I’m Feelin’ Like a Criminal: Why the Law Won’t Stop the Spread of HIV

By Loren Jones, PWN-USA Board Member

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Loren Jones.

Some of us, due to our chance assignment from birth to certain races, genders, and classes, have pretty much been outlaws all our lives. And now, here we go; another notch on the cowgirl list of broken laws (in more than 30 states): “HIV positive and living as assumed normal.”

HIV criminalization laws are driven by irrational knee-jerk fear. The kind of fears and ignorance that led us to the path of becoming “positive” to begin with. Fear of living life alone. Fear of being one more variety of strange, nasty, weird, and untouchable is even stronger than the fear of death for some of us. People face the same types of stigma and violence from these laws that they face on the streets.

Shame never helps you learn. It only makes people hide deeper and farther from sight.

When I received my diagnosis in about 1985, while single, homeless, and hanging with a group of similarly marginalized outlaws living by our own code of right, wrong, and loyal, I immediately made the decision not to tell. Mostly for the same reasons that a lot of people don’t tell others they’re living with HIV: I could not afford to lose what little I had, in terms of companions and lovers, such as they were. Besides, I was healthy, and really did not trust a society or medical profession that didn’t really like people like us anyway.

None of us were perfect then. And we are not now. But we didn’t, and still don’t, blame each other for much. After all, I was there, you were there, and we were all there in the moment. Yeah, we should have known better. There were always STIs. But life is a crap shoot anyway. And if the violence don’t get you, something else will. I have and still do risk a lot for what I call my friends. And that has included my body.

We are not evil, horrible people. Nor were we or are we insatiable, uncaring whores and killers. We don’t deserve to go to jail for living with HIV. We go to jail too much as it is.

I have grown with the science. Truly, as I knew better, I did better. Education, and making every human being feel valued and well-loved as who they are, is still the answer to stopping the spread of HIV. The law will never be.

Loren Jones is a resident of Berkeley, California, a co-founder and Board Member of PWN-USA, and a Senior Member of PWN-USA’s Bay Area Chapter.

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