‘Gays are always thought of as dirty’

The Age, 3 September 1983:

AT 37, Ken Payne has established himself as quite a successful businessman. He is the owner of Mandate Disco in St Kilda, and a partner in ‘City Rhythm’, a gay magazine. He sees the main threat of AIDS as a popular backlash against the gay community, undoing 10 years of hard-earned gains in community acceptance and legal reform.

“We were starting to be treated like ordinary human beings. People were finally realising that apart from our sexual preference, we’re just like everyone else.

“I now find an incredible number of mis-informed straight people who feel that by social contact with me they could get AIDS, when really the only way you can get it is through sexual contact. Thank God most gays do realise it is a sexual contact thing”.

Mr Payne did not hesitate when asked why AIDS has caused so much panic. “Media hype,” he said. “There’s no other word for it. You never see ‘heterosexual disease strikes’, but here everyone was saying ‘gay plague’, things like this. I’m against words like ‘killer’ and ‘rampaging’.

“The results are hysterical reactions like ‘let’s consider not allowing gay people to work in restaurants’, “Mr Payne said. “Half the restaurants in Melbourne would have to close. Seriously. You’re got no idea how many gay restaurant owners there are in Melbourne.”

John Brock, a Carlton antique dealer, said: “It’s far too emotional as stated by anybody and everybody.

“It’s certainly not a plague, or as infectious as people are making out” He pointed to the case of an American AIDS victim, who had kept a diary of his sexual relations with 700 partners. “Only seven people got It,” Mr Brock said. “So it’s obviously not all that much of an epidemic.”

“It’s an emotional issue,” said Rene Lok, a 24-year-old office worker. “Gays are always thought of as dirty, and many people think this just proves it.

“None of my friends has stopped going out. After all, there’s always been a risk of catching something. Hepatitis is pretty bad, isn’t it? I mean you can’t check someone for AIDS, can you?”

Mr Lok said a friend in Sydney who baby-sat for a six-year-old girl had experienced the backlash against gays that has accompanied AIDS, due primarily to ignorance about how it is transmitted. “When the AIDS thing came out, they told her she wasn’t to play with him, or even speak to him anymore. His feelings were terribly hurt.” But he added that such cases, while common in America, were not typical here.

Greg Millan, 30, said he was angry that most media reports on AIDS had encouraged the distorted perception of AIDS as an exclusively gay disease — when intravenous drug users, Haitians, and hemophiliacs were also high risk groups.

His own fears were allayed, however, when he volunteered for a two-year-study undertaken by Royal Melbourne Hospital and the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, to try to discover the link between homosexuality and AIDS. “Having the tests done, and those tests being negative, and knowing that I’m being monitored, did cut across any fears that I had.”


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