Farmer, Steven George (1956-1995)

  • By Rosette Royale
  • Posted 11/19/2021
  • Essay 21339

Steven Farmer, a Seattle airline steward often praised for his leading-man good looks, found himself unwittingly cast as villain and victim in a real-life legal, moral, and medical drama in 1988, when he became the first person in Washington state forced to take an HIV test. The test followed a divisive trial in which Farmer, a gay man, was convicted of two counts of sexual exploitation of a minor and two counts of patronizing a juvenile prostitute. After his positive test result was read in court, and covered in the media, he was sentenced to 7.5 years, outside the standard sentencing range. Farmer appealed. The state's Supreme Court ruled that the compulsoary HIV test violated Farmer's constitutional rights, but still upheld his lengthy sentence. His health deteriorated in prison, which led Gov. Mike Lowry to grant him clemency. Seven years after his forced HIV test, Farmer died in hospice of complications of AIDS.

Small-Town Boy, Big-City Woes

Steven George Farmer was born May 24, 1956, in Monroe. In the 1950s, Monroe had a population of roughly 1,500, making it a small town with a significant landmark: the Washington State Reformatory, the state's second prison. While it's unknown how close Farmer lived to the reformatory in childhood, as an adult, he would be within walking distance.

In 1961, his father, David Rowe Farmer (1933-2020) landed a job with Boeing, and the family relocated to Kirkland. Steven graduated from Lake Washington High School, and by 1981, he'd made the leap across Lake Washington to Seattle. There, he worked as a waiter and a hotel banquet captain, but his employment prospects soared in 1983 when he became a flight attendant for Alaska Airlines. By the mid 1980s he was earning $30,000 a year, close to the annual median income in King County.

Farmer epitomized rugged masculinity: He stood 6-feet-1, weighed 170 pounds, and was adorned with a chiseled face, cleft chin, green eyes, and bushy moustache, all of which he displayed in the nude for several gay magazines, as well as for Playgirl, a magazine marketed to women but enjoyed by men attracted to other men.

Though Farmer identified as gay, internalized homophobia constrained his life. Anti-gay views in society likely worsened internal struggles. In 1986, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled sex between consenting adult men, even in their own homes, could be prosecuted (that decision was overruled in 2003); and in 1987, Washington state politicians and religious groups battled over whether gays and lesbians deserved housing and employment protections. Though he lived on Capitol Hill, then considered the center of Seattle's queer community, Farmer detested the gay-bar scene, perhaps because of his struggles with alcohol and substance use. He worried that being "out" would cost him his job. And then there was AIDS.

AIDS isn't a gay disease, but a condition caused by HIV, the human immunodeficiency virus. The virus can be transmitted to anyone, regardless of sexuality, through some bodily fluids, including blood and semen. But in the early 1980s, before anyone knew the term AIDS – shorthand for acquired immunodeficiency syndrome – medical professionals referred to the condition by another acronym: GRID, for "gay-related immunodeficiency syndrome," since it seemed to affect "primarily male homosexuals" (Altman). In the public consciousness, AIDS was linked to gay sex and sexuality. Some viewed it as punishment for being gay. 

AIDS ravaged gay communities and other marginalized groups nationwide. In King County, the "deadly infectious disease" was first identified in a local man in July 1982 (Atkins). In 1983, a Tacoma man was the first person in Washington to die of AIDS. In early 1985, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration licensed the first commercial blood test to detect HIV, a medical milestone that would prove pivotal in Farmer's future. By the end of 1985, King County had tallied 74 confirmed deaths from AIDS.

With few available treatment options, Farmer harbored a deep dread he could contract HIV and develop AIDS. Fear of AIDS, even for those with little risk of exposure, consumed many during this era, and this anxiety influenced how some reacted when Farmer's sexual practices became public knowledge. When the news broke -- and it was big news -- an ensuing controversy hinged on a critical piece of information: Farmer's HIV status. 

Call Him "Sir"

On February 17, 1987, Farmer drove his white Toyota Corolla to 2nd Avenue and Madison Street in downtown Seattle, a known red-light district, where he saw Eric, 16. After Farmer offered Eric money to have oral sex, the pair rode to Farmer's ground-floor apartment on Capitol Hill. The details of what occurred with Eric, as well as with other teens, are difficult to assess. Events described in law enforcement documents don't always line up with stories told later by participants; at least one person even recanted part of an official statement. Still, some events seem to be generally accepted.

