My response to The Irish Times PrEP piece

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On Thursday 20 April The Irish Times published an article Anti-HIV Drug Removes Personal Responsibility

This article was positioned as an opinion piece and one thing we can be sure of is that opinions have no place and hold no authority over facts based evidence. Presenting accurate facts and providing an opinion based on those facts is fully acceptable but this article failed to deliver that.

Several HIV experts and organisations including Professor Chloe Orkin for BHIVA and Dr Paddy Mallon for UCD School of Medicine have already highlighted the inaccuracies and errors in the very damaging statements made by the journalist.

I will be speaking from a community perspective. As co-founder of the world’s highest traffic and most widely used PrEP website, I am dismayed that a publication such as The Irish Times would run such a piece. As an advocate and activist who identifies as a gay man I accept that our community and its members will have differences of opinions on PrEP, HIV prevention and sexual health initiatives. It is concerning that rather than reach out and share learnings and experiences this journalist instead chose to write what appears to be a click bait vanity piece. This is not responsible. This is not community. This is not healthy. This is not contributing anything of worth to the debate.

Fear based messaging has never worked. It will never work. No one responds well to being judged, shamed or blamed. To further muddy the waters and confuse sound HIV prevention with moralising and toxic internalised personal issues is damaging and indicative of a lack of understand of self and of the complexities of gay life and sexuality on a community wide level.

“What I fear at the moment is a resurgence of the old “gay plague” rhetoric of the 1980s whereby gay and bisexual men are viewed as irresponsible and apathetic in relation to their sexual health.
What PrEP is in danger of promoting, in my view, is a policy of play now, pay later which the gay population can ill afford to embrace.”

We really need to work on deconstructing this concept that at some point we will “pay” for being gay. Being LGBT+ is not wrong. Living as our true authentic selves and all that comes with that, including enjoying the sex we choose is not something we are ‘afforded’ that must be charged back to us at some point. It is what we deserve. We are different as LGBT+ folk but we are not ‘less’. Different does not mean we aren’t equal.

Setting up arguments like these about “being responsible” creates a double bind. The notion that if I get HIV I’m irresponsible, if I try to prevent myself from getting HIV (using THE most effective method) I’m irresponsible.

And as if to clarify completely for anyone who is unsure: the journalist’s closing paragraph is a total contradiction in itself and of his entire ‘opinion’.

“The danger lies in transferring responsibility for risky sexual practices on to a tiny pill taken once a day rather than making informed choices and encouraging a culture of prevention rather than cure.”

I second Professor Chloe Orkin’s proposal below:

“I therefore propose that we [BHIVA] submit for publication a letter of clarification to better inform your readership of the latest evidence and guidance around PrEP.”

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Protest of the Protest at Pride London

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Ok. I am not going to wade into this whole situation and involve myself in an ongoing back and forth as I am too busy actually working on a cohesive, focused and productive project for the provision of PrEP in the UK.

I will however make this statement and my opinion and position on this situation very clear!

I cannot support and will not condone this planned protest against Pride London.

I am so sick and tired of seeing sloppy protests for the sake of protest with no actual results. I question all of this. The intentions behind it, the drive to do it and the benefits (if any) to anyone.

This kind of ‘activism’ reminds me of puppies. You leave them alone in the house while you go to work and you come home to find they have shit all over the place. And they just sit there in the shit and mess and look at you. But that is puppies and they are cute and eventually they grow out of it.

Now that is not to say I am against protests. Far from it. But protests with a bit of focus and that get results.

When I see people ‘support’ or ‘protest’ a million causes I just shake my head! To me it just smacks of a lack of sincerity, a lack of authenticity, a lack of genuineness, a lack of personal identity, a lack of awareness and most of all a lack of focus.

And then I wonder why? Why are you doing this? I am looking on and just seeing these kinds of people pop up at this and that and post pictures of ‘look at me doing this’ or ‘look at me doing that’ – I am not fucking interested in YOU. You don’t need to try so hard!

I would much rather see your work and the results.

Let those speak for themselves. Get out of the way. YOU are not the important part of the equation. That is called ego. It is self-serving and self-indulgent and in fact it is the height of hypocrisy! Something you should be against.

As for protests. YES. Let’s protest like mad! I support protesting. I support it when it is needed. For example, for the jungle in Calais. Against neo-Nazi fascists. Calling out NHS England over PrEP. I use these 3 examples for a reason, if you physically can’t be in a place where people need our help or our actions then we should do all we can and protest here and where ever else we can and there in those places if we can get there. If you are faced with a group who want to literally kill you or an organisation that refuses to interact with you – you need to fucking protest.

You need to challenge this.

