CHLP Denounces New Law in Tennessee that Further Criminalizes People Living with HIV

Dark grey square with NEWS, title of news release, and CHLP logo.

CHLP Denounces New Law in Tennessee that Further Criminalizes People Living with HIV

Expansion of aggravated rape offense now includes people living with HIV regardless of whether they are able to transmit, intended to transmit, or actually transmitted HIV

(NEW YORK) – On July 1, 2024, a new law went into effect in Tennessee that further criminalizes people living with HIV. Governor Bill Lee signed HB 2572/SB2043 into law in May, which expands the offense of aggravated rape to include individuals who commit rape knowing that they are living with HIV . Neither the intent to transmit nor transmission is required for a conviction.

“This law is a step backward in our fight against HIV stigma and discrimination. It criminalizes people based on their health status, singling out individuals due to their HIV status,” said CHLP Staff Attorney Jada Hicks.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities, including those living with HIV. In December, after an investigation prompted by a CHLP complaint, the Department of Justice (DOJ) found that Tennessee’s aggravated prostitution offense violates the ADA because it subjects people living with HIV to harsher criminal penalties solely because of their positive HIV status, regardless of any actual risk of harm. The DOJ is now suing the state.

Much like the aggravated prostitution statute, HB 2572 specifically targets individuals who are living with HIV by considering their HIV status as an aggravating factor in sexual offense cases, raising significant concerns regarding its potential violation of the ADA.

“Laws that criminalize a person based on their HIV status perpetuate the cycle of fear and misinformation surrounding HIV,” said CHLP Staff Attorney Sean McCormick. “This law could deter people from getting tested for HIV out of fear that their HIV status will be used to criminalize them.”

Advocates in Tennessee sought to educate legislators on the harm HB2572/SB2043 would cause by criminalizing a person’s HIV status. CHLP collaborated with Memphis-based Sister Reach on an advocacy letter highlighting how the bill would disproportionately impact those living on the margins and how criminalization increases the stigma against people living with HIV who are already experiencing alarming rates of discrimination, homo and transphobia, misogyny and misogynoir, as well as socioeconomic and health disparities.

When the legislation advanced, CHLP worked with the Tennessee HIV Modernization Coalition to push for an amendment to require transmission to have occurred in order for the charge to be elevated to aggravated rape. Despite these efforts, the Senate consented to the House version of the bill, which did not include requiring transmission and the bill passed without it.

Related Issues