Connect with us

Opinions

Should we punish the sick?

The wrong approach to infectious disease control

Published

on

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).

Advertisement
FUND LGBTQ JOURNALISM
SIGN UP FOR E-BLAST

Opinions

Fathers should speak to kids about drugs, alcohol

Highlight dangers of illicit substances, how to manage peer pressure

Published

on

What does it take to be a good father? While there are many answers, it generally involves showing up daily, playing an essential role in their life, being there for them, and loving them unconditionally. 

Fathers are there to provide abundant love and support. Most fathers know the sacrifice it takes to ensure their children are loved and cared for. A father is always there for their kids, offering guidance, support, and education. The greatest joy for any father is seeing their children thrive, do well in life, and be healthy. 

However, things can get derailed in life, and teens and young adults take risks, such as experimenting with drugs or alcohol. Fathers have a responsibility to speak to their kids about drugs and alcohol and help them understand the risks and consequences. 

Data has shown that more than half of LGBTQ youth used alcohol in the last year, and more than one in three LGBTQ youth used marijuana in the previous year. Approximately 11% of LGBTQ youth reported regular use (defined as daily or weekly use) of both alcohol and marijuana.

Illegal drugs today are more readily available than ever before. According to the DEA, drug traffickers have turned smartphones into a one-stop shop to market, sell, buy, and deliver deadly fake prescription pills and other drugs. Amid this ever-changing age of social media influence, kids, teens, and young adults are easily influenced.  

Drug traffickers advertise on social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. The posts are promptly posted and removed with code words and emojis used to market and sell illicit drugs. Unfortunately, digital media provides an increased opportunity for both marketing and social transmission of risk products and behaviors. 

Fathers are responsible for protecting and preparing our children for the world. Drug education is essential. Take the time to speak to your kids about the dangers of illicit substances, how to avoid and manage peer pressure, and what to look for. Be prepared to share personal experiences and help them understand that some choices have consequences. 

However, it can be challenging to see our kids struggle with things in life, and as fathers, we can also face our own difficulties, making it more difficult to help our children. The responsibility of raising children can be a lot; there are many challenges along the way, and the pressure of being a good influence can get the best of us. 

All of this makes it vital not to ignore our mental health; children, especially younger kids, mimic what they see. How we cope with frustration, anger, sadness, or isolation impacts our children in several ways. 

Our actions have consequences. Children see how we handle every situation, and while no father is perfect, we must be conscious of the fact they are impressionable when they are young. They look up to us, mimic our actions, and see when we are doing well in life mentally.   

The key for fathers caring for children is to take the time to care for themselves. However, if you are struggling, contact the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Taking care of your mental health is the same as taking care of your physical health; it is an integral part of your well-being and contributes to you being the best father you can be.

Nickolaus Hayes is a healthcare professional in the field of substance use and addiction recovery and is part of the editorial team at DRS. His primary focus is spreading awareness by educating individuals on the topics surrounding substance use.

Continue Reading

Opinions

In debate, Biden must stay on offense

President needs more lines like ‘I am running against a 6-year-old’

Published

on

President Joe Biden (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

On June 27, President Joe Biden will debate the man he has called a six-year-old. A great line, and he needs a few more like that. Unless there is a clear stumble by either candidate, we know what they will say. Trump will call Biden ‘sleepy Joe,’ among other names. But the reality is, people are used to it. They are not as used to Biden returning the favor. And Biden, aside from referring to Trump as a convicted felon, needs some lines that will make headlines the next day. Something with a little humor in it, but still making a strong point. 

Trump is scary. The recent column in the Washington Post on how Russ Vought, the former president’s budget director, is laying the groundwork for a broad expansion of presidential powers, is truly frightening. Now if it were me, I would be able to use my usual litany of words when referring to Trump: racist, sexist, misogynist, homophobic pig, found liable for sexual assault, and convicted felon. I may even go as far as suggesting society replace the word felon with “Trump.” People at trials could be convicted of 34 “Trumps.” But Biden can’t really use that. Maybe Biden can do something like look him in the eye and say, “You can’t really believe all the BS you keep spouting!” Then add, “The world is a complicated place, and even most six-year-olds seem to have a better understanding and grasp of it than you do.” 

Then there is the focus on the very serious part of the debate. The discussion of issues including the economy, abortion, contraception, and foreign policy. Reminding people, it was Trump who killed the immigration bill in Congress, telling energy billionaires if they raise him a billion dollars, in essence bribe him, they can “drill baby drill.” The president needs to speak to African Americans, Latinos, women, and the young. He needs to tell each of those groups what will happen if the six-year-old he is running against, were to become president again. 

