89 Black Gay Men Pen Letter To Michael ‘Tiger Mandingo’ Johnson #FreeBlackGayMen

michael-johnsonDear Michael,

We, Black gay men, write this letter to you out of love. We can only imagine the burdens you have had to carry personally: experiences of isolation, shame, rejection and moral judgment. But we want you to know that in our lives we have had to carry those burdens as well.

We write this letter to you, understanding the actions taken against you have come at the expense of your humanity. And we write this letter to you, acknowledging that you are a part of our community. You are our brother and we support you.

There are less and less spaces dedicated to Black gay men. And our bodies are being beaten, policed, and pushed into prisons. Yet, we remain steadfast in the belief that our bodies, desires, intimate relationships and communities are not criminal. We are loving, living, and worthy Black people.

We are aware that you have been charged with felony HIV-exposure in Missouri for allegedly not disclosing your HIV-status to your sexual partners. However, we also know that HIV criminalization laws unfairly impact Black people and stigmatize people living with HIV. HIV criminalization laws push people living with HIV further and further away from HIV treatment and care and make HIV prevention efforts more difficult. As Black gay men, we are deeply impacted by HIV; and these laws harm us and damage our relationships and communities.

HIV criminalization laws are unjust to people living with HIV. Under these laws, people living with HIV are expected to share their HIV status, even though our society is one that stigmatizes and discriminates against people living with HIV. Through HIV criminalization laws people are forced to disclose and to not consider the serious consequences of disclosure.

HIV should be treated as a public health issue not as a criminal one. Legally requiring disclosure privileges the lives of White people not living with HIV over Black people who are living with HIV.

These laws feed into stereotypes that assume Black gay men are irresponsible and hypersexual. For you, your accusers saw your Black and masculine body as a site of ultimate sexual pleasure, until they had to deal with you as a whole person. At that moment you became a problem and were disposable to them.

HIV criminalization laws burden people living with HIV to take on the sole responsibility of sexual encounters. Regardless of intention or disclosure, there is a shared responsibility among sexual partners. Opening up about your HIV status is a personal decision that should not be mandated or enforced. Disclosing your HIV-status should be about self-reflection and speaking your truth. Disclosure should not be about protecting people who are not living with HIV from transmission. And disclosure should not be about punishing people living with HIV who do not disclose.

We do not care about whether or not you disclosed, or any intention you may or may not have had. We care about you—your life matters. HIV is not a crime and you should not be in prison.

Until you are free, none of us are free. As you are impacted, we are all impacted. We see ourselves in you. Your story is connected to us all and is evidence that Black gay men need each other. Through all of the suffering, pain, and trauma, we need each other to heal and survive. We also need each other to share our joy, our laughter, and our beauty. Even as important, our community can only heal if you heal and survive too.

So we send you our love during your time of need. We want you to know that we are here in solidarity with you. We are sending you positive energy and universal force to act on your behalf. We will continue to send our energies to you with faith that you will be victorious throughout this fight.

Moreover, we are concerned about your health and well-being, how you are feeling, and how this has affected you. We are here for you. If there are other ways that we can provide you some support, please let us know. We want you to know there are people who care about what is happening to you. And we will continue to maintain contact with you, regardless of what happens with your case.

Therefore, while you have been in prison for over a year and half and placed in administrative segregation for over 60 days, we recognize these injustices and write this letter to you. While you are being framed as a monster, we continuously value your humanity and write this letter to you.

Lastly, we, Black gay men, write this letter in hopes that it gives you and others in our community the strength to work towards a world in which we are all free.

We are you and we love you.

