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HIV and the JetBlue Flight Attendant

| 30 Comments
SlaterFacebook.jpgSteven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who deployed an inflatable emergency chute after landing at JFK Airport and then fled the scene, pled not guilty to charges of reckless endangerment, criminal mischief and criminal trespass.

The details of Slater's story from this point on vary quite a bit depending on the news outlet. However, there does seem to be a consensus on the outline of the story.

A passenger grabbed a bag in an overhead compartment when the plane was landing. Slater told the passenger to close the overhead and sit down. The passenger disregarded Slater's request and grabbed the bag anyway. The passenger told Slater, "Fuck you." Either the bag or the door of the overhead bin struck Slater in the head.

As a result, Slater yelled expletives into the P.A. system of the plane, grabbed at least one beer can, opened the plane door deploying the chute, slid down, got into his car and drove to his home in Queens, where he was arrested.

OK so far, but when basic details like the gender or sex of the passenger who cursed at Slater are in conflict (for example, an ABC News article uses the pronoun "she" and the New York Post uses the pronoun "he"), I hesitate to draw too many conclusions. However, there is one detail that I just can't avoid exploring further.

According to the New York Post, Slater told the police that he was HIV positive. The New York Times does not mention Slater's HIV status, but other outlets do mention it.

Oh, the ethics of HIV disclosure. When to disclose one's HIV status on a personal level (for example, I happen to be HIV positive, by the way, just in case someone reading this didn't know) is tricky enough, but having one's HIV status disclosed by a third party ups the ante.

The same rules should apply for journalists in disclosing HIV status as with disclosing sexual orientation or gender identity: Is it relevant?

Let's take the example of Judge Walker from the federal Prop 8 case. The fact that Walker is gay may or may not have had an impact on how he decided the case, but I believe his being gay is relevant enough to warrant disclosure of his sexual orientation by the media.

And while we're at it, let's take the issue of the Post also revealing that Slater "hopped into bed with his boyfriend" when he went home. Was this relevant?

I believe there may be a reason Slater's HIV status is relevant, but more on that in a moment. As it stands so far in my telling of the story, the details don't seem to warrant disclosure. And such seems to be the conclusion of the New York Daily News.

DailyNewsSearch.jpg"Steven Slater told police he's HIV positive after his arrest for his JetBlue tantrum at JFK: sources" was the original Daily News headline, but "Steven Slater bail set at $2,500, attorney tells judge flight attendant's rant was sane thing to do" is the current headline and there is no mention of HIV in the current version of the article.

The fact that the Daily News scrubbed HIV out of their story very soon after their original decision shows some level of doubt about the relevancy of disclosing Slater's HIV status.

UPDATE: "JetBlue flight attendant who lost his cool arraigned; pleads not guilty" was the headline of the original New York Post story with the HIV reference. When you now click on the link that used to take you to that story, it now goes to a story headlined "Jet Blue flight attendant who lost his cool released" with no references to HIV. So, the Post also has seemingly changed its mind about the relevancy of disclosing Slater's HIV status. Search results on the New York Post website still show the original headline.

NewYorkPostSearch.jpgNow, back to why it may be relevant. I have no knowledge as to whether Slater is HIV positive. However, as someone who is HIV positive, I can imagine what would make me disclose my HIV status to the police in that situation and it ain't pretty.

If I were bleeding and still conscious, I'd tell the police--and anyone else that might come into contact with my blood--that I was HIV positive. Most of the reporting says that Slater was hit on the head. The ABC News video seems to show a substantial gash on his forehead.

Watch the ABC News video:


No matter how remote the risk of HIV transmission, the health and safety of other people would make me disclose my HIV status (not to mention, depending on what jurisdiction I happen to be in, there may be legal consequences to me not disclosing my HIV status).

Disclosure of my HIV status to the police under those circumstances would seem reasonable to me. And I believe it would be relevant enough for the media to report my HIV status.

