EJAF Chairman David Furnish: “State and Federal Governments Must Stop Criminalizing HIV”
HIV Criminalization / Michael Johnson Website Statement
May 3, 2016
The Elton John AIDS Foundation (EJAF) formally calls upon all federal, state, and local governments to put an end to the use of criminal law to target the conduct of people living with HIV and other diseases. In doing so, we join in consensus with a number of highly respected organizations, medical experts, public health officials, and policy makers in stating that the criminalization of HIV and other diseases institutionalizes and promotes HIV stigma and discourages people from being tested for HIV and knowing and disclosing their HIV status to their partners.
Other organizations supporting this point of view include the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, the U.S. Department of Justice, the American Medical Association, the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care, the American Academy of HIV Medicine, the American Psychological Association, the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors, the National Association of County and City Health Officials, the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and the Positive Justice Project (representing more than 1000 organizational and individual endorsements from across the United States).
Recently, EJAF published a web article on the subject of the criminalization of the behavior of HIV-positive people. The Missouri case of 24-year-old Michael L. Johnson, an HIV-positive Lindenwood University star wrestler, who was sentenced to more than 30 years in prison in July of 2015 for having consensual sex with five other men, illustrates the tremendous injustice inherent in prosecuting people for being HIV positive. The men involved claim Michael did not disclose his HIV status to them, although he says he did; one man has become HIV-positive. If Michael had committed vehicular manslaughter, he would have faced a sentence of only 7 years or less. Instead, he has been given a much longer sentence drastically out of proportion to the actual harm involved.
Missouri’s law not only makes it a serious felony to have consensual sex while living with HIV, but also it explicitly states that taking measures to protect your partner by using a condom is not a defense, and it treats HIV as the equivalent of a deadly weapon, which is completely irrational. HIV is a treatable, manageable disease and should never be the basis for a felony prosecution, nor should any felony law ever refuse to take a defendant’s lack of harmful intent into consideration.
The Elton John AIDS Foundation applauds attorneys Lawrence S. Lustberg and Avram Frey of the prominent law firm of Gibbons P.C. for providing pro bono counsel for Michael’s appeal and the following organizations for signing onto an amicus brief on Michael’s behalf: AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, American Academy of HIV Medicine, American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri Foundation, Athlete Ally, Black AIDS Institute, Center for Constitutional Rights, Center for HIV Law and Policy, Counter Narrative Project, Dr. Jeffrey Birnbaum, Empower Missouri, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders, GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBT Equality, Grace, Human Rights Campaign, Missouri AIDS Task Force, National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors, National Black Justice Coalition, National Center for Lesbian Rights, National LGBTQ Task Force, One Struggle KC, Treatment Action Group, William Way LGBT Community Center, and Women With a Vision
Originally published on Elton John Foundation Website