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Łukasz Sabat. Photo credit: Pete Lamberto Łukasz Sabat. Photo credit: Pete Lamberto

Health

The PrEP activist fighting for Poland

Łukasz Sabat. Photo credit: Pete Lamberto

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Łukasz Sabat from Krakow has been named as Mr Gay Poland 2018. I caught up with Lukasz to find out what it takes to win the crown.

What led you to enter into the Mr Gay Poland competition?

Short story, it was sex. Long story, it was safe sex, as I got really involved in PrEP advocacy. I gave some talks about PrEP during Krakow Pride, and I encountered a huge push-back from HIV organisations. I was really surprised, as I was expecting support.

On top of that, on-line discussions about PrEP reminded me of how people in the US had been called a ‘Truvada whore’ a few years ago. So, with all that negative trolling, I decided that the only way to change the discussion about PrEP in Poland was to win Mr Gay Poland and then use my position to educate people.

What was the Mr Gay Poland competition like?

Mr Gay Poland is organised first on the regional level in the biggest cities. Then, in the end, we compete for the crown in a two day final — unfortunately the competition doesn’t include any lip-syncs.

We were 12 participants in total. On the first day — the Friday — we met in Poznan where we had a PrEP workshop with doctors. Then we we had LGBTQ, PrEP, and STI knowledge tests. After that, each of the participants had to answer to questions from the judges during the interview round. It was a bit stressful but it was a fun experience. The second day was the gala night in the night club HAH in Poznan, where we had to present three looks — Polish sport-fetish brand AASSSOXX, Andrew Christian underwear, and a free-style look. For my free-style look I decided to go with a ‘sexy daddy’ look.

You don’t live in Poland at the moment — can you still represent the country as Mr Gay Poland if you don’t live there?

I live in Copenhagen, which is an hour flight from Warsaw. It takes me the same amount of time to get from Copenhagen to Warsaw as it does for me to go from my home-town of Krakow to Warsaw.

Being part of Europe makes it so easy to travel. We should remember how cool that is — to put it in perspective, when they were my age my parents couldn’t even have a passport.

As much as I love Copenhagen, I’m still Polish in every inch of my body.

What will be your duties and responsibilities as Mr Gay Poland?

My work as Mr Gay Poland will be mostly related to PrEP. There’s no official expectations of the title-holder, but I see my work as more than just appearing at Pride events. I’m already in touch with PrEP clinics, and I have few more initiatives around PrEP advocacy and information for MSM.

As you can probably see on my Instagram, my attitude is very sex-positive and that’s the fresh approach that the Polish LGBTQ world needs. I think we struggle so much with fighting for our rights in Poland, that we forget to enjoy our lives.

Will you be representing Poland at the Mr Gay Europe competition in August?

I decided not to participate in Mr Gay Europe. There are a few reasons — firstly, I think I have enough work to do with PrEP as Mr Gay Poland, and I think I owe it to Poland to focus on that before I move onto the next level. I think the Mr Gay Europe title would bring exciting but different responsibilities on a European level, and I need to stay true to why I went for the Mr Poland title in the first place. Secondly, as a guy with a full-time job, I can’t take a week off from my work commitments to take part in nine-day long competition. If the competition was shorter it might make it more manageable.

Poland will be represented at Mr Gay Europe by vice Mr Poland — Karol Pacyna. I wish him good luck and told him don’t fuck it up.

Do you think Karol Pacyna will have a home-ground advantage given that Mr Gay Europe will be held in Poland?

I wouldn’t think so. Going into a competition like Mr Gay Poland or Mr Gay Europe, you need to be very confident in what you feel about yourself — it’s not easy to be judged by others. I always respect the other contestants, as I want them to also treat me with respect. That might be the Danish rubbing off on me.

Which countries do you think will give Poland the most competition for the title of Mr Gay Europe?

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I’m feeling very confident about Poland’s chances. The UK will do well — they’re strong online and are doing good HIV work. Watch out for Denmark also, it’s a country that’s proud of its LGBTQ community and it’s bidding for EuroPride and EuroGames in 2021.

What do you hope to achieve as Mr Gay Poland?

I have a lot of work to do to prove myself with PrEP in Poland. The title of Mr Gay Poland should be used to push forward our rights, and to remind the LGBTQ community that things are getting better. We’re working towards a future where people aren’t stigmatised for living with HIV, and making sure that we have access to PrEP, PEP, and TasP. Then we can all move on with our lives.

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Health

“My first thought was — I’m dead.”

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D-REK (image supplied)
D-REK (image supplied)

In 1985, Derek Canas underwent heart surgery to correct a congenital anomaly — he was three months old.

The surgery was a success, but 16 years later Derek was diagnosed with AIDS — he had acquired HIV as a result of a blood transfusion during the heart surgery.

Derek is now a DJ and a campaigner for HIV awareness. Derek shared his story with Mainly Male.

When you were first diagnosed, how much did you and your family know about HIV?

The only thing I knew at that time was a few memories of a Nick News episode years before. I was diagnosed in 2001. My first thought was — “I’m dead.”

Thankfully, I had a great doctor who told me that I would that I would be going to his funeral, that he wasn’t going to mine. I had an AIDS diagnosis and wasting syndrome — I was weeks away from death.

What sort of counselling and support was available to you when you first diagnosed?

Just at doctors’ appointments. I live in a small town, there were no support groups close by. Family and close friends became my support system.

Have you encountered any stigma or discrimination as a result of your status?

Yes — especially in the early days after diagnosis. It’s just part of living in a small town. The understanding of the virus is still stuck in the mindset of the early-90s. Sadly, that’s nationwide — public knowledge is really lacking in terms of HIV.

You speak publicly about HIV and educate people about the virus — do you ever feel like taking some time out? Do you ever feel like you don’t want to have to explain your status to people that you meet?

I don’t take time out for myself. My cardiologist hates that — I’m on my fifth pace-maker. I always welcome the opportunity to explain my HIV status. I wear it like a badge of honour. The virus nearly killed me, and I’ve fought back — I’m the one that’s kicking its ass now.

What advice or guidance would you give to someone who has been recently diagnosed with HIV?

The days after are rough — don’t be ashamed of the breakdown. You’ll feel better as your health gets better. It just takes time and patience.

Do you have any hints or tips for people on how to respond to HIV stigma or discrimination?

I use music to get me through. I’m a DJ, so I know how powerful music is on our minds and bodies. I always encourage people to find their music or movies — something that helps them laugh or get hyped-up.

Keep a calendar — put things on it, no matter how small — always look forward. Tomorrow can and will be better.

Everyone gets knocked down in life. It’s about how you stand back up.

Follow Derek’s blog

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Sharing the stories of our community
It’s not easy to talk about HIV, but talking about your experience can help to build your confidence and understanding of what HIV means for you. Your story can also help others who are processing their own experiences with HIV.

If you’d like to share your story with the readers of Mainly Male, please email [email protected]

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