When openly gay college junior Kristopher Sharp launched a campaign to become the vice president of the student body at the University of Houston-Downtown, he knew that his sexual orientation might come up in the campaign he was running with presidential candidate Isaac Valdez. But the 23-year-old social work major never expected his medical records to be posted around the campus with a message shaming him for being HIV-positive.
Shortly after Sharp and Valdez filed the appropriate paperwork to run for vice president and president of the student body, respectively, mysterious flyers began to appear on campus. The single-page posters featured a picture of Sharp with an “X” over him, and text reading “Want AIDS? Don’t Support the Isaac and Kris Homosexual Agenda.”
Although Sharp is open about his HIV status, he told the HoustonPress he was devastated by the personal attacks. On the back of the flyers, the culprit included a copy of Sharpe’s medical record to prove the young man was positive. Sharp’s running mate was also attacked throughout the campaign.
But despite these hateful campaign tactics, Sharp and Valdez emerged victorious, and were elected to lead the University of Houston-Downtown’s student body. HIV Plus caught up with the courageous activist to see how he’s settling in to his new position.
HIV Plus: Congratulations on winning the student body election! I assume that the students vote. How does it make you feel to have the support of all those people who now know your status? How has the general attitude been around campus?
Kristopher Sharp: Yes, students do indeed vote! To know that, despite the attacks against my campaign, my peers were able to see that I was the best candidate and rally in support of me and my efforts is just phenomenal. In the last week of our campaign, I had prepared myself for the possibility of losing. When the results were announced, I immediately thanked God for not allowing those abhorrent acts of bigotry to sway my peers. It really made me appreciate being a UHD Gator!
Since Isaac and I have begun our administration, we have gotten nothing but support and love from the student body. Almost daily we have someone thank us for “standing up to hate” that surfaced during our campaign. I believe because of the way we handled everything, we earned a lot of respect from a lot of folks in the community and on campus. When all is said and done, we did our very best to combat the attacks with a message of understanding and compassion. Our resiliency not only helped us win, but it has positioned us to create tangible and lasting changes within our University and within our community.
Do you think the “smear-campaign” hurt or helped you win? Or did it have an effect at all?
In all honesty, I really can’t give an accurate answer to that question. I think that the actual defamation that took place hurt Isaac and I both. What I believe may have helped us, is the way we decided to deal with the attacks. Never once did we criticize our opponents in a negative or untrue fashion. Never once did we callously spread malicious lies about the character of those we suspected of the smear tactic. Never once did we allow the prejudice of others to influence our actions. Rather, we dug our feet deeper into the trenches and boldly asked, “Is that all you’ve got?” In truth, anyone can engage in mudslinging and dirty politics; however, it takes irrefutable forthrightness to smile in the face of adversity and preserver through the onslaught. Now that, I believe, has made all the difference.
Once you graduate next year, what are your plans? Do you want to continue into politics?
Life has a real way of throwing curveballs at any “plans” we humans like to make. So yes, at the moment, my long-term goal is to run for public office and continue to pursue a career in the political arena. The more educated I become, the more I understand that for many, flawed social policy — and the lawmakers responsible for crafting it — are responsible for either the continuity, or the creation, of disenfranchised communities of people. This has got to stop, and I will persevere until it does.
What would you say to young people like yourself, who might fear getting tested because they’re afraid someone may do to them what was done to you?
I smiled while writing this, because it means so much more to me now than it would have just a few months ago. I would simply tell them that they have nothing to fear. God has a reason for everything that happens in this small world of ours. Being HIV-positive isn’t a death sentence, or a curse. Ironically, for some, it is a call to duty; an instruction to take charge and dedicate themselves to the betterment of mankind. Getting tested and staying protected is key. But for those of us who are not so fortunate… perhaps we should begin to revaluate our situations and take a look at just how fortunate we really are.