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Campaign launches for HIV nondiscrimination education in Black communities

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Last Wednesday Lambda Legal and the Black AIDS Institute launched CUT THE STIGMA; a joint public education campaign focused on Black communities developed to dispel misconceptions surrounding the transmission of HIV and reduce HIV stigma and its resulting discrimination. The campaign originated in conjunction with a complaint filed in United States District Court by Lambda Legal on behalf of Nikko Briteramos against the owner of a Los Angeles barbershop who refused to cut Briteramos’s hair because he is living with HIV.

“My experience at the Leimert Park barbershop was not the first I have had with HIV discrimination. I am speaking out because I would like it to be my last,” said Nikko Briteramos, 34, who has been living with HIV since he was 19. “I want everyone to hear my story so they can better understand how harmful these moments of discrimination can be to those living daily with HIV. The stigma is a result of misconceptions, and it needs to end.”

“The facts of this case, as well as the legal claims, are pretty straight-forward: the owner of King of Kuts in Leimert Park refused to cut Nikko’s hair because he is living with HIV, in clear violation of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act as well as the California Unruh Civil Rights Act,” said Scott Schoettes, counsel and HIV Project director at Lambda Legal. “While we work within the legal system to remedy the dignitary harms Nikko suffered as a result of this discriminatory encounter, we are also partnering with Black AIDS Institute to engage with Black communities nationally to do some critically important public education to prevent such discrimination from happening in the first place.”

“It was important for BAI to get involved in Nikko’s case because there’s no way to end the AIDS epidemic if we’re not fighting bigotry, discrimination, and bias,” said Phill Wilson, CEO and founder of the BAI. “In addition, as a Black organization, we have to be ever vigilant in confronting injustice. It is a part of our survival. We fight those injustices to survive — and this is a case about injustice. It’s about bias. It’s about bigotry. And it’s about discrimination. We must be at the forefront of that effort; that’s essential.”

The incident occurred in October 2017 when Briteramos was denied service by the owner of the Leimert Park barbershop King of Kuts specifically because of his HIV status. Having patronized the business several times before without incident, it surprised Nikko when the circumstances changed after another barber in the shop, who knew Nikko previously, shared his HIV status with the owner.

“Living with HIV is not a crime and fear is not prevention,” said Lambda Legal Director Legal Help Desk, Stefan Johnson. “Our hope is that the CUT THE STIGMA campaign raises necessary awareness in Black communities around the country to the ongoing issues surrounding HIV discrimination, which disconnects us from each other and relegates those living with HIV to second-class citizenship within our community.”

Wilson concluded, “We are well aware that HIV discrimination does not only occur in the Black community. But Nikko’s experience highlights how Black people living with HIV [often face] discrimination connected to stigma and misinformation in public places of importance within our community. The barbershop is a sacred social space, where Black Americans debate social, cultural, and political ideas. HIV discrimination destroys such safe spaces.

Through this partnership with Lambda Legal on CUT THE STIGMA, the BAI intends to engage barbers across the country in an effort to end the harmful effects of HIV discrimination that stems from misinformation.”

To learn more about the Cut the Stigma campaign, visit https://blackaids.org/CutTheStigma/

Photo | Nikko Briteramos

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