Victim, advocates urge lawmakers to decriminalize HIV during hearing

HARRISBURG, Oct. 6 -- Pennsylvania has laws on the books that criminalize or control behaviors through HIV-specific statues and regulations. During a hearing today, PA House Democrats heard testimony from a victim of these laws and those advocating for change.

“HIV is not a crime but there are outdated laws that make it a crime in Pennsylvania,” said Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia. “We cannot have people losing lives and livelihoods because of this.” 

The victim who spoke at the hearing was Julie Graham, a resident of Cumberland County, who described the impact of these laws on her life after she was charged with four crimes, including two felonies, based on allegations by a man she had dated who claimed she didn’t disclose her HIV status. Due to these allegations, she faced personal and professional consequences that forever impacted the trajectory of her life. 

“I support and applaud your courage and advocacy to testify here today,” said Rep. Mary Isaacson, D-Philadelphia, who was the Co-Chair of the Policy Committee and host for the hearing today. “Being HIV positive is not a crime and we must do better in supporting those in Pennsylvania who are living with HIV.” 

PA House Democratic Policy Committee Chair, Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, D-Erie, was also in attendance and added: “HIV decriminalization is important to the entire Democratic Caucus and I am grateful to the testifiers who came today to speak on this important topic.” 

Other testifiers during the hearing include Adrian Shanker, executive director, Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center, Steven Bryson, SERO Legal Fellow, AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, and Michelle Troxell, Pennsylvania Co-Chair, Positive Women's Network USA. They each shared data that show the impact of these laws on the lives of Pennsylvanians and support changes to the laws. 

The hearing was closed with comments from Rep. Kenyatta who said: “Here in Pennsylvania, we can and should do better than this. So many other states have updated their laws and we must work to get these laws off our books.” 

Testimony is available here.