(San Francisco, CA, April 21, 2016)—Yesterday, the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and a coalition of 22 other LGBT, racial justice, and health equity organizations announced the filing of a friend-of-the-court brief on behalf of Michael Johnson, a former Missouri college student sentenced to more than 30 years for violating Missouri’s HIV transmission and exposure statute.

The brief argues that Missouri’s criminal HIV law is irrational and conflicts with federal law that prohibits singling out a group of people for punitive treatment based on their identity or health status.

Attorneys Avram Frey and Lawence Lustberg of the national law firm Gibbons P.C., working with Executive Director Catherine Hanssens of the Center for HIV Law and Policy, led the drafting of the brief. Anthony Rothert of the American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri Foundation is serving as local counsel.

“Michael Johnson’s case involved a nearly all straight white jury convicting a Black gay man following a prosecution rooted in homophobia and HIV stigma,” says Tyrone Hanley, Policy Counsel at NCLR. “Johnson’s trial is not unique, however, and in fact highlights the serious harms caused by HIV criminalization laws, which stigmatize and punish those with HIV while failing to reduce HIV transmission rates. Rather than helping to stop the HIV epidemic, these discriminatory laws criminalize people just for living with HIV and create further disparities within our oppressive criminal justice system that already disproportionately incarcerates people of color, people living in poverty, and LGBT-identified individuals. NCLR is committed to putting an end to HIV criminalization laws, which do nothing to help communities impacted by HIV/AIDS and serve only to perpetuate mass incarceration.”

NCLR has partnered with the Human Rights Campaign and the Center for HIV Law and Policy in a national campaign aimed at educating the public about the harms of HIV criminalization laws and calling for an end to these laws. The campaign website is available at EndBadHIVLaws.org.

The coalition includes:

  • AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania
  • American Academy of HIV Medicine
  • American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri Foundation
  • Athlete Ally
  • Black AIDS Institute
  • Center for Constitutional Rights
  • Center for HIV Law and Policy
  • Counter Narrative Project
  • Dr. Jeffrey Birnbaum
  • Empower Missouri
  • GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders
  • GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing
  • LGBTQ Equality
  • Grace
  • Human Rights Campaign
  • Missouri AIDS Task Force
  • National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors
  • National Black Justice Coalition
  • National Center for Lesbian Rights
  • National LGBTQ Task Force
  • One Struggle KC
  • Treatment Action Group
  • William Way LGBTQ Community Center
  • Women With A Vision

Download the brief.