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Media-driven stigma continues with new HIV criminalization case PDF Print
Monday, November 10, 2014

Despite the immense progress made in the battle to destigmatize HIV and end HIV criminalization laws, the mainstream media is failing to catch up and join the fight. In some cases, the media’s coverage of HIV criminalization becomes the source of stigma.

A new case under an outdated HIV criminalization law in Illinois demonstrates the media’s inability to handle sensitive information. But it also complicates the public health sector’s efforts to destigmatize HIV among vulnerable communities.

According to a republished police press release, a 25-year-old man was arrested at his place of employment in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood based on accusations of not disclosing his HIV-status while “engaging in intimate contact” without protection. Not much more information is available in news outlets.

With the lack of reporting, questions and gaps come to mind: What sort of “intimate” contact were they engaging in? Is the accused on HIV treatment and is his viral load undetectable? Is there an actual transmission of HIV?

While those unanswered questions loom, a story published on the website of HIV news source HIVPlus fills in many disturbing details about the case missed by the mainstream media. These include the controversial use of investigative alerts in the arrest, as well as details of gross mistreatment of people living with HIV (PLHIV) while being held in custody.

Coverage of HIV criminalization cases by local news outlets consistently lacks the sensitivity, fact-finding and investigative journalism needed to protect PLHIV and prevent HIV stigma. There is a continuing trend of law enforcement and local news outlets to simply publish accusations and publicize HIV criminalization cases with the name, location and picture of those charged, thus “outing” their HIV-positive status to the community. In the meantime, critical questions go unanswered and an opportunity to educate the public about HIV is also missed. The lack of proper investigative and sensitive reporting only perpetuates HIV stigma and discrimination among communities vulnerable to and living with HIV.

This recent case and many others like it warrants a growing discussion on the need for HIV criminalization laws altogether. These laws were put into place by lawmakers to protect public health during a time of limited understanding about HIV transmission and prevention. Many HIV/AIDS advocacy organizations, including the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, believe they are no longer relevant. In fact, these laws are marring public health efforts to bring an end to new HIV-positive diagnoses.

Cases like this and the ensuing media-driven stigma make it harder for public health workers to do their job. These cases may discourage vulnerable individuals from being tested regularly for HIV, since untested individuals cannot be charged with criminal transmission of HIV. And of course, they perpetuate the historical stigma and discrimination that accompanies HIV/AIDS.

With what we know now about how the virus is transmitted, coupled with major advances in HIV prevention, we have the tools to fight the epidemic. However, it’s ultimately up to all of us: Public health, policymakers, law enforcement and the media must work together to win the battle to destigmatize HIV while protecting those who live with the virus.

A Chat With Jim Pickett as the First HIV Research for Prevention (HIV R4P) Conference Looms PDF Print
Tuesday, October 28, 2014’s Julie Davids interviewed the AIDS Foundation of Chicago’s Director of Prevention Advocacy and Gay Men’s Health Jim Pickett on the first HIV Research for Prevention (HIV R4P) conference, which he is currently attending in Cape Town, South Africa. Read the full interview here.jpickett biennial

Jim Pickett is a one-man example of the blurring lines in HIV prevention. The longtime advocate became an early champion of rectal microbicide research as one of the founders of International Rectal Microbicide Advocates (IRMA), but is quite fluent in the language of vaginal rings and contraception. He's now logged many hours in the world of PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), from on-the-ground demonstration projects of Truvada (a coformulation of the antiretrovirals tenofovir and emtricitabine) to interest in the early research on long-acting injectables. And as a gay man living with HIV, he's deeply immersed in the realities of sexual health and human rights that can affect the perception, reach and use of HIV prevention. As one of the planners of the first HIV Research for Prevention (HIV R4P) conference, coming up in South Africa, Pickett was packing his bags to join other crosscutting prevention researchers and advocates when he took a few minutes to talk with about why he thinks this conference could float all the boats of prevention technology.

I'm talking with Jim Pickett of International Rectal Microbicide Advocates and AIDS Foundation of Chicago. You're about to get on a plane and fly to South Africa. Where are you off to, and why?

I am headed to the first ever HIV Research for Prevention conference (HIV R4P). This is the first time that the biennial microbicide conference and the annual vaccine conference are coming together and sharing space. So it's the first time this field has really had a unified conference that's covering new prevention technologies broadly. It's pretty exciting.

It does sound exciting. Why is it important to have a unified conference?

Mainly, the different modalities, the different strategies are all starting to blur. So we're thinking about long-term injectables for PrEP. We're thinking about vaccines that are given with PrEP as a starter to make sure you have some protection before the vaccine comes into play.

Read the rest of the interview here.


Keeping stars like Glenn bright through HIV fundraising PDF Print
Friday, October 10, 2014

Haunted House gives more than scares to the community in partnership with AFC

fearcityYou have likely heard of trick-or-treating for charitable causes (see: UNICEF), but at Fear City Haunted House in Morton Grove, Ill, the team is turning thrills, chills and screams of terror into charitable dollars. Behind the special effects and creepy characters that give you goosebumps, the haunted house has a history of giving back to its host community since its inception in 2011. In the same spirit of benevolence, this year Fear City is donating part of its ticket sales on LGBTQ Night to the AIDS Foundation of Chicago.

With a diverse cast and crew of more than 120 individuals behind the production of Fear City, the motivation for community giving is deeply personal for staff members. Mark Matz, part of the Fear City marketing team, shares his story about why Fear City chose the AIDS Foundation of Chicago as the beneficiary of LGBTQ Night.

His friend, Glenn Scott Cooper, died of AIDS 20 years ago; the two worked together in the Chicago broadcast media business.

“Glenn was a superb singer and actor; he performed in local theater and as a cantor for his synagogue,” recalled Matz. “I miss his humor, his wisdom and his advice — but so do many others whose lives he touched, least of which was his partner, David.”

Glenn is memorialized in the AIDS Memorial Quilt with his cantor’s shawl from his congregation in Sacramento, where he moved after leaving Chicago.GlennAIDSQuilt

“I believe Glenn would have enjoyed attending and probably being involved with the production of Fear City if he were with us today,” said Matz. “By helping the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, in a small way, he is!”

Glenn’s story does not end with his death but rather continues on through the lives of his friends and loved ones—and now the spirit of Fear City! Shrieks and laughter have the power to change lives this Halloween thanks to the collaboration between the AIDS Foundation of Chicago and those who carry on stories like Glenn’s at Fear City Haunted House.

Are you ready to face your fears to help put an end to HIV? Join AFC at Fear City Haunted House on Sunday Oct. 19. To sweeten the deal, Fear City is offering $3 off your tickets purchased online with the code ‘LGBTQ’ at

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About Inside Story

Do you ever feel there are critical advances in HIV/AIDS prevention that aren't being properly covered in the mainstream media? Or that there are complex HIV/AIDS-related healthcare and funding issues not being clearly explained? Or that there are powerful HIV/AIDS stories here in Chicago just waiting for someone to tell them?
We feel that way, too!

At the AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC), we’re committed to changing the story of HIV/AIDS. Inside Story aims to take you inside that story, to give you an intimate look at how AFC, and other Chicago and national organizations, are fighting HIV/AIDS through medical, housing and support services; cutting-edge research into prevention and treatment methods; and advocacy for stronger HIV-AIDS public policy from legislators.

If you have questions or blog ideas, please contact Brian Solem, Communications Manager and Staff Writer, at


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