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Jack Mackenroth, the Global Forum on MSM & HIV, and Hornet vs. HIV

Jack Mackenroth, the Global Forum on MSM & HIV, and Hornet vs. HIV

Jack Mackenroth’s New HIV Campaign

Former Project Runway contestant and current HIV advocate Jack Mackenroth wants gay and bi men to take control of their sexual health.

Blue Ribbon Boys is a progressive, sex-positive, HIV viral suppression campaign that encourages dating/hookup app users to protect their sexual health. It's a forward-thinking partnership between the Global Forum on MSM and HIV and the gay app Hornet. It's particularly innovative because it is inclusive of all men who have sex with men, regardless of HIV status. The campaign will reach 7.5 million MSM around the world using cutting-edge technology and modern messaging.

Blue Ribbon Boys prompts Hornet users to answer a short series of yes or no questions about their sexual health. Based on their answers, those who qualify receive a blue ribbon icon on their profile photo signifying their personal commitment to health and HIV viral supression, irrespective of their HIV status. Men who do not meet the standard are directed to information and ways to protect and improve their sexual health so they can become a Blue Ribbon Boy. Users will refresh their answers every three months.

This campaign is launched at a time when prevention messages for men who have sex with men urgently need refreshing. Past public health messages for MSM were typically framed as directives that utilize shame, blame, or fear tactics to motivate compliance with recommendations developed by officials with good intentions. Developed by and for men who have sex with men, Blue Ribbon Boys modernizes the message by reintroducing sex into the message and by informing men about the fuller range of prevention options available to them. Those options now include the early and consistent use of antiretroviral medications. Blue Ribbon Boys actively promotes early initiation of antiretroviral medications for HIV-positive men and widespread use of pre-exposure prophylaxis among HIV-negative men. When these options are not easily available or accessible, Blue Ribbon Boys encourages men to demand them and to seek out other strategies.

Blue Ribbon Boys replaces directions with questions posed to users. Questions focus on HIV and STI testing, antiretroviral treatment, PrEP, HIV status and viral load, disclosure, stigma, and other protection and prevention methods. The blue ribbon icon pays homage to the red AIDS ribbon combined with the color of the pill first approved for use as PrEP.

The goal of Blue Ribbon Boys is global HIV viral suppression. To accomplish this, Hornet users are reminded about the importance of:

* Regular HIV testing

* PrEP for HIV-negative men at "significant" risk for HIV infection

* Early and consistent use of antiretroviral medications for men who are living with HIV, with the aim of suppressing HIV viral load and maintaining "undetectable" status

* Condoms and lubricant during anal sex

* Up-to-date Information about local resources and services

Blue Ribbon Boys emphasizes HIV viral supression as everyone's responsibility without passing moral judgment. It does not call out or differentiate between HIV-positive or HIV-negative men who have sex with men. It is inclusive, circumventing the stigma that is still associated with a positive HIV status or with taking PrEP. Guys who become Blue Ribbon Boys are standing proudly as advocates for global HIV viral suppression and sexual health. Individual HIV status is confidential and inconsequential for participation in the campaign.

Blue Ribbon Boys is globally ambitious because it reaches MSM in countries where basic services may not be available but the prevalence of smartphones is widespread. It also directly targets young MSM who are early adopters of technology and are often at highest risk for HIV. Young people (under 25) represent over 40 percent of new HIV infections worldwide. Hornet users who hit a roadblock in their attempt to access basic sexual health services will be directed to two global petitions. One is for HIV-negative men who want access to PrEP and other prevention services. The second is for HIV-positive men who demand unfettered access to antiretroviral treatment.

Globally, Hornet is the second largest MSM social app after Grindr, with over 7.5 million users, and is the leading gay app in many countries where HIV is concentrated among MSM. Hornet is the most popular gay app in Brazil, Turkey, Russia, Thailand, Taiwan, Egypt, and the Philippines. Hornet also has a large footprint in Latin America, Asia, and a small but growing member base in parts of Africa. Hornet prides itself on innovating the most advanced platform interface with constant updates to improve the user experience. It has been at the forefront of sexual health activism and has previously implemented several features and programs that provide information and sexual health services to their users.

As the climate of HIV is rapidly changing across the globe, mobile apps that can rapidly adapt are integral in the future of HIV and sexual health messaging. Wherever you are in the world, having clear and accurate information is vital in the fight against HIV and AIDS. It enables individuals and communities affected by HIV to protect themselves, care for others, advocate for better services and challenge stigma and discrimination.

Repositioning the global HIV prevention message to focus on viral suppression is a modern, empowering narrative that encourages community participation. It is not fear-based. It is inclusive and reminds us all that by protecting ourselves, regardless of our HIV status, we are also protecting the greater community.

Blue Ribbon Boys is now live and Hornet is offering free premium memberships for November and December to all new users here.

JACK MACKENROTH is an HIV activist and a former contestant on Project Runway. Follow him on Twitter @JackMackenroth.

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