“I’M single, I’m six foot four, I weigh 235 pounds — I’m a little overweight right now because I travel all the time, but I’m working on it,” said Eric Paul Leue, introducing himself.
“I want children, I want a monogamous relationship, I want to get married, I have a very close relationship with my family and I can cook very well.”
Leue gushed about everything he values in the leather community, going right back to the origins of the subculture among gay men in the mid-20th century.
“We created clubs where we could hang out, where we wouldn’t be judged, where we were safe… we stood on the front lines at Stonewall,” he said.
“We’ve done a lot to contribute to our community, and we’ve always been incredibly supportive to each other. Show me another part of the LGBT community that does as much fundraising as we do.”
While the image of Leue kitted out in leather and sporting a winner’s sash is an attention-grabbing one, over the past year he’s become better known as a vocal advocate in the US for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), which involves HIV-negative people taking regular doses of an antiretroviral HIV drug such as Truvada as an effective HIV-prevention measure.
After winning the Mr LA Leather title in February this year he was approached by HIV advocacy organisation AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), sparking a chain of events that thrust Leue into the spotlight as a de facto PrEP spokesperson of sorts.
AHF asked Leue to be the face of a health campaign promoting HIV testing to the leather community. Just as the campaign ads started to appear in early April, AHF president Michael Weinstein made his now-notorious comments derisively labelling PrEP “a party drug”.
Leue was already very familiar with PrEP. When he was 18 and seeing his first partner — a HIV-positive man twice his age — the two investigated prevention options and a doctor put him on a Truvada regime that was basically PrEP.
Weinstein’s comments made waves in the gay community. Leue approached AHF asking them to issue a clarification and to begin dialogues around PrEP with various community stakeholders, and when AHF declined, he backed out of their campaign, launching a petition to have Weinstein removed as the organisation’s president.
“I took it in my own hands and aligned with the community representatives that were already out there and who already did so much work over the two years leading up to last April,” Leue said.
“I sort of came in late, but I think I just became a relatively loud voice for reason, facts and science.”
In fact, Leue credits Weinstein with helping to create a whole generation of health activists, who reacted against his and AHF’s stance on PrEP. In the months following, the organisation’s anti-PrEP rhetoric ramped up to the point that it began running print campaigns targeting gay men with ads disputing PrEP’s effectiveness. AHF argued users weren’t adherent enough to the pill regime for PrEP to be effective, but recent evidence from clinical trials in the UK and France have shown PrEP is highly effective even if taken less regularly.
Leue, who was recently nominated for a prestigious WEGO Health Activist Hero Award, said Weinstein now refuses to engage with him at all.
Leue argues it is exactly this misinformation about PrEP that is the problem.
“How do I reach a community that is in every instance hard to reach, and on top of that, somebody that they have trusted for many years speaks against [PrEP]?” he said.
“A lot of things are based in moral views, a lot of things are based on assumptions, a lot of people think that they know everything they need to know, and they’re just not very open to learning new things. So it’s really a method of re-shaping that conversation.”
With the conversation about PrEP in Australia still in its very early stages, Leue argued the way to foster healthy discussion here is to work as hard as possible at getting basic facts about the drug out into the gay community and other communities at risk.
“I think that Australia has a very different starting point,” he said.
“I think there is much to learn from looking at how this went down in the United States.”
**This article was first published in the December 2014 edition of the Star Observer, which is available to read in digital flip-book format. To obtain a hard copy, click here to find out where you can grab one in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Canberra and select regional areas.