Inside, Farmer instructed Eric to call him "Sir." When Farmer asked Eric his age, Eric said, truthfully, 16, the legal age of sexcual consent in Washington. Farmer told Eric to say he was 15. After offering Eric marijuana and drinking with him, Farmer grabbed a Polaroid and took sexually explicit photos of Eric. They had sex. When Eric tried to leave, Farmer stopped him. Eric fell at some point and awoke to Farmer making breakfast. On a table sat $20, which Eric took before he left.

Eric stopped at a friend's place and then at the Orion Center, a shelter for homeless youth, where someone convinced him to report Farmer. Eric provided police a lead: Farmer's license plate number. Later, when police tried to obtain a statement from Eric, he had disappeared. 

Three months later, Farmer visited the same red-light district, where he met James, 16. In his apartment, Farmer directed James to call him "Sir" and say he was 14. Famer took nude Polaroids of James, and after sex, which did not involve condoms, Farmer forbid James to leave. Throughout their interactions, Farmer had been smoking marijuana and using "poppers," slang for amyl nitrite, which can be inhaled to treat the pain of angina attacks; they can also be used during sex to induce euphoria and enhance orgasm. When the drugs incapacitated Farmer, James snuck out. James wouldn't contact police for months. But within days, police would contact Farmer.

One Knock, Then Another

On May 30, 1987, days after Farmer's 31st birthday, he again ventured to the red-light district. When he saw Robert, 17, he beckoned him into the car by snapping his fingers. Farmer told Robert he wanted to photograph him and to say he was 15. Payment wasn't discussed. In Farmer's apartment, they smoked pot, and Robert drank a glass of wine, which got him "totally buzzed." He apparently inhaled poppers. Farmer took "nasty pictures" and watched Robert shower (Reade, "Victim's ..."). They had sex, including with Farmer as a passive partner. Whether condoms were used is unclear.

They were interrupted by a knock, and Farmer opened the door to find a stranger. When the person threatened to call the police, Farmer believed it was Robert's pimp. Robert's denials did little to calm Farmer, and after Farmer ushered the interloper out, sex between Farmer and Robert continued. At about 2 a.m. Robert left, and in a replay of Eric months before, stopped at the Orion Center, where an adult encouraged him to call the police. Robert led an officer to Farmer. After another police unit arrived, three officers approached Farmer's apartment.

When the second knock came, Farmer was in his bathrobe. The two officers at the back door said there was someone in the cruiser who claimed Farmer had raped him. "No rape occurred here," Farmer replied (Hannan). Even though police didn't have a warrant, Farmer allowed them in. One officer went to the front door and let in a third.

They asked about the alleged rape. Farmer repeated nothing happened. After being read his rights, Farmer changed. An officer asked where his camera and photos were, and Farmer indicated an open closet. There, officers found a Polaroid and a red box with an estimated 200-plus sexually explicit images, though the number, as reported in the media, often changed. Some of the photos appeared to be of minors. Police seized the camera, the box of photos, and the bed sheets. While one officer obtained Robert's statement and took him to get a physical exam, the other officers booked Farmer and logged the evidence. Then Farmer did what many in his situation might: He phoned a friend.

A "Tiny" Friend Request

Mavis Jones answered the early-morning call and listened as Farmer told her he was in jail on a rape accusation, though he assured her he was innocent. Then he made a request: Could she go to his apartment and retrieve photos under his mattress? Jones, nicknamed "Tiny," didn't own a car, so she phoned a mutual friend, Patrick Weller, who drove her to Farmer's apartment.

Let in by the landlady, Jones came up empty-handed. The search went somewhat better for Weller, who, while unable to locate photos under the mattress, discovered a shoebox of Polaroids in the closet. They placed those photos, along with a bottle of poppers, in a plastic garbage bag, and when they returned to Jones's place, they poured coffee grounds on the photos, ruining them. Weller tossed the damaged photos in a Dumpster.

Farmer called again, and after hearing the search for photos under the mattress proved fruitless, he implored Jones to look once more. During the second search, Weller's sleuthing produced a half-dozen Polaroids under the mattress, while Jones found pot and Farmer's phonebook. Farmer's request had proven successful, though perhaps more than he imagined, because, as Jones and Weller would later confess, they found something else: proof Farmer was living with HIV.

State v. Farmer, Part 1

With no prior record, Farmer was released and, for several days, faced no charges. But on June 5, 1987, he was charged with one count of exploitation of a minor, a felony, for allegedly taking sexually explicit photos. He pleaded not guilty. He was barred from having contact with the alleged victim and other minors, and was prohibited from drinking alcohol or using illegal drugs.

