AMNA NAWAZ: In Tennessee, a fight has been brewing over another public health issue, HIV.
It comes as several Republican-led states move to restrict the rights of LGBTQ people.
Our White House correspondent, Laura Barron-Lopez, recently went to Memphis, where advocates have sounded the alarm about the looming impact of those efforts.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: On a rainy afternoon, dozens of people crowded onto a sidewalk in the Cooper-Young neighborhood of Memphis.
WOMAN: We have a right to love, to live, to laugh, to openly be ourselves in the ways we weren't allowed to be as children.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: They stood in front of OUTMemphis, a local LGBTQ rights group, to protest new Tennessee laws that restrict drag shows in public and ban gender-affirming care for minors.
But there was another reason for the gathering.
WOMAN: There are over 20,000 folks infected with HIV, and they deserve our attention.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: Demonstrators condemned a move by Governor Bill Lee to reject more than $8 million in federal funding for HIV prevention.
He argues the state should cover those costs, and have more say in who gets the money.
For years, the federal dollars, which come through grants from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have trickled down to community organizations.
They use it for services like HIV testing, condom distribution, and access to the HIV prevention drug PrEP.
One such group is the Partnership to End AIDS Status, or PEAS.
How much of that CDC funding accounts for your organization?
ROSA BARBER, Partnership to End AIDS Status: Ninety percent of our funding comes from the CDC.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: Rosa Barber, the chief operating officer for PEAS, says the organization had to let go of its permanent space due to the funding uncertainty.
On the day we met, they had set up in a small room at a Memphis beauty shop.
ROSA BARBER: We have spent so many years drilling and making people feel good about testing and taking care of themselves.
We built the trust within the community.
So all of this is just going down the drain quickly.
And it's affecting people who look like myself, people who -- like my co-workers, and that's what is heartbreaking about the entire situation.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: Emmitte James, who lives just across the river in Arkansas, visits PEAS every few months for condoms.
He's also received testing through the organization.
EMMITTE JAMES, Tennessee: They actually help some people that's not fortunate enough to be able to go to a regular doctor.
We need the prevention and that lets you know it's all safe, that you have people on your side, that you can get health -- health care that you need.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: The Memphis area has one of the highest rates of new HIV cases in the country.
And officials here worry that prevention efforts will be crippled by the governor's decision.
In January, the Tennessee Department of Health sent a letter to community organizations saying the CDC grants would end on May 31.
It said the Lee administration was examining areas where it can decrease its reliance on federal funding and assume increased independence.
Governor Lee declined an interview with the "NewsHour," but his spokesperson said: "The state is committed to maintaining at least the same level of funding and any claim that we are cutting funding is inaccurate."
DR. MICHELLE TAYLOR, Shelby County Health Department: That's not true.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: Dr. Michelle Taylor directs the Health Department in Shelby County, home to Memphis.
DR. MICHELLE TAYLOR: This is a loss of funding, because these are federal funds that are earmarked for HIV for testing and surveillance and prevention.
And now populations in Tennessee are going to go without these additional resources.
Even if they are replaced by state resources, they pay for these additional resources that are supposed to come from the federal government.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: In Memphis, like the rest of the country, the people at highest risk for HIV include men who have sex with men, heterosexual women and injection drug users.
People of color are also at higher risk.
But in statements about his funding plan, Governor Lee has emphasized other populations.
BILL LEE (R-TN): Human trafficking victims, on the transmission to first responders, on the transmission from mothers to their babies.
Those are populations that we want to focus on.
And in order to do so, those funds will then be directed at whatever organizations are serving those populations the best.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: According to the AIDS research organization amfAR, in Tennessee those groups make up about 2 percent of the people at risk for HIV.
Lee's administration later said that those groups were -- quote -- "additional vulnerable populations" that the state will serve with its funds.
DR. MICHELLE TAYLOR: If you replace the word HIV with any other condition, if you replace it with diabetes, and you said, OK, the state of Tennessee is about to send back funding for diabetes care, testing, treatment for the population that is most at risk for having this condition, there would be so much outrage, people would say, how dare you send back funding for a health condition that we know people need additional support for?
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: HIV advocates here accuse the governor of playing politics, reacting to growing anti-LGBTQ pressure from national conservative figures.
Before rejecting the CDC grants entirely, advocates say, Lee tried to block the money from going to the state's Planned Parenthood chapter, which uses it for condom distribution and training HIV testers.
Francie Hunt is the advocacy and organizing director for Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi.
FRANCIE HUNT, Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi: After the Tennessee abortion ban, I think that these lawmakers had to turn their attention now to the LGBTQ community and to attack their rights.
What's alarming is that they're not only trying to punish Planned Parenthood politically, but several different community organizations as well.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: When asked, Governor Lee's office didn't say whether the same organizations who currently receive federal funding will now get money from the state.
So where will people access services?
STATE REP. CAMERON SEXTON (R-TN): I would say different associations, different areas of the state, not like Planned Parenthoods, but maybe free health clinics or whatever else may be out there that's a network.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: Cameron Sexton is the Republican speaker of the Tennessee House.
STATE REP. CAMERON SEXTON: In Tennessee and in other red states, I think you look, and if you can fund things yourself without the restrictions or the stipulations that the federal government wants to put on you, and you can do it yourself, you're better off funding it with Tennessee dollars, not federal dollars.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: Will the groups that are most high-risk, according to health experts in your state, still receive these services?
STATE REP. CAMERON SEXTON: Look, the population that needs HIV prevention with these medications or services will still be able to get it.
Whether they go through this organization or that organization, they will still have the capability of getting it.
Whether you prioritize a certain number or certain locations, you can put that up for debate.
But at the end of the day, I'm confident that, if you're funding HIV prevention, those who need it will get it.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: This change would have impacted you go years ago?
JOSH HALL, OUTMemphis: Yes.
that's immediately what I thought about.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: But people like Josh Hall aren't so confident.
He tested positive for HIV in 2019 and now works for OUTMemphis, which also receives federal funding.
JOSH HALL: It kind of felt like a gut punch, to be honest.
I want to say I'm shocked, but it felt like a little inhumane.
Like, we're talking about lifesaving drugs.
To turn that into a political issue just feels below human.
I find myself at the intersection of a lot of these issues, just being a gay Black man living in a Southern state.
So, it is becoming increasingly hard to live in a state that seems to be directly attacking me.
LAURA BARRON-LOPEZ: Organizations like OUTMemphis have asked the CDC if they can bypass the state to continue receiving federal funding.
And while some advocates still hope the governor changes his mind, they worry, if he doesn't, more Republican-led states will follow Tennessee's lead.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Laura Barron-Lopez in Memphis.