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It's been 383 days since I first addressed HIV-criminalization through telling my personal story in public. And personal it was!


Looking back, I can easily see how I been trying to transform my personal experience with the law into a general advocacy against HIV-criminalization. Only partly successful, I would say. Because despite my efforts, the "international HIV-decriminalization movement" seems to need me more as a "poster boy" than a political advocate. And maybe they're right? After all, there are a lot more skilled HIV advocates than there are people living with HIV who wants to share their meeting with the law.


Back then, I decided to tell my story because I believed there would be a lot of others out there with similar experiences or at least living in terror of ending up with one. By sharing I thought I would put a missing face to the pressure a lot of people living with HIV probably must feel. I was not entirely wrong. Even though I also encountered people living with HIV who was less grateful. Some feels that me going public made their sexual life more difficult. Before they red my story, they had no idea how vulnerable they are in front of the law. Now that they know, they do feel fear and this has inflicted negatively on their sexual life.


There is a time for fighting and a time for reflecting.

I don't even know how to explain what amount of energy it takes to prepare yourself mentally for an upcoming trial. I only know a few people in this world who share that experience with me. Having my case postponed, no matter what reasons, made me realize a few things.


Getting ready to finally defend myself in court, was like blowing air into a balloon. Loosing that opportunity in front of my nose, having it postponed, was like putting a needle to it. Afterward I felt like one of those used condoms on the sidewalk. Someone obviously had a good time with it, but no one cared to pick it up.


I mistakenly thought that being prosecuted at least meant I had the prosecutors attention. So was not the case I experienced one week before the trial was about to start.

I should probably not patronize the opponent in my own trial and for what I now this might be common, but there is a point to it. At least from my perspective as prosecuted in a highly disputable case like mine.


Reading the Norwegian governmental appointed law-commission's recommendation, this October, on how to continue to to criminalize people with HIV more or less the same way as we do today, called for a long period of reflection.


Their arguments dismisses recommendations from organizations like UNAIDS and WHO on decriminalizing risk of transmission, based on poor empirical and evidence based material. At the same time they argue in favor of their own recommendation that it's in compliance to peoples general feeling of justice and that using general laws instead of specific ones would make it to hard to convict HIV "criminals", due to the stricter rules of evidence.


This confirms an already existing suspicion of mine. The battle is as much a fight about a cultural way of thinking, as it is about empirical and evidence based research. Unfortunately this makes me less optimistic. I believe it to be more difficult to change politics based on cultural conservatism, than politics purely based on the best science and experience available at the time.


Getting crazy ideas?

Putting it all together, sometimes gives me a "crazy" idea. If my experiences and conclusions are even remotely correct? That is; being a person living with HIV risking to be subjected to a criminal law, either your saliva is considered a weapon of terror (USA) or conducting "safer sex" recommended to you by public services (Norway, Austria). You have to accept that the legal system lives a life of its own, sometimes difficult to predict and understand. Sometimes not even logical to the average man and woman. Therefor you are definitely best of avoiding it.


The obvious answer to that advice, is of course to act accordingly to the criminal laws. But for people living with HIV, that's easier said than done. I believe there are enough examples by now, to prove that the legal systems in several countries, are quite unreliable when it comes to HIV. So, why don't we educate people with HIV to prepare themselves to avoid any unnecessary encounter with it. By suggesting that, I am not defending intentional transmission of the virus. I am merely stating that the recommendations from both leading organizations and scientific communities are yet to be incorporated in some of your legal systems, and that we should not be paying the prize for that.


With my knowledge and experience today, I don't believe I will ever find myself in the same situation again. Not because I'll promise to never let anyone suck my dick without a condom (I will of course patiently wait until the Norwegian parliament adopts the newly recommended law and then bring my Saturday night date down to the emergency, to get the demanded healthcare approval that my date is sane and aware of the risk. First then let him go down on me). But because I simply would have known that giving a statement to the police, at all, gave the prosecutor the one sentence they needed to indict me. Instead I should probably have used my legal rights to not give a statement, leaving it to the police and prosecutor to prove my "criminal" actions. I think they would had a hard time finding a witness in that bedroom?


