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by Theodore (ted) Kerr

From Tactic to Demand: HIV Visibility Within a Culture of Criminalization

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I wrote this text as a commission from Risa Puleo for the catalog of her 2019 exhibition Walls Turned Sideways: Artists Confront the Justice System at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. It was edited with great care by Jillian Steinhauer, and published by the Miami-based non-profit [NAME] Publications, under the editorial direction of Natalia Zuluaga, Lucie Steinberg, and Gean Moreno. Walls Turned Sideways “featured work by artists from across the nation that addresses the criminal justice system, mass incarceration, and the prison-industrial complex.” I was to consider the relationship between HIV, incarceration, and art. I had worked with Risa before, on "Curation will not save us: Wrestling with the spaces between analysis and action,” a published conversation for the exhibition Cell Count, curated by Kyle Croft and Asher Mones for Visual AIDS. Risa and I built upon her curatorial thesis, which explores connections between prisons and museums. Additionally, this text was also part of A Structural Crisis in an Emotional Landscape, a work by artist Kenneth Pietrobono, in which the artist commissioned writers to create with great political care. See the bottom of the article for more information.

- by Theodore (ted) Kerr

In 2017, Brooklyn-born, Atlanta-based activist Shyronn Jones worked with the Georgia Coalition to End HIV Criminalization to create one of six postcards. On the front is a photo collage by Jones, the foreground of which shows a single light bulb on a string—an image that evokes the work of Félix González-Torres, ideas around “shedding light” on a issue, and as Jones puts it, a scene all too easy to imagine in which “detectives aggressively interrogating people living with HIV based on a mixture of false accusations, propaganda, speculations and stigma.”[1] The background features Jones, who is the founder of the HIV/AIDS awareness firm iknowAwareness, wearing a red T-shirt that declares: “HIV IS NOT A CRIME.”

Shyronn Jones, HIV IS NOT A CRIME, 2017.  Photograph by: Shymere Jones. Courtesy of the artist.  Produced by: GEORGIA COALITION TO END HIV CRIMINALIZATION

Shyronn Jones, HIV IS NOT A CRIME, 2017. Photograph by: Shymere Jones. Courtesy of the artist. Produced by: GEORGIA COALITION TO END HIV CRIMINALIZATION

The text of the T-shirt is, of course, wrong—at least for now. Having HIV is a crime, especially if you are also a sex worker, a drug user, black or brown or queer, living in poverty, homeless, experiencing mental health issues, or at the intersection of any of these ways of being alive.[2] Depending on how and where you live, having the virus can land you in jail, solitary confinement, on a sex offender registry, outed on the nightly news, or with your kids, job, housing, and support system taken away. Across the U.S., 34 states have laws that are used to punish people living with HIV, with prosecutors positioning positive folks as deadly weapons due to their status and as murderously inclined if they are unable to prove that HIV disclosure occurred before a consensual intimate encounter.[3]

In response to these laws, people living with HIV have been building organizations and a movement to turn the spirit of the “HIV IS NOT A CRIME” T-shirt into a reality.[4] They have been working within their own communities and with the media to generate awareness about criminalization.[5] They have also been working with state politicians to abolish or modernize HIV-specific laws.[6] Many of those laws were put into place in the late 1980s and amended or intensified throughout the 1990s.[7]

Having HIV today means that, on top of addressing the ramifications of an incurable virus living in one’s body, one must negotiate how to be seen as positive in order to stay out of jail, while also dealing with the stigma that comes with disclosure. But within the history of the epidemic, navigating optics to stay alive is nothing new. Before 1983, when the virus did not even have a name, people dealing with a then mysterious illness began using visibility as a tactic to combat silence, neglect, apathy, and the unknown. Since criminalization laws were passed, visibility has become a state-enforced demand.

