On February the 8th I spoke at a rally outside the Supreme Court of Canada, while inside the court debated the laws currently governing HIV disclosure. I joined a National call to action spearheaded out of Toronto and helped assemble three people living with HIV to talk about their own experiences trying to negotiate sex under an ill-defined law that has been inconsistently prosecuted by the courts. Below is an excerpt from the speech that I delivered as part of the protest.
I’ve spoken out on Parliament Hill, at the Human Rights Monument, on club event fliers, and in the pages of Xtra, The Ottawa Citizen, 24 Hours, 2B, and countless other newspapers and social media sites decrying the criminalization of HIV non-disclosure. I’ve carried and marched under banners in the Ottawa AIDS Walk and Pride begging for amnesty and understanding for every gay man who chose not to wear a condom. I’ve served on Working Groups, sat in workshops, given testimonials, administered surveys, and debated strangers about the merits of a law that I know fails to prevent new HIV transmissions and in fact helps HIV flourish. I’ve dished out condoms to teenagers and senior citizens alike while trying to undo 30 years of fear based HIV campaigns and sex-negative messaging as an HIV-Prevention Worker.
I’ve been called a murderer, a sex-offender, an administer of a noxious substance, a whore, a faggot, a public health menace, a criminal, and had my dick compared to a loaded gun, because I am an HIV+ gay man advocating that sexual health is a shared responsibility and have talked openly about my own experiences around condomless sex and negotiating safer-sex and disclosure as an educator. Sex columnist Dan Savage once referred to me as an ’immoral piece of shit’ in writing…
I’ve had AIDS Service Organizations pressure other AIDS Service Organizations to not allow me to speak publicly at their events because they’re scared about what I might say. They’ve called me a “live wire” and “unpredictable”. But I think I’m utterly predictable. Every time I get up in front of a crowd I only care about one thing, and that’s telling my truth. And right now my truth is that I am so fuckin’ tired of fighting about this issue.
And I think that’s why a lot of us are here, at the Supreme Court. Yes - we hope that history will be made and that we will be here to witness it. Yes - we’re gathered at the Supreme Court in the hopes that our communities will stop being criminalized. Yes, we want to see poz people stop getting demonized by the Police and the Media. Yes - we want our lovers to stop scapegoating us when we make a poor decision together.
We’re here because we have hope, after years of arguing science over morality numerous times with our Doctors, our Families, and our Friends, that we will finally be done arguing. We’re hoping that the HIV-stigma and discrimination we encounter every day will be lessoned with a well articulated, modern, scientific perspective today in that building behind me. We want to say “we’re not criminals!” and “I told you so!” as loud as we can to our critics!
But of course, even if the Supreme Court re-defines non-disclosure laws based in science instead of fear, even then we won’t be done fighting. We’ll still have to advocate for public dollars to address our high rates of HIV in Canada. We’ll still have to advocate for our Government to fix CAMR and get generic drugs into Africa. We’ll still have to push to have comprehensive sex education in schools, and file Human Rights Claims when we're discriminated against. We’ll still have to pretend to not be hurt when a trick’s boner deflates in front of our naked bodies when we try to casually mention that we have HIV before things go “any further“. I’m still going to have to fight to pretend that it doesn’t hurt me when they say “let’s just be friends” and push me towards the door.
But maybe I’ll be stronger to fight those battles without HALCO and a lawyer’s number taking up space on my cell phones rolodex. Maybe I’ll have more energy to be articulate and clever when I’m not busy trying to find a new way to ask “how’s life?” every week in a letter to an incarcerated friend who is awaiting trial for attempted murder simply because he wanted to have an orgasm. And just maybe I can focus more on my own health and well-being when I’m not busy trying to get the men I sleep with to record the fact that they knew my HIV status before they agreed to sleep with me…”
An estimated 75,000 people in Canada were living with HIV at the end of 2009, according to the Centre for Infectious Disease Prevention and Control. Since the 1998 Supreme Court ruling, more than 130 people have been charged for not disclosing their HIV+ status to their sexual partners.