Living positive is more than it was 30 years ago.
When HIV/AIDS entered the public vocabulary more than three decades ago, it was in the middle of a health crisis – a diagnosis was met with shame and stigma. This fear and discrimination fueled the creation of misinformed policies across the nation, including in Missouri.
Since then, amazing strides have been made in understanding and treating HIV. We can dramatically lengthen and improve quality of life for those living with a positive diagnosis, People now have access to preventative medications that drastically reduce the chances of new transmissions.
But Missouri law still persists in criminalizing HIV, keeping our state dangerously out of step with medical standards and out of touch with those who need access to care.
Missouri’s current law criminalizes conduct that doesn’t even result in HIV exposure. Using a condom during sex or receiving treatment for HIV isn’t considered an adequate defense – simply living and loving as an HIV+ individual is enough to be liable for prosecution.
In 2015, a St. Charles jury sentenced 23-year-old Michael Johnson, a young, black gay man living with HIV, to more than three decades in prison for allegedly exposing consensual sexual partners to HIV. ACLU of Missouri submitted friend-of-the-court briefs in his defense.
To effectively treat this disease, our state must encourage an environment where all people have access to the information, testing, and treatment options that are available.
This legislative session, we support two bills that reduce the stigma against those living with HIV. Both measures bring Missouri in line with present science and encourage individuals who may have been exposed to HIV to get tested and get treatment.
When the law punishes people who are responsible and get tested to know their status, it leads to risky behavior that increases the chance of transmission and prevents the dialogue necessary to move forward and live positively with a positive diagnosis.
Our understanding of a positive HIV diagnosis has evolved, it’s time for Missouri’s law to catch up.
To join with us and take this, and other issues, directly to Missouri’s legislature, join us at our annual lobby day coming up in just a few weeks.