An Open Letter to Michael Johnson

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.


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
George Holifield
Rodney A. Brown
Ricardo Wynn
Cornelius Mabin
Darius Bost
Kevin Ewing
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 O'Neil