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Take action

What you can do to fight the criminalization of HIV

1) Write to members of the mainstream media. Call them to task when they present stories that fail to distinguish HIV from violent crime. Tell them that sensationalized witch-hunt stories about so-called HIV criminals only perpetuate injustice and misunderstanding. Teach them to think about HIV rationally, to examine their own prejudices and to separate sexual prudery from cogent argument. “It’s against the law,” and “bum sex is icky,” are not rational arguments.

2) Write to your MP, MPP or MLA. Tell them that the criminalization of HIV is an unjust approach and demand a halt to failure-to-disclose charges and convictions.

3) Join Xtra.ca. Visit the site often to keep abreast of developments on this issue. Tell your friends about the injustice of the criminalization of HIV. Convince them that making a failure-to-disclose complaint to police is the wrong thing to do. It only undermines their own civil liberties and turns them against their friends and lovers.

4) Be open about your serostatus. The voices of thousands of vocal, out, proud, HIV-positive gay men will not be ignored. Stigma will ebb because of a simple dearth of shame. Frank discussions about serostatus and risks before sex will strengthen prevention efforts and help you to protect yourself and your sex partners. If you have a firsthand nondisclosure story, consider sharing it with Xtra by emailing our editorial director Matt Mills at matt.mills@xtra.ca. Confidentiality is assured. We won’t publish your story or identity unless you tell us you’re comfortable with us doing so. Even if you don’t want your story told in our pages telling us may provide clues that may enable us to help others.

5) Assume complete responsibility for your own sexual health. Never, ever depend on another person, no matter who, to keep you from becoming HIV-positive or to stop you from passing the virus on to someone else. If you do become HIV-positive don’t assign blame, take your medicine and know that your whole life is still ahead of you.

Frequently asked questions

Isn’t it a terrible thing to lie to someone and to deliberately infect them with a potentially lethal virus?

Yes, but criminalization only compounds the tragedy of HIV. It complicates prevention efforts, perpetuates irrational stigma and homophobia and drives the issue underground. It’s a matter best dealt with by public health authorities.

If I’m not supposed to call the cops, what should I do if I think someone is deliberately spreading HIV?

Tell your friends and sex partners that they should practice safer sex or assume the possibility that they may become HIV-positive. Call your public health authorities or your doctor and tell them what you suspect. There is much they can do — partner tracking, counselling, treatment — without involving police. There is no criminal case or investigation unless a potential victim makes a direct complaint. Doctors or health officials may tell you about the option to press charges, but don’t.

What about those who don’t have a say in when or how they have sex? What about those who can’t insist on safer sex? Shouldn’t the law protect them too?

The law does protect them. Canadian society is a free one. It is not criminal to deny sex to anyone under any circumstances, ever. Violent sexual assault is a serious crime and it should be, but lying about sex or HIV status should not be a matter for the criminal justice system.

Check out Xtra.ca’s activist section for more ways to get involved