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Monday 08 November 2010

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The Gay Blade

7th May 2010

My Right of Reply

Posted by: Michael Stevens

Such an interesting set of reactions to my blog on BP, from enthusiastic to damning - no real surprise there.

Any group trying to support people with HIV has some major issues to deal with. In New Zealand we have somewhere between 1,500 - 2,000 people living with HIV. Across the entire country. This is a tiny population of infected people, and I am glad it is so small. If you look across the ditch at say Melbourne or Sydney, you have cities that hold larger populations than our entire country, and in each city you have thousands and thousands more HIV+ people than we have in the entire country. Having so many people in one city means they can provide services on a far more centralised and effective basis than we can ever do here. And hence they have far better organsed HIV+ peer-support groups; They have a much bigger population of HIV+ people in one space, and this makes their job far easier. Trying to provide the same level of service to someone in Gore as someone in Auckland is impossible. It’s brutal but it’s a fact.

Now let me be clear: I don’t want to see BP disappear. I want to see it become relevant and interesting again. Bruce claims there are over 500 people on their books: Well I’ve been on their books since 1994 or so, and so have a fair few others. Typically when you get diagnosed with HIV joining BP is suggested, and many guys do, but how many come back? I know guys who have joined, been along once or twice and never been back, or never even been to a single event organised by them. But they are  included in this number. And yes Bruce, I am still a member. Out of that 500+ how many hundred show up for the AGM? How many does BP manage to actively engage with? And sending out a newsletter is not active engagement.

I’d really like to see BP become safer for young HIV+ men. Twice in the last 12 months I’ve had people under 25 tell me they wouldn’t go back. One because he was hit on within 20 minutes of his first meeting there, the other because, and I quote, “It’s full of creepy old men.” When I mentioned the first young man’s complaint to a board member he just rubbished it. Not what I consider an appropriate response, in fact it is an entirely unacceptable one. Another newly diagnosed guy I met in his late 20s said he thought it was just boring.

Just who does BP speak for? At times it sounds as though it has a mandate to speak for all of us, gay, straight, male and female, but they simply do not have that authority. And again I’ll point to the repeated failure of attempts to set up a national body for people living with HIV in NZ. It has often come down to bitter fights between people from other centres who distrust BP and do not want to be swallowed up by an Auckland based entity. And trust me, some of these fights have been nasty - we’re not one big happy family just because we have the same virus in our blood. We can’t even get gay men who are HIV+ to come together as one national group. Straight men have completely different issues, so do women, so do various ethnic groups. Perhaps part of the problem is lazy journalists simply not looking any further, but it should be remembered that BP only represents BP.

And I think the central thing that makes BP’s job so hard is this: Where once having HIV meant getting AIDS and dying, and it was the most important thing in people’s lives, today this is less and less the case. And not just for old-timers like myself. Again I can think of men who got infected in the last two years who, after the initial shock, and often using some counselling, are simply getting on with their lives. How do you make BP relevant to them? Perhaps it’s not possible.

In some ways they’re caught between a rock and a hard place, yes, they do some things well,  but that doesn’t mean they are immune to criticism or to questioning. No one should be.

Tags: General

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 B Boy // May 10, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    Could not agree more Micheal
    I have also been a member since 1995
    the days of Bp being a great volunteer group are well gone,we now have CEOs on nice little salarys, as for safer for young HIV+ men I hope so, I remember one year Bp held a Christmas party @ a Sex on site venue,

    what more can I say…………BBoy

  • 2 Pawel // May 13, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    Well, Yes and No.

    Steve, the problem you mentioned that young people don’t like Social Groups doesn’t apply only to Body Positive. I run few social groups and must say I have received a similiar replied from young gay people. I can say from my experience that younger generation is not interested in social meeting. They like clubs and parties. There is nothing wrong with that. Let them have fun.

    I was young once and I wanted to have fun. When I got older I found that I need something different.

    There is a need to Body Positive and other groups. The time will come that these young men will need somebody to talk, will need a help. And who will help them if there is Body Positive, No AIDS Fundation???

  • 3 VJ // May 20, 2010 at 10:14 pm

    I would have to agree with you Michael! I was diagnosed as positive last year, went along to BP to do the usual thing. I’ve been once since then. It was to a group for younger people (I’m 22). Everyone there seemed to already know each other and just talked amongst themselves. Then when they talked to me, it felt like I was being talked down to. Won’t be going back again.

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