Obviously, this is all conjecture on my part. I may be on to something here or I may be totally wrong. Journalistically, now that the genie is out of the bottle, it is fair game to discuss. But I also believe the relevancy threshold had not been met yet for the media, and that's a shame.


Oriol on:

30 Comments

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Comments on Oriol R. Gutierrez Jr.'s blog entry "HIV and the JetBlue Flight Attendant"

Have you ever been arrested? You may get bond or you may not, you are locked up and things move slow at best in getting out for even minor charges.
You tell the police when you are arrested of any health problems you have. Failure to do so will cause you a delay or not getting needed medication in a timely manner when locked up. As well as any special treatment to deal with the illness or disability that may not be seen physically by the authorities.
It is that simple, there is no big secret reason but for your own benefit. You cannot come back at a later time and declare you had a special situation that was ignored if the conditions are not known.
As to why this should be public knowledge I am not sure and likely it wouldn't be if the person locked up was well off enough to have his lawyers keep it hush.

Daily news and post pulled the status from the story - your post is now the #1 google search result for '(last name's) HIV status...

Don't use the genie in the bottle rule ... Leave the door open for containment ... This is why them major news outlets are being silent about the posts and daily new's lapse in ethics....

Exposing one's HIV status in or to the press should NEVER be an option! First responders, police officers and healthcare providers are trained to treat any bodily fluid as potentially dangerous. Why can't the police be held to the same confidentiality standards as healthcare providers. HIPAA guidelines should be extended to the police departments as well. I'm all for public information being public, but something like someone's HIV status, illness, treatment information should not be public at all!

You article saddens me. Until I received this article via email I had heard nothing of the issue of Steven. I don't think it is relevant as this man is not bleeding and clearly has scabbed over. I also feel that the media did the right thing by reassessing the situation and "scrubbing" there website of the HIV report; to bad you didn’t do the same. Unless you personally talked with Steven regarding releasing this information you should be ashamed of yourself also…..It looks like anything to sell a story. I am disappointed in your blog and in POZ.com for sharing this info. I too believe police and fire/rescue should be held to HIPPA standards. You on the other hand, as an HIV+ individual yourself should be held to even a higher standard than HIPPA.

I totally agree with you!!!! I am just shocked that you released this National Enquirer-type story on your website!! I have totally changed my image of what you are all about. Very disappointing to say the least.

7 years? for what? cussing at a passenger who didnt follow the rules and cussed him first? he was trying to do his job as he had done for many years and it takes just 1 idiot with attitude to mess up a persons career. only thing he should be charged with maybe is discharging an emergency slide when there was no emergency, but maybe he felt it was criticle for him to get off the plane quickly before things got too out of hand, therefore protecting passengers from what could have been a real bad situation.

I have gotten goosebumps AND the giggles every time I've heard a story about this incident! Furthermore, to me, the story IS Mr. Slater's reaction to the rude and careless passenger with the foul mouth and shitty attitude. I don't need to know Mr. Slater's sexual orientation and HIV status to appreciate his reactions to what sounded like a bitchy passenger that needed much more than a "fuck you" in return. Also, the fact that Mr. Slater went home to the loving arms of his partner after a real crappy day at the office sounds like a perfect ending to that crappy day!! What a awesome guy (and a poz brother on the journey!!;)!! I only wish I could hang with him cuz he sounds awesome!! He is my hero just for standing up to the indignities and fighting back when he just couldn't take it anymore!! As a poz sister, I know what it's like trying to maintain your health, your own confidentiality, AND your cool in the work place. And to the passenger that started this whole mess,,,,I say "Fuck You!!) too.
Would Love to buy you a beer Mr. Slater!!
PEACE
rosie

I'm happy to see Oriol report in this issue. When we see a statement that someone is HIV+ in this context (and not the typical HIV monster paranoia of most main stream media stories of HIV+ individuals) we should silently be simply saying "OK or So What". HIV needs to come out of the closet if we ever hope to address the issue of stigma. The people with the power and control over stigma are not the ignorant around us it's the HIV+ people who are dying in closets. And spare me the concerns over discrimination, violence etc...Those of us in Canada and the USA know nothing of what say a black women in Africa lives with.