Sincerely,

Kenneth Pass
Charles Stephens
Martez Smith
Darnell L. Moore
Craig Washington
Damian J. Denson
David Roscoe Moore
Tyrone Hanley
Tyrell Manning
Brandon Dykes
Kenyon Farrow
Jeffrey McCune
Steven G. Fullwood
Cory Bradley
L. Lamar Wilson
André Carrington
Clarence Singleton
Justin Smith
Vaughn E. Taylor-Akutagawa
Antoine J. Rogers
Anthony Thompson
Matthew Rose
Michael J. Brewer
Jonathan Paul Lucas
Jamie Allen
George Holifield
Bummah Ndeh
Marcus Lee
Ramon Johnson
Daniel McRath
Anthony Bond
Sean Sheppheard
Kieran Scarlett
Stephaun E. Wallace
Jamal Lewis
David J. Malebranche
Devin Barrington Ward
Blake A. Rowley
Mark J. Tuggle
Lamont Scales
Drew-Shane Daniels
Anthony Antoine McWilliams
Gavin Morrow-Hall
James Lester
Phillip Williams
George Holifield
Rodney A. Brown
Ricardo Wynn
Cornelius Mabin
Darius Bost
Kevin Ewing
Shaun Little
Carl Graves
Darron Marble
Reggie Dunbar II
Jafari Sinclaire Allen
L. Michael Gipson
Christopher Moten
John Keene
Jonathan Moore
Derek Johnson
Brad Walrond
Seven Hobby
S.G. Richmond
Marvell L. Terry, II
Eddie Wiley
Isaiah R. Wilson
Alfred White
Max Smith
Preston Mitchum
Charles E. Matiella
Darryl Hart
Steven-Emmanuel Martinez
Akil Patterson
Johnnie Kornegay
Khalid Idawu
Justin T. Rush
Tabias Wilson
Lance Powell
Robert F. Reid-Pharr
Bryan Webster
Jason L. Walker
Rev. Rodney McKenzie, Jr.
Raymond Thomas
Shedrick Davis
JaMel M. Nelson
Adrian Ogle
Michael Tikili
Elijah O’Neil

(Image Source)

  • Cold Fire

    So its ok that he knowingly infected over 30 people?

    • KennedyMP

      I think it is unfortunate that 30 people may have contracted HIV. However, we cannot assume that Michael was the person they contracted it from, especially since only 5 people have pressed charges. HIV transmission does not work like that.

      Moreover, we need discontinue thinking about transmission and contraction as an act that should be placed on people living with HIV. There is a shared sexual responsibility that we need to think about when discussing HIV criminalization.

      Lastly, HIV criminalization is wrong and an injustice. It stifles HIV prevention and treatment efforts and is an extension of the mass incarceration of Black people. Michael should not be in prison.

      • Luddite

        Denial is not just a river in Egypt. You are delusional.

    • SeanStrub

      It isn’t established that he “knowingly infected” anyone, let alone 30 people. It is fascinating how the presumption of innocence seems to evaporate as soon as it involves a person with HIV.

      • http://www.lambdalegal.org/states-regions/washington TrueWords

        Sean I will agree with you on some points…as I have read your book and have discussed it with many people…my point was the following: if someone is HIV+ then they are the CRIMINAL no matter what even if they tell someone that they are HIV+ and the other person consents to have “unprotected” sex they can come back and scream ” I WAS NOT TOLD”…however for me.…some people in the gay community especially the secretive gay black world need to take a cold hard look at the behaviors that many are willing to participate in order to have sex.

  • christopherallen

    Tiger Mandingo and all of his 89 supporters are sociopaths.

    • KennedyMP

      Why do you say that?

      • http://www.lambdalegal.org/states-regions/washington TrueWords

        Because where is the responsibility for harmful behaviors towards someone…some people in the gay black community need to take a cold hard look at the behaviors that many are willing to participate in order to have sex…

  • TheRedExclaimer

    As an openly Black Gay man, who responsibly gets tested and uses protection and believes in full disclosure of sexual history to romantic partners, I find this letter reprehensible, dangerous, and totally dismissive of the people this irresponsible prick exposed to HIV.

    • KennedyMP

      I think it is wonderful that you engage in recommended HIV prevention measures, but your politics are not everyone else’s politics. Assuming that everyone should think about HIV disclosure as you do is dangerous.

