( Los Angeles. July 25, 2018 ) — Today, Lambda Legal and the Black AIDS Institute ( BAI ) launched CUT THE STIGMA, a joint public education campaign focused on Black communities developed to dispel misconceptions surrounding the transmission of HIV and reduce HIV stigma and its resulting discrimination. The campaign was developed in conjunction with a complaint filed in United States District Court by Lambda Legal on behalf of Nikko Briteramos against the owner of a Los Angeles barbershop who refused to cut Briteramos's hair because he is living with HIV.
"My experience at the Leimert Park barbershop was not the first I have had with HIV discrimination. Today, I am speaking out because I would like it to be my last," said Nikko Briteramos, 34, who has been living with HIV since he was 19. "I want everyone to hear my story so they can better understand how harmful these moments of discrimination can be to those living daily with HIV. The stigma is a result of misconceptions and it needs to end."
"The facts of this case, as well as the legal claims, are pretty straight-forward: the owner of King of Kuts in Leimert Park refused to cut Nikko's hair because he is living with HIV, in clear violation of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act ( ADA ) as well as the California Unruh Civil Rights Act," said Scott Schoettes, Counsel and HIV Project Director at Lambda Legal. "While we work within the legal system to remedy the dignitary harms Nikko suffered as a result of this discriminatory encounter, we are also partnering with Black AIDS Institute to engage with Black communities nationally to do some critically important public education to prevent such discrimination from happening in the first place."
"It was important for BAI to get involved in Nikko's case because there's no way to end the AIDS epidemic if we're not fighting bigotry, discrimination, and bias," said Phill Wilson, CEO and Founder of the Black AIDS Institute ( BAI ). "In addition, as a Black organization, we have to be ever vigilant in confronting injustice. It is a part of our survival. We fight those injustices to surviveand this is a case about injustice. It's about bias. It's about bigotry. It's about discrimination. We have an obligation to be at the forefront of that effort; that's essential."
The incident occurred in October 2017 when Briteramos was denied service by the owner of the Leimert Park barbershop King of Kuts specifically because of his HIV status. Having patronized the business several times before October 2017 without incident, Nikko was surprised when the circumstances changed after another barber in the shop, who knew Nikko previously, shared his HIV status with the owner.
"Living with HIV is not a crime and fear is not prevention," said Stefan Johnson, Lambda Legal Director Legal Help Desk. "Our hope is that the CUT THE STIGMA campaign raises necessary awareness in Black communities around the country to the ongoing issues surrounding HIV discrimination, which disconnects us from each other and relegates those living with HIV to second-class citizenship within our community.
Wilson concluded, "We are well aware that HIV discrimination does not only occur in the Black community. But Nikko's experience highlights how Black people living with HIV are often confronted with discrimination connected to stigma and misinformation in public places of importance within our community. The barbershop is a sacred social space, where Black Americans debate social, cultural and political ideas. HIV discrimination destroys such safe spaces. Through this partnership with Lambda Legal on CUT THE STIGMA, Black AIDS Institute intends to engage barbers across the country in an effort to end the harmful effects of HIV discrimination that stems from misinformation."
In addition to Scott Schoettes, Lambda Legal attorneys involved in the filing include Stefan Johnson, Taylor Brown and Anthony Pinggera.
To learn more about the case, please visit: lambdalegal.org/nikko .
Today's filing can be found here:
To learn more about the Cut the Stigma campaign, visit blackaids.org/CutTheStigma/ .
Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and everyone living with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.
The Black AIDS Institute, founded in May 1999, is the only national HIV/AIDS think tank focused exclusively on Black people. The Institute's mission is to stop the AIDS pandemic in Black communities by engaging and mobilizing Black leaders, institutions and individuals, in efforts to confront HIV. BAI disseminates information; advocates for sound, inclusive, culturally responsive public and private sector health policies; offers training and capacity building; provides health screening for HIV/STI/Hep C and other chronic and/or infectious diseases, and linkage to comprehensive: and conducts advocacy and mobilization from a uniquely and unapologetically Black point of view.