It Is Time to Modernize Discriminatory HIV/AIDS Laws

While science has vastly advanced since the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic more than 30 years ago, the ways in which many criminal laws treat people living with HIV look like throwbacks to the dark days of the past when fear and misinformation about HIV and how it is transmitted were rampant.

There are presently 32 states that have criminal laws that punish people for exposing another person to HIV, even in the absence of actual HIV transmission or even a meaningful risk that transmission could occur.

If you are assuming that these laws are merely paper relics from a bygone era that have no real effect on those who are living with HIV today, guess again. Here are three illustrative cases on their very modern misuse:

In March 2010, the ACLU of Michigan filed an amicus brief in the jaw-dropping case of a man living with HIV who faced bio-terrorism charges after he allegedly bit another man during an altercation (despite the fact that HIV is not spread through saliva). Fortunately, a judge eventually threw out the bio-terrorism charges against the man.

A man living with HIV in Iowa received a 25-year sentence after he engaged in a one-time sexual encounter during which he used a condom and HIV was not transmitted. The man was charged under Iowa's law on the criminal transmission of HIV — which, despite its name, doesn't actually require transmission of HIV to occur. The man's sentence was eventually suspended, but he was nonetheless required to register as a sex offender.

And earlier this year, the ACLU, Lambda Legal, and the Center for HIV Law and Policy filed an amicus brief with the Minnesota Supreme Court in a case where a jury found that the defendant disclosed his HIV status before engaging in consensual sex – but prosecutors continue to push for criminal penalties, which, if upheld, would infringe on a host of constitutionally protected freedoms.

To address the injustice of cases like these, Reps. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) have reintroduced the REPEAL (Repeal Existing Policies that Encourage and Allow Legal) HIV Discrimination Act. This legislation would help in modernizing current criminal law approaches that target people living with HIV for felony charges and severe punishments for behavior that is otherwise legal (such as consensual sex between adults) or that poses no measurable risk of HIV transmission, or that singles out people living with HIV for harsh criminal penalties.

The need to modernize discriminatory HIV criminal laws is clear and compelling. These laws undermine HIV prevention efforts. For example, criminalizing exposure does not encourage people to disclose their HIV status to sexual partners, and most of these states do not treat the use of a condom during sexual intercourse as evidence that the risk of HIV transmission was both mitigated and not intended. More fundamentally, these laws perpetuate stigmatization and marginalization of people living with HIV.

Our criminal laws must be rooted in facts, not outdated myths used to target people living with HIV. Reps. Lee and Ros-Lehtinen deserve credit for introducing legislation that addresses this important, often overlooked, issue.

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Anonymous

It is also time to modernize other "unwritten rules".

I am a Muslim (not practicing Muslim, but come from Muslim country) and I also face discrimination on job applications. This is what I have discovered during a job search since last September – the time I immigrated to the United States after living in Europe for four years.

Under federal law, an employer cannot illegally discriminate in its hiring process based on a job applicant's race, national origin, gender, age, disability, or religion. My experience has proven something else, but it is almost impossible to prove it. But this is a sad fact.

I was initially applying for jobs with my name Ahmad. But never heard back from any employer. Then I changed my name on resume with my nickname. Guess what? I started to get two or three phone calls a day. That was the moment I discovered the truth.

But every time I am asked to show relevant documents, I have to write my real name. And most of the HR directors completely change their attitude once they learn my real name. And I cannot change my name till citizenship. What they usually say after learning my passport name is: "I am sorry, you are overqualified". I am qualified till the moment they want me to file relevant documents to start hiring process, but they suddenly discover that I am overqualified! Come on!

I am a human rights reporter and I have risked my life to promote human rights and American values in repressive countries. I earned my Green Card. But now, I can neither return my home country because of my professional background, nor find a job in the United Sates. Should I die on the streets? This was not my American Dream! I have no doubt that I am more American than most people who consider themselves patriots and do not care about their national interests.

I was initially planning to write an op-ed article or blog for NY Times. But then gave up, I thought they wouldn't publish it, that would be another blow. I have no idea about how to be heard. Being jobless for a year with a resume like mine...cannot explain it. Because my name is not "American name".

So, yea, there is a large room for improvement in the laws.

Anonymous

Too bad people don't ask "Should I be enraged at Osama bin Laden for making things go this way even more than they alREADY were?" which certainly needed no MORE help in that direction, especially from a damn dunce like him.
I know someone who died on September 11 and Osama bin Laden made it a fuckin' point of pride to tell us in exact words (I'm assuming they're as exact as they can get when they were translated) why he did it: "I do everything I do b/c I'm a deeply religious person. All my motives are tied to religious beliefs."
And the media thought family and friends of the dead victims would want to know that.
Well excuse me but I could have lived my entire life NOT knowing THAT.

I knew another person who's supposedly Muslim, I still don't know if he is or not but his name is Tariq and he looks Arab, and he mentioned how disgusted he was at Osama bin Laden. I never even asked him to do it and certainly not as MUCH as he did it. He went way beyond what a reasonable person should expect him to do.
Why is he the only one who's ever said anything other than the imam right after it occurred, who said "Osama bin Laden and his friends have gone crazy and forgotten Islam?"
If it weren't for those two people, I never would have found the desire if not the ability (I still don't have the ability) to forgive the ones who DID do it.

I may be too emotional about it for obvious reasons, but I really don't understand why only two people have ever said how they feel about it. And only two Arabs of all the ones I've met - which admittedly aren't that many - have ever shown any kind of disgust about Osama bin Laden.

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