As LGBT groups focus on pending marriage legislation in Maryland, a Democratic Senator stands to potentially ignite a fight over HIV criminalization in that state.
Sen. Norman Stone Jr. has introduced a bill that would classify knowingly transmitting HIV from a misdemeanor to a felony, ThinkProgress has reported. The bill has no companion in the lower house, but at a time when HIV criminalization becomes a more divisive issue around the nation, LGBT advocates would likely rather avoid the distraction as they push for success on the marriage bill during Maryland’s short legislative session.
According to the Center for HIV Law and Policy, HIV disclosure laws are abused throughout the nation to criminalize behavior that does not pose a risk of transmitting HIV. In Iowa the law was used to jail an HIV positive man for 25 years, even though he had an undetectable viral load at the time and used a condom, and in Texas a man who spit on a police officer was jailed for 35 years. In both cases there was no transmission, and many HIV experts agree that transmission in these cases would have been either impossible or nearly impossible.
“I would suggest that perhaps Senator Stone should be more concerned with advocating for more education about HIV/AIDS and social services for those already infected instead of trying to stigmatize people with HIV by treating them as de facto criminals,” Bil Browning, founder of the Bilerico Project, told the Blade.
HIV/AIDS advocates have been seeking for some times to get states to rethink their HIV disclosure and transmission laws to better battle the stigma that such laws create for HIV+ citizens. Longtime HIV/AIDS activists Sean Strub released the following short film earlier this year to communicate that message.
36 U.S. states and territories have HIV-specific statutes, which are often used to criminalize behavior like spitting and biting 25% of the time.