Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Around The Nation

University Student Targeted In Homophobic Smear Campaign Wins Election
Courtesy Kristopher Sharp
HOUSTON, TX -- Kristopher Sharp, a third year student who ran for student body vice-president of the University of Houston—Downtown was elected by the student body last week. Sharp had been the target of an anti-gay smear campaign which included a flyer that disclosed his HIV-positive status with medical information on the back along with other private personal medical information.
Campus police at the University of Houston-Downtown launched an investigation into the flyers in early April.
UHD Director of Media Relations Claire Caton told LGBTQ Nation that the university is actively pursuing the case trying to find the person or persons responsible. After the initial incident with the flyer, Sharp said graffiti stating “Issac + Kris=AIDS” popped up in bathrooms. ["Issac" referred to Sharp's running mate, Isaac Valdez.]
“We’re taking this incident very seriously,” Caton said. “Of course, any time our students’ rights are violated, we take that very seriously.”
According to campus university police officials, because proper words such as AIDS and homosexual were used on the flyer versus offensive slang, it is considered free speech and therefore protected.
Sharp said he doesn't want to press charges when the person responsible is found. Instead, he wants the university to place them on academic probation.
Speaking to the Dallas Voice about his victory, Sharp said,
“I was actually very surprised. I had prepared myself for not winning,” he said, adding that his campaign highlighted the improvements he and Valdez wanted to bring to campus. “It was very discouraging, but I think we did a good job turning it around.”
Sharp, who takes office in June, told The Voice that he and Valdez will focus their attention on campus eco-friendly initiatives and updated technology. But they’ll also use their positions to educate students on diversity and acceptance, which he said wasn’t initially part of their campaign.
“Specifically, we want to address the culture of hate on this campus. It’s really important that we engage the administration and our students in awareness and education,” he said.
In a phone call with LGBTQ Nation Tuesday evening, Sharp said that at this point he would prefer to move forward and he will concentrate on executing the responsibilities of his office to best serve his fellow students. However, Sharp feels that the overall of issue of how HIV positive individuals and the stigma they're treated with by peers and society still needs to be better addressed in a much more positive fashion, As opposed to retreading of inaccurate stereotypes which is what Sharp says led directly the flyers and the negativity of the recent smear campaign.