'The GMHS totally changed everything for me': Rob Kenny on keeping sexual health an open conversation

Social media star Rob Kenny is stamping out the stigma surrounding sexual health by taking an awareness campaign directly to his followers.

Rob Kenny

Mary Robinson was President of Ireland, Charles Haughey was Taoiseach, and it was still illegal to be gay in Ireland the year Rob Kenny was born.

The 28 year-old grew up in the era of the Celtic Tiger in Howth in Dublin and by the time he was 13, had told those closest to him that he was gay with the help of his best friend, Paddy Smith.

“I was pretty lucky in terms of I came out at aged 13. I was super young to come out. That would still, of course, be young today. I was lucky because my best friend was Paddy Smith.

“We met in speech and drama class in primary school when I was eight years-old. I came out to him at 13, and a week later, he came out to me. So we had each other, going through it together, which was amazing to have. Then we decided to come out to our parents on the same day. So we did that. My parents took it quite well, like, weren’t surprised.

“To do the whole process with Paddy was such a relief; it was like we were sharing the burden.

“I was very close to going to Belvedere and my sixth class teacher kind of told my parents; ‘I think Rob should go to a mixed school’, she was an amazing teacher. Now obviously that a sensitive subject, so she didn’t want to offend my parents, but she did it anyway, and my parents kind of knew what she was saying without her bluntly saying it.

“To do the whole process with Paddy was such a relief; it was like we were sharing the burden. I mean, we came out to everyone; our social circles, we were in the exact same social circles in Howth. And of course, as a teenager that’s everything to you.

“Of course we went through some difficult times with straight guys you know memories jump to mind of you know getting slagged etcetera but actually I always found that coming out and being like yes I am gay was so much better than denying it.

“Like I was quite obviously gay I always have been, and I remember not being out and the fighting back of ‘no I’m not gay’ was so much worse than actually just being able to say that kind of ends the slagging that because you’re like yeah I know I’m gay.”

Rob Kenny

Kenny says he found the support group BeLonG To to be an amazing support when he was growing up. He found out about it through a boyfriend at the time.

“I feel like back then it was almost like the HIV and AIDS crisis of decade before was gone at the time. So it was almost like that idea was something of the past.

“It seemed a lot more hidden then, you kind of had to seek it out and find it. Whereas now it’s definitely a lot more prevalent and easier for young gay people to know it’s there I think which is amazing.”

Rob says that growing up, sex education and information about LGBT+ relationships was very minimal. He started going out on the scene when he was about 15.

“I feel like back then it was almost like the HIV and AIDS crisis of decade before was gone at the time. So it was almost like that idea was something of the past.

“When I look back now of me going to The George and, you know, all my first sexual experiences, I was so uneducated about at all like it could barely even cross my mind, which of course is quite dangerous. I’m very lucky that nothing happened.

“It was like something that had happened before our time and we didn’t need to worry about it. We weren’t talking about it at all, and I was really uneducated about everything. I would have been out on the gay scene at least four years; I think before I actually finally fully understood the risks.”

Kenny says it was James Kavanagh who first introduced him to the Gay Men’s Health Service (GMHS) on Baggot Street.

“That was my first introduction to that generally. I had an amazing nurse in there, and she told me everything I needed to know; the risks, big sit down talks and it just really opened my eyes.

“The GMHS totally changed everything for me and then it would have been starting to hear people like Panti Bliss and Robbie Lawlor speak within the community. Also, the movie Harvey Milk was a massive education piece for me.

“The GMHS totally changed everything for me and then it would have been starting to hear people like Panti Bliss and Robbie Lawlor speak within the community. Also, the movie Harvey Milk was a massive education piece for me.

“I had a massive chat with Brendan Courtney when I was only 19, and he told me what it was like and how different the gay scene was when he was my age.

“For me learning about how to protect myself from HIV and STIs, it was a delayed process, which I would hope is much better now for young LGBT+ people.

“Even if you do hear about it, it’s like it happens once and fourth year or something, it’s not enough. Like it needs to far more frequent and like a real staple of education not once in fourth year, someone coming in to do a talk.”

Rob Kenny

Kenny spoke about the research done by TEVA, which showed some shocking statistics about people’s awareness of HIV prevention methods in Ireland.

“65% of Irish adults still believe that HIV is a sensitive subject to talk about which of course is a real problem. The only way to battle this is everyone talking about this and it becomes a really known subject; something everyone pretty comfortable talking about.

“So that’s one of the main reasons I’m so happy to be on board and to lend my voice to this.

“One of the stats that really really jumped out to me is one in five people are unaware of any HIV prevention methods. 87% of Irish people have never heard of PrEP.

“One of the stats that really really jumped out to me is one in five people are unaware of any HIV prevention methods. 87% of Irish people have never heard of PrEP.

“The fact that the government are now bringing PrEP in for free if you meet the criteria, is just amazing.

“I think there’s a really stupid kind of association with PrEP and gay sex parties. Like it’s something you’re on if you’re having crazy gay experiences.

“Which of course not true at all so that’s another thing I’m really looking forward to getting out there on social media and everything and getting that stigma away from it. It’s something for everyone and something we should all know about.”

Follow Rob Kenny on Instagram where he is continuing the conversation around sexual health.

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