Could a sexy new poster boy turn around the rise in HIV rates seen in every country in the Australasian region?
The New Zealand AIDS Foundation has been recruiting party boys, leather men, alternative types, sportsmen, business men and boys next door to engage a fatigued community with its Safe Sex Poster Boy competition.
Sydney-born Julian Barsony was a crowd favourite with a disarming American accent at the Wellington audition, throwing out red condoms and rose petals in a “he loves me, he loves me not” routine – because unless it’s a condom, he loves you not.
“Catching HIV was something I didn’t expect,” Barsony said. “It was someone I loved and trusted. ‘We don’t have to use condoms, right?’
“I was really naive. He got me to take the condom off. I should have at least asked for tests first, but I didn’t know anything about HIV at that point.”
If that sounds like the early years of HIV, think again. Barsony was infected just a few years ago as he was coming out after years living the straight life in California.
“It’s very cliché, but I’m trying to be positive about being positive. Of course I didn’t know I’d be doing a pageant,” he said.
“I’m going to be turning 37 but I don’t look my age, so a lot of younger people come to me, I can befriend them and be a role model to influence them in the right direction.”
Barsony said his fears of passing on the infection only grow when gay men he meets fail to take any precautions at all.
“One person actually wanted me to take the condom off so we could be together truly. I was completely blown away,” he said.
“I’m worried about people spreading it rampantly, thinking it doesn’t matter, there’s a pill for everything. But it’s not the new cancer, it’s more serious than that.
“Because of this, I mostly just have what I call teenage relationships now, just touching, fondling, getting each other off, but not intercourse.”
Barsony admits to spinning out of control in depression and alcohol when diagnosed, but could have spared himself because his health is still fine.
“It’s just that I have more things to take care of now, like plan for a point in my future when I’m not going to be able to work. There are side-effects from the pills to consider but also other infections,” he said.
Now Barsony volunteers with the local AIDS foundation and the upcoming World AIDS Day fundraising – but is still a party boy at heart.
“I like to party, I go out dancing, I have my beers and shots. I love to club hop and do the karaoke thing, so I’m very active in that regard so the party boy category sounds right for me.”
Barsony enters the finals on 27 November, with voting taking place entirely online at

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