Then he needs to look directly into the camera and say to the audience at home, “It isn’t only Trump you need to fear, it is the people he will surround himself with. His sycophants and cult, who will let him get revenge on anyone who says a word against him.” You can count on the fact it will be much worse than the last time around when he tried to stage a coup, because no decent person will work for him.

The first debate will take place 18 weeks before the Nov. 5 election. So much can change between then and the election. Remember when we talked about an October surprise? In today’s world there could be July, August, and September surprises as well. Between now and election day we will be treated to an overload of polling, most of it wrong. We will read hundreds of headlines, many of them clickbait. If you watch TV you will get to listen to hundreds of talking heads, many knowing no more than you. The difference being, they are being paid to spout off on the election, giving not facts, but their opinions. 

It seems every four years we hear this could be the most important, the most crucial, election of our lifetime. Well, this time those who say it just may be telling the truth. One candidate, convicted of 34 “Trumps,” is telling you he will be a dictator, and using Hitler’s words. He has the likes of Russ Voight advising him, and openly says he will seek revenge. Nothing could be more frightening. He is telling the young he doesn’t care about climate change, and telling the poor their programs will be cut because he will cut taxes for the rich.  

He calls our soldiers, those who sacrificed their lives and died in wars, “suckers and losers.” He called John McCain “a war hero because he was captured,” saying, “I like people who weren’t captured.” This frightening, sick man, with the world view of a warped six-year-old, will lead the United States if we aren’t willing to stand up to him, and his MAGA cult. Yes, I am afraid! And you should be too! If you are a woman, a minority, a member of the LGBTQ community, or just poor, be scared, be very afraid! If Trump and his cult win, you will lose what little you think you now have.

Peter Rosenstein is a longtime LGBTQ rights and Democratic Party activist. He writes regularly for the Blade.

Continue Reading

Opinions

Why you should celebrate pride with a musical about GenderCannibalism?

Rose: You Are What You Eat, through June 23 at Woolly Mammoth.

Published

on

Photo courtesy of Woolly Mammoth.

Because when I came out as trans my aunt told me it was because I ate my twin in the womb…and that’s what the show is about

Because…remember that time when you decided to dress like exactly like your older sister; or you stole your mothers’ makeup or your brother’s tie; or you decided to dress up like Katherine Hepburn for halloween when you were (i dunno) 10; or you started to look eerily like your lover…..that’s all gender cannibalism

Because because because because because….” because if you know that song this was made for you…and if you don’t…it’s okay, we’ll work on it

Because you can probably find a cute date at the show irl instead of just swiping in your phone…think of theater as an in person dating app without as much drunkenness as the bar

Because maybe that cute date is me

Because you can sing along to music written by a bunch of queers from Philly and D.C. 

Because we are all so hungry and so so thirsty 

Because I guarantee you will leave feeling fed

Because cannibalism puns are tasty

Because it’s a comedy

Because there are pay-what-you-can tickets

Because it plays all of June

Because we are consuming gender all the time but rarely watching what and how we eat it 

Because it’s an anti-assimilationist endeavor: the corporations can’t co-opt “gender cannibalism” for pride month (but there is merchandise available at the show…)

Because it’s only 75 minutes

Because I dance around in tighty whities with socks on my hands

Because there is a free clothing swap and treats in the gallery next to the show

Because why not?

Because you will be cast as my Mother, and that’s the role of a lifetime (or at least my lifetime)

Because you won’t know what will happen; you can’t pause or rewind the show; you will be taking a risk; you will find it’s more than just entertainment; you will feel me talking right to you

Because I’ve been writing this show for 34 years and am finally ready to share it with you

Because I’ll be in the lobby afterwards to say hi, and receive hugs, stories, and phone numbers 

Because I made this piece for you, my dear deviants, trans folx, genderful ones and for the people that care for us. It is a good laugh and a good cry and meant as a gift, a way to end your day feeling loved, nourished and worthy

Because don’t you want to be nourished and reminded that you are loved and worthy? 

And frankly because art needs you to survive and you need art to thrive

Because I took the time to write this letter to you and you took the time to read it, and neither you nor I want to waste that investment

Because you won’t want to miss it

Get tickets to Rose: You Are What You Eat, playing through June 23rd.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Sign Up for Weekly E-Blast

Follow Us @washblade

Advertisement

Popular