No mention on the battery charges that should be filed against the passenger that hit him in the head but they sure are all over the fact that the charges against Slater could get him 7 years. Perhaps he felt his life was threatened when he took the emergency exit. HIV and being gay have little to do with the case and the fact that he probably disclosed to the police he had HIV because he did not want them to get infected in the handling of him. I wish him well and I know how he feels. Kudes to Slater!! What a dramatic way to quit your job.

Whether Steven is HIV+ or not isn't relevant at all. If he told the police and a media person overheard, Steven should sue the Post over their ethics lapse. How does his being positive (or not) affect the facts of the event? It doesn't. Thus, it becomes sensationalism - he's a gay man and thus he must be HIV-positive. Scare people into believing that all gay men - all gay flight attendants - have AIDS and are a threat.

I hope Steven does sue to Post for that. He'll win, too. More than unemployment would get him. Doesn't matter if it's true or not, HIPPA laws apply to everybody, and journalists and the media need to learn boundaries.

Unless somebody makes it clear that revealing personal health issues in a public forum is unethical and unlawful, they will continue to do so.

Not relevant to the story: His health status, Orientation, what he does at home. Relevant but missing.... who is the prick that would sit down to start with? Shame on the press and shame on the police that leaked the info to the press. I have been reading bits of this story on other news venues. One even mentioned: Gay flight attendant....WTF? I am sure they would never write a story lableing someone redneck hillbilly white trash.. blah blah blah, so why in the hell do they write that he was gay? I hate people being labled.

As an early "AIDS" expert who was called in to testify on the flight worthiness of PWA flight attendants that a major airline was dismissing without medical exams, I have to agree with those who feel mentioning the HIV status of he flight attendant in question is both irrelevant and in violation of their privacy rights. Many of your readers won't remember when just being diagnosed with AIDS or later HIV was automatic grounds for dismissal from many jobs and that activist medical professionals had to fight to establish the use of universal precautions among flight attendants, teachers, EMT's etc., just in order to protect the rights of PWA's and PWHIV's. This story is a throwback to those awful times and I wish there was a way you could have reported in from the standpoint of being an advocacy organization for PWA's/PWHIVs rather than an unnecessarily exploitive and tabloid news story.
Disappointed reader.

Before anyone rushes to any sort of judgement, a bit of context is in order.

First, as an HIV positive person of 17 years, I think it is very relevant that POZ.com covered this topic and continues to address the issues surrounding media disclosure of HIV status regardless of how over-hyped a story becomes. Steven Slater did the right thing by disclosing his HIV status to the police. It is his duty.

I did want to correct a few things. The sensationalism of this story should be an example of when we should all give pause to consider all of the information before rushing to judgement.

I work for the same company as Steven Slater and wish everyone would stop defending his actions. What he did was wrong plain and simple. The details of the story are beginning to be known and some corrections are in order.

First, it was an overhead bin that hit him in the head and that occured in Pittsburg PRIOR to departure (he was bleeding from that wound and it did not scab over in the short flight to New York but that is irrelevant). He ignored a passengers requests for service by rolling his eyes and saying he was going to help himself first. He had been reported to have been rude during the flight and has had previous other altercations with co-workers in the months leading up to this event. He has written on airline forums that he is a carry-on "bag nazi". He has admitted to planning this out months in advance. A leaked email now has let everyone know what we knew immediately -- Slater rearmed the emergency slide in order to deploy it. Steven Slater maliciously damaged and aircraft and could have killed crewmembers working around the plane with the deployment of the slide. There are clear proceedures that would have made sure the woman who caused his injuries would have been prosecuted but the relied on Slater following proceedure. He did not and he is the one to blame for the failure to make sure this woman was brought to justice. The airlines cannot initiate this proceedure without it being initalized by the flight attendant. Steven Slater is no hero and should not be idolized as such. The media is just beginning to pick up on this so pay close attention!

