Club gives a positive welcome to HIV men

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The Independent Online
There's a new Saturday night gay event in London's Soho, but this is a club night with a difference: most of the diverse crowd of handsome men dancing in the dark are HIV positive.

Renegades, held at the Substation venue on Wardour Street, is run by club promoter Spike, who is also HIV positive. "I want it to be a place where people who are HIV positive can go and know that they won't get any attitude, a place where people can be upfront and open about their status," he said in his soft voice.

Spike's club has opened at a time when the public's concern about HIV has waned dramatically. The new triple-therapy treatments have restored so many people to full health that there is now a feeling that the crisis is over.

Yet while the number of people developing Aids in industrialised nations has fallen for the first time, there are still thousands of homosexual men living with the HIV virus, many of them unable to take the new drugs because of resistance built up from taking other medicines. But the general public's apathy is encouraging HIV positive people to become more open and determined to shrug off prejudice.

Spike's view is that, while many organisers of homosexual clubs have provided excellent backing for HIV causes, he is the only one who is open about being positive, and this puts him in a unique position. "I'm not knocking other club promoters at all, but I tend to know what's important and am able to look out for people," he said. "So if anyone comes down the club who is bigoted about HIV and starts giving someone a hard time, I will have that bigot removed."

The club also helps those men whose health has been stabilised by the new combination therapies. Spike said: "There's a lot of men who no longer bother going to the clinics because they feel well, so a club becomes a good place to exchange information. For example, there's a new leaflet about the risks of using recreational drugs while on combination therapies, and the club is the ideal place to display them.

"It is a worry that everyone is thinking the problem has gone away. It hasn't. We need people out there saying, 'I'm living with this virus, but you don't want to have this. It's not fun. You should see me on my bad days.'"

The supposed lull in the HIV war has also seen the launch of a British edition of the slickly produced and successful US magazine Poz. The first UK issue of this journal for the HIV positive includes contributions from Vanity Fair writer Kevin Sessums, actor-cum-photographer Roddy McDowall, and the Lyric Hammersmith's theatre director Neil Bartlett.

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