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U.S. SENATE OKs DEFENSE DEPT REVIEW OF HIV POLICIES

Posted by Tim Murphy , December 23, 2013

U.S. SENATE OKs DEFENSE DEPT REVIEW OF HIV POLICIES

Pinkela: He was convicted in 2012 on HIV-related charges and served nine months in a military prison.

We are sharing this news from our activist partners at The Sero Project, which works to turn back HIV criminalization laws throughout the U.S.:

The Sero Project salutes the U.S. Senate for passing the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal year 2014, which initiates a Defense Department review of HIV-related policies that have led to unjust prosecution and stigmatization of people living with HIV.

NDAA also removes “consensual sodomy” as a criminal offense under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. President Obama is expected to sign the National Defense Authorization Act before year’s end.

Specifically, the bill requires the Secretary of Defense to review existing policies governing enlistment, deployment, discharge and discipline of service members with HIV or hepatitis B and assess whether these policies reflect a medically accurate understanding of how these conditions can be contracted or transmitted.

The provision was added as an amendment to the NDAA when it passed the U.S. House of Representatives and is similar to language in H.R. 1843, the REPEAL HIV Discrimination Act, co-sponsored by Representative Barbara Lee (D–Cal.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R–Fla.).

This is a significant first step toward reforming the military’s HIV-related policies, and is the first time that Congress has taken action of any kind to address HIV criminalization.

Another provision in the bill will end criminal prosecutions under the Uniform Code of Military Justice for “consensual sodomy,” which was maintained even after the 2011 end to the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

The 85-15 Senate vote, taken on the evening of December 19, has been welcomed by service members who have faced HIV-related prosecutions:

“This is a unique opportunity for Secretary of Defense Hagel to take care of our all volunteer force by removing HIV discrimination from Armed Forces policies and advancing the military to reflect modern medical times,” said Lieutenant Colonel Ken Pinkela.

Pinkela, a member of Sero’s Advisory Board, was convicted in 2012 on HIV-related charges and served nine months in a military prison; his case is now on appeal.

“Removing ‘consensual sodomy laws’ and reviewing HIV and Hepatitis B-related policies are positive steps that should help stop the prosecution of consensual sex—gay or straight—and enable scarce resources to be devoted to improving the military’s criminal justice process to ensure fair and well-informed investigations before pursuing a prosecution,” Pinkela added.

Monique Moree was prosecuted by and ultimately discharged from the U.S. Army for not disclosing her HIV status to a partner, even though she told him to use a condom.

Moree, also a member of Sero’s Advisory Board, said, “My personal dignity and my respect for my country and the Army made me want to take a stand for what I truly believed—which is that the military needs to be better informed about HIV/AIDS. I hope that this law will help make sure others are not treated like those of us who have been prosecuted under these outdated HIV-related policies.”

Activists campaigning for criminalization reform praised last night’s vote by the Senate.“Knowing that the U.S. Congress has recognized the problem of HIV criminalization and addressed it in a bi-partisan manner will be extremely useful to local advocates trying reform these laws,” said Tami Haught, a Sero Board Member and a community organizer at Community HIV and Hepatitis Advocates of Iowa Network (CHAIN).

“In Iowa, we also have bipartisan support to replace Code 709C, Iowa’s HIV-specific statute, and we have the backing of the State Attorney General and Iowa Department of Health for a law that improves public health by removing barriers to HIV testing and treatment.”

The inclusion of these measures in the NDAA may help build support for the REPEAL HIV Discrimination Act, introduced in the House by Representatives Lee and Ros-Lehtinen and recently introduced in the Senate by Senator Chris Coons (D–Del.). The REPEAL Act would initiate a broader federal effort to review HIV criminalization statutes in each state and help modernize them to be evidence-based and not unduly stigmatize people with HIV.

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The Sero Project is a network of people with HIV and allies fighting for freedom from stigma and injustice. Sero research, community education and mobilization of grassroots communities, policy leaders and advocates has help drive recent advocacy for reform of criminalization statutes. Sero coordinates a U.S. HIV Criminalization Survivors Network and produced the award-winning short film, HIV is Not a Crime, which first introduced the growing trend of HIV criminalization to thousands of advocates around the world.

Contact: Reed Vreeland, The Sero Project, Communications Coordinator

Reed.Vreeland@SeroProject.com

917-573-6328

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