Body Positive boss Mark Fisher is the new Mr Urge Bear NZ. He tells us about his life, love, and his greatest wish: a cure for HIV.
What does the title mean to you?
Becoming Mr Urge Bear NZ is a huge honour. The Bear community is alive and well in New Zealand and they create a great sense of community and are welcoming to everyone. This week has been amazing with sold out events and lots of visitors. They are a great example of New Zealand hospitality. Being able to represent the bears and NZ in Melbourne and to showcase that spirit will be amazing. I have been in NZ for almost two years now and have always been amazed by the warmth shown to me.
What are your highlights of the night?
The 3rd part of the contest is a raffle ticket sale. The generosity of the crowd was inspiring. We managed to raise a lot of money - fundraising is dear to my heart so it was great to see the spirit of giving incorporated into the event. And there were lots of girls out as well. Itâ€™s great to see a mixed crowd at Urge. It will be very sad to see it close in a few weeks.
Where were you born, and where did you grow up?
I was born in a small country town just outside Melbourne and was in Australia till I was 25. Then I moved to Toronto for a one year contract position and to see the world. 20 years later I moved to Auckland for my partner Lucien.
What do you think of Auckland?
Auckland is a great place. There are always lots of things going on. I'm really looking forward to the Outgames next year. I think that will be an amazing event for Auckland (and NZ) as we welcome the world to our great city. That will really be the time to shine and we have one year to get everything prepared.
How are you enjoying the new job so far?
I love Body Positive. Itâ€™s a great organization that has done some great work for people living with HIV and has huge potential to do so much more. I've been receiving lots of great support from the other organizations - especially NZAF, Positive Women and Cartier Trust. The Poz friendly Chillout Lounge at the Big Gay Out was a huge success and I think it helped to raise the profile of HIV. Thatâ€™s one of our big challenges is to remove the stigma around HIV. This will take lots of work educating people around HIV, increasing the visibility of HIV and empowering those living with HIV to be proud and rise above the stigma of HIV. My friend Charlie Tredway is one of these shining lights with his recent interview with NZAF about being positive.
When did you come out, and how did it go?
I've always been gay... a Kinsey 6 so to speak. I went to an all-boys school (Melbourne High) but didnâ€™t come out until I was at University. I felt it was now or never as they had a support group to help people come to terms with sexual identity. That support when you are struggling with your identity is vitally important. Rainbow Youth and Outline are great supports in this area. Even with all the progress we have made over the years in terms of Gay rights and freedoms it is still a personal challenge to be comfortable with yourself. Luckily, my family has always been amazingly accepting and supportive of me and my partners.
Do you have a partner?
Lucien Ollivier is my partner. We met at Mardi Gras in 2013and I moved here to be with him in August. He is an amazing man with a great heart. He is truly inspirational how he is always the first person to welcome new people to the group. He makes a point of introducing us to anyone he thinks might be new at the bar. This is one of the hardest things when coming to a new city is meeting people and feeling welcome... it's not all about Grindr and hookups but just being able to socialize with other people. He embodies the welcoming spirit of New Zealand that I love so much. He won Mr Australasia Bear in 2013 so I have some pressure to do well in Melbourne.
What do you think are the biggest issues currently facing NZ's gay population?
We have come a long way but there is still a lot to do. HIV stigma is still present as is the ongoing transmission of HIV. Hopefully Body Positive can make a difference in this area. But there are lots of other challenges... the loss of our social spaces such as Urge, Poof, Shine and Rush bar in Wellington to name a few. The ongoing bullying and harassment from homophobia, transphobia and HIV stigma. The reality that New Zealand doesn't have a National Strategy on HIV/AIDS. There is very little dialog on PREP, undetectable Viral Load and other prevention strategies - I'm a keen advocate of condoms and all the work that NZAF does but we need to provide leadership in these other strategies so that people are informed in their choices and aren't relying on misinformation found on the net or in the heat of the moment. With the upcoming changes to the Public Health Act to make HIV a notifiable disease this could have an impact on the HIV landscape here and needs to be discussed so people are aware of their responsibilities (and the legal ramifications).
Who in the world would you most like to have a coffee and a chat with and why?
Bill Gates - not because of his Microsoft adventures (even though I am a geek) but because of the amazing work he is doing with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Melinda is welcome to come along as well.
If you could have one wish granted what would it be?
There was a cure for HIV. PREP is not a cure.. it's just an HIV medication that people take to eliminate any potential infections. I want something that will eradicate HIV from those currently living with HIV. The Berlin Patient had this through a transfusion but this procedure almost killed him and it hasn't been replicated. We need a one shot vaccine that cures people and prevents new infections... Oh, and I want it now.
What does the bear community mean to you?
They are a great group of guys. It's a very supportive social group that is welcoming and supportive of each other. It will be a challenge over the year ahead with urge gone but I am sure we will find other venues to meet and socialize. Itâ€™s a very resourceful group.