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Uncle Poodle and the criminalization of HIV
by David-Elijah Nahmod

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On January 15, The Wrap and other entertainment media outlets reported that Lee Thompson, better known as "Uncle Poodle" on The Learning Channel's reality series Honey Boo Boo, had tested positive for HIV, the virus which causes AIDS. Thompson claims to have pressed charges against his former boyfriend for giving him the virus. The ex, who has not been named, is allegedly serving a five-year prison sentence.

In an interview with Atlanta's Fenuxe Magazine, the openly gay Thompson said he hoped to use his new-found star power to teach kids about safe sex. He has also stated, in a video, that he hopes to produce his own reality series.

"I would have been cool with his HIV status if he had been honest," Thompson was quoted as having said in the Fenuxe interview. "I don't have an issue with the disease. I would have known how to protect myself."

Reactions to Thompson's announcement has been mixed, with some applauding his openness and honesty. Others questioned if the story was even true, due to the quick turnaround (a few months) from accusation to conviction.

Sean Strub, founder of Poz Magazine, took a decidedly different view. In a Poz blog titled "Uncle Poodle Presses Charges, Partner Sentenced to Five Years," Strub responded directly to the Thompson quote: "No, Lee, you already knew how to protect yourself. You chose not to and now you're making it someone else's fault."

Criminalizing people with HIV has become a serious problem, according to Strub. "Years ago, when a gay man tested positive, he didn't immediately look for someone to blame," Strub said in an email to Windy City Times. "The LGBT community has 'moved on' from HIV and AIDS to other issues. There is no sense of community responsibility and very little sense of community support. There is also the need to defend oneself against the accusations that come with testing positive: 'what, were you doing crystal or something? How stupid could you be?'"

Strub admits that he doesn't know the complete story regarding Thompson's relationship with his ex, or what moved him to press charges. WCT contacted The Learning Channel requesting an interview with Thompson. The network did not respond.

"If Thompson comes to the conclusion that he might have been coerced or rushed into making a decision about prosecution that he is now questioning, I hope he'll get in touch," Strub said. "It would be amazing and powerful if he were to become an advocate to educate people about why HIV criminalization is hurting public health, an injustice and a grave danger to all who value the freedom of consenting adults to engage in sexual behaviors with each other as they choose."

Strub urges people to support Sero Project, a non-profit who's goal is to de-stigmatize people with HIV. HIV Is Not A Crime, a video produced by Strub, can be viewed at the site, along with other videos and additional information on this issue: .

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