Sero Screenings and Community Events
|SVA Theatre on West 23rd Street NYC March 7, 2013|
In recent months, Sero has hosted or participated in community events in Alabama, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, Washington, and Washington, DC. The image above was from a joint screening of Sero's short film HIV is Not a Crime with the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Networks feature documentary Positive Women: Exposing Injustice.
Watch our website for other upcoming events or contact us
if you are interested in having a screening or community forum in your community.
H.R. 1843 Now Introduced!
Now that U.S. Representatives Barbara Lee (D-Calif., right) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla., below) have reintroduced the Repeal HIV Discrimination Act in Congress, it's time to rally our networks to raise awareness about the bill.
H.R. 1843 would direct the U.S. Department of Justice to work with the states to encourage them to review their HIV-related statutes to make sure they conform with current science and good public health practice. It is the only federal legislation currently pending that would address HIV criminalization.
Here's a toolkit with more facts about the bill and what you can do.
HIV Criminalization History
Journalist Todd Heywood exposes the misguided origins of HIV criminalization laws in the United States in an article that was recently published in The American Independent and the Advocate.
During the late 1980s, a group of influential lawmakers and politicians lobbied behind the scenes for severe HIV criminalization laws as a legislative solution to the AIDS epidemic. These laws first targeted intentional HIV transmission, but it didn't take long for these open-ended laws to be used to prosecute, bully and imprison people with HIV for actions that did not transmit HIV, including sex with condoms, spitting and vomiting. Today, more than 30 states have HIV-specific statutes on their books. To read more of Heywood's groundbreaking history of criminalization, click here.
Who is SERO?
Sero is a network of people with HIV, which means we are an organization primarily run by and comprised of people with HIV and our primary mission is advocacy for and by people with HIV. Sero's 501-c-3 status is pending at the IRS and at present we operate under the auspices of a fiscal sponsor, Creative Visions Foundation.
Sero's Executive Director is longtime AIDS activist and writer
, who has lived with HIV for more than 30 years.
Best known as the founder of POZ Magazine, Sean was involved with the People With AIDS Coalition in New York in the mid 80s, then ACT UP/New York, and he was the first openly HIV positive person to run for the U.S. Congress (1990). He recently stepped down as co-chair of the North American regional affiliate of the Global Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS.
Robert Suttle is Sero's Assistant Director. Robert was convicted under Louisiana's "Intentional Exposure to the AIDS Virus" statute, served six months in prison and must register as a sex offender for the next 15 years. He knew he had suffered an injustice
and upon his release decided to devote himself to advocacy to stop HIV criminalization. He is a native of Shreveport, graduated Louisiana State University with a degree in business and previously worked as an HIV prevention educator working with young African-American men.
Sero's Research Director, works with grassroots and community organizations to conduct qualitative and quantitative program evaluation to support participatory, community-based research projects. She has provided technical assistance to local, national, and global organizations and to networks of people living with HIV throughout the United States and Canada, as well as in Sub-Saharan Africa and Central Asia, working with GNP+, UNAIDS, USAID and others. Laurel teaches at Eastern Michigan University and is a PhD candidate at Wayne State University. Her research focuses on the resiliency and capability of HIV-positive people, particularly when faced with HIV stigma, discrimination, criminalization and human rights abuses. She is the Regional Coordinator for GNP+ NA and has lived with HIV for 20+ years.
Reed Vreeland recently joined Sero to coordinate communications and media advocacy. Born with HIV, he is a former editor at POZ Magazine and works on advocacy for young people with HIV through the North American regional affiliate of the Global Network of People Living with HIV.
Sero's prison program--helping people with HIV who are incarcerated with research and other materials--is coordinated by volunteer
Cindy Stine, who has a long history of work in the fields of advocacy and domestic violence.
Sero been supported administratively by Hillary Needleman and has benefited from volunteers
Emily LaFond, James Krellenstein
Sero's Advisory Board (listed on our website) is comprised primarily of people with HIV who are intimately familiar with the devastating effects of stigma and, in many cases, have been themselves subjected to HIV criminalization prosecutions.
Sero is fortunate enough to be supported financially by more than 100 individual donors, as well as major support from the Elton John AIDS Foundation, Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, the H. van Amerigen Foundation and John Swaner & Gregory Whiting and the Global Forum on MSM & HIV.
Like what you've read about Sero? Consider joining our email list or supporting us financially at www.seroproject.com. Thank you.
