We Stand with Michael Johnson: HIV is Not A Crime

| May 15, 2015 | 10 Comments

We Stand with Michael Johnson: HIV is Not A Crime

 HIV and Justice Organizations Stand with Michael Johnson and All Black Gay Men, and Condemn Laws Criminalizing HIV-Positive Status


May 15, 2015

As organizations committed to human rights, social justice, and dignity for people living with and vulnerable to HIV, we release this statement in solidarity with Black gay men who have been organizing a response to the criminalization of Michael L. Johnson.

After only two hours of deliberation by a jury in a trial that was fraught with misinformation about HIV transmission, misunderstanding about gay hookup culture, and inadequate legal counsel, a nearly all-white jury quickly convicted Michael Johnson, a 23-year-old Black gay man in St. Charles, MO, finding him guilty on five felony counts and sentencing him to 30 years in prison.

HIV criminalization is yet another tool used to police and incarcerate bodies that are too often poor, Black or brown, or queer-identified. In this case, Michael will be incarcerated for the next 30 years for allegedly exposing sexual partners to HIV, a condition that is chronic and manageable with proper care and treatment. This is atrocious. As a point of comparison, killing someone while driving under the influence of alcohol carries a sentence of 7 years in Missouri.

St. Charles is less than a half-hour’s drive from Ferguson, MO, a city that has made international headlines due to racist police brutality and a scathing record of racial bias in law enforcement.

HIV criminalization laws are widely understood to be based on hysteria, misinformation, and outdated science as it relates to HIV transmission. Expert-led professional associations including the HIV Medicine Association the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care and the American Medical Association have taken positions supporting the repeal or modernization of these laws, and President Obama’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS passed a resolution in 2013 calling for HIV criminalization laws to be reviewed and repealed.

This particular prosecution and the media hysteria around it were fueled by homophobia, HIV stigma, and anti-Black racism embedded in portrayals of Black male hypersexuality. Michael Johnson is not the first Black gay man to be incarcerated under these laws, and it is unlikely he will be the last.

Black lives and Black leadership matter. We stand in support of the agenda released today by Black gay men:

  1. Support Michael Johnson while he’s in prison, continue to raise awareness about his case, work to support any potential appeals or strategies to reduce his sentence or overturn this ruling altogether.
  1. Continue to dialog with Black gay men around the country in person and through social media about the importance of opposing such laws.
  1. Repeal the laws that criminalize HIV exposure, nondisclosure, and transmission, in Missouri and nationwide.
  1. Challenge our allies in Black progressive organizations, criminal justice reform, HIV prevention and treatment, and the LGBT movement to take more of an active role in challenging HIV criminalization.
  1. Develop more capacity for Black gay men’s grassroots organizing.

When people with HIV are prosecuted under HIV criminalization laws, no justice is achieved. Stigma, fear, and, in many cases, racism, win. And independently of HIV, criminalization, incarceration, and police brutality disproportionately impact Black and brown communities, LGBT folks, and people living in poverty.

Black gay men cannot and must not be removed. With the recognition that anti-Black racism, homophobia, and HIV stigma are at the heart of the epidemic and the verdict in the Michael L. Johnson case, we as an HIV community must commit to centering Black leadership and to ensuring that the police state does not factor into addressing the HIV epidemic. Incarceration and prisons are never the solution.

We echo and amplify the love from the open letter to Michael L. Johnson to all Black gay men; we will continue to stand with all of you in this fight for Michael’s freedom.

To Michael: we love and will continue to support you.

To Black gay men across the nation: we commit to fight by your side in service of justice, love, and liberation.

In solidarity,

ACT UP Boston

Advocacy Without Borders

The Afiya Center

African American AIDS Activism Oral History Project

AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts

AIDS Alabama

AIDS Alabama South

AIDS Arms, Inc

AIDS Foundation of Chicago

AIDS Project of the East Bay

AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA)

APLA Health & Wellness

AIDS Resource Center Ohio

AIDS United


Alabama HIV/AIDS Policy Partnership

American Run to End AIDS (AREA)

Amida Care

Arkansas RAPPS

Believe Out Loud

Berkeley Builds Capacity


BlaQueerFlow: The Griot’s Pen

The Body Is Not an Apology


C2EA (Campaign to End AIDS)

Cascade AIDS Project

CLAGS: The Center for LGBTQ Studies

The Center for Sexual Justice

The CHANGE (Coalition of HIV/AIDS NonProfits & Governmental Entities) Coalition

Chicago Black Gay Men’s Caucus

Desiree Alliance

End AIDS Now

End Discrimination & Criminalization Org

Fresh Anointing Ministries/Living Positive HIV/AIDS Ministry

Friends For Life

Full Of Grace Ministries

Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD)

Global Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS-North America (GNP+ NA)

Harm Reduction Coalition

Hawaii Island HIV/AIDS Foundation

Health Initiatives For Youth (HIFY)

Hepatitis, AIDS, Research Trust



HIV Disclosure Project

HIV Justice Network

HIV Medicine Association

HIV Prevention Justice Alliance

House of Blahnik, Inc.

Housing Works

Houston HIV Cross-Network Community Advisory Board

Howard Brown Health Center

Intimacy & Colour

Iowa Unitarian Universalist Witness/Advocacy Network

Justice Resource Institute

Kore-U ??

Legacy Community Health

LinQ for Life, Inc.


