Gov. JB Pritzker signed the bills on Aug. 3, reports Block Club Chicago.

Calling a 1989 state law that criminalized HIV-positive people "archaic," Pritzker did away with the measure with the stroke of a pen. "Research has shown these laws don't decrease infection rates, but they do increase stigma," Pritzker noted as he signed the bill repealing the HIV criminalization law. "It's high time we treat HIV as we do other treatable, transmissible diseases."

"Before the bill's signing, Illinoisans could face prison time and thousands of dollars in fines if they didn't disclose their HIV status to their intimate partners," NBC Chicago noted.

"Advocates say the law discriminated against marginalized communities and prevented people from getting tested, fearing legal repercussions for knowing their HIV status," the news channel added.

"We've had people tell us, I'm not getting tested because if I get tested and I come back positive, I could potentially be charged with this crime," Director of Government Relations for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago Timothy Jackson told NBC.

The law that abolishes that outmoded legislative language "will also prevent a State's Attorney from accessing an individual's personal health record for cases," NBC Chicago added.

"Illinois was previously one of 37 states that criminalized HIV exposure in some way, according to a 2020 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention," Block Club Chicago recalled. "Many of the laws were born out of panic surrounding the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s."

But, to date, only two states have abolished such laws. Texas took the lead almost three decades ago, repealing its HIV criminalization law in 1994, news sources recalled.

"The legislative package the governor signed also expands infertility treatment coverage for Illinoisans," including for single people, women over the age of 35, and people with medical issues that prevent pregnancy.

Another new state law "requires a county clerk to issue a new marriage certificate with the new legal name on it if one of the parties to the marriage shows a legal name change order," applying to marriage certificates "the same standard [as] for making legal name changes on birth certificates, passports, and driver's licenses," NBC reported.

Similarly, the fourth new law "requires a county clerk to issue a new marriage certificate" that corrects "gendered language" that presumes a mixed-gender marriage.

HIV decriminalization in Illinois is a bright spot in the ongoing medical, legal, and social struggles concerning AIDS and HIV. While modern medication can reduce an individual's viral load to undetectable levels — at which point they cannot transmit the virus to others — as well as prevent HIV negative people from contracting the virus thanks to PrEP ("Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis"), there is still no vaccine or cure available for HIV.

Data about current efforts to stem new infection rates show that as testing and rates of appropriate medical care rise, new infections generally decrease, and new government initiatives centered on outreach and health care will hopefully stem the tide of new infections even more.

But a recent report on a five-year global initiative against HIV launched in 2015 shows that the effort — dubbed "Start Free, Stay Free, AIDS Free" — has fallen short of its goals NPR reported in a recent article. The unmet goals include reducing HIV transmission rates for women and children worldwide and increasing anti-retroviral treatment numbers among children.

Researchers suggested several factors for those shortfalls, including the effects of the COVID pandemic and the inaction of some governments.

Still, the NPR report said, researchers remain optimistic that innovative approaches — such as better-tasting medications for children — and new technological advances — such as faster, easier HIV testing — could still help achieve reductions in transmission rates and boost the number of people across the world who are getting the medical care they need.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.