The concept of ‘gay community’, and gay men’s attachment to and involvement in gay community activities, has held both a symbolic and practical role in understanding and guiding responses to HIV in developed world contexts. In the West, the HIV epidemic has disproportionately affected gay men. Being involved in and connected to gay community activities (what, in Australia, is described as ‘gay community attachment’) predicted the adoption of safe sex practices. However, the meaning of gay community is changing. This presents a challenge to those working in HIV prevention. With reference to previous research, the meaning of gay community is analysed in qualitative interviews conducted with Australian gay men. The interview data indicate that gay men are often ambivalent about gay communities, suggesting a need for subtlety in the ways we think about and address gay men in HIV education and health promotion. The concept of ‘personal communities’ may better reflect the ways in which gay men engage with each other and their social networks. Recognising and responding to the changing nature of gay life will ensure that the flexibility and pragmatism of HIV programmes aimed at gay men are maintained.
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