Kris Sharp had a tough trailer park childhood, with a raging drug-addicted mother, and foster homes. When he ran for student body office at UH-Downtown, his HIV-positive status was outed. He’s fighting back with an AIDS education campaign, and activism on diversity and inclusion.
by Donalevan Maines
There’s never a dull moment for Kristopher Sharp.
He wins elections (student body vice president at the University of Houston-Downtown) and honors (the Human Rights Campaign’s “Young Leader for Equality” award in April). He battles bigotry (including UH-D vandals who circulated a medical record identifying his HIV status as positive, in March) and The System (ongoing lobbying of elected officials for equality legislation and foster care reform).
Sharp has overcome a world of pain during his twenty-three years. Just reading about his bumpy ride, including ten years in almost thirty foster care homes and facilities, you might feel like you need a drink. So at least grab a glass to toast the young man’s true grit, the long distance he’s come, and the places he’s headed for.
Kristopher Sharp was born on December 11, 1989, in Dumas, the middle child of three kids with different dads. “My mother was bad on drugs. She was abusive,” says Sharp. “My father suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
“I was picked on as a child because I was the poor kid in the trailer park,” he says. “I wore the most horrible clothes and I begged teachers sometimes for food. I was a troublesome child, and I would get in trouble at school and they would send me home with detention slips for my mother to sign. She would beat the shit out of me, and I would tell them, ‘I do not want to go home.’”
When Sharp was eight, he says, he dropped a glass that broke, and his mother, in a drug-fueled rage, picked it up and threw it at him. He went to school bleeding.
“I was worried that I was going to die,” he says, but he was terrified to tell his teacher what happened. “I was so scared it wouldn’t be enough, that they would tell my mom and she would beat the shit out of me for telling.”
On that day, however, school officials decided that enough was enough, and Children’s Protective Services finally took action. “First, you go to an emergency shelter, a homeless shelter for kids,” he explains. “I had to go to Amarillo, in a completely different town, and you’re packed in there with thirty kids. It was traumatic.”
Sharp stayed there for three months before getting placed in a couple’s home. “I was their first foster child, and it didn’t work out. I don’t know what happened, but I don’t think I dealt with it very well. I still cared about my mom.
“From that family, I was sent to an older lady,” he continues. “I f–ked up that placement, too. Unfortunately, once you blow your first two placements, and you’re disruptive, they institutionalize you. The State is not a good parent.”
Between ages eight and eighteen, says Sharp, “I stayed in twenty-seven different placements. I was literally moved at least every six months to a year. You’re never really grounded. I didn’t have any friends. Being in the system, living in group homes, surrounded by boys who are maturing at that age, I got molested several times. My story isn’t unique.”
Sharp’s placements included a psychiatric hospital and a residential treatment center where, he says, doctors felt required to put a label on him.
“It’s very easy to diagnose a kid, so the solution becomes, ‘Take a pill,’” he explains. “I was diagnosed so many ways, I couldn’t keep up with all of them. I was being given five or six medications a day.”
When Sharp “aged out” at eighteen, he says, “the group home kicked me out onto the streets. They get paid per person, and typically the state quits paying, so you’re out.”
Although homeless, Sharp held down a job at a tanning salon, which is where he met his partner, Sean, six years ago this month. Sharp moved in with him.
During his first year out of the foster care system, Sharp continued to see a psychiatrist, until one day when the doctor advised Sharp to stop taking the last of his medications. “That was the game-changer,” says Sharp. “From that day forward, I got into school and became active in the community.”
Sharp is entering his senior year of college, majoring in social work. “Jesus was a social worker,” he says. “Our purpose is to help people.”
In March, as he and fellow senior Isaac Valdez prepared to seek the offices of student body vice president and president, respectively, copies of a flier were posted on campus with a photograph of Sharp, defaced by an “X,” and the words “Want AIDS? Don’t Support the Isaac and Kris Homosexual Agenda.” On the other side of the flier was a medical record identifying Sharp’s HIV status as positive.
The flier was followed by threatening graffiti, including “Isaac + Kris = AIDS” written on bathroom stalls, says Sharp, who told OutSmart he was “devastated” when UH-D’s dean of students, Tommy Thomason, called him to his office on March 19 and showed him the flier. “I knew that my sexuality could be under attack, because that is an easy target,” says Sharp, but he was shocked that his HIV status would be exposed. “Now, everybody knows.”
However, rather than succumb to the bigoted attacks, he says, “I dug my feet in and decided to use the incident as an opportunity to educate my peers on the prevalence of HIV and AIDS-related stigma, and we went on to win the elections.”
In May, Sharp announced that UH-D had officially recommended that resources from the upcoming fiscal year be allocated for the creation and maintenance of a “Center for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.”
“Once the budget is approved by the UH System regents, everything will be official,” Sharp explains. “I’m very excited to see this happen at UH-Downtown, and I look forward to working with the administration to see the center flourish.”
Sharp also traveled to Washington, DC, to meet with members of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Care and discuss reforms in the foster care system.
“Change comes from the top,” says Sharp, explaining his plan to seek elective office in the “very near” future.
“While I may not have any upcoming races, I do plan on assisting several LGBT candidates with their campaigns over the summer,” he says. “Specifically, I plan to help Jennifer Rene Pool succeed in her race for Houston City Council At-Large Position 3.”
Sharp also plans to lead his school’s Safe Zone group in this month’s Pride Parade. “Everyone at UH-D and UH-D alumni are welcome to join us,” he says.
Donalevan Maines also writes about two gay fathers, the Tony Awards, and The Glass Menagerie in this issue of OutSmart.