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Tennessee Doubles Down on Discrimination After Rejecting Federal HIV Funding

Tennessee Doubles Down on Discrimination After Rejecting Federal HIV Funding

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Photo by Los Muertos Crew via Pexels

The fight over LGBTQ+ rights in the state has resulted in more than $8 million in federal funding being turned away.

Over the last few months, Tennessee has seen a fight brewing over HIV, particularly as the Republican-led state moves to restrict the rights of LGBTQ+ people.

PBS published a news story about the pushback, sending reporter Laura Barrón-López to speak to OUTMemphis, a local LGBTQ+ rights group, where a group of advocates protested the new laws restricting drag shows and the rejection of more than $8 million in federal funding toward HIV by Governor Bill Lee.

“Ninety percent of our funding comes from the CDC,” said Rosa Barber of the Partnership to End AIDS Status during the segment. “We have spent so many years drilling and making people feel good about testing and taking care of themselves. We built the trust within the community. So all of this is just going down the drain quickly.”

Barrón-López noted that the Memphis area has one of the highest rates of new HIV cases in the country, which makes the decision to hinder additional funding potentially catastrophic.

“These are federal funds that are earmarked for HIV for testing and surveillance and prevention,” said Dr. Michelle Taylor of the Shelby County Health Department. “And now populations in Tennessee are going without these additional resources.”

Additionally, Gov. Lee is spreading disinformation that human trafficking victims and transmission to first responders and mothers to babies are the main areas of the HIV problem and should be the main focus of funding. However, AIDS research organization amfAR says those groups only make up about two percent of the at-risk population.

“If you replace the word HIV with any other condition, if you replace it with diabetes, and you said, OK, the state of Tennessee is about to send back funding for diabetes care, testing, treatment for the population that is most at risk for having this condition, there would be so much outrage, people would say, how dare you send back funding for a health condition that we know people need additional support for?” said Dr. Taylor.

Organizations like OUTMemphis have asked the CDC if they’re allowed to bypass the state’s rejection to continue receiving federal funding, and many worry that if the governor doesn’t change his mind about the funding, more Republican-led states will follow.

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Andrew J. Stillman