Metro Weekly

Republican Candidate Wanted to Tattoo People With HIV

Democrat David Trone released an ad that recalls a letter by GOP opponent Neil Parrott advocating for tattoos on people with HIV.

David Trone (and Neil Parrott – Photos: U.S. House of Representatives and Facebook

A vulnerable Democratic congressman has aired an ad that attacks his Republican opponent for a letter to the editor in which the latter called for individuals living with HIV to be forced to get tattoos in order to curb the virus’s spread. 

The Republican in that race, Maryland Del. Neil Parrott, wrote the letter to the Hagerstown Herald-Mail in 2005, claiming that it was time to take the threat of HIV seriously.

He suggested that people infected with the virus receive tattoos that would be “in a spot covered by a bathing suit,” in order to warn potential sex partners of the risk they are undertaking when being intimate with an infected person.

“An effective way to enforce the consistency of the tattoo would be to provide medicine to the infected individual only after they have received the HIV tattoo,” Parrott wrote, while also arguing that the better solution to combating HIV is to promote abstinence outside of marriage, with abstinence-only education being pushed in schools.

Presumably, given Parrott’s vocal opposition to legalizing marriage equality in 2011 and 2012, this would also mean that only heterosexual married people should be encouraged to engage in sex.

Trone’s ad capitalizes on that letter to the editor, seeking to portray his Republican opponent as extreme, radical, and out-of-touch.

“If Neil Parrott had his way, every HIV-positive American would have to be tattooed, including all 3.7 million infants and children,” a narrator says as pictures of children flash across the screen. “Parrott wrote an op-ed actually proposing to force HIV-positive men, women, and children to be tattooed — or withhold their medication. Yeah, crazy. In fact, the only thing crazier would be sending Neil Parrott to Congress.”

Trone’s ad drops just a month before the general election.

While Trone defeated Parrott by a 20-point margin in 2020, the 6th Congressional District has since been redrawn after Republicans challenged a General Assembly map passed by the Democratic-led legislature.

Biden defeated former President Donald Trump by a 61%-38% margin. However, under the new district lines, Biden would have only won by 10 points.

Trone, a wealthy entrepreneur who has already pumped more than $12.5 million into his own campaign coffers, is narrowly favored to hold the seat, although the average Democratic share of the vote in the district, for all contested offices, was less than a percentage point more than the average Republican share of the vote from 2016-2020.

Additionally, President Biden, whose overall popularity is underwater, is serving as a drag on the ticket headed into this year’s midterm elections.

For his part, Parrott handily defeated a primary opponent who was supported by Gov. Larry Hogan and U.S. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) in the primary by a 63%-15% margin, demonstrating a strong base of support in a district that includes some of Maryland’s most conservative and heavily rural counties.

In 2012, the Baltimore Sun wrote a profile of the then-freshman Annapolis lawmaker, stating that Parrott had “since abandoned the idea” of the tattoo “because advances in medicine have made the disease more treatable.”

Ken Buckler, the managing editor and president of Radio Free Hub City, an Internet radio and streaming television site for Western Maryland, has also penned an article explaining the tattoo controversy.

According to Buckler, Parrott recanted his 2005 stance in a debate against Democrat Brien Poffenberger in 2010, with the exchange being reported by the Oct. 29, 2010 edition of the Hagerstown Herald-Mail.

Unfortunately, the Herald-Mail‘s archives do not allow users to access any articles from October 2010. 

According to Buckler, Parrott’s inspiration for the idea of mandating tattoos for people with HIV was an editorial in The New York Times penned by conservative hero William F. Buckley, the editor of the right-wing publication National Review

“In the editorial, as well as Parrott’s letter, the concept of the HIV tattoo is to provide awareness of the infection to intimate partners due to apparent uncaring by some with HIV regarding the health of those they might infect,” Buckler writes.

According to Buckler, Parrott told Radio Free Hub City in an email that he no longer supports the concept of mandatory HIV tattoos. “Needless to say, thankfully at this time we have a treatment for [HIV and AIDS], and that concept is not valid under the current circumstances.”

Neither Trone nor Parrott’s campaigns responded to a request from Metro Weekly asking for comment on the ad and clarification on their individual stances on HIV-related funding in Congress and HIV decriminalization. 

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