Becoming Visible Against the Silence
With her postcard, Jones joins a long tradition of people who have lived with the virus and centered themselves in a blend of art and propaganda, working to be seen while also asking for help, sharing available information, and creating community in a call for care and justice. One of the first AIDS awareness posters was put up in the fall of 1981 in the window of the Star Pharmacy in the Castro in San Francisco. Nurse and activist Bobbi Campbell (1952–1984) created a flyer using photos of the Kaposi's sarcoma (KS) lesions on his body under text that read “GAY CANCER.” At the bottom, Campbell called on people with similar-looking marks to see a doctor.[8] Five years later and across the country, a group of men in New York City formed a consciousness-raising group to deal with life in the dawning age of AIDS. The guys did not know what would come of their time together, but over the course of the gray winter and spring of 1986–87, they created the iconic “SILENCE = DEATH” poster.[9] With loss all around them, they understood that the lack of public dialogue was making the crisis worse. People were not getting the information they needed. The collective hoped the poster would send the message that no one should feel alone in the epidemic, that AIDS was an emergency, and that action must be taken.

Several years later, Alexandra Juhasz, a student in the Whitney Independent Study Program, brought together a group of women who were caring for people living with HIV. They gathered for months to talk about the challenges of the epidemic, exasperated by the culture’s bias against black women and women of color. The group named itself the Women’s AIDS Video Enterprise (WAVE), with a goal of creating activist videos dealing with HIV. In 1991, they released We Care (1991), a thirty-minute resource aimed at women and other caregivers. Thanks to a distribution grant from the New York State Council on the Arts, WAVE members were given $50 for each We Care screening they hosted within their own communities, followed by frank and vulnerable conversations about health and sexuality.[10]

In our age of social media, it can be hard to imagine that the work of Campbell, the Silence = Death collective, and WAVE was created not for online likes or shares, nor for influencers, patrons, critics, or curators, but rather for people in need, in the hopes of creating communities. These activists aimed to reach the public wherever its attention could be grabbed: in the streets, store windows, church basements, neighbors’ living rooms, and community centers. In a matter of years, information started to go viral, circulating in magazines and newspapers, on flyers in health centers, on the nightly news, and, in time, within classrooms and even via sitcoms and the movies. This visibility brought with it treatment and care, but also stigma and discrimination.

For communities deeply impacted by HIV and AIDS, such as the activist and art worlds of New York City in the 1980s and ’90s, the urgency that had manifested in early posters and videos turned into a deep consideration of the power and purpose of art and culture in the face of suffering, apathy and death. Gregg Bordowitz, a member of the advocacy group ACT UP, a chronicler of the beginnings of the epidemic, and the director of many films exploring personal and systemic dimensions of the crisis, recently revisited these questions and the contexts in which they were originally considered. His 2011 book explores the Canadian collaborative General Idea’s Imagevirus, a multiform project that generated much controversy among the AIDS and artist communities in its time. A generation older than most of the ACT UP members, General Idea (AA Bronson, Felix Partz [1945–1994], Jorge Zontal [1944–1994]) took Robert Indiana’s iconic LOVE image and reimagined it to read “AIDS.” The group made a 1987 painting for a benefit in support of amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research, and would soon after circulate the updated image on billboards, subway ads, screens, and in sculpture.

For Bordowitz and others involved with ACT UP, Imagevirus was a logo that failed to give direction for action—a wasted opportunity that undermined the power of what they thought art about HIV should do. What Bordowitz and others didn’t see in the moment was that, while Imagevirus may have seemed empty in the activist enclaves of New York, for others in mainstream places where denial of the existence of AIDS dominated the discourse, the work was a much-needed intervention. Imagevirus addressed populations across a spectrum of Western countries, each with their own distinct yet related issues. Rooted in replication, the transmission of the image crossed language barriers. “Indiana's LOVE logo is what communicates in the end,” said Bronson recently. “Even teenagers in small German towns knew that AIDS should have read LOVE.”[11]

In the first decade of the epidemic, the visuality of the virus was propelled primarily by an urgency caused by desperation and death. Getting AIDS on people’s agenda—cutting past hatred and fear to care and action—was a core goal that was achieved with profound success. In the years to follow, with the introduction of life-saving medication in 1996 and the newfound ubiquity of the disease, one might have assumed that visibility for a person living with HIV would become less fraught. But, as the ongoing story of AIDS reminds us, that has not been the case.

