After 22 years, the biennial International AIDS Conference will return to the United States in 2012.

The six-day summit has drawn in recent years about 25,000 HIV/AIDS researchers, medical professionals, activists and policy makers. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced the decision to bring the conference to Washington in 2012 during a White House event on the eve of World AIDS Day.

During the event, Clinton's condemnation of laws that criminalize being gay drew applause.

“We have to stand against any efforts to marginalize and criminalize and penalize members of the LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender] community worldwide. It is an unacceptable step backwards on behalf of human rights, but it is also a step that undermines the effectiveness of efforts to fight the disease worldwide,” she said.

“Hosting the International AIDS Conference in the United States is an important opportunity for the United States,” Ambassador Eric Goosby, the U.S. Global AIDS Coordinator, said Monday in a post at the White House blog.

“Welcoming conference attendees to our nation's capital will allow America to demonstrate our ongoing commitment to ending the HIV pandemic both in the United States and around the world. Given that the conference is fundamentally a research conference, holding this event in such close proximity to the National Institutes of Health and other U.S. Government research facilities will also, hopefully, expand the level of scientific disclosure between our scientists and researchers from around the world,” he added.

Hosting the conference inside the United States was previously unrealistic due to the U.S. restriction on visits by HIV-positive foreigners. The Obama administration, however, has lifted the HIV travel ban. The new rule goes into effect on January 4.

Immigration Equality, a group that advocates on behalf of LGBT immigrants, said the ban took a heavy toll on the U.S.

“The United States has paid a heavy price, in terms of its reputation in the scientific community, because of its antiquated policies on HIV-positive immigrants and visitors,” Steve Ralls, director of communications for the group, told On Top Magazine in an email.

Secretary Clinton's “remarks yesterday show how quickly the end of a prejudicial policy can bring about progress, and how swiftly our country can right immigration wrongs,” he added.