Uncle Poodle (aka Lee Thompson) claims his ex-boyfriend gave him HIV and that, because he had never disclosed his positive status, Thompson decided to take him to court and press charges. While it’s unfortunate that Thompson became HIV+, pressing charges against his ex-boyfriend in criminal court makes it sound like he was solely responsible for Thompson’s infection and therefore is criminal for mishandling that responsibility.
Sex between consenting adults is a shared decision, and the responsibility for protection against disease should not be borne by one person (ie the HIV positive person). Placing sole responsibility on one person undermines the reality that every person should take responsibility for his/her own sexual health.
Imagine if another disease like hepatitis or meningitis had been transmitted, the thought of prosecuting his ex-boyfriend would not only be unthinkable but nearly impossible under current criminal law. If untreated, like HIV, these diseases can result in death.
Now, Thompson’s ex-boyfriend is serving 5 years in prison, where both consensual and non-consensual sex occurs, and the probability of further HIV transmission increases. When he leaves jail, he could be labeled a sex offender for the rest of his life. He will have a hard time finding employment and could be legally discriminated against for housing and public services. Compared to other criminal convictions, like vehicular homicide, the results of this conviction will be life-lasting and unduly severe.
Criminal outcomes like this don’t encourage people to get tested and know their status. They further marginalize a community that’s already misrepresented in the media. While it’s morally right to know and disclose your status to your partners, status and disclosure can’t effectively be legislated in a court. Increasing sex education and access to testing will help create an environment where people want to know and disclose their HIV status instead of fearing legal retribution for it.
Currently, US Congressman Barbara Lee has sponsored a bill called the Repeal HIV Discrimination Act thatwould require a review of all federal and state laws, policies, and regulations regarding the criminal prosecution of individuals for HIV-related offenses. This bill will go a long way toward rectifying recent trends to criminalize those with HIV and hand down severe sentences based on fear and outdated information about the virus.
We urge the media, especially LGBT media, to print this letter and exercise more understanding in their coverage of HIV transmission and of our justice system’s increasing desire to paint HIV positive people as deadly monsters who should be locked up.
ACT UP NY
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About ACT UP:
ACT UP (AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power) is a diverse, non-partisan group of individuals united in anger and committed to direct action to end the AIDS crisis for the past 25 years.
Media Contact: Brandon Cuicchi