His HIV status has nothing to do with the details of the incident and should not be reported on by the media. But then again, public reaction is sensationalizing all the wrong facts of his actions.

The Article on "Steven Slater" Jet Blue Flight Attendant is News.

That he was apprehended at home is news.
* That he was in bed with his boyfriend is Not News
* That as the NY Post printed he is HIV Positive is Not News.
MR Slaters HIV status or sexual orientation has no bearing on the charges against him.
The only thing that could possibly come from playing on his sexual orientation, & HIV status is to turn the ignorant & non tolerant against him.
MR Slater did what many of us only fantasize about.
Some of us including myself have told a boss F-- K You & quit.
The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & transgendered & HIV communities have fought for decades to gain & maintain our acceptance & place as normal in todays society. To show we are not Lepers, or Piranhas.
Irresponsible reporting not only hurts everyone, It shows the buried feelings of many toward us.
Please remember "You Don't Have To Be Infected To Be Affected"!
Respectfully,
Lenny Waller AIDS Candlelight Vigil NYC

HOLD THE PHONE!!! Mr Slaters status is NOT actually known. So I understand the thought behind the blog, but even mentioning Mr Slater takes away from the point. Since when do WE assume that someone is Poz because a third party might have told a forth party? Unless a person says they are poz to a reporter themselves, it should NOT be reported. Someone mentioned the possible risks to the persons on the plane, well it is simple, the airlines have the passaenger information and if anyone was DIRECTLY at risk, then you inform those people. You would not inform the guy that was sitting at the tail end of the plane because he is not at risk. In my opionin, this maybe a story for main stream media looking for hype, but come on - Poz.com no way! First and for most because we don't know that Mr Slater is in fact Poz (you even admitted that yourself). So how about we deal with real and more to the piont issues?

Was there nothing else for you to write about? There wasn't a real story that could have gone here? Really?

How very disappointing. Your blog sounds like something that might have been written 20 years ago. As noted by other bloggers, we have universal precautions. If this person's blood got on someone's skin, they would wash it off. Why the exaggerated depiction of risk? You had no right to discuss this person's HIV status in your blog without his knowledge or consent.

Noreen Haren RN MPH

Really poor article. The guy violated all kinds of FAA regulations apparently and now there is talk about him being on some reality show. The guy should go to jail and never be allowed to work as a flight attendant again. His HIV status is not part of the story but is the "sexy" thing to be thrown out by the media and POZ. You also violated the guy's privacy by reposting such a claim.

I have been reading POZ less and less in the last couple of year because of the headline grabbing tendency of the magazine

If we were reporting that he is diabetic would we be all upset over his right to privacy. And for that matter has he expressed any anger over the reporting of his status. Not every HIV+ person lives with shame. Some of don;t give a damm who knows, or what others may think. Some of us have control over our lives, rather then letting the imposed morals of others label us less then human.

It's important to remember that the real issue is not "how" the information was put out there, or "if" the information is relevant... it's "why" was it necessary for one news organization to include it while others did not.
What did disclosing that information do to serve the news-worthiness of the article(s) and or public record?

Does this open the possibility of news organizations offering more disclosures when reporting news stories?

i.e. (the person in the next story might be from a single parent family; the person might have been mentally, physically, or sexually abused; the person might not be able to have a long term, commited relationship; the person may have 16 credit cards, maxed out to their limit, and a pending foreclosure on their home... where does the right to disclose information persuant to the story at hand cross over to the right to reveal any and all (possible) information gleaned from an investigation by a news agency.

It's not "what the information is" that concerns me... it's "why is it necessary to include unconfirmed, private information not directly related to the issue of the news event!?