Dealing with the Dis-ease of Disease
At the turn of the millennium, Jones moved to Atlanta from Albany, where she had lived for ten years after leaving Brooklyn, the place where she was born and raised. She had recently been diagnosed with HIV and needed a change of scenery to figure out her new reality. Since moving, she has been able to make a home for herself and her daughter. She stays busy with a social life, work, and commitments to the Georgia Coalition and the local chapter of the Positive Women’s Network – USA. Yet even in a city where she has lived for more than 15 years , she never feels entirely at ease. “The concrete wall in front of my apartment building for low to moderate income people looks like a prison cell block, a reminder of both criminalization and my entrapment in housing inequality,” she says. “I look at it and I just know that prison is the worst place for people living with HIV, because treatment, prevention, and support are limited on the inside. We deserve healthcare, not incarceration.”[12]

Jones is aware that her life would be much different had she been diagnosed a few years earlier. In 1996, highly active antiretroviral treatment (HAART) was released, and it meant that being told you had HIV was no longer a notice of impending death. With medication and access to housing and care, people now have the chance to live long and happy lives with the virus.

In addition to saving millions of lives, HAART has introduced methods of curbing new cases of HIV. Treatment as prevention (TasP) is a strategy that uses antiretrovirals to reduce the risk of transmission by medicating people with and without the virus.[13] For HIV-negative people, TasP consists of post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) or pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a regimen of meds taken before or after possible exposure that works to prevent the virus from taking hold in the body.[14] For HIV-positive people, TasP refers to HAART’s ability to suppress someone’s viral load to an undetectable level, making transmission impossible. With this big change has come a host of questions, including: Who is and isn’t seen as the “public” in public health?

Before TasP, people with the virus and their doctors spoke of T cells and CD4 counts, measurements of the body’s capacity to fight infection. Now those numbers often take a backseat to viral load, a metric that indicates the amount of virus in the blood and thus the potential for transmission. A patient’s adherence to their medication is tracked—a form of surveillance—to the point where their ability to suppress the virus becomes as much about self-care as it is about public health. The contours of visibility for people living with HIV changed under TaSP. They’re now held to a higher standard of responsibility than any other group with an illness in our culture. Managing the risk of contact, the labor of achieving good health, and the burden of disclosure all fall on their shoulders. And even though this work by HIV-positive people serves to reduce an HIV-negative person’s chances of getting the virus, it may do little to convince someone not to press charges after the fact if something goes awry. As activists have pointed out, talk of viral load sometimes never enters the court, since it’s beyond the understanding of many lawyers and often deemed inadmissible by judges who, like the laws themselves, are not up to date on the science.[15] Others, question whether it should be used at all, since medical access issues prevent many people from reaching an undetectable viral load, thus putting them at further risk for criminalization.[16]

In the face of all this, people scramble to furnish evidence of their disclosure. Some women freeze condoms to prove that protection was used; others bring potential partners to the doctor’s office or have them sign a form acknowledging that a conversation occurred. Still others screenshot text messages in which personal HIV information is shared. People must go to great lengths to appease out-of-touch lawmakers who make assumptions and regard them with mistrust. “Disclosure happens more than lawmakers and/or the general public would like to admit,” says Jones, “and it should be no surprise that disclosure happens more often in safe, empathetic and educated environments.”[17]

The extraordinary burden of living with HIV is often keenly felt when the opportunity arises for intimacy with someone new. Artist and writer Jordan Arseneault explored this in a 2012 work titled The New Equation, created for the public art campaign PosterVirus by AIDS ACTION NOW. Arseneault’s project riffs on the aforementioned “SILENCE = DEATH” poster, but with a new mutation: “SILENCE = SEX.” Arseneault created his poster, text, and performance to work though the pitfalls of making oneself visible as living with HIV and to probe the questions and feelings that come up when the possibility of sex is on the horizon:

It’s that awkward moment where you look up at the
On his cluttered bedroom wall
And say the words
Only to see him freeze, lose his boner, sigh,
And explain trippingly that he has an anxiety disorder
And “just can’t take it right now.”[18]

