Advocates for Ohioans living with HIV find hope in two bills from a Republican sponsor

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (Statehouse News Bureau) — A Republican state lawmaker has introduced a pair of bills to change the laws related to HIV and AIDS. They would repeal existing state laws that criminalize not disclosing one’s HIV status, including the law that makes it a crime for a person with HIV to donate blood.

Randle Moore of Dayton speaks at a press conference with advocates calling for changes to Ohio's criminal statutes on HIV status disclosure and exposure.
Randle Moore of Dayton speaks at a press conference with advocates calling for changes to Ohio’s criminal statutes on HIV status disclosure and exposure. [Karen Kasler | Statehouse News Bureau]
Advocates say Ohio has HIV status disclosure and exposure laws that don’t relate to how the virus is transmitted, so they unfairly target HIV-positive people but don’t increase testing or safe sex. An HIV-positive person who doesn’t disclose their status before sexual conduct can face a felonious assault charge, a second-degree felony. State law also says an HIV-positive person who exposes a corrections or law enforcement officer to bodily fluids such as spit can be charged with a third-degree felony, though saliva is not a known transmitter of the virus.House Bill 513 would repeal criminal statutes related to disclosure of HIV status. House Bill 498 would decriminalize donating blood by people with HIV, though they would still be ineligible to do so. (Donated blood is always screened for HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C, along with other viruses and bacteria.)Some treatments are making HIV undetectable and untransmittable. But people living with HIV say existing laws make them feel compelled to preemptively disclose their status.“When you tell someone you have just tested positive for HIV and the conversation ends there and that person begins planning a funeral because of beliefs that have been passed on from the ’80s,” said Francesca Schumann of Columbus, who has been living with HIV for 25 years. “We need to show you can have a productive life with without interfering…because these laws prevent people from having healthy, quality, stable, loving relationships.”Randle Moore of Dayton is a member of the Ohio Health Modernization Movement, which is advocating to change HIV-related laws.

“As a person living with HIV for the past 17 years, I have experienced many different stigmas as it relates to the Ohio law and the current laws that are in place, which has helped aid in my sometimes not wanting to share my status with individuals for fear of the repercussions that currently are on the books,” said Moore.

Rep. Sara Carruthers (R-Hamilton), who leaves office in December after losing her primary, is the sole sponsor of both bills. Thirteen states have changed their HIV laws, including Michigan, Iowa, Georgia and Virginia.