World AIDS Day

Why People With HIV Are Still Going To Prison Even When They Can’t Transmit The Virus


A new short documentary film (below) released for World AIDS Day by the HIV advocacy group SERO Project has a sobering message: People living with the virus in the United States continue to be prosecuted and jailed because of their HIV status.

HIV Criminalization: Masking Fear and Discrimination explains that “non-disclosure” statutes are being used as a weapon of homophobia and racism and serve no public safety function. It features Ken Pinkela, a gay military man who was prosecuted and eventually relieved from duty because he was accused of not disclosing his status to an alleged sexual partner.

Pinkela denies the charges, and although the accuser eventually recanted his story, Pinkela’s dismissal remained.

In other cases, people with HIV who had no viral load and used protection with their partners were prosecuted for not disclosing their status, with prosecutors (and juries) often relying upon the word of the accuser. This is a sobering, considering we now know that people who are undetectable pose no threat of infection to others.

Many of those who have been prosecuted have been given jail sentences spanning into decades, whether or not anyone was actually infected.

“HIV criminalization may be the defining moral issue of our time as HIV activists,” said SERO Project founder Sean Strub. “State statutes throughout the country that persecute people based solely on a viral status poses a serious threat to both public health and individual civil liberties. Masking Fear and Discrimination serves as an excellent primer on the topic of HIV criminalization, particularly for those who are new to this growing concern. For advocates and health professionals in the field, it is essential viewing.”

The documentary was directed by filmmaker Christopher King and produced by Queerty contributor Mark S. King.

Sero is a network of people with HIV and allies fighting for freedom from stigma and injustice. Sero is particularly focused on ending inappropriate criminal prosecutions of people with HIV, including for non-disclosure of their HIV status, potential or perceived HIV exposure or HIV transmission.