Here To Inspire

Social Security



 For example, Sherri Lewis, better known as Sherri Beachfront of the ’80s pop band Get Wet, has created a library of dozens of her Straight Girl in a Queer World podcasts. [Lewis’s collection is hosted by Here! Networks, which is part of Here Media, the parent company of HIV Plus.] She says her aim was to look beyond the clinical aspects of HIV disease to “how to live life with HIV” through an entertainment talk show that includes red-carpet events, celebrity guests, and other HIV-positive people. Then, there is 21-year-old Augusta, Ga., political science student Johnathan Shaw, who has a YouTube channel called “Positively Johnathan,” where he posts a video blog, or “vlog,” about his first year of living with HIV. Similarly, 30-year-old Laurel, Md., HIVer Justin B. Terry-Smith maintains a mixed-media blog called “Justin’s HIV Journal,” which addresses a variety of social and political issues in addition to his life with HIV.

Even AIDS service organizations are embracing digital media in new and unexpected ways. While virtually every mid- to large-size ASO has a dedicated website or even multiple sites for specific agency programs or fund-raisers, the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center in 2008 began charting new online territory with its ongoing Internet-based soap opera, In the Moment. The series “webisodes” (a new batch of which began rolling out in February) provide HIV-prevention and harm-reduction messages by following a group of young men as they deal with issues like HIV and STDs, safer sex, drug abuse, sex addiction, and infidelity, among others.

The series allows the Los Angeles agency to reach a generation of gay men who are significantly more likely to spend their free time online than attending the agency’s in-person support groups and other programs, says Susan Cohen, director of the center’s Health Education and Prevention department. “The bottom line,” she says, “is that we need to access the community where it is -- and that’s online.”

But while HIV-positive bloggers, vloggers, and social-networking site creators are also keenly aware of the ever-increasing reach of digital media, particularly among youth and young adults, the reasons many choose to begin their online endeavors are often far more personal than practical.

“I actually find it’s much easier to deal with my own HIV by being open about it. It’s cathartic,” says Shaw, who in addition to launching his YouTube vlog in March 2009 just three months after his diagnosis also disclosed his serostatus on Facebook only a week after he learned he was HIV-positive. “And if my story helps others too, then all the better.”

Terry-Smith says he began his blog mostly as a way to give HIVers like himself a voice in the digital realm. “I looked around and I didn’t see any young African-American gay men reaching out online. No one else was doing this,” he explains.