Skip to main content

For decades, tattoo artists have worked to make the process as safe as possible for themselves, their clients and others in the shop. This includes wiping down all contaminated surfaces with hospital-level disinfectants, changing their gloves throughout the process, using disposable needles/cartridges and sterilizing reusable equipment in an autoclave after every tattoo. However, even with all these steps in place, many artists would rather be safe than sorry when it comes to refusing potential clients who admit to being HIV-positive.


Artists have the right to refuse clients for a multitude of reasons, whether those be for safety or otherwise. Some examples of artists refusing a tattoo are a client being intoxicated, the tattoo idea being outside their style, the client not being a good candidate for their style, the tattoo idea not aligning with their morals or values or the tattoo being in a location they don't feel comfortable working on. But, in countries like Canada and the United Kingdom, there are disability laws in place (such as Scotland's Equality Act 2010) that prevent discrimination against protected classes, including those who live with HIV. And not only is the discrimination of people with HIV illegal, but such laws find it unjustified for a client to have to disclose their health status to an artist or shop.

In recent years, we've seen a number of people with HIV come forward about being turned down by a tattooer in countries with these disability laws, including a man named Deejay Bullock of Aberdeen who shared his story with BBC Scotland. In his interview, Bullock explains that after being diagnosed with HIV in 2009, he didn't claim his status to tattoo shops because he feared rejection. However, after working with an LGBT organization, he gained the confidence to be honest about his status and attempted to get a tattoo at a shop in Dundee. However, when the artist examined his paperwork, he was turned away. Bullock's story is by no means unique, but when it comes to legislation of these issues, the United States and the United Kingdom are at opposing ends of the spectrum.


According to the CDC, "The risk of getting HIV [from a tattoo] is very low," and in the United State, there are no known cases of transmitting HIV from a licensed professional who takes the necessary safety precautions. However, despite there being very low risks involved, many artists may still feel uncomfortable going through with it and presently, in the United States, they have the rights to turn down a client for any reason and to ensure the safety of their shop by requiring people to disclose their health status.


Although the thought of being turned down for a tattoo, especially when it's something you can't control, can be a hard pill to swallow, clients need to understand things from the artists perspective. Additionally, there's a tattooer out there for everyone and while finding that relationship may not be easy, it's possible.


What do you think about the artist's right to refuse clients with bloodbourne diseases? Should the UK be more like the States when it comes to their laws? Let us know your thoughts on this story in the comments section.