HIV organisations in Queensland and sexual health experts have expressed disappointment and concern about the Wickham Hotel not allowing the COUNT study and Gay Community Periodic Survey (GCPS) from being conducted at the venue.

Queensland Positive People (QPP) and Queensland AIDS Council (QuAC) were reportedly informed by management last week that “[the surveys] doesn’t fit with the new Wickham” and volunteers were denied access to the hotel.

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One of Brisbane’s most iconic LGBTI-friendly venues, the Wickham only recently reopened following extensive renovations and its owner Coles expressed a desire to attract a mixed clientele.

While there had been some community concern that the Wickham would no longer be a prominently LGBTI venue, Wickham spokesperson Patrick Macdonald told the Star Observer last month that the new hotel would not lose its LGBTI identity.

“Brisbane has been crying out for a quality bar where LGBTI people and their friends can go, and the Wickham is simply listening and responding to public demand,” he said.

“I think Brisbane people are fed up with the current LGBTI scene and are excited at the prospect of a venue that respects their standards and will be appealing to their friends as well.”

Macdonald confirmed that the Wickham would not allow the GCPS and COUNT study to be operated at the venue, but denied the “doesn’t fit with the new Wickham” statement.

“The Wickham has always been a proud supporter of LGBTI causes, and will continue its community commitment throughout the hotel’s transition and into the future,” he told the Star Observer.

Macdonald also highlighted the Wickham’s history of community support via fundraising efforts at events like the annual Big Gay Day, which raised $22,500 for local LGBTI charities.

“The Wickham also offered to support the COUNT study/GCPS initiative in other ways, including cross-promotional opportunities through our database and social media,” he said.

The COUNT study from the University of NSW (UNSW) Centre for Social Research for Health and GCPS is being run as a collaborative effort between QPP and QuAC.

GCPS investigator and associate investigator for COUNT, Professor Andrew Grulich from the UNSW’s Kirby Institute, told the Star Observer that the Wickham’s decision was concerning.

“If these venues are not agreeing to participate because they now view themselves as more mixed, it is deeply concerning.” Grulich said.

“Surveys have been a critical part to Australia’s HIV response since the epidemic began, and they provide vital information from key locations to monitor trends in same-sex sexual behaviour,

“If they are still being true to the community they claim to welcome and represent they need to facilitate these surveys.”

QuAC executive director Michael Scott confirmed that survey volunteers were informed about Wickham’s decision the night before they planned to launch it at the hotel.

“We had to change the rosters because we were planning to do the studies at the hotel and because we weren’t able to, we lost a significant opportunity,” he told the Star Observer.

“It’s important to focus our efforts on the weekend, by losing the weekend it really impaired on our ability to see as many people as possible.”

According to Scott, the Wickham was the only LGBTI-friendly venue that did not approve their request.

UNSW Centre for Social Research for Health associate professor and lead investigator for the GCPS and COUNT, Martin Holt, said that the Wickham’s rejection of the surveys was a “missed opportunity”.

“It’s very disappointing that the Wickham, who has always been a venue that’s welcomed the survey, has now decided to not host it,” Holt told the Star Observer.

“This is a missed opportunity for the COUNT study. It’s about continuity of the study and the venues showing their support but it just makes the job a harder when venues are cautious.

“We would urge them to reconsider their support on community based research.”

The COUNT study and GCPS started last Saturday at other LGBTI-friendly venues around Queensland.

Both COUNT and the GCPS will be held during Brisbane Pride’s Fair Day on September 20 in New Farm Park and at other venues around Brisbane up until September 21. The GCPS will continue to run until September 28.

COUNT requires participants to provide a quick saliva test and they will have the option of remaining anonymous and not receive results, or be informed by selecting the confidential option.

Participants will also have to be aged 18 or over, been sexually active with men in the last five years, completed the GCPS and able to give consent.

All gay men and MSM are encouraged to participate regardless of their HIV status.

For more information on the COUNT study, visit www.count.org.au

(Main image credit: David Alexander; Star Observer)

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