In the face of rejection after disclosure, Arseneault contemplates how, in the future, maybe silence could be an option. He takes the iconic poster and swaps out the old equation for his new one. But he doesn’t stop there. At the bottom of the original work, a set of lines questioned the lack of structural response to the crisis and encouraged lesbian and gay viewers to act, ending with: “Turn anger, fear, grief into action.” For his update, Arseneault writes: “The criminalization of HIV+ people perpetuates stigma and prevents preventions. HIV+ people are often caught in a ‘Catch 22,’ wherein disclosure is required by law but often leads to immediate rejection. Inform yourself: overcome stigma and get laid!”[19]

Because of the law and prevailing stigma, even in the face of treatment as prevention, intimate encounters are fraught. Arsenault’s poster highlights how, when the possibility of pleasure arises, people living with HIV are forced to decide between intimacy and the threat of Jones’s bright light bulb of visibility. With shunning, isolation, false accusations, and jail sentences as possible outcomes, is there space for nuance? How can sharing something about oneself move from obligation to mutual discovery? How can the person living with illness be situated in a place of care, protection, and consideration rather than one of suspicion?

Artist Camilo Godoy, who is HIV-negative, is also grappling with the inequality of criminalization. For the 2013 Visual AIDS exhibition Not Over, he collaborated with people living with HIV on a series of performances in which criminalization statutes and punishments were written in a book using blood containing HIV instead of ink.[20] That same year he made a print that reads, "HIV: no longer a death sentence, today it is a prison sentence.” The text appears on a piece of 8.5" x 11" newsprint and is hung using only two pins at the top, making it vulnerable. It flutters, shivers, and is always at risk of falling or being torn as people move through the space and building systems impact the flow of air. Art historian Kate Hallstead sees the work as a success for the clarity of its message and its connection to the world when on view: “It is obvious that HIV criminalization cannot be abstracted into anything but pure, simple discrimination. The piece pins the options of death and prison against each other in public.”[21]

In Arseneault’s and Godoy’s art, as with Jones’s postcard, the physical surface plays an important role, becoming a stand-in for some notion of neutral ground where facts about HIV disclosure and criminalization can be exchanged. The works trouble ideas of impartiality, highlighting the fraught nature of any discussion platform when inequality is present and exposing the fragility of reason and visibility when it comes to HIV.

The Demands of Being Undetectable yet Seen
In 1983, a group of people living with HIV came together at a health conference to draft and then release the Denver Principles, a document that called on news outlets to cease using the word “victim” and instead employ the phrase “People With AIDS.”[22] Decades later, a group of people living with HIV also came together, this time to create something less directed at the media and more aimed at educating each other and the public. In 2016, the Prevention Access Campaign published its Consensus Statement, an attempt to eliminate ignorance of what TaSP means for transmission. In the process, the slogan “U = U” was born, a meme-friendly way to convey that if someone is “undetectable,” then their virus is “untransmittable.”[23] Activists and advocates began to use it, and soon enough it caught on, resulting in everything from a Housing Works comic book series based on the idea to people posting it on social media as a status. Log into Scruff or Grindr and, along with barebacker, bear, and bottom, you’ll find someone self-identifying as undetectable. Check out enough Facebook profiles and you’ll come across someone whose avatar includes the U = U logo.

Even the CDC has been getting into the identity game. Since 2000 the agency has been running a campaign rooted in the message that TaSP and personal responsibility on the part of people with the virus can end the crisis. A 2014 set of ads features portraits of people living with HIV cut in half: On one side, under the label “DETECTABLE,” they’re black and white; on the other, under the label “UNDETECTABLE,” they’re in color. Beneath the picture on the color side is the person’s name and the year they were diagnosed. Bridging the halves is the campaign slogan, “HIV Stops With Me.”[24] The message is clear: Take on the individual work of ending the crisis by choosing to become undetectable, and your life will be more vibrant, your identity legible. Be detectable, and not only will you not end the crisis; your life will be drab, and your sense of self will be disconnected from who you are. Nowhere on the images is there mention of what the CDC itself calls “social determinants of health,” that is, the ways in which economic stability, education, community context, access to care, and the built environment impact a person’s health.

