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Nushawn Williams:
What's He Got to Do With You?

By Ann Northrop

nwilliams.jpg - 7.62 K Nushawn Williams: A victim of America's failed AIDS policy? Poor Nushawn Williams. How can you not feel sorry for him? He's homeless; he's schizophrenic; he gets an HIV diagnosis; he doesn't quite believe it, and certainly has nothing to help him figure out what to do about it.

Does the system that tested him get him any medical care? Maintaining safe sex classes? Access to clinical trials? A home? You laugh. But poor Nushawn, upon hearing (in handcuffs) that he's infected a dozen young women, supplies the most complete list he can of his sex partners.

And then he's sent to jail.

Not my idea of a humane or effective AIDS policy. He would have gotten an even worse sentence than 4-12 years, but most of the women he had sex with wouldn't testify against him.


You don't think this has anything to do with you, don't you? You may be right. On the other hand...the New York State Health Department is about to start constructing a list of everyone they can find who has HIV.

Keeping track of HIV cases has been controversial for a long time. AIDS activists are theoretical supporters of gathering as much good data as possible. We want to know where the current epidemic is and where it's going. You don't find that out by tracking only "AIDS" cases. That only gives you a picture of infections that took place an average of ten years ago (and with some people healthier on new drugs, the picture is even more distorted). So we've always complained about the system of tracking only AIDS.

Related Articles from the GayToday Archive:
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Related Sites:
AIDS Action: Names Reporting
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But we never said we wanted a list of names. Are you kidding? What do you think most people would do if told a positive HIV test would land them on a government list? Rush off to be tested?

We don't need a list; we need just enough demographic information to follow the spread of HIV and do what we can to stop it. The government's excuse for not doing it our way is that the data wouldn't be clean enough. We might count someone twice. Heaven forbid. No, it's much better to scare them off or invade their privacy.

Well, so what, you ask. They've promised to keep it confidential, and everyone knows I'm HIV-positive already. So what's the big deal? Here's where Nushawn comes in, and it's The New York Times story on his sentencing that tips us off.

The Department of Health says it just wants to track the epidemic.

namereport.gif - 6.00 K But The Times says, "Publicity over Mr. Williams' case helped persuade the Legislature last year to pass a law requiring that everyone with HIV be reported by name to the State Health Department...It also prompted some legislators to call for a law providing tougher penalties specifically for knowingly infecting someone with HIV."

Better keep an eye out for undercover officers at your next barebacking party. Actually, protection or the lack thereof seems not to be the issue. In all the cases like this, there's never a discussion of whether safe sex was practiced. Inevitably the question turns out simply to be did you have "sex" without telling your partner you have HIV?

And I wouldn't be surprised to see the disclosure part disappear. Then we'd be down to the basic issue that the government doesn't believe people with HIV have a right to any kind of sex life, safe or not, with or without disclosure.

This is the dark road that looms behind keeping lists of names. The state and federal governments claim it's all about epidemiology and helping people. But these are the same bureaucrats who said they wanted to help babies with their mandatory testing of newborns law, and then didn't give mothers the test results for weeks (and sometimes never), and finally, cancelled funding for treatment of HIV-infected babies.

And these are the same officials who let Nushawn Williams wander off after his positive test and did nothing to help him, but were happy to publicize his name, hunt him down and throw him in prison when they found he was having sex and infecting young women.

I'd much rather lock up the bureaucrats.

The news media have fanned these flames, of course. The now-routine exploitation and sensationalism in their "reporting" have made a logical public conversation about these issues impossible. And the politicians are the worst, passing laws to appeal to the basest instincts of their constituents.

Technically, there's still a little time for public comments to the State Department of Health about their names reporting proposal, but I have no great faith we can stop it. I hope the list does not become a vehicle for a witch-hunt of sexually active, HIV+ gay men.

And I hope you're not going to hear your lawyer say what Nushawn's did. "He's not an evil person. He's been painted as an evil person. He feels badly that he's ill. He expressed to me the concern he may not live out his sentence."

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