GA Voice - - Front Page - By DYANA BAGBY dbagby@the­


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.


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.”


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-

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