Can Tat Artists Turn Down HIV-Pos Customers? Ten Years Later, the Answer's Still No


For the past 25 years, we've been bombarded by AIDS education, from how the disease is actually transmitted to prevention. Still, it appears that these grade-school lessons have been lost on most of the general public. Take the recent case of John Napier. The 24-year-old was diagnosed with HIV in August. A fan of tattoos and body piercing, Napier was worried that the disease would hinder him from decorating his body. So when he got the urge to get a lip piercing last week, he made sure to call around to a couple parlors, inquiring as to whether someone would be willing to work on him. When he phoned up both the Wickliffe and West Side branches of Body Revolution, he was told be two separate artists that they would not work on him. "I was a little bit bothered by it," Napier says. "I didn't know if they had the right to turn me away. So I started looking it up." (Click 'More' to Read On). Napier looked up the Ohio Department of Health's guidelines for tattoos and body piercing. Nowhere in the rules did it refer to working on HIV-positive patrons. "The only thing it said was that people with communicable diseases couldn't perform tattoos or piercings," Napier says. "But that still doesn't make sense. If they were practicing everything they way they are supposed to according to state laws, there should be no risk of transmission." Turns out that Napier was right. When C-Notes contacted Elana Robbie, a tattoo artist at Body Revolution, she confirmed Napier's assumptions. "As far as I've learned since I started tattooing, HIV is a legal handicap," Robbie says. "We can not refuse someone services based on whether they have HIV. We are trained to deal with blood born pathogens, we are trained on how we can prevent them from spreading, and our job is to treat everyone like they have [HIV]." Robbie also says that during a piercing, the amount of blood is so little that the likelihood of transmission is incredibly slim, especially if the artist is taking the proper precautions, such as using sterilized needles and latex gloves. "Honestly if he was interested, he can take legal action against the shops that turned him down," she says. Earl Pike, the executive director of the AIDS Taskforce, agrees. Pike points to a 1996 lawsuit in which Adam Gray, the owner of 8-Ball Tattoo, was found guilty for turning down a patron because he was HIV-positive. "Tattoo artists are no more likely than health care workers to become infected through an accidental needlestick," the lawsuit says. "It's 2007 and one thought is, the message has been drummed out there 25 years now," Pike says. "Unless you are having sex with the person that is piercing you, there's nothing to worry about. People get worried about the wrong thing. People get worried about getting infected by a tattoo artist, when they don't use condoms." -- Denise Grollmus


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