|Louis Gay is the first one in Norway to be open as HIV-positive |
and charged with violation of paragraph 155
(the “HIV paragraph” in Norway).
Photo: Tina Åmodt
|Gay is participating in a number of forums to give HIV a face. |
Here he is with Ole Magnus Kinapel on the opening of
the exhibition “Shameless”, where Kinapel
interviewed HIV-positive in a video project.
Photo: Tina Åmodt
An interview I did with www.gaysir.no (Norwegian web-place for gay people) March 15, 2012.
or read it here in English:
HIV activist Louis Gay wants to fight the penal code section 155. He refuses to be criminalized and stigmatized.
No, the French name is not a pseudonym. Louis Gay is open as HIV-postive, and the only one in Norway that has been open about a criminal charge related to the diagnosis.
Since last November, he has fought bitterly against what he describes as a stigmatizing and unreasonable legislation, through feature articles, speeches, interviews and his English-language blog (louisgay72.blogspot.com).
- The HIV legislation in Norway is among the strictest in the world, and the UNAIDS have criticized it for years. It is unreasonable that our own government maintains one of the main reasons to uphold the stigma through practicing a strict legal framework. HIV-positive people are forced into hiding, and many dare not to test for the virus, according to Gay:
- To get people to take greater responsibility, we must create a society where it is safe to be HIV positive.
Were threatened and charged
While the Syse-committee evaluates the legislation, the penal code section 155 still stands. It states clearly that it is illegal for persons with HIV to expose others to contagion or infection. But where is the limit? Gay believes the regulations are unclear and that the gap between legal text and educational interpretation of the law is large and confusing.
- It is not required by law in Norway to tell that one is HIV-positive. But if you look at some of the cases that have gone to court, you will find in the sentencing that non-disclosure has had a negative impact. People have also been condemned for not having used a condom during oral sex, but this does not match the text of the law, he said.
- Even if you have proved that you have not infected anyone, you can still be put in jail. In reality this means that HIV-positive people are not legally entitled to a sexual life.
Gay has firsthand experience with this section. In Aftenposten (newspaper in Norway) he told about how he was threatened with being reported to the police last year, by two ex-partners. According to him: unjust and only motivated by revenge.
- One of the two threats resulted in a criminal charge. It has been investigated the usual way and was finished in January. The conclusion was that I did not infect the complainant. Now I wait on the public prosecutor's conclusion, whether it is going to court or not I do not know yet, says Gay.
- To get people to take greater responsibility, to test more often, we must create a society where it is safe to be HIV-positive, says Gay.
Being a public face
Louis Gay got his HIV diagnosis in 2010 after a routine check.
- It led to a brief period of mourning, but to get the message at the age of 38 was not too bad. Life goes on, I thought. Now that I have medication that works, it is not something that affects my daily life in a very great extent. It does not mean I believe that living with HIV is not without problems, he said.
He has been open to the surroundings, and believes that everyone has handled it pretty well. Most sexual partners have also taken the information surprisingly well, and without reacting with fear, he says.
- I try to put a face to HIV and make it easier to be positive, helping to reduce stigma and prejudice. Many people find it awfully hard to tell their sexual partners about the diagnosis. My impression is that people with HIV are not irresponsible people.
Do you have the impression that many infected people are feeling alone?
- After I was TV-broadcasted on the evening news in February the phone went crazy. People called from all over the country. HIV-positive people who are desperate. Who feel lonely and do not know how to deal with their family and the society around them. It makes me very sad, said Gay.
Everyone must take responsibility
He believes that it is now up to politicians to improve the situation of people with HIV.
- The politicians must take responsibility to clean up and change the law. First of all, they need to stop prosecuting people for not actually infecting someone. Even better is if they make a law where the HIV-negative have to realize that they have a responsibility when they go to bed with someone. The way it is today, they have no responsibilities. As an HIV-positive you have to carry 100% of the responsibility.
Also, educational work and campaigns is important to deal with the persistent, high infection rates, according to Gay.
- It's like smoking. Everyone has knowledge of how dangerous smoking is; however, the community spends millions on anti-smoking campaigns. The government complains about increased infection numbers, however, it is breathtaking little money on campaigns. It is inconceivable to me.
Do you feel alone in this fight?
- No. I am not alone. There is a very small HIV-positive group who have worked with this topic much longer than me. But we are few, far too few. I understand why people with HIV choose to hide, on the other side: it is important for all minority groups that the players themselves are in the group, stands up and take responsibility.
Going to USA
Louis Gay is keen to stress that he understands that people are reluctant to inform the environment that they are chronically ill.
- But I have not actually seen a single negative comment since I stood up, not one. I have only received positive feedback from many who say they are happy for what I do. This motivates me to continue.
In July, he is invited to Washington DC to contribute at the international AIDS conference.
- Soon I apply for a visa, but it depends if I get the entry to the United States because I have a charge hanging over me. Well, I just have to try, he says with a smile.