ACON has encouraged Mardi Gras revellers to look after themselves and each other in relation to HIV, sexual health, street safety, and alcohol and other drugs as the Sydney Mardi Gras reaches its climax.

ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill said an important part of enjoying Mardi Gras was caring about the health and welfare of oneself and others.

“Mardi Gras is all about celebrating who we are and having a great time doing it,” Parkhill said. “Playing safe will help partygoers have a much more enjoyable Mardi Gras experience.

“We’re urging gay men to help prevent the transmission of HIV and other sexually transmissible infections (STIs) by using condoms and water-based lube wherever and whenever they’re having sex with casual partners. It’s the most effective way to stay safe and with 60,000 free ACON condom packs available at major LGBTI venues and events during Mardi Gras, it’s also the easiest and most convenient method.

“If you think you’ve been exposed to HIV, Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) may prevent you becoming infected — if you act quickly.”

PEP is a four-week course of anti-HIV medications taken within 72 hours of exposure that can prevent a person from contracting HIV.

However, Parkhill cautioned that PEP was never a substitute for safe sex.

“Using condoms is always the best method of prevention,” he said.

More information is available on the 24-hour PEP Hotline: 1800 737 669.

Parkhill also stressed the importance of regular testing for STIs.

“If you think you may have been at risk of getting an STI, it’s important to get tested at a general practice or sexual health service as soon as possible,” he said.

“Regular testing for HIV and other STIs is an essential part of maintaining good sexual health, not to mention peace of mind. If gay men do test positive for STIs, it’s important that they take time out from sex until the infection is cleared to ensure that it’s not passed on to others in the community.

“It’s also important for young same-sex attracted women to be aware of the need to play safe and be informed about sexual health.”

Parkhill said keeping safe on the street during Mardi Gras was also important.

“Statistics from our Anti-Violence Project show that incidents of street-based homophobic violence increase around Mardi Gras,” he said.

“To avoid violence, we recommend that partygoers travel to and from venues with friends, avoid responding to abusive behaviour as this can escalate violence, cover up their party clothes or get changed at the venue to avoid being a target, and get to a safe place if they feel threatened.

“All violence and harassment should be reported to police for immediate action or to ACON’s Anti-Violence Project because if the level and types of violence are on the public record, then agencies such as ACON can lobby for improved security for our community.”

Parkhill said reducing the harms associated with alcohol and other drugs was the third way to play safe.

“There are always new drugs emerging or drugs that have different strengths,” he said.

“It’s important to know as much as you can about what you are taking. Mixing G and alcohol continues to be a key cause of overdose. It’s important to tell someone you trust what you’ve taken, and to get help immediately if it’s needed.

“The ACON Rovers will be at all the major parties to help people who are experiencing any difficulties as a result of using alcohol or other drugs.”

People can visit www.partysafely.org.au for information and advice about partying safely.

“There will also be significant police operations at some events which will involve sniffer dogs and in some cases personal searches for drugs,” Parkhill said.

“Police can’t make you stay in one spot while a dog sniffs around you but leaving an area can be used as grounds for you to be searched. If police want to search you, it is best to cooperate and not show aggression or swear at them as this behaviour has sometimes resulted in charges against people for offensive language.”

Visit www.iclc.org.au for more information about police powers and drug searches.

For more information about looking after each other during Mardi Gras, check out the Wherever Sex Happens and Speak Up campaigns on the ACON website: www.acon.org.au

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