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New York State Lawmaker to File STI Decriminalization Bill

Jessica González-Rojas
Courtesy Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas

Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas's bill would decriminalize the sexual activity of people living with sexually transmitted infections.

New York State Assemblymember Jessica Gonzalez-Rojas announced Thursday, World AIDS Day, that she will introduce a bill to decriminalize the sexual activity of people living with sexually transmitted infections.

The bill would repeal New York State Public Health Law 2307, a 76-year-old law that makes it a misdemeanor for any person with a known STI to have sexual intercourse with another. The bill would also expunge any prior convictions. Currently, the statute has no exceptions for cases when a person with a known STI discloses their status, is undetectable, or uses protection -- it broadly criminalizes all sexual activity regardless of harm reduction activity. By repealing Public Health Law 2307, New York would join 12 other states that have either repealed or amended HIV criminalization laws.

"On this World AIDS Day, I'm honored to join advocates in announcing that I'm introducing legislation to finally decriminalize the sexual activity of people living with sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV," Gonzalez-Rojas, a member of the Assembly Health Committee and currently one of two queer legislators of color in the New York State legislature, said in a press release. "New Yorkers living with HIV or other STIs already face barriers to accessing the care and support they need, and criminalizing them for sexual behavior only perpetuates racial inequities and stigma rather than combat transmission. Our laws should reflect modern-day science. We know that increasing access to testing, treatment, and other resources helps to curb the transmission of STIs, not criminalization. This archaic part of New York's Public Health Law belongs in the trash heap of history, and I urge my colleagues in Albany to support this bill in the upcoming legislative session."

The criminalization of people living with STIs in New York is rare, but it does occur. Not only are people criminalized pursuant to Public Health Law 2307, but they are at risk of prosecution under assault statutes and of civil commitment. Violation of PL 2307 may be determined to be a "Crime Involving Moral Turpitude" for the purpose of immigration, and a conviction could either make someone deportable or make it difficult for someone to adjust their immigration status. Black and brown young people, Black and brown cisgender women, low-income people, LGBTQ+ people, and those occupying multiple marginalized identities have well-documented histories of police trauma, criminalization, and harassment from law enforcement. These groups are also at risk for HIV and other STIs.

Public health research has found that increasing criminalization doesn't change behavior and that HIV transmission has gone down nationally. This repeal bill anticipates potential changes in politics that would result in greater enforcement or weaponization of 2307 as it stands, which would further perpetuate race, gender, and class inequities in the criminal legal system, the press release notes.

The legislation is backed by the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Center for HIV Law and Policy, New Pride Agenda, Legal Action Center, Housing Works, Make the Road NY, Legal Aid Society, Transgender Law Center, Treatment Action Group, and Lambda Legal.

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