Hollyoaks is to become the first UK soap to feature a gay character being diagnosed as HIV positive. Ste Hay will receive the news in episodes to air in January. The soap will then follow him as he adapts to having the condition, and its effects on his relationships and wellbeing.
The announcement came in the run up to World AIDS Day, on the 26th of November. According to the latest statistics from the National AIDS Trust, almost 110,000 people in the UK are currently living with HIV. Over half of the new diagnoses in 2013 were among men who have sex with men. Despite the risk, awareness of HIV is declining, and diagnoses are rising for the first time since the condition was discovered in the 1980s.
Hollyoaks’ Executive Producer Bryan Kirkwood hopes that Ste’s story will help to educate young people about the condition, due to the soap’s large young audience. Kieron Richardson, who has portrayed Ste in the soap since 2006, echoes this, stating that “if a few people watch these episodes and go get tested or prevent themselves from giving it to somebody else, it’s a great thing that we’ve achieved.”
The Terence Higgins Trust, the UK’s foremost HIV and AIDS charity, supports the storyline. In a statement to the press, Will Harris, the Trust’s Head of Media said: “We always say that a well-researched, well-told storyline in a national soap is worth any number of health campaigns, especially for a stigmatised condition like HIV. It’s important because currently whole generations of young gay men are entering adulthood without the confidence they need to negotiate healthy sex and relationships… Hollyoaks is sending such an important message, not just for young gay men but for anyone who may not have an up to date understanding of HIV, and we think they can do a lot of good by telling it.”
In Glasgow, you can be tested for free through your GP or the Sandyford sexual health clinics. This is completely confidential, and advice and support is also offered.
[Lauren Cummings – @__laurenC]