This article first appeared in Attitude issue 289, November 2017
Over the years, there have been a few corkers in the own goal PR department. Most famous was Gerald Ratner’s torpedoing of his own jewellery business. Having been asked how he could sell products so cheaply, he replied: because it’s “total crap.” Helen Mirren recently said pretty much the same thing about L’Oréal skin-care products after receiving a small skip-full of cash to be their brand ambassador.
Not to be left out, we now have one from the world of gay dating apps: Daddy Bear thought it would be a unique selling point to ban HIV positive men from using the app. Good stuff boys, those brainstorming sessions are paying off. Just a few words lifted from its front page gives you an idea of the type of punter it’s aimed at: “Sugar daddy,” and “sugar baby” appear alongside “financial support” and “mutually beneficial relationship”.
Fair do’s, it’s an Exchange & Mart for the oldest business in the book. People have needs, and if this is some halfway stop between hookers and hook-ups that’s their business. Until you get to: “Daddies grew up under the macro environment of [the] Aids epidemic and scare, so they know how to protect themselves and you, and enjoy safe sex with you.”
A company spokesman attempted to clarify exactly what this meant in the comments section of a Queerty article: “If you are worried about meeting gay men who are living with HIV, then you can feel relieved with our app because we are trying our best to make sure that all users you meet will be healthy and without HIV.”
Double take. But there was more. When the inevitable social media shit storm broke, the chief executive, “Justin” (they may be daddies but they sure like to be known by a single name, just like Cher, Kylie and Beyoncé), responded: “No one would like to date people living with HIV unless he is living with it [himself]. Most gay sugar daddies are not living with HIV, so don’t want to bring home any unwanted souvenirs. However, we support that gay men living with HIV have the right to date other gays with HIV.”
Wow. Let’s explore the levels of wrongness here. First, every HIV positive man must be jumping for joy that Daddy Bear has no problem with them sleeping with other HIVpositive men. Such magnanimity!
Second, what the actual f*ck? Are these people living in a Stranger Things Eighties’ time warp? Studies have shown effective treatment and undetectable viral levels mean you cannot pass on HIV. Throw in condom use, if desired, and even PrEP for the negative partner, and you’re as even safer than houses as far as HIV is concerned.
The assumption that having HIV places you in some “unclean” category — an awful, moralistic expression we need to drop — and means you are damaged, unwanted goods was bad enough in 1987, but in 2017 it is outrageous.
In a majority of cases HIV is passed on by those who don’t know their status. It is far safer to have a sexual partner who is on effective treatment than someone who assumes they are negative.
Ethical and moral issues aside, for the sheer discrimination displayed by Daddy Bear, how does this get policed? People lie, people may not get tested. It’s encouraging a culture of deceit. It’s time we moved beyond the stigma attached to HIV. It’s a medical condition like any other and can be managed. The only way to halt its spread is for openness, honesty and kindness in dealing with our sexual partners. Daddy Bear is obviously a little clueless about 21st-century attitudes to HIV and have taken down some of the most offensive statements.
When I contacted Justin, he replied: “Most gay men care more about health than sex when seeking gay arrangement, which is the main reason we created this gay dating app. And we are planning to add a feature — HIV Status — on the user’s profile page to allow people to filter guys by HIV status.”
But, again, it totally misses the point. Having an HIV status at all opens the door to prejudice. If people want to disclose their status on their profile that’s their choice, but why have an option for it? Fundamentally, it’s HIV-shaming.
Play safe, know your status, and leave shit like this in the Eighties where it belongs.
Follow Martyn on Twitter @mfitzgeralduk