Komo TV Seattle, ABC

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Komo TV Seattle, ABC

Spreading HIV/AIDS As A Gift

Kevin Reece

SEATTLE – “I didn’t know I was gonna change so fast. No one told me.”
No one told him, said 21-year-old Doug Hitzel, that HIV will eventually kill him.It’s something he wishes he did know before he got intentionally infected with HIV.
He’s the focus of the documentary “The Gift”: a study of a subculture of gay men who actively seek out getting infected with HIV-AIDS.

Some of them like Doug are now distraught and dying: HIV cocktails haven’t worked for him.
Others interviewed in the documentary are unashamed and proud of what they did.
“Happy,” said another young man interviewed in the documentary about purposely getting infected with HIV. “Relieved. I can breath again.”
“They call themselves bug-chasers and they look for an HIV positive man who’s a gift-giver to give him the gift of HIV,” said documentary filmmaker Louise Hogarth.

Hogarth’s documentary, screened this weekend at the Seattle International Film Festival, attempts to show why this phenomenon exists. She says some gay men believe they’re going to get HIV eventually anyway and seek out this “conversion” so they won’t have to worry about it anymore. That, the documentary shows, allows them to participate in forms of sex that they otherwise could not participate in for fear of getting the virus.

“Really the documentary is about the large numbers of gay men who are having unsafe sex and about the failure of prevention,” said Hogarth. “What happened?”
“The Gift” shows how “bug-chasers” and “gift-givers” can be found on the internet: a phenomenon world-wide.

“It does seem odd doesn’t it. But when I started the documentary,” said Hogarth, “I thought that HIV was just a chronic illness now. Just take a few pills. And that’s what a lot of people think.”
Hogarth hopes her documentary, shown this weekend at the Seattle International Film Festival,and previously screened at film festivals around the world, will help change the way people, gay and straight, think about HIV: that despite a reduction in annual AIDS deaths that drugs treatments don’t work for everyone and that there is still NO cure.

“Partially the fault of the gay community or the drug community not showing what getting HIV means. We need to start telling the truth,” added Hogarth. “Its a really confusing issue which we need desperately to address.”

A report earlier this year claimed that 25% of new gay male HIV infections could be blamed on this trend. That is a claim that is very much in dispute and unproven. But few deny that the trend does exist and that it has been around for several years.