Antiquated HIV laws excessively target Black men for actions that don’t even transmit the virus

Author: Greg Owen

Ohio activists are arming themselves with new data in the battle to repeal antiquated laws across the country that criminalize people with HIV.

Ohio has six laws on the books that either criminalize certain acts by people living with HIV or substantially increase sentences for them compared to other people in the criminal justice system who do not carry the virus.

Those acts include sex with other adults regardless of the HIV-positive person’s therapy or viral count, and “harassment” by bodily fluids, such as spitting, or throwing urine, feces or blood at someone. Only exposure to blood would result in HIV infection.

Most of Ohio’s HIV laws were written at the height of AIDS panic in the 1980s and early ’90s, before research and experience clarified the limits of HIV infection and effective therapies made living with HIV a reality.

HIV laws remain on the books in 34 states.

The studies also found a disproportionate number of people charged with HIV-related crimes were Black, compared to Ohio’s total population.

“Ohio is unique in that these antiquated laws are actually being utilized and enforced against everyday Ohioans who are living with HIV,” Kate Mozynski, an attorney with Equality Ohio and one of the co-authors of the organization’s report told the Buckeye Flame.

In 2022, about 25,000 people in Ohio were living with HIV, while new diagnoses ticked down from 985 in 2018 to 866. Forty-seven percent of new diagnoses were among Black people, making their infection rate nearly seven times higher than the white population’s.

More than half of new diagnoses were among people aged 20 to 34. Men having sex with men accounted for fifty-six percent of the transmission rate.

Ohio is also one of six states that require anyone convicted of “HIV crimes” to register as a sex offender. Louisiana, South Dakota, Tennessee, Arkansas and Washington State round out that list.

The Williams Institute looked at arrests under Ohio’s six laws over two decades, as well as felony prosecutions from 2009 to 2022 in Cuyahoga County, the state’s most populous county, which is home to Cleveland.

They discovered nearly half of the cases were for HIV-positive individuals who had consensual sex without disclosing their status to their partner, regardless of their viral load and whether or not the other individual contracted the virus that causes AIDS.

As activists fight for repeal at the state level, the Biden administration is deploying the Justice Department to address discriminatory HIV laws.

In December, the DOJ notified Tennessee it was in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act for enforcing a state law that increases penalties for people convicted of prostitution if they’re also HIV-positive. Federal charges were filed against the state in February.

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Actual Story on LGBTQ Nation
Author: Greg Owen

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