How did the project come about? The starting point was the stories of the criminalization survivors. This issue is about real people, trapped in a criminal justice system that treats them differently because of their HIV status. With their stories chronicled, the rest of the project was about providing expert opinion to support their important stories. We really wanted to create a simple product that provided the basics on HIV criminalization that everyone could understand.
How did you get involved? Sean Strub knew I have some experience with telling stories through video. Much of my blog work for My Fabulous Disease has been as a video diarist. As Sean is known to do, he threw me into the deep end because he believed I could handle the project. It meant months of working with Christopher King (no relation), an accomplished documentary filmmaker, reviewing every moment of the film and making choices that propelled the story. Sean is an icon to me and my mentor as an activist. I didn't want to let him down.
Why is this issue so important to you? My 31 years living with HIV has been about fighting stigma and bridging the divide between those of us with the virus and a society that is often driven by fear. As Sean often says, "there is no greater example of stigma than when it is written into the law." These days, we have amazing new treatment advances and the future of people with HIV in this country is brighter than ever -- except we have people who continue to be prosecuted because of their status. That's outrageous and barbaric, not to mention it runs counter to what we know about transmission when someone is undetectable. How can we leave these people behind? How can we possibly turn away from this issue when any one of us could find ourselves in handcuffs?
What's the significance of releasing this on World AIDS Day? Activism is about giving a voice to those who are not being heard. World AIDS Day is a perfect opportunity for us to hand the megaphone to these courageous survivors of prosecution.
How do you hope it will change people's perceptions? A lot of people have a visceral reaction to the issue of criminalization. Maybe they know someone who was infected by someone who lied to them. So their first response is that we need to lock up these lying predators. It's understandable. But the more they learn about how these laws are being applied, as tools of homophobia and racism against people who never intended nor caused harm to anyone, their opinions tend to change. So the bigger the audience for this film, the better.