Cirque du SoLame
July 22, 2003 12:28 AM   Subscribe

Cirque Du Soleil fires HIV positive gymnast. "It's preposterous for Cirque de Soleil to call Matthew a 'known safety hazard,'" Gorenberg said. "Cirque du Soleil denied Matthew this job not because of sound science or rational concern for other employees but because of unfounded fear. It defies both common sense and science to think that Matthew would exchange bodily fluids with another gymnast while flying through the air."
posted by adrober (28 comments total)
If you were taking applications for someone to catch you in mid-air and spare you from death or injury, would you really hire someone not intelligent to figure out how to use a condom? Just asking.
posted by ttrendel at 1:30 AM on July 22, 2003

make that "not intelligent enough"
posted by ttrendel at 1:31 AM on July 22, 2003

Perhaps they don't give a flying fuck? *slaps knee*
posted by Onanist at 1:34 AM on July 22, 2003

"Lemme try to explain, Matthew...C, u sick..." *ducks, the slaps forehead*

Well, interesting point, ttrendel...if that's actually how he contracted it. I don't think the article actually detailed how he became infected.

I thought, perhaps, there'd be another side to this story, but there doesn't seem to be. Then again, I don't know a lot about this particular source, and it's hard to tell whether Cirque de Soleil's opinion was fairly represented by the two small quotes attributed to them, or whether the writer is just refusing to accept that there could be a reasonable explanation for firing him. Granted, I don't know what such an explanation could be, but if there is some legitimate explanation, there's no excuse for leaving it out to contrive a story that fits a particular agenda, or worse, just makes for a juicy story.
posted by Bixby23 at 1:40 AM on July 22, 2003

I felt bad about that comment the second after I posted it, Bixby. Perhaps he did contract it through such mediums as a blood transfusion or other such 'freak' incidents. I am assuming that such 'freak' transmissions are currently rare due to education, awareness, and fear. My (possibly wrong) gut reaction is that in this day and age he contracted it from either ignorance or negligence.
If the latter is the case, I refuse to make a folk hero of someone who can't understand the conventions of modern life and love.
My point is that when applying for a job, our entire lives are taken into consideration. Credit scores, college transcripts, employment record, blah, blah, and blah. If someone in an at-risk demographic can't fathom the danger at hand, why are they any different than anyone else?
posted by ttrendel at 2:08 AM on July 22, 2003

Supposing the guy was in a long term relationship and they didn't use condoms, and that person cheated on him, contracted HIV, and passed it on? Supposing it was a drunken one-night-stand... hardly a valid basis for denouncing this guy as unfit to judge safety issues in his sober working life.

I could go on, but instead I'll just say, ttrendel, you're a simple minded bigot.
posted by Blue Stone at 2:36 AM on July 22, 2003

My (possibly wrong) gut reaction: fuck CDS. The idea of taking our entire lives in consideration when applying for a job is plain wrong to start with, so any and all exceptions are more than welcome.

In the general scheme of things and due to the lack of some key info, I think that piling up on the guy for failing to understand the conventions of "modern life and love" (whatever that might mean) and accusing him of ignorance or negligence reflects a clear bias - to say the least. I'd say that there is at least a 50-50 chance that it is the employer and not the employee who is failing to understand modern life and its conventions, thus acting in an ignorant and negligent manner.
posted by magullo at 2:42 AM on July 22, 2003

Of course, you're probably right in your assumption, but in the same way that it's not cool to fire someone without a good reason -- a notion this article takes great pains, rightly or wrongly, to bludgeon into the reader -- it's just as uncool, I suspect, to inquire as to how somebody contracted HIV. That line of questioning is off limits these days -- being seen as completely unrelated to a person's potential effectiveness as an employee.

