HIV/AIDS Advocacy at Day on the Hill in Nashville

HIV/AIDS Awareness Advocates Show Up for Change in Tennessee at Day on the Hill

by Ray Rico

As I walked into the bustling streets of downtown Nashville, TN on Tuesday, March 26, the air was filled with anticipation and purpose. I was among a group of about 144 advocates from various corners of the state, all gathering for a common cause—to voice our opposition to bills that threatened the rights and well-being of our communities. Organized by coalition partners for Tennessee AIDS Action Network’s HIV Advocacy Day on the Hill, this gathering promised to be a pivotal moment in our ongoing fight for justice and equality.

The day kicked off with a gathering at a charming dining hall where advocates, partners, and individuals living with HIV came together to reconnect and strategize before we meet with legislators. Amidst the mingling and photo-taking, we were privileged to hear the poignant story of Lashanda Salinas, a brave soul who shared her journey of navigating HIV criminalization in Tennessee.

Photo of Lashanda Salinas in red with box braids, courtesy of Lashanda Salinas
Photo of Lashanda Salinas, courtesy of Lashanda Salinas

Lashanda’s Story

Lashanda Salinas is a native of Hartsville, Tennessee and a peer volunteer for Nashville CARES in the Healthy University program. She has lived with HIV for more than 25 years and has spent the past few years working with multiple entities to modernize the HIV criminal exposure law in Tennessee. In 2006, Lashanda was charged with exposing a partner to HIV.

As the burden of proof was on the HIV+ individual, she could not provide evidence that she had informed the partner of her status. She was convicted, sentenced to jail time, and forced to register on the state’s Sex Offender Registry for life.

She began her involvement with advocacy efforts, participating in a statewide Day on Hill in 2021 where she testified to a House committee about her story and the barriers conviction caused around housing, employment, and family relationships. In 2023, after multiple attempts, advocates in Tennessee were successful in shepherding through a statutory change to the HIV Criminal Exposure law, removing the requirement for those convicted to register on the Sex Offender Registry and creating a pathway for those on registry to be removed.

As of July 7th, 2023, Lashanda was the first person to be removed from the sex offender registry in Tennessee.

Following Lashanda’s inspiring testimony, Michael Elizabeth took the stage, reminding us of our progress in combating HIV criminalization. Michael Elizabeth is the Public Health Policy Strategist at Equality Federation, an organization that works with member organizations to leverage their advocacy capacity to influence state and federal policy while ensuring effective implementation of those policies.

Headshot, courtesy of Michael Elizabeth in blue suit
Headshot, courtesy of Michael Elizabeth

Elizabeth’s words resonated deeply as they proclaimed us not merely local heroes but national leaders in the fight against stigma and injustice. Indeed, our advocacy had reverberated beyond state lines, inspiring change in neighboring states like Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Maryland, and empowering legislators to challenge harmful laws.

“You’re not just local heroes you’re national leaders.” – Michael Elizabeth

Buoyed by camaraderie and determination, we looked ahead to the next day with renewed vigor. And as Wednesday dawned, we wasted no time in springing into action. The morning began with an Advocacy Awards & Recognition Breakfast, where we honored the champions who had helped pave the way for legislative reform. Senators Becky Massey and Page Walley were lauded for their instrumental role in amending the HIV Criminal Exposure law, a testament to the power of collaboration and advocacy.

Armed with a sense of purpose and a clear agenda, we made our way to the capital building, ready to make our voices heard. Despite encountering some logistical hurdles—with several senators and representatives tied up on the floor–we pressed on, engaging in meaningful discussions and advocating for our priorities. Among the bills on our radar, SB2405/ HB2515 actually passed! It’s an amendment that removes the offense of aggravated prostitution.

Senators Becky Massey and Page Walley with HIV/AIDs awareness advocates, courtesy Ray Rico

Here is a list of the priority bills to follow:

113th Tennessee General Assembly Pending Legislation


SB2405/ HB2515 – Senator Yarbro/Rep. Harris – (This bill was passed on the floor!)
As introduced, deletes the offense of aggravated prostitution; requires the public records of a person charged with a misdemeanor or a felony offense that has been repealed to be removed and destroyed without cost upon petition by the person.

SB01485/HB1302 – Senator Kyle/Rep. Thompson
As amended, deletes the offense of HIV criminal exposure and replaces the statute with HIV Criminal Transmission of HIV, HBV and HCV.
Reduces the offense from a Class C felony to a Class A misdemeanor.


SB2043/HB2572 – Senator Lamar/Rep. Glynn 
Expands the offense of aggravated rape to include when the defendant commits rape knowing that the defendant is infected with HIV.
As amended, requires actual transmission of HIV to the victim.

SB2657/HB2789 – Senator White/Rep. Littleton
As introduced, creates the offense of aggravated patronizing prostitution & requires HIV testing of a person initially arrested for aggravated patronizing prostitution.

Our work was far from over. As we navigated the labyrinthine halls of power, we secured commitments to update the language of a new bill—SB2043/ HB2789—shifting the focus from exposure to transmission. It’s a small but significant step towards destigmatization. 

As the day drew to a close, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride and gratitude. Despite the obstacles and setbacks, we had made our voices heard, standing toe-to-toe with legislators and advocating for change. And while the road ahead may be fraught with challenges, I am confident that with united determination and solidarity, we will continue to shape a brighter, more inclusive future for all.

In the end, it wasn’t just about lobbying or legislative victories—it was about harnessing the power of collective action to effect meaningful change in our communities. As I reflected on the events of the past two days, I was reminded of Michael Elizabeth’s words: “You’re not just local heroes; you’re national leaders.” Indeed, together, we are pioneers, trailblazing a path toward a more just and equitable society, one advocacy day at a time.

Thanks to The Tennessee AIDS Advocacy Network organized by the tireless work of Amna Osmar, Paula Foster, Krista Wright Thayer, Mia Cotton, and all the others with a unified goal of fighting discriminatory HIV bills.

Special thanks to support from Gilead and our other sponsors and community partners.

Community Partners, courtesy Ray Rico

Please follow @focusmidsouth for continued updates on these bills.


Tennessee General Assembly – State resource website for searching bills and information on sponsors.

TAAN – Tennessee AIDS advocacy network 

Nashville Cares – Nashville CARES is the premier HIV/AIDS service organization in Tennessee.

Friends for All – Friends for All is one of the largest HIV/AIDS service organizations in the South.

Street Works – Street Works provides education, prevention, and care to those affected by HIV/AIDS on the inner-city streets of Nashville.

Tennessee Equality Project – The Tennessee Equality Project advocates for the equal rights of LGBTQ people in Tennessee. 

TN Legislators Continue to Test LGBTQ Liberation >>>