      Moreover, the letter is not dismissing the people who may have contracted HIV from Michael. What it is doing is explaining that each sexual partner has a shared responsibility for HIV transmission and contraction. Michael or anyone living with HIV should be forced to disclosed or burdened with transmission and contraction. There are no victims of HIV transmission.

      Lastly, the letter is trying to humanize Michael and dismantle the HIV stigma he has experienced. We can humanize Michael without being dismissive of his sexual partners. In a way, I see this letter as an engagement of his sexual partner’s ideas about Michael and HIV criminalization.

    • SeanStrub

      Michael Johnson most likely received “abstinence only” sex education in high school and he was at a Christian college that wanted him for his wrestling skills but doesn’t provide comprehensive sexual health education or services to its students. No one denies that a harm is inflicted when someone transmits the virus to another person. But preventing sexually transmitted infections is a shared responsibility. More women die of cervical cancer each year from strains of human papilloma virus (HPV) than die of AIDS from HIV; yet we don’t see “HPV-specific” criminal statutes because unlike HIV, HPV isn’t specifically associated with gay men, people of color and people who inject drugs. No person should knowingly put another person at risk of harm and no person should put themselves at risk of harm. But because something is wrong doesn’t necessarily mean it should be a criminal offense, especially not when we treat this one sexually transmitted infection so different from other sexually transmitted infections which also, if left untreated, can seriously harm or kill someone. HIV criminalization is just another way to lock up young black men. HIV criminalization ultimately makes the epidemic worse, by discouraging those at risk from getting tested for HIV, making people with HIV less trustful and cooperative with public health and making it more difficult for people with HIV to disclose their HIV status to partners.

    • http://www.lambdalegal.org/states-regions/washington TrueWords

      I have to agree…

      For me as a gay black male I will play the game of “maybe he did not know this or that in regards to HIV and HIV infection” however it does not hold water because any where he went to secure and lure these men there is INFORMATION about HIV…but that gets tossed out of the window when it has been revealed that he videotaped at least 30 encounters…that means that he KNEW exactly what he was doing and was MORE THAN happy to be doing it….also what is up with people having bareback sex with someone because they say I am negative or I am on PReP…some people in the gay community need to take a cold hard look at the behaviors that many are willing to participate in.

    • Steve

      Why? They exposed themselves when they willingly had bareback sex.

  • ds9sisko

    Well….it does not escape me that in all of the political, health advocacy, social, legal, criminal and philosophical debates arround this case specifically that few seem to take into account that — from every quote from him and about him that I have read, especially in the exhaustive (and sympathetic) Buzzfeed piece — Michael Johnson MAY have developmental and cognitive reasoning issues that no one seems to be willing to address head on or have yet to fully recognize as well. What is implied about him — that he is and has been essentially operating on the developmental level of a preteen — has not yet been made explicit (or at least explicitly enough). It’s a dimension to this particular case that, in all of its aspects, also seems to be more germane to it than a lot of people realize.

  • Laurel Sprague

    This is a beautiful example of solidarity and love within a community that is disproportionately discriminated against and criminalized. As an ally, I stand with the authors of this letter.

  • Marcelo Maia

    HIV Criminalization laws create a false sense of protection against
    HIV. It doesn’t stop the virus from infecting others and of course sex
    happens between 2 people, who are consenting adults. The issue of trust
    can be argued as we can’t trust someone we don’t know. Trust is earned
    and not given for granted and people shouldn’t assume others have
    knowledge about HIV or HIV transmission, since it is not a subject on
    sex ed classes in many cases and referring to Micheal’s learning disability, it is quite possible he did not understand what being HIV + means, if he knew it.
    We should not be so quick to judge people we don’t know or the history of those involved, since it takes 2 to tango. What is clear is that Michael was used as a sex object and then discarded and vilified.

