Virginia could become the first southern state to decriminalise the transmission of HIV.
Senate Bill 1138, which was introduced by state Senator Mamie Locke and Jennifer McClellan, aims to repeal “the crime of infected sexual battery” which the transmission and exposure of HIV is legally recognised under.
The proposed bill also aims to overturn an existing ban which prevents those with HIV from donating blood or organs.
Virginia is currently one of 37 states which criminalises those living with HIV. Existing laws in Virginia make living with HIV incredible difficult.
As it stands, those aware of their HIV status must disclose that information with their sexual partner. However, any transmission of the virus, intentional or not, can result in prosecution or penalties for HIV exposure.
Under Virginia law, the health board also currently maintains the right to “order of quarantine or an order of isolation” for diseases deemed a public threat, including HIV.
While bill 1138 may not change all of these outcomes, it’s a step forward in working towards challenging the cultural and political taboo associated with HIV, and it would make Virginia one of the first southern states to do so.
In a press release, Equality Virginia Executive Director Vee Lamneck addressed the danger of upholding laws. “These outdated, dangerous, and discriminatory laws disproportionately impact Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other persons of colour,” Lamneck said.
“To ensure an equitable state for Black and Brown individuals and to promote public health, it’s essential lawmakers pass SB 1138.”
Senator Jennifer McClellan posted a tweet in support of bill 1138 and the changes it proposes.
She wrote: “Proud to stand with Senator Locke to carry SB1138 modernizing Virginia’s outdated and ineffective HIV criminalization laws, which stigmatize people with HIV, especially BIPOC individuals”.
Proud to stand with @SenatorLocke to carry SB1138 modernizing Virginia’s outdated and ineffective HIV criminalization laws, which stigmatize people with HIV, especially BIPOC individuals. The bill reported from the @vasenate Judiciary Committee and heads to the floor. pic.twitter.com/kreKqXxaUZ
— Jennifer McClellan (@JennMcClellanVA) January 28, 2021
Deirdre Johnson, co-founder of the Ending Criminalization of HIV also criticised the existing Virginia laws that discriminate against those with HIV: “Virginia’s current HIV laws are rooted in fear and racial biases. Criminalization increases stigma and harms marginalized communities. Data shows that these laws target and harm women of colour, women who do sex work, and transgender women”.