Sero's National Criminalization Survey
You can get results from Sero's 2012 National HIV Criminalization Survey of more than 2000 people with HIV in the U.S. on our website at www.seroproject.com. Initial results have been released, but in the next few weeks we will post results from the transgender and 'third sex" respondents and analysis based on age and race of respondents.
If you have questions about the survey or would like to cite or use the results, please contact the principal investigator, Sero's Research Director (and Board Member), Laurel Sprague.
Sero Project Update
Join us to stop HIV stigma, discrimination and criminalization
|Sero's Spring Newsletter, May 17, 2013|
From: Sean Strub, Executive Director
People living with HIV are taking action to combat HIV-related stigma, discrimination and criminalization. Thanks to those who have agreed to be videotaped and interviewed, provided quotes and testified or presented at meetings, Sero has been able to put a human face on what criminalization does to people with HIV.
In October 2012, Sero brought five survivors of HIV criminalization prosecutions (and the mother and sister of a sixth) to testify in front of the Presidential Advisory Committee on HIV/AIDS (PACHA), urging that body to provide strong leadership in the fight against HIV criminalization.
The speakers--none of whom had been accused of transmitting HIV--included Sero's assistant director, Robert Suttle, members of Sero's criminalization survivors network (Eddie Casto, Monique Moree, Nick Rhoades, Donald Bogardus) and Hazel and Faith Hunter, the mother and sister of Mark Hunter, who was unable to travel because of probation restrictions. Members of PACHA expressed shock and outrage after hearing these diverse testimonies, and at their next meeting they passed a strong resolution calling for reform.
Sero advisory board member Lt. Col. Kenneth Pinkela was incarcerated on an HIV criminalization
charge in October, but he spoke to PACHA in April 2013, within days of his release. Check out short videos of each person's testimony at the links below or at seroproject.com.
|Lt. Col. Ken Pinkela|
Sero's 2012 National HIV Criminalization Survey of more than 2,000 people with HIV in the U.S. shed light on how HIV criminalization affects HIV testing, disclosure and access to treatment. Principal investigator Laurel Sprague--also a Sero board member--found that more than 25 percent of respondents indicated they knew people who were afraid to get tested because of criminalization, and more than 40 percent indicated that they thought it reasonable for someone to avoid testing or treatment for fear of prosecution.
Sero's survey found nearly half of people living with HIV in the U.S. fear false accusations of non-disclosure. Two out of five respondents indicated they worried sometimes or frequently about being falsely accused of not disclosing their HIV status. People living with HIV face a disabling legal environment, and an astonishing 79% believe that they may not get a fair hearing if they end up in a courtroom.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA) reintroduced the Repeal HIV Discrimination Act, H.R. 1843, earlier this month with bipartisan support from Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). The legislation directs the Department of Justice to work with the states to modernize their statutes, ensuring that they reflect contemporary science and realities about the routes, risks and consequences of HIV transmission.
The fight against HIV criminalization is also happening state by state. This requires us to educate ourselves, our communities, policy leaders and the media. Tami Haught, a woman with HIV from Nashua, IA, and a member of Sero's board of directors, tells us in this issue of our newsletter about the intensive efforts that Iowans with HIV have taken to facilitate reform of that state's HIV criminalization statute.
Also, just released is a Spanish-language edition of Sero's brochure which you can find and download right here.
Lastly, Sero would like to invite you to a 20th anniversary production of The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me, David Drake's landmark play. The May 20th performance will benefit both Sero and Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. A few tickets are still available and we'd love to have you join us.
Today, we've discovered that while treatment is saving many lives, the treatment for stigma isn't found at a pharmacy--it's only accomplished by empowering the stigmatized, educating the public and providing a path to justice for all.
Sean StrubExecutive Director
is a network of people with HIV fighting HIV-related stigma, discrimination and criminalization by engaging and empowering ourselves and others with HIV to speak and advocate, conduct original research, document the experiences of those criminalized, educate communities and work in partnership with others to mobilize for change. We hope you will help us.
Check out our new website
with short videos of people living with HIV
, resources and tips
for people with HIV on how to prove disclosure and protect themselves in the event of a prosecution, advocacy tools
|Sero's Criminalization Survivors Network Testifies
In October 2012 and April 2013, criminalization survivors and their relatives spoke before the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS about their experiences.
