IT'S A FELONY TO HAVE SEX WITHOUT DISCLOSING YOUR HV STATUS...
...EVEN IF YOUR PARTNER DOESN'T ASK. EVEN IF YOU USE CONDOM. EVEN IF YOUR PARTNER DOESN'T GET INFECTED. IS THAT FAIR?
Robert Suttle met the man through mutual friends. There was no romantic interest at first, but on a New Year’s Eve after a night of partying in Louisiana, the two decided to spend the night together.
One thing led to another. Suttle told the man he was HIV positive.
“It made us hesitate because we didn’t have condoms,” Suttle said.
But the two did have sex, and it would change Suttle’s life forever.
‘I WAS ARRESTED AT WORK’
Suttle, of Louisiana, was 24 when he decided to enlist in the Air Force. He went in for a physical and was told he was HIV positive.
“I was not aware of HIV when I was diagnosed,” said Suttle, who now lives in Washington, D.C.
“HIV was not in my life. I didn’t know anyone who had it. I didn’t understand the risk,” he said.
But Suttle didn’t let the diagnosis slow him down. He graduated from college and got a job working in the legal field in Shreveport. “I wanted to live. I had plans,” he said. On New Year’s Eve 2008, Suttle hung out with the man he had met through mutual friends.
“We were out for a night on New Year’s Eve and we decided to go to his place; we decided to spend the night together. And we engaged in sex. It was not planned. It was just a casual experience like most gay men experience,” he said.
Suttle said he informed him of his HIV status the first night they were together and the two had a contentious relationship for about three months before it ended.
He heard through the same mutual friends who introduced the two that his ex-boyfriend intended to press charges against him. Why? Because, according to the ex, Suttle did not inform him he was HIV positive before they had sex. “I was arrested at work,” Suttle remembered. He spent three days in jail before he bonded out. He was then sentenced to six months in jail under a Louisiana law that states it is illegal to “intentionally expose another to HIV through sexual contact or through any means or contact (including spitting, biting, stabbing with an HIV contaminated object, or throwing of blood or other bodily substances) without the knowing and lawful consent of the victim.”
Suttle will be in Atlanta on April 23 to take
+ part in a town hall meeting on HIV criminalization laws organized by local HIV activist and journalist Mark King.
King, who has been living with HIV more than 20 years, said he wants people people on both sides to come to the town hall.
“Regardless of how you feel on topic, if you are infected or you have not always disclosed, you will get answers at this forum,” he said. “No matter what side of the fence people are on, if they want to press charges or know what their rights are, we have to meet people where they are. We don’t want people not disclosing. Please come and let your voice be heard.”
Suttle and King are proponents of honestly disclosing one’s HIV status to a potential partner. HIV is still incurable and can be transmitted through sex. Gay men have the highest rates of new infections each year, especially black gay men. A decision to have sex should be made by people who have all the facts, Suttle said.
“I do sympathize with people who have contracted HIV, gay or straight. I once was that person, too,” said Suttle, who added he does not know he contracted HIV from.
“I understand people’s pain and how they feel. But we have to take responsibility for ourselves and take our power back,” he added. “These are very complex and complicated issues. As my colleagues say, there is no right or wrong side of this issue, there is informed or uninformed. And we want people to be informed.”
TRACKING HIV PROSECUTIONS
Georgia has a similar statute to Louisiana. According to The Sero Project, a nonprofit with the mission that includes getting such laws repealed, Georgia also has one of the highest numbers of convictions in the nation.
The Georgia law makes it a felony to have sex without disclosing you are HIV positive. It does not take into account whether the other partner asked about HIV status, whether a condom was used, the relative risk of the acts performed or whether the other partner contracted HIV.
Because local district attorneys don’t compile HIV cases specifically and rather include them in groups such as felonies and misdemeanors, it’s very difficult to get specific information on whether the convicted person was gay or straight and the details of the case.
In 2005, however, in a high-profile case in Georgia, Emory medical student Wayne Carriker was arrested and convicted of not disclosing his HIV status to three separate male partners. All three remained negative.
Carriker pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four years. Carriker is now an “ex-gay” working for a substance abuse and “sexual brokeness” Christian agency.
The Fulton County’s District Attorney’s Office states it has charged 35 people since 2005 with “reckless conduct related to HIV trans-