Since the Denver Principles, a lot of work has been done to encourage people to embrace their positive HIV status. And at first glance, this reclamation of a stigmatized body seems to be on view in the “HIV Stops With Me” campaign. The people in the posters are spokesmodels living with the virus, carrying on the tradition started by Bobbi Campbell of sharing a part of themselves with the hope of shaping the public’s attitude toward HIV. But what else is going on? Who is behind the camera? “HIV Stops With Me” traffics in self-representation yet is mediated by a state-funded PR agency that does not help promote a holistic or systemic understanding of the virus, putting the burden of the epidemic instead on the people who are already most affected by it. In this way, the optics of self-representation are being used as a form of self-incrimination.

In 2015, artist Kia LaBeija brought her voice to the undetectable conversation with a contribution to PosterVirus. In her work, multiple images of LaBeija as a sexy, 1950s-inspired siren with green hair fill the frame as the hashtag #undetectable fades in repetition. Voguing is central to LaBeija’s art—she is the mother for an iconic house in the ball scene—and with this poster she serves reclaimed jezebel and bombshell realness. The result is LaBeija as a familiar yet alien femme fatale, haloed by a ring of Day-Glo curls—a woman visible in her difference.

In the poster, LaBeija imbues the word undetectable with a lot of meaning, not only linking it to a status available for people living with HIV, but also using it to signal the ways in which black women go unseen except through tropes. Most subtly yet powerfully, the word refers to the history of when women were undetectable within the AIDS response. Not until 1993 did the CDC expand its definition of AIDS beyond men, a process started by Katrina Haslip (1952–1993), a black woman who was incarcerated at the time.[25] Before the change, women living with HIV could not get treatment or qualify for state support. Gran Fury made a poster that read, “Women Don’t Get AIDS. They Just Die from It.” LaBeija continues the conversation. Undetectable is a sharp piece of social navigation, at once an awareness poster and a means of highlighting history, as well as the ongoing impacts of erasure. What does undetectable mean for people who have already experienced being illegible, discarded, unnoticed, and underserved by society? What can laying claim to an identity, idea, or goal do when uncertainty or worse might be the only thing one can count on?

In thinking about her “HIV IS NOT A CRIME” postcard, Jones was well aware of the gulf between the message and reality. Her work is the bell hooks quote in practice: “The function of art is to do more than tell it like it is—it’s to imagine what is possible.”[26] Like LaBeija, she is using her self-image to generate conversation, while also drawing a connection between the criminalization of those with HIV and of black people. On Jones’s T-shirt, the V in HIV is replaced by a black silhouette seen from behind, with hands raised in a posture often accompanied by the chant, “Hands up, don’t shoot!” and made famous by activists protesting the police murder of Michael Brown (1996–2014) in Ferguson, Missouri. Jones echoes the stance in her own image: Her legs are grounded, with one hip popped out in defiance and her arms up, reaching beyond obstacles, past the threat of prison and over the limitations put on her body. The only difference between her and the silhouette is that Jones faces the viewer. As a black cis straight woman living with HIV in the southern United States, Jones invites the viewer to see her, consider her life, and understand that she will not be disappeared into systems of incarceration or turned into another faceless statistic. She will be seen on her own terms. The text she wrote for the back of the postcard reads: “I’m not armed or dangerous. I RESIST the unjust criminalization of people living with HIV who know their status and are proactively taking action to not transmit HIV to others!”[27]

Jones and LaBeija refuse to decry who they are or their status. This is in direct opposition to the intention of HIV criminalization, in which the state tells HIV-positive people to both announce and denounce their bodies. Whether through the promotion of undetectability or through laws that imprison, the state positions people living with HIV as the sole problem and puts the bulk of the burden of solving the crisis on them, rather than addressing the systemic and social determinants of health. Jones and LaBeija take on the specter of threat that surrounds them in a culture afraid, dismissive, hateful, and ignorant of black women living with HIV, and they turn it into strength. Jones claims her role as a powerhouse who will live to end HIV criminalization, and LaBeija dismisses any easy narrative of what it means to be undetectable. They use their visibility as a tactic to push back against the demands placed upon them.

