Late last week, Kristopher Sharp, a third-year social work major at the University of Houston-Downtown, was called into Dean of Students Tommy Thomason's office. The dean handed Sharp a flyer printed on both sides. It had been been scattered along the university's stairwells and tacked to the assorted bulletin boards dotting campus. It was the first time Sharp had seen it.
The front featured a photo of Sharp, hair draped over his shoulders, bow tie cinched. A giant X sliced across the photo. "WANT AIDS?" blared the top of the flyer. Just beneath the photo: "DON'T SUPPORT THE Isaac and Kris HOMOSEXUAL AGENDA."
Flipping it over, Sharp saw the flyer continued on the back. In lieu of the hyperbolic, histrionic caps, though, there was text even more inflicting: Sharp's medical records, confirming his status as an HIV-positive student.
"I was initially really devastated that this could happen," Sharp, who has taken a week to digest the message, told Hair Balls. "What was going through my head was, 'How quickly can I transfer?'"
Sharp, who'd recently spoken openly about both his sexuality and HIV status, had heard that the flyers were floating around. He'd heard mention that someone was handing them out to passersby, but doesn't know whether anyone's yet laid eyes on the individual, or individuals, who spread these papers through campus. He only knows that he wasn't expecting something this despicable, this horrific, when he initially announced an interest in running for student body president next month.
Yes, there are fringe elements within UHD; as a university that prides itself on lifting Houston's diversity, it's only natural that the more loathsome strains would also find their way onto campus. And, yes, Sharp's both seen and been on the receiving end of the calls of "faggot!" percolating through classrooms and study lounges on campus. But this? Medical records and homosexual agendas? All of the AIDS-based fear-mongering that helped stigmatize an entire generation of gay men across the nation?
"I've never seen anything like this -- this is the very first time anything like this has occurred [on campus]," says Sharp. "There's a culture at UHD that is somewhat less accepting of LGBT youth, but something of this magnitude is completely mind-blowing. I knew, going into the election, that I could possibly be targeted because of my sexuality -- but I had no idea that it would go to this level." The university, for its part, seems to have said all the right things. They were appalled, says UHD spokesperson Claire Caton. They gathered the flyers as quickly as they could. An internal investigation began the day they heard. This isn't, they say, what the university represents.
"I believe it's an anomaly," Caton told Hair Balls. "We're really known for diversity, for welcoming all students -- this hits at core of one of the central aspects of who we are. ... We're just taking all appropriate steps, and I have full confidence in UHD police. They are doing everything possible to get to bottom of this."
Sharp, who is not yet an official candidate for the election, said he's 95 percent sure he knows who committed this venality. Someone in student government, he says. Someone who would have had access to the folder sitting in his desk, or next to his chair, or wherever he'd left the records he routinely carries from campus to his doctor. Someone who still has the records, swiped sometime after the March 5 appointment stamped on the back of these flyers.
But if and when the investigation comes to a close, Sharp doesn't want this person outed.He knows what it means to be shunned, to be tarred and targeted by a majority. And even though he's hurt, and he's distracted, and he's stunned, he doesn't want the perpetrator to experience the shame that will follow identification.
Criminal charges won't come. All Sharp wants is an apology.
"I don't think I'm serving anybody justice by ostracizing them," Sharp says. "Since I've had time to reflect, I've actually decided, when they find out, that I don't really want to press any criminal charges. I just want an apology. And I'm going to wait for that."