CNP Director’s Iconic Images Help Revive National HIV Criminalization Conversation


Contact: Charles Stephens
Organization: The Counter Narrative Project

September 19, 2018 – Atlanta, GA – The iconographic images of long-time Atlanta-based photographer and Counter Narrative Project (CNP) Director of Networking and Community Mobilization, Johnnie Ray Kornegay III, are gracing the September/October pages of Positively Aware Magazine’s landmark HIV Criminalization issue. The editor of the publication’s special edition commissioned Mr. Kornegay as the volume’s cover photographer to visually capture the stories of those impacted by HIV criminalization laws as well as those who have spent the better part of their lives advocating for the modernization, if not the eradication of these draconian laws. The issue features such prominent activists as Georgia HIV Justice Coalition’s Nina Martinez and survivors such as The Sero Project’s Robert Suttle, a Black gay man who was imprisoned under Louisiana law. Symbolically shot at The National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, the critical edition extends Mr. Kornegay’s reputation as one who continues to mix his art and activism with a unique and personal flair.

"What makes Johnnie such a pleasure to work with are his ideas, initiative and ability to collaborate. He brings an enthusiasm to a project, exchanging ideas, following direction while offering his own ideas. What's more, he comes through in delivering the final product. Johnnie is an excellent partner to work with in the collaborative creative process," said Rick Guasco, Creative Director of Positively Aware.

Johnnie Ray Kornegay III captured this image for Positively Aware Magazine. (From L to R: Toni-Michelle Williams, Eric Paulk, Robert Suttle and Nina Martinez are featured.)

On shelves now, the national HIV/AIDS publication devoted the entirety of this month’s content as a much-needed reminder that some 34 states still criminalize HIV non-disclosure and that many living with HIV are still being incarcerated with heavy sentences for engaging in consensual sexual acts if they cannot legally prove that they notified their intimate partner of their HIV status upfront. Such laws do not regard whether transmission actually occurred or if condoms were used to prevent HIV. Nor do they consider if the person living with HIV was already virally suppressed and therefore at little to no risk for transmitting HIV to any intimate partner. Today, hundreds are still imprisoned under laws that have little public health foundation given medical advances in HIV and are often rendered against those who have disclosed their status but have little legally sufficient evidence to prove it. All of which makes the issue’s focus and Kornegay’s longstanding work with CNP on the topic that much more essential.

“We are incredibly proud to have one of CNP’s own use his ample talents to shed more light on a controversial issue that far too many in our community would rather ignore or forget instead of having the real conversation about how these retributive laws perpetuate HIV stigma, reduce testing, leave those with HIV vulnerable to fraud and exploitation, and have demonstrated zero evidence in preventing HIV in anyone’s community,” said Charles Stephens, Executive Director of the Counter Narrative Project.

Indeed, some 1500 throughout the U.S. have been criminally charged since these laws were first introduced in 1986, having very little impact on actual HIV rates in the states where they exist. In fact, such laws may encourage individuals to forgo HIV testing and opt for late testing once symptomatic since only those who know they are living with HIV are subject to these laws. Such policies prove short-sighted in an age where early testing and treatment can reduce and even eliminate HIV in a community over time. To add insult to injury, some 25 states are so medically outdated that no-risk behaviors for transmitting HIV such as biting and spitting can still land a person living with HIV with a felony charge. Many of those states are Southern or sport large urban centers of Blacks and Latinx at high risk for HIV acquisition. Further, the racialized and homophobic nature of the nation’s justice system, coupled with the epidemiology of HIV, has all but ensured that Blacks and Latinx folks, particularly gay and bisexual men, are disproportionately charged. So, it’s little surprise that the topic sparked Kornegay’s activist interest.

“It is very important to me, as an artist, to use my voice to combat HIV stigma, and central to my work is the issue of modernizing our HIV criminalization laws. I jumped at the idea to photograph the cover as a result of the issue being dedicated to discussing the work of activists focused on fighting this critical  issue,” said Kornegay whose art continues to enlighten through platforms that elevate the images, voices, and issues of Black gay men, particularly those who continue to thrive in the face of stigma, discrimination and HIV.

To learn more of the backstory of Positively Aware’s Sept/Oct 2018 momentous cover, obtain the issue, or just to review the rest of Kornegay’s work for the issue, please visit the magazine’s website at: