Don’t Be Hookin’ in Tennessee if You Got the HIV

The U.S. Justice Department is suing the State of Tennessee over its decades-old felony aggravated prostitution law, arguing that it illegally imposes tougher criminal penalties on people who are HIV positive, according to the Associated Press.

Tennessee is the only state in the United States that imposes a lifetime registration as a “violent sex offender” if someone is convicted of engaging in sex work while living with HIV, regardless of whether or not the person can transmit the disease.



The lawsuit follows an investigation completed in December by the Justice Department that warned that the statute violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. The case heads to court separately from another federal lawsuit filed in October by LGBTQ and civil rights advocates over the aggravated prostitution law.

Prostitution has long been criminalized as a misdemeanor in Tennessee. But in 1991, Tennessee lawmakers enacted an even harsher statute that applied only to sex workers living with HIV. Nearly 20 years later, the state legislature revised the law once more by requiring lifetime sex offender registration for those convicted under the controversial statute.



In the years since, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned that laws criminalizing HIV exposure — many of which were enacted amid the height of the AIDS epidemic — are outdated and ineffective. Black and Latino communities have been particularly affected by these laws even as the same standards do not apply to other infectious diseases.

The lawsuit seeks to require the state not only to stop enforcing the law, but also to remove those convicted under the statute from the sex offender registry and expunge their convictions. In the meantime, if you got the HIV, don’t be hookin’ in Tennessee if you got the HIV, cuz you gonna get a felony.

Go Vols.

—SM

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