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Going Out | A NIGHT AT POZEIDON

A place to belong

Following a national trend, area gay bars offer a club night for HIV-positive patrons.

October 23, 2003|Maria Elena Fernandez | Times Staff Writer

The legendary Club Ripples in Long Beach is the latest gay bar in the nation to host a party night especially for the HIV-positive community, a bash called Pozeidon, which includes everything from psychic readings to educational pamphlets, to go-go dancers and live performances.

As people live longer with the virus that causes AIDS, those who are HIV-positive are socializing more in bars and nightclubs where they feel comfortable. From New York to Chicago to Los Angeles, "poz" parties -- geared toward those who are HIV-positive but open to anyone -- are becoming increasingly popular.

"I know how hard it is to meet other people who are positive or people who don't judge me based on status," said promoter Steve Thomas, 23, who is HIV-positive. "There aren't places that cater to the positive community, even in the straight community. It's a huge issue because you know that once you disclose, many people are going to treat you like you are second-rate. At this club, you don't have to worry about disclosures."

Thomas chose the 47-year-old Club Ripples because of its reputation in the gay community, its secluded Ocean Boulevard location and because Long Beach also has one of the highest per capita incidences of HIV on the West Coast. Pistons, a Long Beach leather gay bar, also hosts an HIV-positive club night called Party-Plus.

"Long Beach is a very gay-friendly community, but it's still everyone's choice who they tell and when they tell," Thomas said. "The club is in a quiet area so people don't have to worry about being seen going there if they don't want to. In West Hollywood, it's so busy. People would know why you're going to the club."

Ripples owner John Garcia, who bought the bar with his partner, Larry Hebert, 30 years ago, agreed to sponsor the parties on the condition that they include an educational component, which AIDS Project Los Angeles provides.

"People are living longer and getting back to their lives, working and feeling better about themselves," said APLA's program coordinator, Greg Cardona. "Of course, they're also dating again and that would include falling in love and having sex in a healthy manner. This is an ideal setting for us to hit our target audience with support and general information."

Everyone who is HIV-positive eventually runs into the same dilemma: when to tell a new person about his or her status. Attending parties where everyone is either HIV-positive or accepting of those who are, gives those with HIV a rare moment to forget about the disease.

"I wanted to check this out because this is a way of bringing us together," said a 33-year-old African man who asked to remain anonymous. "And it's a place where you can take a break from thinking about how to tell other people. I always want the people in my life to know, but sometimes people don't take that news so well. The same way there are Latin club nights and African American nights, there should be this kind of night. We all belong."

Thomas, who started the parties this month, is planning to expand them to reach out to the straight community. Thelma Houston will perform at Pozeidon's Halloween bash on Tuesday.

"I want it to be more than a bar where you go dance and drink," Thomas said. "I want it to be also a place where people will look forward to entertainment and great performances. They always tell you that you're not dying but living with HIV. But the reality is that when you find out, a lot of things do change. Life does go on but people judge you, and this is about having a place where you don't have to deal with that."

Maria Elena Fernandez can be contacted at maria.elena.fernandez@latimes.com.

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`Poz' parties

Pozeidon

Where: Club Ripples, 5101 E. Ocean Blvd., Long Beach. Every other Tuesday, 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. Next one, Tuesday. (562) 698-6627 or www.clubripples.com.

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Party-Plus

Where: Pistons, 2020 E. Artesia Blvd.,

Long Beach. Every other Wednesday,

10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Next one, Nov. 5., $3 cover.

(562) 422-1928.

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Proof-Positive Party

Where: The Fault Line, 4216 Melrose Ave., L.A. Weekly Wednesday party, 8 p.m. to midnight. (323) 660-0889.

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