17658215.548cc7744f5a4Three Texas-based HIV/AIDS service organizations are among the 21 organizations across nine Southern states to receive a total of $1.4 million in funds by AIDS United.

The Texas recipients are Cardea Services in Austin; Legacy Community Health Services in Houston; and Valley AIDS Council in Halingen.

The funds were distributed through AIDS United’s Southern REACH Initiative, or Regional Expansion of Access and Capacity to Address HIV/AIDS. The REACH Initiative’s addresses and shapes effective policies and builds capacity among local organizations challenging HIV in the South and the disparities and social injustices that further fuel the epidemic.

Now in its tenth year, REACH is managed by AIDS United and funded by the Ford Foundation.

Grantees focus on important issues such as voter mobilization, expanding legal services in the area of housing and employment discrimination and combating unjust HIV criminalization laws.

REACH works with organizations empowering people living with HIV, their allies and those at risk by expanding their participation in the political process and advocating for needed changes and holding local officials accountable. With REACH’s assistance, organizations ensure that local and state policies are able to turn the tide of a growing epidemic in the South while also ensuring a more just and effective response for those living with HIV.

“I am inspired by the work of the Southern REACH grantees addressing HIV/AIDS in the Deep South,” said Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation. “We are proud to support the individuals and organizations working to disrupt inequality, especially in the American South, where systemic injustice, discrimination and harmful laws and prejudicial policies are still far too pervasive.”

“The HIV epidemic and its associated disparities will continue to rage on until we harness the political will needed to challenge and then change the policies that fuel it. And that’s exactly what Southern REACH grantees are doing,” said AIDS United President and CEO Michael Kaplan.

In the most recent legislative session, Januari Leo, Legacy’s director of public affairs, worked with others to defeat legislation allowing prosecutors to use someone’s HIV status against them in court. Opponents of the bills call them HIV criminalization laws because they use someone’s positive status as a weapon. The four bills were defeated.

Leo and others also advocated for other bills, including one allowing certain Texas counties to establish pilot needle exchange programs and making HIV testing an optional part of routine medical screenings. The needle exchange bill passed in the House but died without a Senate sponsor. The patient opt-out bill died before it received a hearing.