  • Sarah Y. Jackson

    I stand with the authors of this letter. Being HIV positive myself, I understand the turmoil you are going through, but you are not alone in this fight. It is always your choice to disclose or not, as long as you are truthful to yourself. Since we don’t know the circumstances of this incident, be careful in your judgement. If this young man has underlying problems other than HIV, these should be addressed first.

  • Olivia Ford

    As a Black woman, a queer person of color and an ally of people with HIV and people who have been criminalized because they are living with HIV, I stand with Michael Johnson and the authors of this letter as a sister among brothers.

    The bottom line is, living with HIV is not a crime, and making it a crime for a person living with HIV to engage in actions that would be legal if they were HIV negative *does not help anyone*. Laws criminalizing HIV exposure create environments that are unsafe for the kind of disclosure many harsh commenters on this article appear to want to encourage.

    As many other supportive commenters have indicated, these laws are bad for public health, and codify the kind of stigma that keeps so many from being tested for HIV, or being in care if they need it. It is dangerous to use one’s individual morality, and the fact that another did not behave as you yourself would, as grounds to make another’s behavior a crime.

  • AJ

    “…we continuously value your humanity…” That is such a touching and powerful phrase in such an important statement. It is always encouraging to see people speaking out against injustice and embracing someone else’s humanity. Let’s continue fighting to eradicate a virus and all that it entails, instead of fighting against individual groups that are disproportionately affected by a virus.

  • Adam Caparco

    Disclosure
    should not be about protecting people who are not living with HIV from
    transmission. – See more at:
    http://www.musedmagonline.com/2015/05/89-black-gay-men-pen-letter-michael-tiger-mandingo-johnson-freeblackgaymen/#sthash.wdjkUqAs.GclCAEBr.dpuf
    “Disclosure should not be about protecting people who are not living with HIV from transmission.”
    ?????????????
    This is a disturbingly callous comment. To knowingly infect someone with a life-threatening disease and then just shrug it off in this manner is truly despicable. If an act has the potential to cause someone harm, then the impetus is on you to make them aware of this danger so that they can make an informed decision. This letter is trash.

    Disclosure
    should not be about protecting people who are not living with HIV from
    transmission. – See more at:
    http://www.musedmagonline.com/2015/05/89-black-gay-men-pen-letter-michael-tiger-mandingo-johnson-freeblackgaymen/#sthash.wdjkUqAs.GclCAEBr.dpuf

  • Adam Caparco

    “Disclosure should not be about protecting people who are not living with HIV from transmission.” This is a disturbingly callous comment. To knowingly infect someone with
    a life-threatening disease and then just shrug it off in this manner is
    truly despicable. If an act has the potential to cause someone harm,
    then the impetus is on you to make them aware of this danger so that
    they can make an informed decision. This letter is trash.

    • AJ

      “If an act has the potential to cause someone harm, then the impetus is on you to make them aware of this danger so that they can make an informed decision.”

      You should try reading the letter again without associating HIV transmission with personal blame. The letter is far from trash and is not about shrugging off allegations against a person. If you can not dismiss blame while reading it, then blame the virus, our human hormones or our desire for sexual contact and sexual intimacy. That may help you understand and appreciate the statement of the letter.

      Should the onus for sex ed and sexual health only be placed upon people living with HIV? There is a lot of information available which allows people to make informed decision about consentual sexual activity regardless of the information provided by their partner. There are ways to reduce potential personal “danger and harm” that are independent of someone disclosing. Do you think that only the partner living with HIV should be responsible for both partner’s sexual health and well being?

  • TheRedExclaimer

    Oh…btw, are y’all going to write a letter of support for each of the 30 people this dude knowingly infected with HIV?

    • KennedyMP

      Get your receipts together before you go making silly comments. Michael did not infect 30 people.

      • TheRedExclaimer

        How many people did he infect then, KennedyMP? And even if it was just one person that he KNOWINGLY infected…then where is that one person’s letter of support? The question is still valid…don’t try to deflect by trying to argue the number of people this man knowingly infected with HIV.

