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Sunday, May 26 Politics

Gay lawmakers pushing bills to boost awareness, fight HIV

HARTFORD — They want to create a statewide LGBTQ network, hope to increase access to HIV prevention medication and are pushing to ban “gay and transgender panic” as a criminal defense.

The state’s only openly gay lawmakers, Rep. Raghib Allie-Brennan, D-Bethel, and Rep. Jeff Currey, D-East Hartford, are fighting for new legislation to help LGBTQ individuals in Connecticut. They filed three bills addressing these issues Friday.

“These are three things we can champion and get across the finish line, hopefully,” Allie-Brennan said Tuesday. “They are important and affect different communities, each one of them.”

About 100,000 LGBT individuals live in Connecticut, according to the Movement Advancement Project, a nonprofit think-tank focusing on LGBT issues. That’s approximately 3.5 percent of the state’s adult population.

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Currey said Connecticut needs a network with about $100,000 in state funding to assess the needs of the state’s LGBTQ population and provide “mini grants” to nonprofits tackling key initiatives. New York and California have a similar networks in place.

“We do know especially within the Northeast and Northwest corners (of Connecticut), it is definitely more difficult to find ways in which we can get those programs or activities in those areas,” Currey said.

The lawmakers want to eliminate the need for parental consent when minors want to start using the HIV prevention drug, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). Taking the pill daily reduces the risk of contracting HIV from sex by more than 90 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“You have to view it almost like contraceptive,” said Allie-Brennan, a former board member at Triangle Community Center in Norwalk. “Teens are having sex. ... about 20 percent of new HIV infections are between the ages of 13 and 22.”

HIV is a particular issue for black men in Connecticut, who were nine times more likely than white males to be diagnosed with HIV in 2016, the CT Mirror reported.

The Centers for Disease Control projects that half of all black men who have sex with men could be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime, if trends continue. The number is one in four for Latino gay men.

In addition to the bills by Currey and Allie-Brennan, Martin Looney, D-New Haven, the Senate President Pro Tempore, has filed a bill to ban “gay and transgender panic” as a criminal defense to justify violence. That means a suspect in an act of violence can’t use the fact that he or she was surprised or stunned by hearing that someone is gay or transgender to excuse their actions.

Looney was unaware of any such instances in Connecticut. But Allie-Brennan said he was more convinced that this legislation is needed following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Tuesday to green-light the Trump administration’s plan to restrict military service by transgender men and women.

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“It’s important to the community that while they are seeing on a national level, the community being demonized or singled out and targeted, there are people here in Connecticut that identify with them that are pushing to make sure they still have a voice and they feel safe,” he said.

emunson@hearstmediact.com; Twitter: @emiliemunson

Emilie Munson|Capitol Reporter

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