An Open Letter to Michael Johnson

1868670_1407024563.5478 Dear Michael,

We, Black gay men, write this letter to you out of love. We can only imagine the burdens you have had to carry personally: experiences of isolation, shame, rejection and moral judgment. But we want you to know that in our lives we have had to carry those burdens as well.

We write this letter to you, understanding the actions taken against you have come at the expense of your humanity. And we write this letter to you, acknowledging that you are a part of our community. You are our brother and we support you.

There are less and less spaces dedicated to Black gay men. And our bodies are being beaten, policed, and pushed into prisons. Yet, we remain steadfast in the belief that our bodies, desires, intimate relationships and communities are not criminal. We are loving, living, and worthy Black people.

We are aware that you have been charged with felony HIV-exposure in Missouri for allegedly not disclosing your HIV-status to your sexual partners. However, we also know that HIV criminalization laws unfairly impact Black people and stigmatize people living with HIV. HIV criminalization laws push people living with HIV further and further away from HIV treatment and care and make HIV prevention efforts more difficult. As Black gay men, we are deeply impacted by HIV; and these laws harm us and damage our relationships and communities.

HIV criminalization laws are unjust to people living with HIV. Under these laws, people living with HIV are expected to share their HIV status, even though our society is one that stigmatizes and discriminates against people living with HIV. Through HIV criminalization laws people are forced to disclose and to not consider the serious consequences of disclosure.

HIV should be treated as a public health issue not as a criminal one. Legally requiring disclosure privileges the lives of White people not living with HIV over Black people who are living with HIV.

These laws feed into stereotypes that assume Black gay men are irresponsible and hypersexual. For you, your accusers saw your Black and masculine body as a site of ultimate sexual pleasure, until they had to deal with you as a whole person. At that moment you became a problem and were disposable to them.

HIV criminalization laws burden people living with HIV to take on the sole responsibility of sexual encounters. Regardless of intention or disclosure, there is a shared responsibility among sexual partners. Opening up about your HIV status is a personal decision that should not be mandated or enforced. Disclosing your HIV-status should be about self-reflection and speaking your truth. Disclosure should not be about protecting people who are not living with HIV from transmission. And disclosure should not be about punishing people living with HIV who do not disclose.

We do not care about whether or not you disclosed, or any intention you may or may not have had. We care about you—your life matters. HIV is not a crime and you should not be in prison.

Until you are free, none of us are free. As you are impacted, we are all impacted. We see ourselves in you. Your story is connected to us all and is evidence that Black gay men need each other. Through all of the suffering, pain, and trauma, we need each other to heal and survive. We also need each other to share our joy, our laughter, and our beauty. Even as important, our community can only heal if you heal and survive too.

So we send you our love during your time of need. We want you to know that we are here in solidarity with you. We are sending you positive energy and universal force to act on your behalf. We will continue to send our energies to you with faith that you will be victorious throughout this fight.

Moreover, we are concerned about your health and well-being, how you are feeling, and how this has affected you. We are here for you. If there are other ways that we can provide you some support, please let us know. We want you to know there are people who care about what is happening to you. And we will continue to maintain contact with you, regardless of what happens with your case.

Therefore, while you have been in prison for over a year and half and placed in administrative segregation for over 60 days, we recognize these injustices and write this letter to you. While you are being framed as a monster, we continuously value your humanity and write this letter to you.

Lastly, we, Black gay men, write this letter in hopes that it gives you and others in our community the strength to work towards a world in which we are all free.

We are you and we love you.

Sincerely,

Kenneth Pass

Charles Stephens

Martez Smith

Darnell L. Moore

Craig Washington

Damian J. Denson

David Roscoe Moore

Tyrone Hanley

Tyrell Manning

Brandon Dykes

Kenyon Farrow

Jeffrey McCune

Steven G. Fullwood

Cory Bradley

L. Lamar Wilson

André Carrington

Clarence Singleton

Justin Smith

Vaughn E. Taylor-Akutagawa

Antoine J. Rogers

Anthony Thompson

Matthew Rose

Michael J. Brewer

Jonathan Paul Lucas

Jamie Allen

George Holifield

Bummah Ndeh

Marcus Lee

Ramon Johnson

Daniel McRath

Anthony Bond

Sean Sheppheard

Kieran Scarlett

Stephaun E. Wallace

Jamal Lewis

David J. Malebranche

Devin Barrington Ward

Blake A. Rowley

Mark J. Tuggle

Lamont Scales

Drew-Shane Daniels

Anthony Antoine McWilliams

Gavin Morrow-Hall

James Lester

Phillip Williams

Rodney A. Brown

Ricardo Wynn

Cornelius Mabin

Darius Bost

Shaun Little

Carl Graves

Darron Marble

Reggie Dunbar II

Jafari Sinclaire Allen

L. Michael Gipson

Christopher Moten

John Keene

Jonathan Moore

Derek Johnson

Brad Walrond

Seven Hobby

S.G. Richmond

Marvell L. Terry, II

Eddie Wiley

Isaiah R. Wilson

Alfred White

Max Smith

Preston Mitchum

Charles E. Matiella

Darryl Hart

Steven-Emmanuel Martinez

Akil Patterson

Johnnie Kornegay

Khalid Idawu

Justin T. Rush

Tabias Wilson

Lance Powell

Robert F. Reid-Pharr

Bryan Webster

Jason L. Walker

Rev. Rodney McKenzie, Jr.

Raymond Thomas

Shedrick Davis

JaMel M. Nelson

Adrian Ogle

Michael Tikili

Elijah Bell-Clarke

Maurice Franklin

Deontez Wimbley

Riko A. Boone

Monte J Wolfe

Raul Posas

Charles Nero

Joshua Johnson

Victor Scotti, Jr.

Lee Brown

Bryan C. Jones

Marlon M. Bailey

Derrick D. Matthews

Francisco L. White

Anthony Charles Galloway

Brian L. Alston-Carter

Michael Lawrence

Daniel Driffin

Leo Moore

Robert W. Williams, III

Cornelius White

Devin D. Moss

Derrick Merkerson

Michael Ward

Jason Saunders

Kenneth LeBlue

Rev. Bertram Johnson

Marco M. Brown

Michael Franklin

Kevin Q. Ewing

Antoine Craigwell