It's necessary to fight politically to change obstacles that's making it harder to live with HIV. Even if it takes a lot of time. But imagine what a great present it could be to people with HIV, if those of us with the experience and knowledge would care to share it in public. Giving both general and specific advices about what to do and not to do to avoid any unnecessary contact with criminal laws. And if you are unfortunate enough to be subjected to any of those laws in your own country, have a place to seek out first hand experiences and advices. Maybe that have would provided some kind of consolation and security, while we all are waiting for our respective countries to reach the inevitable conclusion. HIV-criminalization is not helping anyone in the end.


Merry Christmas & Happy New Year

Trial postponed

Six days before my trial was about to begin the 15th of October 2012, it became clear that it had to be postponed.

The complainant and the prosecution's main witness has previously withdrawn the prosecution request and wished for the case to be closed. This is not possible with the the penal code that is used in this case and the indictment against me have been maintained.

The complainant has decided to leave the country for a longer period of time waiting for the trial negotiations to finish in court.

Both the defense counsel, the prosecutor and the court agreed that the case can not be processed without the complainant present, in person, for his immediate explanation is necessary for a proper clarification of the case.

There is now a medical report from a court-appointed independent expert. It is again confirmed that the complainant's infection did not originate from me. After specific questions from my defender it is otherwise determined by the expert that I, in practice, could not have exposed an already HIV-infected person for risk of infection, - so even within the strict legal framework of applicable Norwegian laws, my defender is now having a hard time finding my "crime".

A new trial has been scheduled for February 2013.

After AIDS 2012 in Washington

When I started to go public 10 months ago, I had no idea how many times I would tell my personal story as one living with HIV and experiencing being criminalized.

I do understand the symbolic value of someone coming forward with a story like mine, in the fight against HIV-criminalization and stigma. At the same time my HIV-activism has evolved.

Personally I have looked forward to defend myself against the indictment and the prosecutor in court this week. There is not much more to be said about this case, that's not already out there in the public. Only thru being "granted" access to a trial, can I really put the Norwegian "HIV-law" to a test.

In the meantime my primary goal have been to address the public and the politicians about the latest knowledge (from AIDS 2012) on the positive effect of decriminalizing HIV and how to bring down the infection rates, by implementing a more easy accessible HIV-test system to increase the test rates. And how the two of them are connected to each other. Also together with a group of very skilled people living with HIV, to put up the first Norwegian organization since 1999, run by people living with HIV (http://louisgay72.blogspot.no/2012/07/the-new-norwegian-patient-network.html).

At this point, Norway has granted it's first "minute" HIV-test earlier this autumn and plans are made to actively work to raise the test rates within the high risk groups of HIV-infections.

At the same time some of our more prominent HIV-specialized doctors remains skeptical to an early medical treatment as a way to lower the infection rates (http://www.dagensmedisin.no/nyheter/norske-leger-sier-nei-til-tidlig-hiv-medisinering--/).

Some of the arguments against such "test and treat" approach are; costs for the society, prioritizing the lack of medication in underdeveloped countries and increased problems with resistant virus.

Friday 19th of October 2012, the Norwegian Commission Report (the Syse-committee) on the "HIV-law" will be published here: http://www.regjeringen.no/mobil/nb/dep/hod/dok/nouer.html?id=1908. There should be an English summary published with it, as far as I been told.

This Commission Report will be the foundation of the continuing discussion on HIV-criminalization in Norway and other countries. Until the politicians in the Parliament finally makes a decision about to what extent the sexuality of people living with HIV should continue to be criminalized.

Happy week

Louis Gay
Norway

I am invited to AIDS 2012 in Washington DC this summer by the American organisation SERO http://www.seroproject.com and the international HIV Justice Network http://vimeo.com/hivjustice.


