lift up tiger

By Jay Dodd

This week, former college wrestler, Michael L. Johnson was found guilty of “recklessly infecting” a partner with HIV and exposing the virus to others. Johnson, known as Tiger Mandingo, at twenty three years old is looking to face over 60 years in jail for each felony count. As, Fusion masterfully notes, the felonies Tiger is being charged with are more severe than someone killing someone driving under influence. While there is the responsibility to engage in safe sex practices, it is important to note, not one of the Johnson’s “victims” has died from the disease. This extreme and stigmatizing response is compounded with how these laws target Black men who have sex with men and further stigmatizes HIV.

Since the HIV/AIDS epidemic swept the nation in the 1980’s, mainstream Gay and Lesbian movements have fought for better access medication and major health breakthrough no longer make HIV a matter of life and death. However, public health, even as a queer issue, leaves Black folk on the outside. It appears that BigGay™’s biggest goal has now shifted to Marriage Equality with occasional breaks to mourn White teen victims of homophobia/transphobia. BigGay™ would have you believe HIV/AIDS is a thing of the past. BigGay™ wouldn’t tell you this but Black Queer men are being criminalized with through discriminatory and medically bankrupt legislation. BigGay™ wouldn’t tell you about Tiger.

It’s easy to let the rhetoric of “no one is talking about this” make justice feel callous and unending but while there is work of erasure by BigGay™, movements for Black health justice in this country has and must center queer folks in our community.  However, Tiger Mandingo is not being forgotten. Black men nationally have been organizing and thinking through ways to support and uplift Tiger and those in our community living with HIV/AIDS. Earlier this month 89 Black men released and open letter of support to Tiger stating:

“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.”

This is more than simply an issue of public health; the state uses HIV legislation to reaffirm the criminalization of the Black male body. Legal experts report that this these HIV laws would still apply if Tiger had a non-detectable viral load or had worn a condom; or folks can have healthy sex lives with HIV and these laws only perpetuate the stereotype.

State violence finds nuanced ways to criminalize and pathologize Black folk. We have scripts ready for (straight-passing) Black boys being killed in the streets, but what about the Black girls shot in their homes, the Black women asking for help? What about the Black Trans women who are omitted from headlines? And presently, what about the Queer Black men being made legal and conservative spectacle. Michael “Tiger Mandingo” Johnson’s life matters and his sentencing is speaks to intersections of body, sexuality, Blackness, and State terror.

Photo: Tiger Mandingo/Instagram