An Iowa farm girl at heart, Tami Haught, who still lives in a small rural community, recalls lying about the cause of her husband’s death. Positive since 1993, she just couldn’t admit that her husband had died of AIDS complications. For six years, Haught continued to lie, living “in silence” and hiding her own positive status from family and friends. When she finally came out as HIV-positive, Haught says, she felt “a burden lifted off my shoulders.”
Today, Haught is not only out and proud, she’s become a leading organizer and champion of anticriminalization efforts for people with HIV, and what Poz called a “mama bear” to many living with HIV. She’s been a Sero Project board member, a member of the United States People Living With HIV Caucus Steering Committee, a GNP+NA board member, and president of Positive Iowans Taking Charge, an educational, emotional and social support group. Haught was also the Sero Project criminalization conference coordinator, helping organize the first HIV Is Not a Crime conference, held last year.
Her work around HIV criminalization has gained her the greatest accolades. As community organizer for Community HIV/Hepatitis Advocates of Iowa Network, Haught led the group’s education and mobilization campaign to repeal and replace Iowa’s HIV criminalization statute, making the state the first in the nation to do so.
“Tami is an unstoppable force,” says Terry Lowman, who launched the advocacy group Iowa Unitarian Universalist Witness Advocacy Network and worked with Haught in the effort to replace Iowa’s outdated law with a statute that reflects current knowledge about the virus and transmission routes. “After two years of lobbying, she knew all 150 Iowa Senate and House members. Legislators passed Iowa’s reformed HIV law because she took the time and effort to get to know each and every one of them. It became personal. They passed the law because they couldn’t let Tami down.”
When she received a 2014 Annual Friends of Iowa Civil Rights Award, Haught told friends it didn’t “seem right to be honored for something that was a labor of love. Love for the advocacy work that I thoroughly enjoy doing and love for everyone in Iowa who modernizing this law helps; along with justice and peace for myself.”
She was equally gracious about being the most nominated woman for this list too. “I am very honored,” she says. “There are so many incredible women living with HIV who are leading to make change in HIV criminalization, stigma, violence, etc., against people living with HIV. There are so many who deserve recognition. When women come together, change happens. I have met so many incredible people who are infected or affected by HIV. It is my honor to work beside them to fight the stigma, criminalization, and discrimination. We become a family that works together for better treatment of us all.”