Meaning, I suppose, that the poor decision-making skills you point out are not relevant to an employee's effectiveness...ha...
posted by Bixby23 at 2:55 AM on July 22, 2003

if everyones lives were taken into consideration , we'd all be unemployed .
posted by sgt.serenity at 3:48 AM on July 22, 2003

I don't care at all how he got HIV.
In CDS, don't they swing, jump, spin and run at the upper limits of the human body's performance parameters? I think it's quite possible that in such situations injuries of various kinds will occur, I'd bet that they do, and some of these may involve cuts and scrapes that release blood. I've got a scar on my arm where I got a big gash playing football in a full suit of protective gear, not a singlet. My blood was on the guy that hit me. I just think it's within the realm of reasonable speculation that he could infect someone in an easily preventable way. Unfortunately, I'd sideline him.
posted by planetkyoto at 3:57 AM on July 22, 2003

I don't think you can just write off the safety hazard. Face it, doing acrobatics high in the air has an above-average risk of injury. I'm sure CDS has an exceptional safety record, but still, this ain't office work. And if he falls and he's bleeding, the last thing you want is for the other troupe members to think twice about helping him.

Of course, the circumstances do seem a bit dodgy - the fact that his status didn't seem to be a problem until well into the training process. I'd guess some of the other troupe members heard about his HIV+ status through the grapevine and complained.
posted by maciej at 3:59 AM on July 22, 2003

I'm sure that these performers, like other professional high-risk takers, work hard to minimize the risks involved in their trade. And feeling uneasy about performing with a particular member of the cast clearly heightens risk (i.e. the mind can start to wonder at the wrong time). Then again, there are not documented cases of HIV being transmitted during participation in sports. Even in those that seem to involve much more regular bleeding than the trapeze, like American football (with an average of 4 bloody injuries per game).
posted by magullo at 5:05 AM on July 22, 2003

My guess, BTW, is that it is all insurance related.
posted by magullo at 5:18 AM on July 22, 2003

Of course, they could just decide they don't like the color of his socks and get rid of him that way.

I'm with Magullo here, somewhere deep in the bowels of this issue, is a bean counter worried about the numbers.

You never know though, maybe other staffers were worried and brought it up to management. There is a lot to this story that is untold. Not one peep out of any other gymnast in that article.
posted by a3matrix at 5:40 AM on July 22, 2003

ttrendel -- I'm glad you recognize your own knee-jerk reaction to this. The article states that he has been living with HIV for 10 years. So think back to where education was 10 years ago regarding HIV. You can't think of this with a contemporary sensibility. Yes in 1993 we knew more than we did in 1983, but it was still 10 years ago. Also, who knows how old the guy is. Maybe he contracted it at 14, 15. Even educated teenagers are reckless and filled with visions of invincibility.

I suspect the real reason he was fired was for insurance purposes. Unless they fire everyone with any kind of STD, this is discrimination. He obviously was an exceptional athlete if he made it through training and was going to perform for an audience. If it is because of his teamates reactions, then they need to be educated on HIV and how far treaments have come. And suppose he did sustain an injury? Are the other CDS members going to rush in to administer first aid? No. I am sure they have trained emergency professionals standing by just in case and they would treat all people with the same precautions. Rubber gloves and all.
posted by archimago at 6:46 AM on July 22, 2003

I'm with Magullo too - it rubs against the grain of my fur, this one. The Cirque is a damn good show, but I'd have to ask: Would the Blue Men pull this sort of hiring discrimination? maybe...
posted by troutfishing at 6:46 AM on July 22, 2003

What's probably most disappointing, is that they probably already have a few people on the payroll that are HIV+, whether the bean counters are aware of it or not.

Are those people going to be fired if/when they make a claim?

If one of those people, who may or may not know their own sero-status, inadvertently infects another coworker, will the corporate entity be liable since they've done their duty in making a 'safe' environment?
posted by TuffAustin at 7:00 AM on July 22, 2003

Next time you catch a cold, remember--it's your own damn fault for having mucous membranes. Shame!
posted by gimonca at 7:27 AM on July 22, 2003

I suspect the real reason he was fired was for insurance purposes. Unless they fire everyone with any kind of STD, this is discrimination.

