PRESS RELEASE - Fighting Stigma & Discrimination by Repealing and Discouraging HIV-Specific Criminal Statutes

Fighting Stigma & Discrimination by Repealing and Discouraging HIV-Specific Criminal Statutes

 

 

Houston, Texas - The Houston GLBT Political Caucus voices our opposition to all forms of HIV criminalization including State Senate Bill 779, which criminalize people living with HIV by allowing their confidential medical records to be used as evidence against them and could result in more serious charges and sentences.  The Caucus believes HIV criminalization is harmful to the estimated 76,000 Texans living with HIV and is counterproductive to public health efforts to reduce HIV transmission, promote testing and encourage treatment.  The National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) provides an unprecedented strategic blueprint for reducing HIV/AIDS incidence through the scale-up of interdisciplinary, impactful prevention approaches.  NHAS’ central vision of Texas becoming, “a place where new HIV infections are rare” cannot be realized until state and local governments aggressively responds to the pervasive and unmitigated stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV/AIDS. 

The Houston GLBT Political Caucus supports efforts to examine and support level-headed, proven public health approaches that end or avoid punitive laws that single out HIV over other STDs and that impose penalties for alleged nondisclosure, exposure and transmission that are severely disproportionate to any actual resulting harm.  Steps identified to reach this goal in the Federal Implementation Plan includes promoting public health approaches to HIV prevention and care which encourages, “state legislatures [to] consider reviewing HIV-specific criminal statutes to ensure that they are consistent with current knowledge of HIV transmission and support public health approaches to screening for, preventing and treating HIV.”

HIV criminalization has often resulted in egregious human rights violations, including harsh sentencing for behaviors that pose little to no risk of HIV transmission.  Thirty four states (34) and two (2) U.S. territories explicitly criminalize HIV exposure through sex, shared needles or, in some states, exposure to “bodily fluids” that can include saliva.  Examples include:

  • In 2008, a homeless man with HIV in Dallas, Texas who spit on a police officer was sentenced to 35 years in prison for harassing a public servant with a deadly weapon – his saliva.
  • A man with HIV in Iowa, who had an undetectable viral load, was sentenced to 25 years after a one-time sexual encounter during which he used a condom.
  • A woman with HIV in Georgia, who was sentenced to eight years imprisonment for failing to disclose her viral status, despite it having been published on the front page of the local newspaper and two witnesses who testified her sexual partner was aware of her HIV positive status.

In none of the cases cited was HIV transmitted.  In fact, most prosecutions are not for transmission but for the failure to disclose one’s HIV status prior to intimate contact, which in most cases comes down to competing stories about verbal consent that are nearly impossible to prove.  The Houston GLBT Political Caucus continues to emphasize the importance of providing comprehensive prevention and care services for HIV positive individuals to help reduce the risk of transmission to others.  The Caucus will also continue to advocate locally, raising awareness of this urgent issue.  The vision of the Caucus is predicated on a strong foundation of promoting effective public, corporate, and organizational policies across the region that will make the Houston region a safe, welcoming place for LGBT individuals, including those of us living with HIV.  Instead of applying criminal law to HIV transmission, state and local governments should expand programs to reduce HIV transmission while protecting the human rights of people living with HIV.

The Caucus meets the first Wednesday of every month at 7:00 p.m.  The monthly meeting is held at the Montrose Center, Room 106, 401 Branard St., Houston, TX 77006.  Visitors are encouraged to attend the monthly meeting to learn more about the Caucus.  For more information about the Houston GLBT Political Caucus, Caucus events, or volunteer opportunities call 713.521.1000, e-mail info@thecaucus.org, or visit our website at www.thecaucus.org

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