"Even though I had an undetectable viral load and wore a condom, I was sentenced to 25 years in an Iowa prison for non-disclosure of my HIV status. I was in solitary confinement for the first six weeks, only being let out of my cell for one hour per day. I was fed and given medications through a slot in my cell door. ... I try to have faith that things will get better, but quite frankly, I've found not many people care. They might be shocked or shake their heads and say 'oh, that's awful,' but then they don't speak out, they don't exercise whatever influence they have to create change, they don't make it a priority to correct this terrible injustice." Nick Rhoades, Plainfield, IA
After a year, the judge reconsidered Nick's sentence and released him, subject to lifetime sex offender registration. Lambda Legal Defense is representing Nick in an appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court.
"HIV criminalization ruins lives and worsens the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Criminalization discourages testing and disclosure, especially in my community, amongst young African-American gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men. Everyone with HIV is one disgruntled ex-partner away from being in a courtroom; that's what happened to me." Robert Suttle, Washington, DC (convicted in Shreveport, LA; pictured in article "Who is Sero" on the left)
Robert was in a contentious relationship; when they broke up, his former partner pressed charges for non-disclosure. He served six months in a Louisiana prison and is now a registered sex offender, which is noted on his driver's license in red capital letters. Robert is the Assistant Director of the Sero Project, where he focuses on community outreach and coordinates Sero's network of criminalization survivors.
"I was diagnosed with HIV while I was in the Army and pregnant. No one told me what could happen if I didn't disclose my status. I got almost no counseling, only a brief paragraph read to me by my commanding officer. I barely knew what HIV was or what it meant to have it. I couldn't get those three letters--H.I.V.--out of my mouth; all I could say was, "Use a condom." Even though eventually my charges were dropped I still felt like I was a criminal, when in the back of my mind I knew I wasn't that. This caused me to be in and out of psychiatric wards wanting to give up on hope and life. Women living with HIV go through a lot but the stigma makes it all much worse, much, much worse."
Monique Moree, Summerville, SC
The Army charged Monique even though her partner didn't want her prosecuted and confirmed she told him to use a condom. She is the founder and CEO of Monique's Hope for Cure Outreach Services, a community organization.
"I've been living with HIV for 21 years. I was born with HIV, and I've had it my whole life. ... I was late starting college because I was in prison for two years because I didn't disclose my HIV-positive status before having sex, even though I had an undetectable viral load and didn't infect anyone." - Eddie Casto, Spokane, WA
Eddie is now in college and has become an advocate for reform of criminalization statutes.
"My nightmare of dealing with HIV came to fruition in April of 2006 when my ex-fianc� filed charges after our relationship ended. ... My ex-fianc� is not HIV positive and continued a sexual relationship with me after I notified her of my status ... [we] attended counseling sessions dealing with my HIV as well as medical visits. ... My family and I fought these charges for 18 months until a plea agreement was reached. I served 2 years, 10 months, 21 days, 11 hours and 52 minutes in Arkansas." Mark Hunter, Grambling, LA (incarcerated in Arkansas)
Mark Hunter was born with hemophilia and acquired HIV from blood factor. His mother and sister spoke at the PACHA meeting on his behalf.
"Despite the fact that my former partner and I both agree that we used a condom, despite the fact that I had an undetectable viral load, despite the fact that she is not HIV positive, none of those facts played a role in my sentence. It seems like their approach is to punish with prejudgment, with anger, not with an effort to look at the facts or define the facts."
Kerry Thomas, Boise, ID
Kerry Thomas, the father of a teenage son, is three years into a 30-year sentence he is serving in an Idaho prison and continues to work on an appeal.
"What did or did not happen between me and the person who accused me did not matter to the Army. Two things mattered: 1) I was accused, and 2) I have HIV. The prosecution's case was focused almost solely on proving that I had HIV; the military court would not allow my counsel to introduce critical evidence, as well as physical and medical evidence. ... Now I am a convicted felon and registered sex offender. My 26-year career of service and sacrifice to my nation is gone--including a stint as the Army's legislative liaison to the U.S. House of Representatives."
Lt. Col. Kenneth Pinkela, Alexandria, VA
Lt. Col. Pinkela was released in April from an Army prison at Ft. Leavenworth after serving nine months and is now preparing to appeal his conviction. In the six weeks since he was released, he has spoken to groups in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC, about HIV criminalization.
"I'm on pre-trial release, awaiting sentencing in Iowa for not disclosing my HIV status. I had an undetectable viral load and I did not transmit HIV. I have never wanted to hurt another person. I try to be a thoughtful and caring man and spent several years caring for my partner, who died of AIDS. Not long afterwards, I got sick and in 2008 discovered I had HIV as well."
