September 7, 2018
Written by David Artavia
In many states, HIV-specific laws continue to perpetuate stigma while working against modern public health policies. These laws make potential HIV exposure a felony and continue to put innocent people in prison for simply having sex while HIV-positive — even if they’re undetectable, which means they can’t transmit the virus, or if no risky sexual interactions took place.
When these state laws were first enacted, HIV fear-mongering poisoned the media pipeline and it was framed not only as a “gay disease” but also as the death sentence it once was. Such state laws began taking effect in 1986 and increased dramatically after the passage of the 1990 federal Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency Act, which mandated states enact criminal laws to prosecute anyone with HIV for knowingly exposing someone else to it. Many of these laws equate HIV exposure (not necessarily transmission) with murder, demonstrating the depth of fears about the virus and poz people.
Even as antiretroviral medicines entered the market a decade later, these laws remained on the books. Today, HIV treatment can suppress the virus to such low levels in the bloodstream (that’s “undetectable”) that it becomes impossible to transmit HIV to sexual partners. Yet that hasn’t changed the language of HIV criminalization laws in dozens of states.