Some of the world's top experts on the issue of HIV criminalization will participate in an online panel discussion Monday Feb. 7 from 12 p.m. to 1
The panel discussion will feature Sean Strub, the founding publisher of POZ magazine and senior advisor to the Center for HIV Law and Policy, Edwin Bernard, an author who has written extensively about the issue and runs the blog HIV Criminal Transmission; and Vanessa Johnson, an attorney and executive vice president of the National Association of People with AIDS. Catherine Hanssens, the executive director of the Center for HIV Law and Policy in New York City may also participate in the panel discussion.
Lynda Waddington, senior writer for the Iowa Independent and Todd A. Heywood, reporter for Michigan Messenger, will co-moderate the panel. Both news sites are part of the American Independent News Network.
The panel discussion is part of an initiative launched by the website organization QualityGiving.org. Juan Ahonen-Jover, one of the group's
organizers, said the organization was created to help donors understand lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality issues, and to determine
which groups deserve their money.
"Part of legal equality is to treat HIV under the law like other diseases," said Ahonen-Jover. This panel is part of eQualityThinking, a free, open and virtual convention for LGBT legal equality that runs from Jan. 24 to March 31, 2011."
The panel will be recorded and made available on the eQuality website for free download. Those who are unable to attend the panel discussion are
welcome to submit questions about the subject in advance by logging into the site.
Strub said this discussion is essential in generating a real conversation about HIV in America.
"HIV criminalization has created a viral subclass of citizens with rights inferior to others while at the same time exacerbating the spread of HIV by
discouraging HIV testing, disclosure and treatment and powerfully driving stigma and discrimination," he said.
"HIV criminalization is the government's imprimatur on ignorance and bias, encouraging views of HIV-affected people as toxic and providing official
endorsement of discrimination on the basis of a medical condition," said Hanssens. "For that reason alone, it is intolerable."
For Johnson the issue is personal. A 20-year survivor of HIV, she sees the impact of the laws every day.
"HIV criminalization is nothing more than an excuse for shifting all responsibility for prevention (or blame for new infections) onto the
shoulders of people living with HIV/AIDS," she said. "A culture of respect and shared responsibility that encourages communication and equality in
relationships should be a goal of our prevention programming.