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Editorial: How do we define "support?"

Wed 22 Aug 2007 In: Safe Sex View at Wayback View at NDHA

Gay men supporting a recent NZAF safe sex campaign Over twenty years since it first emerged, HIV infection and the resultant dreadful scourge of AIDS still afflict New Zealand gay men. Sadly, we continue to get infected in increasing numbers despite the best efforts of the NZ AIDS Foundation, gay community groups and the whole-hearted support of every glbt organisation in the country. Within the gay community support for keeping sexually active gay men from contracting the dreadful and disfiguring virus that causes AIDS is, on the whole, generous and unstinting. The glbt community media have been at the forefront of HIV awareness and action. But these are changing times for the gay community and perhaps that is best illustrated by the growing row over the NZ AIDS Foundation's need to pour a significant portion of its safe sex promotional budget into an advertising medium which has no discernible links to our gay community. NZ Dating is one of a number of websites offering a place for NZ men to contact other men to arrange sex encounters. It has emerged as a leading light in this field, relegating the rest, including the still-popular gay-identified services offered by the likes of and overseas-based sites, to lesser, though still viable, rankings. With indications that men hooking up on the internet are less than committed to safe sex than we would wish, perhaps because some of these men access the traditional gay media, venues and organisations less frequently than their gay community-connected brothers, the NZAF has recognised the need to place its messages before the NZ Dating habitues... at a staggering cost of over $3,500 per week. This huge and unsustainable cost is underscored by NZ Dating's reluctance to allow the NZAF to place its message solely before men seeking men. The Foundation has to pay top dollar to waste a goodly proportion of that money on people for whom the message is largely irrelevant. Let us not forget that the NZAF is funded to primarily address the HIV epidemic amongst us gay men, who still make up over 85% of new infections contracted in New Zealand. All indications are that the growth in use of internet dating websites for arranging sexual encounters is a major factor in New Zealand's soaring rates of HIV infections in recent years. Sadly, NZ Dating has proven itself to be uninterested in assisting the NZAF in its mission, let alone proactively taking a strong stance in the battle to save its gay male users from being infected with the deadly AIDS virus. But then, should it be expected to take on some of the responsibility? Perhaps not. After all, it's a commercial operation, making its money from providing a contact service, nothing more. Historically, those of New Zealand's general media publications which catered in some way to the needs of gay men to meet up have rarely joined in the battle against HIV and AIDS. In this regard they have been shamed for decades by the gay-community based media. At the risk of oversimplifying and clearly with omissions, here is a little history perspective of our gay community media. Go back twenty years or so and the bi-monthly Out Magazine, gay-owned and part of a stable of gay-related businesses - was the juggernaut of its day, fighting discriminatory laws, taking on government agencies and in general being a very pink thorn in the flesh of those who would stand in the way of gay rights or commerce. Pink Triangle, produced bi-monthly by a politically correct and initially energetic gay collective, took a more intellectual and aesthetic stance, which may have contributed to its eventual demise. Then along came Man to Man (soon re-named express), started by Warwick Mickell and me. Both were gay men determined to provide a faster turnaround professional news service and responsible community perspective as the terror of the first wave of HIV and AIDS decimated our community. It remained a not-for-profit operation until the arrival of its current publisher. Since the early 1990s, there has been a profusion of gay media, some such as GLO and Up were short-lived, others such as Queer Nation, lasted longer. Radio programmes came and went, a few survive. Currently we have a wide variety of gay and lesbian-oriented media offering a variety of perspectives on what it is to be gay, and all committed, to at least some degree, to the well-being and welfare of glbt folk. Some, like, are not for profit operations, relying on largely volunteer labour but commercial to the extent that there always bills to be paid. Some are purely commercial. Our current TV programmes The Outlook and Takataapui series, are taxpayer-funded. Our gay venues have always been strictly commercial, but with few exceptions, they have consistently supported vital gay community initiatives such as the fight against HIV and AIDS, with passion and energy. Almost without exception they have been glbt-owned. The NZAF advertises in those gay media with sufficient numbers and geographical spread to warrant it. It willingly provides information and expertise - and even provides free custom-prepared material - for the smaller media and one-off events. It's part of the NZAF's strategy to promote a sense of gay togetherness and community through which to disseminate its safe sex messages in order to save lives. Judged against this historical expectation of gay-owned, gay-focussed media, gay-aware that it be caring, proactive, connected with its community and supportive of vital glbt initiatives, NZ Dating is clearly deficient. But it IS a different kind of beast. A non-gay owned business to which horny men looking for a man for the night have flocked. Sadly it emerged as the biggest player before any of the gay community media realised what was happening, and has remained the leader ever since. Yes, like other gay media, has taken a hit financially from the NZAF's need to divert a considerable proportion of its advertising funds to NZ Dating, but we are not bitter about that. Indeed, we held back on reporting on community concerns about this controversy until we had our latest advertising contract with the Foundation signed, specifically so we could not be accused of putting pressure on the now cash-strapped Foundation. We remain committed to presenting in depth and wide-ranging news and information on all issues affecting glbt people, and to supporting as much as we are able the NZAF's work to keep gay men healthy and alive. Because, make no mistake, gay lives are at stake. Perhaps it takes a gay man or lesbian or transsexual to understand just what that means. NZ Dating clearly does not understand what that means, or have any clear sense of responsibility to its gay male users, apart from a rather oblique and cursory reference to 'welbeing'. There is some irony in the statement on its "Your Welbeing" page that, immediately under its odd claim of "support" for "the following organisations," NZ Dating first passively lists the NZAF, with just a link, a simple, minimal link, leaving the NZAF to do all the work of keeping NZ Dating's gay users aware and alive. In NZ Dating's world "support" begins and ends with... a single, tiny, tacky, itsy-bitsy, little link. In hard, cold, disinterested or ignorant commercial terms NZ Dating's stance might be ok. If the lives - not just the 'welbeing' - of sexually active gay men weren't at stake such a stance might be ok. But it's high time that the owner of NZ Dating, Wellington lawyer Nigel Hughes, understood that when lives are at risk a claim of "support" means more than providing the cheapest, most minimal level of involvement demonstrated by that miserable little link hidden away in the amorphously titled "Your Welbeing" page, and charging full commercial rates and doing nothing proactive or, dare we say it, supportive. NZ Dating uses the presence of gay men to make money. It's time it proved that it can be an organisation of a higher standard than most sex-based internet businesses and joined the effort to keep New Zealand gay men alive and well. Support as a word is cheap. Support as a concept takes commitment. Jay Bennie - 22nd August 2007    

Credit: Jay Bennie

First published: Wednesday, 22nd August 2007 - 9:07pm

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