The early days of Yorkshire MESMAC
Tom Doyle, MESMAC's Chief Executive, remembers the development of "the MESMAC project" and some of its initiatives around sexual health awareness in the 1990s.
TRANSCRIPTAnd then I saw a job for – at Leeds AIDS Advice, which was a voluntary sector response to HIV in Leeds, and that was for a Services Co-ordinator I think, something like that. And I applied for that, and I got an interview, and didn’t get it. Outrageous... but... meant two months later I got a phone call from the then-manager of Leeds AIDS Advice said, ‘there’s this new project which we’ve got funded called MESMAC, and it’s about – for gay men, would you apply for that cos we, we really like you’. So, I did, and I became the first outreach worker for, for Leeds AIDS Advice. Well, we were still on the MESMAC project.
And so the MESMAC project... was the first project of its – so MESMAC stands for ‘men who have sex with men; action in the community’. It doesn’t fit the acronym at all, but it, it’s, you know... And it, it was the first project of its kind to get statutory funded for working with gay and bisexual men around HIV. And it was funded by the Health Education Authority, which is – was then the preventative arm of the NHS, so they’re the people who produced This Isn’t the Voice of an Actor and the tomb... stones thing, and all of those sorts of, of public information films. And this was the com – and MESMAC was the first community response to that.
So one of the first things I did was set up an LGBT theatre group. Just cos of my – that was my history, I kind of worked in the theatre and all the rest of it. I thought it would be a really useful way of getting folk together, to... to get together, and that was called Latex Productions. And that ran for years actually and it was – they did some really really great stuff. They did some atrocious stuff [laughs] as well, but most of it was great. Yeah.
Other things we did, we did a lot of outreach work in bars and clubs, and that was interesting cos at the time, we used to get a lot of knock-back and a lot of... you know, people thinking it was a bit too much in-your-face and we shouldn’t be talking about HIV on the scene, and, you know, there was a group of, just, rad, radical gays sort of banging on about HIV and AIDS when, when the, people wanted to have a drink and that, so you know, there was a bit of, there was quite a bit of that actually.