The Georgia Voice (04.24.13)
On April 23, activists condemned Georgia’s HIV criminalization laws as heavy-handed and unnecessary at a gathering at the Phillip Rush Center. In Georgia, it is a felony for an individual with HIV infection to have sex with someone who is not infected without disclosing one’s status, even if protection is used and even if the disease is not transmitted. Mark King, “My Fabulous Disease” blogger, organized the event, which included Georgia’s Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham, AID Atlanta’s Craig Washington, Lambda Legal’s Greg Nevis, SERO Project Executive Director Sean Strub, and Assistant Director Robert Suttle. After the speakers, a question-and-answer period followed when audience members asked questions and shared personal stories of how HIV impacted their lives.
According to the speakers, the focus should be on reducing stigma associated with the disease. They blamed stigma as the reason why many persons with HIV infection do not seek treatment or disclose their status to friends and sexual partners. King saw this issue as another instance when people with HIV would have to advocate for themselves. According to King, the criminalization is being driven by stigma, and most people felt that the stigma is worse. Although people with HIV infection are doing much better medically, they felt that today the social stigma is worse. For this reason, people are much less comfortable about disclosing their illness and sharing with friends or partners.
Activists want to eliminate HIV criminalization completely, although they acknowledge the need to punish people who intentionally endanger others by infecting them with HIV or other STDs. King commented that the great majority of people with HIV do not intentionally attempt to infect others and suggested assault laws be used for those who do. The question of how HIV-positive persons will have a problem protecting themselves from possible legal recourse was considered. In addition to practicing safe sex and closely monitoring viral loads, other measures can be taken to ensure that HIV-infected individuals are protected from the law. Nevins, an attorney, suggested keeping a record of disclosure either through a text message, in-person conversation, or otherwise. Nevin emphasized that if accused of not disclosing status, it is the HIV-positive person’s responsibility to prove disclosure.