Wrestling with stigma – literally

Published 12, Dec, 2017
Author // Bob Leahy - Publisher

Bob Leahy goes to a wrestling match and meets Steve Blair, an engaging poz guy from Lindsay Ontario who just organized Smash! Stigma – a successful wrestling/HIV advocacy mashup that also promotes U=U.

Wrestling with stigma – literally

Steve Blair always wanted to be a pro wrestler. He studied professional wrestling at the Shawn Michaels Wrestling Academy in San Antonio, Texas in 2001. But then life got in the way.

“I wrestled all my life with the hopes of being a pro wrestler but got interested in other things that led me away from that” he told me. “I’m still a huge fan. I wasn’t doing wrestling myself but I was talking to other wrestlers and still following it very closely – the independent promotions and the mainstream stuff. I’m just a wrestling freak.”

Steve Blair is also a person living with HIV. He was diagnosed three years ago. He’s no longer shy about talking about it.

Last week he made his two worlds collide in the ring at an extraordinary event in Peterborough Ontario, a benefit for the local HIV agency, PARN. His own creation, Wrestling with Stigma teamed up with Smash! Wrestling – the top independent wrestling promoter in the country airing weekly on the Fight Network circuit. The result? Smash! Stigma, with big name wrestling star Petey Williams (the Canadian Destroyer) the featured attraction.

It was extraordinary too that while promoting the event, Blair, who lives in nearby Lindsay Ontario, had come out as poz to his local newspaper. It didn’t end there. Blair, who was not scheduled to wrestle himself, opened the event with a speech from the ring which dwelt on acceptance – of being gay, of being poz, of knowing that he belonged. It drew cheers. Remarkably he also talked about being undetectable, and the power of the message that undetectable equals untransmittable – of U=U.

The two-hour show which followed was incredibly entertaining. This non-wrestling fan was awed by the athleticism, the skill and the bravado in what was essentially a series of morality tales featuring good versus evil. Wrestling is raw, primitive stuff, after all. While Petey Williams was clearly the star, Blair virtually stole the show when he entered the ring during one bout to intervene (these kind of things happen in wrestling) and ensured that the good guy won. The crowd cheered, Blair looked ecstatic. The images capture that moment. (Blair is in street clothes).



The event was a huge success. Wrestling fans got their fix. Blair got his message across – and then some.

Afterwards I chatted with the home-town hero about his efforts to intertwine the worlds of wrestling and HIV stigma. “Stigma is not just about HIV or homosexuality” he said “it’s about being afraid to be, afraid to admit something in public, and that also works with pro wrestling fans too because people say its fake or it’s phony – and so they have this idea that they don’t want to admit they like it. The whole point of my project was to link my passions with helping my community.”

I asked him about coming out in the newspaper and again that night in the ring. “It was super emotional’ he said. “But it was a step that in this moment in time I wanted to make to go forward. I didn’t want to make apologies for anything. I didn’t want to pretend. I just wanted to be honest and have integrity about who I am and what I intended to do. It felt like coming out again, to my community, in the newspaper, on the internet - just going for it and hoping that it will be supported.” The result? “There is no better feeling I have ever had”.

Why introduce U=U (undetectable equals untransmittable) to wrestling fans? “I wanted people to know about that. I did the research and was paying attention to what was going in the HIV world and realized this is a huge step and I want to be part of it, no matter what. It makes me know that people can be less afraid, whether of me or others with HIV. And it makes others feel they are able to be loved, accepted. It makes me feel good.”

Blair hopes to organize more Smash! Stigma wrestling mashups in other communities. “Hopefully there will be many more," Blair said.

About the Author

Bob Leahy - Publisher

Bob Leahy - Publisher

Award-winning blogger Bob Leahy first made his social media mark a decade ago on LiveJournal.com where there are still to this day almost 3,000 entries of his available to be read. He was a featured blogger on Ontario’s HIVStigma.com campaign, along with PositiveLite.com founder Brian Finch. He joined PositiveLite.com at its inception in 2009 and became it's Editor a year later.

Born in the UK, Bob’s background is in corporate banking, which he gladly left in 1994, after being diagnosed with HIV the previous year.  He has chaired the board of PARN (Peterborough AIDS Resource Network) and has been an executive board member of both the Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN) and the Canadian AIDS Society (CAS).  He was inducted in to the Ontario AIDS Network’s Honour Roll in 2005.  Bob is currently a member of Ontario’s GMSH (Gay Men’s Sexual Health Alliance). He also writes for TheBody.com.

In 2012, Bob was honoured with the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee medal for his work and commitment to HIV/AIDS in Canada.

Bob continues to write for this site while in the Positivelite.Com editor’s seat, with a particular interest  in HIV prevention, theatre and the arts in general. He is accredited media for a number of Toronto theatres. He lives in Warkworth, Ontario with his partner of thirty-two years and three dogs.