Subscribe to:
POZ magazine
Join POZ: Facebook MySpace Twitter Pinterest
Tumblr Google+ Flickr Instagram
POZ Personals
Sign In / Join

I'm A Survivor!

I am not a criminal. I am not a sex offender. I'm a survivor!

I am among people who have been victims of HIV criminalization, either prosecuted or threatened with prosecution for non-disclosure of our HIV status before intimate contact with another person. Several of us are either presently awaiting trial or sentencing, in the process of appealing our convictions or waiting to learn whether or not charges filed will be carried through to prosecution.

Some of us were convicted and did not have to serve time, others of us have served years in prison or jail, are subject to sex offender registration and other restrictions. Some of us are gay, a number are not. Some of us have become spokespeople or advocates and talked to the media or policy leaders; others of us have not wanted to or have not been able or ready to do that.

Each situation is different, of course, but one thing we all share is the profoundly stigmatizing effect of HIV criminalization and the harm it has done to our families, our futures and us.

As an HIV-positive black gay man who was prosecuted under Louisiana's HIV criminalization statute, I served six months in prison in that state and am now a convicted felon and registered sex offender, which was a requirement of my conviction -- so I couldn't return to my old job. I needed a whole new life plan.

Prior to my arrest and conviction, I had a promising career working in the Louisiana state appellate court system. A criminal conviction was certainly not what I expected in my future when I tested positive for HIV ten years ago while enlisting in the U.S. military upon graduating from college.

A few days after my release, I found veteran AIDS activist and author Sean Strub's POZ blog about HIV criminalization and contacted him, offering to volunteer in support of advocacy to help change these statutes.

I testify that it was out of pure misery that activism became my ministry to do anti-criminalization advocacy work, through the SERO Project, a network of people living with HIV and allies fighting for freedom from HIV stigma and injustice.

Over the last several years, the goal has been to put people who have faced or are presently facing HIV criminalization in touch with each other, to provide support, share resources and find comfort in the knowledge that, as singular and lonely as our experience has been, there are others who have at least some understanding of it from a similarly personal perspective.

We are, through the SERO Project, always working hard, to create a shared advocacy agenda that will give criminalization "survivors," SERO Survivors, the chance to speak with the strength of a unified voice that: We are not criminals. We are not sex offenders. We are survivors!


Show Comment(s)

Comments on Robert Suttle's blog entry "I'm A Survivor!"

Great article Robert and congratulations on becoming a blogger at POZ.

Incredible man, had the privilege of hearing him speak in Atlanta almost a year ago on this topic. It is incredible, that with all the mainstream issues we choose to address on a collective front(via organizations that use poll numbers to dictate there agenda), that as a LGBT community we allow this to still happen.

Thanks Robert, for being a public face on a topic many people aren't even aware is still there and only contributing to the Stigma many members of our community and the world at large must face daily.

Robert, I am always amazed at your strength to share something so personal to help the greater good. Thank you so much for being a leader in the fight for justice, fairness, and the rights of plwha.

Robert for your first blog I believe that you have given us a great introduction of yourself. That way we know who you are and where you are coming from. Please keep the good work up and I will be following your blog.

Nice article. As a 28 year HIV+ man, I favor disclosure at all cost and early. However, I abhor the idea of criminalization for non-disclosure. That assumes everyone who fails to ask is a victim, which is not the case. Thanks for opening up the conversation. I look forward to your blog and becoming more enlightened on the topic.

Welcome home and it is a shame that you and any others had to suffer such a travesty.

There are pros & cons to all issues that the HIV+ human family must deal with--including the sometimes vague statutes, county codes, and municipal ordinances that may criminalize non-disclosure.

I am an advocate for disclosure,as,I do not want to give anyone the "gift" that I could still be giving if I had not went for testing 13 years ago.

Scientific fact & human decency do not always guide the laws of these United States of America. This is the reason that legal, scientific, & moral warriors are always needed.

Hello Robert, Having Lived With HIV/AIDS Since 1995 Myself, And Having Worked In The Areas Of Advocacy, Education & Prevention, Outreach Prevention Specialist And Last But Not Least As A Non-Medical Case Manager(I Still Find It Difficult To Understand Why A Person Would Not Be Willing To Share Their Status As Oppose To Willingly And Selfishly Passing This Illness On To Another Person).

I Feel That When We Choose Not Share Our Status Before Sexual Relations With Another Person That We Are Being Very Selfish. And We Cause And Do Harm To Others, Ourselves, Families And Our Futures Through Our Silence About Our Status. So My Question Now Becomes: What Gives Me Or Anyone Else The Right And Entitlement To Pass This Illness On To Another Human Being Because I Choose Not To Share My Status With Them In Order For Me To Fulfill A Selfish Sexual Desire? Please Help Me To Understand That.

Is The Price That I Place On Another Life By Not Sharing My Status Just As Cruel As Society Going After Individuals Who Knowingly, Don't Share Their Status?

Thank You

I do not have HIV, but I would be torn on this issue. I don't have enough details on your situation, but I will say this. Making the decision not to disclose is one thing if you're taking all precautions not to transmit it to someone else. However, if you intentionally transmitted this virus to others because of what happened to you, you're evil, point blank. It all lies not on your actions, but your intent. It sounds like you started advocating to counteract your felony, and that is selfish.
Please allow me to reiderate I don't know the scenerio in your personal case. I'm sure it was pretty bad if you did jail time and ended up with a felony. You say you're not a criminal or a sex offender. How do you come to that conclusion?