Farmer took drastic steps to respond. He checked into an alcohol and drug rehab facility called Right Step. His three-week treatment cost $5,659. After treatment, he joined a chemical dependency program designed for gay and lesbian clients. He moved into a clean-and-sober home. After four years at Alaska Airlines, Farmer resigned, in part to leave a workplace tied to his substance use. He also underwent psychiatric care, which led his psychiatrist not to recommend a deviancy program because he didn't believe Farmer was a pedophile.

Aided by a public defender, Robert H. Gombiner, Farmer sought to suppress the photos and bedding as evidence, alleging that their seizure, without permission, violated his constitutional rights. The prosecutor's office countered by charging Farmer with a second felony count of exploitation of a minor, for an alleged encounter in June 1986 with a 16-year-old named Maui. Maui identified himself in some of the very photos Farmer wanted to suppress.

Shortly after, a judge ruled to suppress the evidence, and after both felony charges were dropped, Farmer pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor counts of communication with a minor for immoral purposes. He opted for a plea bargain partly because his lawyer didn't think Farmer could emotionally withstand a trial; Farmer also believed he'd receive a deferred-prosecution agreement, which meant, if he didn't violate his probation, the charges would be removed from his record. Facing his first offense, he expected to be sentenced to 30 days and fined roughly $200.

Instead, Farmer wound up on TV.

Hidden Proof

Reporter Julie Blacklow had just returned to work at KING-TV when she got a call. It was Jones, saying she and a friend wanted to talk. "About what?" Blacklow asked. Jones wouldn't say over the phone, but added, "We're troubled about something" (Blacklow, Fearless). In a coffeeshop the next day, Jones and Weller told Blacklow about Farmer's arrest. They admitted to entering his apartment twice to collect photos and drugs. That's when they discovered something: an official medical document that indicated Farmer was living with HIV. They gave it to Blacklow.

Blacklow knew a story about a gay man who was aware he was living with HIV and had sex with minors would be volatile. But Blacklow believed Farmer was a threat to the gay community, as well as a criminal. "It's not a crime to have AIDS or HIV – but I think it goes into a different sphere if you're potentially killing other people," she said (Blacklow interview with author).

The medical document was issued by a clinic in Bellevue, and Blacklow verified the information. She interviewed the chief of staff of the King County prosecutor's office for a story about a sex offender who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges after police bungled the seizure of evidence. The issue of HIV or AIDS didn't come up in that interview. Blacklow contacted Farmer's lawyer to ask about Farmer's HIV status but got no answer. Blacklow and a cameraperson tracked down Farmer on Capitol Hill and filmed him walking along the street. Farmer, whom she described as "[m]ovie-star handsome," refused to be interviewed. Unbowed, Blacklow put together her story, which never acknowledged the medical document.

KING-TV execs were skittish. How did Blacklow know Farmer was living with HIV when he allegedly had sex with minors? They demanded proof. She felt they had every right to ask, but she also felt she had every right to refuse. Swearing her information was solid, she never showed execs, or anyone else, the document. When Blacklow's story was ready, studio management invited leaders of the gay community to see the finished piece, and, if they found it too problematic, KING-TV would consider axing the story. "None of those who watched disputed the truth of the story or its importance," Blacklow said (Fearless).  

The aired report began with an image of Farmer's face. It included interviews with two people, ostensibly Jones and Weller, in silhouette, along with clips from the interview with the chief of staff from the prosecutor's office. A police officer wearing plastic gloves displayed photos seized from Farmer's apartment. Farmer's lawyer believed there was "homophobia behind [the] pursuit of this story," calling it "sensationalistic [and] inflammatory" (Reade, "Media"). Even those who disagreed with Farmer's lawyer had to concede one point: The story was a media sensation.

Events On Screen and Off

Once the report aired, Farmer's name and face became hard to avoid. Newspaper headlines labelled him a "teen-sex abuser" and "sex offender" (Hibbard and Miletich), terms that fed interest in his trial. 

As it happened, the trial covered by the media wasn't the one Farmer had envisioned. He expected his sentencing for pleading guilty to two counts of communication with a minor for immoral purposes to be uneventful. That sentencing had originally been set for the day before Blacklow's report aired. But before sentencing could occur, Jones and Weller had provided signed statements to police in which they admitted to destroying photos. A prosecutor received two anonymous calls that Farmer was living with HIV, though the caller "couldn't prove it" (Anne Bremner affidavit). When Senior Deputy Prosecutor Rebecca Roe asked Farmer's lawyer if his client was living with the virus, the lawyer indicated he didn't believe it was true. Blacklow asked prosecutors about the "rumor" Farmer was living with HIV (Memorandum in Opposition). For months, HIV had never been an issue – but suddenly it was.

