The stigma of HIV has robbed countless individuals the freedom to exercise their legal rights. Perhaps more devastating, the stigma surrounding HIV has prevented individuals living with HIV from knowing the legal protections afforded to them after experiencing discriminatory conduct. In our great country, we often hear that justice is blind but this saying does not ring true for many of the individuals I have the pleasure to serve. Unfortunately, the internal and external stigmas that exist within the community have ripped off Lady Justice’s blindfold, or at least that is how it appears and feels for a community of people that have been ostracized and singled-out for more than thirty years.
Despite the stigma associated with HIV, it is imperative for individuals living with HIV and those who love individuals living with HIV to be aware of the legal protections and resources available to combat discriminatory behavior. However, to properly address the crippling effect of HIV stigma, we must realize the entire burden does not fall upon individuals living with HIV or those directly impacted by HIV to know their legal rights. The employer must properly uphold an individual’s rights as it relates to employment. The medical provider must honor and respect the confidentiality of patients. The landlord must uphold an individual’s rights as it relates to housing. As a friend and neighbor, we must stand with our brothers and sisters living with HIV to alleviate the stigma that has permeated our communities for too long.
Alecia Reed-Owens is Health Law Staff Attorney with the Mississippi Center for Justice.