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Open letter to readers: Today and tomorrow

By Lynda Waddington | 11.17.11

Wednesday was a difficult day for The American Independent News Network, which is the larger entity that operates The Iowa Independent. Our chief executive and founder announced two of our sister sites would close and their content would be moved to The American Independent.

ACS lockout continues; plan emerges to repeal sugar protections

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By Virginia Chamlee | 11.15.11

A recently introduced bill could have far-reaching impact on the U.S. sugar industry, including American Crystal Sugar, a farmer-owned cooperative that locked out 1,300 Midwest workers on Aug. 1.

Cain campaign: Farmers know more about regulations than EPA

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By Andrew Duffelmeyer | 11.15.11

The chairman for Herman Cain’s Iowa effort says the campaign “relied more on the word of farmers than Washington regulators” in deciding to run an ad containing claims the Environmental Protection Agency says are false.

Mathis wins, Democrats maintain Senate control

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By Lynda Waddington | 11.08.11

The Iowa Senate will remain under the control of a slim 26-25 Democratic majority when it reconvenes in January 2012.

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PR: Nation should work to address veterans’ challenges

By Press Release Reprints | 11.11.11

BRUCE BRALEY RELEASE — As US involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan ends, it’s more important than ever that our nation works to address the challenges faced by the men and women who fought there.

PR: Honoring veterans, help in hiring

By Press Release Reprints | 11.11.11

CHUCK GRASSLEY RELEASE — A difficult job market is challenging the soldiers, sailors and airmen who have protected America’s interests by serving in the Armed Forces.

PR: In honor of America’s veterans

By Press Release Reprints | 11.11.11

TOM LATHAM RELEASE — No one has done more to secure the freedom enjoyed by every single American than our veterans and those currently serving in the armed services.

PR: Honoring and supporting our nation’s veterans

By Press Release Reprints | 11.11.11

DAVE LOEBSACK RELEASE — Veterans Day is an opportunity to reflect on the service of generations of veterans and to honor the sacrifices they and their families have made so that we may live in peace and freedom here at home.

Man with HIV calls Iowa’s transmission law ‘a sledgehammer looking for a thumbtack’

By Lynda Waddington | 09.15.09 | 11:22 am

IOWA CITY — Sitting across a kitchen table from Donald Baxter, it’s easy to see that he is one of those people who would be described as being comfortable in his own skin. He laughs easily, both at life and at himself. While he describes himself as opinionated, he’s quick to credit his time as a “southern liberal” for the development of the trait. He’s one of those people who wants to make a difference, especially when he encounters injustice.

Donald Baxter

Donald Baxter of Iowa City was considered for prosecution under Iowa's criminal transmission of HIV law as a result of an altercation where Baxter claims he was only defending himself.

An interesting person with a history that spans from civil rights activities in Alabama and Georgia to clashes with local law enforcement in Iowa City, Baxter’s life story alone would likely be enough to prompt this article. But that’s not the reason for this interview. The unfortunate reality is that Baxter is one of about 3,000 people in living Iowa who are identified by the state as dangerous weapons worthy of regulation.

Sixteen years ago this month, Baxter learned that he was HIV positive.

Looking Back

“I like to tell people that I got HIV from doing what I thought I was supposed to be doing,” he said. “That is, I was living in a supposedly monogamous relationship. At the time, I don’t even quite know what I was thinking about the possibility of the person I was seeing being HIV positive. I think, looking back on it, I probably knew.

“I was doing HIV testing counseling. I was telling people how to have safe sex — mostly young men who were going out to bars and picking up men that maybe they didn’t know very well. That wasn’t what I was doing. Still, I ultimately was not following my own advice.”

Baxter, who was then a resident of Atlanta, had been living with another man for roughly three years, and, for a variety of reasons, the couple was aware that the relationship was coming to a close. Baxter made plans to get tested in September, a yearly activity he did in conjunction with his birthday. Although he asked his boyfriend to come with him and be tested, the man refused. The couple broke up shortly after that, and before Baxter learned that he was HIV positive.

