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Numbers swell for HIV+ people's retreat

Wed 25 Jan 2006 In: HIV

Numbers have swelled for this year's HIV+ Men's Retreat in Auckland, says David Robertson of Body Positive Auckland. The increased registrations is a combination of greater awareness of the event, which has been running for close to a decade, and the fact that there are a lot more men living with HIV. This year's retreat will take place at Vaughan Park in Long Bay, where it has been held for the last three years. There are approximately 70 attendees registered so far, compared to 50 last year. The larger number of men has seen the accommodation expanded to an adjoining facility. "There were 70 new diagnoses at least last year, so there's a lot more people out there," says Robertson. "It's a double-edged sword. On one hand you think good, we've got lots of people coming – but then you think that's not so good. Reality is, it's not good when you get lots of numbers here." Retreats for positive men have been organised in various forms since the mid-to-late 80s. "The idea behind them is creating a safe space, and an informative space, where positive men can get together and share things like their experiences with medications, with the health system, and share information from more or less ground level," Robertson says. There's a mixture of new and old faces each year, both in terms of experience and age. Here you'll see pensioners rubbing shoulders with teenagers, along with nervous newbies of all ages. "That's one of the great things about the retreat," Robertson says. "On the Friday when everybody arrives, you can just about pick the new ones by the nervous looks on their faces. Then after they have tea that night, and people start talking, you can just see the barriers breaking down. By the Saturday they're smiling, they're comfortable and they're networking, and life seems just a little bit better." Although the largest group of attendees are from Auckland, there are significant numbers from other cities, as well as more isolated rural areas. "It's a good place to make new friends, especially if you're somebody stuck on a farm in Taihape or Gore, feeling you're the only person in the world," says Robertson. "For some of them it's the first time they can open up and talk about being positive." Various workshops are held over the weekend on a variety of topics, including nutrition, legal issues, and accessing services. It's all about networking, sharing information, as well as having fun. A good time is planned for all, Robertson promises. "There's a few treats, there's a gift bag, we have good meals and a bit of entertainment," he says. "Saturday night we have a few bubbles and that sort of thing, and without giving too much away, we like to dress the place up a bit. This year, I'm turning the huge dining area into an underwater aquarium." Although they're in the minority, heterosexual men are also in attendance. "You don't over-compensate, but you're always aware that they're going to have a different perspective. It's always good to get that, because then you open up some of the gay men's minds to the fact that they don't live in a vacuum. There are heterosexuals out there as well with the virus," says Robertson. "We've always had a good response. The main thing is, the workshops are to do with how you handle the virus whether you're gay, straight or indifferent. Sometimes the entertainment can be gay-oriented," he adds, laughing, "but we vary it around." Chris Banks - 25th January 2006    

Credit: Chris Banks

First published: Wednesday, 25th January 2006 - 12:00pm

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