Ill-Founded Laws Criminalize People With HIV

2018.3.31.HIV.mainLaws remain on the books in more than 30 states making the possible transmission of HIV a criminal act. (Photo: scottmontreal / Flickr)

Eighteen months ago, in September 2017, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) finally recognized reality, posting on their website that “suppressing HIV through antiretroviral therapy (ART) prevents sexual transmission of HIV.” This was a huge victory for HIV activists whose campaign, Undetectable Equals Untransmittable, or U=U, has long demanded that public policy catch up to advances in treatment of the disease and acknowledge that those with no viral load pose no risk of giving the virus to their sexual partners.

But despite the CDC’s concession, laws remain on the books in more than 30 states making the possible transmission of HIV a criminal act punishable by fines, incarceration or both.

“In order to understand HIV criminalization, you need to understand that the stigmatization of people with HIV has changed,” Sean Strub, executive director of the SERO Project, a national network of HIV-positive men and women, told Truthout. “In the old days, people didn’t keep their status secret. There were networks of people who were HIV-positive all over the country and we would get together and support each other. People who did not have the virus by and large treated us with compassion because they thought we were likely to die quick, horrific deaths.”

This changed, Strub says, with the advent of combination or antiretroviral therapies — ART — in the 1990s. Almost overnight, he says, it became apparent that people living with HIV could live long, productive lives. At the same time, he adds, “it also meant that we would be around to infect others.”

Laws remain on the books in more than 30 states making the possible transmission of HIV a criminal act.

The 1990 Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act, Strub continues, increased the stigma toward people with HIV when it mandated that in order for states to qualify for…

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