Florida had the nation’s third-highest rate of new HIV diagnoses, according to a 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study. COVID-19 has only worsened this problem, with HIV/AIDS service providers in Florida saying that COVID-19 has further exacerbated healthcare disparities. A new student-run club called The Red Ribbon Collective seeks to help.
According to the Collective’s mission statement, “the Red Ribbon Collective is a prospective club at New College that seeks to transform the conversation about HIV and uplift those living with it through four objectives: educate, advocate, alleviate, and celebrate.”
Club founder and second-year student Zane Divita explained the collective’s plans for the future.
“A major focus is to bring attention to issues affecting people living with HIV and adjacent communities, particularly in regards to HIV criminalization laws in our state,” Divita said. “Most people don’t know that people living with HIV can be charged with felonies and sentence enhancements for doing things that pose no risk of transmission to others. Florida prosecutes more people under these laws than every other state yet these laws do nothing to prevent the spread of the virus, considering that we’re also first in the nation for new infections.”
The state of Florida has some of the toughest HIV criminalization laws in the nation. A person can receive a sentence of up to five years in prison or $5,000 five-thousand-dollars in fines for acts such as organ donation without disclosing HIV status, regardless of if they were on medication or using some form of protection. “We’ve got big plans to fight for changes to these laws and we’re already working with community leaders from the HIV Justice Coalition along with our bill sponsors Senator Jason Pizzo and Representative Nick Duran to introduce legislation this upcoming session to make some of these much needed changes.” Divita assured.
Although legislative success will probably be harder to achieve, the Collective has already begun taking action on campus. Divita sent an email a few weeks ago to raise awareness about a recent donation of condoms from the Florida Department of Health to the Counseling and Wellness Center (CWC). The new supplies are currently stocked in the SHARE resource room in Hamilton “Ham” Center.
But despite the collective’s ambitious goals, it was born of a simple and human sentiment: empathy.
“I have known people who have been affected by this virus and their stories have resonated with me,” Divita said. “I think a part of their experiences have made me ask myself what else I could be doing to help perpetuate their stories.”