But your own community? For London Pride? Really? You think that is the right thing to do? An attack on a community event? YOUR community? That you are a part of? That you belong to? Is it not a much more positive thing to work with community members and leaders to actively create something that we are all proud of – together?

It is so ill thought out. And arrogant. And narrow minded.

Recently, I have been labelled an activist.

I hated the label! I rallied against it until I got tired asking to be called something else. I don’t identify as an activist because a handful of visible ‘activists’ give activism a bad image. I’m bored of it now.

 Let me just point out though that although I now accept that I am in fact an activist, do you know how I arrived here? What my first steps into involving myself with my community were?

Surprise, surprise as a volunteer/host for Pride in London!

If you are so fucking clueless that you can’t see that attacking Pride is cutting you off from the future and from those that are either just discovering our community or re-connecting with it then you need to wake up!

Our community has struggled enough of late with vanishing venues and a diminished sense of the ‘need’ for a community. Are you seriously going to try to attack the biggest gay day of the year here in the UK? Oh yes of course you are…because that is the best way for YOU to get some attention and further your own self-obsessed agenda!

Listen, I don’t disagree with a lot of the issues you have with ‘what Pride is today’. The corporate pink washing etc. But tackle those things not Pride. Organise your own event to address these. Or is it easier for you just to hijack other people’s events and momentum?

I can’t make myself any clearer. You need to take a fucking seat. Or here’s an idea…why don’t you FOCUS on what you are meant to stand for and what we desperately need now which is a strong, well organised HIV/AIDS activism group to tackle pharma and drug access, healthcare inequalities or heaven forbid focus some of that fucking energy on PrEP! On that you have been VERY lacking!

If this sounds harsh or confrontational then good! It is meant to be. We can ALL protest when something pisses us off so much that staying silent is no longer an option. I have just arrived at that point with YOU. Consider this the start of the protest against the protest. And prepare yourself. You haven’t seen me fight yet. If you want to experience that then carry on. But I’ll give you a tip. You are going to need to up your fucking game!

Don’t bother with the social media circus either. I’m not interested in it. I’ve said my piece and now I am fucking off out of this pathetic, petty, attention seeking stunt. Hopefully you’ll see a bit of sense or take a reality check at least!

With love and quite a lot of anger…

Greg Continue reading “Protest of the Protest at Pride London”

PrEP4love: rebuilding a community

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(Image credit and campaign link: Chicago PrEP Working Group  www.prep4love.com )

Something has become increasing and beautifully apparent to me over the last 6 months and especially the last week. We have shifted a gear. For a while we lost a sense of our community, our brotherhood, sisterhood, sibling-hood. Regardless how you define our community, what can’t be argued is that we suffered for a while. We kind of lost ourselves and each other.

The reasons why aren’t important but the impact and implications are. I think we became unkind to each other and to ourselves. We are seeing the real-life manifestations of that right now. We are in a painful and dangerous chemsex culture. Our number of new HIV infections are rising. Year after year.

I think we lost a little bit of hope.

But there is new hope, fresh passion and most importantly LOVE. We’ve started to find our way back now. And I have to tell you a part of the catalyst for this inspiring and encouraging shift is PrEP. My experience is this…

WE DIDN’T HAVE MUCH OF A COMMUNITY. We found one online through social media (a new and incredibly powerful new medium for community to thrive) then we actually managed to take that community and those friendships off-line and into real life. What was hugely important was that Pat Cash and David Stuart offered some of us a safe and loving space in the form of their monthly Let’s Talk About Gay Sex and Drugs.

I will tell you how this has all played out for me… when I was diagnosed as HIV positive I refused to suffer in a world I didn’t like and to do so in silence. Instead I saw that PrEP would have as much benefit for me personally as it would for everyone else negative and positive.

What PrEP does is remove the fear.

And without fear stigma starves. And that’s what is starting to happen. Investing in PrEP and my community totally helped me to accept my HIV positive status knowing that it wasn’t gonna kill any bit of me, who, what or how I am.

Today I bumped into 2 PrEP buddies in Brixton. There were lots of warm hugs, plenty of banter and excited and animated talk about PrEP and HIV and our other mates. I was a little overcome. I suddenly realised that I am surrounded by countless gorgeous gay men, not afraid to reach out to each other, not afraid to offer support, not afraid to ask if you are OK, not afraid to say they are scared or in love or having great sex.

This is the kind of amazing sibling love and community spirit that I was surround by in my teenage years. This is what I sorely missed. And I actually cried today. Because this is the community love, respect and sexiness that has returned.

We are not alone.

We are family and we look after our own. But gay men are also great at integrating these days and they have a fair bit of fight and love to extend that approach to everyone. #PrEP4love #whereisPrEP

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Continue reading “PrEP4love: rebuilding a community”