In the realm of activism, it can sometimes be confusing to identify who is playing on your team and who is your opponent. Some people forget the fight against HIV is a team sport altogether. Instead, they look to compete even if it is detrimental to the cause. After all, being an activist takes conviction, stubbornness and a hell of an ego. But if you don’t realize that you are only a small part of a larger effort to create change, then you are less of an activist and more of an ass.
When I first saw the HIV Equal Campaign featured in a national publication, I nearly fell out of my chair. Not because of its approach or style, but because it was billed as the first national HIV awareness photo campaign of its kind.
Well, son of a bitch! Here I was, the founder of the Needle Prick Project, who had published articles under that name in the same publication, and I was peeved. I took my angry thoughts out on Jack Mackenroth, a friend and one of the creators of the new campaign. I mentally snubbed the writer of the column, David Duran, for failing to recognize that the Needle Prick existed and mirrored the same efforts as HIV Equal. And after about 10 minutes of fuming self-importance, I was mostly mad at myself for acting like an egomaniac instead of congratulating my friends for a well-written article and a beautiful and poignant campaign.
It can be easy to get swept up in the glory and praise of activism, and it is also easy to forget that it has nothing to do with you. It requires all kinds to make an impact, especially in the stigma-heavy fight against HIV. After three decades and an overwhelming 150,000 diagnoses of HIV a year, it takes throwing anything you can against the wall and just hoping that something sticks.
And Mackenroth, Thomas Evans, and the people at World Health Clinicians threw something that sticks. The HIV Equal campaign packs a punch with a stylish veneer and a simple yet resounding message. Everyone has an HIV status, but we are all HIV equal. With a lucid message and an inviting aesthetic, this is a brilliant campaign that, quite frankly, I wish I would have thought of myself.
While similar campaigns such as the seminal NoH8 campaign started by Adam Bouska and Jeff Parshley had an easier time attracting participants because of their universal messages of equality and acceptance, a campaign about HIV can seem a little more daunting. Many people are hesitant to participate in something that even obscurely involves a discussion about sex and STIs for fear of others assuming the worst about their own HIV status. But as a seasoned activist and no stranger to sparking a little controversy for the sake of a cause, Mackenroth wasn’t afraid to take it on.
In the quest to engage people in a discussion about HIV, it takes something bold and brazen to disarm a person’s preconceptions about the virus to get to the root of the matter. The HIV Equal campaign allows people to be recognized as an individual status while acknowledging the need for full-frontal disclosure in terms of the other status that we all have. We are all affected by HIV, but it can be difficult to relate to the issues that continue the spread of the virus. The only way we are ever going to achieve an elevated understanding of what HIV is today is to place a human face on the topic, lighten the mood around the discussion and realize that we are all human, all equal.
Whereas I was simply trying to encourage conversation with some red Band-Aids and a camera, the HIV Equal campaign is taking the fight against the virus one giant step further. In the campaign, backed by World Health Clinicians, anyone and everyone who takes part must get tested before they step in front of Thomas Evans’s camera lens and get the full glamour treatment. Don’t let Evans’s glossy images and Mackenroth’s playboy appeal fool you — this campaign is a three-dimensional approach to encourage testing, combat stigma, and promote HIV awareness across the globe.
All egos aside, the fight against HIV takes all styles, different approaches, and every kind of crazy. Although issues of pride and misplaced aggression may bubble up from time to time, it is crucial to remember that this is a team sport and we will lose if we don’t work together. The people behind HIV Equal have something big on their hands, and this could very well be the catalyst needed to turn a corner in the fight against the virus. Therefore, it is an honor to take part in this essential campaign and it is my pleasure to sit back and watch as its message spreads across the country.
Everybody has an HIV status. We are all HIV equal.
(Damn, that’s good.)
TYLER CURRY created the Needle Prick Project as an editorial and visual campaign to elicit a candid and open conversation on what it means to be HIV-positive today. To learn more about the Needle Prick Project, visit Facebook.com/getpricked or follow Tyler Curry on Facebook or Twitter at @iamtylercurry.