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Regular ‘Hollyoaks’ character, Ste, is to be the first gay character in a UK soap to receive a HIV diagnosis.

Keiron Richardson plays the character 'Ste' in Channel 4's 'Hollyoaks'
Keiron Richardson plays the character ‘Ste’ in Channel 4’s ‘Hollyoaks’

You’d be forgiven for assuming that by 2014 we’d have had a regular character in a soap who was a gay man living with HIV, but no. The most recent HIV positive soap character was Val from ‘Emmerdale’ earlier this year- before that it was Mark Fowler, a straight man, back in the 1990s.

Ste, played by Kieron Richardson, will be diagnosed in the new year after having had unprotected sex with a stranger. The stranger will test for HIV sometime after his and Ste’s one night stand, and on discovering his status will then have to inform Ste that, having had unprotected sex, he should get tested himself.

The long-running storyline will follow Ste as he manages the condition and will show the effect it has on his marriage, children and his physical and psychological well-being.

Lime Productions, who produce Hollyoaks in Liverpool, consulted with The Terrence Higgins Trust and Tom Hayes of beyondpositive on the storyline in order to get an accurate picture of the realities of living with HIV today – how it feels to receive a diagnosis and what methods people can use to cope and deal with a new diagnosis.

Will Harris, Head of Media at Terrence Higgins Trust, 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.

“Until we have a statutory programme of sex and relationships education in all schools, that doesn’t just teach ‘what goes where’ but covers bigger issues like self-esteem and respect for others, preventable scenarios like Ste’s will continue to be enacted off-screen all over the country. 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.”

Executive producer Bryan Kirkwood said: “We have wanted to tell this story for a long time and while HIV can affect anyone, infection rates in young gay men remain too high and to ignore that is to do the gay audience a disservice. Hollyoaks is in a unique positon to be able to talk directly to millions of young viewers and if the safe-sex message is not coming through education we can help with that both on screen and through multi-platform support.

“2015 is Hollyoaks’ 20th year and to make that our ‘year of safe sex’ felt right for a show built upon telling rites of passage stories. With Ste’s HIV and other stories for our teenage characters we will explore the many implications of unprotected sex and hope to encourage thoughtful debate amongst our audience.”

Tom Hayes, Editor-in-Chief at beyondpositive, said: “I was thrilled to have the chance to work on such an exciting and important storyline with Keiron and everyone else at Lime Productions. Despite it being 33 years since the first case of HIV in the UK education on HIV along with sex & relationship education in general remains woefully inadequate.”

“Not only will this storyline help educate the viewers about HIV and safer sex, but Ste’s journey will resonate with many young people living with HIV – tackling the issues of alcohol & substance abuse, disclosure, managing treatment and maintaining a sero-discordant relationship. I’d like to thank Lime Productions and Keiron Richardson for tackling this storyline”

In 2013 a record 3,250 gay and bisexual men were diagnosed HIV positive, of which 460 were aged 15-24. There are an estimated 7,200 gay and bisexual men in the UK who don’t realise that they are HIV positive.

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