Iowa's Grinnell College welcomes the first "HIV Is Not A Crime" conference

GLAAD is on the ground this week, attending the first ever "HIV is Not a Crime" conference.

Dr. Raynard Kington, M.D., President of Grinnell College, welcomed over a hundred HIV/AIDS advocates from all over the U.S. to the first national "HIV is Not a Crime" conference. The conference was organized by "The Sero Project" and supported by over two dozen other HIV/AIDS service organizations.

Attendees began to arrive Monday afternoon and continued throughout the day. Mark S. King opened the evening with a video presentation of Iowa's history. 

Nick Rhoades and Robert Suttle, who both served prison time under their states hurtful HIV criminalization laws, shared their horrific experience with the conference. Kerry Thomas, who is currently serving a twenty-five year sentence in an Idaho prison, called into the conference to share his story and answer a few questions from the audience.

Grinnell College's Harris Center was energized by the gathering of HIV/AIDS advocates, with the focus on changing the criminalization of HIV/AIDS and how to bring about that change. The "HIV Is Not a Crime" conference, which ends Thursday June 5, will feature over forty presenters and facilitators from a variety of HIV/AIDS organizations, LGBT rights groups and Iowa legislators.

The next three days are sure to be invigorating for the group of HIV/AIDS advocates, and GLAAD will keep you up to date on the "HIV is Not A Crime" conference happenings. You can also follow the event online using #HIVisnotacrime.

The criminalization of those living with HIV is hurtful and dangerous and discourages those who are at risk from being tested. An HIV positive diagnosis is difficult enough for an individual to deal with, when you add the threat of prison and a lifetime label as a sex offender to the mix, it only adds to that pain.

"The State Legislative Process" with Jon Hoadley, Cristian Zenti, and Marsha Martin

Marsha Martin discussed the importance of not only knowing your state legislators, but also knowing the staff. In order to change these discriminatory laws, we must engage "both sides of the aisle." The panel spoke about the difficulties of getting a bill passed and emphasized to "never give up," though the panelists know the process can be exhausting.

Aron Cobbs, community educator at Lambda Legal's national office

Aaron started 'The Open Space Session," where participants were broken into groups to brainstorm a variety of ideas on how to change HIV crimialization.

Jon Hoadley, who owns Badlands Strategies and is running for the Michigan State legislature, is joined by Tami Haught, who was part of changing Iowa's HIV criminalization law, and Ayako Miyashita, the Inaugural Brian Belt HIV Law & Policy Fellow at California's Williams Institute, to discuss the legislative process. Ayako shared a "toolkit" from The Midwest Academy on a strategy to change HIV criminalization in your state.

Phone call from Kerry Thomas from Idaho prison.

Kerry shared his story of his incarceration. Conference attendees asked Kerry, "How can we help?". A very toucing moment during Kerry's phone call was a request from one of the attendees to be his "prayer partner," which he graciously accepted.

Conference planning for 2015 with Sean Strub

Communications Director at Positive Women's Network-USA, discussing criminal language, messaging, and sound bites.