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Homophobia, Politics, and Public Health Protection: HIV Criminalization Law in California from 1985-1998

Despite there being an extensive amount of scholarship on the history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, little has been written about the history of the criminalization of HIV status. This thesis seeks to help fill that gap in the field through a study of the history of HIV criminalization in California. This project uses archival documents and newspapers to help explain how and why criminalizing legislation was put in place. Conservative legislators in California proposed criminalizing legislation under the guise of protecting public health in order to gain support. While politicians and legislators presented legislation as essential to public health protection, evidence proves that they were motivated by fears surrounding the epidemic, most specifically homophobia. Homophobia was a clear motivating factor in HIV criminalization as conservative legislators sought to have some sort of social control over high-risk groups, HIV positive individuals, and gay men in particular. Many public health officials actively objected conservative arguments, but this did not prevent legislators from achieving some level of success in their efforts to enact criminalizing legislation. This success was partly enabled by the political climate leading up to the 1988 election, as AIDS was used as a key issue in political discourse. This thesis provides ample evidence to demonstrate the different motivations and enabling factors in enacting HIV criminalization.