One of Britain’s most favorite soap dramas will feature a gay character contracting HIV next year.
Ste Hay, played by Kieron Richardson in the soap Hollyoaks, will have unprotected sex with a stranger in January.
Channel 4 has worked with the Terrence Higgins Trust while planning the story. It is believed it will be the first gay character with HIV in British soap drama history.
Hollyoaks’ 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 position 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.
He added: ‘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 story will begin after Ste has a one-night stand with a man called Connor who is HIV positive but is unaware of his status. When Connor is diagnosed and tells Ste, Ste then has to decide whether to take a HIV test himself.
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 stigmatized 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 program 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.’
Harris added: ‘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.’