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On World AIDS Day, Lambda Legal Reaffirms Commitment to Ending HIV Criminalization

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"Living With HIV Is Not A Crime."
December 1, 2011
Scott Schoettes

"Lambda Legal remains committed to securing equal protection and equal rights for this community."

(Chicago, IL, December 1, 2011)—Today, Lambda Legal HIV Project Director Scott Schoettes released a statement to commemorate World AIDS Day.

"Imposing unfair criminal penalties on people with HIV has led to a society where people are—among other forms of oppression—imprisoned, classified as felons and forced to register as sex offenders, based on outdated and inaccurate information regarding HIV," said Schoettes. "Since the discovery of the virus 30 years ago, and the first World AIDS Day in 1988, we've thankfully seen many medical advances that have helped us understand transmission of the virus and how to treat it effectively. Unfortunately, the legal landscape for people living with HIV has not progressed as fast, and we subject people with absolutely no intent to harm anyone to criminal sanctions usually reserved for truly egregious offenses. Lambda Legal remains committed to securing equal protection and equal rights for this community—because living with HIV is not a crime."

Thirty-nine states have HIV-specific criminal statutes or have brought HIV-related criminal charges resulting in more than 80 prosecutions in the United States in the past two years alone. Among other things, HIV criminalization helps perpetuate the many myths and misconceptions that fuel other types of discrimination people living with HIV experience. It sends an inaccurate message regarding prevention responsibility, creates a disincentive to getting tested, and may actually discourage disclosure of HIV status. Lambda Legal has aligned itself with the Positive Justice Project (PJP), a working consortium devoted to ending the abusive application of criminal statutes against people living with HIV. Along with PJP, Lambda Legal is working toward passing the REPEAL HIV Discrimination Act, federal legislation that would require a review of all federal and state laws, policies, and regulations regarding the criminal prosecution of individuals for HIV-related offenses.

Recent cases involving people living with HIV in which Lambda Legal has been involved include: People v. Allen, where a Michigan man living with HIV was charged under the state's anti-terrorism statute with possession of a "biological weapon" after an altercation with a neighbor—prosecutors equated his HIV infection with "possession or use of a harmful device"; Roe v. City of Atlanta, where Lambda Legal is representing a man denied employment with the Atlanta Police Department after a medical exam revealed he is HIV-positive, a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act; and Rose v. Cahee, a case Lambda Legal brought on behalf of a Wisconsin woman who was denied necessary medical care because of unfounded fears her doctor had about HIV transmission.

World AIDS Day is held on December 1 each year and unites the world in the fight against HIV. The day also supports people living with HIV and commemorates people who have died. 


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