Group offers safe space for HIV-positive gays

A support group for HIV-positive men who want a place to find community without having to dole out the explanations

Michael Yoder started the HIV+ support group.

Michael Yoder was diagnosed HIV positive when he was 33 years old. It was 1995, but as a gay man “willing to take risks” in his youth, Yoder believed he had been positive since his mid-20s. Still, the news came as a shock.

“I think I’d known for a long time, but I just wasn’t ready to hear it for sure,” he recounts. “I had positive partners, so I lived and protected myself and my partners as though I was positive, but that moment you hear it, there’s still that shock. I cried.”

Seventeen years later, and just after celebrating his 50th birthday, Yoder has become a positive force for men in the gay community who are surviving a similar story. With the help of the Victoria AIDS Resource and Community Service Society (VARCS) Yoder was contracted to create a support group for HIV-positive men who want a place to find community without having to dole out the explanations — and so, Positively Connected was born. Now, a year into its creation, the group holds 20 or more members at any given time and is offering Victoria residents a place to find refuge.

“There is so much to deal with when you first find out you’re positive, and it’s something people, even allies, can’t quite get unless you’ve been there,” says Yoder. “This is really a space where guys can get together and not have to explain — we get it; and then real conversation can start from there.”

The group currently hosts a monthly coffee or pub night at various establishments around town, as well as regular get-togethers — hiking, fishing trips and the like. Because the group is focused towards positive gay men, Yoder says discussions are open and frank, and topics can range from conversations with your specialist, to issues around disclosure, to challenges with sexual expression, to lively debates around theatre and sports. While Yoder points out that HIV and AIDS used to be seen as the “Gay Man’s Disease,” society has pulled far enough away from that now that gay men are actually struggling to find their place in the community.

“Gay men are essentially falling through the cracks now, as far as the AIDS movement is concerned, and what we’re seeing is a surprising lack of resources aimed to target this group,” Yoder says. “Now the goal is to recreate that community where these men are allowed and accepted and an important part of the movement again.”

Members range in age from 20s to 40s, but Yoder is quick to note that Positively Connected is not a dating group, nor a place to find a quick hook-up — it is, however, a place to find friends and community, and if people find connection from there, all the better, he adds.

“It’s really important for younger guys who are recently diagnosed to be able to come here and see some of our members who have been living with HIV for a long time,” Yoder says. “It gives them a good grounding and can help them realize this doesn’t have to be the end of the world. When I was diagnosed I can remember thinking ‘Am I going to be an old man?’”

While meetings have seen as few as two and as many as 11 members join at any given time, Yoder says he takes solace in the fact that the group is continually growing, especially given Victoria’s “closeted community.” Stigma and misinformation remains rampant, however, even within the gay arena.

To remedy this, two specific campaigns are launching during Pride Week to address some of the stigmas. VARCS “We Belong to Each Other” initiative is geared to remind residents that being interconnected in the community includes people living with HIV, and features a city-wide poster campaign that invites people to pull off the tabs they need with the words “love,” “compassion,” “fun,” “respect” and others. Meanwhile, the Vancouver Island Persons Living with HIV/AIDS Society is starting the “Positively Beautiful!” poster campaign, designed to showcase facts and misinformation associated with persons living with HIV.

“HIV is actually one of the harder STIs to catch — you actually have to work at it,” says Yoder. “Sadly, though, it’s also the one that still has the most misinformation because we don’t want to face it — it contains everything (people) hate talking about: sex, drugs and death. So, that’s exactly why we need to talk about it.” M


To learn more, check out Positively Connected’s booth at the Pride Festival Sunday, July 8, 1 p.m. at MacDonald Park (James Bay), or visit the Positively Connected Victoria BC Facebook page.


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Jen Hodge conducts an online concert during the pandemic after returning to B.C. from New York City. Photo courtesy Claudia Nobauer
Canada Recovery Benefit won’t replace the magic of live performance, musicians say

Cash will help, but its the audience connection that most performers miss — and crave

Mary Fox’s new book My Life as a Potter is available at bookstores nationwide. (Cole Schisler photo)
My Life as a Potter raises funds for Mary Fox Legacy Project

Acclaimed Vancouver Island potter’s story raising money for developing artists

Premier John Horgan and Rob Douglas, BC NDP candidate for Cowichan Valley, meet with Cowichan First Nation elders, as they demonstrate spearfishing along the river. (Submitted)
Horgan acknowledges A&E sector hit hard by COVID-19, but showing signs of recovery

Hollywood North doing better than Hollywood South, Horgan says

Online reservation service, First Table, allows Victoria diners to have dinner at half-price if they’re willing to be flexible about when they go. (Black Press Media file photo)
New reservation service allows Victoria residents to dine out at half price

First Table gives Victoria diners 50 per cent off when they book tables during off-peak hours

Elizabeth and Marcel Bergmann will play the same piano at the Port Theatre on Nov. 1. (Photo courtesy Best Days Ever Photography)
Piano duo perform on one piano in Nanaimo return to live performance

Marcel and Elizabeth Bergmann present first live, in-person concert since March

Leaking Time by Oak Bay resident Ilka Bauer is the winning entry of the Federation of Canadian Artist’s “Crisis” exhibition on now in Vancouver. (Ilka Bauer Image)
Oak Bay artist wins juried show in Vancouver

Pair of Oak Bay artists part of ‘Crisis’ exhibition

Can you spot all 12 Days of Christmas displays at the Butchart Gardens? Jen Blyth photo.
The magic of Christmas returns to the Butchart Gardens

Some events cancelled due to COVID-10 but 12 Days of Christmas will brighten the season

Gatineau artist Michèle Provost visits the Malaspina Galleries during her artist residency on Gabriola Island. (Photo supplied)
Gatineau artist the first to take part in new Gabriola Island artist residency

Michèle Provost to create art book reflecting on the positives of aging

Legendary Vancouver-based blues and jazz guitarist and vocalist Jim Byrnes will perform live at the Tidemark Theatre in a concert that will also be streamed. Contributed photo
Legendary blues musician and actor Jim Byrnes hits the Island

Playing Campbell River’s Tidemark Theatre for a hybrid live/online show

Dinner shows in the Playbill Dining Room are keeping the Chemainus Theatre going during the pandemic. (Photo by Don Bodger)
Dinner events satisfying for the Chemainus Theatre and patrons

Small groups enjoy entertainment and the food in the Playbill Dining Room

Kent Laforme looks through the sound tunnel, or visual portal, carved inside the 25,000-pound marble sculpture that could be installed at Cattle Point. (Screen Shot, video)
Kent Laforme looks through the sound tunnel, or visual portal, carved inside the 25,000-pound marble sculpture that could be installed at Cattle Point. (Screen Shot, video)
Stone Takaya sculpture could soon ‘howl’ at Cattle Point

Oak Bay inviting public suggestions for 25,000-pound marble sculpture

Most Read