Navigating Visibility in the Museum
In the earliest days of what would become an epidemic, there were people suffering, questions, and fear. There weren’t tests, treatment, or even a known cause (HIV was not identified until 1983). In the face of silence, the unknown, and a mix of apathy and discrimination, images and words about living with the illness started to be shared, serving as a way forward. This legendary activist response led the public and politicians to take the fate of people living with HIV/AIDS seriously. Personal visibility was marshaled to damn premature death. But being visible as someone living with the virus is no longer a strategic choice, as it was for a brief period. Instead, because of criminalization, announcing oneself as HIV-positive is now a state-enforced expectation. Activists and artists have always been at the forefront of navigating these shifts of being seen—from activist survival tactic to government demand—exploring them in explicit and nuanced ways.

In his book After Silence, Gran Fury and Silence = Death collective member Avram Finkelstein considers the impact of visual culture made in the face of death and despair. In talking about The Government Has Blood on Its Hands, a poster created by Gran Fury, he writes, “Posters such as this one, made during times of crisis, are a call to action. They are an advertisement for individual agency and have a completely different set of goals. Activism is not necessary culture production. A community in crisis is not art.” There is a danger, Finkelstein argues, of works made for activist purposes being understood primarily as art, thus missing the totality of their visual reach and impact. This type of reading, Finkelstein says,

strips them of their potential as gestures of resistance, deactivating an entire set of functions. That’s not to say their only meaning is political and they may never be explored as artifacts. I am saying that once the echo of the movement dissipates, all that remains is how we talk about this work, and any canon that elevates the “art of dissent” simultaneously domesticates it by privileging its contribution as cultural production over the critiques that generated it.[28]

What he’s talking about here is how, as illness became epidemic, activists claimed materials and public space and deployed them to expose the storm hanging overhead. Visibility was less of an option and more of an imperative, a shedding of powerlessness using whatever means were available. Decades later, however, WAVE’s videos, General Idea’s images, and the posters by Campbell and the Silence = Death collective have ended up circulating in the art world, through exhibitions, scholarship, and even this essay. This poses a danger to the works—the possibility of erasing the social conditions under which they were made. If these objects are visible only in an art context, they run the risk of becoming related more to ideas of collection, obsession, and nostalgia than to fear, emergency, and death. What does it mean for such objects to be seen, but to have the urgent circumstances of their creation become undetectable?

Art-only visibility also impacts how we read the work that follows in a similar vein. If our understanding of “SILENCE = DEATH” comes primarily from a museum or gallery, we may miss the impetus of Jones’s work and the way her choices about representation and disclosure represent a tactical shift. Seeing the poster and postcard in connection with each other reminds us that neither was created for the museum, nor for passive engagement. They are rebel yells made to echo in public, addressing life and death, intimacy and desire. While they may be viewed on white walls or pages, it is not necessarily there that their visibility is best understood. Jones’s postcard, like the “SILENCE = DEATH” poster, is a gesture of pushback, as well as an invitation. It is not an artwork to be collected or contained. She wants it addressed, stamped, and activated. She has already spent so much of herself in making it. The least we can pay for her visibility is our action.

The text is part of an artwork, A Structural Crisis in an Emotional Landscape, by Kenneth Pietrobono, in which its author, Theodore Kerr, agreed, for compensation, to refrain from using the following words: capital/capitalist/capitalism, Fascist/Fascism, neoliberal/neoliberalism, populist/populism, political/politician/politics, divide/division/divisive, establishment, global/globalizing/globalization, nation/national/nationalism, government, conservative/conservatism, liberal/liberalism, party/partisan/partisanship, country/countries, Right, Left/leftist, progressive, -phobic, Republican/republic, Democrat/democratic/democracy, America/American, colonial/colonialism, corporate/corporation/corporatism, racist, elite/elitism, sexist, resist/resistance. At the discretion of the author, the quotes of others were unaffected.


