A Little Respect: Recognizing the Contributions of the Undetectable Community
HIV criminalization laws in the United States are outdated and archaic. In 33 states, an HIV positive individual could be prosecuted and convicted of a felony for having unprotected sex with a partner if they do not disclose their status. Even if undetectable and adhering to their treatment regimen the courts rarely require proof of intent to transmit HIV to another person. HIV positive individuals are treated like criminals and their voices are rarely given credence. Hundreds of Americans were prosecuted last year under these laws. In most cases, disclosure cannot be proven either way. It is a tale of ‘he said, she said’; more accurately, ‘he said, he said’. Just an accusation is enough to charge anyone who is HIV positive. Simply put, it is a witch hunt.
Engaging in bareback sex is an act of personal responsibility. Sole culpability should not be placed on an HIV positive partner. Condomless sex is a choice made by all sex partners and each should be fully aware of their own sexual health risks. One cannot assume they are negative for HIV if not regularly tested and practicing treatment as prevention. Placing blind trust in anyone who claims to be negative is a poor decision that substantially increases the risk of acquiring HIV. It is a decision based on personal choice and no partner can take full responsibility. Have lawmakers forgotten that HIV isn’t the only sexually transmitted infection? Are we ignoring the fact that HPV, syphilis, hepatitis A, B, and C, meningitis, chlamydia, and gonorrhea are all transmitted in the same manner? HIV criminalization laws are an injustice to all positive individuals and perpetuate the stigma of HIV automatically equating sexual predatory intent. Take into consideration that situations involving drugs or alcohol only go to further show the importance of shared responsibility.
An unsettling trend within the LGBT community has began to emerge; the shaming of those who are openly HIV positive, but undetectable. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) recently confirmed, through years of study, that those who have an undetectable viral load are incapable of passing the virus, even through unprotected sex. Undetectable equals untransmittable. Condom only advocacy has been pitted against PrEP; treatment as prevention, leaving undetectable individuals in the crossfire. 1 out of every 10 HIV positive individuals are not aware of their status and are responsible for 90 percent of new infections. Creating needless and distracting controversy, within the community, over the insinuation that undetectable presents the risk is lazy advocacy and needs to stop. Painting PrEP users as promiscuous party boys is a sad and shameful reflection on the community.
Those on PrEP, and stick to the strict regimen of use, are leading the charge when it comes to lowering HIV transmission rates in the United States and they deserve credit. From this point on; attention should focus on getting more individuals tested, providing accessible care, and encouraging others to look into treatment as prevention. Condom use is a crucial safe sex practice and should continue to be encouraged and promoted. It cannot be the lone method. Victimizing those who are undetectable and bullying PrEP users is never justifiable forms of advocacy.
There is this wild assumption that all an HIV positive person has to do is take a pill and they instantly become undetectable. The misconception is that once on antiretroviral medication the fight against HIV is over and lives are free of struggle. These beliefs could not be further from the truth. Of those diagnosed positive in the United States, only around 40 percent have access to life saving medications and treatment. Battling insurance companies, stigmas, and issues like workplace discrimination can all impare treatment and adherence. It’s bittersweet to come to the realization that not only is the undetectable community saving their own lives, but they are saving the lives of others as well. Their daily fight to remain undetectable prevents an epidemic from becoming an apocalypse. They deserve compassion and respect for their unsung service to the health of all LGBT.