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AIDS awareness day at the History Museum

Maheen Bokhari, 31, with the St. Louis City Health Dept., watches on Dec. 1, 2015, as Kevin Bailey, 39, program coordinator for St. Louis Effort for AIDS, prepares to give Bokhari an HIV test at the Missouri History Museum during World AIDS Day. Bokhari said that everyone should be tested. Informational booths and speakers were available all day discussing HIV/AIDS awareness, treatment and prevention. Photo by J.B. Forbes, jforbes@post-dispatch.com

Mullets, cassette tapes and shoulder pads — these 1980s trends were all modified in due time, and for good reason. On behalf of the Missouri HIV Justice Coalition, I respond to Jack Suntrup's article ("State may modify HIV laws to reflect updated science," Nov. 27) that our state’s HIV-specific criminal laws are overdue for a makeover.

Unfortunately, Missouri holds the title for highest conviction rate in the United States. Since 1997, 82 people living with HIV have been imprisoned under these laws that still punish for behaviors that we now know carry no risk of transmitting the virus or causing harm. We thank state Reps. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, and Tracy McCreery, D-Olivette, for making strides to align the law with scientific consensus of HIV transmission risk with their proposed bills.

In 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice released guidelines that suggest further narrowing the criminal liability to those who act with the specific intent to spread the virus. In this regard, we favor the McCreery version. Experts recognize that criminal law is not an effective HIV prevention tool, nor has it been used to penalize any other condition with the same severity.

Campaigns to change these laws have already succeeded in states like California and Iowa. Lawmakers should follow leadership of Reps. Rehder and McCreery to change Missouri law and help end the stigma. We look forward to continuing the conversation and stress that people living with HIV must be at the forefront, so the law can be more responsive and accountable to the communities it affects.

Brennan Keiser  •  St. Louis

Member, Missouri HIV Justice Coalition

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