New Kentucky law decriminalizes HIV self-test distribution

Here’s where to get a free one in Kentucky

By: - June 29, 2023 11:15 am

Chris Hartman with Kentucky’s Fairness Campaign celebrates the decriminalization of HIV self-tests in 2023. (Kentucky Lantern Photo by Sarah Ladd).

Thanks to a new law that passed this legislative session and went into effect Thursday, a Kentucky coalition began legally distributing HIV self-tests. 

HIV self-tests. (Kentucky Lantern photo by Sarah Ladd)

The bipartisan House Bill 349 decriminalized the distribution of HIV self tests. It also rendered moot a former rule that made it a felony for people living with HIV to donate organs and other tissue. 

Shameka Parrish-Wright, the director of VOCAL-KY, said at the Heyburn building in downtown Louisville Thursday that “the stigma is still there” when it comes to HIV.

Someone had complained about a sign advertising the event, she said, by the time it started at 11 a.m.

“We still have work to do,” she said.

VOCAL-KY is “dedicated to ending the AIDS epidemic,” among other things, according to its website.

“For the first time ever, you can pick up a free-of-charge home HIV test kit that you can take in the privacy of your own home to learn your HIV status,” said Chris Hartman, the executive director of the Fairness Campaign.

“Today, we have modernized some of Kentucky’s most outdated laws related to HIV and AIDS,” Hartman said. “And we’ve become a leader in the nation for HIV modernization.”

Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg pledged the city’s public health department will work with organizations to distribute the tests.

“This is not just a good day for those who have HIV or think they might have HIV,” Greenberg said. “But for all of their loved ones, for their family, for their friends, really for the entire city.”

U.S. Congressman Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, was also on hand to praise the legislation.

“It is going to keep people healthier, it is going to keep people safer, and it is going to take away the stigma of HIV and AIDS,” he said.

Louisville Mayor Craig Greenberg celebrates the decriminalization of HIV self-tests in 2023.
(Kentucky Lantern Photo by Sarah Ladd).

What is HIV? 

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) isn’t curable but can be managed with proper care, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. HIV usually spreads through sex or shared needles and syringes, the CDC says. 

People with HIV may experience flu-like symptoms, but that’s not a given. The CDC says the best way to know if you have it is to get tested for it. 

A self- tester swabs their gums to collect saliva and then tests that sample, according to the CDC. Self tests show results in about 20 minutes. 

The HIV Is Not a Crime Coalition includes the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky, the Fairness Campaign, Norton Healthcare and others. 

Where can I get free HIV self tests in Kentucky going forward? 

Shameka Parrish-Wright with VOCAL KY celebrates the decriminalization of HIV self-tests in 2023.
(Kentucky Lantern Photo by Sarah Ladd).

The HIV Is Not a Crime Coalition celebrated HB349 going into effect by distributing free tests in Louisville and Lexington on Thursday. But, the tests will still be available going forward from these organizations: 

  • VOCAL-KY will continue to keep tests on hand to give away. Visit them on the 16th floor of the Heyburn building in downtown Louisville.
  • For the next month, the Social Practice Lab will have tests. Visit them at 1229 South Shelby Street in Louisville on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
  • Aids Volunteers of Lexington  (AVOL) will also ship a free test to your house.
U.S. Congressman Morgan McGarvey celebrates the decriminalization of HIV self-tests in 2023.
(Kentucky Lantern Photo by Sarah Ladd).

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Sarah Ladd
Sarah Ladd

Sarah Ladd is a Louisville-based journalist from West Kentucky who's covered everything from crime to higher education. She spent nearly two years on the metro breaking news desk at The Courier Journal. In 2020, she started reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic and has covered health ever since. As the Kentucky Lantern's health reporter, she focuses on mental health, LGBTQ+ issues, children's welfare, COVID-19 and more.