On Christmas Day, 2009, gay, HIV+ Louisiana bar manager Robert LeCompte was found dead in his club, stabbed more than ten times with "a very long knife." More than four thousand dollars was missing, and the killer(s) left a note saying that LeCompte had transmitted the virus to his killer. To date, the weapon has not been recovered and no suspects have been named.
The sheriff is "99.9 percent sure this is not a hate crime," even though LeComte's HIV status was well-known in the community, and the club catered to a mostly LGBT clientele. They believe the note is a misdirection left by the murderer(s) to put authorities on a false trail. According to sources, many of LeComte's close friends agree with the authorities and are satisfied with the way the investigation is being handled.
So far, so good. What troubles me, whether real or contrived, is the presence of the note in the first place. The note says this victim was targeted because of his HIV status. It was either premeditated or the note was written hastily by someone who knew the victim's status - which one is unclear.
What is clear, is that somehow, on some level, transmitting HIV is a valid motive for revenge or murder in the minds of some people.
There have been a lot of arguments and discussion on this point. They largely revolve around two questions:
- What is the responsibility of the person with HIV(PWH) in regard to protecting and/or informing their sexual partners?
- What is the responsibility of (hopefully) negative people for the same?
The arguments have been made that:
- Both are responsible equally.
- Negative persons are responsible for keeping themselves negative,
- All HIV+ persons should always disclose their status and refuse to engage in risky behavior.
- It's none of your business.
All have valid points from a certain point of view. But perhaps we're missing something in this discussion. I wonder if we're missing the image of HIV+ gay man as a predator.
We've all heard the stories. Poz sociopaths working to infect everyone they can in anger and retribution for their diagnosis. Urban legend? Who knows? I do become concerned, however, when HIV is perceived as a justifiable motive for any act of revenge or violence.
I don't believe that society can allow a serial "infector" to operate unchecked, but I do believe that the transmission of HIV is a stigma that remains vividly in the minds of many Americans - it involves a lot of taboo and uncomfortable images of gay sex. In many ways that attitude can make HIV+ gay/bi men worse "perverts" than negative men. HIV is still often associated with promiscuous sexual behavior, and the American puritanical streak permeating our society doesn't approve. In fact it vehemently disapproves, often putting PWH (Persons With HIV) at some risk for derision, harassment and violence.
Is that what's happening here?
I don't know. I'm not sure this is a hate crime, either. But I do know that by the fact of this note, the image of the HIV+ gay man as predator is still a strong, valid image. It ignores any responsibility of the partner to be informed and to protect. It ignores the many HIV+ gay/bi men who work diligently to keep the virus to themselves. It speaks of an idea that, somewhere, makes complete sense. That's what troubles me.
It means that discrimination, prejudice and shame, real or contrived, are all still very much with us, even when unapparent. Despite the facts, despite our better judgment, hysteria can often still rule the day. And that disturbs me, because, growing up on a ranch, I know what people do to predators.