“He may have known and he may just have not wanted to tell me,” Baxter said. “Ultimately … it was my responsibility. I mean, this person did not give me HIV. I got it from him. I got it by the decisions that I made not to be safe or to be as safe as I could have been.”

That attitude of personal responsibility toward his own disease has sparked Baxter’s interest about Iowa’s criminal law regarding HIV, which is among the second-most-serious felonies that can be committed in the state. Although the law is titled “Criminal transmission of human immunodeficiency virus,” the reality is that actual transmission of the disease is not required for there to be a criminal act. A person who is aware of his/her HIV positive status, according to the law, can be charged with criminal transmission for engaging in intimate contact with another person, providing bodily fluids or organs or sharing non-sterile drug paraphernalia. The only defense for a person with a positive status who is charged with the offense is to prove that status was disclosed prior to the offending action.

In the 11 years since Iowa began prosecuting behavior that could result in transmission of HIV, a total of 36 individuals have faced charges. Of those, 24 have been convicted and have received sentences ranging from a few months on probation to several decades in prison. Baxter, who bit another man during a bicycle-vehicle traffic dispute in Iowa City, was considered for prosecution under the law.

Iowa Impact

“This guy was poking me in the face. One of his jabs went into my mouth and I bit down hard,” Baxter said. “I didn’t even think about it. I wasn’t thinking that I was HIV positive and that I shouldn’t be doing it. I was just thinking that this guy just shoved his f***ing finger in my mouth.”

Baxter had been riding his bicycle on a street near the University of Iowa. The man was driving a van, and, according to Baxter, came up too close behind him, honked and moved into the other lane to pass before pulling abruptly back in front of him, effectively cutting him off. When the man then made a turn and came to a stop outside the school of pharmacy building on campus, Baxter followed and confronted him.

“I hit the side of his window — still straddling my bike — and he gets out of the van. He reaches back between the front seats and gets a four-foot-long windshield scraper and starts beating the hell out of my face,” Baxter said. “His wife comes out of the building and she tried to get him to stop, but he pushed her and she fell down.”

Baxter, who admitted to confronting the driver, was charged several weeks later with assault causing injury, a serious misdemeanor. Nearly a year later, and following a jury trial, Baxter was found guilty and ordered to pay fines, complete community service and take an anger management class.

“When I was sentenced, which I think was about two weeks after the trial, I was pretty shocked. I had actually deluded myself into thinking that I could win it,” Baxter explained. “When we lost our motion to suppress [my] HIV [status] at trial, my lawyer told me we lost the case. He said that he had been at a wedding in Davenport over the weekend and just sort of threw this out as a hypothetical. As soon as the HIV status came up there was absolutely no sympathy for me whatsoever. The people at the wedding thought that I put this person in jeopardy.”

Whether or not Baxter did place the man in jeopardy is a subject of contention. Most virus experts agree that the possibility of transmitting HIV through saliva or other bodily fluids that are not blood is minuscule, but no one is ready to definitively say the disease cannot be transferred by those means. Also the Iowa law is written with a broad brush, encompassing any and all bodily fluids, and making no exceptions for condom use or viral loads, information the medical community has acknowledged as playing a large role in possible transmission.

On a personal level, Baxter took at least two lessons away from the incident. First, Iowa law makes it difficult for a person who initiates a confrontation to later claim that he/she was acting in self-defense. And, second, “if you have HIV, you lose your right to self-defense.”

“I think that I would have stood a pretty good chance of winning the case if it was not for HIV,” he said, adding that his status creates an odd circumstance of living. “Really, HIV, despite the fact that it in some ways sort of runs my life, I’ve never been ill from it.”

Sledgehammers and Thumbtacks

Baxter, who is in his 50s and remains an avid bicyclist, is in physically better shape than many men half his age. He manages his disease by taking medications — four pills a day, usually before he goes to bed. The worst health he has known as a result of the disease is attributed to the initial side effects of the medications before his body adjusted to them.

“My ideal HIV law would probably not require transmission, but it would require intent,” he said. “I think that intent certainly has to be a factor. It should be difficult [to convict] … I mean, beyond a reasonable doubt, right?”