I read your story and was just struck by your conviction and in the state of Louisiana. I once lived there and I sensed that prosecuting and jailing African Americans was high on their list of priorities. Many convictions would allow them to strip away rights of individuals for life.

Thanks for sharing your story.

Hi Robert, I remember your situation, as I am from Shreveport and was mortified that something like that could have happened to you. Knowing your story saved me the same possible fate. Until then it never occurred to me that the ending of a relationship would lead to such vindictive and deceitful behavior to the point of lieing about prior knowledge of a partner's status.I now video record my partner and I discussing my status before intimacy takes place.I hope you continue to touch lives in a positive manner.

You are strong! Proud of your advocacy. Keep the fire burning!

To the people who have commented that Robert has "knowingly done something to hurt someone else" and people who don't disclose are 'evil' can I just say that until you find yourself in a situation where you do something that you may regret doing, you cannot judge. It's all very well getting sanctimonious about how others behave but I think there are very few people who are sociopathic enough to 'deliberately' go out and infect others. Conversely, there seem to be an astounding number of gay men who deliberately go out trying to get infected. The only thing I can say about criminalisation of someone not disclosing is that I wouldn't want or expect someone I had consensual sex with to go to prison because I didn't choose to insist on a condom. I'm not blaming whoever gave me the virus - I should have taken care of my own body/health. I now understand why someone would lie about their status as it's not great to be rejected. It is MUCH easier to deal with it at the first point of contact but it took me a while to learn that lesson. Also, if one is undetectable & doesn't disclose, should one be locked up for that? This law makes people NOT want to know their status as bizarrely, if you haven't been tested and don't know your status then you won't be held accountable for passing it on! Good people make mistakes, and unfortunately so many gay men have appallingly low self-esteem thanks to the culture of shame that we're brought up in. It's no wonder when we behave in less than loving ways to each other. If someone forces you to have sex without protection then that's rape and that's a punishable offence already - though isn't it interesting how many straight men seem to get away with rape and yet a gay man not disclosing in consensual sex seems to be considered a far more heinous crime than men raping women. Makes you think doesn't it?

When I first tested positive for HIV, I have to deal with a lot of stress in regards to disclosure. My landlord basically kicked me out saying that I could have infected him with the desease (dont ask how, or why did I have to tell him) I just needed to talk to someone and chose the wrong person.

My exwife threaten me that I could not get in touch with my daughter and if I do, She would tell my parents and my family about my status.

I was with someone, and I told my status inmediately. Unfortunately I was not in love and I wanted to end up the relationship. I had to go through one of the most humilating time of my life, threats, blackmailing and almost forced to be in a relationship that I did not want only to avoid that this person tell everyone I was positive.
The lesson I learned is that all it takes is a pissed off partner to make your life miserable and once you tell you loose control of the information. My recommendation is only tell whom you need to tell.

I have continued to disclose but it has never, ever been an easy thing to do, although it can work against you, it also give a lot of peace of

As I approach my 60th year,we come a long way,i remember in the early 80's,when people thought we all should be put in concentration camps, a certain T.V. evangelist suggested that,people lost jobs,apartments,family,some people thought gay people literaly spread it in the air,Now in the year 2014,gay men are using the conservative court system in the bible belt against other gay men,as a I struggle with h.i.v,i would tell every young gay male,view every potiental partner as h.i.v,when you are not in a monogamous relationship ,you are at wrisk,in this grinder,internet world,sex is a key tap away,how do we know if one specific person expose another person,come on men we are better than that,we are going to see a selg driving car,in this cyber information world ,we know what to do to protect ourselves ,I have live through the civil right movement,hoping I would not get drafted and sent to Vietnam,like all of poor men in thesixties of all races,gay phobia of the early 80's,seeing so many good friends that didn't get a chance at life saving medications I use,die at a young age,gays in the military ,entertainment industry,NBA and NFL,can come out as openly gay,its bad enough as a gbm,race is still an issue,but lets not turn on each other, I wonder what the act up activist would think about this,Harvey Milk,don't make the mistake like a lot of my black brothers,civil rights and gay rights are still a uphill battle,lets register and vote in these important elections coming up/

I was reqding your story in some of what you where saying mad sense, I would like to say thank u for standing up for us in the HIV&AIDS'S world. When I was infected almost 9years ago I was thinking all kinds of stuff vrom killing myself to taking a overdose my friend showed me something in the bible. (In it said that all things are possible if u believe in christ jesus) It gave the power to tell my family about my situation in what my exboifriend gave me. They was hurt in mad in ready to fight but I told them yo let me handle it on my own. Or when you tell that person that act all stand offish like can I get by holding they hand or by youbkissing them, I tell no about the holding hands part in the kissing thing yes only if they don't have a cut or a coldsore .

I am glad Robert has the boldness and strength to be a leader in this mission of educating and eradicating old outdated and misguided hiv criminalizational laws.

I support his and the SERO Project's efforts in doing all that they can to bring this to the front lines of humanity.

Leave a comment



Blog Roll

Subscribe to Blog

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Robert Suttle published on March 18, 2014 1:36 PM.

National HIV is Not a Crime Conference is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Robert on Twitter


The opinions expressed by the bloggers and by people providing comments are theirs alone. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Smart + Strong and/or its employees.

Smart + Strong is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information contained in the blogs or within any comments posted to the blogs.

© 2016 Smart + Strong. All Rights Reserved. Terms of use and Your privacy