For reasons not clear in law enforcement records, Farmer's sentencing was delayed. On November 19, 1987, prosecutors charged Farmer with tampering with evidence, in relation to asking Jones to obtain photos from his apartment. That evening, Blacklow's piece aired on KING-TV.

Farmer's arraignment for tampering with evidence was delayed when Farmer checked into the psychiatric clinic at University Hospital. Prosecutors agreed to the delay on one condition: Farmer could leave the hospital only to attend his arraignment. Farmer seemed to misunderstand this requirement when he obtained a pass to visit his clean-and-sober house. Afterward, he dropped by Seattle Suntan, where a staff member recognized him. Police found him in a tanning booth and arrested him on a $5,000 felony warrant. He was taken to a local precinct, where he experienced, in traumatic fashion, the homophobia and AIDS hysteria that would plague the rest of his life.

"Mr. Photograph"

In the precinct garage, three officers arrived, one of whom said, according to Farmer, "That's the guy from Channel 5. The one with AIDS" (Farmer affidavit). The officers put on gloves. Farmer was tossed in a cell with a window in the door. Several officers peered in, calling him "pervert" and "faggot" (Farmer affidavit). Removed from the cell, he was forced to lie on his back, his handcuffed hands beneath him. Officers tied him to a stretcher. An ambulance awaited, and officers told the driver Farmer had AIDS. The driver put a mask on Farmer. He was driven to King County Jail, and a nurse there said, "So this is him, the pervert. Mr. Photograph. So you have AIDS" (Famer affidavit). Everyone put on gloves.

Farmer cried. "We don't feel sorry for you," the nurse said, telling others not to get near his tears, suggesting they could transmit HIV. The nurse, a man, didn't let up, yelling, "You have AIDS, don't you, don't you?" (Farmer affidavit). Bereft, Farmer was placed in the jail's psychiatric ward.

Farmer was arraigned on charges of tampering with evidence. Prosecutors argued for a $5,000 bond and tough restrictions on his movements, in part because "the State believes the defendant to be HIV positive," information the court could use to decide if Farmer was a "risk to the community" (Memorandum in Opposition, 2). The court decided he was a risk. Bond and restrictions were granted. Days later, he was sentenced for his guilty plea of two counts of communicating with a minor for immoral purposes. He received a suspended sentence of 60 days and was barred from unsupervised contact with minors. He cried in the courtroom.

As Farmer awaited trial for tampering with evidence, two people from his past reemerged. James, who'd snuck out of Farmer's apartment in May 1987 after Farmer became incapacitated due to substance use, identified Farmer in a police photo montage. Eric, whose statement police had been unable to obtain when he went missing in February 1987, saw Farmer's face on TV. Based upon statements from both, prosecutors filed four more charges against Farmer: two counts of sexual exploitation of a minor and two counts of patronizing a juvenile prostitute. But before Farmer's trial could take place in Seattle, his life would be affected by events in Olympia.

A Pivotal Act

On March 23, 1988, state legislators passed a bill, by one vote, to confront bias against people living with HIV. Known as the AIDS Omnibus Act, it mandated AIDS education in state schools and ensured that the state's workforce received HIV education. The law also ensured anonymous HIV testing. Lobbyists who worked to pass the bill knew AIDS was a scary issue for some legislators, particularly those representing regions that hadn't felt the impact of many deaths. One of the most contentious issues concerned forced HIV testing for convicted sex offenders. Activist groups such as ACT UP Seattle, short for AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, opposed such testing, but legislators codified it into law.

As the law was written, forced HIV testing applied in rare cases, including for people convicted of certain crimes and only for offenses committed after March 23, 1988, the day the law was enacted – stipulations that would hang over Farmer's case. To determine if Farmer was living with HIV, prosecutors considered subpoenaing Farmer's medical records, but public health officials advised against it: If people believed their test results could become public, they might never get tested. Ultimately, the court used another action to determine Farmer's HIV status.

State v. Farmer, Part 2

When Farmer's second trial began on April 11, 1988, he faced two counts of sexual exploitation of a minor and two counts of patronizing a juvenile prostitute (his charge of tampering with evidence had been severed from the other charges). TV cameras were allowed in the courtroom. Respective counsels agreed not to mention Farmer might be living with HIV. Two of Farmer's accusers, Eric and James, testified, as did Farmer's friends, Jones and Weller. Prosecutor Rebecca Roe moved to introduce Farmer's medical records as evidence but was denied.

