California changes HIV Law: No Need to Fear Knowing Your HIV Status


HIV is still surrounded by myths and misinformation. The truth is that we have never been closer to an AIDS free generation as we are now. Currently, people living with HIV in treatment can expect to live as long as anyone else. And that same person is also incapable of transmitting HIV to others, because the amount of the virus in their blood is reduced to an undetectable level. The bad thing is we don’t all know our HIV status and that our laws, until recently, reflected those same myths and misinformation, fueled stigma, and caused some to choose not to get tested.


Now California has changed its HIV-specific criminal laws. Before, in certain cases, people faced additional charges or longer sentences, even when there was no risk of transmission or criminal intent, simply for being aware that they were living with HIV. The new law clarifies that criminal laws aimed at preventing transmission of a communicable disease — particularly a sexually transmitted infection — should require an actual intent to harm the other person.


By now, we all recognize that sexual health is a responsibility that we share with our sexual partners. Because the criminal law is set up on the paradigm of “perpetrator and victim,” it is not a good fit for the complex and nuanced nature of decision-making about sexual risk in intimate personal relationships. As adults, we need to educate ourselves in order to live our sexual lives fully conscious of those risks. Especially now, when there are so many ways to reduce those risks, like condoms and the preventative treatment known as PREP.


Updating these criminal laws is also a way of reducing risk of transmission. Now there is no excuse not to get tested here in California. Unfortunately, many others states still have in effect laws similar to, or worse than, the one California just updated. Most of these laws are from the late 80s and 90s, when we didn’t know as much about HIV, how to treat it and how to prevent it, and they have not been updated since. Lambda Legal is proud to have cosponsored California’s new bill and excited to be a national leader of the movement to end these unjust, unhelpful, and affirmatively harmful laws that single out people living with HIV for unwarranted criminal prosecution and punishment.


As an LGBT community, we need to rally around this cause, and create and promote a culture where people are not discriminated against because of their HIV status, be it in our laws or in our sexual relationships. Only then will we defeat stigma and help ensure that the next generation is an AIDS free generation.