California State Assembly votes to decriminalize HIV

The California State Assembly passed Bill SB-239 last week, decriminalizing HIV-positive status and reducing the penalty for intentionally exposing a person to HIV from felony to misdemeanor. Openly LGBTQ California state legislators helped push forward the bill — which will make easier the lives of many Californians living with HIV.

This is a big first step in the de-stigmatization and decriminalization process of the HIV-positive status. Current law allows for a felony conviction to be handed down to an HIV-positive person, regardless of their treatment status and/or detectability of the virus, and without that person ever having had sexual contact with whom they are “intentionally exposing” to HIV.

38 states currently have HIV-specific laws regarding informed consent and or counseling for HIV-positive persons. In California alone, 800 people have been targeted under HIV-specific law between 1988 and 2014. None of these cases required HIV transmission as a reason to charge an HIV-positive person.

“I am hopeful that this passage will be another step forward for restorative justice and ensure justice for everyone, no matter their gender, race or economic status​,” said Shay Franco-Clausen, current Victory Empowerment Fellow and candidate for city council in San Jose, California. “I hope this bill reminds us that HIV and AIDS are still a very important issue for our community, and that education programs and better health access, especially for the LGBTQ community, we are working to end the disease.”

This is not just a big win for the LGBTQ community in California, but for women and people of color as well. According to a 2016 Williams Institute study, less than 13 percent of HIV-positive Californians are women, but HIV-positive women account for 43 percent of HIV -positive criminal cases. Similarly, Latinos and African Americans are 51 percent of the HIV-positive population in California, but make up 67 percent of criminal cases related to HIV-positive legislation.

The bill still requires approval by the State Senate and to be signed into law by California Governor Jerry Brown.

Elected Officials