When I made the short film "HIV is Not a Crime" several years ago, it was out of frustration that while some policy leaders were finally beginning to talk about HIV criminalization and what terrible public health policy it was and how unjust it was to people with HIV, the conversations were always held in the abstract.
No one had ever heard directly from someone who went through the experience of a prosecution, had their name and picture on local television with headlines like “AIDS Monster!” and “AIDS Predator!” and was sentenced to prison and sex offender registration.
I made the film to show at a UNAIDS Programme Coordinating Board (PCB) meeting in Geneva two years ago. At first, there were objections from several of the countries represented on the PCB who refused to even acknowledge homosexual contact as a significant HIV transmission route in their countries—like Zimbabwe, Egypt and Libya—but the issue was deemed important enough that their objections were overcome.
Then, at the last minute, our screening slot was eliminated. We finally were told why: the objection came from the United States, because they didn’t want to be embarrassed by depiction of such extreme human rights abuses within the U.S., since we so often were criticizing the human rights abuses in other countries.
In the end, that only made interest in the film that much greater and today it has been seen by more than 100,000 people, shown in hundreds of classrooms, at conferences, meetings, AIDS service organizations and many other venues. The interviews with courageous survivors of criminalization prosecutions, like Robert Suttle, Nick Rhoades and Monique Moree, personalized the issue and open hearts and minds as to why reform is so urgently needed.
You can see it here, on the Sero Project website and learn a bit about why many AIDS policy experts now see HIV criminalization as a leading driver of the stigma that so stubbornly remains the biggest obstacle to overcoming the HIV epidemic.