Kerry was diagnosed with HIV in 1992, a time when there was still much confusion about the infection and what it does. Treatments were nor available, and even trial treatments were ineffective and sometimes made people even sicker. It was a difficult time in which information was scarce and those who were diagnosed faced stigma and often discrimination. Kerry himself encountered discrimination at a professional retreat after injuring himself, when the leadership threatened to kick him out. Although his home state of Illinois now has a statewide law prohibiting LGBTQ discrimination, he is vulnerable to discrimination as soon as he leaves the borders, and his HIV status increases the chances of being treated differently.
Today, Kerry recognizes an important connection between the HIV epidemic and the COVID-19 pandemic as public health concerns that have disproportionately affected the LGBTQ community. These types of crises underline the urgent need for LGBTQ policies that prohibit discrimination in health care, especially when people need it most. LGBTQ people often fear discrimination at the doctors’ office because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, which can cause them to avoid making preventative appointments during regular times; and at the height of the pandemic could hurt them if they were feeling sick.
Kerry also makes the point that transgender people and LGBTQ people are most at risk. He believes that the best way to protect everyone is through a federal LGBTQ nondiscrimination law. He concludes: “With airtight protections, LGBTQ people will be free to build lives where they can thrive — with not only confidence accessing health care but also security when it comes to finding a place to live or shopping in a business.”