Baxter also advocates moving Iowa laws closer to those in neighboring Illinois. That state did not write a criminal code specific to HIV, but used existing public health laws to deal with any crimes associated with sexually transmitted diseases.

“I think the law we have here is a sledgehammer that is mostly looking for a thumbtack. I think the latest thumbtack was Nick Rhoades,” Baxter said in reference to a Black Hawk County case earlier this year where a 34-year-old man was sentenced to 25 years in prison following a one-time consensual encounter that did not result in transmission.

“I get no impression from him other than the fact that he is probably a 34-year-old man who is not a paragon of responsibility. He obviously has had some substance abuse issue, which is actually pretty common in the gay community. He is not a criminal, and his sentence angers me on a couple of fronts. He’s probably never transmitted HIV to anybody, let alone the person who made this complaint against him. As a taxpayer in the state of Iowa I also realize that we are probably spending between $65,000 and $70,000 per year to keep him behind bars. That pisses me off. That would piss me off if I weren’t HIV positive.”

Although knowledge about HIV has increased in the decade since Iowa wrote its criminal transmission law, the law itself remains untouched. Baxter acknowledges that another decade will bring more knowledge and perhaps changes.

“Yes, we are learning more and, as older judges and prosecutors are replaced by younger ones, there will likely be changes,” he said. “So, yes, I think that time will take care of this — but how much time?”

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Comments

  • Peggy2

    “Yes, we are learning more and, as older judges and prosecutors are replaced by younger ones, there will likely be changes,” he said. “So, yes, I think that time will take care of this — but how much time?” — Donald Baxter

    What a bizarre statement by Baxter.

    Is he counting on a younger, more sympathetic group of judges to ignore the deadly nature of HIV/AIDS?

    It's also strange that the author made no mention of the CDC's recent announcement that HIV/AIDS is on the rise for gay and bisexual men. They're the only group that hasn't seen a decrease in cases, by the way.

    • EricaJa

      Peggy, how old are you? If you don't want to publish your last name, then at least give me your age…

      • Peggy2

        Why?

        • Anonymous

          Because, if we were to know that you’re over 40, then we’d probably understand a little bit more about what era of parenting you grew up in.

          Especially a bygone one where men were unemotional (except for anger), as well as it wasn’t a woman’s place to have a paying job (except for babysitting).

          • Anonymous

            And my age changes the truthfulness of what I post in what way?

            You’re grasping. Why don’t you just learn to debate the issues without resorting to personal insults? It’s not hard…unless you’re dealing in falsehoods.

          • Anonymous

            And how did I insult you? My friend, you’re the one that is grasping, and you just gave your age away with being aloof.

          • Anonymous

            So, if I told you I’m 39 you would agree with everything I’ve posted?

          • Anonymous

            I’m just using your own logic on you, as in, if you can’t publish your last name, or meet me face to face, what are you really concealing apart from your name?

            I think you’re really protecting your ideology rather than yourself.

          • Anonymous

            I can assure you, there’s nothing wrong with my ideology.

          • Anonymous

            How? How can anyone definitely know?

  • ruraliadem

    I'm just guessing, but I think Mr. Baxter's “bizarre” statement about younger v. older judges could be referring to the idea that homophobia may play a role in judges' rulings regarding these cases. In our society, homophobia is on the decline… which perhaps could mean younger judges would be able to look more closely at facts and more vigorously study the medical aspects involved with these cases — without any other potential biases influencing their decisions.

    And, true, HIV/AIDS is on the rise in gay/bisexual men. Is Peggy inferring that stiffer laws are prudent?? Or, is she SURE that the current laws are effective deterrents? Clarity is essential, and a close study of the TRUE impact of these laws COULD actually show that they perpetuate the growth of infections. Perhaps not. More conclusive evidence is needed. Still many questions unanswered…

  • ruraliadem

    “…the deadly nature of HIV/AIDS?” –Peggy2

    Last thought… How many people ARE, in fact, dying from HIV/AIDS in the U.S. today (versus eleven years ago when the law was passed)? Baxter himself has been positive for SIXTEEN years, according to the article. The decline in fatalities is awesome. This is no disease to be minimized, but we need our views of the impact of this virus on the population to evolve as our treatments and understanding of the virus itself evolve as well.