I will participate in debates and workshops surrounding HIV and media and HIV criminalisation. Before I arrive I need to clarify a few things.


While a lot of the HIV-criminalisation discussion in the U.S. is about disclosure, this is not the case in Norway.


The law here does not require HIV-positive people to disclose. Even though the court has stated that people with HIV should disclose their status prior to sex, it doesn't give you any protection against prosecution and the question of guilt in a trial. The question of guilt is only connected to whether you have (knowing or neglecting the probability of being HIV positive) put someone at risk of infection or actually infected them.


All in all there is a lot of misunderstandings and confusion around this in Norway. Even the organisations and politicians are sometimes making the wrong assumptions about this. The consequences are bad for every one. A lot of HIV-negative people believe that those with HIV are legally obligated to disclose and therefore feel protected, while people with HIV are told that they are not obligated to disclose their status, making the others upset and sometimes angry if they find out.


In my case my indictment is not about nondisclosure. This has nothing to do with the question of whether I'm guilty or not. It will on the other hand be an issue if I am convicted in relation to how they will sentence me.


The law in Norway puts all responsibility on the one with HIV. My case is a very good example of the Norwegian and Nordic way of thinking. The law is to protect the society from communicable diseases, like HIV. Even if we want to (and I tried once with my former HIV negative partner) a person can not legally free anyone with HIV from the threats of prosecution by the state, even if they wanted to by signing papers/contracts etc. So disclosing gives us no protection from the law.


The prosecutor in my case found it irrelevant to this indictment that the complainant had HIV prior to the sex we had. The law opens to prosecute any HIV-positive conducting in sex which they find to be a risk of infection. Whether that is another HIV-positive or it was consensual sex with disclosure has nothing to do with the law. Because the law is there to protect the society not the individual.


The complainant in my case is not my enemy. He wanted to withdraw his charge already in October last year (in writing and given to the police). In my country you can not withdraw your charges in HIV cases if you once pushed that button. Because as a complainant you are just a witness to the state of Norway (represented by the prosecutor) which is my opponent in the upcoming trial.


This is part of why Norway and some of the Nordic countries are ranked among the worst in the world (by UNAIDS) when it comes to criminalizing HIV-positive people?


Watch the newly published interview Sean Strub and SERO did with me during the UNAIDS conference in Oslo, February 2012: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NK1C4zpdHiY


Regards,

Louis Gay

louisgay72.blogspot.com

Norway

9th of March 2012, the prosecuting authorities' in Norway announced that they will prosecute me. (The indictment and comments from me and my attorney can be read at: http://louisgay72.blogspot.com/2012/03/indictment-decision-by-state-attorney.html).


I chose to go public before any final decision was made from the State attorney office, with the chance of provoking them to prosecute me because they don't want to risk being criticized by media of giving in to pressure (edited 30.3.12 and my subjective opinion).


This is fine with me. Like I've stated before I want to have my case tried before a court.


Anyway! Now we all have to wait until the trial before we get any further answers about my case. In the meantime the discussion whether we should have a law like this (and using it like in my case) is protecting the society from more infections or just making it worse, continues.


Personally I had the pleasure of being enlightened by a certain professor from The University of London over dinner the other day. He asked me if I had ever thought of the following dilemmas:


Do the defenders of the law like it is today also believe that we should prosecute and convict parents that voluntarily decide not to vaccinate their children against; let's say Polio (this is voluntarily in Norway)? Those parents are in fact taking away their children's option to protect them selves against an infection with life term consequences. Just like the arguments used to defend why people with HIV should be prosecuted and convicted because they either fails to disclose their status (which they argue involuntarily put people at risk of an infection) or actually put others at risk of HIV, which also are an infection with life term consequences provided you have access to medical treatment?


