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  • Writer's pictureDarian

LGBT Detroit Tackles Stigma, HIV Decriminalization On College Bus Tour

Participants on the 2019 LGBT Detroit Bus Tour (Image courtesy of LGBT Detroit/Jerron Totten)

When LGBT Detroit kicks off their “Sex, Hooking Up, & The Apps” four-day college bus tour on March 29, they will do so in the tradition of famous Black Detroiters who boarded buses and traveled across the country decades earlier to spread a sound that defined a generation. And while this new tour may be less flashy than a Motown revue, it is no less vital to the culture.

Originally launched in 2019, this year's bus tour is the second outing for LGBT Detroit and their ongoing effort to educate Michigan’s Black LGBTQ+ population on the facts about HIV prevention, transmission, and the state’s newly reformed HIV criminalization law.

The updated Michigan law, signed by former Gov. Rick Snyder, requires the person living with HIV to tell their sexual partner their status before having vaginal or anal sex unless they are undetectable and have no intent to spread the virus. Unlike the previous law, which charged the person living with HIV with up to a 4-year felony sentence for not disclosing their status before penetration — no matter their detection.

In Michigan, like many other states across the country with HIV criminalization laws on the books, Black gay and bisexual men are disproportionately impacted by this law.

It’s a reason why former Michigan state Rep. Jon Hoadley contacted LGBT Detroit to lead the charge in educating the state about the updated bill, says Jerron Totten, Social Outreach Coordinator and Legislative Advocacy Specialist for LGBT Detroit.

Jerron Totten, Social Outreach Coordinator and Legislative Advocacy Specialist for LGBT Detroit

“They said, ‘Name your price.’ Those were their exact words,” said Totten, referring to a conversation between LGBT Detroit leadership and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). “And we said, say less.”

In December 2021, LGBT Detroit was awarded its single largest grant by MDHHS to deliver a $294,000 multi-pronged campaign against HIV stigma in the Black and Latinx LGBTQ+ community, along with an additional $36,344 grant from the Detroit Department of Health.

“When Jon Hoadley asked us to educate the state, he didn't just stop there,” Totten says. “He set up a meeting with me and every single member of the governor's cabinet to see who would fund whatever idea we came up with. And we came up with an idea of a tour inspired by the Motown bus tours.”

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