Last week, “Uncle Poodle” (Lee Thompson) from the TLC show “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” revealed that he was diagnosed with HIV. By sharing his story, Lee hopes to use his reality TV fame to combat bullying in schools and to advocate safe sex.
While it’s refreshing to see a star from a silly show about toddler beauty pageants focus on such a serious (and worthwhile) subject, perhaps one of the most interesting details about Thompson’s revelation is that he decided to press charges against his ex-boyfriend, who infected him. After being diagnosed last May, Lee said, "I knew it had been my boyfriend who infected me. I later learned he had been HIV positive and was not taking medication and had not bothered to tell me about it. I was advised that I should press charges and, hesitantly, I did. It was the right thing to do." His ex-boyfriend is currently serving a 5-year sentence.
-32 states and two U.S. territories have some kind of HIV-specific criminal transmission statute
-45 states have laws against not disclosing a positive HIV status during sex, acts of prostitution, needle exchanges, or when donating organs, blood, or semen
-13 of those states have laws against spitting on or biting someone when HIV-positive, even though neither has been proven to transmit HIV
-21 states have used general felony laws to prosecute HIV transmission
-As many as 350 Americans have been charged with criminal transmission of HIV
Opponents of criminal transmission laws say that the fear of prosecution will discourage people from getting tested. If people don’t get tested, there can be no proof of intent, right? Supporters of the laws believe that they discourage people from engaging in activities that could spread HIV for fear of jail time.
There are lots of opinions surrounding the HIV-transmission law debate, but it’s important that both sides recognize the role that stigma plays in testing and disclosure. In a study of men and women throughout the U.S., stigma was associated with a decreased likelihood of getting tested. It also showed that people who don’t know they are HIV-positive are less likely to use prevention. Yikes.
So how do we eliminate stigma? Some people think that decriminalizing non-disclosure of HIV status will help. ASHA is committed to reducing stigma by encouraging conversation and sharing information about all STI’s, including HIV.
Many people are applauding Lee Thompson for coming forward. Having celebrities like Thompson, Elton John and Magic Johnson speak openly about HIV/AIDS certainly helps de-stigmatize the virus/disease and raise awareness about prevention, but there is still much to be done.
People need to feel like they can have an honest conversation about HIV, free from discrimination and stigma. Maybe then, criminalization won’t even be an issue.
What else do you think would help reduce HIV/AIDS stigma? Did you know that not disclosing a positive HIV status can land you in prison?
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