I think the problem probably was that HIV isn't just an STD. It's a bodily fluid-transmitted disease. Injuries happen all the time, quite possibly bloody ones over the 4000-show run of a Cirque show, and unlike football bloody football, the audience is three feet away, well within splatter range.

We know what a litigious world we live in, and as bad press as this situation is getting, it's nothing compared to the falloff in ticket sales if a patron sued Cirque because an HIV-positive performer bled on them.

There's also the possible bias of the other athletes. All of them push themselves to human limits in a trusted team environment, and frequently fail. Teammates might be a little worried about pushing that envelope, knowing the possible consequences of injury, and that can greatly affect their ability to perform. Alternatively, even if the Cirque knew about his HIV status, they probably didn't tell the other performers, and it could be a trust issue, when they found out that he'd been deliberately hiding it from his fellow performers, that caused them to not be able to work with him as well when they found out.

I'm not saying that any of these rationales are right, but they give possible perspectives that go beyond the knee-jerk "They fired him because they don't like people with HIV." We just don't know enough to make that call.
posted by kfury at 7:39 AM on July 22, 2003

Kfury -- you make very good points. However, having an audience 3 feet away is also a safety issue, and at least from what I have seen on TV the audience is far enough away that they are not going to be hit with splattered anything!!

I understand your points about trust. But I would hazard to guess that most people hide things from their co-workers that can affect job performance. What about the hypothetical trapeze artist who is distratced because his wife had a miscarriage but he isn't telling his fellow peformers about it because it's none of their business. Do they have a right to know that the person they are trusting with their lives is distracted and putting them at risk? There is also a certain element of trust that the people you are working with, working around, are responsible enough to know when they are in a position to step away? What about that restaurant you ate in last week? Do you have a right to know that the chef is HIV positive? Even if he wears rubber gloves when he cooks or works with knives? What about if he doesn't wear gloves?

There are a lot of factors in this, and I would like to think that the performer was honest about his condition because he was concerned for the safety of others and wanted his bosses to know what was going on and also because he doesn't feel HIV is a stigma. It's unfortunate that he was fired instead of being given an option to perform less-dangerous stunts or give his fellow performers the right to choose if they wanted to work with him.
posted by archimago at 8:01 AM on July 22, 2003

Tangent: Wasn't there a case similar to this involving a dentist who was HIV positive?

I remember feeling altogether torn about the whole thing. Certainly a qualified individual should be allowed to practice medicine regardless of whether they are HIV positive or not. But would I be completely comfortable with an HIV+ dentist poking around my bleeding gums? I don't like to admit it, but I'm fairly certain I'd have some very real reservations.

And were I a gymnast actively working with Matthew, I might well have similar concerns.

But perhaps there's a precedent here. Recall Magic Johnson's participation with the US Olympic Basketball "Dream Team" after he'd tested positive. Though there was some controversy, no one was overly concerned about contracting the virus when sharing the court with him. It seems like a comparable situation.
posted by aladfar at 8:09 AM on July 22, 2003

But would I be completely comfortable with an HIV+ dentist poking around my bleeding gums?

When was the last time you or someone you know came in contact with their dentist's blood or seminal/vaginal fluid or feces?

It's pretty much standard practice now for dentists to wear rubber gloves for something as innocuous as a cleaning.

Besides, how do you know your dentist isn't HIV+?

And were I a gymnast actively working with Matthew, I might well have similar concerns.

This is my point, at the very least give the other gymnasts the opportunity to be educated about the situation and make the decision themselves. Give the HIV+ performer an option to stay on as a trainer/consultant/choreographer, rather than just fire him for an illness that had yet to affect his job performace. (Of course, they may have done just that, we just don't know the full story. I'm sure he'll be interviewed with Barbara Walters soon though).
posted by archimago at 8:24 AM on July 22, 2003

I'm not arguing that my discomfort is rational archimago, only that it exists. I believe many feel the same way.

