Amid tough competition, ACON’s Asian Project took out the coveted title of Community Group of the Year at the 2003 Sydney Star Observer Pride Week Awards. ACON runs three popular groups for Sydney’s growing gay Asian community that include informative workshops, discussions and social events.

Silk Road and Asia Plus are social and support groups for gay Asian men, while the Asian Marching Boys are a highlight of the annual Mardi Gras parades, and hold regular fundraising parties.

 They’re basically groups to help guys familiarise themselves with the community, ACON’s Asian Project officer Matthew Hua says. Silk Road is very successful. It’s been running for 11 years and more than 5,000 people have been through the program.

Anywhere between 30 to 100 people attend Silk Road each month, while its off-shoot Asia Plus is a growing group of between six and 10 members that specifically caters for HIV-positive gay Asian men. Both of the groups meet once a month, and are free and confidential. The workshops cover issues such as family, health, culture, relationships, coming out and, of course, sex.

We talk heaps about sex and, in a way, that’s breaking a lot of Asian stereotypes because it’s an unspoken thing -“ sex, HIV, sexuality, Hua says. So having that space and that dialogue is already doing something that is a little bit unusual for our culture traditionally.

The Asian Marching Boys are the best known part of the Asian Project trio, thanks to their award-winning performances in the Mardi Gras parades and their popular fundraising parties. Despite their name, the Marching Boys now include some women and non-Asians as well.

It’s for guys who are really comfortable about their sexuality, and who want to have a bit of fun, Hua says.

Hua says he was genuinely surprised that ACON’s Asian Project won Community Group of the Year given the tough competition, and says it shows that Sydney’s gay Asian community has come of age in recent years.

It’s great recognition, he says. Really, in the last three or four years the community has blossomed in terms of feeling much more confident about itself.

Hua points to a recent survey of Sydney’s gay Asian community, which finds that about 90 percent of Asian gay men are proud and happy to be Asian and gay. Despite this, the same study reveals that 52 percent of gay Asian men experienced some racial discrimination within the gay community in the last 12 months.

There are some parts we still need to work on, but on the whole there is a good sense that the community is building. That’s through sheer numbers, but also through more communication between each other and more integration with the general gay community, Hua says.

The Asian Gay Community Periodic Survey for Sydney 2002 highlights a continuing challenge for Sydney’s gay Asian community; the percentage of gay Asian men who have never had an HIV test is much higher than in the general gay population. Approximately 23 percent of gay Asian men have never had an HIV test, while in the general gay population, 10 percent of people have never been tested. The survey also shows that more than 40 percent of gay Asian men have never been tested for a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

Asian gay men are pretty good with safe sex, much better than the general gay population, Hua says. However, the major issue is that we’re not tested anywhere near as much as the general gay population.

In response to this, ACON’s Asian Project has launched a Get Tested For Free campaign, in an attempt to improve the number of gay Asian men having regular HIV and STI tests. Hua recommends getting tested every 12 months because it’s better to know than not to know.

It’s okay to start a dialogue with your partner and with your doctor about HIV testing, he says.

For more information on ACON’s Asian Project or the Get Tested For Free campaign, phone Matthew Hua on (02)9206 2080 or visit www.acon.org.au/asian.

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