On April 19, the jury retired, and after deliberating for more thn eight hours, reached a verdict: guilty of all four counts. Even with the conviction, Farmer was released on bond, but the prosecutor warned that Farmer's ability to spread HIV would be an issue at sentencing, scheduled for late May. 

HIV became an issue outside of sentencing, too. Whether prosecutors had seen the document Jones and Weller found is unknown. But Jones had told prosecutors that not only was Farmer "obsessed with the topic of AIDS," he'd also admitted, in 1983, that a medical test revealed his blood contained antibodies to HIV (Emery, "Sex Offender"). AIDS activists and Farmer's supporters cried foul: How could Farmer have been tested in 1983, as Jones claimed, when the test for HIV antibodies wasn't created until 1985?

This line of thought was brushed aside, and prosecutors demanded a forced test be conducted in 1988, pre-sentencing. Farmer's legal team fought the demand, claiming it violated the AIDS Omnibus Law, which permitted a forced test of a convicted sex offender only post-sentencing, and for offenses committed after the law was enacted. Neither requirement applied to Farmer. His defense team argued the demand was nonsensical, since a test administered in 1988 couldn't prove Farmer's HIV status in 1987, at the time of the offenses. Members from the Stonewall Committee for Lesbian/Gay Rights took on Farmer's cause and attended court hearings to support him. The legal tug-of-war ended when Judge Charles Johnson compelled Farmer to be tested, with the results to be shared only with the defense, prosecutors, and judge. When Farmer's appeal was denied, he had little choice but to submit. Witnessed by a detective on June 1, Farmer's blood was drawn. Now there was one thing left: wait for the results.

"Witch Hunt"

For months, Farmer's counsel had advised him not to speak to the media, but quiet time was over. His most ardent supporters were already speaking out in the Seattle Gay News. Articles warned that the prosecutors' pursuit of his case was like "slapping the Gay and Lesbian community" ("Stonewall Organizes ..."). Letters to the editor encouraged readers to "rally for a cause" and support Farmer – and then denounced the "'protect the children hysteria" focused on his teen accusers, described, unsympathetically, as "'underage in name only' prostitutes" who "made a decision to sell their bodies for money" ("A Few Words ..."). In the Seattle Gay News, Farmer found a receptive place to tell his story.

Over the course of a three-part series, Farmer spun a compelling, if at times unsettling, tale. When he described being forcibly tested, he said, "I feel like I've been raped" ("Justice And The Media"). If he knew he was living with HIV, he never admitted it, saying, "I have no idea what the results will be" ("Up Against ..."). Still, there was a confession of sorts: "I've never said I didn't do anything wrong. But I don't believe I've ever endangered anyone's life, except maybe my own." And by the time he was done, he cast his case as the opening act in an epic drama of HIV criminalization: "I am the first of the witch-hunt trials" ("Up Against ..."). 

Soon after, about two dozen people protested outside the King County Courthouse. "End Forced AIDS Testing," a sign proclaimed. "Protect our Constitutional Rights" (Bainter). Days later, the results were revealed in the courtroom when Prosecutor Roe requested a lengthy sentence: Farmer had tested positive for HIV antibodies.

The following day, the front page of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer claimed, "Sex Offender Exposed to AIDS," confusing a positive test for HIV with a medical diagnosis of AIDS. Editorials railed that Farmer "does not deserve to walk free again, ever" ("Lock Farmer ..."). James, one of his accusers, likened Farmer potentially exposing him to HIV as "the same as attempted murder. People like that should be fried, hung or whatever it takes …" (Correspondence). The judge decided it would take a jail term of 90 months. A 7.5-year sentence was "above the standard range," but Johnson felt the punishment was just because Farmer "demonstrated indifference, insensitive and malicious disregard for the health and lives of the victims" (Judgment).

Farmer appealed to the Washington State Supreme Court, claiming his constitutional rights had been violated. His bond was set at $100,000, and eventually, at least one community member put up personal property as surety. As he awaited the ruling, Farmer attended gay pride festivities in June 1990 wearing a white T-shirt that read, "AIDS is not a crime. Forced testing is," as he collected donations for the "Steven Farmer Defense Fund" (Royale photo). When Stonewall Committee members visited gay bars seeking donations, they weren't always welcomed. Some people detested Farmer and heckled his supporters until they left. 

On Valentine's Day 1991, more than two years after his appeal to the Washington Supreme Court, Farmer received a verdict: The court ruled that, because the test results could not prove Farmer was living with HIV at the time of his crimes, the forced testing had violated his constitutional rights. Regardless, the court upheld his sentence. Farmer waited months to hear if the court would reconsider his case. His request was denied.