Louisiana AIDS Advocacy Network

Men’s Health Foundation

Metropolitan Community Church

Missouri HIV Criminalization Task Force



National Black Justice Coalition

National Center for Lesbian Rights

National LGBTQ Task Force

NIA Women in Public Health

NO/AIDS Task Force (d.b.a. CrescentCare)

Northern Nevada HOPES

Ohio AIDS Coalition

One Struggle KC

Positive Iowans Taking Charge

Positive Women Inc. New Zealand

Positive Women’s Network – USA (PWN-USA)

PWN-USA Bay Area

PWN-USA Louisiana


PWN-USA Philadelphia Chapter

PWN-USA San Diego Region


Project Inform



SERO Project

The Sex Workers Project at the Urban Justice Center

SisterLove, Inc.


Sophia Forum

Southern AIDS Coalition

Southern HIV/AIDS Strategy Initiative

Steps to Living on Facebook

Stopping  da Stigma

Sweet Georgia Press, LLC

Tougaloo Pride

Transdiaspora Network

Transgender Law Center

United Church of Christ HIV AIDS Network, Inc. (UCAN)

US People Living with HIV Caucus

Unity Fellowship of Christ Movement

Unity Fellowship Church Movement

Victim of HIV Criminalization

Visual AIDS

The Well Project

W King Health Care Group

The Women’s Collective

Women Together For Change

Women with a Vision

Updated: 5/19/15




Commentary: Stop Locking Up Black Men for HIV, by Keith Boykin

On Uplifting Voices, Social Justice and Listening to HIV Criminalization Accusers, by Mathew Rodriguez

‘Tiger Mandingo’ is guilty because Missouri law ignores three decades of science, Jorge Rivas

Guiding Principles for Eliminating Disease-Specific Criminal Laws, Positive Justice Project

HIV Criminalization: What You Need to Know, Sero Project

Category: Criminalization & Mass Imprisonment, Queer & Transgender Justice

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  • jjohn doe

    There are black people and there are niggers, stop giving black people a bad name with this stupid bullshit.

  • Kurt 20008

    Bull S@@t. Don’t tell me that when I ask a potential sexual partner directly if he is HIV+ and he lies to my face, that I should just accept infection because you jerks think it is no big deal. It is my health and my body, not for you at “Prevention Justice” to judge. No one has right to lie. Michael Johnson deserves jail time.

    • POZconcern

      I agree with you totally

  • cicada69

    regardless of whatever race, creed, social origin, economic status, or std status.
    There’s simply NO EXCUSE to have unprotected sex!
    It’s completely irresponsible for either partner; though, if he truly knew his HIV/STD status, then he’s responsible for not stating it up front, or putting it in his online ads with a moderately cropped photo & ‘distancing’ online name as to protect his public identity.
    I was a teen in the 80s & AIDS scared the sht out of me for a lifetime. A few minutes or hours of explosive incredible sex does not equal decades of medical treatment & a shortened life.
    People need to take some friggin’ -responsibility- for themselves, period.
    He should not be scapegoated, nor given any sentence based (or influenced) by race, but by the intention of breaking what law’s on the books.
    It’s up to his individual communities to provide safe havens & drive home the message of being -responsible- adults, if they’re going to engage in ‘adult-activities’. If the law needs to change it’s sentencing requirements, fine. move towards that. But just because he’s black, poor, a nice guy, a hot bod, etc. etc. does not exempt him from being a responsible human being when you know you’re engaging in activities that infect & affect other human beings!

  • http://cftxp.net Chris Fornesa

    I just don’t know about 60 years in prison for that, even if he lied. I mean, people in government lie ALL THE TIME and don’t get 60 years in prison for what I would probably call WAY worse offenses that even more negatively affect more lives (HIV is not a death sentence anymore either – at least in the U.S.). Say what you will but the criminal justice system definitely needs reform, this case is just one of the more controversial examples of it. He had the choice to lie but, together, they made the choice to have intercourse bareback, just saying….

    • Taja

      There’s no excuse for that. He should have been honest.

      • POZconcern

        Taja I agree with you.. he should have been honest with his partners..better yet he should have used a condoms they are free

  • concern poz

    As a person who is HIV+ I am outraged at the action of this man… HIV+ persons has a responsibility to ensure the safety of our partners and ourselves with protection. additionally no one should be suckered into being infected. I am appalled that these advocates are trying to advocate for someone who intentionally went out and had unprotected sex with other people knowing that he is HIV+… I agree being HIV+ is not a crime, but when you go out and infect someone intentionally that is a crime. its no different from a man going out an purchasing an illegal firearm and walking into a theater filled with people and opening fire.
    These advocates need to advocate for the people who truly needs it, what message are they sending to the people whose trusts were violated and was infected by this careless person who obviously has no regard for himself let alone the people he infected.

  • Tim

    I can’t believe there are people defending this man. Just because you believe that HIV is “manageable” doesn’t mean that he has the right to spread the virus to others and expect them to deal with it. How would you like it if I smeared some shit in your food at the drive through and you became violently ill? Oh, it’s only temporary, so you’ll be fine, no big deal, right? How about if I injected the Ebola virus into your food? Some people have died from Ebola but others have survived, so no big deal, right?

  • Toni Bain

    I agree I am not happy about a 30 year sentance, but I do belive if someone is awear of there status it is their responcibility to tell. Is as if you knowingly give somone a food that they are alergic to that could be potentioly deadly hid inside of somthing eles. Knowing it could kill them but do it anyway. It would be manslouder. I remember how hard it was for one of my boyfriends long ago in the early stages of his illness. I was the first women he was going to have relations with. OMG the tears, his emotions were so high. I loved him more for alowing me to make a choice, if I would or not have sex. To be honest I had a brother who was positive and a few friends at the time, I was active in Act-up NYC and still made the descision not to go all the way at the time. Today I am negitive but who know were Id be if not given the choice.