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Should we punish the sick?

The wrong approach to infectious disease control

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HIV, gay news, Washington Blade

HIV criminalized, transmission, Maryland HIV infection rate, leukemia, PrEP, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, HIV, gay news, Washington BladeWould you consider calling the police if a coworker showed up at work one day with the flu? As absurd as that may sound, recent developments suggest that the notion of punishing people who are ill is becoming more entrenched and pervasive in American society.

Although new laws have cropped up in several states targeting diseases as diverse as meningitis and hepatitis, no disease is more widely criminalized than HIV. This year, on World AIDS Day (observed annually on Dec. 1), many advocates and public health organizations will be celebrating the dramatic advances in decreasing the number of new infections made possible by successful treatment and prevention.

In major urban cities around the globe — including London, Sydney and San Francisco — health departments are implementing powerful new tools to stop HIV transmission that are working. These include pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, which can greatly reduce the risk of infection when taken daily. In addition, it has come to light that treating HIV with antiretroviral medications help prevent its spread by rendering people living with HIV virtually noninfectious.

But while these advances are certainly promising, they do not tell the whole story.

The problem is that laws written in response to the AIDS epidemic remain stuck in 1985. HIV-specific criminal laws passed in the 1980s and 1990s at the height of America’s AIDS scare remain on the books. Law enforcement and prosecutors continue to vigorously enforce them, despite their lack of medical knowledge and sometimes without any legal justification. These moves are simply reactionary, based on stigmatizing views of HIV that unfairly punish innocent individuals.

Many HIV-related statutes make it a crime for people living with HIV to engage in a wide range of behaviors without first disclosing their HIV status—regardless of whether HIV could have been plausibly transmitted through their actions. Sometimes mistakenly referred to as “HIV transmission laws,” they make no mention of transmitting the disease or even putting a partner at risk of infection. For example, in Michigan, the law criminalizes any “sexual penetration” without disclosing one’s status—an overly broad formulation that includes many behaviors that cannot transmit HIV. Most HIV-specific state laws are felonies with harsh penalties, ranging from several years to life in prison.

Some states have laws so broadly written that they can be also used to punish a range of harmless nonsexual behaviors. In Tennessee, for example prosecutors regularly charge people living with HIV who spit at or bite police officers.

To that point, a recent report coauthored by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the Department of Justice found that 25 states criminalize one or more behaviors that pose a low or negligible risk for HIV transmission, such as biting or spitting.

Michigan’s law is so badly written that one creative prosecutor used it to convict a woman for giving a lap dance in 2009. A detective explained the incident to the court with a graphic depiction of the woman’s genitals touching the man’s nose. That no one has ever contracted HIV via nasal contact mattered little under Michigan’s questionable (to say the least) law.

In a dozen cases reviewed during research for my book, “Punishing Disease,” accusers falsely claimed that it would take many years to know if a defendant had infected them. But most conventional HIV tests have only a three-to-six month “window” after exposure before patients can receive definitive test results. Court testimony in many cases almost invariably came long after that time period had elapsed.

These inaccurate suppositions directly impact sentencing. In a 2004 case in Davidson County, Tenn., the accuser claimed she wouldn’t know whether the defendant infected her for 10 years. The judge accepted her ignorant claim, ordering the defendant to serve 10 years’ probation and to pay for the woman to be tested for HIV for the next 10 years.

While HIV was originally the singular target of such laws, legislators seeking to “modernize” these laws have begun broadening their scope to include additional diseases such as meningitis and hepatitis – suggesting that the criminalization of sickness is contagious.

Punishment is the wrong approach to infectious disease control. The war on drug’s failure to contain drug addiction should warn us to the pitfalls of punitive approaches to controlling medical problems. Blame and shame are not the tools to protect us from disease; they are instead the fuel that drives epidemics.

 

Trevor Hoppe, Ph.D. is the author of ‘Punishing Disease: HIV and the Criminalization of Sickness’ and co-editor of ‘The War on Sex.’ He is currently assistant professor of sociology at University at Albany (SUNY).

