Living with HIV has posed many challenges over the last 9 months. From making the decision to start drug therapy as treatment and going on a clinical trial, to the emotional stress and anxiety that I, my friends, and my family have had to deal with, it’s been a roller coaster.
But in doing research for a workshop I plan on presenting (much more of which you will see over the next few weeks), I suddenly became frustrated. I came to the realization that HIV has more laws criminalizing it in the United States than in any other country in the world.
Really, America? It’s a disease. Just like Typhoid, Malaria, Tuberculosis, Polio, Scarlett Fever, and how many other diseases that have been pandemic in our country’s 236 year history, so why should we criminalize this one and none of the others?
By creating laws criminalizing HIV, we have effectively attached a stigma to the disease that we will NEVER be able to overcome. A stigma that has contributed to many suicides, one funeral of which I attended only months after being diagnosed myself.
The rate of suicide among HIV-Positive individuals is more than three times higher than among the general population of the United States. Why is that? I believe it is largely due to the fact that because of the criminalization of HIV, and the stigma attached to it. Don’t misunderstand me, I do think that it should be required to tell your partners about your status. But that should be common courtesy. Not law. HIV is a chronic-managable disease in today’s world. There is medication to help control it just like Asthma and Diabetes.
And no discussion regarding the criminalizing laws against HIV would be complete without mentioning the fact that for over 15 years, the United States banned anyone having a positive HIV status from obtaining a visa or immigrating into the country. Someone please explain to me why this was a good idea. I get it that we need to protect our people, but when they already have the disease, when the first cases of the disease were found on our own soil, what were we hoping to accomplish?