Winning the title of Mr. LA Leather in 2014, and working as the director of sexual health and advocacy for the internet porn company kink.com, Eric Leue is comfortable being open and honest about sex—without judgment. For the past ten years, his frankness about sex has served him well as an HIV activist, and now, as he steps into a self-defined role of HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) educator and advocate.
“Whatever turns your twiggle,” says Leue, which pretty much sums up his stance on how people should live, play and have sex. He sees a future defined by sexual acceptance and freedom from HIV stigma and fear—which is why he’s dedicating his time to ending the confusion and misinformation swirling around PrEP.
“I can understand why people are skeptical [of PrEP]. And why people are confused and questioning. But how amazing is it that we have the ability to prevent—not just physically block—HIV? I like to think of PrEP as a shared responsibility. I do something to protect my health and my partner does something to protect my health. So we’re both in it together.”
To date, Leue has hosted 35 PrEP panels across the U.S. and Canada to educate and raise awareness about this important HIV prevention tool.
He’s been able to use his ties to the leather community—a well-organized, tightly-knit group within the larger LGBTQ community—in his advocacy efforts.
In February, during the Mr. San Francisco Leather competition weekend, he organized a PrEP panel in San Francisco for members of the leather community. He joined lead PrEP researcher Robert Grant, MD, MPH, of the Gladstone Institutes, the University of California at San Francisco and San Francisco AIDS Foundation, Charles Fann of San Francisco City Clinic and San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener in a discussion about PrEP including how it works, how effective it is, what the side effects are and how to access and afford it.
Leue always incorporates a discussion about STIs into the PrEP panels. He says the quarterly check-ups that are requested by PrEP protocol are immensely helpful for the detection and treatment of the STIs that people are most concerned about—gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, chlamydia and syphilis. A vaccination is available for hepatitis A and B, and newer and more effective treatments for hepatitis C are now available. The take-home point he hopes to impart is that HIV should still be the primary focus whether or not condoms are being used, and that PrEP—while it doesn’t prevent STIs other than HIV—improves sexual health in other ways since it links people to care and helps people get early treatment for other STIs when they need it.
Leue says that, in the ten years he’s been a part of the leather community, he’s received quite a lot of support from other members. He’s now glad to give back by being an avid sexual health advocate for the community.
“Many people look at the leather community as sexual outlaws, but that’s really not what we are. We just like something different. And quite honestly, I’ve never met anybody who didn’t like a slap on the butt—from the right person,” he says.
Leue’s PrEP advocacy extends far beyond the leather—and gay—community.
“I talk to everyone about PrEP,” he says. He estimates that he’s spoken to over 1,500 people about PrEP over the last few years, during PrEP panels, but also online and in daily life.
He recounts an instance when a casual conversation with a cab driver presented an opportunity to spread awareness about PrEP. During a ride to the airport about six months ago, he explained what PrEP is to his driver, who hadn’t heard of it before. After giving her his card, he got a call from her a few days later. She apparently had done some research about PrEP after their brief conversation, because her son was gay and she realized he was at risk for HIV.
“She wanted to talk to him about PrEP. So she asked me, ‘If you were me, how would you talk to my son about this?’”
Leue finds that women, oftentimes, are easier to talk to about PrEP than men are.
“I think it’s because women have learned that they have choices and men just never have,” he says, referring to the idea that many women—used to the idea or practice of taking daily birth control—are more open to the idea of taking daily PrEP.
It’s easy to see how Leue’s frankness and comfort discussing sex—combined with his ability to translate science, research, and medical information into talking points that people can easily relate to and understand—make him an ideal sexual health advocate. But his passion for what he does transcends all of that. He sees educating people about PrEP as a social responsibility.
“I’ve seen a lot of HIV-negative people that were confused and lost and said, maybe not the right things that caused anxieties and pushed people away. I feel like—it doesn’t have to be that way. I’ve lost six friends [to HIV/AIDS]. I’ve lost good mentors and close friends. And I know all of them would want me to stand up here today and say, ‘if we had had [PrEP] 30 years ago, we would all have been on it.’ I just think that if we really wanted to—if people would really be interested in doing this—we could end HIV in a year. We have the tools—we really do.”
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