In its last issue, Lavender magazine ran a “public service announcement” about Daniel James Rick, a Minneapolis man that police say has had unprotected sex with other men without disclosing that he is HIV-positive. TheColu.mn feels that Minnesota’s largest LGBT publication not only missed an important opportunity to provide context to the case but also furthered the stigmatization of HIV-positive Minnesotans.
Lavenderuncritically printed its article as a “public service announcement” at the request of the Minneapolis Police Department without context. It doesn’t discuss scientific research that, according to Keith Horvath, an HIV prevention expert at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health, shows that only around 5 percent of HIV-positive men in America pass that disease on to a sexual partner every year. The police’s case against Rick — which still has to be proven in a court of law — is a rarity among HIV-positive men.
If the charges against Rick are true, then he would certainly have done a selfish, negligent, and generally reprehensible thing in knowingly transmitting a disease to someone else. However, when the laws governing the transmission of HIV were enacted in the early-1990s, the world of HIV was a different place. Today, a 35-year-old HIV-positive American man with the aid of medical treatment can be expected to live to age 73 on average, according to Horvath.
According to police and Lavender, Rick is charged with “Assault in the Third Degree—Knowing Transfer of Communicable Disease.”
The effectiveness and feasibility of such laws are surely up for debate and you can read the statute for yourself.
The World Health Organization, supported by a growing body of academic research, has came out in 2006 against laws that criminalize HIV, saying that such laws stigmatize those living with HIV and discourage people from getting tested for the virus. The vast majority of people who test positive for HIV take steps to ensure the virus isn’t passed on to other. And criminalizing the transmission of HIV will also create an atmosphere of fear where people may avoid getting tested.
Furthermore, the Lavender’s story fails to mention that, in each case where Rick has been charged, there was at least one receptive partner who did not demand that Rick use a condom. In at least one case, according to court documents (PDF), the alleged victim was drunk at the time of the encounter and was removed from the Saloon by staff because he was overly intoxicated.
“No” always means “no” is not enough when sex is concerned. People have to have the ability to say “Yes,” and the allegations against Rick are serious if proven true beyond a reasonable doubt. But we also know from years of research that intoxication with drugs and alcohol are implicated in new HIV infections among gay men with some studies reporting the incidence as high as 60 percent.
Whether intentionally, or because they weren’t aware of the facts and issues surrounding the transmission of HIV, the publishers and editors of Lavender ran a story that misrepresented HIV-positive gay and bisexual men as predators to be avoided, not the largely responsible friends and brothers they are. In doing so, they not only stigmatized members of the Minnesota LGBT community who they theoretically serve and missed an opportunity to challenge the growing acceptance of risky sex practices in our community, but they hurt the rest of us by spreading attitudes that directly harm HIV prevention and safe sex education efforts statewide.
The facts are that HIV can be avoided by using condoms correctly and consistently, and they are especially important with partners you don’t know.
Lavender’s editor did not respond to my call asking for more information about why they decided to publish this story, but as the largest LGBT publication in Minnesota, I hope they made an informed decision with the best interests of the community at heart, even if the available evidence suggests otherwise.