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Hoboken expands access to HIV prevention drug

City receives perfect score on Municipal Equality Index

Mayor Ravi Bhalla, Councilman Michael DeFusco, and LGBTQ+ Liaison Laura Knittel celebrated the launch of Pride Month with a flag raising last June.

Mayor Ravi Bhalla and Councilman Mike DeFusco announced that beginning in January the City of Hoboken will offer all city employees expanded access to the most common and essential drug used in preventing the spread of HIV: Pre-exposure Prophylaxis or PrEP.

“For too many members of the LGBTQ+ community, the HIV epidemic has had an outsized impact on their health and safety,” Bhalla sais. “The modifications we are making will ensure our health benefits are inclusive and provide critical coverage for persons of all gender identities and sexual orientations. I thank Councilman DeFusco for partnering with my administration to implement this important update for our employees.”

PrEP is prescribed to HIV-negative individuals to help reduce their risk of becoming infected with HIV should they come in contact with the virus.

The medication works to prevent HIV from establishing infection inside the body. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, PrEP is 99 percent effective in preventing the spread of HIV when taken as prescribed and reaches maximum protection in as little as seven days.

“One of the most important lessons we have learned in 2020 is that no person should be without the healthcare coverage and medication they need to survive or simply stay healthy,” DeFusco said. “Expanding the access of PrEP not only prevents a potential lapse in coverage, it also helps reduce the stigma and prejudices far too many LGBTQ+ individuals feel during monthly doctor’s appointments. As Hoboken’s only openly gay councilperson, I appreciate Mayor Bhalla and Director [Jason] Freeman for taking swift action to ensure this essential medication is more easily accessible to all city employees beginning in the new year.”

Executive Director of Hudson Pride Elizabeth Schedl commended the city.

Pride of place

“We at Hudson Pride are happy that Mayor Bhalla is taking steps to acknowledge the healthcare needs of city employees and is committed to supporting the health and happiness of each person,” Schedl. “Preventing HIV through PrEP medication is an instrumental part of ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic in this country. Hudson Pride Center has 3 PrEP Counselors on staff who assess eligibility for interested clients, link them to HIV testing, and provide assistance with medication and care provider access, as well as ongoing adherence counseling and prevention education. Having one of the major cities in Hudson County understand the importance of PrEP medication and access to care is a significant step in the right direction. Thank you, Mayor Balla and Councilman DeFusco.”

For the third year in a row, Hoboken received a perfect 100 percent from the Human Rights Campaign’s (HRC) Municipal Equality Index (MEI).

The MEI examines how inclusive municipal laws, policies, and services are of LGBTQ people who live and work there. Cities are rated based on nondiscrimination laws, the municipality as an employer, municipal services, law enforcement, and the city leadership’s public position on equality.

Hoboken is one of three municipalities in New Jersey, and one of 94 cities across the country, to earn a 100 percent rating from HRC.

“Even though we’re in the middle of a national pandemic, we still are focused on the values that make Hoboken the inclusive place it is today,” Bhalla said. “I’m proud that Hoboken continues to serve as a national model for lifting up members of our LGBTQ+ community, as one of just three cities in New Jersey to achieve a perfect score. I’m appreciative of the many trailblazers who have helped us achieve this distinction, as we continue to tirelessly protect the rights of all of our LGBTQ+ residents in the years to come.”

Hoboken earned top scores from HRC for the city’s law enforcement policies which include reporting hate crime statistics to the FBI, the administration’s leadership on LGBTQ+ equality, nondiscrimination protections covering employment, fair treatment of LGBTQ+ employees, and city healthcare benefits that are transgender-inclusive.

“Here we are, even in 2020, Hoboken continues to strive for more Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, within our local community,” said Laura Knittel, Hoboken’s LGBTQ+ liaison. “We have once again scored high marks with the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index! Thank you to our local leaders, constituents, community organizers, activists and all LGBTQ+ people, here and abroad. Given the good news, let’s not forget …. how many LGBTQ+ teens and adults, here and around the world, who may be suffering, persecuted and sometimes even killed for who they love, and how they identify. There is still much work to be done.  And to all those reading, please know you are not alone, we’re here for you.”

She urged people to support the local Hudson Pride Center.

For more information on the Hudson Pride Center go to https://hudsonpride.org/

For updates on this and other stories check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Marilyn Baer can be reached at Marilynb@hudsonreporter.com.

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