Food for thought... and for the record, I eat meat, recycle, volunteer in my community, indulge in ice cream way too much and often choose Starbucks over a local, mom & pop coffee shop. *Just in case it matters...

So the guy yelled he's been in the business for 28 years, but the reporter says he's been a flight attendant since 1994, which would be only 16 years - a discrepancy of 12 years. Pretty strange. The guy looks a bit unstable to me.

It is sad that this writer for this paticular magazine would have exploited this man's medical history. As stated above, UNIVERSAL/STANDARD precautions apply here. Whether/if Mr. Slater disclosed a positive HIV status to the police, it should have been released on a need to know basis. Despite the fact that he appears to be suffering from some type of stress, which probably lead to his acting-out, he has a right to his privacy, in terms of his alleged HIV status. How insensitive of the writer to perpetuate this. I hope Mr. Slater secures appropriate legal and psychiatric help he apparently needs!

hy mr slater i salute you. you really have balls to
do what you did. well done i would of done worse.
some freakin passengers think they are gold and
they should be treated such as.
i had 1 encounter with a aaa female black attendant
she totally ignored me when i asked for a refill
on coffee. so my reaction was to patiently wait until she passed thru again so i could pull the back of her aaa coat tail and when i did she just
got so angry at me and went and got the captain to
come and talk to me. so any way nothing haappened
to me. captain apologized.
antonio

Mr. Slater was my flight attendant earlier this summer. He was pleasant and helpful, and yes, due to the room in the cabin, he did brush against passengers that were often leaning out toward the aisle.
On my flight, passengers were being rude as usual standing when they shouldn't speaking in very loud voices.

The fact that there is no mention made that Mr. Slater's mother has cancer IS IMPORTANT. Can you imagine the stress of that news added to a job like being a flight attendant?
It is already a nightmare.

As to the whiny passengers that didn't like Mr Slater's way of keeping order in an unruly mob, perhaps you should look at your part in this.

In defense of Oriol, this article may have been written with the resigned expectation that Mr. Slater's sero-status was doomed to become a central aspect of the story.

as for the incident itself, i have 2 reactions:

later reports suggest Steven Slater is a disturbed individual, and his action could easily have resulted in loss of life...it appears as if he acted with genuinely criminal negligence and indifference. he should be punished for that. i think he will be.

also, incidents such as this will grow more frequent and inevitable as commercial flight continues to suffer economic loss and increased severity concerns. people r squeezed together more tightly, paying more for less, and it results in a pressure-cooker environment. hopefully this will hasten the day when airlines r obsolete and personal flight vehicles take over for automobiles at long last.

correction: "severity concerns" should have been "security concerns".

Selective disclosure of people’s HIV status by news media should aim to promote personal privacy and prevent incendiary social stigmatization. Obliging HIV-positive people who bleed to publicize their status in spite of nominal risk of disease transmission merely begs hysteria.
The HIV virus dies instantly upon air exposure. If the airline steward had announced his HIV-positive status to passengers, those familiar with HIV-positive people would be nonplused or incredulous upon hearing it.
However, a likely rise in anxiety among the less-informed travelers might jeopardize safety throughout the cabin. If he had delivered the news amid his outburst, it may have sounded punitive, and thus more alarming.
Hepatitis and a host of other diseases are more contagious than HIV. Yet carriers of any agent other than HIV are hardly expected to warn others if they bleed. Personally disclosing one’s own HIV status to strangers may sound like a noble idea—but it likely would do more harm than good.
Meanwhile, news services should mention HIV status only when it is relevant. With the news, industry still depressed and in flux, publishers and editors are bound to resort to news stories’ more prurient aspects to boost readership. When they do, it tends to reinforce negative perception and stigmatization.

