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Thursday, April 19, 2018

City

UH-D student body VP candidate persecuted


Kristopher Sharp, UH-Downtown vice presidential candidate for the Student Government Association, was targeted in anonymously posted fliers across campus that attack him for being HIV-positive.  |  Courtesy of Kristopher Sharp

Kristopher Sharp, UH-Downtown vice presidential candidate for the Student Government Association, was targeted in anonymously posted fliers across campus that attack him for being HIV-positive. | Courtesy of Kristopher Sharp

The UH-Downtown police department launched a criminal investigation last week into the circulation of fliers that targeted the sexual orientation and HIV-positive status of a potential candidate for student body vice president.

Social work junior Kristopher Sharp, and his planned running mate, applied mathematics junior Isaac Valdez, meet the stipulations for running and are working to complete all the required paperwork but have not yet been approved.

The front of the flier had the words “WANT AIDS?” above a picture of Sharp with a large X on it, and “Don’t support the Isaac and Kris homosexual agenda” at the bottom. On the back was medical information from a physician visit, including his HIV status and prescribed medication, along with his home address and telephone number.

Director of Media Relations Claire Caton said the university is seriously addressing the situation and trying to find the person responsible.

“We’re taking this incident very seriously,” Caton said. “Of course, any time our students’ rights are violated, we take that very seriously.”

When Dean of Students Tommy Thomason called Sharp into his office Tuesday morning, Sharp said he thought he wanted to talk to him about the election — the actual objective was to gather information for campus police to begin an internal criminal investigation.

Sharp said the first thing he wondered about when he found out was how quickly he could change schools.

“I knew my sexuality could possibly be an issue — I didn’t really think it would be since it’s 2013,” Sharp said. “I was expecting some attacks, maybe some debates, but I never would have thought it would go to the level it went to.”

He was shocked to hear everything was protected under the First Amendment and could not be considered hate speech because proper words, like AIDS and homosexual, were used on the flier.

He said Thomason told him if slang had been used, it could have been considered slander. He said he was basically told there was nothing they could do about it.

The clinic Sharp goes to, Thomas Street Health Center, is a few blocks away from the school, and patients will not be seen without proper documentation — even with an appointment. He doesn’t have a car, so he brought a folder of the required medical information with him. As a student senator, he shares a common office space with the other members of the Student Government Association and believes someone got the information from his briefcase when he was away.

While some students have been giving him a hard time, he has not lost the support of his running mate.

“(Isaac’s) been a trooper,” Sharp said. “If I was him, and I was straight, I’d probably drop me.”

Sharp sent an email to several news outlets and posted a response on Facebook, making it clear they would not respond to the negativity by engaging in illicit behavior.

“We will instead continue to progress in our campaign to enhance the student experience at the University of Houston-Downtown for all students — no matter their race, nationality, gender, sexual orientation or gender identity and expression.”

The LGBT community rallied in support of him, and when he told friend and social worker January Leo that he wanted to quit, Sharp said she told him if he did that, “the other people win.”

Shap said Leo encouraged him to keep moving forward and helped him find the silver lining in the situation.

“A lot of negative stuff came out of this, but in the end, I think one positive thing is that we’re bringing light to the stigma associated with HIV because it’s still socially acceptable to ostracize someone who is HIV positive,” Sharp said.

He said he thinks it’s important if the LGBT community is trying to change the way people view AIDS/HIV, to be open and show there are people with the virus who are doing normal things and living normal lives.

“It’s not as debilitating as it was in the ’80s or ’90s – I take one pill a day,” he said. “They decided to play off the stigma of AIDS and orchestrate this: ‘You don’t want this guy to be your leader because he has AIDS.’”

Sharp is planning to talk to the police about the situation before the end of the week. He anticipates them asking if he wants to pursue charges and said he will say no. He doesn’t want anyone to go to jail — just an apology and the rest of his medical information.

“I just want to know why they did it,” Sharp said.

“Truth be told, we can keep that between us, as long as the person comes forward and speaks to me. I’ve been able to reflect, and I really just want an apology.”

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