Donald Bogardus, Waterloo, IA
Donald Bogardus had an undetectable viral load and didn't transmit HIV, but a former partner pressed charges. He's facing up to 25 years in prison, prosecuted in the same jurisdiction that prosecuted Nick Rhoades.
Meet Tami Haught: Iowa's Anti-Criminalization Advocate
Tami Haught explains how, with the support of CHAIN (the Community HIV/Hepatitis Advocates of Iowa Network) and hundreds of Iowans living with HIV, she helped build a broad coalition to reform Iowa's HIV criminalization statute, Iowa Code 709C. Haught discusses the small victories that the coalition has won over the past year.
What is the current HIV-specific law in Iowa and how does it affect Iowans living with HIV?
The old joke in Iowa is that if you're HIV-positive and you go to a bar, make sure to bring a notary public with you, that way you can have your disclosure letter notarized to prove that you did disclose your status before you had sex. But this law is no joke, because it has negative public health consequences.
Under Iowa's Code 709C you may be subjected to prosecution if you cannot prove that you disclosed your positive status to a partner, regardless of intent, regardless of condom use, regardless of an undetectable viral load, regardless of transmission, and the sentences can be very severe.
What are the negative public health consequences of Iowa's HIV criminalization law?
The latest research shows that HIV criminalization legislation, like Code 709C, discourages HIV testing, treatment and care, which works against the public health recommendations being proposed by experts.
|In February 2013, over 43 CHAIN members met in Des Moines, IA for CHAIN's Day on the Hill to convince legislators to act against HIV criminalization|
Can you tell me about your work to repeal and reform this legislation?
The bill that was proposed eliminated the HIV-specific part of the current law by including hepatitis, tuberculosis and meningitis. The proposed law would also create a tiered system of sentencing, which maintains severe sentencing in cases of intentional transmission of HIV but allows lesser sentencing in cases of nondisclosure when a condom was used, when there was no intent, or when HIV was not transmitted.
We also included direct language in the bill about what "exposure" meant, based on the latest scientific research. For example, in over 30 years of research there has been no documented case in which saliva transmitted HIV--yet, inexplicably, people are still being prosecuted in many states for spitting.
But the bill didn't quite get passed. What happened?
The reformed bill passed through Iowa's bipartisan Senate Judiciary Subcommittee (3 to 0) and the Senate Judiciary Committee (8 to 3), and we were very close to getting the bill passed in the legislature, but at the last minute one of our allies changed sides and introduced an amendment that scuttled the bill. Still, we've had great support from Senator Matt McCoy, Senator Steve Sodders, Senator Charles Schneider, and many more members of Iowa's legislature, and we're very grateful for the assistance we received from Deputy Attorney General Eric Tabor, and Randy Mayer from Iowa's Department of Public Health.
One lesson we've learned is to never assume who is on your side, because we have some great advocates, both Democrats and Republicans, who are fighting for us. So don't look at the "D" or the "R" behind a name, because you never know the personal story or how someone may have been personally touched by HIV/AIDS.
Why do you feel personally mobilized by this bill?
Toward the end of my husband's life, in the mid-1990s after both of us had been diagnosed, he became very scared of laws that prosecuted people for HIV exposure. He was afraid that I would charge him with criminal transmission--which I would have never done. But my husband eventually had a nervous breakdown and the thought of these HIV criminalization laws really started his downward spiral even faster, because they increased the stigma and shame and guilt that he felt after first being diagnosed.
What are some of the lessons that you've learned in Iowa that can be applied elsewhere?
For HIV-negative people not familiar with these laws, it takes them a while to understand the issues. When I conduct HIV criminalization forums, I usually show Sean Strub's documentary HIV is Not a Crime. Just seeing Nick Rhoades, Robert Suttle, and Monique Moree tell their stories does a lot to reverse people's prejudices and preconceptions. They begin to understand that people living with HIV are just like their neighbors and families.
In Iowa we've found that personal stories matter in changing people's minds about HIV criminalization laws. One focus this year is to collect people's stories to show that disclosure is not always easy, and that sometimes disclosure comes with consequences. Many HIV-positive people still fear that they'll lose employment or housing if they tell the wrong person about their status. Even for me, it took six years after my husband's death to talk openly about my status.
For advocates trying to reform HIV criminalization laws in other states, I'm sure people can learn from our successes and mistakes here in Iowa. Hopefully, sharing our experiences will help advocates in other states save time and money so that we can get these laws changed faster.
For more information about how to become an advocate, click here.