The topic of HIV came up a lot at the recent LGBTQ town hall featuring Democratic presidential candidates. In fact, each of the nine participants fielded a question about the virus, though many seemed to revolve around decriminalization and PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis, the daily pill to prevent HIV).

Sponsored by CNN and LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign (HRC), transgender activists interrupted the forum several times to bring attention to the murder of transgender people (18 this year), mostly women of color. The protests, though, were peaceful and respected.

For general highlights from the forum—spanning topics such as the Equality Act, hate crimes, conversion therapy, homelessness and discrimination—visit, search #EqualityTownHall on Twitter or read this roundup on (Did you know about Kamala Harris’s former campaign manager Jim Rivaldo? He was HIV positive and worked for Harvey Milk; he died in 2007, and Harris said he taught her about racial disparities around HIV. She also told the crowd we could end HIV/AIDS within a generation.)

Now, about those HIV-related questions. Activist and former POZ cover subject Tony Valenzuela asked Beto O’Rourke two questions: Would his administration review HIV criminalization laws and end those based on HIV, and how would he help end HIV discrimination and stigma?

What did Valenzuela think of the responses? “Beto didn’t initially answer the question on criminalization. He did adequately cover the topic of access to treatment and PrEP, as did the other candidates. [CNN anchor] Don Lemon had to follow up with Beto to explain that there are dozens of states with HIV criminalization laws that unfairly target positive people. To me, he didnt appear to know much about the laws, but he did agree they would be reviewed.”

To be fair, though, the topic of decriminalization is very nuanced; even when discussed in terms of science and evidence, it often leads to fear-based responses by the likes of Donald Trump Jr. Some conservative media outlets even promote the narrative that Democratic candidates think it should be legal to knowingly give someone HIV.

Judging by social media posts and HIV listserv conversations, O’Rourke’s answer and a few responses from Joe Biden were the rare flubs in an otherwise solid discussion.  

Overall, the candidates seemed well informed around HIV/AIDS issues,” Valenzuela told POZ. “Almost universally, the candidates discussed making sure PrEP was covered by health insurance, including Medicare and Medicaid. Many of them seemed to be aware that Black and brown communities are disproportionately affected by HIV because of systemic issues. The Democratic candidates today are far more educated about LGBTQ and HIV issues than ever. I was left with that distinct impression.”

Scott Schoettes, the HIV project director at Lambda Legal, which advocates for LGBT people and people with HIV and provides legal services, tweeted his reactions throughout the forum.

As Vox pointed out in its summary of the town hall: “Every single candidate got a question about HIV transmission, which disproportionately affects gay and bisexual men and trans women, but organizers couldn’t find time for a single question on lesbian issues—like the unique combination of misogyny and homophobia that leads to male violence against lesbians or intimate partner violence within queer women’s relationships. It was a glaring oversight and a missed opportunity.”

Journalist Masha Gessen, who often covers HIV topics, offers an insightful roundup of the town hall at The New Yorker.

If you’d like to know more about the candidates’ positions regarding HIV, read their responses to a survey of 15 questions sent out by AIDS United and the Act Now End AIDS Coalition. To read a POZ article on the survey, click here.

And in case you missed it, here’s the clip from the town hall that won the internets. It’s not HIV-related but definitely worth a view.