Phil Dzwonkiewicz was crowned Mr Gay England 2018 and competed for the title of Mr Gay Europe.
The 36 years old was born in Birmingham. Diagnosed with HIV back in 2007, Phil’s reign as Mr Gay England has been all about proving that “HIV Doesn’t Define You”.
The activist took some time from his busy schedule to answer some of our questions.
How did you come across the contest and what made you apply?
I have known two previous winners of the current incarnation of Mr Gay England, and they have brought some incredible campaigns to the table. Joni Valadares (2016) shed light on suicide prevention, and Matt Rood (2017) Gay Adoption rights.
These campaigns are very relevant to issues for the LGBTQ community.
So I had known about the competition for sometime, and I got involved as a friend of mine kept bringing it up, and basically pestering me to do so.
I went on holiday and just pushed it to the back of my mind. As RuPaul would, say my inner-saboteur was shouting in my head: “You are not good enough!” “You are not what they will be looking for!” But the closer the closing date for applications got, all the good things started to surface, and I asked my best mates if I should apply and their answer was a resounding YES!
What does it take to become Mr Gay England?
I can only go by what I see in my predecessors and myself.
You have to have a passion, you need to want to give back, you need to be invested in the LGBTQ community and want to change the things you do not like.
Have a point of view and be able to articulate that.
What changed in your life since you won the competition?
Life has become very very busy which I am no stranger to at all, but more than anything the stories that are being shared with me from other people living with HIV via social media platforms have been incredible and humbling.
Men and women telling me that just by seeing me being vocal and wanting to take up a mantle of showing those around us that it doesn’t define who you are and that you can live a healthy happy life, has made them proud and given them hope, and that some of them have even now come out to loved ones because of it. That has been just mind blowing to me, and makes it all worth it.
You centred your campaign on raising awareness of HIV. Why is it important to you?
This is super important to me as it effects me directly.
As HIV positive people we don’t have role models in the mainstream. This is changing now with the influence of social media, but visibility is key.
I think that if more people from EVERY walk of life can stand up and say that they are positive, this will help displace misconceptions and stigma that are unfortunately still around today.
For years, I have been helping those around me or those sent to me by recommendation to come to terms with a diagnosis of having HIV.
You talk openly about your status and you are a peer mentor at Positive East helping and supporting others living with HIV. Do you feel people are more educated about HIV or is stigma still very present on our society?
I think that in London people are generally more informed in regards to sexual health. As anyone that works in the health sector can attest, things are London-centric. Once things are trialled in London they tend to get rolled out across the country.
The population of gay men is very dense so the information is distributed well here BUT I still experience stigma on social media and in life.
Common responses are “You are riddled”, “Whore”, ” Sorry, I don’t touch people like you, no offence”, “Ohhh, you don’t look like you have it”. All these and many more are why I am stepping forward and expressing “HIV Doesn’t Define You” as it shouldn’t.
Having this condition (and it is that, a chronic condition) should not stop you from living the kind of life you want to, be it running an office full of lawyers or twirling around on stage.
#HIVDoesntDefineYou is the slogan of your campaign. What does define you?
That’s a good one!
I’d have to say work helps define me—I have passion in all I do and give 110% all the time, and how I treat others—I am extremely caring and my family and close friends mean the world to me.
Why did you take part in the Mr Gay Europe competition?
While the UK is generally ahead of the curve in regards to HIV—there is still a lot of work to do, and the stories I receive tell me that we are on the right path—I would love to help those across Europe in the same way, open up dialogue and help break down that damn image of a tombstone, and show all of Europe that even though a person is LIVING with HIV it doesn’t stop them from contributing.
Any message you would like to leave with our readers?
If you have questions please ask them.
By asking questions you are showing that you are willing to learn. No matter how scary or stupid you think those questions are, if you ask someone like me or anyone that is open and comfortable with living with HIV we will answer them.
And LOVE the fact that you are open to learning and not judging.
Follow Phil on Twitter to know more about his campaign.
We want to hear your opinion
What happens inside a gay bathhouse?
Here’s why we still need gay bathhouses.
I caught up with Chris Amos, from London gay sauna Pleasuredrome, to talk about why gay bathhouses still matter.
With the rise of hook-up apps, there was a sense that the days of the gay sauna or bathhouse were finished. Why do you think that saunas like Pleasuredrome continue to have a role to play in the lives of gay men?
The rise of hook-up apps has impacted on the gay social scene - especially bars and clubs. However the sauna scene is still flourishing, perhaps even more so. A lot of people are actually using the apps inside the sauna, or to meet at Pleasuredrome as it’s much safer to meet here than go to someone’s flat. Also, in London, many people share their flats - if you want to hook up privately and can’t take them home, Pleasuredrome offers deluxe pods which provide an alternative to expensive hotel rooms.
Men come to Pleasuredrome for all sorts of reasons. Some come after going out, on their way to or from work, some men prefer to not use apps. Lots of visitors to London come too, some men just come to relax and enjoy the facilities.
Plus, in the sauna you can see other guys in the flesh, and hook-up there and then.
Has the way that gay men use saunas like Pleasuredrome evolved in recent years?
With the rise of apps, and the credit crunch that hit the UK in 2008, there has been an erosion of the gay scene, with less venues to visit. But Pleasuredrome is an institution in the centre of London. We never close - we’re open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As venues have closed, more and more men have been trying out Pleasuredrome. Plus, we’ve noticed a younger crowd coming in since we’ve offered a discount for under-25s.
We’ll soon be expanding Pleasuredrome to make the spa 50 percent bigger. This will enable us to open an additional 22 deluxe pods - with TV, power points to recharge mobiles, and controllable lighting. We’re also very excited about creating Britain’s first steam maze. A brand new stone spa pool with unique water features will also be added.
What sort of guys go to a sauna like Pleasuredrome?
There’s a lot of diversity in London, and this is reflected in the guests that we have. We get young guys, older guys, bisexual guys, married men, guys wanting to experiment, tourists, all nationalities, jocks, slim guys. We have a very open policy and welcome all guys.
What days of the week and times of day are the busiest at Pleasuredrome?
During the week, we’re busiest between 4 PM and 9 PM. On Fridays, we’re packed from 4 PM to very late, and Saturdays from 4 PM all the way through to Sunday morning and Sunday afternoons. We always have guests.
Is a London sauna, like Pleasuredrome, different in any way to saunas that I might find in other cities around the world?
Pleasuredrome is different to other London saunas, as we focus on offering the best facilities - steam rooms, saunas, spa pool - and keep these clean and well-maintained. With the expansion, we really are aiming to be one of the world’s great saunas. The steam maze will be an experience. The owners have visited saunas across the globe and will incorporate the best of what they’ve seen into the Pleasuredrome expansion.
Do you ever have any shows or performances at Pleasuredrome?
We never do special parties or theme nights - despite many requests from promoters to do so. We’ve found that the few times we did special events, it put off our regular clientele. Our priority is to always offer a clean, safe environment for our guests - an experience that every time that they visit, they know what to expect, no surprises. At Pleasuredrome, you always know it will be busy, you’re welcome, and you know what you’re going to get.
If I’ve never been to a sauna before, but I’m interested in trying it out, what advice or guidance would you give?
Going to a sauna can be daunting experience for first-timers, which is part of the thrill of the experience. There’s a degree of freedom and relaxation that can’t be found elsewhere. So many men to meet and see in the flesh, as opposed to navigating fake profiles and constant messaging on dating apps - here, you can see for yourself. Most guys are surprised how friendly people are. There aren’t too many men who only come once and never come back - that says a lot.
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