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. BigGaySteve

    November 26, 2017 at 12:06 pm

    How about honesty? 1 out of 8 US blacks have the gene for Sickle Cell that comes with lots of health problems. 30% of UK birth defects are Paki massively overrepresented because of EVOLUTION. East Asians & (non-Jewish)Whites have the lowest healthcare needs until older than the average lifespans of everyone else.

  2. Shirley

    November 28, 2017 at 6:11 am

    Google is paying 97$ per hour,with weekly payouts.You can also avail this.
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  3. Ken Pinkela

    November 28, 2017 at 8:42 am

    THank you to my dear friend Trevor Hoppe and the professional courage to speak out. The stigma that surrounds HIV has become almost culturally accepted with the wrongful use of our justice system. It has bred a generation in its allowing bigots and the ignorant a powerful venue to “attack” “blame” “point fingers” and “scapegoat” .. As Trevor knows, and so do many of my old friends in the DC Metro area, HIV Criminalization in the US military is like no other legal process…without evidence of any kind, without an investigation, without any sexual contact or known possible way to transmit or expose a person to HIV and without any elements of any defined crime…just the unfounded allegations… even in the presence of physical witnesses…a person can lose everything…even when the prosecution’s sole witness has the courage to speak out in a sworn statement describing lies and coercion that the entire case was fabricated…the STIGMA and FEAR of many in positions to morally step in to review and ensure the process, they too turn and hide…even openly gay men serving in groundbreaking positions like Secretary of the Army…they run and hide…HIV Criminalization is NOT about public health and its not about precluding any crime…Don’t misunderstand the position of many, if not all, advocates working to end HIV Criminalization…there are existing laws on the books that allow for the successful prosecution of acts of “criminal malicious intent” to do a person harm (i.e. the deliberate intent to infect a person)…HIV Criminalization is NOT that…it is a pure ignorance, hate and fear based action inflicted on people living with HIV…HIV IS NOT A CRIME

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Opinions

Opinion | Lovitz for Pennsylvania state representative

Accomplished gay candidate is longtime equality advocate

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Jonathan Lovitz, gay news, Washington Blade
Jonathan Lovitz (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

It’s an embarrassment of riches for residents of center city Philadelphia, which includes the “gayborhood,” as they prepare to vote for their next state representative. 

The post has been held by Rep. Brian Sims, who’s gay, since 2013. Sims is giving up the seat to run for Pennsylvania lieutenant governor. More on that later.

Two out LGBTQ candidates are among those competing in the 182nd District’s Democratic primary to replace Sims — Jonathan Lovitz and Deja Alvarez. Lovitz, who’s gay, has served as senior vice president of the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce for five years. If elected, it would be the first time a seat held by an LGBTQ state representative transitioned to another LGBTQ official and he would be the first LGBTQ Jewish elected official in Pennsylvania.

Alvarez, who’s transgender, is director of community engagement at World Healthcare Infrastructures and serves as chair of the Philadelphia Police LGBT Liaison Committee. She would become the first out trans person to serve in the Pennsylvania Legislature if elected.

Both are excellent candidates who would make their own bit of history if elected, but Lovitz stands out as the strongest choice to replace Sims in the legislature, a change that local residents desperately need.

To paraphrase Oprah in her famous endorsement of Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton: Just because I am for Lovitz, doesn’t mean I am against Alvarez. I am acquainted with Lovitz and know him to be an ethical, smart, hard-working professional who is deeply dedicated to his work and to the residents of Philadelphia. He would make a fearless and tireless advocate for Philly and for equality issues in Harrisburg.

At NGLCC, Lovitz has helped write and pass more than 25 state and local laws, including in Pennsylvania, extending economic opportunity to LGBTQ-owned businesses around the country. As the country struggles to emerge from pandemic restrictions, we need more legislators at all levels of government who understand the importance of small business. Lovitz has the experience in business and in his work on equality issues to deliver tangible results for Philadelphia. 

