The Georgia HIV Advocacy Network was formed in 2009. This statewide network of service providers and citizen advocates works for HIV policy initiatives on both a state and county level through policy analysis, advocacy training and coordinated community activities.
In March of 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issues a report stating that gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men have an HIV infection rate that is 44 times higher than heterosexual men and 40 times higher than women. In a 2005 study from Georgia State University indicated that as many members of the transgender community in the metro Atlanta area are at risk for HIV infection, yet little data is collected on the needs of this group nor are there specific prevention programs tailored to meet their needs. The Georgia HIV Advocacy Network specifically works to address the policies and attitudes that contribute to the disproportionate impact of HIV on the gay and transgender communities in Georgia.
Specific policy areas to be addressed by this project include the continued implementation of the statewide HIV Policy Agenda developed by the Equality Foundation in 2009, which includes: 1) strengthening and expanding funding for HIV services and prevention; 2) strengthening state support for HIV services and prevention during a time of transition and reorganization of the Division of Public Health within the Department of Community Health and 3) promoting evidence-based interventions. This project will also include a strong emphasis on linking these core HIV policy goals with the broader goal of addressing the LGBT- specific social determinates of HIV such as bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression, cultural competency on transgender health issues, and expanding LGBT employment protections and domestic partnership benefits.
GEORGIA HIV ADVOCACY NETWORK POLICY PRIORITIES:
1.) Protecting and expanding funding for HIV services and prevention
- Federal appropriations
- State appropriations for ADAP
- Fulton County Human Services funding
- Extension of Ryan White Program
- Passage of National AIDS Strategy
Rationale: Our current system of care suffers from an overall lack of funding to provide appropriate services throughout the state. During times of economic crisis and budget cuts on both the state and federal level, it is important to advocate for funding at current levels and develop awareness of the unmet need.
2) Strengthening State of Georgia support for HIV services and prevention
- Transfer of Division of Public Health from DHR to DCH
- Advocating for hiring of open positions (including HIV Section Director)
- Linking HIV to ongoing health equity initiative
Rationale: For the past several years, HIV has not been seen as a priority amongst the upper leadership of the Department of Human Resources. With the legislative-directed restructuring of the Division of Public Health to the Department of Community Health, there is an opportunity to raise awareness of the impact of HIV throughout the state and the need for stronger coordination and support for departmental leadership.
3) Promoting Evidence Based Interventions
- Facilitating discussion of HIV in existing state-level comprehensive sex education coalitions
- Promoting policies that address social determinants of HIV risk*
- cultural competency on transgender health issues
- expanding LGBT employment protections and domestic partnership benefits
- passage of comprehensive anti-bullying legislation
- Supporting implementation of new HIV testing and discharge planning in prisons initiative
- Building community awareness and support for syringe exchange
*it should be noted that SisterLove has developed policy goals specific to the social determinates of HIV and women. Georgia Equality will partner with SisterLove on ways to support each agency’s specific goals in this area.
Rationale: Historically, there has been little attention paid to advocating for local, state and federal policies that would support the widespread adoption of evidence based interventions, specifically comprehensive sex education and syringe exchange. The goal of no new cases of AIDS cannot be met without an understanding of how local school board and public safety policies impact greater adoption of these interventions. Furthermore, with the recent passage of state legislation to support testing and discharge planning in state prisons, there are new opportunities to influence the implementation of this legislation to foster stronger awareness, education and linkage to care for inmates. Finally, there is a growing base of research the looks at the influence of legislation aimed at the gay and transgender has on reducing the social stigma of HIV and ultimately reducing infection rates in these communities.
4) Strengthening community capacity for advocacy work
- Training and support for consumers
- Training and support for ASOs and CBOs
- Engagement of non-metro agencies and communities
Rationale: Effective community-based advocacy depends upon buy-in and involvement of consumers, community advocates and service providers throughout the state. Training for staff, boards and consumers on basics of grassroots lobbying, communicating with elected officials and the role of governmental policies is the key component towards building a sustainable network of advocates. Furthermore, by providing analysis on the local impact of proposed legislation on both a state and federal level helps to build awareness of the various facets of advocacy work and how it influences the availability of effective HIV prevention and quality treatment and care programs.