There’s been a backlash against newly crowned Mr Gay New Zealand Charlie Tredway after it emerged that he has links to barebacking sites.
The 33-year-old South African-born HIV campaigner, who is himself openly HIV positive, was targeted online over claims that his sexual behaviour was irresponsible and dangerous.
Tredway, however, has hit back, using the opportunity to educate people about the realities at play in the ongoing fight against HIV.
He told NZ Herald that while he does, at times, have unprotected sex, he only does this with consenting and informed partners who are either HIV positive or are negative but use PrEP (a daily pill that reduces the risk of infection by more than 90%).
Tredway also revealed that he is on ARV treatment for HIV and that his viral load is undetectable, which in effect eliminates the chances that he could pass on the virus to his sexual partners.
“That combined with regular sexual health screening and monitoring my viral load is what safe sex looks like in 2017,” he said.
“We live in a time where there are scientifically proven and highly effective options and we need to be having these conversations without the scapegoating and misconceptions.”
He criticised the “untrue notion that we are somehow less than the rest of the community. That we are unsafe to be around, or unclean and that we can’t live our lives with transparency and dignity.”
Matt Fistonich, Mr. Gay New Zealand Producer, backed Tredway in an open letter, describing him as “a role model and advocate for the community and HIV stigma and awareness”.
Fistonich added: “What Mr Tredway does in the privacy of is own home, is not an issue, and ironically any discussion around Mr Tredway’s private life highlights and re-inforces how as a community we need to continue to fight HIV-related stigma, and raise awareness of the damaging and hurtful attitudes of a vocal minority that need to change.”
Tredway was born in South Africa and grew up in New Zeland and the US. He works as a Community Engagement Officer at the New Zealand AIDS Foundation.
After winning the title earlier this month, he said he decided to take part in the competition on behalf of the HIV positive community, “to show that living with HIV shouldn’t be a barrier to being our authentic selves with dignity”.
The use of PrEP by gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM), especially those at high risk (e.g. are sexually active and / or have multiple partners), has been endorsed by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The South African government announced last year that it will provide free PrEP to sex workers and is under pressure to extend this to MSM.