Contrast his record with that of Sims and it’s a no-brainer that the people of the 182nd District have nowhere to go but up. Sims has sponsored or introduced scores of bills in the past year, but only one has been enacted, according to BillTrack50. Sims has been criticized in the district for his endless media tour and social media self-promotion. He is more interested in thirst-trap selfies than in constituent service. He lacks the professionalism and temperament for elected office, favoring profane outbursts and juvenile insults over diplomatic compromise and legislative achievement. As Christopher Pinto wrote in the Philadelphia Gay News, “Almost a decade in the State House, and he has no legislative victories that he can claim as his own. He spent more time out of the district than inside it, flying from one speaking engagement to the next, while abusing his state issued travel budget and being shrouded in a lengthy ethics investigation.”

Lovitz will not succumb to such vanities. He is a grounded professional who understands how to craft legislation and, more importantly, how to get it passed. He won’t alienate colleagues as Sims has done. 

On equality issues, Lovitz has worked on behalf of marginalized communities at NGLCC and last year he organized PhillyVoting.org, which works to boost turnout among Black and LGBTQ voters. 

“The ongoing violence against our communities, especially against our trans siblings, is a stunning reminder that our work together continues,” Lovitz wrote in an op-ed for the Philadelphia Gay News. “Once again the movement for long-overdue social change in America is being led by communities of color, especially right here in Philly,” he wrote. “And the LGBTQ community must continue to stand in solidarity with them.”

Lovitz understands the moment. He has a passion for business and for helping entrepreneurs to succeed, something cities desperately need after more than 200,000 small businesses have shuttered due to COVID, according to the Wall Street Journal; more than 1,000 Philly businesses closed in just the first five months of the pandemic, according to the Philadelphia Business Journal.

Voters, donors, and our national advocacy organizations should support his bold campaign and help retain an out LGBTQ voice in Harrisburg while improving constituent service for residents of the district. 

Kevin Naff is editor of the Washington Blade. Reach him at [email protected].

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Opinion | LGBTQ Virginians advocate D.C. statehood

The right of all Americans to be part of our democratic society

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My hometown will always be Washington, D.C. It’s the place where I was born and spent all of the first seven days of my life. As a lifelong Virginian however, where I live and attended schools, I straddle two communities important to me. 

As a business owner of 30 years in Washington, D.C., I pay many of my taxes and payroll taxes to the Nation’s Capital while I also pay income tax to Virginia where I’m a citizen.

Most important of all, as a gay Virginia voter, I can think of few lifelong political goals more important to me than achieving statehood for Washington, D.C. One of the compelling reasons I still make my home in Virginia and cross the Potomac River every day of my life, is because of my right as a Virginian to vote for two U.S. senators and for a member of the House of Representatives with the power to vote in Congress.

(It is still shocking to know that, with Washington, D.C. statehood still beyond grasp, the Honorable Eleanor Holmes Norton who represents D.C. in the U.S. House of Representatives, has never yet had the authority to vote on the floor of the House.)

At an early age, I was dumbfounded to know that D.C. then did not even have a local government. We lacked an elected mayor and city council, with almost all decisions for the District of Columbia made by the federal government. Yet today, even with a mayor and local government in place, it is breathtaking to know that my friends, neighbors and co-workers still have zero voice in the Capitol and no one to vote for them – and for us – in Congress.

Consider that one of the world’s most diverse and educated cities has so often been bullied by extreme conservative leaders on Capitol Hill who – whenever possible – turn back the clock for D.C. citizens on voting rights, abortion rights, gun measures and our civil rights including LGBTQ equality. Not a single voter in D.C. has much, if any, say over any of those decisions.

The absence of statehood and the lack of real voting rights means that the unforgivable strains of racism and homophobia often held sway not just for Washington D.C., but in denying the United States a true progressive majority on Capitol Hill too. 

Virginians get it. In the past decade, we’ve worked very hard in every county and city in the commonwealth to turn our regressive political past into a bright blue political majority. We have elected LGBTQ candidates to state and local offices in unprecedented numbers. Our vote is our power.

More significantly, through the work of Equality Virginia and its many allies, we are repealing scores of anti-LGBTQ measures and reforming our statutes and constitution to secure equal rights as LGBTQ voters, adoptive parents, married couples, students, and citizens. Doesn’t Washington, D.C. deserve that future?

