Metro Weekly

The Riley Roundup: Andy Cohen, HIV Arrests, and PrEP Access

Andy Cohen signs on as a supporter of the "HIV Is Not a Crime" campaign, while California lawmakers kill a bill to ease access to PrEP.

Andy Cohen – Photo: Bravo TV

Bravo TV television host and producer Andy Cohen has joined the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation’s “HIV Is Not A Crime” campaign as a new celebrity supporter. Cohen has long advocated for the HIV/AIDS community and has attempted to use his platform to raise awareness around the disease and those affected by it, especially members of the LGBTQ community and people of color.

“I am honored to support the HIV Is Not A Crime campaign and to be a part of the movement to end the stigma surrounding the disease,” Cohen said in a statement. “We need to create a world where people living with HIV are not criminalized or discriminated against solely because of their health status, and I am excited to use my platform to help make that a reality.”

The HIV Is Not A Crime campaign is a multi-state and national program, provided courtesy of a grant from pharmaceutical giant Gilead Sciences, that seeks  to modernize all criminal laws and penalties for people living with HIV.

Many state laws, which were drafted at the height of the AIDS epidemic and the resulting panic, are now outdated, especially since medical interventions, such as antiretrovirals, can prevent transmission of the virus.

Yet despite the progress made on HIV treatment, nearly 30 states have laws in which people living with HIV who engage in consensual sex can be jailed for “exposing” others to the disease, even when there is no risk of HIV transmission, when disclosure of a person’s HIV status has occurred, or when barriers such as condoms are used.

“We are thrilled to have Andy Cohen on board and excited to see the impact he will make in raising awareness and support for HIV Is Not A Crime,” Cathy Brown, the executive director of the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, said in a statement. “We thank Andy for his dedication and support. Together, we can make a difference in reforming our nation’s HIV policies.”


A new report from the Williams Institute, an LGBTQ policy think tank at the UCLA School of Law, finds that Arkansas’ HIV criminalization statute — and the way in which it has been enforced and prosecuted — disproportionately impacts Black men over other groups.

Since 1989, at least 108 people have been charged with an HIV-related crime in Arkansas, the report finds. Despite making up only 7% of the state’s population, Black men make up nearly 1 in 3 people living with HIV, and account for 44% of HIV-related arrests. Of the 14 people currently listed on Arkansas’ sex offender registry for an HIV-related conviction, half are Black men, even though that group only accounts for 22% of total people on the registry.

Analyzing data from the Arkansas Crime Information Center and the Information Network of Arkansas, which provides data on the state’s sex offender registry and Department of Corrections, the study found that enforcement of HIV criminal laws is highly concentrated by geography.

For example, 18% of all HIV-related arrests originated with the Little Rock Police Department, and 1 in 3 arrests overall originated from Pulaski County, the county that is home to Little Rock — which may speak to selective enforcement of the state’s two HIV statutes by certain police departments.

Under one state law, it is a felony to expose another person to HIV through sexual contact or other means, and under another, a person living with HIV can be charged with a misdemeanor for failing to inform their doctor or dentist of their status before receiving treatment. Neither law requires actual transmission of HIV or the intent to transmit, but simply mere exposure or proximity to the infected person. The average sentence for an HIV-related conviction is 24 years in prison per count.

“Arkansas fits into a broader pattern of HIV criminalization,” Nathan Cisneros, the study author and HIV Criminalization Project Director at the Williams Institute, said in a statement. “Most of these laws were written at the height of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s and early 1990s before we had effective treatments for HIV. We now have treatments to wholly eliminate the risk of transmitting HIV through sex, yet these advances are not reflected in Arkansas law.”


A bill in California that would have improved people’s access to pre-exposure and post-exposure prophylaxis, also known as PrEP and PEP, which are medications that can help prevent transmission of HIV, is dead after the Democratic-led State Assembly Appropriations Committee inserted a “poison pill” that would have undermined the very purpose of the bill, reports the Beverly Press.

The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), lamented the addition of the amendment, calling it “heartbreaking,” and announced in a press release last week that he would be pulling the bill because the amendment tacked on by the Appropriations Committee would actually make it harder to access PrEP and PEP. 

Wiener’s bill would have allowed pharmacists to furnish PrEP and PEP, much like they can with the “morning-after” pill to prevent pregnancy, without a doctor’s prescription. But the amendment would allow insurance companies to impose prior authorization and step-therapy for PrEP and PEP, which are significantly limited under existing law and regulations.

Such a move could potentially increase HIV infections if people are turned away or cannot see a doctor quickly, especially in the case of PEP, which must be administered within 72 hours of exposure to be effective.

This is not the first time that California Democrats — who overwhelmingly control the Legislature and the respective Assembly and Senate committees — have proven themselves to be overly deferential to the insurance industry and doctors’ groups.

Last year, Democrats in the State Senate effectively scuttled a bill to bar unnecessary surgeries on intersex infants, reportedly due to pressure from groups representing medical specialists such as gynecologists, andrologists, and urologists — forcing Wiener, the bill’s sponsor, to withdraw it because it didn’t have sufficient votes. Also last year, Democrats killed a bill advocating for single-payer health care system, despite it being a part of the state party’s official platform, notes The New Republic

“We are shocked at the recent actions of the Assembly Appropriations Committee to reverse years of advocacy for HIV prevention in California and roll back essential protections for people at risk of acquiring HIV,” Dr. Tyler TerMeet, the CEO of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, said in a statement.

“The language changes added by the Appropriations Committee would undo that work and leave people at the highest risk of HIV vulnerable to pointless bureaucratic delays and denials, increasing HIV transmission and undoing our work to get to zero new HIV infections in California.”

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