HIV Panic at Berlin’s LGBT Pride Parade
June is LGBT Pride Month in the United States and, all around the world, parades and other Pride events are taking place. This past Saturday, Christopher Street Day was held in Berlin. Unfortunately, what should have been a fun and festive occasion for the city’s LGBT population was turned ugly for one HIV-positive man who may face criminal charges due to his status.
Harald Fassanelli, a former cast member on Big Brother Germany, was on one of the floats in the Christopher Street Day parade. During the parade, he was reportedly assaulted by a group of other men. Put into a headlock and unable to breathe, Fassanelli defended himself by biting his attackers, injuring between six and eight people. Fassanelli was arrested and quickly released but, because of his HIV status, he is now being investigated by the police for “assault causing serious bodily injury.”
Although Fassanelli claims he did not start the altercation, police are reportedly investigating him over the bites.
The 43-year-old told German news website Bild.de that he was just trying to defend himself.
“It was self-defense, I was insulted and beaten,” he said.
“I’m sorry if I hurt people … I wasn’t thinking about infecting others at that moment.”
The injuries are reportedly only superficial, meaning that the risk of HIV infection is very low.
Germany has a history of charging HIV-positive people with criminal offenses as a result of their behavior. Because Fassanelli’s bites were superficial and the risk of transmission is low, it’s possible that nothing more will come of this situation. But considering Germany’s history with HIV panic, Fassanelli may face criminal repercussions for acting in self-defense.
The media’s response to this incident is particularly problematic. There is little discussion about the violence directed against Fassanelli, no information about his attackers and what (if anything) was done by authorities to stop the attack. Instead, the focus is on Fassanelli and the fact that he chose to defend himself. While HIV infection is not to be treated lightly, Fassanelli’s actions, in this particular situation, were very unlikely to pass the virus to others. And even if his actions had caused more serious harm, that would not excuse the fact that beaten and harassed. The focus on Fassanelli’s actions instead of the actions of his attackers point to a serious bias against people living with HIV, and that bias has prevented any meaningful discussion about the initial incident from taking place.
Ultimately, the question becomes whether or not HIV transmission should be considered a criminal act. Though it may be morally wrong to intentionally infect another person with HIV, I do not believe that criminalizing it helps anyone. In fact, research has proven that criminalizing HIV exposure does not yield beneficial results. Criminalizing HIV transmission does not reduce the spread of HIV, nor does it address the issues of HIV prevention. Instead, they increase fear and stigma, and they are often used disproportionately to punish marginalized communities, such as sex workers, immigrants and homeless people. A person’s HIV status is not a fair or accurate indication of his or her likelihood to harm another person. The time that is being spent investigating Fassanelli’s actions and debating the criminality of HIV transmission could be much better spent investigating the attack that caused Fassanelli’s response in the first place.
What are your thoughts? Do you believe that HIV transmission should be criminalized? And what — if any — charges should Fassanelli face?