Do the same defenders believe that all countries should have the same laws to protect themselves against HIV and by that (if they believe all people are equal in God's eyes?) wilfully risk putting millions of Africans in jail? This would eventually be the outcome in Africa, where big parts of the population are infected with HIV.


Do they believe everyone should equally answer to the same law? In Norway it's become publicly known that medicated HIV-positive parents under guidance of their doctors can conceive children the "natural" way (which I'm very much in favour of). This is of course a violation of the penal code 155, but none of these has ever been prosecuted.


If the answer to the last question is yes, it'll probably mean that I have to press charges against the complainant in my own case. Because of the conclusions in the police investigation the complainant has probably put me at risk of re-infection (which is criminal by the law) and probably given a false statement to the police. What a great system!


God bless the freedom of speech and have a nice week.


Louis Gay

Blogger and HIV-positive

Norway

My own country, Norway, has been ranked by UNAIDS to be among the five worst U.N. countries to prosecute and put HIV-positive people behind bars.

When I first became diagnosed with HIV in 2010, it wasn't the end of the world to me. I was 38 years old back then and for 20 of them I had to relate to HIV in one way or another? I was only 19 the first time I heard that a previous partner of mine had developed AIDS. I puked of anxiety that day.

Later there has been a lot of stories like that. I've been lucky I guess? But of course it has forced me to relate to the obvious truth; this might very well happen to me some day. And so it did. Don't misunderstand. I'm not happy I got HIV, I'm just happy that when I did it was in 2010 because of all the knowledge we have today.

What I didn't know was how people with HIV could be prosecuted and convicted despite all that knowledge and new medication. Despite that adults agree to a sexual relationship with an HIV-positive. Despite that there's no transmission of the virus.

In my case I was terrified the first time I experienced someone actually threatening me with the police if I didn't do as I was told. The second time something like that happened I put up a fight and was reported to the police of breaking the penal code 155 which goes like this:

"He who with reasonable grounds to believe he is infected with a serious communicable disease, willfully or negligently infects or expose another to a risk of being infected, shall be punished with imprisonment up to 6 years in cases of willful violation and imprisonment for up to 3 years at negligent violation." (My translation)

I had no idea what I had coming. Friends turning their backs at me and my family were divided. And most important of all! I had a complete psychological breakdown that required help from professionals to conquer. (I haven't really ever recovered completely).

But after months of therapy and support from a small group of loyal friends, I was finally ready to make the biggest choice of my life. To fight back at what I could only see as a complete unreasonable system, made to protect the society from more infections, based on a great misunderstanding: That prosecuting people with HIV actually will keep the numbers of new infections down? Or to live the rest of my life knowing that anybody at anytime can take away my dignity and human right to a sexual life. Get real!

I'm not really against the society's right to prosecute and convict those very few individuals who willfully transmits HIV to a lot of others without getting any kind of consent. But it has to be proven without any reasonable doubt. Not like in many cases today where you are literally screwed in the justice system just because you have HIV.

I decided to go public with my story November 2011. A few months later I've been published in the biggest newspaper in Norway, been on the Norwegian Broadcasting corp. (both TV and radio) twice, given interviews to magazines, started my private blog (louisgay72.blogspot.com) and held public speeches several times, about this topic. So what's happened so far? Not much. Thought I would get a lot of shit thrown at me, but that hasn't happened? On the contrary, most people support me and say nice things to me? All which make me slowly believe that maybe (just maybe?) the general population are willing to listen to common sense after all?

If the politicians start to believe that they won't lose their voters even if they try to decriminalizing HIV. Things might go our way after all? I'm sure it's going to be a while yet before we get there, but I'm slightly optimistic, at least in Norway.

So these days, while I'm waiting for the State attorney office to decide whether they will prosecute me or not, I'm aiming even more for the general public and the politicians nationally and internationally. It's too late to have any regrets for me. It's either my way or the HIGHWAY.

Regards,
Louis Gay
HIV-positive
Norway


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