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The GOP Is Targeting People With HIV. Imagine if They Had More Power

Photo by Amine M'siouri

The far right’s move to restrict PrEP access in Texas will only hurt the Latinx community — and eventually, everyone. We must act at the polls.

If you are like me, you are still working through the heartbreak of Roe v. Wade being overturned. You understand the implications of the ruling. You understand this decision goes beyond gaining political leverage. It impacts people’s lives and has already caused psychological and physical damage. Regardless of how one feels about abortion itself, to take away rights that have been protected for 50 years is extremely dangerous. It is dangerous not only for those directly affected, but it also paves the way for future actions that can impact other vulnerable communities. 

The most recent attempt to set back progress comes out of Texas, where conservative attorney Jason Mitchell wants to restrict PrEP access across the state. He has a history of extreme conservative views and litigating cases that support those views. He is representing clients who object to the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that insurance cover preventative medication, specifically PrEP — and now a conservative judge has disastrously sided with him. This should concern us all as it is inherently homophobic, and in direct opposition of the pursuit for health equity. Every citizen in this country should have the right to make decisions about their health with their medical providers and should have access to the medications and procedures they need to be healthy. Everyone! Not just those who have certain types of insurance. Again, entertaining cases like this set a dangerous precedent and pave the way for other states to propose similar legislation, and succeed. We’ve seen this play out already with anti-LGBTQ+ specific bills popping up all over the country. However, this month as we elevate the Latinx community, I can’t help but draw my attention back to Texas. If Mitchell wins (his ruling is bound to be appealed), the consequences will disproportionately impact Latinx people across the state.

The most recent U.S. Census reports that 40 percent of Texas residents identify as Hispanic/Latinx — many of whom have relied on the Affordable Care Act to provide access to the services and resources they need for their healthcare. In 2019, reported that 44.5 percent of the people living with HIV in Texas were Hispanic/Latinx, and currently in Texas, HIV diagnoses in Hispanic/Latinx communities are at 34 percent compared to 24.7 percent nationally. This tells us that the Latinx community is more vulnerable to acquiring HIV and preventative intervention is vital to their health and wellbeing. 

Restricting PrEP access will be specifically impactful. The CDC reports that Latinx people are 5 times less likely to seek PrEP than white people, despite being at a higher overall risk for acquiring HIV. Adding additional challenges around accessing PrEP medication and services will widen that gap. We will see more HIV diagnoses. That coupled with the fact that Latinx people test later, when HIV has already significantly progressed, means we will ultimately see more deaths. That’s why we should be seeking ways to increase access to prevention, not limit it.

An individual’s sexual health and how they maintain it should not be a topic for political argument. We have to replace state legislators pass laws based on their specific moral beliefs. Right-wing extremists love to use the constitution as their platform for arguments yet seem to forget that the constitution also states there is a separation of church and state. And medical providers take an oath that states to first do no harm. Denying preventative care and medication is undeniably harmful. If one can’t live up to their commitment, then they shouldn’t be providing care to anyone.

I know times like this seem daunting. But despite all of this, there is good news. This is not over. There is still an opportunity for us to make a difference — both through the appeal and continued advocacy. In the face of challenges and uncertainty we must remember, our community takes care of each other. Our voices and actions are powerful. Amid setbacks, it comes back to community. All of us doing the work is how we will overcome. Now is the time to speak up and speak out. Now is the time to organize. Now is the time to vote. Now is the time to act. Now is the time to fight.

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Ashley Innes