2 min

2008 will be the year of criminalization

The ongoing criminalization of HIV and queer sex gained ominous momentum in 2007 and will likely come to a head in 2008.

In November a London, Ontario man was convicted of aggravated sexual assault for having unprotected sex with a man without telling him that he is HIV-positive. The convicted man says he has struggled with mental illness for much of his life and was suffering from an emotional crisis when he met his accuser.

“We hooked up online right after my breakdown,” the convicted man writes in an email to Xtra. “He said he wanted to love me like a daddy. After meeting I told him that I was a messiah, autistic, psychic and had the mind of a child. He picked me up, drove me into the country and jumped me in his car… I thought I was in love and thought that I was performing loving acts… There was no talk of HIV, protection or any sort of responsible conversation. The truth is that at the time of my arrest, at the age of 22, I was a vulnerable and completely damaged, mentally ill young man who sincerely and desperately wanted to be loved. [My accuser], a man of 51 at the time, knew that something was seriously wrong with me. Instead of addressing these issues and helping me with my mental health he took advantage of me sexually and emotionally.”

The convicted man faces up to 25 years in prison while his accuser’s identity is protected by a publication ban. It is a tragic comment on our society that someone who is queer, HIV-positive and living functionally with the mental illness that afflicts so many young queer people should so inevitably end up behind bars chiefly because of the complaints of another queer man who freely and foolishly chose not to roll a rubber onto his own cock.

That the so-called victims in these cases — this London case is only one of several examples that will unfold in 2008 — are pre-absolved of any responsibility for their own sexual health is patently absurd. Regardless of what they suspected or were told by their partners, unprotected sex was their choice. They were not cold-cocked and raped. No one held guns to the their heads. They weren’t blackmailed or threatened. They took calculated risks and must therefore bear much of the responsibility for any consequences. It is not a complex equation.

In each of these disclosure cases the law prevents Xtra from publicizing the identities of the so-called victims, ostensibly to protect them from public humiliation. The accused, whose humiliation is complete and rooted in the horrendous and irrational stigma against queer sex and HIV, are denied the comfort of such protections. Police and the mainstream media have, in advance of any charge or trial, actively publicized their identities, health histories and other sensational gossip, effectively branding them as sex criminals.

Lawyers for the accused naturally instruct their clients not to talk on the record until criminal proceedings are concluded. Sadly that only exacerbates the double standard, leaving Xtra to pussyfoot around these stories, carefully avoiding any detail that might violate a publication ban and expose the paper to contempt allegations. Meanwhile, the mainstream media and the justice system pillory these men in the court of public opinion before locking them up.

To those queer men who have filed or are considering filing non-disclosure complaints with police: You are complicit in the criminalization of queer sex and HIV.

To the accused men in these cases: I encourage you to speak openly and on the record with us when it’s safe for you to do so. Some of you will choose not to speak out, preferring to put your troubles behind you so you can get on with your lives. The exceptionally courageous few who do go on the record can help prevent these horrors from befalling others.