1 Shyronn Jones, email to author, February 14, 2018.

2 To read more about the intersection of identity and HIV criminalization, see the forum edited by Ryan Conrad that brings together text and images to further explore the issue in the present. Included is a letter by Michael Johnson, who was initially sentenced to thirty-plus years on HIV criminalization felony charges in Missouri and now, due to advocacy and a plea deal, will be out in 2019. Ryan Conrad, ed., “HIV Criminalization Forum,” QED: A Journal in GLBTQ Worldmaking 3, no. 3 (Fall 2016): 174–200, https://www.academia.edu/31266635/HIV_Criminalization_Forum.

3 For a detailed list of different states’ related laws, see the Center for HIV Law and Policy’s “Chart: State-by-State Criminal Laws Used to Prosecute People with HIV,” August 2017, https://www.hivlawandpolicy.org/resources/chart-state-state-criminal-laws-used-prosecute-people-hiv-center-hiv-law-and-policy-2012.

4 The Sero Project was founded in 2011 with the goal of building a broad network of activists living with HIV and their allies to end HIV criminalization. One of the group’s largest undertakings is the biennial HIV Is Not a Crime conference and training academy. Along with the Georgia Coalition, other organizations doing work on this issue on the state and federal levels include (but are not limited to) the Center for HIV Law and Policy, Positive Women’s Network USA, Empower Missouri, and Texans Living with HIV.

5 See Making Media Work for HIV Justice: An Introduction to Media Engagement for Advocates Opposing HIV Criminalization, HIV Justice Worldwide, accessed May 16, 2018, https://drive.google.com/file/d/1nBPqa90C5DQjKSpwE-cp9nU5qEDxyXRJ/view.

6 While stigma and discrimination seem to make it impossible to abolish HIV criminalization laws altogether, modernization is a tactic by which some activists work with politicians to update existing laws to better reflect scientific and medical advances. In 2016, Colorado passed a law that repealed two HIV criminalization statutes and reformed another, while also updating language about HIV and other sexually transmitted infections. The passage of the bill was achieved through the collaboration of activists living with and impacted by HIV with a state representative and his office. Since then, similar modernization efforts have been introduced in Florida and California, with the latter’s assembly passing a bill in September 2017 that, if made into law, will reduce HIV criminalization from a felony to a misdemeanor.

7 Many have suggested that the introduction of the Ryan White CARE Act in 1990 intensified the call for criminalization, but sociologist Trevor Hoppe argues that this logic is overplayed, since so many legislatures were already drafting and considering such bills. Kenyon Farrow, “What’s the Future of HIV Criminalization Activism? An Interview with Trevor Hoppe,” The Body, December 12, 2017, http://www.thebody.com/content/80680/whats-the-future-of-hiv-criminalization-activism-a.html.

8 In his book Victory Deferred: How AIDS Changed Gay Life in America, John-Manuel Andriote suggests that Campbell’s was the first AIDS awareness poster. In 1982, the San Francisco–based Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence put out a brochure called Play Fair, which addressed growing concerns about “unusual incidents” of illness within the community. A year later, Richard Berkowitz and Michael Callen, with the help of Dr. Joseph Sonnabend, published How to Have Sex in an Epidemic: One Approach, a brochure that suggested condom use and other methods to reduce the transmission of what would come to be known as HIV.

9 The Silence = Death collective members were Avram Finkelstein, Brian Howard, Oliver Johnston (1952–1990), Charles Kreloff, Chris Lione, and Jorge Socarrás. For more on Silence = Death, see Finkelstein’s After Silence: A History of AIDS through Its Images (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2017), 27–57.

10 A more in-depth account of WAVE and its activities can be found in Alexandra Juhasz’s AIDS TV: Identity, Community, and Alternative Video (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995), which discusses how the group grew out of her PhD dissertation work. WAVE participants included Marcia Edwards, Alexandra Juhasz, Aida Matta, Juanita Mohammed, Sharon Penceal, Glenda Smith, Carmen Velasquez.

11 AA Bronson, email to author, February 19, 2018.

12 Shyronn Jones, email to author, February 13, 2018.

13 According to UNAIDS, 47 percent of people living with HIV were not receiving antiretroviral treatment in 2016. “Fact sheet - Latest statistics on the status of the AIDS epidemic,” UNAIDS, accessed May 16, 2018, http://www.unaids.org/en/resources/fact-sheet.

