Assemblymember Gloria, Sen. Wiener Seek to Modernize HIV Criminalization Laws and End Stigma

Todd Gloria, Scott Weiner

Todd Gloria, Scott Weiner

California State Assemblymember Todd Gloria (D-San Diego) and California State Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) announced today their introduction of a bill to modernize current state law that criminalizes and stigmatizes people living with HIV. California State Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco) is a co-author of this bill.

“It’s time for California to reevaluate the way it thinks about HIV/AIDS and reduce the stigma associated with the disease,” said Assemblymember Gloria. “Current state law related to those living with HIV is unfair because it is based on the fear and ignorance of a bygone era. With this legislation, California takes an important step to update our laws to reflect the medical advances which no longer make a positive diagnosis equal to a death sentence.”

The bill, SB 239, would repeal several HIV-specific criminal laws, enacted during the national HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980’s and 1990’s, that impose harsh penalties solely on individuals living with HIV-positive diagnoses and make them equable with current laws applicable to other serious communicable diseases, thereby removing discrimination and stigma for people living with HIV while maintaining public health. Further, SB 239 updates California statutes to make it reflective of our modern understanding of HIV prevention, treatment and transmission.

“These laws are discriminatory, not based in science, and detrimental to our HIV prevention goals,” said Senator Wiener. “They need to be repealed. During the 1980s—the same period when some proposed quarantining people with HIV—California passed these discriminatory criminal laws and singled out people with HIV for harsher punishment than people with other communicable diseases. It’s time to move beyond stigmatizing, shaming, and fearing people who are living with HIV. It’s time to repeal these laws, use science-based approaches to reduce HIV transmission (instead of fear-based approaches), and stop discriminating against our HIV-positive neighbors.”

“As a former prosecutor, I know firsthand the need to get outdated and unscientific laws based on homophobia and fear off the books,” said Assemblymember Chiu. “These laws criminalize and stigmatize people with HIV, and they must be updated.”

California’s current state laws on HIV criminalization were passed three decades ago at the height of the national HIV/AIDS epidemic. These laws criminalized behaviors of people living with HIV or added HIV-related penalties to existing crimes based upon fear and on the limited medical understanding of the time.

Since then, societal and medical understanding of HIV has greatly advanced. Effective treatments can dramatically lengthen life expectancy and improve quality of life for people living with HIV. In addition, similar treatments are available to HIV-negative individuals to nearly eliminate the risk of infection.

Laws criminalizing people living with HIV have done nothing to further public health and reduce the likelihood of disclosure of a positive HIV status to sexual partners. Additionally, HIV criminalization laws have had a disproportionate effect on women and people of color. Approximately 43% of those who have been criminalized under California’s HIV-specific criminal laws are women. Blacks and Latinos comprise two-thirds of those who came into contact with the criminal justice system because of their HIV status, despite making up only about half of people living with HIV/AIDS in California.

SB 239 is co-sponsored by the ACLU of California, APLA Health, the Black AIDS Institute, Equality California, Lambda Legal, and Positive Women’s Network – USA. All are part of the Californians for HIV Criminalization Reform (CHCR), a broad coalition of people living with HIV, HIV and health service providers, civil rights organizations, and public health professionals dedicated to ending the criminalization of HIV in California.