HIV Is Not a Crime

...except in at least 32 states, it can be.

When we were first confronted with HIV in the United States in the 1980’s, contracting the virus was largely understood to be a death sentence. Thirty years later, with treatment and access to medical care, HIV is a treatable, even if incurable, condition.

Yet even as science and treatment has advanced, we are arresting and locking people with HIV up for engaging in consensual sex, for bleeding, for spitting, for existing.

As the Center for HIV Law and Policy reports, “Thirty-two states and two U.S. territories have HIV-specific criminal statutes and thirty-six states have reported proceedings in which HIV-positive people have been arrested and/or prosecuted for consensual sex, biting, and spitting. At least 180 such prosecutions occurred from 2008 to 2013 alone.”

While framed as public health measures intended to prevent the spread of HIV, in reality these laws stigmatize people with HIV and misrepresent the causes of HIV transmission, the treatment options, and outcomes for people living with HIV and disproportionately impact people of color. 

In reality, as the Department of Justice notes, “many of these state laws criminalize behaviors that the CDC regards as posing either no or negligible risk for HIV transmission even in the absence of risk reduction measures.”

But despite the position of the federal government and major medical associations, state prosecutions for exposure to HIV continue.

Last week, a Missouri jury sentenced Michael Johnson, a young, black gay man living with HIV, to over three decades in prison for allegedly exposing consensual sexual partners to HIV . 

A star wrestler at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri, Johnson was revered for his strength, athleticism, and sexual desirability. That same body that brought wrestling wins to the university and which attracted admirers on social media quickly became the subject of racialized tropes about the danger of black male sexuality when he was arrested and his HIV status widely publicized. 

For example, Buzzfeed reported that “Overtly racist blogs, like Chimpmania.com, labeled him an ‘HIV Positive Buck.’” In imagery and discourse that has been used to restrain and criminalize black sexuality since chattel slavery, reports cast him as a strong, predatory weapon that preyed on smaller white victims.

As with many criminal laws, laws making exposure to HIV a crime disproportionately affect gay and trans people of color whose sexuality is already perceived as dangerous and deviant. In response to the racialized targeting of Johnson in the public discourse, fellow black gay men wrote him a public letter of support:

“For you, your accusers saw your Black and masculine body as a site of ultimate sexual pleasure, until they had to deal with you as a whole person. At that moment you became a problem and were disposable to them.”

Johnson went from revered to reviled and spent 18 months in jail awaiting trial. For the past three months, he has had no contact with other prisoners, instead spending 23 hours a day in lockdown segregation. He then was tried and convicted before an almost all-white jury, which included jurors who believed that “homosexuality is a sin.”

Though prosecutors attempted to analogize non-disclosure of HIV to driving under the influence of alcohol, the charge and punishment levied upon Johnson are in no way comparable to how drunk driving is treated under Missouri criminal law. While drunk driving is a misdemeanor offense with a maximum of six months in jail for first time offenders, Johnson was charged and convicted of six felonies and will face between 30 and 60.5 years in prison.

A combination of racism, homophobia, and a gross misunderstanding (or perhaps deliberate rejection) of science led to the inhumane conviction and sentence of Johnson under the HIV criminalization scheme, which is, according to the open letter, “yet another tool used to police and incarcerate bodies that are too often poor, Black or brown, or queer-identified.” 

For those of us in the LGBT community, the rejection and outright disposal of people living with HIV is our history and our fight. There is still work to be done to fight the stigma of living with HIV. Almost 30 -years since the founding of ACT UP, the calls to “Stand up. Fight Back. Fight AIDS.” must continue. And those calls mean fighting the criminalization of HIV. 

And to Michael Johnson, we will stand with you and support you in this fight. Your body was marked for disposal because of your blackness, your gayness, and your HIV status. We will not tolerate such injustice. 

View comments (16)
Read the Terms of Use

Cherelyn Talle

Hello I’m Cherelyn Talle by name, I’m giving a testimony about Dr. Ben the great Herbalist, he has the cure to all manner of diseases, he cured my HIV disease, though I went through different website I saw different testimonies about different herbalists, I was like: “Many people have the HIV cure why are people still suffering from it?” I though of it, then I contact Dr. Ben via email, I didn’t believe him that much, I just wanted to give him a try, he replied my mail and Needed some Information about me, then I sent them to him, he prepared the CURE and sent it to me via UPS courier service, they told me that it will take 3-4 days before I'll get the parcel, 3 days later I received the package and I started taking the medicine as prescribed by him, after 7 days of taking the medicine I went for check-up, I was tested HIV NEGATIVE... I’M GOING TO ASSIST ANYBODY THAT CONTACT HIM FOR HELP, IF YOU ARE SERIOUS YOU WILL BE CURED!!! He can also cure all type of diseases like hypertities B, Diabities, Herpes.etc. contact him via: qualityharbalhome@gmail.com or whatsapp +22891742175. You can also reach me on email: cherelyntalle@gmail.com

Anonymous

Anyone with this problem should please do contact doctor climent Scott now he will help you too.
I will only advice every other woman TRYING TO GET PREGNANT or have Fallopian tube issues, pcos and other infertility problem too do their research and don’t base your option only on anyone’s advise, I did and it resulted in waste of money and time. contact Dr climent on email: drclimentscott@gmail.com drclimentscott@gmail.com Or his whatsapp number. +2347036879479 because I have discover Dr climent. long time ago and I would have been pregnant earlier if I follow my heart and buy the herbal herbs but I disregard it because of my doctor’s advice and I am annoyed at myself but at the same time I am happy that I made the wise decision by going back to Dr climent, for his herbal herbs. Now I am a strong believer of this herbal herbs natural medicine. Thank You.contact Dr climent for bringing this joy into my home am so happy at last am now a mother of twins am the happiest woman on earth thank god i came back for your herbal herbs i no so many marriages out there finding it difficult to conceive i will surely encourage them to have fate and contact you on your email or number for help contact Dr climent now via drclimentscott@gmail.com drclimentscott@gmail.com Or his whatsapp number. +2347036879479 drclimentscott@gmail.com
+2347036879479 +2347036879479.

Anonymous

When we have been making "Technological Advances" to prevent and treat HIV, have we reconsidered the Law Statues of the way we handle and charge people who knowingly without their HIV/AIDS status and create other alternatives then harsh punishments.

Anonymous

We The People, though when we are sentenced to prison, We are nothing and what about treatments and PREVENTIVES in DOC or Jails. THINK ABOUT THAT AND LOOK INTO YOURSELVES!

magnusfl

HIV Is Not a Crime what a crock it the same as injecting a slow poison in some one

Anonymous

People have the right to refuse service to anyone. Especially perverted promiscuous gays with job. They made their choice to filthy perverts

Pages

Stay Informed