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The 8 HIV Laws You Didn't Know About

Last month, Linda Villarosa wrote a heartbreaking story in the New York Times tackling the age old question: "Why do America's black gay and bisexual men have a higher HIV rate than any country in the world?" In "America's Hidden HIV Epidemic," Villarosa brilliantly discusses the death of people in Southern states (e.g. Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina and Texas, among others) with HIV as an underlying cause. Among these states, black gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men have the highest death rate when compared to the U.S. population.

Considering the rates of pverty, increasing LGBTQ-phobia, homelessness, violence and lack of access to treatment, care and prevention, it becomes clearer why the rates of HIV acquisition impacts black gay American men differently -- and, at times, more severely -- than other populations, particularly when compared to white LGBTQ counterparts. Just last February, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provided the first-ever comprehensive national estimates of the lifetime risk of an HIV diagnosis for several key at-risk populations and in every state. At current rates, 1 in 2 (50%) of black gay, bisexual and other MSM and 1 in 4 (25%) Hispanic MSM will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetime, compared with 1 in 11 white gay, bisexual and MSM.

That said, lately I have been thinking about how laws and policies continue to lead us down a frightening road full of dead-ends. Not only is there a lack of clinical support and funding to tackle HIV, the coupling of grotesque laws and policies can often create a deadly combination. To be sure, HIV criminalization and other state laws, for example, make it difficult -- if not impossible -- for people to achieve an AIDS-free generation, at least in my lifetime. That's because the use of penal systems combined with laws and policies that criminalize persons or behaviors are partially responsible for the increasingly high rates of HIV in the U.S. and globally.


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    1. Texas

    Although Texas does not have criminal statutes explicitly addressing HIV exposure, prosecutors have succeeded under general criminal laws, which are just as dangerous. Under the existing state criminal laws, for example, people living with HIV have been prosecuted for attempted murder and aggravated assault, both carrying a possibility of double-digit years in jail.

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    2. Mississippi

    In Mississippi, there are both HIV-specific felony and misdemeanor laws on the books. Despite newer science indicating that HIV cannot be transmitted via spit, Mississippi has not taken that into consideration. That’s why in February 2014, a 51-year-old person living with HIV was charged with exposing another to HIV after spitting in the face of a police officer.

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    3. North Carolina

    North Carolina does not have any explicit general felony laws used against people living with HIV. But did you know that a violation of the State’s HIV-specific health code section is “[a] misdemeanor that can result up to two years incarceration?”

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    4. Ohio

    Unlike more than half the states in the U.S., Ohio does not allow minors to consent for HIV testing and treatment without parental involvement.

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    5. South Carolina

    Along the line of discouraging testing and treatment, in South Carolina, only persons 16 and older can consent to HIV testing and treatment without parental involvement. For those under 16 – even if they have started having sex – cannot test and treat without parental involvement/consent.

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    6. Tennessee

    Tennessee, like many states, has criminal penalties for people living with HIV. But unlike some of these states, Tennessee takes it a step further by having a HIV-specific quarantine statute.

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    7. Maryland

    While many consider Maryland to be a progressive state, when it comes to HIV, it lacks evidence-based approaches. Maryland has a broad HIV exposure law that can be applied to any sort of HIV exposure, including spitting/biting/blood exposure. In 2015, for example, a man living with HIV pled guilty to reckless endangerment after having condomless sex with two women. He had an undetectable viral load.

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    8. California

    In May 2017, the state Senate voted to no longer make it a felony – and will be downgraded to a misdemeanor – for someone living with HIV to knowingly expose others by having condomless sex without telling a partner about the virus.