Raleigh HIV case warrants news coverage

Staff Editorial

by QNotes Staff  Staff Reports  editor@goqnotes.com
Published: November 1, 2008 in Editorial, Opinion

Since the publication of our Oct. 23 web story “Gay DJ put on house arrest for second HIV violation,” Q-Notes has received some pointed criticism. We welcome this exchange of ideas and want our readers to know the reasons we decided to publish the story online, why a version appears in this issue and how we came to the conclusion that it was newsworthy. (See story: House arrest for Gay DJ’s second HIV violation)

The editorial staff first became aware of Joshua Waldon Weaver in late August, as we were preparing our Sept. 6 issue. Ironically, we were chastised by a member of the community for not covering the story quickly enough.

Weaver had just been convicted of violating state health regulations governing the spread of communicable diseases including HIV, as well as others such as tuberculosis. As previously reported, Weaver admitted in court and to Q-Notes via phone that he had unprotected sex with three men and failed to disclose his HIV-positive status.

For pleading guilty in the case, Weaver received a 40-day suspended jail sentence and probation. Terms of his probation ordered him to comply with communicable disease control measures set by the state, such as using a condom and utilizing other safe sex practices.

It is important to note that the court and the state have never said an HIV-positive person cannot or should not engage in sex. That the State of North Carolina and its courts publicly recognize the validity and need for intimacy among gay males is a fact to be applauded. We commend state government for this vital recognition of LGBT and HIV-positive people’s right to sexual privacy and freedom.

In our Sept. 6 story, we contacted HIV/AIDS advocates and asked them about the efficacy and application of the laws applied to Weaver’s case. We believe we handled this complicated issue sensitively and reached acceptable conclusions to the key questions: Are these laws necessary? (Yes.) When and how are they enforced? (Rarely and in extreme circumstances.) What is the obligation of a person with HIV? (Disclose his or her status to their sexual partners.)

Matt Comer’s Editor’s Note in the Sept. 20 issue (“New HIV numbers should spark action”) took members of the LGBT community to task for caring too little about their sexual health and failing to practice safe sex. The piece delved into a plethora of cultural and societal conditions that contribute to the ongoing HIV/AIDS crisis among gay and bisexual men and men who have sex with men (MSM) but do not identify as gay.

In the end, Comer encouraged LGBT people to address these complex issues openly, while at the same time taking more personal responsibility for their own safe sex practices and sexual health.
Weaver jumped back on our radar late last month when he admitted in open court that he had already broken his probation orders. It is not our intent to demonize this man, but he continues to behave in reckless and negligent ways that not only endanger his own health, but also the health of others.

In cases such as these, when a person is a threat to himself and others, we expect our government to step in. Weaver has shown that he is not willing to take precautions in the interest of public health. While his sexual partners also bear responsibility for their behavior, it is Weaver’s duty alone to follow the law, inform his partners of his status and wear a condom during sex.

Among the criticism directed toward us, there’s been discussion about the stigma surrounding HIV and AIDS. Some have stated that our coverage only adds to this stigma. In reality, isn’t it Weaver’s own behavior that adds to the stigma? When many people, gay or straight, think of people with HIV, they think of the stereotype of the unrepentant man who repeatedly engages in dangerous behavior wantonly infecting others. Rightly or wrongly, Weaver is fueling this image.

Lastly, remember that Q-Notes is a newspaper, not an advocacy organization. People tend to forget this because our reporting comes from a decidedly pro-LGBT ideological stance. Nonetheless, it is paramount that we guard against becoming an uncritical cheerleader for the community.

When there are issues or people that deserve criticism, it is our responsibility to report it. And when Q-Notes deserves criticism, it is our obligation to air your concerns. There’s a reason why letters to the editor and uncensored web comments are accepted — utilize these outlets and blister us whenever you feel aggrieved. We can handle it.

More than anything, we hope our coverage of this unfortunate situation leads to an honest and open discussion about HIV, AIDS and sexual behavior among men in the LGBT community.

For instance, why do so many gay and bisexual men seemingly refuse to take personal responsibility for their own health? Why have we practically fetishized an extremely risky sexual practice (anonymous, bareback sex)? Why don’t we push our elected leaders to do more? Why would we rather watch the Oscars and go clubbing than lobby for more HIV/AIDS funding and comprehensive sex education?

For our community’s health and welfare, we’re willing to have these difficult conversations. Are you?

{democracy:16}