    Consider this: If an individual is diagnosed by their doctor with the H1N1 virus (a very potentially deadly virus indeed) is instructed to remain at home… but instead s/he disobeys doctor's ordes and ventures off to work — and then infects a coworker (perhaps by selfishly stealing a bite of a sandwich — clearly reckless), should we regulate against that as well?

    Food for thought.

  • http://en-gb.facebook.com/onanov Donald Baxter

    I would say to Peggy that homophobia probably did have some impact on the sentencing of Nick Rhoades and I think this because of some of the issues and evidence that was brought up at trial that really didn't have much to do with the violation and enforcement of the actual law. I'm guessing that Peggy doesn't actually know that much about HIV/AIDS and epidemeology but if judges are going to pass sentencing on those who are HIV infected, they actually should know.

    Increasing the stigma of HIV is not the way to reduce infections–these laws would discourage anyone from knowing their status (since one can't be prosecuted unless one knows one's own status). HIV is most easily communicated shortly after infection–when the person infected isn't likely to know their status–and almost impossible to communicate when someone is treated for HIV to undetectable. Many epidemiologists think that it might be possible to eradicate HIV/AIDS by making sure persons have easy access to treatment because under treatment the risk of infection is so low. But this requires testing and as long as the stigma exists, persons who need to be tested won't do it.

  • Peggy2

    Proving the origin of transmission of an airborne virus as opposed to one that requires sexual intercourse is like comparing apples to oranges, unless you're dealing with a sex addict. One is most likely an act of ommission while the other is an act of commission.

    I would argue that downplaying the stigma of AIDS is exactly why it's still on the rise in the gay and bisexual male community.

    You will see, as time goes on, that the CDC will be forced to speak out more clearly and forcefully on this problem.

    • http://twitter.com/onanov Donald Baxter

      You may argue all you want, but you'd be arguing uneducated opinion against science.

      • Peggy2

        Sorry, Donald, but I'm just using the CDC's own statistics.

        • http://twitter.com/onanov Donald Baxter

          And how do those statistics apply to an HIV undetectable person's chance of infecting another person? In reality, the persons you need to worry about are unreachable by this law because they are so recently infected they don't know their status and can't be prosecuted. Honestly, you take more chances slipping and breaking your neck in the shower. Americans are notoriously bad at interpreting and applying statistics, and the further “right” one is, the worse that ability becomes.

          • Peggy2

            Come on, Donald, let's stay focused on the facts here. If you're going to get political, I'll wrap it up right now.

            Why did you only get tested once a year?

          • http://en-gb.facebook.com/onanov Donald Baxter

            I don't think the facts really matter much to you, Peggy. But then again, the American hard right has never had a particularly good relationship with science, has it?

          • Peggy2

            My, Donald, you're really jumping to conclusions with your comments.

            Why did you only get tested once a year?

          • onanov

            I tell you what Peggy, I'm not generally in favor of having conversations like this with people who don't have the courage to even display a real identity. Perhaps when you become a real person from a real place, we'll talk. Not sure what the frequency of my testing has much to do with anything–you apparently don't know much about how testing works anyway. Not jumping to conclusions, I've read your comments on other articles–I've got you “pegged” so to speak as to where your politics are.

          • Peggy2

            If you think I'm going to post my last name on a blog, you're insane.

            Perhaps I “don't know much about how testing works anyway.” I can't imagine your reasons can be all too personal so I'll let your non-answer speak for itself.

          • onanov

            What are you hiding from, Peggy? If that's even your real first name.

          • Peggy2

            Me, hide? Never.

          • onanov

            Well, I do hope, Peggy, that as you carry that “Children Need a Mom and Dad” sign at anti-same sex marriage tirades, that you don't intend to confiscate all those children whose heterosexual parents couldn't make a go of being married.

          • EricaJa

            “If you think I'm going to post my last name on a blog, you're insane.”

            I think you are insane, Peggy.

          • Peggy2

            Like you?

