To My Friends in the LGBT Community:
Wow, what an incredible journey I’ve been on over the past three years. I’ve learned so much about myself, HIV, and stigma.
It all started out when I was exposed to HIV in the summer of 2014, which led me to become one of the first few people in British Columbia to go on pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP). It was an emotional and exciting experience. British Columbia has a long history of being a world leader in HIV and AIDS research, and I never expected that I would be a PrEP pioneer!
If you’re concerned about your sexual health and you want to take care of your body, PrEP plays an important role as part of an overall sexual health toolkit that you should be aware of.
I learned about PrEP after finding out that someone I had unprotected sex with was living with HIV. Because of the circumstances, I wasn’t able to take post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP). I talked to one of my friends who is living with HIV, and he explained to me what PrEP was and that it would make sense for me to check it out.
After doing some research on my own, I went to my doctor and asked about it. At the time, PrEP wasn’t widely known in Canada. But my doctor agreed to assist me in finding a doctor who specialized in HIV and AIDs that would be able to help me on my journey of getting on PrEP.
It was a long and difficult road, but well worth it in the end. I needed to meet with doctors and go through multiple rounds of HIV and STI testing, plus process significant amounts of paperwork to get my insurance coverage to pay for it. I was determined and refused to give up. I was on a mission to get on PrEP, no matter how much work it would take. I knew it was the right solution for me to prevent HIV, and an important tool I wanted to add to my safer-sex toolkit.
I started taking PrEP in August 2014, one-and-a-half years before PrEP was approved for use by Health Canada.
Since I started taking PrEP, I no longer have to deal with the stress and anxiety of possibly contracting HIV and AIDs. It hasn’t changed my sexual behavior at all. Rather, it has eliminated my concerns about HIV exposure because I know that I’m constantly protected as long as I take my one pill a day.
Being in the public eye and disclosing that I was on PrEP, I faced stigma for a long time. I’m well known among the LGBT community, a celebrity social influencer, and I won the prestigious award of Mr. Gay Canada People’s Choice in 2012. I’m also the owner and editor-in-chief of TheHomoCulture.com, one of the largest sites on gay culture in North America. It’s important for me to educate others. I took advantage of my advocacy platforms and used my voice to inform others in the community about the benefits of PrEP.
In the beginning, I got a lot of criticism from people who don’t have HIV saying that my behavior was increasing HIV exposure and that I was being careless. I also received criticism from people living with HIV because they felt resentment that I could be on a pill that could prevent me from getting HIV, and they didn’t have that same opportunity before they seroconverted.
People didn’t understand what it meant to be on PrEP. It gave me even more reason to educate and inform the gay community. If you’re interested in the benefits of PrEP, I would encourage you to talk to your doctor about it.
Having the confidence in being able to reduce your risk of HIV and being aware of the current preventative methods is really important. Accidents happen, condoms break, or they’re not used. Why not take a single pill each day to reduce your risk by up to 99 percent or more?
When it comes to your sexual health, it’s better to be proactive rather than reactive. Take care of your body, and it will take care of you. Consider taking PrEP, not only for you, but also for your partner(s).
Editor’s note: In June of 2019, the US Preventive Services Task Force released a statement recommending PrEP for all people at increased risk of HIV.
Brian Webb is the founder of TheHomoCulture.com, an award-winning LGBT advocate, renowned social influencer in the LGBT community, and winner of the prestigious Mr. Gay Canada People’s Choice award.