THE Wickham Hotel will offer the Gay Community Periodic Survey (GCPS) via a physical dropbox option as a compromise to its initial rejection of the survey’s standard in-person distribution method, after reaching an agreement with facilitators.

In what has been called a “welcome step” by the primary GCPS investigator, Queensland AIDS Council (QuAC) and Queensland Positive People (QPP) have agreed to the Wickham’s suggestion that will see surveys provided to patrons from next Monday.

However, the compromise was not an indication that the hotel had gone back on its original position, according to the Wickham’s marketing manager Patrick Macdonald.

“This is not reversal of any decision on our part, as the [dropbox] offer has always been there from us,” he said.

The dropbox offer was one of several compromises put to the HIV organisations last Friday before news of the Wickham’s rejection broke. Suggestions also included providing social media and newsletter links to participate in the GCPS online.

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However, the GCPS is only currently provided in paper form and not available online, while the COUNT study requires a saliva specimen.

“We also offered cross-promotional opportunities and have yet to hear anything about that, but we will push ahead with that anyway since we are, and have always been, keen to allow access to our channels to assist the cause,” Macdonald added.

QuAC executive director Michael Scott said that both HIV organisations refused the Wickham’s initial dropbox offer due to concerns they had about its effectiveness.

“It’s a good thing that some Wickham patrons can actually do the GCPS… but I do wonder how many people will actually complete the survey,” Scott told the Star Observer.

“It’s better than nothing but far shorter than optimum.”

The Wickham’s original position was based on the grounds that they felt the surveys would be “too confronting” for the range of clientele that the hotel now attempts to attract.

Macdonald said that he considers the dropbox option to be less confronting.

“This method is a paper survey method, as opposed to our guests being approached in-person,” Macdonald told the Star Observer.

UNSW Centre for Social Research for Health associate professor and lead GCPS and COUNT investigator, Martin Holt, welcomed the Wickham’s offer but said he could not support it as it was not a useful distribution method for the surveys.

“One of the reasons we do face-to-face recruitment is that it is quicker and more efficient than passive (dropbox) recruitment,” he told the Star Observer

“Also, with a dropbox we can’t assess the participation rate (who took part out of the eligible people approached). That’s important for assessing the acceptability and representativeness of the survey.

“The in-person method is far more effective.”

Scott added that in his experience, questions about HIV prevention methods such as PEP and PrEP are common during the GCPS.

“Part of the point of the GCPS is actually educational. This will be lost if educators are not there facilitating the surveys. The GCPS is not a tick and flick survey,” he said.

Holt defended the role and traditional in-person distribution method of the annual survey, which he said was first established in 1996, after observing negative comments expressed over social media about the GCPS and its presence at LGBTI-friendly venues.

“[The GCPS is] the primary source of data in Australia for monitoring gay and bisexual men’s behaviour, particularly safe and unsafe sex, HIV testing and drug use,” he said.

“We deliberately target men who are at gay venues and events because gay and bisexual men who are socially and sexually-active with each other are more likely to be at risk of or affected by HIV.”

The Brisbane Gay and Lesbian Business Network (GLBN) issued a statement acknowledging the importance of surveying the LGBTI community for health and well-being, but said they supported the Wickham’s “right to decide what occurs at their venue”.

“[The Wickham] highlighted their concerns about patrons being pressured into answering a survey containing detailed personal questions including an individual’s sex life and saliva swabs,” GLBN president Tyrone Shandiman said.

While supporting the Wickham’s right to choose how it operates, Holt said participants were not “pressured” to respond to the GCPS.

“It’s entirely up to those men whether they do so or not. The recruiters’ training directly addresses the fact that no-one is obliged to take part; if someone says ‘no’, the recruiter moves on,” he said.

“To make the survey data as relevant and useful as possible, we try to recruit a broad range of men from venues and events. That is why we aim to include all of the popular gay venues in each city.”

Holt said that in his experience, the community has been “incredibly supportive” about taking part in the GCPS at venues.

“Unfortunately, in this case the owners seem to be basing their decision on inaccurate assumptions about how gay and bisexual men will respond to requests to participate in research,” he added.

However, Holt accepted that the saliva required for COUNT might be confronting for some.

“[The COUNT decision is] disappointing, but perhaps a little more understandable. COUNT is a bit more involved, because we are asking men to provide an oral sample to be tested for HIV,” he said.

“We have done [COUNT] without a hitch in dozens of venues… so it’s a bit strange that we are experiencing such resistance from this one venue in Brisbane.”

Holt added that in the bigger picture, the GCPS and COUNT only operates once a year and does not impose a burden on participants or venues.

“Asking for five to 10 minutes of someone’s time to complete an anonymous survey is hardly a big imposition,” he said.

“On the venue side, the recruiters will be in the venue for maybe 6 hours in total. Is that really a big ask, given that the venue operates all year round?”

Meanwhile, it was revealed during an interview on Wednesday this week on Brisbane’s Queer Radio program that Macdonald, who sits on QuAC’s board, has never participated in the GCPS.

Macdonald told the Star Observer that he believes he is qualified to speak to the nature of the study.

The GCPS dropbox will be available through all areas of the Wickham Hotel from September 22–28.

Main photo: The Wickham Hotel in Brisbane. Photo: David Alexander; Star Observer)

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