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Wednesday 08 October 2008


Peter Taylor: Looking for solutions

Posted in: HIV
By Jay Bennie - 19th November 2007

Peter_Taylor.jpg
Peter Taylor
Peter Taylor, a high-profile gay Auckland personality who's been living with the virus for over two decades, is undeniably passionate about HIV. His positive personal attitude has bouyed him through any number of HIV-related health crises.

So how will that life experience translate into contributing to good governance if he's elected to the board of the NZ AIDS Foundation?

"I guess it will come from my experiences at a community-based level at the coalface either from my days with Surrender Dorothy" - the boutique Ponsonby Road that was an major hit with gays and straights alike - "and now with Dorothy's Sister. I'm meeting people and I know people," he says.

It's the coalface issues that Taylor, who was nominated by outspoken NZAF critic and board nominee Larry Jenkins, is most concerned about as he articulates his understanding of what the NZAF's role has been and needs to be. "I've been talked into going onto the board because there seems to be a move away from the real issues and the coalface of what is happening in the community." And part of the reason he's been talked into it is a perceived need to have an openly HIV positive person on the board. "I have been HIV positive for 22 years. I put my face to the virus way back in 1995, I have written a book and so on."

But his HIV status aside, Taylor believes the gay community is in trouble with the resurgence of HIV and isn't dealing with it well enough. He believes we need "to go back to the guts of it and say, 'well why do we keep going round in circles for ever and ever and never really get to the point of what we really have to deal with... and that's people in sex on site venues or beats, men who have sex with men who are still having unsafe sex.'"

He believes a younger generation is making light of HIV infection. "I feel strongly about the young people who feel 'oh well, it doesn't really matter, you just take a few pills if you become infected.' Now, I know from my experience of taking pills since 1988, sometimes up to 450 a week, that taking pills is not always a convenient option. They cause nausea and up until this recent new Kaletra pill I have suffered from diarohea for years because of the medication. Some people cope badly with the nausea and they get headaches, so the medication angle is just part of good management, it is not like an alternative, as far as I understand it.  And I feel we have lost the real connection of the reality of how it is living with HIV."

Part of that problem is the NZAF itself, Taylor believes. The passionate board candidate believes the NZAF has lost some of its passion. "I think that they have become, dare I say it, corporate-orientated. I think that they are becoming so 'PC' that they are afraid to say those things we were saying in the 1990s, like 'if it's not on, its not on.' I know we can't go around continually scaring people because it takes them away from the actual issue, just the same as smoking kills and people will smoke."

Taylor is on a roll, enthusiasm causing his words and ideas pour forth unstoppably. "Until we can make it uncool to be unsafe we will continue to see these risk factors and the high amount of people becoming infected and I can see that we have become so PC in this organisation that everyone's afraid to do anything that's outside of... it's become bureaucratic, it's become governmental... nobody's actually getting down there and saying 'Now listen, what are you doing, why are you not saying the truth. Why do we have to a wrap it up in a bow and make it look presentable for people, when right now we have got people becoming infected so rapidly.'"

His personal energy is undeniable, but is Peter Taylor a team player? "I am," he says emphatically. "I most certainly have been a team player all my life because of my experience with the Olympic [equestrian] teams and what have you. I've always been part of a group and that's why I think that my contribution is not necessarily because of my own personal agenda, which is where I think the whole thing has gone a bit skew-wiff." Taylor believes that with his collaborative attitude and the "experience and understanding" he has, "we may be able to put our heads together to sort out a solution instead of constantly going round and round in circles identifying that we have a problem but nobody ever comes up with a solution."

Does he believe that the AIDS Foundation's recent process of structural and staff changes will enable it to find that solution? Taylor is initially guarded. "I think I have to find out more about it at this stage until I become more informed. The hearsay that I have on the street, and the hearsay that I have from people who have been within the organisation, seems to be that [staff] are disgruntled, concerned at the direction that the Foundation is going in. I am not sure of the reason why and I am not privy to the information, but I was absolutely shocked, astounded and gobsmacked that Edward Cowley was made redundant, he with his Mana and with his access to one of the great groups we now have to deal with - the Pacific Island community. That was the most stupidest move I ever heard." Taylor pauses for breath, then reconsiders his tirade, much of which hasn't made it into this feature story. "Now look, there might be come valid reason that I don't know about, but from an outsider looking in, I just went 'What the hell is going on!'"

"The other thing that made me concerned, says Taylor, re-energising his outrage, "was when they wanted to move the Burnett Centre into the AIDS Foundation. For a start, I know through my massage business that there are people who talk to me - they are men having sex with men occasionally, although they identify as heterosexual - if they want a check up and now that we have rapid testing, they are not going to walk into a building that says 'AIDS Foundation.' They are going to be spotted by all the suits that are round in that corporate area. They ask me where can they go that's discreet and I say 'The Burnett Centre is discreet, it's in a back alley, nobody will see you, you can quietly go in there, everybody's experienced, you'll be counseled and you've got all the support and the facilities and then you go and have your test and in an hour you will know.' And Karen [Ritchie] is so passionate about that. Karen is like the mother of the street. Those boys that need guidance and direction and input, especially the street workers, will go to the Burnett Centre because they can walk there... do you think they are going to get on a bus, go down College Hill,  get off, walk up half a block,  then go up another street, then turn left and go into a building that  has' AIDS Foundation' written on it? And be looked at by all the people that are looking out the windows, from all the other corporate organisations around there? Get real!"

Taylor is a man of many words, and when asked for a short sentence that encapsulates why the members of the Foundation should vote him onto the board, he doesn't hold back. "With my grass roots level of experience, my experience of living with HIV for 23 years, my organisational experience of being on many boards and being at a top international sports level, [I] would put be in a very good position to understand and try to get the information we need to be able to make a difference, or to add my piece to a collective group that can try to find a solution."


[Editor's note: The Board of the NZAF has announced its approval of the Burnett Centre's move to the Foundation's College Hill building. See link below.

This completes our interviews with the three board candidates who responded to our request for an interview. NZAF members will vote for four new board members from five candidates at the NZAF AGM this Saturday 24 November. GayNZ.com News will report
from the AGM on the outcome of that vote.]



Jay Bennie - 19th November 2007