Farmer had exhausted all legal options, and a warrant was issued for his arrest. The Stonewall Committee called a protest on July 16 in front of King County Jail to support Farmer, who they said was about to become a "political prisoner" (Flyer). Some 50 people showed up. Farmer had been hiding out at a friend's house, but with nowhere left to run, he arrived in a taxi. "I am being sent to prison by the State of Washington because I am a gay man and because I am HIV-positive," he told the crowd (Statement). He continued: "To everyone I say: I fought for your rights and won a victory against forced testing. But I'm paying for that with my freedom." Yet along with anger and heartache, he also voiced hope: "I thank you from my heart, I love you and I'll see you soon" (Statement). Trailed by supporters, he surrendered to police. His sentence had begun.

Incarcerated and in Poor Health

Farmer was eventually transferred to Twin Rivers Unit, site of the state's first Sex Offender Treatment and Assessment Program. Twin Rivers Unit wasn't far from the Washington State Reformatory, and both were part of the Monroe Correctional Complex, which meant, as an adult, Farmer had returned to his birthplace, Monroe, as a convicted felon.

Farmer remained connected to the outside world thanks to visits from two Stonewall Committee members, Chris Smith and Su Docekal. After submitting to a "humiliating" entry process, they'd sit in a "big, open cafeteria" until guards brought him in. There wasn't "glass or anything between us," Smith said (Royale interview). They even attended a Christmas show.

Outside of prison, the case still generated energy. An action agenda for the 1992 Pride Parade/March & Freedom Rally contained an item to "End discrimination against people with HIV/ADS. Free Steven Farmer" (Freedom Day). In what was an unfortunate oversight, considering Farmer's crimes, that item was listed on the same page as an announcement for a "Youth and Young Adult Pride Day Freedom Dance." The agenda item carried little power: On Sept. 3, 1993, the state supreme court upheld Farmer's sentence ("Court Upholds ...").

One Last Victory

In prison, Farmer styled himself as an organizer, working to improve conditions, but his health deteriorated. As he became sicker, Farmer, along with Smith, Docekal and others, sought his release. They hoped one of the state's highest officials would unbolt the doors. Not long after his sentence began in 1991, Farmer petitioned the Clemency and Pardon Board asking for mercy in what he called his "outrageous case and sentence" ("Farmer's Side"). He was rejected. But when his health took a downturn, the matter changed.

One of Farmer's doctors at the University of Washington Medical Center alerted the board to a "progressive decline in [Farmer's] medical status since his incarceration" (Confidential letter). Even if he received proper care and avoided infections that could compromise his immune system, "his expectant median survival time is 1 year or less." The letter was dated March 10, 1993. On Jan. 5, 1994, after the board's unanimous recommendation, Gov. Mike Lowry signed an order granting clemency. It was an incredible achievement, particularly when viewed against history. Between 1985, the year of the board's creation, and early 1994, the board had considered 313 petitions. Only 18, including Farmer's, had been granted. Now he could receive hospice care in Tacoma.

Unsurprisingly, Farmer's clemency proved divisive. People jammed the governor's phone lines to voice disapproval. Lead prosecutor Rebecca Roe derided the decision, saying of Farmer, "He didn't care if he transmitted [AIDS] to them" ("Farmer Outcry Noted ..."). People who lived and worked near the Tacoma hospice worried Farmer would walk out and reoffend, though that was unlikely: Confined and electronically monitored, he was under 24-hour supervision. When the Stonewall Committee learned local vigilantes had threatened the hospice and Farmer, members sat outside in cars armed with baseball bats. In the end, no protection was needed. Indeed, Stonewall Committee members visited Farmer in hospice to view Philadelphia, the 1993 film that featured Tom Hanks's Oscar-winning portrayal of a gay lawyer who dies of complications from AIDS.

In the spring of 1995, Farmer was transferred to a Tacoma community hospital, where he remained for unknown length of time. At some point, he was relocated to the Bailey-Boushay House in Seattle, the nation's first long-term care facility and outpatient health program for people living with AIDS. There were no protests or threats. Perhaps many people never knew he was there, though his name appeared in newspapers at least once more: to announce his death. Farmer died just after midnight on Sept. 25, 1995, of complications from AIDS. He was 39.


Farmer left a complex legacy. Academics have penned dissertations that examine how "anxieties about queerness during the HIV/AIDS epidemic" played into the Farmer's case and forced blood test (Diambri). Stonewall Committee members still contend Farmer was scapegoated, and that being the target of so much animosity came with a price: "It took an emotional toll on him," Smith said (author interview). 

