LOOKING BACK TO THE LAST YEAR, WE TALKED A LOT ABOUT EQUALITY. EQUALITY OF GENDER EMANCIPATION. EQUALITY OF MARRIAGE RIGHTS. BUT WE DIDN’T TALK THAT MUCH ABOUT EQUALITY BASED ON YOUR STATUS. ON THE FACT WHETHER YOU ARE HIV POSITIVE OR NOT. AND TRUST ME WHEN I SAY, EVER SINCE HIV HAS BECOME COMMON KNOWLEDGE, IT HAS ALSO DRIVEN A WEDGE INTO OUR SOCIETY. HIV HAS CREATED A STIGMA THAT IS FED BY A LACK OF KNOWLEDGE, UNDERSTANDING, ACCEPTANCE AND TOLERANCE. AND THIS HAS TO END.
No matter how you turn it, everybody has a HIV status. We are all HIV equal. That is the motto of the HIV Equal campaign that currently runs in the United States. A multimedia campaign that aims to end HIV stigma and promote HIV testing by creating a social art movement that changes the way people think about HIV and which reopens the national, and hopefully also international, dialogue about HIV.
The concept of HIV Equal was created by Jack Mackenrot, long time HIV activist, and celebrity photographer Thomas Evans. The campaign photos include people from all walks of life who support the concept that regardless of one’s HIV status, we are all equally valuable. To help promoting HIV testing, every person who takes part in the campaign will also be tested for HIV. As the campaign grows this will help take the fear out of testing. And as young people see their role models in the photos, they will want to become part of the HIV Equal movement as well. The HIV Equal crew photographed and tested fabulous celebrities, artists and politicians throughout the course of a week. To date, HIV Equal has photographed and tested over 300 people in the last two months and the campaign is taking off like wildfire.
The HIV Equal photo campaign fights the stigma associated with HIV by illustrating that everyone is equally valuable regardless of HIV status. Individuals are photographed with a unique “HIV=” logo, which strategically appears on their body. As a play on the word “status,” a unique caption will read ‘STATUS:_______,’ and every model picks a word that exemplifies one aspect of their personality. This alludes to the fact that who we are as people is much more important than an HIV status. "Participants photographed also take an HIV test with an on-hand health professional as part of a greater effort to help end the fear around HIV testing. The test is confidential and involves a quick mouth swab with results in 20 minutes. In the event that an individual does test positive, the staff is prepared with the necessary counselling and linkage to care.
HIV Equal is supported by Wordl Health Clinicians, Inc (WHC) which is a U.S.-based non-profit humanitarian organization founded in September 2010 by U.S. HIV/AIDS specialists Dr. Gary Blick and Executive Director Scott Gretz, to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases in the developed and developing world. About the movement Dr. Gary Blick says: “It’s crucial to restart the national dialogue about HIV and HIV testing since the recent CDC statistics suggest that the younger generations are the most vulnerable when it comes to new HIV infections. Data from 2010 sites that over 90% of new HIV infections are found in young men ages 13-34. HIV Equal appeals directly to that demographic. We’re bringing awareness of HIV and HIV testing to the forefront, and smashing the stigma associated with HIV. The message of HIV Equal is that it is vital that we all know our HIV status but that we should not be judged because of it.”
The models featuring in the campaign material are all celebrities in their own field. Each single one of them takes their celebrity status with the responsibility it comes with. They are aware that their celebrity makes them a role model for many, and hope that their participation and courage will inspire those who look up to them. From top to bottom, left to right, we find Jessie Jordan, Chad Sanders, Colby Melvin and Brandon Brown, Brandon Liberati, Colton Ford, Shawn Stolz, Spencer Barnes, Todrick Hall, Adam Bouska, Chad Staffa, Kevin Stea, Pablo Hernandez, Ronnie Kroell, Jovin Reathz, Ben Patrick Johnson, Mario Diaz, Murray Swan and Johnny Hazzard. HIV Equal co-founders Jack Mackenroth and celebrity photographer Thomas Evans are particularly excited to be supported by NOH8 co-founder Adam Bouska, who has effectively illustrated what a social media campaign like this can do to change public opinion. The time for ending the stigma attached to HIV/AIDS and HIV testing is now, and "HIV Equal" is taking a unique, creative action to achieve this goal. –BM-