Minnesota AIDS Project holds housing, discrimination forum

Anne Preller

With lawyers specializing in housing and employment discrimination on hand, the Minnesota AIDS Project educated community members on HIV disclosure rights Monday.

The Minnesota AIDS project sponsored the program, titled “HIV, Disclosure, and You,” at the Minneapolis Park House, a center offering support for HIV-infected people.

The forum was a response to growing concerns about disclosure within the Minneapolis HIV community in the past year.

“We realize this is a significant issue from a legal perspective, from a personal perspective, from a public health perspective,” said Bob Tracy, the Minnesota AIDS Project’s director of community affairs. “It comes down to individuals who are affected by HIV, their friends, family members and providers knowing how to manage HIV health information.”

In housing issues, participants learned they can disclose a
disability without revealing an HIV status to their landlord.

“Everything depends on specific facts and circumstances,” said James Wilkinson, an attorney with the Housing Discrimination Law Project, which represents handicapped and low-income people.

The Minnesota Aids Project presented Sen. Steven Kelly, DFL-Hopkins, and Rep. Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis, with 2001 Hanson-Henningson Awards.

Kelly and Clark were honored for their work on HIV issues in the Legislature and their bill for funding to increase HIV education in the workplace.

The Minnesota Civil Liberties Union received a plaque for its effort to overturn Minnesota’s sodomy law.

Terje Anderson, executive director of the National Association of People with AIDS, spoke during the forum’s catered dinner.

“This is an incredibly important topic. When people with HIV get together, one of the topics that always comes up is ‘How do you tell? Who do you tell? When do you tell?'” Anderson said.

“Individuals need to have control over making that (disclosure) decision. It’s nobody else’s decision but ours. People need to know that legally they’ve got that right. Morally they have the right to decide when they are ready to tell, and nobody should be forcing them to do it before then,” Anderson said.

According to a Minnesota AIDS Project survey, every 26 hours a new case of HIV is reported in Minnesota; 33 percent of new infections occur among young people between 20 and 29 years old, and 52 percent of women infected last year were younger than 29.

Bonnie Young Johnson, director of the regional HIV training site for suburban school districts and curriculum coordinator in the Hopkins school district, and Donna Leviton, an adult programs coordinator in the Hopkins school district, attended the forum.

“We deal directly with all people, whether they are HIV positive or not, about HIV,” Young Johnson said.

“We are constantly educating them, trying to get them to have a level of understanding, a level of empathy, a level of acceptance for this being a disease factor and not a stigma,” Anderson said.

“I think this is extremely important. For those of us in education, it’s important to know about the issues that are facing people with HIV. It is also extremely important that the work of our legislators like Steve Kelly and Karen Clark be called into attention and honored for their work,” Leviton said.

With a focus on HIV education, the Minnesota AIDS Project will continue its work in the Minneapolis community through PRISM, a program offering health care education and HIV forums.

“If we don’t know about it, how could we educate anyone else? If we don’t have a level of understanding and empathy as education providers, then how do you take it to the next level, where people don’t even have exposure to it?” Anderson said.

More information on HIV is available by calling the Minnesota AIDS Project at 1-800-248-AIDS.


Anne Preller welcomes comments at [email protected]