GLAAD began its work, nearly 30 years ago, because of the awful and defamatory coverage of those who are living with HIV and AIDS. It's hard to believe it, but the continued demonization people living with HIV and AIDS continues.
Earlier this week, a report from the ABC affiliate in Columbus, Ohio, reported a story in which a woman with HIV, Amy Foster, was arrested after a complaint from a former partner that she didn't disclose her status. Ohio is a state that criminalizes HIV, but the way in which the story was told added additional stigma to those who live with HIV. It was inaccurate and sensationalized, demonizing the woman, who now faces years in prison.
Most of the report quoted the man who made the accusation against Amy. While he remianed anonymous, he compared his consensual contact with her to "putting a gun" to his head. He called himself a "walking dead man" despite the fact that there has not yet been any evidence of transmission.
The reporter followed up his points by using terms like "clean" to describe someone who doesn't have HIV. The use of terms like "clean" creates stigma for people who do live with HIV.
"Is there no editor or informed adult at this news station? This story is sensationalistic, stigmatizing and ignorant of the science involved. A trifecta of bad journalism," said Sean Strub, executive director of the Sero Project, a national network of people with HIV and allies fighting for freedom from stigma and injustice. "The media should be a source of enlightenment and education, but in this instance it is a source of stigmatization and misrepresentation of science. My heart goes out to this woman who is being subjected to such cruel abuse by the media."
This news comes at the same time that a woman in Texas was murdered after her partner learned she had HIV. The alleged murderer has also been quoted uttering some of the same sentiments that were quoted by the man in Ohio, demonstrating that stigma leads to dangerous consequences. The levels of violence against HIV-positive people remains high.
GLAAD has reached out to the station in Ohio with concerns about Amy's story, and offered to connect them with HIV advocates who can provide accurate information about HIV and about criminalization laws. We will continue to educate on the issues faced by those living with HIV and AIDS.