14 The CDC states that “PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) means taking antiretroviral medicines (ART) after being potentially exposed to HIV to prevent becoming infected. PEP should be used only in emergency situations and must be started within 72 hours after a recent possible exposure to HIV.” See “HIV Basics: PEP,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed May 16, 2018, https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/pep.html. In 2012, the CDC approved Truvada for “daily use as PrEP to help prevent an HIV-negative person from getting HIV from a sexual or injection-drug-using partner who’s positive.” See “HIV Basics: PrEP,” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accessed May 16, 2018, https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/prep.html.

15 JD Davids, “Undetectable Viral Load and HIV Prevention: What Do Gay and Bi Men Need to Know?” The Body, October 10, 2017, http://www.thebody.com/content/78721/undetectable-viral-load-and-hiv-prevention-what-do.html.

16 See “What is the Consensus Statement on HIV Treatment as Prevention in Criminal Law Reform?” The Consensus Statement on HIV “Treatment as Prevention” in Criminal Law Reform, accessed May 16, 2018, https://www.hivtaspcrimlaw.org/.

17 Shyronn Jones, “Georgia’s Fight to Modernize HIV Criminalization Laws,” Positive Women’s Network, March 29, 2017, https://www.pwn-usa.org/georgias-fight-to-modernize-hiv-criminalization-laws/.

18 Jordan Arseneault, The New Equation, PosterVirus, November 18, 2012, http://postervirus.tumblr.com/post/35974194219/silence-sex-the-new-equation-by-jordan.

19 Arseneault, The New Equation.

20 Not Over: 25 Years of Visual AIDS, curated by Kris Nuzzi and Sur Rodney (Sur) for Visual AIDS, at La MaMa La Galleria, June 1–30, 2013.

21 Kate Hallstead, email to author, February 12, 2018.

22 “The Denver Principles,” ACT UP New York, 1983, http://www.actupny.org/documents/Denver.html.

23 “Consensus Statement,” Prevention Access Campaign, issued July 21, 2016, updated January 28, 2018, https://www.preventionaccess.org/consensus.

24 For an in-depth read of the “HIV Stops With Me” campaign, see chapter two in Trevor Hoppe, Punishing Disease: HIV and the Criminalization of Sickness (Oakland, CA: University of California Press, 2017).

25 Two helpful resources offering more information on the role of women in AIDS activism are “Women of ACT UP NY History,” panel at the New York Public Library, April 1, 2014, video,  posted by John Riley, 1:48:32, April 19, 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SLNrFy982vQ; and Nothing Without Us: The Women Who Will End AIDS, directed by Harriet Hirshorn (2017), http://womanatthereel.com/the-film/.

26 bell hooks, Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representations, (New York: Routledge, 1994), 281.

27 Shyronn Jones, postcard for #HIVIsNotACrime Georgia Postcard Project, 2017, Georgia HIV Justice Coalition.

28 Finkelstein, After Silence, 136.

Go back

Issue 42



by Theodore (ted) Kerr

by Abdul-Aliy A. Muhammad and Louie Ortiz-Fonseca

by Sheldon Raymore

by Michael McFadden

by Rahne Alexander

by Adam Barbu and John Paul Ricco

by David Kahn and Brooklyn Historical Society

by Dudu Quintanilha

Artist Kelvin Atmadibrata in Conversation with Oral Historian Benji de la Piedra

by Emily Bass and Yvette Raphael

by the People with AIDS advisory committee

A Conversation Between Szymon Adamczak, Luiza Kempińska, and Hubert Zięba

by Demian DinéYazhi' and R.I.S.E.

An Exchange to Expand on the PrEP Manifesto between Carlos Motta and John Arthur Peetz

A Conversation Between Mavi Veloso and Nicholas D’Avella

A Conversation Between Jean Carlomusto, Alexandra Juhasz, and Hugh Ryan

by Nelson Santos

by Tacoma Action Collective

by Vladimir Čajkovac

Cecilia Chung, Olivia Ford, Deon Haywood, Naina Khanna, Suraj Madoori, Charles Stephens