Rising Above HIV Discrimination

By Joel Laux, M.C.C.F. Montgomery County, PA

From PHN Issue 16, Spring 2013

I am HIV Positive, and have been so for about eleven years now. I also am an IV Drug user. I have had personal experiences involving discriminatory practices in the law or its application. Although I have not been actually prosecuted in a court of law for an HIV specific criminal statute, I have been threatened with it.

During my last incarceration for a violation of probation for absconding from supervision, my probation officer told me she feels I belong in state prison because I am HIV positive as well as an IV drug user. And this is despite the fact I am on a needle exchange program, as well as make people aware of my status and educate people about the virus.

During my subsequent court hearing, my attorney found out my status through my probation officer. He in turn expressed his disappointment in my not disclosing this to him myself. Then, during open court, and on the record, he advised me I could be charged with aggravated assault for having unprotected sex or fighting with someone if blood is spilled. Frankly, I was taken aback and puzzled by this “warning” by my own lawyer. I felt it was more a malicious threat than a warning. The presumption of guilt or wrong doing because of my status is wrong. I felt stigmatized and “less than.” I was in court for failing to report to my probation officer, not for a sexual offence or assault of any kind.

It was like a double slap in the face because I do everything in my power to educate and raise awareness about HIV. I would be the last person to spread HIV.

I do understand that this thought process is simply due to ignorance and misunderstanding. This tells me I still have a lot of work to do to raise awareness and educate. I cannot assume simply because people are in a position of power or have obtained a degree of higher learning such as law school, that they are above discrimination.

Instead of being angry at this situation, I am determined to learn something by it, and do something about it. Always remember, you can always derive something positive out of every negative. It’s your job to figure out how.

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