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A Miscarriage of Justice in Missouri

by Wesley Thomas, Program Coordinator for LGBTQ Health and Rights

The trial and conviction of Michael Johnson is a perfect storm of ways NOT to help reduce HIV rates among young men of color who have sex with men.

Johnson, 23, was accused not having disclosed his HIV status to sexual partners – a crime in Missouri and 23 other states. Six former partners testified that Johnson had not disclosed his status, while Johnson testified that he did. Johnson was found guilty in May, and sentenced to a total of 60 years in prison.

His trial and sentencing are a perfect storm of harmful approaches to and biases surrounding HIV. Articles on Gawker and Buzzfeed have described in detail the biases of the jury (many believed homosexuality itself is a sin); the myths about HIV which were shared in the courtroom (including that HIV could be transmitted by masturbation); and the problematic nature of HIV criminalization laws in general (they stigmatize individuals with HIV, and do not lower HIV rates).

For a decade we have been watching HIV rates rise among young men of color who have sex with men. And we are still stuck in a dangerous fog of stigma and ignorance.

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