Jannis Evans and Devin Hursey both work in the HIV treatment and prevention field and have served on committees advocating for people with HIV in Missouri and across the country.
They sat down at this month’s Legislative Advocacy Day sponsored by the Missouri HIV Justice Coalition where they both were advocating for changes to Missouri’s HIV criminal laws, and they spoke about some of the reasons HIV impacts communities of color at a higher rate.
Missouri Health Talks gathers Missourians’ stories of access to healthcare in their own words. You can view more conversations at missourihealthtalks.org.
Devin Hursey: The CDC projects that one in two black men will be diagnosed with HIV over the course of a lifetime. If that were happening to white people, regardless of sexual orientation, it would be unacceptable.
We’ve been conditioned to feel that it’s acceptable for black people to be experiencing this level of disparity because we associate black people with sexual deviance, for one, and with disease.
Given the history of the Tuskegee syphilis study, there became this implicit association of black people with disease and with uncontrollable sexual urges.
Jannis Evans: And it really has very little to nothing to do with the sex - very little to nothing to do with the sex.
Devin: Right. Access to healthcare.
Jannis: Right! If you look at disease period, no matter what the disease is, in the African American or communities of color, it’s always a bump up or two or three or four or five. It’s always that. So, HIV would not be anything any different. If you’re not taking care of high blood pressure, you’re not going to take care of your HIV.
Devin: We always talk about stigma in the field of HIV as if there’s something wrong with the person. We take for granted the fact that there are very legitimate reasons not to be comfortable with services that are supposed to rehabilitative.
Jannis: When people hear about the laws that are on the books for the state of Missouri, they are mortified, because the laws were, I feel, created in panic, and they do not match the science at all, you know, science has developed further than these laws.
You can spit on somebody and you can go to jail for a long time, and then the person who is HIV positive is faced with that burden of proof. They have to prove that they told somebody what their status was and that’s ridiculous. It also causes people to not want to even say that they’re positive.
Again, my thoughts go back to black people when we were 3/5 of a man. We didn’t count, and that’s the way I feel these laws have discounted a lot of people that are HIV positive.
Devin: It is because we are among the most marginalized people. We’re the people that are not always heard from, the people who are not reached out to, and also many people living with HIV live intersectional lives. We’re not only people of color but we’re also queer or we’re also women or people whose voices are silenced in a lot of these agencies.
Something else I’ve recognized is that the very same factors that put me at risk for HIV are the same barriers that I have to navigate on the local agency level. They’re the same hoops. They’re the exact same hoops that I have to jump through.