Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Decriminalizing HIV and AIDS: A Bill to Provide Justice and Reduce Stigma

(photo courtesy of the North Carolina AIDS Fund)

There are currently laws in 32 states that discriminate against people who are HIV positive. People with HIV may be prosecuted for not disclosing their HIV statuses to their partners - even if no transmission occurred.  In many cases, they are charged with felonies under attempted murder, aggravated assault, and bioterrorism laws, even for simple offenses that would not be considered serious by people who are not infected with HIV.  According to the CDC, it is impossible for HIV to be transmitted through saliva, but many people with HIV have been convicted of crimes for spitting or biting someone because their saliva is considered a "deadly weapon." Here are just a few of the discriminatory sentences that have affected people living with HIV:

  •  A man with HIV in Texas is serving thirty-five years in prison for spitting at a police officer;
  •  A man with HIV in Iowa, who had an undetectable viral load, received a twenty-five year sentence after a one-time sexual encounter during which he used a condom; his sentence was suspended, but he had to register as a sex-offender and is not allowed unsupervised contact with his nieces, nephews, and other young children;
  • A woman with HIV in Georgia received an eight-year sentence for failing to disclose her HIV status, despite the trial testimony of two witnesses that her partner was aware of her HIV positive status;
  • A man with HIV in Michigan was charged under the state's anti-terrorism statute with possession of a "biological weapon" after he allegedly bit his neighbor. 

 (photo courtesy of Rep. Barbara Lee)
 People are unjustly convicted today under these outdated laws, which were passed in the 1980s and 1990s when HIV and AIDS were poorly understood by the general population, healthcare providers, and public officials. Click here to check out the discriminatory laws in your own state. This discrimination results in unnecessary hardship for and a perpetuated negative stigma for people living with HIV. Also, fewer people get tested for HIV because only people that have been tested and know their positive status can be prosecuted under these unfair laws. Fewer people getting tested results in more transmissions and a furtherance of the HIV and AIDS epidemic. Since 1 in 5 people living with HIV in the United States don't know they even have the virus, this is an enormous problem.

The REPEAL (Repeal Existing Policies That Encourage and Allow Legal) HIV Discrimination Act (HR 1843) is bipartisan, no-cost legislation that would create a federal guideline for states to review and change their laws that criminalize those living with HIV. If people are not criminalized for their HIV status, then they will be more likely to get tested and to receive the proper healthcare they need, which would drastically lower transmission rates.

Ask your Representative to Support the REPEAL Act now.

As people of faith, we stand with people that are HIV positive and celebrate their dignity as children of God who deserve equal treatment under the law.  The PC(USA) has made a commitment to become an HIV and AIDS competent church, and offers several ways to undertake this ministry in a 2010 statement. As Presbyterians, we support and are supported by the work of the Presbyterian AIDS Network in their efforts to change the face of HIV and AIDS in the world. Stand with us today and contact your representative to support HR 1843, the REPEAL Act.