          • EricaJa

            Erica Jamison

            Send me hate mail when you look me up in the Ames directory.

          • Peggy2

            For what purpose? I'm perfectly happy having a civil debate on the blogs. I'm not afraid of a differing viewpoint but I'm also not willing to let it go unanswered. It's the American way!

  • ruraliadem

    Perhaps comparing an airborne virus to one most often transmitted sexually is, in fact, apples to oranges. I'm not sure. I guess that's why we're here blogging. We're exchanging opinions and ideas in hopes that many takes on this issue are represented in order to gain a more universal understanding. Agreed?

    My thought process was illustrated by comparing two deadly viruses; two hypothetical scenarios where each informed carrier was reckless and put another's life in jeopardy. Personally, I don't see a great difference except for the WAY the virus would be transmitted. So is that really the question here? Being reckless through consensual sex is criminal, but being reckless (ignorning doctor's orders) through airborne/saliva-exchange or other means is acceptable? I thought this law was about the danger to people's lives when the carrier should have taken greater responsibility to prevent [possible] infection. What I interpret from what you (Peggy) stated is that this law is more targeted toward the sexual aspect than the actual threat of transmission. ??

    Oh, and Peggy's remark that transmission of HIV “requires sexual intercourse,” to me it shows a further shows a need for education, I think. I'm no expert, but I suspect there are numerous other ways to contract this virus than sex alone.

    Don't lash out, Peggy. I respect your views (which is why we're here, right? To discuss?). I appreciate your comments. I am open-minded to what you're saying. Are you open minded to differing views? Would any information/data sway your opinions at all, or is your mind completely cemented?

  • ruraliadem

    Peggy, should we inflate the stigma if you think that downplaying it is increasing infections?

    • Peggy2

      How about we quit glossing over the scientific facts for the sake of making homosexuals feel good about what they do in the bedroom? Is that too much to ask? Can't adult homosexuals handle the truth?

  • EricaJa

    Thank you, Don.

    Thank you for saying what others couldn't, and having the courage to have an honest discourse, even within the comments you leave.

  • EdwardPo

    I know Mr. Baxter. Trust me: he could benefit from YEARS of anger management classes. I am HIV positive and would never hold him out as a palatable (nor compassionate) advocate for people with HIV. I am embarrassed that he is representing the HIV community at all.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=16929716 facebook-16929716

      I know Mr. Baxter as well, and what you're trying to do here is shameful. Typing out “Trust me” isn't going to make me, knowing full well that Donald is very active in his community, an advocate for both the biking community as well as the HIV+ community.

      This is nothing more than a deep-seeded hatred, probably for yourself (If you are indeed positive as you claim) since no one after meeting this man would make such accusations. Shame on you.

      • EdwardPo

        You are correct: the phrase “trust me” is trite and ridiculous (especially in an online forum). My apologies.

        But don't expect that all members of the Iowa City HIV community hold Donald up as a model person of HIV or within the gay community. If anything, his status is yet even more fuel for his seemingly pathological state of self-importance and knowing what is “best” for our community and (I postulate) the world at large.

        I suppose we can only agree to disagree on this point.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=16929716 facebook-16929716

    One of the best Independent articles I've read yet.

  • EdwardPo

    You are correct: the phrase “trust me” is trite and ridiculous (especially in an online forum). My apologies.

    But don't expect that all members of the Iowa City HIV community hold Donald up as a model person of HIV or within the gay community. If anything, his status is yet even more fuel for his seemingly pathological state of self-importance and knowing what is “best” for our community and (I postulate) the world at large.

    I suppose we can only agree to disagree on this point.

  • EdwardPo

    You are correct: the phrase “trust me” is trite and ridiculous (especially in an online forum). My apologies.

    But don't expect that all members of the Iowa City HIV community hold Donald up as a model person of HIV or within the gay community. If anything, his status is yet even more fuel for his seemingly pathological state of self-importance and knowing what is “best” for our community and (I postulate) the world at large.

    I suppose we can only agree to disagree on this point.

  • http://700r4transmission.webs.com/apps/blog 700R4 Transmission

    Excellent! Great article, I already saved it to my favourite,

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