What do gay men really think about criminalization?
If you’ve been following the discussions on this site, I think the links between criminalization and stigma must be pretty clear by now. But we haven’t really looked at who, besides Margaret Wente, actually supports criminalization. Now we can. And it’s kind of worrisome.
A new study out of the UK - and it’s a big study, with 8,152 participants - tells us what gay men there are thinking about criminalization.
Here’s the bad news. Most gay men (57%) there support criminalization. Only half of poz guys (49%) opposed it.! Ouch!
Sample quote from one gay man: “to have sex with with someone when you you know you are HIV+ without telling them is is one of the worst things that could ever be done. These people should be given life sentences.”
Now, understand that the law is slightly different in the UK. and the questions asked reflected that. In particular, the UK researchers questions were soliciting gay guys’ views about punishing folks who transmit HIV; here our roughly equivalent laws seek to punish the act of exposure to HIV. There is a huge difference. Having said that, my impression is that people on both sides of the Atlantic are generally either for prison terms for non disclosure or against them, whether actual transmission occurs or just exposure to the risk of it. Read the internet chat and you’ll quickly learn that folks typically don’t make any distinction between the two. So I’m thinking that the results of this UK research might be a pretty good indicator of what Canadian gay guys think about criiminalization, no?
If in fact the Canadian gay mindset follows the UK model, this sets me back a little. I said two posts ago that I suspected neg guys, and the population as a whole, are likely not yet convinced that criminalization is anything but entirely warranted. This research kind of backs me up. But I hadn’t bargained for the high degree of support for criminalization amongst even poz guys. Only 49% opposed? Jeez!
But let’s look closer at the profile of those who support criminalization in the UK. Here’s what the research says . . .
- Gay guys who have never been tested were the group most likely to support criminalization. (Hmmm.)
- Gay guys who supported criminalization generally regard the responsibility to prevent HIV infections during sexual encounters as being vested solely with the poz partner (Hmmm).
- Gay guys men who support criminalization tend to have strongly stigmatizing views about HIV and appear to have little appreciation of the effectiveness of HIV treatment, so that infection is seen as a death sentence for anyone infected. (Hmmm).
- Few gay guys thought that prosecutions would help reduce the transmission of HIV, when most prevention experts insist that criminalization leads to more infections. (Whether gay guys buy in to the notion that criminalization increases infection rates isn’t clear. I almost hope they don’t. Otherwise we have to wrap our minds around the prospect of guys supporting criminalization even though they know it leads to more infections. And that sucks big time!)
It’s hard not to think that the research findings paint a rather unflattering portrait of those who oppose criminalization. Indeed, a recent report on this research on the AIDSmap website that I drew on for this post uses the banner headline Ignorance and Stigma Provide Foundation for Gay Mens’ Support of Criminalization of HIV Transmission. It saddens me to say it, but it’s really hard not to agree. Anyway you can read the article here, and in fact I’d encourage you to do so, as it’s an important one : http://www.aidsmap.com/en/news/51C2CFFD-1979-4033-BD9E-38ABC51CDC33.asp
So where do we go from here? There has been some discussion on this site about strategies that might work to bring home both the injustice and ineffectiveness of the current judicial fixation with prosecuting people who are HIV-positive. It’s been suggested here we need to start that advocacy work first in the gay community, as clearly we are divided on this issue right now. One positive sign in the UK research is that about a quarter of the gay guys interviewed were “unsure” about criminalization. We need to build on that. But surely, efforts to convince the general public and ultimately persuade judges that criminalization is wrong will have one hell of an uphill battle as long as our own community lacks unity on this.
So perhaps it’s back again to the issue of building community, of finding innovative ways to strengthen it, how to listen to and educate each other, how even to work towards common values that have as their foundation a sense of caring about each other.
Meanwhile our foes exploit this divide. Who couldn’t notice, for instance, that Margaret Wente in that infamous Globe and Mail article, quoted only the lame views of a poz guy firmly opposed to criminalization.
And meanwhile, while it’s tempting, I refuse to view gay guys who support criminalization as the enemy. They are our potential allies, and we need them. But we’re not there yet.
What do you think?