Disclose, Disclose, Disclose, that is what I learned in Real Estate School, more then 10 forms of disclosure and now in many states 50 documents of disclosure. The point being a document to disclose has been created in most real estate markets to protect consumers, well they have not worked in Banking or Realestate. The airline attended disclosed because he was in truma and it came out as a tool for some to try and understand why he had a melt down and to get a little attention. People talk and like to talk for it is power in all communities from D.C to Bangko and a lot like to talk about themselves. To put another layer on HIPPA or to try and create an ethical standing with a law in this case will not help in my opinon, for I believe as in HIPAA and other disclosure concepts it make people more underground and less honest. A matter of my fact is HIPAA has stop honest relationship with Doctors and caused great harm in or medical treatment for now most doctor do not talk, trust or build relationships with their patients never getting the chance to know them or to treat a hidden illness due to HIPPA. HIPPA is bad medicine. HIV is private, Cancer is private , and sex is private, however it makes great talking points at the diner table, in church and water cooler. It is an old problem and a problem of the heart and a law will not cure. Can any one name one thing that HIPAA has brought forth other then a doucument for lawyers and insurance companies. Look at Tiger Woods. wow he should of disclosed his lovers and he would not had such bad press. Do you believe that. For it is human nature for people to want to know and have some kind of lever over another preson, what is one person news is another person gossip. The story about the fight attended would of been one day if he had not said he was HIV positive openly on a mic.

Hello "insider".
My name is Steven Slater. I am a former JetBlue Airways flight attendant, HIV positive person. I also have the courage and conviction to state my name proudly, rather than hide behind a screen moniker.
I would like very much to remind you, "insider", that this is a thread regardng the media release of my HIV+ status, and is not a discussion regarding my work history, or hearsay regarding same.
I would greatly hope you are not a member of JetBlue management disclosing information here that is not only erroneous, but also irrevlevant to this conversation, as that would be a seriously irresponsible action and subject the company to further legal vulnerabilty.
I am not aware of these "coworker conflicts" you speak of, and infact, am quite proud of my accomplishments and successes on behalf of the inflight team during my time at the company.
I do invite you to please identify yourself either publicly here, or privatley by contacting my directly. That you, whoever you may be, feel the right to make your disdain and opinion pubilc while attempting to maintain anonymity is asking a bit too much, and I would like to be afforded the opportunity to respond directly to your accusations and concerns.
Now, to the the real issue at hand, the reporting of my HIV status in the press. I was angered, hurt, and embarrassed when I read the reports in the news. I found it irrelevant and sensationalistic. While I am at peace with my status, knowing that I take care of myself and work toward destigmatization of the disease across society, I can not say that it was as easy for many of my friends and loved ones to experience the news. It brought forth many heartfelt conversations and in the end has only served to strengthen my resolve to live fully as healthy a life as possible. That said, I am fortuante to have a strong support system of both poz and negative friends and family that could see me through this crisis. I fear for those who do not. Living with HIV can be sufficiently challenging on its own, let alone facing public scrutiny. One need only look to the recent rash of teen suicides among gay youth to see the damage that can be done through careless and irresponsible words. While I have yet to determin whether I will take any further action against the parties involved in the non- authorized disclosure of my status, I must accept that it has been reported and what is done, is done. My goal now is to continue to work toward education, leading my life with dignity and success, with my HIV as a side issue. I hope I can be an example to society of someone who simply carries on with life, despite HIV, and that my HIV is simply a small part of who I am, and that I will dictate HIV's role in my life through knowledge and information.
I do welcome any feedback or discussion relative to the issue at hand, and look forward to a more productive exchange going forward.

In healthy solidarity,

Steven Slater
Belle Harbor, NY

A note of clarification:
I never stated anything about HIV on the aircraft. Upon my arrest the arresting officer asked about my injury, and asked if I had any medical conditions they should have known about. I responded that I was HIV+ and we went on to other things.
My status was reported in the media as having been leaked by a "Port Authority employee on condition of anonymity."
Kind if ironic, eh?

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This page contains a single entry by Oriol R. Gutierrez Jr. published on August 10, 2010 5:51 PM.

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