Cut the Stigma
Director of Photography: Emily Topper
Sound: Caleb Mose
Production Support: Stefan Johnson
Special Thanks: Legends Los Angeles
In the early stages of the AIDS epidemic, states created laws to punish people for “exposing” others to HIV, whether intentionally or not. Many of these laws criminalize actions that would not result in HIV transmission, such as spitting, or actions such as posting a dating profile without mentioning one’s HIV status. At this stage of the epidemic, due to the advancement of HIV-related medications, people living with HIV whose viral loads are undetectable cannot even transmit the virus to another person, rendering these laws obsolete as well as discriminatory.
Nikko Briteramos was the first person to be charged under South Dakota’s HIV criminalization law when he was found in his dorm room with his girlfriend freshman year. This event had a life-changing impact on Nikko who was villainized by the small South Dakota town and, ultimately, incarcerated. After moving to LA to begin a new chapter in his life, he encounters a barber who brings up his past and turns him away. Ultimately, Nikko decides to confront the discrimination that he has endured since he was 19 and, with the help of Lambda Legal, wins a lawsuit against the barber.