KING-5 reporter Blacklow said that after her report aired, she and her son were harassed. A police officer lived in her home for four months. She said she has spoken about whether it was right to share Farmer's identity and potential HIV status. "It's one of those ethical conundrums," Blacklow said (author interview). Conundrums aside, Blacklow was astounded when Farmer sent her a Christmas card and forgave her. "I just wanted you to know that I spent most of the year hating you," Farmer wrote. "I choose today not to hate you" (author interview). 

Blacklow never publicly released the letter stating Farmer's HIV status, but his death certificate offers insight. At the time of death, Farmer had been battling two types of pneumonia for at least six months, as well as Kaposi's sarcoma, a type of cancer that causes skin lesions, for two years. He had also been living with HIV for 10 years, or since 1985 – two years before his crimes.

From 1987 to 1995, local newspapers published at least 100 articles about him and his case. His face was shown in video footage and in still images countless times. Yet ultimately, Farmer found peace. He is buried in a cemetery outside of Seattle, his plot marked by a small headstone. Nothing hints at the journey of the man who was laid there to rest. 


"About Monroe," Monroe, Washington website accessed Oct. 11, 2021 (; State v. Farmer, 116 Wn.2d 414, 17, 21 (1991); U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, "1950 Census of Population: Preliminary Counts: Population of Washington, by Counties: April 1, 1950," Series PC-2, No. 32 Rev., September 26, 1950, p. 3; "David's Obituary: David Rowe Farmer," Evans Funeral Chapel and On-Site Crematory, October 18, 2020, website accessed Oct. 11, 2021 (; Robert O'Boyle, "The Man Behind The News Stories," The Seattle Times, June 2, 1991, p. K6; Defense Presentence Report, State v. Farmer, December 16. 1987, p. 43; Alaska Airlines letter, Ibid., August 18, 1987, p. 47; Affidavit 1, State of Washington V. Steven Farmer, December 23, 1987; "Washington State Median Household Income Estimates by County: 1989 to 2018," Office of Financial Management, website accessed Oct. 20, 2021 (; Linda Greenhouse, "Justices to Reconsider Ruling Against Sex Between Gays," The New York Times, December 3, 2002, p. A26; Doug Underwood, "Gay-Right Laws Come Under Fire -- Conservatives Fight for Repeal," The Seattle Times, Feb. 14, 1986, p. A1; "How is HIV Transmitted?" website accessed October 20, 2021 (; Lawrence K. Altman, "Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals," The New York Times, July 3, 1981, p. A-20; Warren King, "Tacoman is First State AIDS Fatality," The Seattle Times, April 15, 1983, p. B1; King County Archives, "Responding to AIDS: The Seattle-King County Department of Public Health 1982-1996," p. 23; Michael J. Diambri, "Queer Anxieties in Washington State History," Master's thesis, University of Vermont, May 2020, pp. 119-155; Washington law, Sexual exploitation of a minor, 1984 Wash. Laws, ch. 262, sec. 4; Correspondence, written by accuser James, June 30, 1988; "Certification for Determination of Probably Cause," State of Washington v. Steven George Farmer, p. 2; Alan Reade, "A Victim's Story: Minor Speaks Out About Steven Farmer Case," Seattle Gay News, December 11, 1987, p. 7; Casey Hannan, "Justice And The Media: The Steven Farmer Case," Ibid., June 3, 1988, p. 1; Incident Report, 87-266953, Seattle Police Department, May 31, 1987; "Explanation of Rights," Mavis Jones, Incident Number 87-266953, Seattle Police Department, Nov. 3, 1987, p. 1-3; "Explanation of Rights," Patrick Charles Weller, Incident Number 87-266953, Seattle Police Department, Nov. 4, 1987, p. 1-8; "Arrest Warrant," Case No. 87-1-02399-7, State of Washington v. Steven George Farmer, June 4, 1987; "Right Step," Discharge letter, June 26, 1987; "Private Residence" letter, June 28, 1987; "Employer Letter," August 18, 1987; "Psychiatrist's Letter," October 9, 1987; “Defendant’s Motion to Suppress Evidence," No. 1, August 16, 1987; "Motion, Certification and Order Permitting Filing of An Amended Information," October 1, 1987; "Memorandum in Opposition to Motion to Dismiss," December 18, 1987; "Steven Farmer: Up Against The System