Virginia needs more states – like D.C. – to join forces and represent all Americans. To achieve this, and to defeat or neuter the anti-democratic Senate filibuster rule, we need our friends, allies and neighbors, the citizens of Washington, D.C. to share in our democratic ambitions.

Long ago, Washington, D.C. resident, abolitionist and civil rights leader, Frederick Douglass declared that “the District is the one spot where there is no government for the people, of the people, and by the people. Washington, D.C. residents pay taxes, just like residents of Nevada, California or any other state. Washington, D.C. residents have fought and died in every American war just like residents of Ohio, Kentucky or any other state. The District deserves statehood and Congress should act to grant it.” 

Speaking for LGBTQ Virginians, we agree. Conferring statehood is not a gift nor a blessing from the rest of us, but instead, it is the absolute right of all Americans to be part of our democratic society. As LGBTQ Americans, if we are to pass the Equality Act and other fundamental civil rights measures, we need the State of Washington, D.C. and its voters by our side.

Bob Witeck is a longtime LGBTQ civil rights advocate, entrepreneur, and Virginian, with long roots and longstanding ties to D.C.

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Opinion | Representation matters: The gayest Olympics yet

From one out athlete to more than 160 in just 33 years

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OK, I really want a Tom Daley cardigan. The now gold-medal Olympian told Britain’s The Guardian that he took up crocheting during the pandemic. He even has an Instagram page dedicated to his knit creations, MadeWithLoveByTomDaley. It’s all very adorable; it’s all very Tom Daley. 

All that aside, you’d have to be practically heartless to not feel something when Tom Daley and his diving partner Matty Lee won the gold on Monday in the men’s synchronized 10-meter diving competition, placing just 1.23 points ahead of the Chinese. And then seeing him with tears in his eyes on the podium as “God Save the Queen” played. Later that week, he knitted a little bag featuring the Union Jack to hold and protect his medal. So very wholesome

Daley is certainly one of the highest profile LGBTQ athletes in these games. Besides the diver, the 2020 Summer Olympics, now in 2021 because of the pandemic, are hosting more than 160 out athletes. A record to be sure, but calling it a record does it somewhat of an injustice. The United States sent the first out athlete to the 1988 Summer Olympics, Robert Dover an equestrian rider competing in dressage. Dover remained the only out (sharing the title once in 1996 with Australian diver Craig Rogerson) for 10 years. Then, during the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, the number of out athletes jumped to 15. London’s 2012 Olympics saw the number increase to 23. The 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro saw the number jump to 68 out athletes. And now we’re at over 160. 

So you get the trend building here. From one out athlete to more than 160. So very far, so very fast. And competing in everything from handball to sailing to golf to skateboarding. Also, noteworthy, New Zealand sent the first trans athlete, weightlifter Laurel Hubbard. These are but numbers and names, but to be sure, this sort of representation, this sort of visibility, is hugely important. Not just for athletes coming up behind them, but let’s think too of those out there, not yet even out, maybe watching in their parents’ living room. Seeing Tom Daley thank his husband, mention their son, this sort of queer normality being broadcast as if it is both groundbreaking and at the same time nothing at all — the importance of this cannot be overstated. 

On top of that, growing up gay, how many times were we all told, whether outright or simply implied, that sports were more or less off limits to us. Meant to display the peaks of gender and ability, sports were not meant for those who couldn’t fit neatly into that narrative. But it appears that that narrative is slowly becoming undone. Just look beyond the Olympics, to the wider world of sports. Earlier this summer, pro-football’s Carl Nassib came out.   

And maybe I’m just of a generation that marvels at the destruction of each and every boundary as they come down. We had so very little as far as representation back then. Now to see it all, and in so many different sports, you can’t help but to wonder what the future will hold for us; and it really delights the imagination, doesn’t it? 

It is the gayest Olympics yet. And if the trend laid out above continues, it will only get gayer as the years go on. And if it’s a barometer for anything, I think we will see a lot of things getting a bit gayer from now on.

Brock Thompson is a D.C.-based writer. He contributes regularly to the Blade.

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