By Dino Thompson-Sarmiento
Lee Thompson faced a harsh reality when he was diagnosed with HIV in 2012. Now, Thompson – known to the world and his niece Alana (aka Honey Boo Boo) as Uncle Poodle – wants to lend his star power to combat bullying in schools and promote safe sex.
Dino: Lee, when did you find out about your HIV status?
Lee: I was adamant about getting my HIV status checked on a regular basis. On March 16, 2012, I tested negative. Then, in May of 2012 my test results came back positive. I knew it had been my boyfriend who infected me. I later learned he had been HIV positive and was not taking medication and had not bothered to tell me about it. I was advised that I should press charges and, hesitantly, I did. It was the right thing to do.
Dino: What happened to your ex?
Lee: He is serving a 5-year sentence. I would have been cool with his HIV status if he had been honest. I don’t have an issue with the disease. I would have known how to protect myself.
Dino: What is your message to folks having unsafe sex?
Lee: They are damn fools! They are playing Russian roulette; they are playing with their lives and that of their sexual partners.
Dino: When did you figure out you were gay?
Lee: When I was 16 I knew it. I went to my mother and told her. A mother almost always knows.
Dino: How did your immediate family take this news?
Lee: My mother was supportive from the beginning. My father struggled with it for about four years. I think one of the main reasons was that he wanted grandchildren from me. But when I was about 20 he told me he accepted me as I was.
Dino: Did you also come out in school? What were the repercussions?
Lee: I came out in school around 11th or 12th grade. It was definitely not easy for me. On a daily basis I was bullied in one way or another. There was name calling and physical harm all the way to the vandalizing of my car. Being bullied was just a part of my every day.
Dino: What do you advise youngsters to do if they are realizing they may be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender?
Lee: My advice is to seek out their parents or an adult they trust. I would not advise them to go public or share the information with their schools until they feel safe and comfortable. They will know when the time is right.
Dino: Do you have plans to contribute to anti-bullying campaigns as you did with GLAAD and promote safe sex, possibly even do talks in schools?
Lee: Definitely! I know what it is like to be bullied. I know what it is like to live with HIV. I can help and I want to.
Dino: What are your future plans in the television industry?
Lee: I want to have my own television show and highlight what it is like being gay in the south. I think I have a good story to tell.
Dino: One last question: where did the nickname “Uncle Poodle” come from?
Lee: From Alana. She calls all gay men “my poodles” and I am her Uncle Poodle.
I applaud Lee for his extraordinary giving nature and his bravery on standing up to bullies and living his authentic life. It hasn’t been easy for him. He has survived physical attacks — including a broken jaw and broken ribs — accepted his positive HIV status and helped prosecute the culprit, his former lover. In addition, he has overcome the challenges of instant fame. Yet, his focus is helping the LGBT community push forward. This is a man to be reckoned with. I salute you, Poodle; we should all be so lucky to call you uncle.