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I Kissed A Boy’s Dan Harry says new PrEP film isn’t just for gay men, it’s for everyone

Exclusive: “There's so much work to do in raising awareness of PrEP and making people realise that it might be something for them"

By Alastair James

Dan Harry in HIV, PrEP & Me
Dan Harry in HIV, PrEP & Me (Image: BBC)

Being a spokesperson for LGBTQ+ sexual health wasn’t something Dan Harry planned for. “It’s just sort of happened,” the journalist turned PR exec turned reality star laughs as we discuss his new role as the presenter of HIV, PrEP & Me. The new documentary airs on the BBC iPlayer today (Tuesday 21 May) In it, Dan travels up and down the country meeting people affected by HIV as well as experts in the field discussing the ongoing challenges when it comes to HIV and PrEP.

But after coming to fame last year through the BBC’s ground-breaking gay dating series I Kissed A Boy, Dan has spent his time advocating for LGBTQ+ causes. He’s joined a HIV vaccine trial, which appears to be going well based on Dan’s update, and has advocated for the likes of the Terrence Higgins Trust, Stonewall, and more. And while unexpected, Dan’s new role as sexual health ambassador is something he’s happy to do. “I’m someone who’s very open when it comes to sexual health and my own journey. And I put myself out there in that way, you know. So, I was very honoured to be asked [to present the documentary].

His documentary comes at a pressing time. Data released towards the end of 2023 showed that while new HIV diagnoses in England in gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men (GBMSM) fell by 8% (784 in 2021 to 724 in 2022) diagnoses in other groups are rising. Between 2021 and 2022 there was a 22% increase in diagnoses overall (3,118 to 3,805). LGBTQ+ Asian men and men from other ethnic minorities saw increases as did heterosexual people (14% in London from 284 in 2021 to 325 in 2022 and 11% outside London from 586 to 651) However, a lot of this increase has been attributed to people being diagnosed abroad previously therefore not a direct increase in HIV transmission in England.

“I’ve really made a point to take charge of my sexual health and empower myself”

HIV, PrEP & Me picks up on all of this. As well as meeting a variety of people impacted by HIV and PrEP the documentary also follows Dan as he returns to his hometown of Coatbridge near Glasgow to talk about sexual health with his parents. Dan dismisses what could be an awkward experience for many given how open he is about sexual health and his drive to destigmatise sex. He promptly reasons, “Sometimes people have sex, and they get STIs. That’s just life.”

Dan’s passion here is very much driven by his own experiences when it comes to sexual health. Hailing from a small Scottish town there was a lack of access to adequate sexual health. Relatably, sex education, as Attitude has discussed recently, was sorely lacking in LGBTQ+ content meaning that Dan felt unequipped when it came to having sex. A lack of education results in fear. “It forced me to do my own research and from that point onwards I’ve really made a point to take charge of my sexual health and empower myself.”

Recounting what it was like back up in Scotland Dan jogs memories of my own in Cardiff. Getting to the one sexual health clinic in the early hours in the uncertain hope of getting a walk-in appointment where you’d inevitably find a small queue already, including former sexual partners. “If you got an appointment great, if you didn’t then you were screwed,” Dan continues. “I really remember that experience being so hard. I was like, why is this so hard for people to go and get a test or to get whatever they need?”

“It doesn’t just affect gay men. It’s not a death sentence”

Moving to London four years ago, Dan was finally able to access adequate sexual health services, including PrEP, which has been game-changing. Last year’s PrEP Impact Trial report found that the use of PrEP reduced the chances of getting HIV by 86%. But even in London, with services like Dean Street Express, appointments can be hard to come by, something campaigners are all too aware of.

Earlier this year when the government announced its ‘Roadmap for meeting the PrEP needs of those at significant risk of HIV,’ which included greater support for struggling sexual health services, campaigners warned that more was needed. At the time, Richard Angell, the Chief Executive of the Terrence Higgins Trust said: “We can and must be more ambitious in tackling this.” The charity also called for PrEP to be made available in GP surgeries and pharmacies.

Having conversations about other people’s experiences Dan says was a rollercoaster. One of those was Ellie, a 27-year-old heterosexual woman from Manchester, who was diagnosed with HIV at 21. “It was something that totally turned her life upside down. But she now says it was one of the best things that ever happened to her. I just was so inspired by her story and her outlook on HIV.” Her story, Dan argues, will turn perceptions of what HIV is like upside down. “It doesn’t just affect gay men. It’s not a death sentence. And you think it would be a negative thing in your life and it doesn’t have to be.”

““There’s so much work to do in raising awareness of PrEP”

Then there’s Dean, a 22-year-old man living in Shaftesbury, Dorset who Dan joined for his first STI test and PrEP consultation. “To see him embracing and empowering himself with his sexual health for the first time was really great to be a part of.” And then there is the emotionally compelling story of a couple, one HIV-negative and the other with an undetectable viral load meaning he can’t pass the virus on.

But hearing about the continued issues with a lack of access and awareness in straight and ethnic communities came as a shock to Dan. When it comes to meeting current targets for no new HIV transmission by 2030, and based on his chats with the experts, Dan isn’t sure how close we are to that target. “We need the government to fund sexual health clinics, get PrEP in pharmacies or GPs, those things will really help awareness, and opt-out hospital testing as well.”

Dan also hopes the documentary helps tackle ongoing stigma around PrEP being either a “lifestyle” or a “gay” pill. Dan shoots down these ideas. “When I met with Ellie from Manchester, she said she wouldn’t have taken PrEP if it had been offered to her. Her friends, all young girls in their mid-20s, even knowing Ellie’s story, it still wouldn’t make them take PrEP either. It’s just a drug to protect yourself.”

If you’re a gay man who takes PrEP and is on top of your sexual health, this might not be the most newsy film. So Dan tells me. Most campaigns are aimed at gay men, so logically these messages have already been taken in. But the point, Dan stresses, of the film is spreading awareness to the communities that still need to hear these messages. “There’s so much work to do in raising awareness of PrEP and making people realise that it might be something for them.”

HIV, PrEP & Me is available to watch on the BBC iPlayer now.