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“Negative role model” a hero for Dunedin parents

“Negative role model” a hero for Dunedin parents

A Dunedin family has leant their images to the public face of a major New Zealand AIDS Foundation campaign against the spread of HIV.

“We love our gay son and we support his efforts to remain free of HIV,” say Dunedin parents Judith (Jaye) and Russell Brown, who are proud of their son Nathan’s role as a “negative role model” for the Foundation’s “End the Silence” campaign, which aims to promote the desirability of staying “HIV negative”, hence the play on words.

Jaye says she is prepared to risk negative comments to publicly support her gay son’s role as the face of the new campaign.

“I know there are some people out there who are going to say ‘how does she dare be so public about having a gay son and talking about sex and sexuality?’ But we are not ashamed. Nathan’s sexuality is part of who he is. Our love and support for him is no different than the love and support we give our straight son.”

Jaye, who belongs to Dunedin’s PFLAG group (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) says she hopes that her and Russell’s support of the campaign might help other parents of gay children.

“There may be people out there who have not come out to their parents, or parents who are ashamed to tell their friends that their child is gay.

“But there’s no use burying your head in the sand about this. Parents have to face the fact that their children’s sexuality, gay or straight, is just part of who they are. And our children, eventually, become sexually active. By bringing sexuality out into the open in our family it increases support and makes life safer for everyone.”

Formulated in response to 2003’s alarming rise in HIV, the NZAF “End the Silence” campaign aims to get New Zealanders talking again about the reality of HIV and AIDS in their communities. The country now has more people living with HIV than ever before and the 188 new cases of HIV in 2003 were a record for the history of the epidemic in this country. Recently released figures for the first 6 months of 2004 suggest the high rate of new HIV infections is continuing.

Nathan (approaching his 25th birthday) and his family agreed to work with the Foundation to promote living free of HIV as a desirable lifestyle. With the greatest increase of HIV recorded among men-who-have-sex-with-men (MSM), Nathan’s sexuality is an intrinsic part of the effectiveness of the campaign.

“There has been concern,” says Douglas Jenkin, Coordinator for the NZAF Gay Men’s Health Programme, “that MSM lack role models for remaining HIV negative. There has been a growth of images for HIV positive men to relate to – some helpful for HIV prevention, others not. This campaign aims to restore balance by giving HIV negative men a real image of a person whose story can inspire their own efforts to remain free of HIV.

Nathan says the support of his family has been crucial in his efforts, and desire, to remain HIV negative.

“You think it should be easy – just use a condom. But when it comes to the moment, you find there are lots of pressures and choices facing you. Gay men no longer seem universally opposed to the idea of unsafe sex; your head’s full of complicated stuff like ‘he looks young and healthy’, or, ‘I might miss out if I insist on condoms’, or, ‘it’s more intimate without condoms’. Thinking about your family and the impact your having HIV would have on them, and the efforts Mum and Dad make to help keep me safe, helps reinforce my efforts to stay free of HIV.”

Being able to talk freely to his parents about such issues helps too. As Jaye says: “ I worry about my gay son, just like I worry about my straight son, but the higher presence of HIV in the gay community does mean it figures larger for me when I think about Nathan, his health and his future.”

Nathan studies film and media at Otago University, where his father, a local veterinarian, also studied. His parents have lived and worked in Dunedin for some 23 years. A typical Kiwi family with strong values around work, family and community, Russell and Jaye say they didn’t hesitate when Nathan asked them to put their faces to the NZAF campaign.

Says Russell: “I’m very proud of the decision Nathan made to support this campaign. How could we, as responsible parents, not back him on that?”

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