Article Title:HIV+ researcher Michael Stevens
Category:Hall of Fame
Author or
Published on:1st October 2003 - 12:00 pm
Story ID:108
Text:Michael Stevens Michael Stevens is a researcher, activist and one-time HIV+ Chair of the New Zealand AIDS Foundation. "I have burned the photos" Who are you and what's your background? I'm 42, an Aucklander from an Auckland family. I am the youngest of four boys, my parents had their 50th wedding anniversary this year. My eldest brother whom I was very close to died in 1993. I was lucky in growing up in a home where we knew we were loved, and I am still surprised when I meet people who didn't grow up in that sort of environment. Being the youngest I guess I was a bit spoilt, or so my brothers think. I grew up in Parnell, went to Kings Prep. and boarded at Kings College because of family tradition, not my choice. I was not happy at Kings, and part of that was my growing understanding of my sexuality: Kings College was not a gay-friendly atmosphere, contrary to popular ideas of boys' boarding schools. I think most of the gay guys there were too scared to do anything, and the horny straight boys were mucking round with each other - so I left at the end of my 6th form and went to Auckland University. I was 17 when I got there, and I had a great time. I got involved with Gay Liberation there, and was involved in rejecting the Freer Bill that would have had an age of consent of 20 for homosexual acts. I was 17, and I was having sex, I couldn't see why I should be illegal for 3 more years. I dropped out of varsity and lived in Melbourne for a year where I got involved with Young Gays, came back here, worked in cafe jobs, helped with setting up a Young Gays group here and ended up as part of the cooperative that ran Just Desserts Cafe, one the first late night cafes in Auckland. At this stage of my life I was very interested in 'alternative lifestyles' and the 'radical faeries' - sort of a gay hippy thing. I have burned the photos. In 1984, spent about 9 months in the USA, mainly in New York, and this is where I imagine I became HIV positive. No-one was really talking about safe sex at that time, and I was young, in NY and out for fun. The Mineshaft and St Marks Baths were still open and I spent a fair amount of time there. After the USA I ended up in Turkey, thinking I would spend 2 weeks there, but stayed for 8 years. I just loved it, it was different, stimulating, the people were friendly, and yes,the men were hot. In that time it was much easier to fall into English Language Teaching without qualifications. I discovered that I enjoyed teaching and was good at it. When I left NZ, I had wanted to live in a culture that was totally different from what I had known and see how I would survive, and Turkey fitted the bill perfectly. I came back to NZ in '93, after one of my closest friends, Glenn Morris, who set up the NZ Countrymen's Institute sauna in Auckland, died. His death made me think it was time for me to get some good medical care. Since I've been back, I've gone back to varsity, finished my degree and just completed my MA. I've also been on the Board of Body Positive, co-facilitated 5 HIV positive peer support groups, been involved with HERO, written for and about gay life in this country and in general. I think one of the things that has shaped my outlook is a healthy disrespect for authority, built on a number of things, but the most important one was realising I was breaking the law every time I went to bed with a man. If that was illegal, then what was the point of the law? What have you hoped to achieve as Chair of the NZAF? I want to see the NZAF working as well as it can to support those infected and stop any new infections and play my part in that as Chair. As Chair, my role in that has been to keep the Board focussed on the governance of the organisation; that is its task, one that is often not well understood by outsiders. The Board doesn't get involved with management, we look at the bigger picture. In my time as Chair we have significantly restructured the Board and I am very happy with how that has worked to benefit the organisation as a whole. What characterises the New Zealand GLBT community for you? Now that's a hard question. I actually doubt there is a unified GLBT community. Simply being outside the heterosexual majority does not provide enough basis for a community I think. If you are an ACT voting millionaire lesbian lawyer in Herne Bay, do you really have a lot in common with a gay man on the dole in Dunedin? Unless someone is threatening us all and we see an advantage in drawing together because we are being picked on, I don't think there is much real community. What is the worst thing for you about being GLBT? What happens to our youth. I can't speak for the LBT part, but for Gay male youth, what I see is this: When you speak to a 16 year old gay man, they say usually say they want a boyfriend, they want love. They come out and the gay world offers them nightclubs, bars, alcohol, drugs and sex. Now being gay is being sold as a 'lifestyle' where you are supposed to have the right clothes and cars etc. I think that's crap. We don't offer our youth the environment to meet their peers and to form the relationships they want, but teach them to substitute sex for love. I think that's a shame. Rainbow Youth is trying hard to change things, but I think we let our youth down. What is the best thing about being GLBT? For me, the best thing is it made me question everything I had taken for granted. I had expected to grow up and get married and live in Parnell or Remuera like the rest of my family, but being gay made me think "Well, if they were wrong about that, what else were they wrong about?" And I find that attitude in a lot of gay men and women. I like it. I really believe that old saying "An unexamined life is not worth living", and we are forced to examine ours. Relationship status? Happily settled with an at times wonderful and at times infuriating man. Favourite food - 1st October 2003
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