Ste Hay (Kieron Richardson) is to be diagnosed HIV positive after having unprotected sex with a stranger. The upcoming storyline will see Hollyoaks work with HIV and sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust as viewers get to see how Ste manages the condition and the effects it has on his life and psychological wellbeing.
Speaking today, 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.”
The plot will see Ste – who has battled drug and alcohol problems – have a one-night stand with a young man named Connor. And next year, Ste will have to make the decision as to whether he should take an HIV test after Connor – who was unaware of this status – reveals that he has tested HIV positive.
The drama marks the first time that a British soap has featured a gay character living with HIV. Previous instances of HIV being depicted on soap operas (for instance, Mark Fowler on EastEnders and Val Pollard on Emmerdale) have seen heterosexual characters dealing with the diagnosis.
Will Harris, Head of Media at Terrence Higgins Trust, commented: “What’s so powerful about Ste’s story is that it’s rooted in reality. Every day in the UK, around eight more gay or bisexual men are told they have contracted HIV, most of them from someone who hadn’t yet been diagnosed. Ste doesn’t use a condom because he doesn’t see the risk, yet you’re far more likely to contract HIV through unprotected sex with someone who doesn’t know their status than someone who knows they have HIV and is on treatment.
“Modern drug treatments can help to manage the condition but the virus finds other ways to impact on people’s lives. We each have a responsibility to protect ourselves and our partners by using condoms and testing regularly.”