Over 150 HIV advocates from across Georgia gathered at the state Capitol on Thursday, February 28th for AIDSWatch Georgia: HIV Advocacy Under the Gold Dome. Georgia Equality and Georgia AIDS Coalition teamed up to bring Atlanta-based and rural advocates together for a morning lobby training and meetings with state legislators to inform them of the impact of HIV on our state.
Attendees were trained on the process of lobbying elected officials at the state capitol, and learned about the impact of HIV on youth, LGBTQ communities, women and rural Georgia. Members of Georgia Equality’s Youth HIV Policy Advisors program kicked off the training, accompanied by trainer from SisterLove who spoke about HIV and reproductive justice. Jeff Graham, Executive Director of Georgia Equality, informed advocates of the potential effects of “religious exemption” bills like HB 575, “The First Amendment Defense Act,” which would allow organizations to deny service to anyone based on religious convictions. This could impact people living with HIV, who are disproportionately members of the LGBTQ community.
Georgia’s HIV epidemic is long entrenched and growing in some areas. Over 50,000 Georgians are living with HIV, and approximately 3,000 are diagnosed annually. Georgia ranked 2nd out of all US states for number of new HIV diagnoses in 2014 and 5th among all US states in the number of people living with HIV. Fewer than half of HIV+ Georgians are receiving the care needed to stay healthy and prevent transmission to others. Researchers suspect that low rates of HIV testing, lack of HIV and sexuality education, high rates of poverty, homelessness, unemployment and poor healthcare access contribute to Georgians’ disproportionate HIV risk.
AIDSWatch in Georgia will take place annually at the state capitol. To sign up for the Georgia HIV Advocacy Network to receive updates about HIV law and policy in Georgia, including information about the next AIDSWatch in Georgia event, click here.