    • Steve

      Why? They could’ve prevented it if they had safe sex. They’re as just as much to blame, if not more so.

  • Aaron Harkins

    The respect I have for the intellect and brilliance of one of the Black gay men who signed this letter makes the entire thing end up being lopsided uckery. I wonder if he was coerced into signing it, or maybe he has just completely lost his mind. Either way, this letter is pathetic. So are each and every one of the Black gay men who signed it.

    “However, we also know that HIV criminalization laws unfairly impact Black people and stigmatize people living with HIV. HIV criminalization laws push people living with HIV further and further away from HIV treatment and care and make HIV prevention efforts more difficult. As Black gay men, we are deeply impacted by HIV; and these laws harm us and damage our relationships and communities.”

    REALLY NOW? I have met too many Black gay men who are open about their status and use their lives as a platform to EDUCATE others.

    “These laws feed into stereotypes that assume Black gay men are irresponsible and hypersexual. For you, your accusers saw your Black and masculine body as a site of ultimate sexual pleasure, until they had to deal with you as a whole person. At that moment you became a problem and were disposable to them.”

    AGAIN, REALLY NOW? Are the men who penned this letter forgetting that the VICTIM is known as Tiger Mandingo? Wait, let me check my calendar to learn what year it is; 2015! And he is known as Tiger Mandingo? With the exception of one, ALL of his conquests appear to be white? Hmm. Tiger is the stereotype. It seems to me that it was Tiger Mandingo who presented himself as a Black and masculine body for ultimate pleasure. That he exposed these men to HIV and recorded the acts for HIS ultimate sexual pleasure, it was Tiger who was disposing of people.

    I hope they lock this man up for several years. His selfishness knew no bounds.

    • The Best Head—Cheddar Head

      Amen, Aaron Harkins! Those of us who choose to live in the “Neighborhood of Make Believe” or any ZIP Code near it should expect to get whatever we get … and when I last checked the Good Witch Glenda has not had her HIV-eliminating fairy dust approved for clinical trials or dispensation by the CDC, FDA, or the Wizard of Oz.

  • BlackPegasus

    Welp, that’s one Snow Queen the white boys can keep. And I find it hilarious that a bunch of Black Guys signed a letter to support a Black Guy who only found white males attractive enough to sleep with LOL. I couldn’t give two funks about him if I tried. All that matters is; he’s been stopped from harming others.

    • St Martyr

      I was just thinking this-didn’t he use THEM too? Or more??!! I bet he was better looking then they were…he was a star athlete. Black or white who the f*ck would not wanna get with a jock with his body&college status???! And I say this as someone who doesn’t pigeon myself to date people based on their race-especially as human beings are all equally full of SH*T. If you’re halfway decent black, pink or white,which is rare,then I aint gonna spend one minute deciding whether I should have u in my life. The answer is YES.

  • jjd5m

    Every single person who signed this letter is a fucking idiot who deserves to be shamed and scorned by the collective. Period. Full stop. End of story

  • ChilePlz

    Awful. It sucks seeing one of my friends as an signer and one of my mentors on this list. I completely disagree. Lets write a letter for the people he knowingly infected and recorded his acts for his own personal enjoyment. Maybe these signers can relate to him, but none of my life experiences, character, or principles would ever come close to seeing myself in him. Complete garbage.

    • Steve

      Really? It takes two to tango. If this man is complete garbage, then so are the men who slept with him unprotected. So tired of people not taking responsibility for their own actions and crying victim.

