D Gregory Smith

Is HIV Motive For A Hate Crime?

Filed By D Gregory Smith | January 20, 2010 9:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, The Movement
Tags: gay sex, hate crimes against LGBT people, justice, PWH, taboo

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:

  1. What is the responsibility of the person with HIV(PWH) in regard to protecting and/or informing their sexual partners?

  2. 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.

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Greg, I suppose this discussion still has some merit, but I am sorry to inform you that you are about two decades behind most of the legislatures in this country. Specifically, among your bullet points, this one has been written into law in many states:

All HIV+ persons should always disclose their status and refuse to engage in risky behavior.

Of course, now we have the problem of defining what "risky behavior" means ... but you get my point. Why are we re-discussing disclosure when so many states have laws that require it?

Furthermore, multiple court cases have set the precedent that an HIV+ person who bites someone, or maybe even only spits at someone, can be believably charged with "attempted murder" --- despite the medically demonstrated fact that saliva is a very poor transmission medium. I am not up on any convictions, but the mere fact that these charges do not get thrown out at the preliminary hearing shows that some people, both in front and behind the bench, think that a jury might want a chance to decide this question.

HIV+ as predator? Hey, that concept has already worked its way into the law ... and it is obviously more popular than the notions that smokers are perpetrators of "second-hand smoke" on non-smokers, overeaters deserve to get diabetes, couch potatoes deserve heart attacks, etc.

I think the conversation is still worth having.
Three points:
1. Just because there is a law doesn't mean people are going to follow it. Doesn't even mean that public opinion necessarily follows said law or that science backs it up. Laws can be changed.
2. Gay/bi men are still the most saturated population in terms of HIV in the U.S., and are being infected at higher rates than other populations. We're re-discussing disclosure because something's obviously not working.
3. HIV+ Gay/bi men as predators are a stereotype, a caricature that serves as a fear-mongerer's weapon in a culture war that pays little or no attention to reality or truth. I feel it must be challenged and discussed openly.

I agree with most of what you say --- but I also think that any discussion on this matter is incomplete without pointing out that in most states the law has already weighed in on it.

It is all the more difficult to assert that HIV negative men are responsible to keep themselves negative in the fact of disclosure laws like this --- even so, self-responsibility is common sense, or at least it ought to be.

And I agree the "HIV+ as predator" meme is prejudicial and unfair, and needs to be challenged. More power to you, but this is a real uphill battle.

Do you know if killing someone because of their HIV status would be protected under current hate crimes legislation in most states? Is this something that's been tested?

Under the recently expanded Federal Hate Crimes Act it seems to be. It included "disabilities" which then protects anyone covered under the Americans With Disabilities Act- which specifically includes persons with HIV/AIDS.