And Media," Seattle Gay News, June 10, 1988, p. 10; Julie Blacklow, Fearless: Diary of a Badass Reporter (Seattle: Book Publishers Network, 2019), 219-226; Rosette Royale interview with Julie Blacklow, May 9, 2021, Seattle, transcript in possession of Rosette Royale, Seattle; "Affidavit of Robert S. Lasnik," December 17, 1987; Alan Reade, "Media Hype And Controversy Surround Farmer Case," Seattle Gay News, December 4, 1987, p. 6; Steve Miletich and Rita Hibbard, "Teen-Sex Abuser is Believed to Have AIDS Virus," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, December 1, 1987, p. A1; Rita Hibbard and Steve Miletich, "Strict Controls Placed on Sex Offender," Ibid., December 5, 1987, p. A1; "Affidavit of Anne Bremner," December 19, 1987; "Affidavit of Steven Farmer," December 18, 1987; "Memorandum in Opposition to Motion to Dismiss," #2, March 10, 1988; Julie Emery, "Seattle Man to Serve Two Months for Sex Acts with Teen-age Boys," The Seattle Times, December 19, 1987, p A18; "Certification for Determination of Probable Cause," State v. Farmer, December 1987; "Second Supplemental Certification for Determination of Probable Cause," State v. Farmer, January 6, 1988; Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, "HIV/AIDS in Western Washington," (by Rosette Royale), (accessed October 20, 2021); Rosette Royale interview with Bea Kelleigh and Ian MacGowan, October 30, 2020, Seattle, transcript in possession of Rosette Royale, Seattle; 1988 Wash. Laws, ch. 206, sec. 703; "Motion and Certification for an Order to Compel AIDS Test," May 13, 1988; Trial Minutes, State of Washington vs. Steven George Farmer, April 12, 1988, p. 2; "Man Found Guilty of 4 Sex Crimes," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 21, 1988, p. A12; Julie Emery, "Sex Offender Said He Tested Positive for AIDS," The Seattle Times, May 25, 1988, p. H1; Rosette Royale interview with Su Docekal and Chris Smith, October 26, 2019, Seattle, transcript in possession of Rosette Royale, Seattle; Shani Dirzhud-Rashid, "Stonewall Organizes Protest," Seattle Gay News, June 17, 1988, p. 1; William Thicken, "A Few Words about Steven Farmer," letter to the editor, Ibid., June 3, 1988, p. 3; Mike Bainter, "Forced AIDS Testing Protested," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, photo and caption, June 22, 1988, p. B3; Jack Hopkins, "Sex Offender Exposed to AIDS – Yet He Had Sex with Minors, Court is Told," Ibid., June 28, 1988, p. A1; "Lock Farmer Away," Editorial, Ibid., June 29, 1988, p. A10; "Judgment and Sentence," July 5, 1988; "Declaration," State v. Farmer, December 1989; State v. Farmer, 116 Wn.2d 414, 805 P.2d 200 (1991); Carlton Smith, "Conviction of AIDS Carrier to Stand," The Seattle Times, July 13, 1991, p. A8; Flyer, "Protest: Tuesday, July 16, 4-6 pm," Stonewall Committee from Lesbian/Gay Rights, flyer in possession of Rosette Royale, Seattle; "Statement by Steven Farmer," July 16, 1991, typed by the Steven Farmer Defense Fund, statement in possession of Rosette Royale, Seattle; "Freedom Day Committee Pride Information letter, May 1992," JSTOR, May 1992, p. 8, website accessed September 22, 2021 (; "Court Upholds Sentence for HIV-Bearing Sex Offender," The Seattle Times, September 3, 1992, p. F3; Steven Farmer, "Farmer's Side," Letter to the Editor, Seattle Gay News, January 7, 1994; Confidential letter, Dr. Anonymous to Chair, Clemency and Pardons Board, March 10, 1993, copy in possession of Rosette Royale, Seattle; Peyton Whitely, "Lowry Grants Clemency to Inmate Who Has AIDS," The Seattle Times, January 5, 1994, p. B2; James Wallace, "Clemency Board Takes a Hard Line - Only 18 Petitions Have Been Granted in 9 Years," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, February 7, 1994, p. B1; Kathy George, "Farmer Outcry Noted - Public Misled, Says Corrections Official," Ibid., January 8, 1994, p. A1; "Fears Over Farmer's Transfer to a Hospice," Editorial, The Seattle Times, January 15, 1994, p. A15; Jack Hopkins, "Sex Offender with AIDS is Transferred to a Hospital," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, May 1, 1995, p. B3; Steven Farmer Certificate of Death, Washington State Department of Health, September 25, 1995.

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