      • getreal

        Steve, take a couple of seats. If I am driving a multi-ton motor vehicle, whether that be a car, truck, van, etc., I have a level of responsibility that is HIGHER than that of a pedestrian walking about the street(s) because of the damage that can be caused by the vehicle. The same principle applies to persons w/ HIV. He did not have a legal right to willingly and purposefully infect as many people as possible with a potentially life threatening disease, regardless of his race. According to the CDC, “Half of gay and bisexual black men and a quarter of gay and bisexual … women in the United States will be diagnosed with HIV at current rates”. As a black man, I’m shocked that there are other people, people of color no less, who condone the behavior demonstrated by the monster this man, Micheal, turned out to be. It’s very easy to sit behind the keyboard and use flowery language to type out some bullshit. However, it’s another altogether to be a victim of a crime of the magnitude for which he has been accused. I suspect that many, if not the vast majority, of the people undersigned in the above letter would have been at the police department right after the free clinic right if they, too, were to have been unfortunate victims of his madness.

        I refuse to co-sign on the fu#kery. He was/is a monster that should be treated as such. He ruined countless lives, and should not have the power to do so further.

  • DesMo Harper

    im dumbfounded, they have thrown in every possible catch phrase of discrimination possible yes this man’s life matters, not because hes black or HIV + but because he is HUMAN… This same punishment has been handed down to whites who have had sex and not disclosed and infected their partners, hell yes you need to tell me you have hiv if were gonna have sex, and hell yes we’re not gonna bare back.. HELL yes if you know you have HIV, you better be take the responsibility of disclosing and bringing condoms to the party. (i will have condomss too) HELL YES you’re responsible for omitting the truth about your status.THE crime is not having HIV the crime is KNOWINGLY infecting someone. THAT said,,,,, IF i bare back with you, and you infect me… even if you lied and I consented THATS also on me… NONE forced me to allow you to be unprotected when we had sex… THATS my part of the issue as well…

    • The Best Head—Cheddar Head

      Consensual blame will never alleviate dangers in our real world. DesMo Harper, I applaud your assertion that even if someone “… lied and …” you consented to dangerous sexual relations, you must be held responsible too. A crisp, clear congnizant & aware admission of the roles that we all can or may play in viral transmission.

  • The Best Head—Cheddar Head

    In the US of A, race is real, but, I do not, can not, and will not understand the connection that some gay black men make between (HIV status) disclosure laws and racism. Recent issues in the news—the killing of the pastor and 8 parishioners at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church by an emotionally unbalanced person was a clearly defined racist act.

    The U.S. has a rich legacy of legally sanctioned preferential treatment for whites over people of Color—specifically blacks. I’m a 44-year-old black male and I grew up in the “liberal” Midwestern City of Chicago—a city rated as 1 of the most racially segregated cities in the contemporary U.S. During my youth, a black family was “asking for trouble” if that family decided to purchase a home outside the confines of formerly white neighborhoods that had turned into communities in the Chicago’s ever-growing Black Belt ghetto neighborhoods—a black family really took bold steps being the first black family to take an FHA mortgage out on a mid-priced home in a previously all-white Chicago suburb.

    I’ve been HIV+ for 14 years, the majority of my sexual partners have been persons of color, black or Hispanic … I have had sexual relations with a handful of white partners, as well as an Asian or 2. My current belief is honest disclosure is best for all involved in a consensual adult relationship … of course, does this change after I’ve been out having a couple of Long Island Iced Teas, washed down with few cans of Icehouse, & possibly a shot or 2 of somebody’s schnapps. How deep does one let things get, before one says to a potential partner … “I need to tell you something.”—and being black, white, Hispanic, Asian, or anything else plays no role in disclosure conversations.

  • Ms.D

    I guess every single person who signed in support with this letter is ok with the fact that he was destroying ppls lives instead of disclosing something as serious as HIV. As a black woman Im finding the racisim excuse a bit of an over reach on this one. Gay straight black white asian regardless of color I feel that any person engaging in risky sexual encounters without disclosing the risk of being with them deserves to be punished. That is irresponsible reckless and unfair to the unknowing party.

  • Jay Dodd

    This work is a consistent source of inspiration, I hope to offer my creative contribution here, thank you: http://www.hivhereandnow.com/uncategorized/poem-238-%C2%B1-january-26-2016/