By Andrew Goyvaerts
Having spoken before about how at times much of the stigma directed at me due to living with HIV feels the same as stigma experienced due to living with epilepsy, it is now time to point out two big differences. Personally, I have never been concerned when disclosing an epilepsy diagnosis to someone that this person might physically harm me because of it and, I have never heard of someone being allowed to die after disclosing to another that they are living with the condition.
The horrific death of Ashley Gillard, 31, at his home in Milton Keynes followed by the subsequent trial of his then partner Thomas White, 26, brought to light just how real the concerns of some people are regarding disclosure of status. After being tied to his bed during a sex act, Ashley began to fit in what is said to have been a reaction to drugs both men were taking, during this time Ashley is believed to have disclosed his HIV status to White, angered by it White did nothing to help as the young hairdresser died in front of him. Returning days later he set fire the apartment in an attempted cover up but detectives were able to see straight through it, arresting the 26 year old soon after. Fast forward to last month and the dismal sentence of 13 years handed down to White, of which only 9 years will be served.
His sentence, it will be argued, was in line with the charge of manslaughter by gross negligence and two counts of vehicle theft to which White pleaded guilty after he claimed the deceased had not disclosed he was living with HIV during previous sexual encounters, leaving the question of why were so few charges brought against him. What about arson, public endangerment of the apartment building’ other residents, tampering with evidence or the seen of an investigation?
Having read of people being sent to prison for the same length of time after an assault where the victim survived, with no longterm physical health problems, it seems to me that there is something very unjustifiable about our justice system.
Since this trial, my mind keeps reflecting on times of disclosing to someone that I have epilepsy and question, if upon disclosing it I took a seizure and that person watched me die out of uneducated anger, would they have faced a mere manslaughter charge?
My gut instinct says no, the book would be thrown at them on as many counts as possible and the ensuing trial would have received much more attention, though perhaps for the grieving family it is good this one did not, allowing them to mourn in peace, yet what little coverage there was highlighted the reality that lack of education surrounding HIV stretches beyond the general public to the courts and law of this land, which has been demonstrated in cases like this along with HIV criminalisation laws that have no place in a democratic society where all are claimed to be equal.
Finally for the sake of Ashley Gillard there is something I must note that seems to have been missing from what little coverage of Whites trial there was. The only witness to this event is a self confessed thief and arsonist who was comfortable to sit back watching someone die, if Ashley Gillard were alive to tell his side of the story it could be very different.