That said, I agree with you in part; rather than taking punitive measures against Matthew, performers should have given the option to choose not to perform with him. But on the - admittedly very slim - chance that another gymnast were to contract the virus from him, who would be responsible? Cirque du Soleil itself? Matthew? Even if piles of disclaimers were signed, this presents a sticky situation.

Of course, performers of this sort are taking a considerable risk already. Perhaps the slight risk of infection (be it HIV, Hepatitis, or other blood borne illness) should be assumed in this sort of highly physical activity.
posted by aladfar at 9:08 AM on July 22, 2003

I'm not in disagreement with you aldafar, just saying that there are so many variables and knowing about someone's HIV status doesn't automatically increase someone's risk of contracting it. Like I said, you have no idea how many people you come in contact with every day are HIV+. What about the guy whose hand you just shook in a meeting? What if he was in the bathroom and didn't wash his hands and you have a nasty hangnail on your finger? Despite what people think, it's extremely difficult to contract HIV casually in these ways. And you are right about Hepatitis, just as nefarious as HIV without treatment, and people can transmit that through saliva.

There probably aren't statistics on how many CDS injuries involved blood and open wounds, or even how often a CDS performer gets injured. I just think it was a bad move on CDS altogether to fire someone for being HIV+ I can't help but think this has more to do with people's ignorance in regard to people living with HIV. I'm not saying that the performers shouldn't be concerned for their own safety, but then they should not assume that all the other performers are negative, and to be consistent all the other performers should be tested for any kind of communicable disease and be summarily dismissed from CDS if they should be positive. Just to be safe, of course.
posted by archimago at 10:05 AM on July 22, 2003

Archimago, you make my favorite points in the thread.
HIV is incredibly hard to contract. I think the risk factor for the other performers and audience members is so slim and unlikely, it's hard for me to fathom a reasonable justification for CDS's behavior beyond bias.

Ttrendel, I found your first comment so disturbing because it suggested a sort-of "just deserts" attitude. I think anyone who contracts HIV---even the most reckless of them---deserves pity and fair treatment. Who knows what life circumstances brought them to make their bad decision, if there even was a bad decision?
posted by adrober at 10:55 AM on July 22, 2003

Heck, bodily fluids fly amuck during even normal active stage dramas. Try sitting in the first row of a theater sometime. But then sweat and saliva haven't shown to be HIV spreaders.
posted by HTuttle at 8:34 PM on July 22, 2003

I agree with that, adrober. My gut reaction was insensitive and wrong. I'll freely admit that. AIDS patients do deserve fair treatment.
Why did I react in that way? Because it's run rampant. Because this disease is killing humans at such an alarming rate. Fair treatment? Yes. Pity? No.
The sole reason that AIDS has run rampant is due to a total lack of accountability within susceptible communities. Why pity them any more than those who play Russian Roulette? Safe sex is safe sex.
The problem, and my original point (regardless of how poorly I expressed it) is that victims get deified due to their contraction of a fatal disease. Sure, many contractions are accidental, but many are also due to ignorance. The community tends to deal with ANY victim as a creature of circumstance, a martyr. Accountability is absent.
posted by ttrendel at 1:27 AM on July 23, 2003

I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree. My point is that even the most egregious case of HIV contraction is worthy of your pity because the self-hating gay man who agrees to have unsafe sex IS a creature of circumstance. Something led him to hate himself enough to play that game of Russian roulette. As a gay man (<--God, I hate pulling that, but I think it fits), I know firsthand how the forces of hatred and bigotry can make you feel small and insignificant. It's obviously not enviable to be reckless, and sure the unknowing AIDS victim may be more martyrable than the one who thows caution to the wind, but this all makes me think of "Philadelphia" and how Tom Hanks's boss is like "I have pity for the thousands of AIDS patients who got this terrible disesase through no fault of their own" as if to say Tom Hanks deserves what he gets. I just don't agree with that.
posted by adrober at 11:14 AM on July 23, 2003

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