A battle has erupted in Tennessee over HIV funding as the state’s Republican-led government moves to restrict the rights of LGBTQ+ people. The Memphis area has one of the highest rates of new HIV cases in the country, and Governor Bill Lee’s decision to reject more than $8 million in federal funding towards HIV has raised concerns about the potential consequences. The rejection of funding for testing, surveillance, and prevention efforts could be catastrophic, especially given that 90% of the funding for HIV comes from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Advocates from local LGBTQ+ rights group, OUTMemphis, have protested against the new laws restricting drag shows, which they argue are part of the state’s broader efforts to curtail LGBTQ+ rights. Additionally, the governor is spreading disinformation about the main areas of the HIV problem, claiming that human trafficking victims and transmission to first responders and mothers to babies should be the main focus of funding. However, AIDS research organization amfAR says those groups only make up about 2% of the at-risk population.
The rejection of federal funding has also led to concerns about the trust built within the community over the years. “We have spent so many years drilling and making people feel good about testing and taking care of themselves. So all of this is just going down the drain quickly,” said Rosa Barber of the Partnership to End AIDS Status. 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, more Republican-led states will follow.
Dr. Michelle Taylor of the Shelby County Health Department emphasized that the state is sending back funding for a health condition that people need additional support for. She said, “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?”
In conclusion, the decision by Governor Bill Lee to reject federal funding towards HIV prevention, testing, and surveillance has put the lives of LGBTQ+ individuals at risk. The move to restrict the rights of LGBTQ+ people, coupled with the rejection of funding, has raised concerns about the potential consequences for the Memphis area, which has one of the highest rates of new HIV cases in the country. Organizations like OUTMemphis are protesting against the new laws, while advocates are asking the CDC if they can bypass the state’s rejection to continue receiving federal funding. Many worry that if the governor doesn’t change his mind, more Republican-led states will follow.